For the last few years, I have used the Extraordinaires game in my workshops. Beyond just the fun of playing, the design of the character cards may be what really makes this game unique. Each one presents the character in multiple ways: their daily life, a surprising detail, an unexpected fact, etc. The cards encourage students to engage in deep inquiry to seek out and solve a design challenge for their Extraordinaire. In my past few workshops, we also brainstormed ways to use the game – or the concept of the game – in other settings. One group had a lively discussion about how students might even create their own versions of the cards. 

Imagine if students research a historical figure, deeply study the character of a book, or even interview a classmate to make a card. Students would not only engage in empathy but also inquiry as they seek out details, try to understand the person’s daily life, and attempt to represent the story of that person through their visuals. Since I often create design books for my workshop participants using Book Creator, that same technique could be used to scaffold students through the process of creating their own cards.

Step 1: See-Think-Wonder

Asking students (or teachers) to engage in empathy with an inanimate object can be difficult without scaffolding. The See-Think-Wonder visible thinking routine from Project Zero provides structure while also fostering inquiry. In my guidebook, I added additional questions specific to the Extraordinaires cards. If I flipped this concept such that students used this thinking routine to create their own cards, they would not only brainstorm details but also find or create associated images.

With historical figures, digital artifacts from the National ArchivesSmithsonian, or a museum web site could provide authentic imagery. For fictional characters, I would provide references for image search engines that offer creative commons licensed media such as PixabayPics4Learning, or Photos For Class. In addition to allowing students to search for images, search engines such as these present a great opportunity to reinforce digital citizenship.

However, students do not have to use digital imagery. They could create their own images either by drawing in the Book Creator app, using another drawing app and then importing their images, or taking pictures of sketches on paper.

Step 2: Story Arc

The details in the Extraordinares cards makes them so much more than just a collage of images. They illustrate a story. Before asking students to put their images together on a card, I would ask them to craft the backstory of their character or person. Based on the details of the story, the students could identify key elements to include in their final cards.

The story spine from Pixar offers a great scaffold for this step in the process. Students could use this activity to write the entire story of their character in five sentences:

Once upon a time, there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

From this quick writing exercise, students could then determine the significant components to add to their card. Younger students may not be able to write the entire story, but they could use the audio recording feature in Book Creator to speak the narrative behind the design of their cards.

Step 3: Play Your Game

Depending on the age of your students, and where you may want to go with the game, the project could end with the design of the cards or expand into new activities. What if…

  • Students used this as an activity to review historical figures at the end of the year. All of the cards could be compiled into a single book and then students could record audio telling about the figures using historical facts to support their statements.
  • Students created design project cards and connected their fictional characters to a maker activity that might then include math or science.
  • During the start of the school year, students might create cards about classmates and could then use them to build classroom culture and community.
  • The cards become visual prompts to support a persuasive writing unit. Students might then try to get their character or figure elected to office.
  • Students collaborate to tell a digital story that includes multiple characters.

Regardless of the final direction, asking students to create their own cards encourages them to practice their empathy and inquiry skills as well as to engage in creative problem-solving.