"When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die." Lillian Smith, author and racial reform advocate

"Learn. Listen. Talk. Explore the unique history of the people you care about." So encourage "Heart to Heart" conversation cards. Somewhere in my travels — perhaps at a conference, perhaps at a toy store, perhaps as a gift — I acquired a deck.

According to the instructions, the cards are "to give people the opportunity to learn more about their friends, spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. It's the chance to really stop and focus on the person you're playing with." I used the cards as the basis for a listening, speaking, and critical and creative thinking activity in the culminating days of a speech practice (public speaking and presentation) course in a Russian university.

Although the game produced by Easter Unlimited Inc. is difficult to find (at least online), you and your learners don't need it to develop your own version, and the concept can be applied to any language-learning course.

The deck has 44 question cards, three mystery/secret cards and one instruction card, though the instructions are in no way circumscribed. Likewise, this is not a game with winners and losers. The mystery/secret cards are reserved for questions that players prefer not to answer.

Before introducing the game, I carefully examined each question and eliminated questions that I knew would be inappropriate for my audience. There weren't many I had to remove, but I did not want to put my students in uncomfortable positions.

When I introduced the game to my students, I explained that in small groups (four or five students), each student would take a turn picking a card. From there, they could play as they wished.

I divided the deck into stacks of 10 or 11 cards per group, and I offered a variety of play options (below). What mattered was that each student chose from the deck at least once and that all students were actively engaged in conversation.

Play options:

  1. Each student could answer the same question.
  2. Students could use the chosen question as a jumping off point to explore other questions.
  3. Students could probe the answer or answers of other players, asking more questions.
  4. Students could answer the question based on what they believed the other players would answer.
  5. Students could create their own rules.

Examples of the questions include:

  1. What is your definition of success?
  2. What is the one thing you know you'll regret if you never do it?
  3. If you could do anything over again, what would it be?
  4. What is your opinion of the biggest difference between men and women?
  5. If you could ask any historical figure one question, who would it be and what would you ask?
  6. What mistake [has] taught you the biggest lesson?
  7. Your choice: the King of Rock or the King of Pop? Explain.
  8. If you could touch someone's life, who would it be and why?

Questions 7 and 8 offered teachable moments for my students and me. For question 7, some weren't sure what the question meant or to whom the Kings referred. Students were unsure of the idiom "touch someone's life."

From the beginning, students were eager to play, talkative, questioning, laughing and sympathetic. When students had finished playing, I added a step: Anonymously, each student was to write her own question.

Before students wrote, we discussed that which constituted appropriate questions. Then, students took some time to think and write, and, frankly, I found my students' questions far more sagacious than the original questions. I also created some questions because I believe it is important to demonstrate to students that I am willing to do what I ask them to do.

In our next class, we repeated the activity using only the students' and my questions. For our final class, I put the questions in decks marked 1 through 5. One at a time, students stood at the front of the room and chose a deck number, and I picked the question from the top of the deck. I read the question, and each student had to respond to the question, speaking for one minute.

When a student asked if I'd participate, I happily agreed and said the students could choose the question. The activity was a fitting conclusion to how the course had begun months before when students had to speak extemporaneously for 30 seconds as part of the skills analyses I developed.

In addition to being a speaking, listening, and creative and critical thinking activity, it can be used for modal use practice and for spoken and written question formation practice. For this activity, I revised the grammar errors.

Additionally, if you want or need to focus on writing, the questions can be writing prompts for students' journals or free writing to explore ideas for essay writing. Moreover, you can use the questions to scaffold multi-skills activities.

Students’ questions:

  • Do you keep your own diary? Why or why not do you write your experiences and dreams?
  • What is the cruelest or funniest joke you and your friends have ever played on someone? What happened? How do you feel about it?
  • What is the most awful and/or awkward situation of your childhood?
  • Do you believe that dreams should always be unachievable or should be able to be achieved? Why?
  • Who would you like to thank for your life right now? Why?
  • What do you usually do when you are sad or down?
  • What celebrity would you like to get stuck in an elevator with and remember it as a memorable event? Why do you choose that person?
  • What are the most unusual (funny or strange) things you like to do when you are home alone?
  • If you could upload any one skill or area of knowledge into your mind without investing any effort, which would it be? Why?
  • What are your plans for retirement?
  • Imagine that you are 90 years old and your grandchild asks you, "What was the happiest day of your life?" What would you say?