Our Daily Bleg: Keep Your Hands Off My Ghana!

A reader named Karisa Cloward, a school teacher, needs your help. Her dilemma calls to mind earlier blegs about roommates/rent and dividing up a loved one’s earthly goods.

This fall I will be teaching a class on African politics. For the class, each student will be responsible for being the class expert on one African country. There will be about 30 students, and there are more than 50 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, so there are enough countries to go around. I want each student to represent a different country, and I also want to make sure that certain “important” countries will definitely have a representative.

In allocating countries to students, I would like to balance fairness, choice, and speed. The fairest and fastest approach would be for me to just randomly assign my preferred countries to the students, but I want to give them some choice in the matter. I think that students will be more engaged if they are representing a country they already have an interest in. Unfortunately, by introducing choice, I also introduce the possibility that multiple students will want to be the expert for the same country, and there is probably some trade-off between fairness and time in determining which student will actually get that country and which countries the losing students will get. The fairer the process – perhaps something involving multiple rounds of bidding – the more class time will be eaten up.

Does anybody have ideas for a fair and relatively fast way of allocating countries that still gives the students some choice in the matter?



Just have them list their top three choices, then you assign them based on that. Relatively quick and painless.



Assign by random the countries that you really want covered, then allow the rest to be chosen out of hat.

Those who choose out of the hat can, if they wish, exchange their assignment, in the same order that they drew from the hat, for any country that was left over.

THEN...allow the students to bargain among themselves, exchanging assignments, etc.

If someone wants to exchange Ghana and $50 for South Africa...and the holder of South Africa is willing, then go for it. A lesson in negotiation along with Africa might be interesting.


Step 1: Realize that your students don't care about any country in Africa other than possibly Egypt


Have each student write down their top 3 (or 5 if you think 3 won't get enough of a range) choices, and email them to you. Then, randomly rank the kids using some method. if you want to use class time, draw names out of a hat. If you don't want to use up class time, then use a random number generator. (but always be sure the kids see the order so you don't get accused of favoritism).

Fill in each students choice in order- so that the first student gets their first choice, the second student gets their first choice, and if that already taken, their second, and so on. If you get to a student who has had all of their choices taken, talk to them and ask them to make another choice.

I've used this a number of times to allocate presentation dates and as long as students understand how it works, they're usually happy with the outcome.


Assign them to the students and allow then 20 minutes to make trade with other students if they want.


1. Divide the countries into broad groupings based on attributes such as: rich/poor, colonial affiliation, etc. But not too finely so that you have say 8-10 groups.
2. Student pick from 1 bag randomly a slip of paper with #s 1-30.
3. In order of # on the slip, student gets to select one of the group. Then he/she randomed pick one country in that group. (like picking a card from the bag for his/her chosen group)
4. If there is an important country not chosen at the end, you can offer it as an alternate to a student who don't like that they picked - most probable that there will be some one displeased initially.

The student will experience choosing some aspects of the country. You can control the process by designing the groupings.


As a teacher myself, I understand the dilemma. A simple solution would be to randomly assign them to a country and allow for trades. Make the assigning a public affair, so that everyone will know who got what country. If a student is interested in a particular country, they will know who it was assigned to. This would take little class time and still allow for those who are more passionate to obtain their country of choice. If some people are unwilling to trade...such is life. Additionally, the main reason I can see for a person to want a particular country is because they have background knowledge and think it will be easier to complete. Perhaps studying another country will broaden their African knowledge more. Hope this helps!

Joe in Jersey

Do like the NFL fantasy drafts. Have some type of contest or raffle, maybe even involving a charity, and then order the students in a draft order based on the winners.

Or you could have a trivia/knowledge contest (possibly about Africa) in which all students must answer, with the students who get the wrong answer getting added to the bottom of the list. Until the last student is left with the first pick. You could also combine with the next project in which the draft order is reversed.


Maybe you could have each student choose 3 countries they are most interested in and list them in order of most wanted to least wanted as homework (to save class time). In the next class you could have the students in alphabetical order by last name (to ensure fairness) report the country they want, if a student chooses the same country by the time you reach their turn to report, they simply go to their 2nd choice and so on.


Randomly assign the students an order, and allow the students to pick in that order, with an option of "Don't Care". Students cannot choose a country already selected. If the student doesn't care then assign them one of your preferred countries. I have a hard time believing that the students would both all care about what country they selected, while simultaneously not select any of the "important" countries, which I'm guessing are well known ones like South Africa, Nigeria, etc.

Justin James

This is simple. Draw lots to determine the order that the students pick their country. One student per country. You get the fairness of the random draw and the students still have choice. Even the last student will have a choice of over 20 countries.



Assign the countries randomly and then let the students trade.


Here is a fair way to divvy up the countries in only two rounds (with a little up front work for you). Divide the countries into five or six categories (geographically may work best). Go around and have each student in order select a category. Then have the students go in reverse order to select a country in that category.

Students who pick early get to chose a category before they fill up, but students who pick last get the choice of country within that category.


1) Randomly assign each student a number
2) Allow students to choose in that order
3) Once countries are decided, allow students to trade if both parties agree


You could have each student write down five countries in order of preference and turn those in. Then you could essentially match the students with countries based on how high they ranked them. Every student may not get his or her first choice, but it's likely they will get one of the countries selected.

Jan D.

Give the students some advance warning - a week, say - and tell them that if they are keen on a particular country they have to demonstrate that keenness by doing something about it - prepare a short report, or a video, about the country. Find an object from that country. Meet someone from that country etc. etc. Make them demonstrate their commitment by doing something about it. Then, if you have several contenders for a given country, you can gauge it by how much commitment they've shown to the cause.


My instinct would be to have the process that assigns countries to students to also teach a little geography at the same time. You could try making up little slips of paper with the numbers 1-30 on one side, and a child's name on the other, and then let everyone take a thumb-tack and post their tag on the country they'd like on a map of Africa.

if two or more people end up in the same country, the one with the lowest number gets to stay, and everyone else has to pick a new country. There might be a couple rounds of this, but I'd suggest only letting them move to one of your required countries the first round.

This seems like it might be a fun game for kids (or at least me when I was a kid) and teach a couple important lessons, like: life isn't fair, and don't always follow the pack ;)


Have each student hand in a list of their top five choices, with the option of checking a box or somehow acknowledging a certain amount of indifference. Assign based off the lists, giving priority to rank. Use an online random choice generator like http://www.jklp.org/public/html/choose.html when people have ranked one the same. If any of the countries you've deemed "important" have been left unchosen, assign them to those who have declared themselves to be indifferent.

This would prevent you from having to take up too much class time with the assigning process, as you could give five or ten minutes for them to make lists, and then tell them their assignments the next day (or possibly a couple days later if I am underestimating the time it would take to sort through 30 kids' lists).


Educate the students on African graft and corruption by taking bribes to get the best countries, and then changing the rules in mid-selection. Throw in a forced famine or civil war for variety if desired.


Write each student's name on a slip of paper and put them all in a bag. Write the name of each African country on the blackboard. Pick one name out of the bag at a time, let the student come up and pick a country, then erase the name of that country from the board. Only give them 30 seconds to make their pick. If they go over the 30 seconds, put their name in another bag (the penalty bag), After everyone has had a chance to pick, give whatever countries that are left that you would like to have represented to those in this penalty bag.