Play Go Fish to develop articulation, vocabulary, and expressive language skills

Go Fish is one of the most popular children's card games in the world (at least that part of the world that I'm familiar with), and I have yet to meet a child who doesn't know how to play it.

If you've been living under a rock and need the rules explained, here's the quick-and-dirty from Wikipedia. Many of my students, especially those with auditory processing disorders, refer to the game as "Goldfish." This allows for a teachable moment before the game even begins, with a discussion of the metaphorical nature of the game's name.

Picking up a card from the "pond" in the middle and not knowing exactly what you'll get is kind of like going fishing. That's why you tell your opponent to "Go Fish" if you don't have the item requested--it's not just a euphemism for "no". We may even spend some time discussing other names that describe what they label, such as earring, baseball, sweat pants, toothbrush, etc.

We may also discuss labels that are potentially misleading. For example, to my students, football means American football, not soccer. I like to point out that in American football, the "ball," which is really shaped more like an egg, is almost never played with the feet. In fact, most of the players rarely if ever get to touch it at all; on the other hand, a soccer ball is actually round and touches the players' feet more than any other body part. I've even gotten a few of them to agree that the rest of the world is correct in calling soccer "football," and that American football should be called "hand-egg," or "not-foot-not-ball." As for soccer, we could change the spelling and call Muhammad Ali's sport socker, and boxing could refer to what you do before heading to the post office to mail your package.

But I digress (don't mind me, I also think cookies should be called bakies).

You can play Go Fish with a deck of regular playing cards, but there are a lot of specialty decks available on the market. Some have pictures of (predictably) different kinds of fish and other sea creatures, but the ones I like have a variety of familiar objects. I often use a selection of cards from Original Memory for Go Fish; I also have a deck of I Spy Go Fish memory cards (from the publishers of the popular I Spy book series) that I've also occasionally used for memory with older kids.

The beauty of the game is that it is practically impossible for kids with language disorders to request an opponent's card by pointing instead of talking or to use non-specific vocabulary like 'this,' 'that,' or 'thing' while playing. You really have to name the item you are asking for, because you don't want to show your opponent the cards in your hand (It would actually be possible to request a card non-verbally by showing just that card to your opponent, but I don't tell my students that.

Here are some ways I use Go Fish in therapy:

Question formation: Children with expressive language deficits will benefit from practicing the question form Do you have a ... ? Many of my students struggle with this form, and playing Go Fish gives them the opportunity to practice it over and over ...and over.

Vocabulary Development: For this, it's best to use a deck with pictures of familiar items rather than regular playing cards. As I mentioned, these are widely available for purchase, or you can make your own using pictures cut out of magazines and catalogs, or using pictures downloaded from the Internet and printed out. I've created my own Go Fish decks, which I printed directly onto do-it-yourself business cards I purchased at an office supply store.

A disadvantage of playing Go Fish with picture cards is that you're limited to words you can portray with a picture. I've seen some pretty creative attempts to portray think and thick with pictures, but some of the commonly occurring words that begin with the voiced /th/ sound are the, this, that, then, than, this, these, they, and them. How do you draw a picture of the? In these cases, I use printed words on cards that I make myself.

Articulation Practice: A lot of companies that sell speech therapy materials carry Go Fish decks for articulation therapy. I have a set of decks in my office (more than a dozen, actually), each of which targets a particular sound--a deck for /r/, a deck for /s/, a deck for /k/, and so on. If your child is working on one or two sounds, it is possible to buy individual decks for the sound or sounds you need. SuperDuper Publications is one company that sells individual decks. Linguisystems also sells articulation decks, but not individually.

Antonyms: I use a deck with pairs of opposites like tall/short; if you have tall in your hand, you have to ask for short (not little).

Literacy: I use a deck with pairs of nonsense words like bope or dowj with students who struggle with sound-letter correspondence.

Description/definition: To request a card, you have to provide a description or definition of the item on the card, e.g. Do you have an animal with feathers that flies and lays eggs?

Happy fishing!

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