Memory Match (Game play method for AGO Phonics)

With two copies of an AGO phonics deck, you can play memory match games. I.e. games where players attempt to find matching pairs of cards by turning over face down cards two at a time.

A little preparation is required to ensure that there are two copies of each card you wish to practice. Obviously, the more cards you play with, the more skill required and the longer the game will take. Somewhere between 3 and 10 pairs is a good amount. You can also add wild cards if you wish (i.e. a change color card matches with any other card) into the mix as well if you wish.

Epic Speed Memory Match

This requires two full decks of cards so that there are pairs of phoneme cards (action cards are put to one side and not used in this game).

Spread them out over a large table, or make either 12 pairs or 18 pairs over two or three tables. Pair up players (or groups of three), and have each group simultaneously playing memory match (i.e. all players are involved at the same time). Players select a card, turn it over, read it, then together try to find its match.

If a player finds a match, they keep those cards in a personal scorepile. If there is no match, cards are returned face down to their original position.

(Note that with larger groups, or younger excitable students, this game can get a bit hectic, and the teacher should be vigilant of cheaters)! A good way to stop cheating is to catch a cheater, and make an example of them, by stopping the game, and making a show of resetting the cheater’s score -i.e. returning all their pairs of cards to the main pile!

Time Bomb (A beat the clock hangman game play method for AGO Phonics cards)

This game is basically beat the clock hangman. Played with AGO Phonics cards, it practices scanning and decoding skills. 

Mix some phonic cards face up on a desk (the more cards, the difficult it will be). Secretly select a word from one of the phonic cards, and (a la hangman) write an underscore to represent each letter of the secret word on the whiteboard. (i.e. cat would be: _ _ _).

Get an egg timer (or smart phone). Set it to count down from two minutes or whatever you deem to be challenging amount of time. Press start.

Like in hangman, students raise their hand to suggest letters (or alternatively, students take turns). If a guessed letter that is part of your secret word, fill in the appropriate space, otherwise mark the letter down on the board. The basic idea is students scan the cards, and try to figure out the secret word.

On their turn a student can either suggest a letter, or guess the word (but not both). 

The first student to guess the word wins (and takes over your role as quiz master).

If the timebomb goes off, the quiz master wins!

When starting a new round, the new quiz master first rifles through the card deck, and selects their word. Make sure this card is included in the pile of face up cards in the next round!

Tip: When a student selects a secret word after winning, get them to whisper it to you, and then write it down on a piece of paper for them to refer to when filling in the blanks.

Alternatively, you can play this game like classic hangman (or you can draw a bomb with a long wick on the board, and erase some wick each time there is an incorrect guess).

Other options instead of a hangman device* are: An icecream that melts a little with each guess, a candle that burns down with each guess, a shark that gets closer to you with each guess, and animal that gets closer to escape with each guess, a door that gets ‘smashed by a monster’, a dice that gets rolled every time (and if it gets to (30) in total, the students lose. , etc. etc.

* Although hangman is a timeless classic word game in western countries, and in that context quite innoculous it’s message is kind of disturbing if you think about it! If hangman is unknown in the country where you are teaching, we recommend playing with a less gruesome device!

Treasure Hunting (simple game play method for AGO Phonics and QnA games)

This game is easier and simpler than Last Card, but retains much of the excitement, and has the advantage of the game length being predictable. Thus these rules are better for younger / new players, as there are fewer rules and players don’t have to hold cards in their hand. On the other hand, there is no underlying strategy kids can learn – it all comes down to luck! Though most often played with Phonics cards, it can be played with AGO Q&A cards as well.

To set up, place a large selection of cards face down on the table, and mix them up. 

Players take turns picking up cards, starting clockwise and follow the card’s instruction (in Q&A this means asking the next player a question, in Phonics, players read the card they turn over). The objective is to score as many points as possible, and cards are worth their point value (i.e. a 7 card is worth 7 points). If a player gets a pick up 3 card, they pick up three more cards (adding all these points to their score); The Jump a Player card causes the next player up to miss their turn, and scores 5 points; the Change the direction card also scores 5 points, and changes the direction of play; a Change color card scores ten points, then the player draws again.

Players keep all cards that they draw in their own pile.
At the end, there is a chance to practice simple math and counting as points are tallied.
Alternatively, you can play “most cards wins”, which simplifies the tallying process.
Most points at the end wins. 

Three Simple AGO Phonics Game Play Methods: (find the phoneme, rock scissors paper, high card wins!)

AGO Phonics (especially Aqua level 1) works great with children in their first months of learning English, or kindergarten aged native English speaking kids just beginning to learn how to read.

With beginners and younger students, simple games with few rules work best. Kids under 5 don’t usually have the patience or dexterity to play ‘Last Card’ or other games that involve holding cards in a fan.

The following AGO Phonics activities are great for developing letter and sound recognition, and easy for young kids to play!. 

1: Find the phoneme “karuta” game:

(A simple ‘Karuta’ type game with AGO phonics cards).


Place all or a selection of phoneme cards FACE UP on a table (the less cards, the easier). Put all action cards aside.


The teacher / parent calls out a phoneme sound several times) – e.g. for the g card: “Gih, gih, gih!”.

Students look around for the card. First to touch it wins it. 

If students get stuck, even after repeating the sound several times, the teacher can call out anchor word examples one at a time (e.g. “gih, gih,  gorilla”)… 

If students still can’t find it… the teacher can pick up the card and read through it with students for practice then return it to the face up pile.

After a card has been won, work with the students to read all the words on the card together and lastly, pronounce the target sound last (e.g. “gum, golf, gorilla, gih”). The winner then keeps the card in a pile. 

Continue in this way for several minutes. It works well to switch from this activity to “Rock Scissors Paper Battle”, or “Numbers Battle” when about half of the cards are still remaining. 

Other Notes: 

In some cases, there may be two cards that make the same sound (e.g. the f card and the ff card). In this case, there are two points up for grabs (and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that more than one letter combo makes the same sound), or if it goes unnoticed, just call out another letter and continue.

Don’t let kids touch multiple cards (i.e. let it be known they only get one (or perhaps 2) chances at guessing per round, before they’re ‘out’).

You can play this game with the AGO Phonics app – whereby the student that wins a round, gets to (secretly) make the hint sounds using the AGO Phonics app (or put headphones on, to provide assistance as they say the sound and target words).

Note: It can work well to play this game for several minutes, then switch to another game such as “rock scissors paper battle” or “number battle”, with students holding onto the cards they have already won.

2: Rock Scissors Paper Battle:


Spread all, or a selection of AGO Phonics cards face down, including action cards. Get students to mix them up. Pair up players (or put in groups of three). This game works with up to eight students.

Groups each play rock scissors paper. The winner gets to choose a face down card. If it’s a phonic card, they read it, then put it in their score pile. If it’s an action card, the player puts it in their score pile, then picks up another card. 

The process repeats until all cards are picked up or time is called. Most cards at the end, wins!

Notes:This game can require the teacher to actively take steps to make sure students are kept honest and fulfil the reading / interaction component properly. i.e. There is a temptation to cheat by playing rock scissors paper as quickly as possible and skipping the reading part! 

If you are having trouble with cheaters, try this: Catch a pair of guilty students (i.e. those most blatantly  winning through cheating), pause the game, and get all students to watch as you make a point of returning all of the cheaters ill-gotten cards face down to the table again, resetting their score. Students will heed the warning and quickly learn not to do this again!

3: Number Battle (AKA High Card Wins):

Setting up High card wins is as easy as mixing up all the cards on the floor!

This game works best with groups of four or less. (bigger classes can be split into smaller groups).

Spread all, or a selection of AGO Phonics cards face down. Get students to mix them up. 

Each player selects a face down card. If they get an “action card”, they put this in their score pile (earning a bonus point), then select another card. 

Once all students have a numbered card, they all now read out their cards (the 3 words then the phoneme). The student with the highest numbered card wins all the other numbered cards from the round (adding them to their score pile). If it is a tie, tied students turn over new cards (adding action cards to their score pile) until they have a new numbered card. Now the player with the highest number wins all other numbered cards from the round. 

Most cards at the end, wins!

About AGO Phonics (and how the games work)

Over four decks, AGO Phonics cards introduce over 140 different English phoneme patterns and over 400 (mostly) useful picture words.

AGO Phonics cards work best as part of a broader phonics and reading strategy. I.e. alongside phonics songs (early on), phonics readers, workbooks and other reading and writing exercises.

In other words, the AGO Phonics system is best used as a stepping stone on the way towards literacy. When done right, it can help kids progress faster, and offers another learning angle that appeals to a certain set of students, including those resistant to other learning methods, or those that have become disheartened with learning to read. 

Broadly speaking, the learning goal with AGO Phonics is to help students quickly develop an understanding of the target sounds and letter patterns used in English, learn some useful vocabulary (including recognition of its the ‘shape’ of words, and have fun along the way! 

With this in mind, we advise aiming to move students through the AGO Phonics levels quite quickly, before leaving it behind and moving onto bigger and better things – such as graded readers, or AGO QnA. 

There is no strict need to use AGO Phonics in sync with students’ course books. A lot of teachers have found that if students get exposure to more advanced phonics concepts through AGO Phonics early on, it can make it easier for students to grasp the target when they encounter it at a later date in the classroom. Besides that, probably half of the benefit of the AGO Phonics games (in an EFL / ESL context at least) is vocab acquisition. I.e. in order to say the words on a card and take your turn, you have to be able to recognize them one way or the other (i.e. either through decoding or recognizing the pictures).

Target vocabulary selection is generally based on word frequency / usefulness, and how clearly the can be illustrated. I.e. these words are very useful ones for English language learners to know, and even if all an EFL student got out of playing an AGO phonics level several times was the ability to recognize all 108 words, that in itself would be a win. Native English speakers playing AGO Phonics at emergent reader level on the other hand will likely already know all the words, so although they won’t get that benefit, they have more mental energy to dedicate to assimilating and understanding the phoneme patterns, and generally will work through the levels much more quickly.

AGO Last Card Strategy Tips

Whilst AGO Last Card (or other ways to use AGO cards) are not really meant to be overly competitive, it can be more enjoyable when players know what they’re doing strategy-wise. So, for those of you looking to get an edge (or perhaps even the field against some players that have already figured the strategy out), here are a list of strategy tips to consider. You can even create a mini-lesson out of teaching the strategies.

  • The most important and useful tip that is  to hold back from playing ‘double’, ‘triple’ or ‘quadruple’ cards of the same rank whenever possible, as these have strategic value at the end of the game – particularly when played as ‘Last cards’.

E.g. if a player calls ‘Last cards’ when they have three cards of the same rank in their hand, they have a 75% of having a matching color. This is slightly counter-intuitive – especially to children – who will almost always play any double or triple cards from their hand as soon as possible in order to ‘take a lead’ in the game. 

Other strategy notes:

  • A pick up card also has defensive value – it can be used to deflect a pick up card played at you onto the next player – so there is value in holding onto these cards for use late in the game.
  • Picking up lots of card has benefits, too: Especially early in the game, picking up cards can lead to acquiring doubles or triples of the same rank – so can be helpful in terms of forming a finishing strategy. 
  • Try to maintain cards of all colors in your hand for as long as possible. If you have a few play options in your hand, try to play a single card of your strongest suit.
  • If playing multiple cards of the same rank, ensure that the final card played is the most useful to you color-wise.
  • Double or triple jump cards can be very valuable late in the game. (E.g. in a four player game, a player could play 3 jump cards together, after which play jumps back to them, and they have an opportunity to play again, perhaps play their ‘last cards’.
  • Teaching advanced students these strategy tips can also make for an interesting side-component of a lesson, and lead to more interesting games, but once again remember of course that the focus should be mostly about having fun and getting in quality practice!

Top Tips For Better Educational Results With AGO Cards

  • Aim to play using only English* !  An easy way to implement this is by adding a ‘pick up penalty’ for non English chatter. It can work like magic when done right, and can lead to tears if done wrong! You don’t want to be so strict as to spoil the fun, so maybe give a yellow card warning first up and reinforce this rule over time. Students really enjoy policing it, too once the rule is established! *(or whatever the target language is!)
  • With AGO Phonics, get players to touch the target phoneme on each word (to ensure focus is on the word, not the picture). There is also a “kinesthetic” learning benefit to doing this. Also, players should say the target phoneme last (if they can say the target phoneme correctly in isolation, that is more or less proof that they understand its function (and if they get it wrong, it is easy for the teacher / parent to diagnose and offer corrective feedback). 
  • Customize the decks. Add a few new cards from another level, or remove some easier ones to keep things fresh, and add a learning gap as players make progress.
  • Play a variety of games. Different games have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, “Quiz Show” (for Q&A) doesn’t require students to be able to read (so it is good for introducing new content in a controlled manner), but it is also very teacher centered and individual students don’t get much practice in a large class. “Rock Scissors Paper” is all about speed, so despite its simplicity it is a good activity for developing fluency once students are familiar with the content. In general, teachers and parents are encouraged to get a feeling and understanding for what is happening in the background educationally during a game and make choices based on that.
  • Push ahead! Students can learn the content on AGO games quickly, so don’t hold them back if they are ready to go beyond what’s in the curriculum or lesson plan. Remember, what they encounter in AGO will later be reinforced when it is practiced it other contexts such as text books and lessons later on – and in this case, the fact that the content is already familiar will make it easier to digest. 

General Tips for Using AGO Cards:

  • Start off simple and slow. You don’t have to start off with a complete deck. Aim to gradually increase difficulty and speed over time by adding new cards to the mix, or adjusting how the games are played as players progress.
  • Consider students’ needs interests and abilities when deciding what game play method and level of playing cards to use.
  • Remember – it’s OK if players encounter unknown concepts, vocabulary or grammar. It’s an opportunity to learn, and if a player doesn’t completely understand first time, there will be many further chances to practice a given learning target in future games. (i.e. as decks of cards, AGO content typically repeats itself in random order each time you play, so material gets mixed up and covered many times).
  • Try to reinforce positive behaviours and (lightheartedly) punish negative ones. (such as adding a penalty for non-English chatter – as described in more detail later on). 
  • Timing: Some games take a predictable amount of time (i.e. a game finishes once cards run out). Others continue until someone reaches an objective – and thus will sometimes finish quickly, and other times drag on and on (such as last card). If a game finishes too quickly, try re-dealing the winning player in, or keep them involved through assisting another player, or helping to manage the game. If a game is dragging on… you can call ‘one minute left’, and after this expires, the player closest to finishing (e.g. in the case of Last Card, the player with fewest cards in their hand), wins!
  • The AGO supplementary apps can be used as ‘learning scaffolds’ – adding a voice to unknown words and sentences, or in the case of the Q&A games adding in extra vocabulary and examples.
  • When using the apps in small groups, or with young kids, we recommend using over-ear headphones so that only the player wearing them can hear the prompts (i.e. if a child is having trouble reading a word, they can put headphones on, look the word up, then say it). This takes away kids tendency to just whack a whole bunch of buttons in order to make as much noise as they can! With headphones, the focus also subtly changes – children seem to make more of an effort to answer independent of the app, and can take pride in this.

AGO As A Different Learning Angle:

It takes all types to make a world, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. In the same vein, people learn in different ways, often based somewhat on what their personal strengths and preferences are.

If you ask someone what their likes are, and what they consider their strengths to be, often there is a lot of overlap.
That is to say: what you like and what you are good at are often pretty much the same thing (and that is not just a coincidence, either). Furthermore it works the other way, too: there is a relationship between what you don’t like and what you consider yourself weak at.

Why is this? What can we take out of this?
In simple terms, when we like or enjoy something, our mind is open to it, we may think about it in our free time, our subconscious will process it and rehearse it, and we will be open to encountering the subject again in the future. The opposite is true for things that we’ve developed a dislike for: we would rather be doing something else, that topic is not interesting, brings stress and so our mind is reluctant to focus upon it or learn about it. 

Bearing the above in mind, It’s not hard to see why people are prone to make more progress when  enjoying themselves, relaxed and interested in something. They are not fighting it, or trying to switch their focus to something more pleasant; their mind is open and curious. That is the frame of mind as a teacher you want your students to be in, and that state of mind is where people can begin to feel “flow” – where time goes really fast, faces light up, learning comes naturally and our performance markedly increases.

AGO games offer a different learning angle to a coursebook, and that can sometimes appeal to a different type of student.

As an example, AGO Phonics has proven itself a useful tool for students in native English speaking countries that have struggled early on with reading and perhaps become disheartened in the process. Almost all students enjoy playing games, so while this type of student may dread reading or writing practice in the traditional sense, they are probably open to the idea of playing a phonics game (so long as you accentuate the game part, and make the goal first of all to have fun). Within this adjusted mindset, students will give more effort, and may surprise even themselves by how quickly they progress, or how much they actually already knew, and a good teacher is able to then use this momentum to steer them back on track! 

Teachers, parents and students alike are encouraged to experiment and foster children’s innate curiosity and affection for playing cards (that young people like colorful playing cards is almost universal!). If you can get your students feeling good and interested in the topic at hand, you are already halfway there!

Multiple Intelligences:
Multiple Intelligences theory is a framework that attempts to capture the different types of learners you’ll find in a classroom. It is useful for teachers to have a basic understanding of the categories of learners, so that they can better reach more of their students. Many ESL or EFL coursebooks incorporate the Multiple Intelligences theory framework to appeal better to different types of learners. 

Image Credit: Thrive Global, 2019.

Broadly speaking, it’s a good idea to mix different elements together to keep lessons fresh, and appealing to different types of learners and doing a variety of activities in classrooms that can appeal to these different types of learners. 

AGO cards weren’t exactly made with Multiple intelligences in mind, but the various card games (and apps) do cover most of the categories at various times, and give different types of learners opportunies to practice in their preferred mode.

Using AGO Cards At School and At Home:

When is the the best time to bring out the AGO cards in class?
While any time is OK, most teachers tend to break out the AGO cards either at the beginning or end of a lesson. Here are a few reasons why:

In an EFL or ESL classroom, starting a lesson with an AGO game, especially when encouraging students to communicate only in English can set the tone for the lesson (i.e. students start the lesson doing something enjoyable, are made conscious of the importance of trying to communicate in English, feel good if they can achieve it, and once the class gets used to this behaviour, it becomes easier(but not necessarily easy!) to maintain ‘English only’ for the entire lesson). The same applies when playing games in other languages, too!

AGO cards (especially QnA cards), are also a great way to introduce or later review grammar and vocabulary. If you are super organized, it can be worth picking out question cards that have relevance to your prepared lesson, but otherwise, just grab a pack that fits your students needs, and start playing!

AGO TO FINISH A LESSON: On the other hand, some teachers prefer to use the promise of a game after completing lesson tasks as a motivator to keep kids on task during a lesson, or as an end of lesson filler. A lot of it comes down to teacher preference and what you find works for you and your students!

AGO AT HOME: At home, AGO offers a realistic and low resistance way to get children practicing reading and language skills. It’s a form of homework that’s willingly done, so long as it’s fun! And teachers, if you can get your students into the habit of playing at home with their parent or siblings… they have a good chance they will do their homework several times over, and start making some rapid progress!