September 26, 2011

Heads up! Seven up! Learning about Culture

Janis_picBy Janis Prince Inniss

Have you ever heard of a game called Heads up! Seven up!? I had not—until yesterday, that is. I'm still not sure how the game is actually played but my new favorite class activity is derived from this childhood game. (Click here to find directions for two versions of the game which make the origin of the name clear.)

clip_image002One of my students suggested that we play Heads up! Seven up! The game sounded like fun but I explained that it needed to be relevant to our topic—that of culture. (It is week three of the semester and a game only for the fun of it seemed ill-advised.) How could the game help us learn about culture? A few students made suggestions that were vetoed hastily—probably because they sounded too serious—but then the following version was found to be acceptable.

The game begins with seven people at the front of the class while the rest of the class put their heads down on their desks and one thumb up. For the first go around, I joined six students at the front of the classroom. Once everyone had their heads down and could not see the seven of us at the front of the room, we walked over and each of us touched one person's upturned thumb. (To help ensure that you can’t see who touches you, I was told that the game is to be played in the dark; I dimmed, but did not turn off, all the lights in the classroom.) On our return to our base at the front of the room, the de facto leader yelled, “Heads up” and the class raised their heads.

clip_image004The seven people whose thumbs had been touched then stood. It was their turn to introduce themselves to the class and to tell us their cultural background and then describe some basic ways that their cultural background influences an aspect of their life.

As the students described it to me Heads up! Seven up! is a good icebreaker. Since it is relatively early in the term I thought this was a good opportunity for students to learn each other’s names, although that was not the main focus or purpose of the activity.

So for example someone would stand and say:

Hello. I’m Mary. I'm French and Irish. French from my mother's side and Irish on my father's side. My culture impacts the way we eat as my Mom cooks a lot of French food and because of my dad, St. Patrick’s day is big at our house.

As we played the game, Mary would then take questions about her culture, if there were any. Finally, Mary would guess which of the seven had selected her; if she was correct she would switch places and move to become one of the seven at the front of the class. After this, the next person whose thumb was touched would do the same – and so on.

After a few iterations of the game, in order to ensure that everyone participated, I asked “the seven up” to be sure to pick classmates who had not yet introduced their culture to us. Students from cultures that are less familiar to us fielded a lot of clarifying/informational questions. Instructor vigilance should ensure that these questions are not too personal or sensitive and that no one student is on the hot-seat because of curiosity about his or her culture.

clip_image006This is my new favorite classroom activity for several reasons. It was student-driven! Although I was hesitant and initially thought of vetoing the idea, I’m glad that I decided to let students create this game. And what a fabulous job they did, too! A major benefit of the game is that we all learned about each other’s cultural backgrounds and in some cases quite a bit about particular cultures. As an instructor, the possibilities for continuing to use this material in class seem endless. For example, I could:

· Illustrate concepts related to culture to what students said.

· Note what was included in most comments, but also what was omitted.

· In discussions about race and ethnicity revisit the game as a way of clarifying these concepts which are often conflated.

· Later in the semester, perhaps at the end, play another game that rewards those who remember the most about their classmates’ cultural backgrounds. (Without saying why, it might be useful to ask students to make notes about their self-descriptions; they could then refer to these at that later date and compare what people remember about them to what they actually said.)

Here is a snippet of the game being played by young kids:


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That's an awesome way to get to know people and their background, and they can choose what to say about themselves.

This is a unique way to get to know everyone and not only their name but also some what personal information that wouldn't normally come up in a normal conversation. I think by making a game out of the introducing of the students the other students were more engaged and enjoyed learning about others more rather than listening to a report, or speech about it.

I've always enjoyed playing this game but not once had I thought of it as a way to learn about my classmates. In other words, your students way of thinking was well provoked, and hopefully the next time I play this game I'll suggest that to my teacher/professor.

I remember playing this game too. It was a lot of fun.

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