Scratch My Back ESL Card Game

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Presenting Scratch My Back In Class:

Generally, if you're introducing the game to students, unless they're advanced you should do some background work to get players familiar with the keywords and concepts used in the game cards.  

The following tips apply to teaching the regular Scratch My Back rules, which are ultimately both more challenging and rewarding than the simpler game versions.

Before class:

  • We recommend setting aside at least 40 minutes of lesson time to play a game.
  • Make sure you first run through the rules yourself. Ideally, you will have played a game against other teachers at your school first.


Extra optional Preparation:


Getting Started:

First, read through the 'Objective' section with your students and ask a few questions to test their understanding. E.g. What qualities do the heart cards have that make them positive? Check that they understand that Request cards are positive as well. 

Briefly draw attention to the Cards summary on the bottom half of the page. Spend a few minutes looking at the different cards, but don't get bogged down in too much detail.

Mention the attacking and defending icons. See if anyone can guess what they mean. Select a few cards with easy examples that give clues. 

If students don't figure it out naturally, a good way to explain the difference between 'attacking and defending' in the context of the game is by relating it to a football match, or a battle. Attacking cards are played by the person 'with the ball'. Defending cards are played in response to another player's request.

Setting Up:

The Setting Up section of the instructions can easily be acted out by students as a TPR exercise.

+ What is TPR?

Get one student to read through the instructions, and the others to act them out and self check each other.

A dealer will be nominated. If possible, select the player to your right to deal (that way you will start the first round).

After the dealer has finished shuffling, instruct them to deal the cards ‘face up’, so that players can examine their cards and assess play options easily.

Starting Play:

The player to the left of the dealer starts. If they're not confident, the teacher should start. (place the attacking icon marker next to the starting player).

The starting player must first select a Request card from their hand, or discard and pick up until they acquire one.

The player must now select an opponent to make a request of. (place the defending icon marker next to this player).

Continuing the Round: 

Following the request, the requested player will now have to respond.

Reinforce that as they are defending, they must choose a card with a defending icon.

Draw the defending player's attention to the 'Defending moves' section of the instructions (bottom right corner), and discuss the different play options they have available, guiding them to select a response.

Continue to provide assistance to all players in this way - informing them of their play options, moving the attacking and defending markers, and discussing possible moves until the round reaches its natural end (when a player either folds, or is unable to play). 


When playing open handed, discuss and give tips on students best strategic options.

The basic strategy in the game is to try to add as many cards to the table before winning a round with a matching Request card and an Agree card combo.

Another strategy is managing the cards in your hand so that you don't fold, and put pressure on your opponents.


The game flows a lot more smoothly if the teacher takes the responsibility of allocating points at the end of the round.

Be sure that you explain why the points are awarded. It's pretty intuitive and players pick this aspect up within a few rounds.

Also, be sure to mention that if a player has two matching Request cards, they can either discard these (scoring two points), or play one, followed by its pair and an Agree card next turn.

Other tips:

Take notes - especially of new vocabulary students come across. Allow five minutes at the end for a discussion.