Useful Game Phrases Printable: Encouraging students to ask Follow Up Questions and Expand Conversations in AGO QnA Games:

AGO QnA games allow ESL / EFL students the opportunity to learn vocab and grammar conversationally – through asking and responding to questions. Ideally though, students will continue the dialogue beyond here – learning more about each other and getting valuable practice at using the target language. In reality, it is not always easy to achieve that, often due to vocab grammar and fluency gaps. To make it easier, we have made this printable cheat sheet – a page of useful replies, follow up questions and phrases that elicit a response, and even encourage some friendly banter!

This version is in English to Japanese, but we hope to add other languages over time too! Feel free to give us a nudge about that! 

Click below for a printable PDF link.


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.