Free, printable board games are available for download. There are several board layouts available. These are turn based strategy games, where players play cards from their hand, and put game chips onto corresponding squares on the game board grid. If you are familiar with the game “sequence”, you are already halfway there.
Generally, the goal is to form straight lines of four or more chips in a row, and to prevent your opponents from doing likewise.
This game is similar to “karuta” (an educational way of using cards popular in Japan). In this game, spread numbered AGO cards (i.e. the phonics cards) face up on a table.
One player takes the role of leader. They select a card on the table, and read it out, line by line (or even slowly selecting words to read one by one, in any order). The do not touch the card, or indicate its location. The other players then race to locate this card. The first player to touch it, wins the card, adding it to their score pile.
Players only get one chance to guess the card. The first player to guess right takes the role of leader, calling out the next card. If all players guess wrong (which shouldn’t really happen), the leader wins the card and gets to call another. Most cards at the end, wins.
(Thanks to Chris Sharp for his suggestions regarding this game)
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!
This game is basically beat the clock hangman. Played with AGO Phonics cards, it practices scanning and decoding skills.
Setup: 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.
Play: 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!
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.
Setup: To set up, place a large selection of cards face down on the table, and mix them up.
Play: 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.
Finish: 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.
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.
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.
Play: 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):
This game works best with groups of four or less. (bigger classes can be split into smaller groups).
Setup: Spread all, or a selection of AGO Phonics cards face down. Get students to mix them up.
Play: 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.
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.
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.
As a general rule, the goal when using AGO cards is to maximize BOTH educational value and fun. There is an art to that, no matter what game you play!
AGO cards are essentially tools for presenting educational targets and information in ways that are motivating and interesting to students. Whoever wins a game is not as important as how engaged students are, and the amount and quality of the practice they get during play.
Choosing The Right Game:
There are lots of ways to use AGO cards and different methods each have their own strengths, weaknesses and draw focus onto different aspects of the content. Factors such as class size, age, ability, amount of time available, familiarity of target content and the personalities of the players are considerations educators need to bear in mind when setting up to play.
Don’t Make It Too Competitive:
While competitive instincts can be harnessed to create an exciting learning environment, it’s important to first of all ensure everyone has fun. Generally, the younger a child is, the less they can handle losing, so with young students, try to minimise the amount of focus placed on the winning, while offering lots of encouragement for good play and good effort. If you are playing too, it’s generally a good idea to ive your students the satisfaction of beating you, and this can also be used to soften the blow of not winning for other students.
Using Only The Target Language (when using AGO for language acquisition):
When using AGO cards for language learning, ideally students should only communicate in the target language – in practice, this may just be an aspirational goal at the beginning, but it’s certainly something students should work towards. AGO cards don’t contain translations in other languages on them, but especially with beginners or those learning a new language at home via AGO there may be times when access to a translation would certainly make things easier. In this case, we recommend downloading and printing a translation from the agocards.com website, or otherwise using one of the AGO apps (which have the advantage of modelling pronunciation as well). From 2021, the QnA apps now also offer translations of each card into a number of languages within the app.
If you’d like more info or ideas on how to get students communicating only in the target language in game, check this article we wrote about the topic: https://www.teachingvillage.org/2014/05/31/english-only-in-english-class/
We intend to use this page to post useful things related to AGO card games here!
AGO cards are designed for language learning and developing reading skills. We started off making games for learning English, but now have games in 5 languages, and over time hope to add many more!
AGO games are pretty easy to use right out of the box, but experienced teachers, parents and students also know that there is a lot more that you can get out of the games with just a few little tips, and by mixing in new things to keep it fresh! We intend to make this blog the best place to find those tips.
And if you have a good idea… or have a question / content request that you think others might also find useful, please let us know, and maybe we can add it here, too!
A common question / request that we often get is for new game ideas, so over the next few weeks we will start posting a bunch of ideas for games and classroom management.
Till then, take care and have fun learning languages and reading!