Character Trading Cards: ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All!’

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Okay, okay–I can’t take any credit for this idea, but it was so awesome when I saw it and it’s been so awesome in my classroom that I have no choice but to share it with the world! I originally saw this great website and activity while visiting a professor of mine’s master’s course. I was there to present a little bit on my zine exploration this past year, but I was lucky enough to participate in the activity they were engaged in, which centered around making trading cards of various characters from three texts they had read. What ensued were fun, engaging, and difficult small group discussions about each major character from the stories in an effort to be ready to participate in some friendly competition using their self-generated trading cards. The website that helps you make these trading cards was made in partnership between NCTE and Verizon. Click here to check it out for yourself. When you get past the homepage, you’ll notice several different kinds of cards you can create, including a build-your-own card.

Taking a play out of my professor’s play book, I chose to use the build-your-own card, so I had more control over what each card entailed. While it can be done numerous ways, I chose to create cards for all the major characters of the major works we read this semester. You can have students create these cards themselves electronically as well, but to save some time and with a lack of digital resources, I choose to pre-design the cards by adding a picture for the character and setting my own five categories for the trading card: Power/Strength, Health, Intelligence, Resourcefulness, and Special Ability. Within each category I have a section that says ‘Level’ and ‘Support.’ The goal here is that each team of students has to decide what level number to attribute to each character’s five categories and they have to base their choice on textual evidence. The caveat here is that each character’s levels can only equal up to 20 total points. (Again, totally taken from my professor.) The textual evidence really comes in handy on my special abilities category as students immediately want to give each character crazy super powers like shooting fireballs from his or her chest or ability to levitate. They don’t like it much at first, but being forced to determine a special ability supported by the text is a great brain teaser and really stretches their ability to connect story to character to life. For instance, one group came up with Piggy from Lord of the Flies to have ability to use his glasses to start a fire.

Check out the images below to get a peek at the work:

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As you can see from the last image, they also took some liberties with their support at times. (Personally the first category makes me laugh, but the reality is when we play the game, this group may have a hard time winning a round without real support in particular categories!)

We’re not quite finished making our cards, but when we do finish, we’ll have a little friendly trading card competition where groups will face off against each other. The game is fairly simple; I’ll give a particular scenario to the groups; groups then have to decide which character in their deck would best handle the scenario and play that card; when all cards have been played, each group justifies their choice and why they should win. At that point a third party judge, someone not playing the round and not me, will determine the winner. The winner gets to keep the losers card!

Ultimately, this is just a great way to engage students in discussions about characters across genres, time periods, and themes. It really plays into the ‘play’ aspect of participatory culture. While I get some mixed feelings about the activity, most students are enjoying the challenge and find it to be highly engaging. I’ve enjoyed overhearing fairly complex debates to how to mete out number values and what support to use or not. As I was told by a few students, “This is a lot harder than you made it sound!” True! But anything that takes significant analytic and synthesis skills to accomplish will have its difficulties.

Big thanks to Dr. Ryan Rish for introducing this to me. This activity is definitely a keeper!

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