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My cousins and I used to play Spoons at almost every family gathering. The evening would start normally, with food and a lot of talking, but eventually someone would raid the silverware drawer and pull out a deck of cards. It was then the attitude of the room took a turn and it became everyone for him or herself. Let’s just sum up the following events by saying we used more than our fair share of Band-Aids and multiple spoons were harmed in the making of our fun.
If you’ve never played Spoons, you’re likely quite confused by my reminiscing. Why would you need Band-Aids to play a game? How can playing a game damage spoons? For a full explanation of how to play, see the rules on Bicycle Cards’ website, but I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. The game is played with a deck of cards and spoons. The total number of spoons is one fewer than the number of players. The object of the game is to collect four-of-a-kind and sneak a spoon from the center of the table. Once the first person takes a spoon, the object becomes ensuring you are not the person left without a spoon when the frenzy of grabbing dies down. Whoever is found to be without a spoon receives a letter, and the first person to collect enough letters to spell S-P-O-O-N-S is out of the game. Competition to grab a spoon can get quite fierce, and just because you have your hand on a spoon doesn’t mean it’s yours. If someone else can grab it and yank it away, they will…at least that’s how my cousins and I always played.
How does all of this relate to collective nouns and education? Recently, I was texting with a friend about an educational application for a common game she was thinking through (I’m hoping she’ll write a guest blog post about it soon!). The biggest hurdle we were trying to overcome was the cost of the game (almost $15 for one set and she’d need a set for every 4 students). That got me thinking about cheap games, which lead to thinking about Spoons, which lead to remembering the large number of them I have in my “I don’t know how or when but I’m sure I’ll need this for school someday” supplies. (If you’re thinking I’m a hoarder, my husband will assure you I’m not. And may I remind you of other games/activities that have resulted from my “someday” supplies? Games/Activities such as Paint Can Questions, Spin & Spell, and Eggcellent Contractions.) That week I just happened to be teaching nouns and once again my students were struggling with the collective form. Then the various thoughts in my head eventually collided and merged into, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play Spoons with nouns?” A little more thinking, a few more texts to my former colleague, and Singular-Plural-Collective Noun Spoons was born.
The object: Try to collect a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun). Once a triplicate is collected, that player takes a spoon from the center of the table (he/she can be sneaky about it, taking the spoon and continuing to play). After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to get a spoon as well. The player without a spoon gets a letter. Any player who spells S-P-O-O-N is out. The last player standing is the winner.
Materials: To play, you can use any set of noun flash cards that includes the singular, plural, and collective forms. I made my own, and you can purchase them (along with directions for playing Spoons) in my Teachers Pay Teachers or Amazon stores. You will also need spoons. You’ll need one fewer than the total number of people in each group; so if you have 28 students in groups of four, that’s seven groups, three spoons per group, a total of 21 spoons. While it is possible to play with plastic spoons, I highly recommend using metal spoons. The plastic ones tend to break with more energetic groups and can have sharp edges when they do. You can get cheap metal spoons at dollar stores, Salvation Army, Good Will, garage sales, and a host of other places. One other thing that may be helpful to students, but is not absolutely required, is a reference handout of the various noun forms. I made one to go with my noun cards and you can download it for free using the button above.
How to play:
1. Place the spoons in the center of the group, use one less spoon than the number of people in the group (so a group of four students would use three spoons).
2. Deal out three cards to all players. Players look at their own cards but no one else’s.
3. Place all remaining cards in a face-down pile next to the dealer.
4. The dealer picks up the top card, looks at it, and decides to keep it or pass it.
5. The dealer passes 1 card (either the one from the pile or one from his/her hand) to the person on his/her right.
6. As cards are passed, students look at them one at a time, and pass one card (either the one viewed or one from the hand) to the next player. The last player places the cards in a discard pile next to him/her.
7. If the draw pile runs out, pause and reshuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile.
8. Once a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun), he/she takes a spoon from the center of the table. It is acceptable, even encouraged, to be sneaky about it, continuing to play if no one sees the player do it.
9. After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to grab a spoon as well.
10. One player will not be able to grab a spoon. That player receives a letter.
11. Any player who collects all of the letters to spell S-P-O-O-N is out of the game.
12. The last player in the game is the winner.
Knowing that not every student will be interested in playing such an energetic, competitive game, I did consider and devise a set of alternate rules. This alternate play version also has the advantage of not requiring any spoons, so you can play the game even if you don’t have a set of random spoons laying around.
Object: Collect noun triplicates (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun) and be the player with the lowest score at the end of the game.
How to play:
1. Shuffle the cards and deal out three cards to each player. Players may look at their own cards only. Place remaining cards face down in the center of the table. Turn the top card over, place it face up next to the draw pile to form a discard pile.
2. The first player takes a card to form a hand of four cards. He/she may choose the top card from either the discard or draw pile.
3. The first player discards a card to bring his/her hand back down to three cards.
4. The second player then takes his/her turn by taking and discarding a card.
5. When a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun), he/she lays down all three cards in front of him/her and discards a final time.
6. All remaining players get one more turn to try and form a triplicate.
7. Score the round by giving players points for the three cards remaining in their hand: Singular nouns = 1 point; Plural nouns = 2 points; Collective nouns = 3 points. Any player who successfully collects a noun triplicate scores zero points for the round.
Whether or not this particular idea falls into the category of “educational genius” or “should have stayed in my head” is yet to be finally determined. Early indicators are for the former, but we’ll have to wait for the end of social distancing regulations and the ban on materials sharing to be lifted for more testing. Happy teaching, everyone!
Love the idea of playing spoons with your students? Why not practice compound nouns with the same game?