Using flash cards with young learners

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.


Submitted by Saso on Sat, 10/07/2023 - 14:08


In every lesson,you can use flashcards to revise the previous learning or to introduce new vocabularies.

Submitted by JuliaM on Sun, 07/11/2021 - 14:17


I suggest you try to create your own flashcards here:

It generates printable flashcards in pdf.

Submitted by John on Thu, 07/25/2019 - 22:20


Flashcards are great for teaching children English. In fact, I don't even use textbooks with younger learners because real conversation around games is so much more effective. Here is my reasoning if you are interested in reading more.

Submitted by Vlaw00 on Sat, 09/17/2016 - 02:31


I came across this forum and see many like minded people. I used Flashcards to save my son in high school. The traditional Flashcards didn't really work for us but I found a service that allows Flashcards to display all day everyday (spaced over time) on smart devices. It doesn't matter what they are doing they're studying! Create, post and the app does the rest. If anyone would like to try it, it's called Inspire Flashcards. Works with all devices at the same time, really cool.

Submitted by couny79 on Wed, 06/18/2014 - 19:24


I use a lot of the methods in this article for my learners aged 8-11, flashcards are THE best way for them to remember vocabulary. I have a game for the days of the week, if you have more than 7 children in your class. If you have more than 12 kids you can do it with months of the year too. So I have word cards for days of the week and months of the year. I ask 7 kids to stand at the front and give them a random day of the week card to hold, then the other students have to put them in the correct order. They have fun moving their friends, and they learn very quickly!

Submitted by Dmezgitli on Sat, 03/31/2012 - 19:04


As everybody said,i agree with them,flashcards are really useful way to teach vocabulary. btw this article is also helpful for all english language teachers. you can use flashcards when introducing/teaching new words or revising them. As you know Gardner, a scientist, says there are some types of intelligence. One of them is visual. So ,in this sense, flashcards help teachers to draw the visual learners' attention.

thanks for this article :)

Submitted by Sally Trowbridge (not verified) on Fri, 06/29/2012 - 08:39

In reply to by Osama Ahmed Mahmoud


Hi Osama You can make your own flash cards here:


Submitted by Shakirullah on Sun, 01/12/2014 - 08:49

In reply to by Sally Trowbridge (not verified)


I did not get nothing from the Fash Card article .Could you clarify it for me in easy words. I would be thankful of

Submitted by edushi on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 08:30


I found very funny and effective this activity. They're playing a game and learning at the same time. They're testing their vocabulary. I'm going to use this activity as soon as possible. Thank you

Submitted by edushi on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 08:17


I always use word cards but haven't tried the flash cards. I used word cards for revising vocabulary and I found it really effective. Now I'm going to use also flash cards and here I found some ways how to get them. thank you

Submitted by steveneufeld on Sun, 06/12/2011 - 09:22

In reply to by Roberta Buarque


I'm sure you'll get quite a few people recommending this site: -- super tool (free) for students.  Can also use 'social flashcarding' with groups.  Games are neat as are the tests (students seem to love tests despite the groans when they have to take one!)  What is really nice is the ability to print out the flashcards on paper...just fold and cut and you've got an instant set.

Submitted by Marian Steiner on Mon, 03/08/2010 - 08:44


Indeed, flash cards (including ones in electronic form) are definitely an essential tool. They're visually stimulating, can be used in endless possible ways for various types of activities on all levels.

They allow flexible modification for any teacher and according to any student type, so developing a personalised flashcard portfolio is one of the most effect ways to enrich one's teaching experience.

Employing students' creative powers in creating their own flashcards is a wonderful activity for elementary school classes.

If you feel a little artistic and creative yourself (which language teacher doesn't?) it's really rewarding.

Come to think of it, I might begin to work on a new collection myself :)


Submitted by Irinka81 on Mon, 10/12/2009 - 18:08


Flash cards is the tool I always use with learners of any age group, and there is a great deal of  activities  and games a  teacher can use flash cards in. For revising vocabulary, for example, I split students into 2 teams which stand in a row, I show a flash card with an object. The first learner who names the object correctly gets a flash card. At the end of the game the team with the most flash cards wins.

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight