Go Fish!

Make your own custom playing cards for teaching English!

Before a visit to a elementary school a couple weeks ago I had an incredible idea: Why not use the children’s game “Go Fish!” to teach a useful expression in English? As  you probably remember from your own elementary days, the game involves using the phrase “Do you have any~”. Not only is this a fun and simple game but this phrase can be used in many situations to gain useful information in the real world. For exmample:

When meeting someone for the first time: “Do you have any sisters/brothers/cats/etc.?”

When at a store: “Do you have any English books?”

When at a restaurant: “Do you have any sushi?”

If you have never heard of “Go Fish” before follow this link to read about the rules. I want to spend the rest of the time writing about how I made the cards and how I presented this lesson to elementary 6th graders and junior high school 7th graders.

Lesson Plan:

I chose 9 words to focus on for the lesson: Brother, Sister, Apple, CD, Banana, Cat, Dog, Cherry and Candy. The words, “brother, sister, cat and dog” were especially important because combined with the key phrase “Do you have any~” they give the students a really great question to get to know people they meet for the first time, like new ALTs. I threw in words like apple and banana, knowing the kids were already comfortable with them to take some pressure off of memorizing new words, since the real point of the class is to get the students using the phrase “Do you have any~?”.

After introducing these words and playing a game to help the kids remember them, we put on a short drama for the students using the key phrase and asking them about what the phrase means. After drilling the phrase, we handed out 5 cards to each student, and had them walk around, playing Janken. The winner of Janken would get to ask for a card (e.g “Do you have any dogs?”) and if the fellow student had that card, they had to hand it over. After about 5 minutes, students returned to their seats and counted their cards. The students with the most cards won the round and we played again if the students were enjoying themselves.

This game was a warm up for the game of “Go Fish.” When the kids were ready, they got into groups of 5-6 and proceeded to play “Go Fish” for the rest of class.

How to make the cards:

Making 6 decks of cards with custom pictures and a reverse side like the original Hoyle playing cards took me about 4 hours to make, spread out between two days. Only I and one other teacher worked on the cards, so labor time can be cut-down if you can convince other teachers to do some cutting for you. But this is the basic way I made the cards:

1) Make a photocopy of the back of a Hoyle card - 9 cards per sheet X 24 sheets for 6 decks of 36 cards.

2) Trace 9 cards on a sheet of paper to draw a custom picture on

3) Draw 9 custom picture for each card, depending on what vocabulary you'd like to teach. Print out 24 copies.

4) Cut out all the cards and glue the Hoyle backs to the custom fronts. Organize them into piles so you have 4 of each card in each deck. Option: Make a blown up copy of each card for flash card purposes


This game has been well received at all the schools I have visited. I have used it at four elementary schools and two junior high schools. I don’t visit elementary schools so often, so I have re-used the game multiple times on return visits by popular demand. The lesson can be broken into multiple days where the Janken game is played on the first day, allowing the students to review and “graduate” into the game of “Go Fish!”. At the end of the lessons, I have done several things, one being a “lesson consolidation” where I have the teacher interview me about my brothers, sisters, cats, ect. using the key phrase. By the end of the lesson it is very easy for the students to understand the entire interview and learn about me entirely in English. It is a big confidence boost for the students because they can see that they have actually learned something useful and that they can understand a conversation in a completely different language.

If you would like to try this activity at your school, send an email to eliotc1986 [at] gmail [dot] com and I can send you the data files for making the cards.