03 March 2014

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History: Apples to Apples, al-Andalus Edition



I made a card game, similar to “Apples-to-Apples”, as a review for the final. Each card has a noun on it. That could be a place (Kairouan, Granada), a person (R' Yehuda ibn Chiyuj, Kahina), a group (Visigoths, Berbers), a sefer, a thing (Grammar, “Not writing sefarim”), or something unrelated to the course (the name of a girl in the class, the lyrics to the national anthem). Each player draws five cards, which she holds in a fan so that only she can see them; one more is turned over in the center; every player except the “judge” (players take turns being the judge, one per round) submits to the judge the card in her hand that she thinks is most closely connected to the card in the center. When all players have made their submissions, the judge lays out the submissions on the table for all to see and decides which is, in her opinion, the most closely connected. Each submitter has to argue her case. The player to whom the judge awards the round takes the card from the center; she who collects the most wins the game.

In other words, it's Apples-to-Apples, except that there is only one kind of card (fulfilling the role of both the red and green cards), and that you have to justify your submission (which means that your identity is not a secret). IMNSHO it is a much better game this way.

Thus, if the card in the middle says “Beauty”, one girl might submit “Greek culture,” because of its emphasis on beauty, one “R' Yehuda haLevi,” because he wrote beautiful piyutim, one “Elisheva Ploni,” because she thinks her classmate is beautiful, one “Cordoba,” because she thinks it sounds like a beautiful place, and one “Reconquista,” because she doesn't know what any of the cards in her hand are about, which means she has some studying to do...

There was much giggling, much learning, and much clamor to keep going after the class ended, which was nice.

This game works particularly well with this unit because there is so much variety but also so much overlap: everyone was a grammarian, a physician, a paytan, a diplomat...

BTW I invented this game, only we called it Smicha, long before Apples-to-Apples began to be marketed. (Smicha, because I once heard Rabbi Orlowek define, in jest, a rabbi as “someone who can connect anything to the parsha”.)

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