by Cindy Smith

Cindy Smith is a graduate student in Educational Technology at San Diego State University. In her free time she is developing software in Delphi and learning Java.

Instructional Objective: The learners will be able to increase their vocabulary. In the affective domain, the students will have fun getting ready for the SAT.

Learners/Context: The learners are students in high school English classes who are studying vocabulary. They are interested in doing well on the SAT and know that a good vocabulary will help them on that test.

The game is designed to be played during or after class to reinforce words already learned as well as to introduce new words they may not have studied yet.

Rationale: A game is an appropriate format for this situation because it provides another way to work with the subject. A game will provide some relief from drill and memorization and yet the particular rules of the game reinforce the interconnectedness and relationships inherent in the subject itself. The card game is portable. It is quick and easy to play in almost any situation. The rules are familiar, therefore the game's learning curve does not inhibit learners from attempting the game.

Rules: Two to four people may play at the same time.

The object of the game is to form sets of two or three cards which are synonyms. The dealer deals seven cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down on the table to form the draw pile. Play proceeds clockwise from the dealer.

Each player will:

  1. Ask the player to his left for a card: The current player (asking player) asks the player to his left (asked player) "Do you have a synonym for 'X'?" where X is the word on the top of a card in his hand. The asking player can not ask for a word on the synonym list of a card in his hand. The asked player looks at the synonym lists on the cards he has in his hand for 'X'. If 'X' is on the synonym list of a card, or cards, in his hand he gives that card or cards to the asking player saying "Y (or Y and Z) are synonyms of 'X'." If 'X' is not on the synonym list of a card in the asked players hand he says "I do not have a synonym for 'X', go fish."
  2. Draw a card from the draw pile if told to "go fish" (i.e. he didn't receive one from the asked player )
  3. Lay down any synonym sets he has made
  4. Lay down any cards that are part of synonym sets other player have already laid down

The first player to go out (have no more cards in his hand) wins. If a time limit is set instead, the winner is the player with the most cards on the table at the end of the predetermined time period.

Card Design: The cards are symmetrical as are regular playing cards. Each card has a word selected from The Princeton Review's SAT Hit Parade right justified across the top. Up the left side of the card are one or more words that are synonyms of the word across the top. They are the same size as playing cards and have a typical playing-card pattern on the back.

Every card in the deck is related to at least one, probably two or three, other cards in the deck which are listed down the left side of the card in its synonym list. These related cards form a synonym set.

Deck Design: The number of cards in the deck is ultimately determined by the number of words you want to work with. There are approximately 250 words in the SAT Hit Parade. Because every word and its chosen synonyms become cards the deck can quickly become unwieldy. Optimally, work with 15 or 20 words and their synonyms at one time. This will result in a playable number of about 50 to 60 cards.

Sample Cards:

Synonym Set for Reticent, Restrained, Uncommunicative

Design Process: I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "I have to do a vocabulary game!" Originally I envisioned a rummy-type game then decided that Go Fish was a better structure for what I was trying to accomplish. Cards are primarily visual, Go Fish brings the auditory senses to the learning/game playing process.

The design of the cards themselves took a while. My first thought was to put the word at the top to the left, having the synonyms going down the side of the card on the left also. When I made up some practice cards and played the game, I found that configuration confusing. Because playing the game requires reading the synonyms, they needed to stay on the left side of the card so they could be read easily. Placing the word to the top right of the card allows a hand to be fanned to read the synonyms or stacked with just the top of the cards visible to read the words.

I targeted this game to high school students studying for the SAT but with the right word list it could be targeted towards any group. I would like to have has something like this when I was brushing up my vocabulary for the GRE.

Variations: The cards could have been designed with only the word and a definition on the card, no synonyms. The game would be played the same way, but the difference in the design of the cards would make it a more advanced game. An answer sheet would need to be supplied in case players could not determine synonyms from the definitions.

References: Word Smart (1995). The Princeton Review. New York, NY: Villard Books.

Last updated by Cindy Smith on September 29, 1996.

Return to the Card Game Table of Contents.

Educational Technology 670, Fall 1996.