State Capitals





by Craig M. Ellsworth

Craig is an Instructional Designer for Hewlett-Packard Company. He enjoys snorkeling, mountain biking, traveling, and the arts.

Instructional Objective Learners will be able to correctly match the 50 states in the USA with their capitals.


Learners and Context Learners are 8 to 12 years old. They can use this card game following class discussions and readings about state capitals. This game is suitable for practice or remediation inside or outside the classroom.


Rationale The subject matter involves the memorization of facts, specifically state capitals. A card game is suitable for this type of learning because the subject matter is discrete and well defined. In addtion, a card game provides a fun way of learning the material.


Rules Two to six players, each playing for himself or herself.

Dealing Deal one card at a time, face down, to each player in rotation to the left, until each player has: 10 cards when two people play, 7 cards when three or four people play, 6 cards when five or six people play.

Place the remaining cards face down in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up and place it beside the stock to form the discard pile. When two people play, the winner of each hand deals the next. When more than two people play, the turn to deal passes from player to player to the left.

Object of Play To form matched pairs of states and their capitals. When a player gets rid of all of his or her cards, that player wins the game.

Playing Each player in turn, beginning with the player to the dealer's left, must draw one card--either the top card of the stock or the top card of the discard pile--and add it to his or her hand. The player may then place any matched pair face up on the table. The player must then discard one card, face up, on top of the discard pile. If the player drew the top card of the discard pile, he or she may not discard it in the same turn.

If the last card of the stock has been drawn and no player has gone out, the next player in turn may either take the top card of the discard pile, or may turn the discard pile over (without shuffling it) to form a new stock and draw the top card. Play continues with the new stock pile.

If a player lays down cards that are not in fact a matched pair, the player must return the cards to his or her hand if a player points out the mismatch at any time before the end of the game.

Scoring The winning player receives 5 points for each card remaining in the other players' hands, whether they form matched pairs or not. Each player, including the winner, receives 10 points for each correctly matched pair and loses 10 points for each incorrectly matched pair that he or she laid down during the game. A list of states and their capitals should be provided to assist players during scoring.

For example, the following scores might result in a game with three players:

Player One (Winner) Player Two Player Three

Cards remaining in hand 0 3 5
Correctly matched pairs 10 8 6
Incorrectly matched pairs 0 1 0

Score 140 70 60

Player One receives 15 points for Player Two's 3 remaining cards, 25 points for Player Three's 5 remaining cards, and 100 points for her 10 correctly matched pairs. Player Two receives 80 points for his correctly matched pairs, but loses 10 points for one incorrectly matched pair. Player Three receives 60 points for her correctly matched pairs.


Card Design


Deck Design This game uses a deck of 100 cards. Half (50) of these cards represent the states in the USA. The other 50 cards represent state capitals. The face of each type of card is shown above. A pattern similar to those used on a standard card deck appears on the back of all cards.

Design Process The first stage in the design process was to decide on the content of the game, in this case state capitals. The next step was the selection of a suitable format and structure. Because the format had to be inexpensive and easy to learn, I selected a card game. Unfamiliar with most card games, I purchased a copy of the Official Rules of Card Games (Morehead, 1990). I found this book very useful in searching for a suitable structure. Rummy appeared to be the best choice. Like rummy, the game described here involves correctly matching pairs of cards.

Once I had selected the format and structure, my next task was to design the card deck. This was a relatively simple task. I needed 50 state cards and 50 capital cards. Shortly after I began designing the cards, I realized that the design should include a way to distinguishing state cards from capital cards. I decided to use the two-letter state abbreviations to identify state cards. For capital cards, I used a small icon to represent a dome. I also decided to include a picture of each state and capitol. Clip art images of the 50 states are widely available. It might be difficult to locate images of the 50 capitol buildings. If so, some other image could be selected for the capital cards.

The final design stage involved developing rules. Here again, the Official Rules of Card Games was a valuable resource. I simply took the rules for Rummy and made a few relatively minor edits.


References Morehead, A. H. (Ed.) (1990). Official Rules of Card Games. New York: Fawcett Crest.