JET Program

Cross-Country: A Game for Teaching State Names and Postal Abbreviations

I sometimes make board games for use in my English classes. Today I’d like to tell you about the most recent of those, Cross-Country, which was designed to use a map of U.S. states as the board.

Cross-Country Board

How to Setup/Play

Note: This game was designed for use with Japanese learners of English. It can be modified for use by native speakers of other languages (or for native English-speaking children) very easily by modifying the pronunciation columns of the Excel spreadsheet. A suggested variation to allow a teacher/parent to play along instead of supervising can be found below.

Some Assembly Required. Sorry. Instructions for initial setup are included. It’s easy, but will take a bit of time.

Suggested Number of Players: 3-5
Suggested Age Range: 6-10 (depending on native langauge and familiarity with the Roman alphabet)

You need:

Initial Setup

  1. Check/modify and print the spreadsheet.
    1. I created the spreadsheet in LibreOffice on a Mac. When I opened it in Microsoft Office at the elementary school, I had to modify text sizes and the like to make it fit properly. It was also made for international sized paper, so it won’t fit US sizes by default.
    2. If your students’ native language isn’t Japanese, change the text in the pronunciation columns. Or take the pronunciation columns out for playing with native English-speaking children.
    3. Print.
  2. Print the board.
  3. Print, modify/curate, and cut out the state cards.
    1. Take out Puerto Rico.
    2. I printed four extra copies of the 50 States card at the end of the pack and used those as cards allowing the students to retry a failed guess. If you don’t want to do that, remove it as well.
    3. Consider writing the postal abbreviations on the cards even though the state names are already on there. It just makes it easier for the kids to know exactly what they are holding. This is especially important with younger children.
    4. Cut out the cards to make a deck.

Game Rules


The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible. Players get points by travelling from state to state and correctly naming the states they land on, using the postal abbreviations and list of state names as clues.


  1. Put the board in the middle where everyone can reach it. Give each player a token, but don’t place them on the board yet.
  2. Shuffle the deck of state cards, then deal 4 cards to each player.
  3. Have everyone roll the die. The player who rolls highest will go first. In case of a tie for the highest number, the players who tied should re-roll until the tie is broken.
  4. The first player chooses a state card from his hand and place it on the table in front of himself. He then places his token on that state. The player to his left does the same, followed by the player to that person’s left, and so un until all players have placed their tokens on the board.
  5. The first player takes his first turn. Once a player’s turn ends, the person to his or her left takes their turn.
  6. Play continues until the deck is empty and one player runs out of cards, at which point the player with the highest number of points wins.

Order of Play

Each player’s turn proceeds as follows:

  1. The player rolls the die and moves a number of states matching the number on the die.
    1. No diagonal movement. The state from which the player moves and the state to which the player moves must share at least a small length of border.
      1. If it’s unclear whether or not the move is valid, the players must come to a consensus.
      2. In case of extreme disagreement, the arguing parties play Rock, Paper, Scissors and the winner makes the final call.
    2. States AK and HI are separated from the other states by distance, but they are connected to some of the other states by dashed lines. They are considered to share borders with those connected states for purposes of movement.
    3. The player must move the number of spaces indicated on the die.
    4. A given state may not be traversed more than once in a single turn.
    5. A player may pass through a state occupied by another player, but may not land there.
  2. The player attempts to name the state on which she lands. The teacher tells her whether or not she is correct.
    1. If she guesses correctly, she gets 1 point. Unless she has the card for the state, in which case she gets 2 points.
    2. If she guesses incorrectly, she receives no points. If she has a wild card, she may play it in front of herself, discarding it for the chance to try again. Otherwise, she may not guess again and her turn is over.
  3. If the player has less than three cards, she draws new cards from the deck until she has 3 cards again.

Variation in Which Everyone Can Play

Instead of having a referee who watches and confirms answers instead of playing, you can take some index cards and write state names on one side and abbreviations on the other. Keep them as a separate answer deck or spread them out, but keep the abbreviations up and the state names down. When someone makes a guess, find the right card and flip it to see if they got it right. This is not compatible with wild cards for extra guesses.

It also means a little more initial setup work, but I’d say it’s totally worth it. I haven’t tested this myself because I used the game with a class that had 4 groups playing simultaneously. Even in a team teaching environment, there wasn’t a teacher for each group.

More on the Design

I didn’t come up with this entirely on my own. My original idea was much more complicated, which worried me, so I ran it by my friend Wik. He also felt it was too complicated, and although his suggestions weren’t going to work for class, they helped lead me to what I used.

This game was designed for my 3rd and 4th graders. The 4th graders are just learning Japanese prefectures; for all I know, none of these kids has a clue where the US is, much less which state is where. So the primary goal of this game, as a tool for class, was to entertain the kids while exposing them to state names and U.S. geography.

The biggest obstacle to achieving this goal was that the students don’t really know any state names. As a strategy for dealing with this bump in the road, I decided to make use of U.S. postal abbreviations. Each postal abbreviation starts with the same letter as the state, and while the second letter may not be the second letter in the state’s name, it does exist somewhere in the name. Using postal abbreviations allowed me to give the students the tools they needed to make educated guesses while mixing in practice recognizing individual letters of the alphabet as a bonus.

Still in Beta

Cross-Country has had exactly two play sessions, with multiple groups at a time in a noisy environment. It’s still rough around the edges. There is room for improvement. The game is also, by nature of its relatively simple rule set, adaptable. The rules can be applied to a map and card deck for any region which is divided into subregions — Japan and its prefectures, a single U.S. state and its counties, etc.

I was pretty satisfied with the students’ level of engagement at both the 3rd and 4th grade levels. The 4th grade teacher seemed to think things went well, too. The 3rd grade teacher, however, felt the game was too difficult — that more time was spent on figuring out what to do than being fun. Given that the overall goal of having me there is to get the students having as much fun as possible using English, I see his point. To his eyes, the kids weren’t exhibiting lots of noisy exuberance. When I crafted the game, I was keeping level of challenge in mind as part of the fun/engagement package, but that’s not something their homeroom teacher was looking for.

One suggestion he made that made me stroke my would-be beard was including some kind of player interaction. Instead of telling them there could only be one player on a given state, make it so that landing on another player started something. It’s an option worth considering, but I’d be concerned about the game turning into a landing-on-people fest and detract from the exposure-to-US-geography-with-help-from-my-friend-The-Alphabet goal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *