September 13, 2014

50 affective ways to use flashcards with young learners!

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

Flashcards, Flashcards. How can we live without them? What can we say about them?

I bet every single language teacher around the world has at least a set of flashcards. Some like me, certainly have a collection. I would say that teachers love flashcards because they are visual, clear, objective, and holdable. They can also be used in many different and creative ways.

I have compiled here 50 affective and effective ways in which flashcards can be used to foster engaging and significant language learning in your classes. Enjoy!

1. Say how you like it: here students get a card, say the flashcard as they like them, and pass it to the next student. You can model by saying words such as ice cream with a yummy intonation and snake with a scary one. The very nice thing is that students may have multiple and different opinions about the things in the flashcards and they can show their likes and dislikes just by how they say it. This might be a great opportunity to present them the language they need to express themselves. This is definitely one of my favourite ways of working with flashcards and because of this I have chosen it to be the first of this list!

2. Slowly uncover the picture: this is a classic. Slowly uncover the picture for students to guess what you have. You can uncover the picture from different sides or even have an envelope with a hole in which students see just a part of it. You can do it as during language presentation or when you are activating language students have already seen. If they have seen the pictures already, they will give you the answer in miliseconds!

3. Slowly uncover the word: similar to uncover the picture, but here you use cards that only have words. What I like to do here is to have students brainstorm all the words they can say that use the letter or letters that I am showing. The more letters I show, the more obvious the word gets. Some variations include showing just a little bit of the top or bottom of the word. Put the word upside down to get them crazy and excited!

4. Whisper and guess: here I get a card and either whisper it or just move my mouth and students have to guess it. Once they get the game, they can mingle doing it to their peers as a way of activating language previously presented. When they guess the word, they can exchange cards

5. Say it only if it's right: the teacher shows the flashcards and calls out a word. If the word is what the teacher is holding, students say the word. Once they get it, you can demonstrate it with one student and have students playing the game with each other.

6. Say it if you like it: similar to the last activity, but here the teacher calls out the words and students repeat it only it they like them. It's really interesting to listen to the number of people each card gets. Some of them get nobody!

Two possible answers allow
 children to choose their favourite.

7.  Apple or pear?: this is a very easy activity for students who are beginners. Each student is given two flashcards and they make simple questions just by saying the names of the cards such as "apple or pear?". Once a student answers one of the options, she/he gets that card. Students take turns to make sure that everybody stays with two cards. Then students change pairs and continue practising the vocabulary items.

8. Mime: teacher shows a card, says it, and everybody mimes it. Then teacher gets a card, mimes it, and everybody has to guess it. Students do it to each other and exchange cards before changing pairs.

9. Circle of process: this is another classic. The teacher puts a sentence such as "I went to the market and bought ______ ". Students sit in a circle and are given a card each which they are not to show others. The first student in the circle says the sentence, shows his/her card and completes the sentence saying the word represented in his/her card. The second student then says the sentence completing with the word the first person has said, and then show his/her card before saying his/her part. If a student does not remember a word, the student can show the card. A variation can be done with the whole class saying it instead of the next student in the circle.

10. Spell and guess it: here you spell a word and students guess what you have. Here it helps if you have flashcards with word and picture or only with the word to make sure that they are spelling words correctly.

11. Draw it and write it: give students a sheet of paper with a word written on top and invite students to draw the word. Then tell students to fold the top part of the sheet and bluetac these on the board. Get other students to come and write the words below the pictures students have drawn. Other students can come to the board and tick/ make corrections on how words have been written. The very nice thing about this activity is that you can use the flashcards they have created for all the other activities we have here!
Drawing bingo works on
their listening skills. 

12. Listen and clap: distribute one card per child and tell them that you will tell a story and then every time they listen to their word they have to clap. Make sure you have a list of the words or that you write the story before hand in order to make sure that each word is said several times.

13. Drawing bingo: give students a 4x4 or 5x5 matrix and spread flashcards on the floor. Demonstrate how they can draw the flashcards they like in any way on their bingo cards. Once they have done it, you can tell a story showing the cards you say and students cross their drawings when you say them. A variation is to have students also write the words instead of just drawing them.

14. Make a sentence with the word: you pick a flashcard and say some sentences using this word to model different possibilities. You can then give each student one card for them to say a sentence to a peer. After saying their sentence students exchange cards.  Circulate in the classroom and get some of their sentences to be worked on the board.

15. Ranking: you can show how much you like the things you have in the flashcards by making a list. Then ask students to make their lists either drawing or writing and then to share these with their peers. You can here again pre-teach some language they might need when commenting on their colleague's list. A very nice variation is for students to say how much they think other students in class rank  things and then check their predictions.

Would it be hard for you to
discover you are a lemon? 
16. Discover what I am: here you hold a card and students have to discover what it is. You can have yes/no questions on the board to help students with the questions. Once they get how the game works, you can have them doing it in pairs. A great variation is to get peg a card to the back of each student and they have to discover what they have on their back by asking others while mingling.

17. Complete the words in the story: here the teacher tells a story and leaves gaps for students to complete using the flashcards. Example: Once there was a (students pick a card) that was happy going home when suddenly one (students pick a card) appeared. They started talking about life and then the first card said it had lost its (students pick a card). A variation for more advanced students is for them to make a story in pairs to be completed by their peers. Great fun!

18. Make a story: there are many ways in which students can make a story with flashcards. One way is having students tell only one story with a sentence at a time when the card is turned up, another is giving students 4 cards each and they can choose how they continue the story, and a third is you give pairs 6 cards and together they create their story which is then presented to the whole group.

Would you exchange a butterfly for an apple?
19. Exchange:  each student receives a card and then you ask one of them if he would like to exchange his card for yours. Give one or two reasons and then listen to his/hers. If both agree, exchange cards. Students mingle and consider the exchanges. Here again having language they might need on the board is essential.

20. Insert it in the conversation: students are supposed to carry a normal conversation and when they see the flashcard they insert the word linking it to the last topic they were talking. Let's say students are talking about dogs, you show the egg card, and then they comment that dogs do not like eating eggs, etc. I got this one from a television show.

21. Shop: this is a another classic one that children simply love. Students set up a shop and they have to sell what they have. You can have shops with fruits, animals, objects, or even with parts of the house and actions How do you sell swimming or watching tv? Make sure you model first and have language they will need on the board.

22. Talk to it: what would you tell a butterfly if it could listen to you? what about to your bed, your tap, or to a spoon? This is the chance students always have wanted to express themselves in creative ways. It can be done orally or with cards spread around the room and students write their creative sentences on sheets of paper. Students can then vote on the best sentence.

23. Interview the flashcard: how does a car feel to be a car? What are the things it likes doing? What are its worries? Here one student is the thing in the flashcard and the other or others ask him questions. You can have students come up with the questions before raffling the cards. Great fun!

24. Watermelon: every sentence that you say has to contain that thing you have in the flashcard. If you have a watermelon, you say:  "How watermelon are you?",  the other person says "I'm watermelon fine" and the conversation goes on. The winner is the one that always remembers to insert the word in the sentence. Go changing the words. Just a silly and funny one for those moments in which you have still time left.

What did the flower tell the gate?
25. One flashcard talks to the other: students become their flashcards and have to start a conversation. We have then for example a flower talking to a house. What does it say? Maybe it says "I would like to know what is inside of you, but I will die if you talk me out of the ground. " and the house can answer " but I can put you in a vase and you will be in the living room where we get a lot of sun."

Cards can even talk about a third card saying what the like about it and what they think should be different. Gossiping flashcards in other words!

26. For and against: what are all the advantages of the flashcards? What are all the disadvantages? You can have half the class supporting one position and the other half the contrary. Each pair can have a card they are talking about.
Example: + Eggs are delicious. They can be cooked in many different ways. They are not expensive. - Eggs break easily. They get rotten. They are messy.

27. Putting things inside a house: where would you put the things you have in a house? Make a big house using the board or different parts of the classroom. Students can put the elephant in the kitchen to help with the cooking and cow in the garden to receive people that are arriving, etc. Millions of possibilities. You can have students using a specific structure such as "What if we had", "I suggest having", or any other you are covering.

When was the last time you saw an elephant? 
28. Last time I saw: the name says it all. Students talk about the last time they interacted or used that thing. You can ask students to use WH questions. You could have the following: When was the last time you saw an elephant? Who were you with when you saw it? What did you feel when you saw it?

You can again here the questions already written and students only have to ask them. Answers are hilarious!

29. Domino: students play domino and to place the card they have to say something that both cards have in common. Students can talk about size, color, price, what they are used for, etc. How would you find a similarity between a brush and a ball? Both start with B, maybe?

30. Venn Diagram: using two hollahoops you can create a venn diagram just like the one on the picture on the left. You can give the categories and they sort out the cards or they create different categories and others have to guess "the secret" of their diagram.

It can be done both with cards with pictures or words.

31. Alliteration: students try to match adjectives that start with the first letter of the word. You can have a funny friendly flower, a gourgeous gigantic gate, a docile dog, etc.

What are other uses for a soccer ball? 
32. Other uses: what can a soccer ball we used for besides playing soccer? We can use it a dog toy, as a door stopper, as decoration, etc.

33. Present: what would you do if somebody gave you an apple on your birthday? What about a butterfly? Play with students the reactions they would have and how they have sometimes only to accept and thank. I usually play with family members saying for example: your mother gave you an apple, your sister a butterfly, your cousin a dog. You can also reverse it and ask what they would like to give each other in the classroom and why.

34. Make me say it: Students get 3 cards each which can not show these to their peers. Their objective is to make the other person say that word. Let's say a student has ball, he/she can ask the other "what do you need to play soccer?".

35. Hangman: students can use the cards that have written words to play hangman when they are still learning how to write the words. Words can be spread on the floor to make it easier.

36. Mini auto-biography: here the student shares his/her lifestory with the thing in the flashcard. I have learned this activity many years ago from Mario Rinvolucri at Pilgrims.

37. Family tree: build a family tree with the flashcards that you have. Who would be the father? Why? What about the mother? If they have children, who are these children? Why?

38. Describe and draw: here you can model by describing a flashcard with details while students draw it.  Help students make questions about it while drawing. After they finished drawing they can compare their creation with the flashcard. Then you can have students in pairs with  one student describing the flashcard and the other drawing. Then they check when they are finished and the one who described draws another flashcard.

39. Imagine and check: Ask students to close their eyes and imagine the flashcards you are going to say. Then show them and they tell you or each other how they saw each one of the words and how different they are from the flashcard you have. It works best if you use flashcards with real pictures instead of cartoons. Great for comparatives!

40. Have a sketch with them: you act out that you enter you house, pat the dog, have an apple, and watch some television while taking off your socks. You have just used five flashcards in a very funny way. You can even say the words in a monologue like: It's good to be back home. Hey Rex, what a lovely dog you are! Good there is still one apple left. Time for the game to start on tv, let me take off these socks! But make sure you do the actions entering the house flashcard, patting the dog flashcard, biting the apple flashcard and so on. Students can do sketches even having a dialogue with two or three people in which they have a situation in which the cards appear.

41. Brainstorm collocations: here students brainstorm all the collocations we can have with a certain flashcard. Let's think of some that go together with book: big, small, hardcover, heavy, light, old, new, etc. The focus here is not on working with the words on the flashcards, but really on how they can be used.

42. Forbidden words: have six cards in front of students and they are to have a conversation, but they can not say the words in the flashcards that have been displayed. You can go increasing the number of words of having different stations with different words.

43. Write it as it is: here students write the words according to what they mean. If they are writing cat, they will put whiskers in the C and create a tail. If it is the sea, they can create many waves repeating the word sea many times. If it is sun, they have rays around it. A variation is writing the words according to their size. Ant would be really tiny and elephant would be huge!

44. Odd one out: students choose four cards and create a code in which one of them does not belong. Other students have to guess it.

45. Year without it: how would your life be if you had to live one year without eating eggs? What about being with a dog? Not eating cake? You got the idea. This was inspired by those people that love making promises to suffer not eating something they really enjoy.

46. An entire day: similar to the last one, but the opposites. How would it be it you had to do what is in the flashcard for a whole day? Could you eat cake for a whole day? What about being with a dog? Smelling flowers is something you could handle? Here you can pre-teach language that they might need to express their emotional reactions.

47. Going to a desert island: which of these flashcards would you take to a desert island? You probably have heard or even played this classic game in which players have to justify their choices. Here students choose five cards and have to discuss with other students why their cards are important. pre-teach language that they might need in the discussion and demonstrate it with a student.

48. Biggest problem: what is the biggest problem a dog can have? Maybe it is not liking bones and everybody brings it a bone. Or maybe a dog can meow instead of barking. Students can use their creativity thinking about surreal problems for the flashcards.

49. Emotional thermometer: students choose a flashcard according to how they are feeling or how they have liked the class. A student can choose a dog because because he/she liked the class and because it was lively. A cake can be chosen because an activity was sweet. Students have to be a little bit older to understand the concept of making analogies. You certainly have to model it and explain it to your learners.

50. Matching couples: If the flashcards were couples which matches would we have? Maybe a tap goes with a bucket, a dog with a cat, fork with a spoon. Ok, you are probably thinking these are easy ones, but the real challenge happens when the matches are not that straight forward. Would a book match a house? What about a dog? Not really. A variation is to have to pile and a bachelor, then four cards are open and the best contestant marries the bachelor. Too crazy? Give it a try and tell me!

Wow! What a marathon of flashcard activities. It surely took me more than a month to get this post ready for you!

Do you use flashcards in any different way?
Write it in the comment and I will include your idea here!

Send you a big flashcard hug,


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Check also 50 affective ways to use cuisenaire rods with young learners! 


  1. Thanks for sharing so many possibilities!
    I especially liked 18, 42 & 49
    Great work ;)

  2. OMG... thanks for all the tips you have shared with us!!! I have used some and some others are completely new to me!

    Smiles from Argentina,
    Maria :)

  3. Juan is so creative!!! All his ideas help us make our students enjoy their lessons while learning through play.
    Congrats, Juan Uribe! Thanks for everything!
    Lilian Gambarini

  4. Amazing!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!


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