Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
The purpose of flash cards is rather simple and mundane; we use flash cards to introduce and review vocabulary or concepts. My first language teacher said, “The only way to learn a foreign language is repetition, repetition, repetition.” Can’t argue with that. Unfortunately, it can be really repetitious and boring. But, if you watch children playing, they’ll show you how to make it fun.
Here is my list of 41 Flash Card Activities. If you have an activity not on this list, leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear how you use flash cards in your own classes!
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When putting together flash card sets, use the clearest, simplest images you can find. As my students range in age from pre-K thru 6th grade, I don’t want to make flashcards for different age groups. For that reason, many of my cards are age-neutral in design and can be used with any class, including adults.
Double-sided or single sided cards?
You have to decide which is going to be more useful. If you have single-sided cards and you want word and image cards, you’ll have double the number of cards, double the weight, and need more storage space. If you use double-sided cards (image on the front and word on the back), you won’t be able to play some games, like Pairs, Old Maid, or guessing games requiring a blank backside. Large cards that I use for big groups are usually double-sided, just for convenience. Because I like to divide kids up into groups and play a variety of games, I create small single-sided cards, some no bigger than a business card.
Creating multiple sets of cards is a lot of work, but you’ll REALLY appreciate the flexibility it gives you in class. I always have 4-5 sets of each flash card set (like ABCs, numbers, colors, and CVC words) piled in baskets and ready for any number of activities.
Punch holes in small flash cards and bundle them with metal rings. Rubber bands will rot. And, above all, laminate your cards! Kids bite, fold, and spill on them. The last thing you want to do is have to remake cards every year.
3 Types of Flash Card Activities
Matching is the most fundamental activity you can do with cards. This type of activity is most recognizable as flipping through vocabulary decks as you try to associate a word with a picture or translation.
Ordering and Sorting
Ordering and sorting are basic activities teachers most often do with cards. Ordering can be with an established order, such as the ABCs and numbers, or a directed ordering, like sorting according to the same letter, color, pattern, size, etc.
Discovery, or guessing, is the premise of many games you can play with flash cards. The more you can keep kids guessing, the better you will keep their attention. If you play with a sense of fun, children will WANT to remember vocabulary to keep the game going.
Watching children play, you will see them employing one, two or all three of these modals in just about any activity or game they play. Keep this in mind and you’ll have an endless number of activities you can use with flash cards.
Remember, cards don’t have to be the primary focus of an activity, as long as they are being employed in one way or another. Use animal cards for team names, numbers, colors and shapes for ordering, or stacks of cards for board games. Importantly, find ways to use the vocabulary you’ve taught!
As you introduce new games to your kids, you’ll get better at reducing the concept for easy understanding and then, how to slowly up the ante on a game once kids are up and running.
Flash Card Activities
I call these activities, as opposed to games, as they don’t involve dice or rules of play.
1. Name Cards Make and laminate name cards for your kids. Allow the kids to have these in their possession that they display on their desk. Occasionally, you can make the name cards part of the lesson! Working on verbs or animals? Use their name cards and pair them with various cards! Pull names from a hat or spell students’ names out loud to determine game order or line order. By putting their birthday on their name cards, you’ve successfully transferred months-of-the-year flash cards into their hands! Check out my post on 13 Name Card Activities!
2. Ordering Ordering students for a game can be just as much fun as the game itself! Challenge students to order themselves according to birthdays, the alphabet, age or grade! Hand out verb cards, animal cards or ABC cards, and have the students line up in alphabetical order. Have students sound off in order using numbers or ABCs. Then, put a stack of the same cards in a hat and have students line up in the order the cards are drawn. If you play I have/Who Has activities, hand out the cards and have kids line up in the order of the game!
3. Word of The Day Put learned flashcards into a hat and allow a student to choose one from the hat each school day. This is great for review of past vocabulary you don’t want kids to forget! Did you teach patterns and shapes? Take a moment to see who is wearing stripes or all the objects in the room that are square. Try to find a way to repeat the ‘word of the day’ a few times in class. A special action, such as clapping, snapping their fingers, or screaming like Pee Wee Herman, can be done if they hear the word.
4. Spell it out! Hand out word flash cards to students. The teacher vocally spells out a word. The student with that card hands it back to the teacher. This activity can be used to line kids up or divide players for games. Variations on this could be spelling out student names, writing the big letter on the board and the student with the small letter brings her card forward. Giving students word cards while the teacher shows the picture cards works just as well.
5. Circle Pass The students and the teacher sit in a circle. The teacher starts by passing a picture card to the student on his left, saying, “This is a horse.” The student takes the card and passes it to the next student, saying, “This is a horse.” The card is passed around the circle. When the card returns to the teacher, the teacher puts that card aside and introduces a new card in the same manner. To up the challenge: a) wait until a card has reached the halfway mark, then introduce a second card going in the same direction; b) introduce cards at the same time going in opposite directions; or c) send 3-4 cards around the circle in the same directions with little pause between each. This is so much more fun than the usual ‘repeat after me’ and flipping through cards.
6. Discovery Slowly uncovering a picture or letter for students to guess what you have is a classic activity. You can uncover the picture from different sides or even have an envelope with a hole cut out in which students see only a part of the word or picture. Try this game with words, slowly uncovering the beginning or end of a word or student name.
7. Match! The teacher shows a flashcard and calls out a word. If the spoken word and the card match, students must say the word.
8. Story Time! Distribute one card per student and tell them that you will tell a story. Each time they hear their word they have to clap or raise their hand. Make sure you have a list of the words or that you write the story beforehand in order to make sure that each word is said several times. Using this game with a familiar book or even a movie scene really focuses attention on listening.
9. Hide n’ Seek Have one student go out of the room and hide flashcards in various locations. Have the student come back into the room and look for the cards. As she finds each one, she must tell you the name of the card.
10. Missing Cards Place three cards face up in a row. Turn around or close your eyes and ask the students to turn one card over. Turn back around and try to guess the ‘missing’ card. Up the challenge by adding another card and repeat. Then, turn two cards over. If you’re working with ABC cards, you can keep the order or mix the cards up. If you play this with 10 or more cards other than alphabet cards, put the cards in alphabetical order. Students have to think of the missing card in relation to the ABCs. This game works well as a whole class activity or in small groups.
11. Guess! Put three picture cards on the board, and label them A, B, & C or 1, 2, & 3. Give hints as the students try to guess the card you are describing. Try this by acting out a verb or animal. Use color cards and call out things in the room that are all the same color.
12. Q&A A student chooses a card and places it on the board behind the teacher. In a ‘20 Questions’ fashion, the teacher asks the students questions like, ‘Is it blue?’ or ‘Is it big? This works well with clothing, food and animals. If working with words, ask questions like, “Is there an ‘a’ or a ‘z’ in the word?
13. Stacked Adjectives Start early teaching kids by example about stacked adjectives by combining several sets of different cards. Make phrases like ‘one black cat’ or ‘two happy elephants.’ As kids become familiar with this activity, you can slowly add adjectives, like ‘three angry striped black cats.’ Once kids start learning to put words together to create larger concepts or sentences, keep words and pictures on a board so that students can play and arrange the cards themselves. Click here to learn more about teaching stacked adjectives to your youngest ESL students!
14. Alphabetize This seems rudimentary, but it works really well for early finishers, or when you have time after a lesson. Simply have kids put a set of flash cards in alphabetical order. Later on, dictionary practice is a vital part of my older kids’ work. Start getting them ready as soon as they understand the ABCs and order.
15. Write Around The Room Put cards around the room, give students a blank piece of paper on a clipboard, and have them search around the room for cards to write on their boards. Once all the words are ‘found’, students then have to write the words again in alphabetical order. This is a classic ‘Write Around The Room’ activity and good for getting kids out of their seats and moving about the room with a task.
16. Write on it! Laminated flash cards can be used to write directly on the cards with a white board marker. Hand out markers and stacks of cards to practice writing in an unusual way.
17. Notebooks Give students stacks of cards to write the words and draw pictures in their notebooks, creating their own pictionary or adding to their interactive notebooks.
18. Silly Fun, show a picture like ‘apple.’ Then, every sentence that you say has to contain the word apple! You say: “How apple are you?”, the other person says “I’m apple fine.” Small children especially love these kinds of word games.
19. Relay Play a relay game to match the upper and lower ABCs. Place upper ABC cards on the board and students must write the lower case letter below each card. Place images on the board and students must write the words below the cards.
20. Relay II Write 5-6 letters on five large cards in random order. Set the cards in a spaced row with a basket in front of each card. Put stacks of ABC cards in front of two teams of students for a relay race. On start, students must take a card and put it in the basket that matches their card. The first team to finish all their cards wins.
21. Race Place two cards on the floor at the front of the classroom. Divide the class into two teams and have them line up. Give the two students at the front of the lines one eraser each. When the teacher calls out one of the cards, the two students race to put their erasers on the correct card. The first student to do so wins a point for his team. Repeat several times, and then add a third card. Play with three cards for several turns, and then add a fourth, fifth card, and so on.
22. Pairs/Concentration This is a game that will work with any type of cards. With two sets of the same cards, lay them face down in a grid. Depending on the age and skill of the students, you can work with 4-12 pairs. Students take turns flipping over two cards looking for a match. The student must say the word before taking the cards. This game can also be used to match two cards, e.g., big and small letter, opposites, or a picture and word cards.
23. Go Fish or Old Maid Deal 5-8 cards to each player. This is pairing game where students are looking to match two of the same cards in their hand. Use language like, “Do you have a….?” When a pair is made, they are put aside. The game is over when all the cards have been paired up and the winner is the one with the most pairs.
24. Bean Bag Toss Place cards face down on the floor. Students toss bean bags on a card and must be able to say the word or letter to keep the card. If she can’t say the word, it gets turned over and another student gets a try.
25. Point to it! Place 6-9 cards on the board. Using a pointer or long stick, a student points to each card as it is said by the teacher. This same activity can be played in pairs among students. This is also a great warm up to the next game.
26. Slap Game/ Karuta Spread cards out on a table face up. The teacher or designated student says a word and students try to be the first to grab or slap the card. Try this game using fly swatters! To be sure there is no random slapping of cards, make the rule that if students make a mistake, they lose a turn.
27. Fishing! Virtually any (small) flash card can be made into a fishing game. Fix large paperclips to the flash cards and fashion a fishing pole with a magnet tied to the end of a piece of string. This works well in teams as the fishing pole is traded off and students try to ‘catch’ the most cards. Once all the cards are ‘caught,’ they must be able to say all the cards or give them up to the teacher or the other team.
28. Hopscotch Arrange a hopscotch board on the floor. Students throw a beanbag on a card and then must hop to the card and say the word to pick it up. This is a classic game that never fails to keep kids engaged.
29. Race Track Set up a large oval shaped ‘race track’ on the floor. Students roll a dice and go round the track with their favorite object just like a regular game board. Insert special cards for losing a turn or getting an extra turn.
30. Crash This is a favorite among my students and great for repetition. Place 10-15 cards in a line on the floor. Two students start at either end and to the side of the line of cards. On start, the students say the name of each card as they move toward each other. Upon meeting (students cannot occupy one card at the same time), they play ‘rock, paper, scissors.’ The winner stays in place and the loser goes back to his start position and the game begins again. The first player to reach their opponent’s start position wins! This game will work equally well with small cards on a table where students point to their card as they say it. Demonstrate this game once, and you’ll be playing again and again. Fun!
31. Tic-Tac-Toe You can create a tic-tac-toe game by putting flash cards in a 3×3 square on the floor. Make two teams each with different colored bean bags, cards or other type of marker. On ‘Start,’ students race to win the game by getting three in a row.
32. Bingo If you have a card set with at least 25 cards, arrange the cards in a 5×5 Bingo card. As cards are pulled from a hat or basket, students place a marker on their cards. Five in a row wins. This will work with even two students. It’s fun on the floor with big cards or on a table with smaller cards. Remember, with 26 letters, ABC Bingo is a great review!
33. Draw it! Divide the class into two teams. One student from Team A comes to the board, picks a word flashcard, and draws the image on the board. The team has 30 seconds to guess the picture. If they can name it, they get a point and it is Team B’s turn. At the end, the team with the most points wins.
34. May I? Have one student stand across the room while another student holds up flash cards. Each time the student says the correct word or letter, she gets to take one step or a hop toward the other student, but only after asking, “May I?” When the student gets close enough to touch the other student, the game is over. This is an excellent game for ‘this’ and ‘that’ practice.
35. Roll the Dice! Choose six picture cards you would like to introduce and place them on the board. Give each card a number from 1-6. Divide the class into two teams. Have one student roll a large dice. The first student to say the name of the vocabulary card with the same number as the dice wins a point for her team. If nobody knows the vocabulary word, introduce it and have the students repeat it. They’ll try hard to remember so they can answer it correctly the next time. Play until one team reaches a set number of points.
36. Hang Man Spread word cards on the floor or tacked to a board. Be sure that all of the words have the same number and similar letters! Draw the appropriate number of blanks on the board and the game begins.
___ ___ ___ (Cards: cat, can, mad, bat, fan, sad, mat)
Students ask the question, “Is there a ‘b’?” or “Is there an ‘f’?” With each negative response (no ‘b’ or no ‘c,’ a portion of the image is drawn. The game is finished when the drawing is complete or a player can guess the word. Even if all the letters have been discovered, if students can’t say the word or phrase, they lose to the teacher.
If the image of a hanging man is a bit too brutal, use simple lines to draw a house, an animal, robot, or other simple image that can be broken down into 8-10 easy lines. This is a favorite holiday game with phrases like ‘Happy Halloween’ or a using a familiar question like ‘What is your name?’
37. Board Games If you regularly play board games in class, simply put a stack of flash cards next to the board. Before taking a turn, the student must choose a card and correctly say the word or forfeit their turn.
38. Musical Chairs Fix cards to chairs and then play musical chairs! Children must be able to say the card or they give up their chair! Remember, the cards don’t have to be the primary part of the game!
39. Touch! This is another basic game, but it works well. Place cards around the room. As the teacher says the card names, students go to that card. I use this often with color flash cards! As the kids get older, I put place name cards like ‘police station’ and ‘supermarket’ around the room and send students to each place with a variety of ‘Go to the…’ or ‘Find the…’ commands.
40. Four Corners Place one flash card in each corner of the room. One student is ‘it,’ closes her eyes and counts to ten as the rest of the students go to any of the four corners. At the count of 10, the person who is ‘it’ (without looking) says one of the words in the four corners. The students in that corner must sit down. Play until there is only one student left. The last student then becomes ‘it’ and the game begins again.
41. Blind Man Divide students into two groups and place them on opposite sides of a large room with no physical obstacles. Prepare two sets of the same cards. (Introducing this game with color cards works really well.) Hand out the cards to each group, each student taking one card. Students cannot show their cards to anybody. Blindfold one set of students. The non-blindfolded students stand well-spaced and behind a line that cannot be crossed. The blindfolded students stand on the opposite side of the room and slowly begin moving toward the non-blindfolded players standing behind the line. Players begin by calling out the name of their card. (At first, players don’t know who their partner is on the opposite side of the room!) Players can only respond to each other if they hear the name of their card, and only by saying the name of the card in a back and forth fashion. The non-blindfolded players try to draw their blindfolded partner to them. The winner is the first pair to touch. This is a classic drama game that is great for listening and building trust among students.
42. Dictation – This classic game is great for practicing grammar structures, vocabulary or topics. Put students in pairs or small groups. Display a copy of a text or topic you want your students to remember on the wall at one end of the classroom or outside the classroom. One student from the group has to go to the text, read, and memorize a sentence. She then returns to the group and tells the others what she read. Then the next student goes and reads the next line. Students continue until the text is completed. Then, groups swap their dictations and check how many errors have been made.
So that’s the whole list! Help me add to it by leaving a comment below! I would love to hear from you!
If you’re looking for flash cards sets, Donald’s English Classroom has a treasure trove of cards you can start using today! See you there!
As always, best of luck in your classes!
Kinney Brothers Publishing