Monday, 5 October 2015

Persona Cards: a useful ELT resource

I was recently speaking to a friend who is also an English language teacher and we were discussing how much time we spend on creating resources for our language students and what we can do to be more efficient. Of course one solution is to make use of open educational resources, and I do, but this often entails adapting material to suit a specific student or class which can also take up considerable time.

During the course of our discussion, I mentioned that over the past couple of years I've taken conscious steps to create resources that I can implement for diverse language levels and teaching contexts. In particular, I've found that developing frameworks, flow charts, mind maps, word clouds and persona cards has been invaluable. These are all resources that can be created in Word or Google Docs and used as templates for numerous and varied activities. In this post I would like to chat about persona cards and how they can be useful as an English language teaching (ELT) resource.

Persona Cards

Many of you might associate the term persona cards with learning design or the IT branch and you're quite correct. Persona cards are a wonderful means of bringing different personalities to life when you're planning a course, a learning activity or a piece of software. Detailed persona cards can assist with visualising  the types of characters we're designing these particular things for and by doing so, it's easier to anticipate challenges that will need to be resolved.

However, this idea of creating detailed characters can also be repurposed for use with English language learners. When I was contemplating how to design my cards, I decided to use images to complement a detailed description of each character. The rationale being that these personas can then be used with lower level language learners as well. The provision of detailed information has enabled me to use the cards with diverse levels of language learners and for various activities. They have become one of my favourite resources and one that I always have on hand.

Below is a screenshot from a template that I developed for my persona cards. It gives you an idea of the potential of this kind of resource. As you can see, there are several headings where information can be added to build up a detailed description of each persona. Concerning the size, this template creates six cards per sheet of A4 paper. After printing my initial batch of 36 cards, I cut these down to size, laminated them for ease of use and consequently, this has converted them into a very sustainable resource. They're light, easy to carry around, you can clean them with a damp cloth and most importantly they can be used for numerous language activities.

If you're interested in using persona cards the template can be accessed here. You can make a copy and adapt it to suit your teaching contexts.

Practical uses

I mainly teach business English students, so many of my lessons revolve around financial and legal topics. I've listed a few examples which illustrate how persona cards have been useful in my teaching contexts:

  • intercultural communication: students select a card and assume this role. They compare their characters and explore the specific traits before engaging in various scenarios such as, office meetings, small talk, dinner conversation, mergers and acquisitions and so on. After each scenario the language is analysed and students reflect on how adopting a different nationality or interacting with diverse nationalities impacts on their behaviour and use of language. 
  • various legal situations: in inheritance law the cards are very useful for visualising a range of relationships and examining how Swiss inheritance law impacts on each particular situation. It's also easier for students to visualise things such as, degree of kinship and how forced heirship rights can be put into practice. Persona cards are also helpful with vocabulary in that students have the opportunity to put specific lexical items to use in a hands-on way e.g. they can be creative with relationships by developing narratives to point out who the testator is, who is the executor of the will, what degree of kinship the rest of the characters have to the deceased etc. Persona cards have proven popular with my students in instances such as these due to concepts and terminology being made visible and hence, more tangible. Additionally, I find that using the cards seems to stimulate a lot of questions and consequently they seem to act as a catalyst for interesting discussions. 
  • project management: students are given a fictitious project that needs to be managed and are required to put a team together based on the detailed descriptions on the persona cards. Once again, this type of activity seems to stimulate energetic conversation and enables students to think critically, to make use of their analytical skills and relevant vocabulary. This type of task inevitably opens up conversations about the skills of candidates, their age, gender, previous work experience, achievements and suitability etc.

Although my students are mainly intermediate to advanced language learners this doesn't mean that persona cards can't be used with lower language levels. This is where including images is helpful as the pictures can be used to practice vocabulary relevant to topics such, as families and relationships, or used to practice descriptive language. In addition, you can choose vocabulary on the cards that is suitable for their level to speak about skills for certain jobs and so on. You really just need to put your creative caps on and think about whether they can be of assistance for the tasks that you have planned. They can even act as a scaffold i. e. students can use the language on the cards as a support for speaking and writing tasks.

You could go a step further and involve your students in the process of creating the cards and keep them as a classroom resource to be shared with other groups. However, this would need some planning and guidance in order to avoid students creating similar personas and also assistance with  suitable vocabulary. When planning how to create your cards I think diversity is essential and particularly if your objective is to use them with different language levels and varied contexts. 

Searching for further design ideas and images

I hope these tips are helpful. If you're stuck for ideas concerning the design of your cards, you'll find plenty of images on Google if you enter 'persona cards images' in your search. Remember that you need to be careful about which images you can download and use in teaching contexts. If you're not quite certain about what is downloadable and what can be adapted and tweaked, then read this isdetailed post from the Harvard Law School library about using media with a creative commons licence, or media from the public domain. Numerous links for finding images and other resources are  also included.

If you decide to create a set of persona cards I'd love to hear how you've been making use of them for language learning. Have fun!


Spina. C. (2015) Harvard Law School Library [Online] Available at (Accessed 5 October 2015).

  Creative Commons License

The above template is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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