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.

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. 

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!

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.

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:

AGO TO START A LESSON:
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!

Getting Great Results With AGO Card Games!

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/