I hijacked the “Go Fish” game cards for a class of ten year olds. I’d had them out intending to use the alphabet letters to help the phonics class review (they just finished their first alphabet book), but they’d wanted to play animal memory instead. So “Go Fish” was sitting on my desk untouched.
Actually it’s not a bad little game. There are 50 cards – 25 matches. They’re labeled with a letter of the alphabet and a corresponding animal. And it qualifies as educational in two ways: the matching alphabet letters are upper case and lower case (perfect for my phonics class who have just finished their first go at learning the alphabet) and the matching animals are adult and young (and the upper case letter is always on the adult animal while the lower case letter is reserved for the baby animals). The game even goes so far as to avoid animals whose young are commonly called something different from their adult term (e.g. bunny, kitten, puppy…). But it wasn’t the game I needed.
You see, my students are learning about animal habitats and behaviours (with the aim to be able to describe an animal without needing to know its name). It is also very important for them to be able to ask questions, so this unit introduces “where” questions as well. They came to class with their homework (singular and plural “where” questions) so full of mistakes that I knew they needed more practice. So I elicited the questions on the board:
Where do (animals) live?
Where does (an animal) live?
And I started a drill. After a painful two minutes of correcting mistakes and trying again, I glanced over at my desk and saw the “Go Fish” cards still sitting there.
I divided the class into pairs and divided the go fish cards evenly between each team (10 cards each) in random order. Player 1 fanned out the cards and player 2 chose one. If it was an upper case letter, player 2 would ask a singular question about the animal on the card (e.g. Where does a goat live?). If it was a lower case letter, the question would be plural (Where do goats live?). Player 1 had to answer the question correctly to take the card. If the answer was wrong the card went back to the deck. Then the players swapped. This continued until all the cards were used.
It took about 15 minutes and they asked a lot of questions, argued some about usage, and helped each other out. When I did a comprehension check at the end of the game, the percentage of correct answers had doubled. And instead of bored or frustrated, they were smiling and confident – raising their hands and speaking louder than before.
One of those lucky moments when a spur-of-the-moment idea born from materials intended for another use just works.