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Go Fish! A new look at an old game.

‘Go Fish!’ style games have been popular with children and adults for hundreds of years and they have been seen as ideal for keeping children quiet on rainy days. As a child I spent many a rainy day playing ‘Happy Families’, an earlier version of Go Fish!, these games would often take an hour or more to complete and it was usually the player with the best memory who would win. I’ve never had a good memory, but when playing cards I am always able to move it up a notch. The purpose of using such games in the classroom is not just to keep the children quiet but also to teach them language whilst having fun, but in the traditional game the amount of speaking opportunities each player has varies greatly, often depending upon one’s luck. This is something we want to avoid, rather we want to involve all the players all the time. Let’s look at some of the Go Fish! type games in Blending a Hand materials to help you make better use of all your go fish type games.




Present Continuous has been the most popular of all my Go Fish! style games, one is never sure why but probably because it’s a good game. I can’t exactly remember where I got the idea from originally but, unlike some of my games, it is an adaptation of someone else’s idea I found in a book I had long ago. There are three packs of cards with 60 cards per pack, which teaches 45 different verbs and there are four different question and answer cards to represent each verb. A typical game should take around 20 minutes once the children know how to play. I usually play with 3-6 players in my class and would say the ideal number of players is 4. If you need to use the game with just yourself and a single student, as in a private lesson, then deal an extra hand, giving the imaginary player a name and keeping all of his cards face up on the table, he can do everything except ask questions. He will inevitably be the loser. It’s a lot of fun.




Let me take you through the rules so that you can see how it differs from the traditional Go Fish! games.

1. Shuffle and deal 7 cards each, place pack face down. Players lay any pairs face up saying for example
“She’s writing a story.”
“He’s writing a letter.”
In traditional games you have to collect a set of four cards before you can lay them face up on the table. Collecting four of a kind is very difficult and many students become upset when they play badly, often losing their best cards to other players. Collecting pairs, as in ‘Old Maid’, is much easier and much faster.


2. The first player, who is usually to the left of the dealer, lays a card and says “I’m flying a kite. Jun, what are you flying?” “I’m flying a carpet. Here you are.” “Thank you!” Then as in ‘1’ above.
“He’s flying a kite.”
“She’s flying a carpet.”

3. Or if Jun doesn’t have a “flying” card in his hand:
“I’m not flying anything. Take a card.” (Go fish!)

The first player leaves the ‘kite’ card face up on the table, she can no longer use this card unless she picks up a matching card from the pack. This speeds up the game and aids students who have poor concentration or poor memories to compete in the game. Also, because it’s important to know which cards have already been played and by whom, this keeps all the students involved all the time. The player who took a card from the pack has the chance to pair this card with one in his hand before play passes to the next player.

4. When a player has no more cards in her hand, then play continues until it’s her turn again. The game can now end and if you want to score the game, students minus the number of single cards they have in their hand and on the table from the total number of cards in pairs. This often gives us two winners, the child who finished first and the child with the most points.

5. If you wish to extend the game, then any finished player can take a bonus card from the pack when it’s his/her turn again, make the statement and ask the question on the card.




In this particular series of cards we also produce:

Past Regular x 3 packs of color-coded 80 cards.



Past Irregular x 2 packs of 80 cards.



(Irregular) Past Participle x 1 pack of 80 cards.



The rules are very similar for each of the games. Sometimes, when playing these other games, I write the following on the board.
What: anything
Where : anywhere
Who: anyone
This helps the students give the correct negative answers when necessary.


For more information and samples of the game please click here. Orders can be made through the contact page of ETJ Book Service or PM me on Facebook. I’ll try and write a little about the other games in this series another time, then you can see how easy it is to teach the past tense and the past participle, stress-free.

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