Scratch My Back ESL Card Game

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Using Scratch My Back In the Classroom:

Playing Scratch My Back is a great way to get students talking, challenge their perspectives and broaden their understanding of English. It's also a good lead in to other persuasive topics such as debating, expressing a point of view, critical thinking, or presenting an argument.

Scratch My Back takes a fair amount of skill to teach well, but if taught well leads to spectacular results. This guide is designed to give teachers the necessary background, skills and insight to achieve this.

Incorporating Scratch My Back card game into the curriculum:

There are a number of ways to incorporate Scratch My Back into a curriculum beyond just playing the game. The language on the cards covers a number of English functions that are staples of many intermediate and above ESL course books such as making requests, asking favors, saying no, excuses, cooperating, paying compliments, dealing with problems or difficult situations, negotiating and story telling.

At the simplest level Scratch My Back cards can be used as flash cards, or conversational prompts to assist with roleplays. At the other end of the spectrum, they become ellaborate story telling tools.

Whatever way you choose, the general objective is to present a fun and enjoyable lesson for your students, and eventually have players using the language on the cards naturally and fluently. You’ll be surprised how quickly this can be achieved.

Teaching Objectives:

To give students a positive experience and insight into using direct language.

To teach a number of useful English phrases within this topic.

To get the students using the topic language confidently, creatively and naturally.


A few things to consider before playing Scratch My Back:

How much lesson time will students have to practice, and play?

For best results, spread Scratch My back out over several lessons, and have students complete a few warm up activities to learn the key vocabulary before playing the game. Bear in mind that there is a lot of material on the cards, and though much of the grammar will be familiar to Intermediate students, the language and skills practiced often reveal ‘blind spots’ in many students’ understanding.

If you can't wait to jump straight into a game, perhaps try one of the ‘simple’ games first. They fit into a lesson easily and of course you can play the full game another time.

Why take your time?

  • Approaching Scratch My Back step by step - where playing the game is essentially a giant role play tying everything together, allows students to concentrate on the finer aspects of the game such as having fun, being creative and winning.
  • It gives students time to digest new vocabulary, language functions and structures.
  • It makes playing easier and more enjoyable for the students.
  • So that players understand how to improvise and experiment with language on the cards. 
  • To ensure that players are not overburdened by learning rules and new language at the same time.
  • So that players are comfortable with the direct and combatant nature of some aspects of the game.