Go Fish!

You should be playing Go Fish! with your students.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Seriously. I can hear you. Massively strong waves are emanating from your mind, seeping into your screens, and being transmitted across the interwebs only to wriggle into my ears as I sit in front of my computer, because, you know, that’s where I live.

Do you have a rash?

So I hear you, loud and clear, and this is what I hear: “Amber, we teach adults, not children! Go Fish! is a kiddie game!” To that I say, “Bah! Everyone loves to play games. Besides, haven’t you ever heard of Adult Go Fish?” And then I hear your brain retort, “But Go Fish! isn’t useful for language practice. It’s too simple.” And to that I would like to present the following argument:

1.Go Fish! is fantastic for lower level vocabulary retention.

Students have to remember the words in order to ask for a card. Case in point: “Excuse me, Susy. Are you wearing a pair of pink overalls?” to which Susy replies, “Yes, I am,” and hands over a card, or “No, I’m not. Go fish,” and the questioning student has to take a card.

2. Go Fish! is a fun way to work in controlled practice.

Most lessons include a controlled practice (a restrictive practice as a warm-up to a freer practice), and that’s usually achieved with drilling, dialogues, sentence completion, etc. But since with Go Fish! students are given the expressions to use and can refer back to those expressions at any time, those usual drilling methods can be replaced with a game.

​3. Go Fish! is a great tool for question practice. 

Students from any background struggle with word order of questions, so Go Fish! is great for rote practice. Asking a question in the past tense 20-30 times in a row might be very boring indeed, but when paired with this game, students don’t really notice that they are practicing, and soon the asking of the question becomes more normal. For example, with a deck of action cards, you could practice the following:

Present: Do you run every day?
 Present Continuous: Are you running now?
Past: Did you run yesterday?
Present Perfect: Have you ever run in a marathon?

4. Go Fish! can be adapted to any level and expanded for difficulty.

One of my favorite ways to make Go Fish! more challenging with freer responses it to have students ask follow-up questions. For example, for the question, “Have you ever ridden an elephant?”, if the answer is, “Yes, I have,” then the first students should ask a follow-up question: “Really, when did you ride an elephant.” Conversely, if the answer is, “No, I haven’t. Go fish,” the questioner can ask, “Why not?” or “Would you?”.

5. Students love it!

I’ve found it to be one of their favorite activities in class. And anything we can do to keep them engaged while learning, to keep them coming back for more, is well worthwhile in my book.

So we’ve gotten this far, but remember, I can still hear you, and what I’m hearing is this, “Okay, Amber, maybe I sort of see your point. But there’s way too much effort involved in making these cards. And to that I say, you’re right! There is a lot of effort at first. And I know not everyone’s favorite hobby is to laminate things while watching TV (like mine is). But if you can expend that effort on at least one set, and either print cards on cardstock or laminate them, then you will have a set that can last you years. Start with a set of action verbs because they are the most versatile, and then gradually add to your collection. Believe me, your students will thank you.

Here’s where to find Go Fish! Cards: 
ESL Flashcards
Or just make your own! They don’t have to be flashy and they can just be words.