by Sharon L. Jones


Sharon L. Jones is a graduate student in Educational Technology at San Diego State University.She has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and has worked in the field of journalism since 1982. She is currently an education writer at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Instructional Objective

The learners will be able to identify key figures, events and trends in the United States during the 20th Century and recognize their place within specific decades and the century itself. In the affective domain, the students will be more motivated to learn because they are having fun.


The learners are high school students studying U.S. history. The game is designed to be played during or after class to help students gain a better understanding of what happened during each decade as the 20th Century unfolded.

Rationale for a Game

A game is an appropriate format for this situation because it allows students to interact with the educational material in a way that motivates the learners and stimulates learning. The particular rules of the game reinforce the cross disciplinary nature of history itself. The competitive nature of the game will motivate students to learn the material. The card game is portable, cheap to produce and easy to adapt to new content. The rules are familiar, therefore the game's learning curve does not inhibit learners from attempting the game.


Players: Two to six people may play at the same time, each playing for him- or herself.

Cards: A deck of 102 cards. The suits are 10 subject categories: Politics, History, Economy, Literature, Music, Theater/Movies, Sports, Science and Technology, Daily Life, and Expressions. Each suit has 10 cards, one for each decade of the 20th Century. There are two jokers. A total of 10 cards containing the most difficult/important statements to identify correctly are worth 10 points each; the remaining cards are worth 5 points each.

The Game: Each player receives: with two players, ten cards; with three or four players, eight cards; with five or six, seven cards. The undealt remainder of the pack is placed face down in the center of the table. Its top card is turned face up and placed beside it, beginning the discard pile.

The object of the game is to win the most points by creating matched sets. There are three types of sets:

Moving clockwise from the dealer, the first player chooses either the discarded card or a card from the face down pile. The player determines which cards to keep and discards the extra card. He or she may place any number of cards from his/her hand up on the table, provided that they form proper matched sets or proper additions to sets already on the table. Another player may challenge a set, if they suspect that a card is improperly credited to a particular decade. If necessary, dealer will refer to the Category Guides to check the accuracy of the placement. If the player was wrong, they must pick up a new card and put the card they had wrongly placed on the table in front of the person who challenged them; the card now counts as points for that person. If the challenger was wrong and the card was correctly placed, the challenger must subtract however many points the card was worth from their overall score.

A player may lay off cards from his/her hand on melded sets, the fourth card of the same rank on a group, or additional cards in a sequence. He/she may lay off sets melded by his/her opponents as well as on his/her own melds. When any player melds all cards remaining in his/her hand, he/she thereby goes out and wins the deal. Play ceases and the deal is scored. If no player goes out by the time the stock is exhausted, the discard pile is turned face down (without shuffling) to form a new stock and play resumes. If a time limit is set instead, the winner is the player with the highest score at the end of the period.

Card Design

Each card has a one-sentence statement on it and a graphic or photograph illustrating the topic at hand. Bars across the top and bottom are color coded to reveal which category the cards represent, whether Sports or Politics or whatever. Each card's point worth is given in the lower right-hand corner. The cards are the same size as playing cards and have a pattern on the back.

Sample Cards

Design Process

The main inspiration for this game was the fact that it was nearing the end of 1996 when I got the assignment. The looming chronological landmark of the turn of the century will cause a great deal of conversation and consternation over the failures and successes of the 20th Century. As a society, we'll assess where we came from; we'll also use our experience to speculate on what's ahead. This natural tendency for self-analysis as a society will play out in classrooms as well as homes. Or at least it should. This game would help a teacher or a parent get teen-age students engaged in conversations about the 20th Century.

Initially, I created a 100-card deck with four topic categories: Politics/history, Arts, Daily Life and Science/technology. I drew my statements largely from "The Timetables of History." I tried to include both things that were important as well as things that are plain-old interesting. For example, one card read: "Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for espionage against the U.S." Another, "US President William McKinley assassinated by anarchist; succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt." Others read, "NY policeman arrests woman for smoking cigarette in public" and "First transcontinental crossing of American continent by car: 65 days."

After playing the game, I decided there should be more categories and narrower topics. With ten topics and 10 items per decade, the game would have a numerical elegance. Also, the narrower topics would allow for tighter control of the content. This way, the politics category might focus on the presidents only; each card might have something relating to a president or a presidential campaign. History cards might have only wars or foreign policy issues on them. I drew additional entries for the cards from "The People's Almanac," by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace. In revising the card contents, I tried to build in repetition of important themes, such as transportation technology.

One problem emerged during testing that I have yet to truly resolve: Someone might cheat while verifying the validity of another person's matched set. To get around this, I think there ought to be separate answer booklets for each category. The card content items in each category also should be listed alphabetically using the first three words of the statement on the card, so there would be no excuse for browsing through a booklet. Of course, a teacher could get around this potential cheating opportunity in a classroom setting, by making herself/himself the 20th Century Master and keeper of the Category Guides.

This is not an easy game. However, with the right balance of easy/tough questions, it is fun. I resisted the temptation to put the date or decade on the cards because that would make the game overly simplistic and would eliminate the conversation around the content of the cards. However, if you wanted to create a game for a younger audience, you would probably need to put the dates/decades on the cards.


The Timetables of History: A horizontal linkage of people and events (1979). Simon and Schuster, New York.

"The People's Almanac." Wallechinsky, D., and Wallace I. (1975) Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y.


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Last updated by Sharon Jones on September 29, 1996.

Educational Technology 670, Fall 1996.