Deck of Professions

Using the Deck as a Language & Culture Learning Tool

Most language teachers are looking for the right “book” for language teaching. It’s an unquenchable thirst for three reasons:

  1. All language learning materials are designed either for reference (like a dictionary), or for a particular level. So, the tools we want to use in our classes don’t match the multilevel character of our classes – this is particularly true for community ESL where levels vary widely.
  2. In their attempt to be general, most books avoid the localized nature of language & culture, decreasing the relevance for the community ESOL setting.
  3. Most people think of language learning as a text based phenomenon, a matter of “knowing the material” At best, we can improve literacy but usually this is at the expense of fluency.

The Deck of Professions surprisingly, gives us the one-size-fits-all textbook we’ve been looking for: an inexpensive, lightweight, beautiful selection of images that we can use to practice language at any level. The profound irony of the Deck is that it’s stripped of language or prescriptions about how it should be used – which makes it extremely flexible for the practitioner. Any learner, if they wish, can find a book that works for their level and goals, and study independently. The Deck is a book that requires a fluent facilitator to use it – because it’s meant to generate communication for the learner to practice.

Click on sample images to enlarge.

10DiamondFarmer 8DiamondsExecutiveDirector 7DiamondsHumanResourcesManager 6DiamondsSmallBusinessOwner
4ClubBusDriver 4DiamondsTaxiDriver 3SpadeBaker 1HeartsHousekeeper

In reflecting our local community, it also allows us to reflect controversial elements of everyday life without prescribing an opinion about them. Though P-P-T is explicitly an organization designed to create social equity – we don’t do this by telling our students what to think. So, for example, we can present an image of Dr Alan Hart (The King of Hearts) who was Oregon’s first gender reassignment surgery. For us, this is a celebration of trans pioneers. Our learners may not share our values, but they can’t ignore the existential facts of Hart’s story. We believe that stories have the power to heal and change, so for us, it’s enough to create an opportunity to share these stories. And of course, the Deck itself is barely able to start to tell the stories of our communities. It’s up to our Profes to supply the rest of the details.

In addition to the sample cards you see here, we have also included “biographical” information on the suit cards. Thanks to Sambones and Verenice for getting creative with the naming and backgrounds of each of these characters! The biographical detail can be used to flesh out characters represented on each of the suit cards and use them as fuel for language practice. We will be adding biographical data for the court cards soon. Our facilitators (Profes) are working to develop new classroom activities, and a future package may include a Deck along with activities and “bio” information for classroom use. This Deck is designed for Portland, so if you’d like to have us design a deck for your community, please contact us at We would love to create another Deck that featured only real people – it proved too difficult to get permission from 40 people. Some of the images are of real people but all the names have been changed. Most of them are from drawings from real life individuals by Dominican artist Hampton Rodriguez.