INTRODUCTION:  I teach in the Developmental Studies Program at Jamestown Community College.  The course I teach, Student Development, has as its focus the affective component of preparing students for college/life success.  Early on in the semester, I wanted to introduce the On Course concept of Creator Role vs. Victim Role so I could make reference to these behaviors throughout the semester. In planning, I wanted to use a unique classroom experience that would be easy to refer to as the semester progressed, one that students would remember. I decided to use the experience of learning a card game.

PURPOSE: To teach the Creator/Victim roles in a way that students would be able to draw from their own classroom experience and make connections to their own behavior as a student, thus taking more responsibility for their outcomes and experiences in college.


  • Decks of playing cards: one deck for every 4-5 students

  • Copy of instructions for the card game, Jacks: one per student (appended below)

  • Talley sheet: one per group (appended below)

DIRECTIONS: Students were told that they had an opportunity to learn about how they learn, by learning how to play a card game.  I had students get into groups of 4-5 members and gave each student a set of instructions to read.

I then announced: “You have before you the instructions for playing the card game, Jacks.  You and your group mates will play for approximately 15-20 minutes.  You will play as many rounds as the time allows.  At the end, the scores will be tallied and a winner will be announced for each group. You may begin.”

I walked around the room, responding to questions in terms of context rather than content.  For example, if a student said, “I don’t understand the instructions, can you explain them?” I said, “It seems like you would like assistance in learning how to play the game.”  I did not provide an answer that was already provided in the instructions.

At the end of 20 minutes, I said, “Please tally up the scores and announce the winner.”

After some lively discussion about winning and losing, I asked the groups to discuss, “What did you learn about *how* you learn?” Silence. The students had been so engrossed in playing the game they hadn’t really thought about it as a learning experience; they needed time to reflect.  I asked each group to discuss how as a group they learned to play the game together?  Who took the lead?  What strategies did you use?  This led into more animated discussion as they broke down  “learning” into specific behaviors.  Some of the responses were:

  • “I kept re-reading it step by step until it made sense.”

  • “I didn’t understand it, so I just waited until my teammates showed me how.”

  • “I asked questions of other people and we figured it out together.”

  • “It reminded me of another game I played when I was little, so I tried to compare it to that.”

  • “Brenda seemed to know what she was doing, so I just copied her.”

We then discussed strategies for winning.  Some students carefully thought out each move, others just gambled with little thought as to the outcome, relying on luck, not skill.  It became apparent that when I asked the winners vs. the losers to discus their strategies, the winners were in the former group; the losers the latter. This discovery made a perfect segue to an explanation and discussion of Creator vs. Victim roles and language. On the blackboard I made a list of some of the behaviors mentioned earlier and then the group decided if it was a Creator or Victim behavior.

Students discovered that it was not the hand that was dealt that guaranteed success or failure, but how that person played that hand.  Students were able to make the connection between  “the game of Jacks” and the “game of life.”  As Voltaire once wrote, “Life is like a game of cards…each player must accept the cards life deals him/her. But once in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards to win the game.”

I asked how students felt when I wouldn’t “tell” them how to play, and some were very honest about being angry that I wouldn’t just show them and make it easier, leading into a discussion about the responsibility of teacher and learner.

There was so much to process from the student’s experience and a wealth of examples from which to draw. One group misread the instructions and complained that the instructions were too difficult to understand. Immediately others responded, “You’re whining just like a victim” or “Your not taking responsibility for reading the instruction too fast.”  Once the students understood the concepts of Creator vs. Victim roles, I could take a step back and let them process the comments. They caught on very quickly!

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: To see if this learning would last more than one class period, I gave out feedback sheets the following class session. I asked them to answer the following questions:

  1. What did playing Jacks have to do with the Creator vs. Victim role?

  2. How would a Creator approach playing this game?

  3. How would a Victim approach playing this game?

  4. Life is like a card game. We are all dealt a different hand, but how we play that hand will make all the difference. What life lesson was there for you in playing Jacks?  How will you put this learning into practice?

The responses indicated that students not only remembered the game, but more importantly, the learning that ensued.  Students made comments such as: “I realize that Creators have a strategy, so I need to have one too,” “Never give up. Quitters never win,”  “Once you learn different strategies, it does get easier for you,” “Never think that you are always going to get dealt a good hand, you have to earn that hand,” and “Being a victim is really easy.  Being a Creator takes a lot of self-motivation.  Knowing that a victim goes nowhere in life, I must change my ways to become a creator.”

Having never done this exercise before, I was very curious to see how it would work out; it worked wonderfully.  This was clearly one of the most memorable class periods of the semester.

LESSONS LEARNED: I learned a number of things, from my students and about my students, in this exercise.  In a brief session I was able to observe student-learning techniques, many of which were the patterns students used later in class. The student who sat back and waited until his group taught him how to play the game continued to sit back during subsequent group work, waiting for someone else to take the initiative.  I have used the Jacks experience to help him view this pattern of behavior.  In addition, a very quiet student soon became assertive and outspoken with a deck of cards in her hands, offering a view of her personality I may not have seen so quickly in the semester.  I was also able to learn about my students’ willingness to see themselves as Creators as opposed to Victims so that I could look for opportunities to reinforce this learning in future classes.

This exercise reinforced my belief that there is vast “material” in the simplest of exercises when students can connect the experience to larger concepts in life.  Although I came prepared with my analogies, I soon realized that the students were quite capable of making the connections with a minimal amount of guidance.  Their own lives are abundant in examples of Creator vs. Victim behaviors and their willingness to share made for a student centered learning process, rather than a teaching experience.  Giving students words such as Creator and Victim, as we discussed in the On Course I Workshop, helps frame and define what they already “know” in a way that transforms ideas into tools.

I again had to restrain my inclination “to teach” in order to allow my students’ the opportunity to learn.  When they were struggling with understanding the card game, and asked for my help, I felt it was important to allow them the right to struggle in order to learn, even though I could have more easily given them “the answers.”   

Students continue to refer to the day we played Jacks in class, and we consistently use the Creator vs. Victim language when discussing choices in behaviors.  I will continue to use the exercise in the future and recommend it to others. 

RESOURCES:  2 Handouts


GOAL: The goal of Jacks is to have the lowest number of points in your “hand” when the round ends.   Jacks are worth 0 points. Kings and queens are worth 10 points. The rest of the cards are given their face value Ace=1, 2’s=2, etc.


  1. Deal each player in your group 4 cards- all face down, side by side in a row.

  2. Place the remaining cards in the center, face down

  3. Turn the top card face-up to start a discard pile.

  4. Each player may look at his or her two center cards for 3 seconds (without showing the cards to other players.)


  1. The player to the left of the dealer begins. He/she can choose to take the card turned face up from the discarded pile, or can take a chance on what is in the new stack.

  2. The player decides whether to keep or discard the card.

  3. If discarded, it goes face up at the top of the discard pile

  4. If the player keeps the card, he/she must exchange the card for either one of the known cards in the middle, or one of the two unknown cards at either end.  Once players choose to replace a card, they cannot change their mind!

  5. Once a card is discarded, the next player to the left continues play.

  6. Play continues with members discarding and exchanging cards, until one player “knocks” on the table instead of picking up a card.  This “knock” signals the round has come to an end. Each of the other players gets to play one last hand before points are tallied.

TALLY THE SCORE:  The player who knocks shows his/her point tally first.  All other members show their cards in turn, adding up their points.  The person with the lowest points wins the hand.  If it is the person who knocked, he/she gets 0 points- no matter how many points are in his/her hand.  If the person who “knocks” is not the winner of the round, 5 additional points are added on to his/her score.  Tie score goes to the person who knocked. Each of the other players adds up the points from the cards and puts the score down under his/her name for that round.  Four rounds equals one game.


Players:                  _______         _________        ________   _______     

Round 1                 _______         _________        ________   _______     

Round 2                 _______         _________        ________   _______     

Round 3                 _______         _________        ________   _______     

Round 4                 _______         _________        ________   _______     

Game Total           _______         _________        ________   _______     

–Robin Middleton, Associate Professor, Jamestown Community College, NY

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