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February 7, 2009

dog dog dog


Today I want to write to you about the development of some new materials and their usage. How does something move from concept to product to customer, what steps are needed, how do we know it's good material and how long does it take? Let me start with where the idea came from.

I have a friend in New Zealand, with whom I share teaching materials, please feel free to check out her web site here: http://www.astepatatime.co.nz/index.html#, last week she sent me a PDF file containing her "The Small Sentence Game", which she describes as "a fun way of getting some fluency with small sentences". Initially, I couldn't play the game because I was having trouble aligning the backs of the cards with the fronts when printing and then, as so often happens, I decided the game wasn't entirely suitable for an EFL situation. Basically, in her game, a child chooses one of his cards, unrelated picture one side, sentence the other, and reads the sentence on the back of the card: "I am a dog", then a child with a picture of a dog reads her sentence. Each sentence has a direct or indirect link to a picture. Played competitively, then it's a race to see who can get rid of his or her cards first.

I really liked idea of using sentences in a game instead of just words, so I was inspired to try and create a new "small sentence game" for myself, now called 'dog dog dog', the title of one of my StoryCards, which are published on the digital data disk Blending a Hand 2. Since I've mentioned it, then here's the story in its new format.



I wanted to produce a game that would be as interesting and addictive as the highly popular Switchit game, which concentrates on sounds/letters and words, but this time I wanted to use sentences, but I didn't want to use the same design as Switchit. When I first designed the game I had 8 main characters: an ant, a frog, a rabbit, a hippo, a fox, a pig, a dog and a cat. The game had and continues to have:

60 sentence cards
10 dog dog dog cards (for use with the sentence cards)
60 picture cards

I first made the game a couple of weeks ago and tried it out in three different classes, but there were some problems. It was difficult to find suitable graphics, especially for the 'ant' character and the game was too slow to play out, so I redesigned it, with just six characters and was confident it would work just fine. I then printed out two more sets of cards, laminated them, machine cut them, rounded the corners and put them in labeled boxes ready to be used. But the game wasn't balanced, the dog had 15 sentence cards, whilst other characters had either 5 or 10 cards each. So once again I went in search of suitable graphics and didn't stop until I had 10 pictures of each character.

The keywords are now "dog", "cat", "hippo" (there wasn't room to put the word 'hippopotamus'), "fox", "rabbit" and "pig". The irregular word "I", is also used and the word "hippo", which has a long vowel, is reasonably easy for students to decode as the stress falls on the first syllable. For all the other words, students just need the single letter alphabet sounds.

Let's have a look at some of the graphics. These are the 'cat' pictures and have settled on.


There are actually two games, the sentence card game and the picture card matching game. The sentence card game focuses on decoding skills and the matching game focuses on decoding skills with comprehension.

Here are the rules for the sentence game.

1. Shuffle the cards and deal 7 cards to each player.
2. Place the pack facedown, turn over the top card and place it by the pack.
3. Each player in turn plays a card, reading their sentence card, which must match the enlarged key word of the previous card.
4. A 'dog dog dog' card changes the key word of the card to be played.
5. If a player cannot play, then he or she must take a card from top of the pack.
6. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.

I went through the whole process of making new sets of cards and trying them out again, but I still wasn't satisfied because the game seemed too focused on the reading rather than on the game (I wanted it to be like driving a car where the main focus of the driver is on the road and what's happening around him, not on the actual driving.) so I decided to increase the randomness of the game by adding a small animal picture to each sentence card. Now a word could be changed by either playing a 'dog dog dog' card or by playing a matching animal card. Perhaps it's difficult for you to imagine so I'll show you. First, the 'dog dog dog' card.


And now some sentence cards with the small animal icons.


More printing and laminating, but confidence was growing that this was one game which would not end up in the rubbish bin. Now it was ready for more testing in the classroom. First I would play the matching games, focusing on decoding with comprehension.

With my beginner students, who haven't yet tackled double sounds, I gave 10 picture cards of the same animal to each pair had them lay the cards in a column and then search and find the related sentence cards and match them. Once they had done that, they called me to check their cards and then started on another set. They all thoroughly enjoyed the activity. With other classes, I just scattered the picture and sentence cards on the carpet and had them match the cards, bring them to me, read the sentence, get a chip and then match another two cards. A little like Kim's game or concentration, except faster and more involved. I can think of many games we can play with these cards.

After playing the matching games we were ready to play 'dog dog dog' with the additional rule.

7. A matching picture can be played instead of a matching word.

In other words, if someone plays the word "dog", with a picture of a "fox", then the next player can only play a 'dog' word, a 'fox' picture or a dog dog dog card.

I played the game with elementary school students from first to sixth grade, then junior high school students, then high school students and finally adults. Everybody enjoyed the game and wanted to play more. Still, I wasn't entirely satisfied and I didn't like the small animals on the sentence cards. They looked like an afterthought. So I changed the design again and made another printing. How many is that? Here is the new and final design.


There was one final touch before making the game available to customers. Some of my students had suggested that I call the game "hippopotamus, hippopotamus, hippopotamus", but I hadn't called out that because I was using the word "hippo" in the game, when I mentioned it to some other teachers, one teacher thought that I should go ahead and changed the name. I didn't want to do that because it would mean changing the design of the backs of the cards and I quite liked the present design. Let me show you the backs.


Anyway, I made a 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' card which acts in the same manner as a 'dog dog dog' card and gives the teacher the option of replacing the dog dog dog cards, with the hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus cards. Now the children have fun changing the target word by saying "hippopotamus, hippopotamus, hippopotamus; hippopotamus". Now I'm having fun. And here are the 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' cards.


Now the product was ready and all I needed were some customers. I wrote to several teachers whom I thought might be interested in the cards, describing the cards and how to use them, then I had to put a price on the cards and I came up with this for the boxed sets:

Dog dog dog sentence cards, ¥1200 per pack. Contains 60 and 10 'dog dog dog' cards AND 10 'hippopotamus hippopotamus hippopotamus' cards.
Dog dog dog picture cards, ¥1200 per pack. Contains 60 picture cards.

The sentence cards don't use a lot of coloured ink, so both packs cost me about the same to produce.

Three teachers responded and each ordered both packs. So how long did that all take, well, I didn't calculate how much time I put into this endeavour, but from receiving the idea from New Zealand to getting the first packs into my customers hands took just 10 days, including a public holiday. Now I can tell you that it's a great game, but what about the reaction from those teachers?

Janina Tubby has kindly given me permission to quote her and here I do so:

"Love it! Actually much prefer it to Read! Spell! Do! which we don't use that much relative to Switchit. We were able to use it at a number of different levels, too. From the five-year-olds to the eight-year-olds who are reading well.
We get them to choose a tense card and they have to change the sentence they read to the past tense or whatever, or make a sentence using past tense. Actually I'm not sure we're playing it "right". No idea what to do with the hippo cards and I ended up taking out most of the 'Dog' cards because the game finished too quickly. Maybe it's because they read well. I'm also thinking of adding a '+' card in a separate pile so they have to continue the sentence or maybe 'because', 'and', 'or' and other conjunctions, also.

The five-year-olds also use it as a memory game, which works well. we take out a few cards and they read and match with the picture. So we've color coded the packs to enable us to find the cards quickly. It's fun fun


Janina has exceptional students. She made a good point about the "Dog" cards. There are 10 cards in the pack and this, together with the animal pictures, adds a lot of randomness to the game. Removing some of the "Dog" cards is like taking out the jokers, it increases the level of skill needed to win the game. I recommend playing it with six 'dog dog dog' cards. I will talk about "Read! Spell! Do!" and Read! Spell! Say! at a later date.

I like the way Janina experiments with the cards. Some teachers prefer to have exact instructions, I'm a bit like that myself, but I don't like giving exact instructions as teachers and students can often find more and better ways to use the teaching materials, games and activities.

Thanks for staying with me right to the end.

For anyone who is interested, the cards are for still for sale at the prices above, you can contact me by email or through the comments. I promise not to publish your order if you choose to order that way. Who wants to be first?

Watch out for Pack 2!

David Lisgo

About February 2009

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