Scratch My Back ESL Card Game

japanese flag 

About Scratch My Back

Scratch My Back was designed in Japan by Leon Butchers and is published by AGO Educational Ltd. For contact information, please visit the AGO card game website


scratch my back elt card game

 How Scratch My Back Came About:

In English, there are many expressions involving playing cards. Some common examples are:

To be dealt a good hand. 

To play your cards right. 

To have an ace up your sleeve. 


To keep your cards close to your chest. 

To lay your cards upon the table. 

These expressions make the comparison between the game of life, and a game of cards. In life as in cards, there is luck (you don't always know what cards you will be dealt). There are things you do not know, there is risk, and of course, your actions affect the outcome of an event (so you'd better play your cards right)!

My idea was to use this 'cards = options in life' metaphor quite literally, and create a game where the cards themselves provide the options for dialogue within the game, so that players may use these cards to interact with each other in interesting ways.

This flash of inspiration hit me one day as I considered my 'options' after an unusual conversation with a friend who needed me to help out at his language school. There was just one problem: he needed me to start work at 8:00am on a Sunday! Working Sunday mornings is not really my cup of tea, so I made a simple excuse: 'Sorry, but that's a bit too early for me a Sunday.' Yet, he was persistent, and asked what I was doing.

' Sleeping,' I said. 'I've got plans to be up late on Saturday night.'            

'It's only for a couple of hours. It's easy money', was his reply.                     

'If you change the start time, to 1pm, I'm in!' I joked.

'Why don't you go back to bed after the lessons?' he replied.

'Why don't you ask somebody else? I asked...

Our conversation continued on and on like this for a while. He was determined, and it seemed that no matter what excuse I made he always had a better reply. Eventually I told him I would 'get back to him'.

As I thought over the conversation in my head later that day, it occurred to me that it really was like we had just been playing a game of cards.

I wrote down a bunch of strange requests, excuses, reasons, questions and chores upon an old deck of playing cards. The next day, I took the cards to school and used them in my classes. It worked great! We played cards for half of the class, and the students got a lot out of it, too! At the end of the year, when I asked students what they liked most about classes that year, the card game was mentioned again and again.

Although it has changed and evolved a lot since then, it's perhaps thanks to their initial encouragement that Scratch My Back came to be, and from there also grew all the other AGO card games as well.

We hope you have fun playing Scratch My Back. Most of all, if you are a language student, we hope that you learn something new and become a better English speaker and communicator as a result.

Leon Butchers.


Buy Scratch My Back Now