Old Maid or Old Mister

Type of Activity:  Problem Solving and Diversity

Source:  Playing With A Full Deck, by Michelle Cummings

Props Needed:  playing cards, one per participant

Group Size:  17-35 players

Aim of the Game:  Not to get the Old Maid or Old Mister card.

Setting Up the Cards:  If you want to play Old Maid, take out all the Queens except the Queen of Spades.  If you want to play Old Mister, take out all the Jacks except the Jack of Spades.  This is much like the traditional Card game Old Maid.

You will need an odd number of people to play the game.  Separate the deck into suits.  Set aside the Spades and one other suit.  You will need pairs of cards and one card per participant.  For example, if you have 17 players you would need the following cards:  one Jack of Spades, two 3’s, two 4’s, two 6’s, two 8’s, two 9’s, two 10’s, two Queens, and two Kings.

Playing the Game:  Divide the group into four teams.  Deal each participant a card.  They are allowed to show their card to the members of their small group, but not to the other three groups.  Each group looks for pairs in their small group.  If a group has any pairs, those two people may sit down.  They are still allowed to participate and strategize with their group, but they may not be selected from other groups.

Designate which group will start.  The first group chooses one person/card from the group to their left.  The person selected leaves their original group and joins the group that chose them.  This group looks at the new card that has joined their group.  If they can make a pair with the new card, the people with the pair may sit down.

The group who just lost a member is the next group to select a new member from the group to their left.  If they can make a pair with the new card, the people with the pair may sit down.  If not, the next team chooses their new member. 

Now remember, there is one card out there that no one wants, the Old Mister.  It may be hard for groups to mask who has this card.  Especially if this card gets chosen by another group.  Most groups have a hard time disguising their reactions and feelings when the Old Mister joins their group.  Likewise, the group that knows the Old Mister has just left their group also has a hard time masking their reaction to this event.  One way to spice up the activity so no one knows who has the Old Mister or the Old Maid is to have the participants hold their cards face down and trade cards with three people in their small groups before the next round begins.  This way it is a surprise to everyone as to what card is leaving the group.

Another thing to consider is the feelings of the person who has the Old Mister card.  There will be many topics that come up in this activity for you to debrief the group with after it is over. 

The activity continues until the only person left standing is the Old Maid or the Old Mister.

Debriefing Topics:

  • How did it feel to be the Old Maid or the Old Mister?
  • How many different people experienced the Old Maid card? 
  • How did groups treat you when you entered their group as the Old Mister?
  • Give examples of how is this like everyday life?
  • How often do we exclude people we do not want in our ‘group?’
  • Have you ever been the only person of your race in a classroom/group?
  • How did that make you feel?  How can  you compare that to this activity?


Learning styles utilized from the 7 Kinds of Smart:  body smart, logic smart, people smart, picture smart

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