Use the Memory game to stimulate a variety of speech and language skills.

You can play the Memory game (sometimes called Concentration) with a regular deck of playing cards, but since Hasbro's Original Memory set has pictures of common objects (animals, fruits, clothing, toys, etc.), it makes a good tool for teaching and reinforcing early vocabulary.

Original Memory

Manufacturer: Hasbro

Suggested Retail Price: $8.99 US

Availability: discount stores, toy and game stores, online

Number of players: 1 or more

Recommended age: 3-6 years, but I’ve used it with preschool through geriatric

Playing the Memory game involves finding pairs of identical objects. The game begins with players placing some or all of the pairs of cards face down on a table (without first looking at them). The player whose turn it is exposes first one card, then a second; if the two cards match, the player removes the pair and places them on a "match pile", then takes another turn; if the two cards do not match, they are turned face down again and it is the next player's turn. The game continues until all pairs are found and removed, and the player with the most matches is the winner.

For younger players and those who struggle with short-term memory, you can play with fewer cards (with some kids--and adults with dementia--I start with as few as two pairs). As players become more accustomed to playing, and more confident with their ability, you can increase the number of card pairs.

The memory game can be played in complete silence, which does absolutely nothing to improve speech or language skills, although it can still be a good exercise in short-term memory, visual scanning, spatial perception, attention, and turn-taking. But there are plenty of things you can do to make it into a language stimulation game. Here are a few that have worked for me:

Modeling: self-talk and parallel talk. Comment on the pictures and your strategies while you play. Exactly how you do this will depend on your child's needs and abilities, but the general principles for talking to your child apply here: use a slow pace with sentences of a length and complexity that your child can understand; avoid asking questions like "What's that?" or "What did you get?" Recast your child's utterances and use focused stimulation to facilitate early vocabulary development and other language skills.

Here's an example of how I might use focused stimulation to develop early vocabulary with a young child while playing the Memory game. Let's suppose I turn up a card with a picture of a frog. Here's my verbal reaction:

A frog.

Look, I found a frog.

It's a green frog.

Hello, frog.

I wonder where I'll find the other frog.

Is this a frog? [as I turn over another card]

No, it's not a frog.

I've just given the child seven highly salient exposures to the word frog. I haven't asked him to say the word, so there's no pressure on him to perform; however, if I turn up the same card on my next turn and say, Look, it's my old friend the ...", there's a pretty good chance the child will fill in the missing word; if not, after a very brief pause, I'll say the word. After all, it's not a quiz. [Note: although I asked a question in the second to last line above, it was not directed at the child. Rather, it was a self-directed question, which I answered more or less instantly]

Memorygame variations and activities

If you own the Original Memory game, here are some alternate activities you can do using the cards that come with the set.

Categories: spread the cards out on a table face up and have your child help you group them into categories (animals, vehicles, toys, food, etc.).

Same/Different: This can be a good training activity for younger children who have trouble understanding the standard memory game. Split the deck, or part of the deck, into two identical stacks; place the cards from one of the stacks on the table face up; draw a card from the other stack and ask the child to find the one on the table that's the same.

As an alternative, rather than putting the cards on the table, shuffle one or both of the stacks and put both stacks side by side facing down. Turn over the top card on each deck, and identify whether they are the same or different. If they're different, put them on the table facing up and turn over the next pair. Most pairs will, of course be different, but eventually you'll turn up a card that's been exposed before; when that happens, have the child place it on the card that's the same.

Odd one out: Remember that Sesame Street song, One of these things is not like the others? In this activity, you take a pair of identical cards, plus one that's different, and place them on the table face up. The child identifies the one that's "different" or that "doesn't have a match" or that's "not like the others," depending on what vocabulary you want to stimulate; alternately, the child can identify the ones that "match" or are "the same" or are "a pair" or "go together".

I Spy: Spread all the cards on the table face up and take turns describing one of the items without naming it. Try to use (and encourage your child to use) a variety of descriptive strategies, such as:

  • physical characteristics: it's green/it has long legs/webbed feet.
  • category: it's an animal/amphibian/something that's alive.
  • behavior: it hops/swims/eats flies/croaks.
  • uses: you can keep it as a pet.
  • location: it lives in water/in a pond.
  • associations: it goes with lilly pads.
Go Fish: use the cards from the set to play one of the greatest games ever invented. I'm writing a whole page on Go Fish, so I won't go into a whole lot of detail here (I'll add a link once I get it uploaded). The Original Memory game cards are small and thick, so they don't lend themselves well to holding in your hand, but if you have Scrabble or Rummikub, you can use the tile-holders from those games to hold your cards for you; if not, you can just lay them down in front of you face up and set up a book or other barrier in front of each player so that you can't see each other's cards.

Phonemic awareness:

Rhyming. Play the game as usual, but each time you expose a card, name the item on the card followed by a word that rhymes with it, e.g. frog, log. It's okay to use 'nonsense' words, as long as they rhyme, e.g. airplane/schmairplane.

Sounds in words. Identify the first and/or last sound in the word; be sure you are focusing on sounds, not letters--the first and last sounds in knife are not K and E, but 'nnn' and 'fff'.

Syllables. Identify how many syllables are in each word by clapping once as you say each syllable. Most of the words in this game are either one or two syllables, but there are a few with more (e.g., butterfly; if your child says buh-fly, this may be a worthwhile activity).

Silly Stories and Songs: At the end of the game, take a passage

from a favorite book, poem, or song, and substitute the items on the card pairs you've accumulated for nouns in the story. For example, In the great green BUTTERFLY, there was a PIZZA and a red FROG, and a picture of the SHOE jumping over the SNAIL (butchered version of Goodnight Moon). I like to take all the food items and insert them into the song I Like to Eat ...; sometimes, just to be silly, I'll sneak a non-food item in to get a reaction out of the child. With the animals, you can do a variation of The Wheels on the Bus using animal sounds (The dogs on the bus go woof woof woof, etc.).

I've found the Memory game to be one of my most useful and valuable tools in therapy, and easily worth what little money I paid for it.

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