You are here

Using flash cards with young learners

Average: 3.9 (167 votes)

Flash cards are a simple, versatile, yet often underexploited resource. I would like to offer some reasons for using flash cards and a selection of activities for use in the Young Learner classroom, although some of the activities could also be used with fun-loving, lower level adult classes.

Joanna Budden, British Council, Spain

In this article there is one example for each type of activity. If you follow this link - Using flash cards - you will find more examples for each type of activity.

  • Why use flash cards?
  • Where to get flash cards?
  • Activity types for using flash cards
  • Memory activities
  • Drilling activities
  • Identification activities
  • TPR activities

Why use flash cards?
Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory reminds teachers that there are many types of learners within any one class. Gardner's research indicates that teachers should aim to appeal to all the different learner types at some point during the course. It is particularly important to appeal to visual learners, as a very high proportion of learners have this type of intelligence. Flash cards can be bright and colourful and make a real impact on visual learners. Many of the activities outlined below will also appeal to kinaesthetic learners.

For children at reading age, flash cards can be used in conjunction with word cards. These are simply cards that display the written word. Word cards should be introduced well after the pictorial cards so as not to interfere with correct pronunciation.

Flash cards are a really handy resource to have and can be useful at every stage of the class. They are a great way to present, practise and recycle vocabulary and when students become familiar with the activities used in class, they can be given out to early-finishers to use in small groups. I sometimes get the students to make their own sets of mini flash cards that can be taken home for them to play with, with parents and siblings.

Where to get flash cards?

  • Buy them. Some course books provide a supplementary pack of flash cards or they can be bought in sets.
  • Make them yourself. If you don't have access to professionally produced flash cards, don't worry, it's really easy to make your own even if you're not very artistic. You can use pictures from magazines, draw simple pictures or copy from the internet or clip art. The most important thing is to make sure they are all of the same size, on card (different colours for different sets) so you can't see through them. If possible you can laminate the sets as you make them and they will last for years. The advantage of making your own, apart from the fact that they're cheap and yours to keep, is that you can make sets for your specific needs. You may like to make a set to use in conjunction with a story book or graded reader, or even to accompany project work.
  • Students make them. I have recently begun to incorporate the production of flash cards into the classroom. After introducing a new lexical set, using realia or the course book, ask students to produce the flash cards for you. Give each one an item to draw. They can be mounted on card to make the set.

Activities for using flash cards
I have divided the activities into the following categories: Memory, drilling, identification and TPR activities.

Memory activities

  • Memory Tester
    • Place a selection of flash cards on the floor in a circle.
    • Students have one minute to memorise the cards.
    • In groups, they have two minutes to write as many of the names as they can remember.

Drilling activities

  • Invisible Flash cards
    • Stick nine flash cards on the board and draw a grid around them.
    • Use a pen or a pointer to drill the nine words. Always point to the flash card you are drilling.
    • Gradually remove the flash cards but continue to drill and point to the grid where the flash card was.
    • When the first card is removed and you point to the blank space, nod your head to encourage children to say the word of the removed flash card.
    • Students should remember and continue as if the flash cards were still there. They seem to be amazed that they can remember the pictures.
    • Depending on the age group I then put the flash cards back in the right place on the grid, asking the children where they go, or I ask students to come up and write the word in the correct place on the grid.

This activity highlights the impact of visual aids. It really proves that the images 'stick' in students' minds.

Identification activities

  • Reveal the word
    • Cover the flash card or word card with a piece of card and slowly reveal it.
    • Students guess which one it is.
    • Once the card is shown, chorally drill the word with the group using different intonation and silly voices to keep it fun. Vary the volume too, whisper and shout the words. Children will automatically copy your voice.
    • Alternatively, flip the card over very quickly so the children just get a quick glimpse.
    • Repeat until they have guessed the word.

TPR activities

  • Point or race to the flash cards
    • Stick flash cards around the class.
    • Say one of them and students point or race to it.
    • Students can then give the instructions to classmates.
    • You can extend this by saying 'hop to the cat' or even 'if you have blonde hair, swim to the fish' etc.
    • You can also incorporate flash cards into a game of Simon Says. 'Simon says, jump to the T-shirt' etc.