Thursday, May 23, 2013

cheap and easy in the target language: Go Fish

cheap, easy, and in French
If your kids are anything like my five-year-old son, you can get them to do almost anything if you turn it into a game--the Getting Dressed Race (first one to finish wins), the Brushing Teeth Un-Race (last one to finish wins), Laundry Basketball, Walking Backwards to Distract Little Boy From the Fact That He Doesn't Want to Go Where You Want Him To Go....

Griffin loves board games, too, so much so that he has been known to combine them (for example, "Chesskers," which features elements of Chess and Checkers), play them by himself during quiet time, and even burst into tears when "the red guy won" (despite the fact that he himself was the "red guy"-- and the blue guy, and the green guy, and the yellow guy!).

Parchesi is his current favorite; he plays the camels, the bulls, the elephants, and the tigers simultaneously, even if  it takes two or three naptimes to get through one game!
He likes card games a lot, too, especially once I learned how to help him see all his cards simultaneously (without placing them face-up on the table in front of him--and all his opponents): turn an empty egg carton upside down, make a diagonal slit at the bottom of each egg cup, and slide the cards into the slits.

This is someone else's kid--thanks, Google Image Search!  I like to cut diagonally so that the cards are offset instead of directly in front of one another.)
A few months ago, Griffin was obsessed with Go Fish and wanted to play it All. The. Time.  And I realized that it would be easy to turn this simple game with a common deck of cards into one that would require him to speak French with me!

1.  Select about 12 four-letter words in the target language that a child can illustrate without any help.  (I deliberately picked words that used all the diacritical marks in French, like the accent aigu over the E in vélo, bicycle, and the letter pairs that cause trouble for English speakers, like i/e and j/g.)

2.  Spell out the words on the index cards, with four cards devoted to each word, writing one of the letters in each upper left corner: 

Griffin deliberately drew four different versions of most of the objects we made cards for.
3.  Ask your child to illustrate each of the cards:

4.  Play the game!  Ask each other for cards that spell out words--"Maman, est-ce que tu as une carte pour 'bleu' ?"  "Non, je n'en ai pas.  Va à  la pêche !  Est-ce que tu as une carte pour 'père' ?" "Oui, la voici !"

5.  When someone collects all four cards for one word, he announces what it is and spells the word as he places the cards on the table in order in front of him.  (Yay, alphabet and reading practice for our kiddos!)

6. And finally, since I'm turning into an "early literacy nerd" (I used to be a "word nerd," but five years working with emergent readers at the public library has fine-tuned my linguistic nerdiness into "how can I maximize the learning potential of this game?"), I always ask Griffin to make up a sentence--or a story--using all the words he won with.


1.  If you want your child to make sentences afterwards, include a few verbs on your cards.  

I threw in some adjectives too.
2.  Figure out how to say "go fish!" in the target language so that you can tell your partner that he needs to draw a new card.  (I assume it's "Va à la pêche" en français?)

3.  Ignore my advice to use index cards.  Griffin very quickly realized that he could see right through to the other side of the fairly thin white paper to figure out what cards I already had in my hand or what was on top of the draw pile.  Use card stock cut into the size of playing cards.  Or scrapbook paper.  Or laminated construction paper.  (Or just write and draw in pencil, not markers.)

See?  Cheap and easy in the target language, plus a game that your child helped create, which (theoretically) means he feels some ownership of it and is thus more eager to play it and speak the target language with you!


  1. I love the egg carton idea!

    I have used Go Fish often in teaching ESL to kids in Russia. However, I never thought of making it into an art project! We just used whatever flashcards/playing cards (Uno!) I had on hand, usually colors, numbers, or groups of words like animals. And then practiced "Do you have?". I am going to keep your version in mind to use sometime.

  2. This is a great idea.

    At what stage did you teach Griffin his French alphabet? Did you do it contemporaneously with the English one (which I assume he learnt from his daddy or from school?).

    I am really torn as to how to proceed with Poppette which means right now I'm probably making a real hash of it by trying to teach her the English alphabet (through phonics) whilst speaking French so I end up saying things like "c'est la letter D for Dog"... As I type this out, I realise just how ridiculous that sounds... Can you share how you approached teaching Griffin the various accented letters etc over and above the basic alphabet? Was there any confusion? This is definitely a time when I wish I had a language teaching background!!!

    1. Yes, tricky, right?! Griffin learned his French alphabet alongside the English one. Using a strict OPOL approach made it very clear that Maman's alphabet was in French and Daddy's alphabet was the English one. Since we all sang the letters to the same tune, that showed him that they were both alphabets, just with different pronunciations.

      (Yes, his dad and other relatives and teachers shared the ABCs in English with Griffin, reinforced with the occasional YouTube video, alphabet puzzle, and games.)

      When reading with him, I have done the same "c'est la lettre D pour Dog" that you describe--I suppose it's no different than an English speaker teaching, say, Arabic by explaining the letters in English. It does feel silly, but seems to work with my kid.

      When Griffin would bring me an alphabet book in English and ask me to read it to him, I would translate it on the fly like any other book, but it was always a challenge to find something in the illustration that started with the target letter!

      As far as diacritics, I didn't explicitly teach them, but when we were looking at letters in context, I'd say, "ca c'est un e accent aigu" or whatever. As a result, he went through an interim stage of calling any letter with a diacritical mark an "accent aigu." (Which is normal in language acquisition--overgeneralizing one rule to all situations!)

      It helped that two of Griffin's favorite iPad games focused on spelling (dragging the correct letters to words, while listening to the name of each individual letter and the pronunciation of the words).

      Now when I'm helping Griffin write something--almost always in English--I give him the English letters rather than confusing him by saying, say, "I anglais" in French (pronounced EEE, of course) to mean the letter I.

      Yes, there has been confusion--and adding in Spanish will certainly complicate the writing. But the best way to become a good writer is to do a lot of reading, so I figure that the writing in French will follow after he is able to read by himself in French. And since he tends to follow along when I read to him, he's picking up some of that already.

      Bon courage!

    2. Thank you Sarah your advice is always so helpful and gratefully received!!! :-)

  3. Hi Sarah,
    I love your Go Fish idea. I have used it in my French classes (we say "va pecher" for "Go fish"). I have used pictures of animals but your version has a great early literacy aspect to it! Would you mind sharing your word list? (I see that you used bleu, gris, bebe, et velo, but what other words did you use?

    1. Our other cards were pere, tete, Noel, chat, ours, and vert. The only four-letter word with a cedilla that I could think of was "recu," and I didn't know how we could illustrate it. I should add verbs to our game next!

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. It's taken me a while to comment as it turns out iPads suck for commenting on blogs. First off the card idea is so brilliant. I can't wait to create some of these to play with my girls in France this summer.

    Also I was hoping you might have some recommendations on books or materials on how to teach kids to read in French.

    So glad you participated in the carnival! Cordelia

    1. Bonjour Coco! I'm glad you liked it. And I totally agree about the iPad; they're great for consuming information but not so much for producing it. Sometimes I feel like my iPad has made me very passive--lots of reading but little interacting, since typing is awkward or I'm reading while holding a toddler.

      As far as materials for teaching to read--I'm not sure. My French and Belgian friends who live here in the US have struggled with that.

      Some of their kids have just picked it up from being read to in French; some have used textbooks and workbooks from France.

      I'll have to check with them for specific recommendations.

      Thanks for hosting the carnival!

  5. Hi Sarah,

    I have just discovered your blog and I find it already very useful. This Go fish idea is great!

    In French, you can also say "pioche !" (literally "dig"/"pickax") for "go fish" :)

    1. Welcome, Judith, and merci beaucoup! I'll try it with "pioche" from now on--it just sounds tres French to me. We'll see if Griffin protests. (I can hear him now--"Maman! What's 'pioche'? Why aren't you saying 'Va a la peche'? Hey, I want to va a la peche. When are you going to take me fishing again? That was awesome...." And then, ten minutes, later, "Hey, what card did you ask me for again?" Sigh.)

  6. Ooooh, check out this very cool homemade "Go Fish"-type game that focuses on compound words--I would love to make a French version for Griffin!

  7. Hello Sarah,

    Thank you for this nice blog. I'm French, non native english speaker raising my two boys in English! I'm glad to read about your experience and will follow you from now.

    Pour compléter les propos de Judith, après avoir pioché, si l'on a obtenu la carte que l'on avait demandé, on dit "Bonne pioche!" et on rejoue :)

    1. "Bonne pioche"--parfait! Je vais m'en souvenir.

      Heureuse de faire votre connaissance! Bonne continuation avec vos garcons.