Flashcards are a fantastic resource for teachers. They can not only be used with all ages and levels of students but they are very flexible and highly adaptable. This means a set of flashcards you might prepare for a beginner class of teenagers can also be used with a class of advanced Business English learners.
The majority of learners are visual. That is, they respond better to visual stimuli than written stimuli. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words so a flashcard can become a very useful tool in the classroom.
Quite simply, a Flashcard is a small card with a picture on it. It may also have the name of the picture on the reverse. The picture on this page shows a handful of typical flashcards.
Preparing your own flashcards is easy. Simply cut out a picture from a magazine (or print it off the internet) and then paste it onto a small sheet of card. You can them laminate it for durability because, if you use your imagination, they will get used again and again.
There is many, many different ways of using flashcards and here are just a few examples.
The ideas below are simply presented but each one can be adapted for bigger or smaller groups, different levels and ages and so on. These are just starting points for individual or team games as well.
Spread out the cards so all the group can see them and give the students 1 minute to memorize all the items on the cards. Take the cards away and have the students write down as many items as they can remember.
This can be changed slight so that you leave the cards face down and ask different students to pick out different items. "Where's the tractor?" or "Turn over the card on the left of the bicycle."
Then, with a grid of cards face down (and memorized) write on the board a sentence with a missing word.
I always come to school by _____.
Now get a student to pick the right card and put it in the space (still face down). Then turn it over:
I always come to school by ELEPHANT.
Another idea is to stick up a dozen or so cards on the board in a grid. Point to each card and have the class say the item shown. Do this a couple of times and then remove a card and go through the grid again. Then remove another card and go through the grid. Repeat till all the cards are gone.
This can be made more difficult by pointing to random spaces on the grid and asking either the whole class, a team or an individual.
Then, once the board is empty and students know all the spaces, have students come to place cards in their original positions with encouragement from the rest of the class.
Prepare a set of flashcards with the letters of the alphabet on it. Most classes have less than 26 students in them in which case only give out those letters you need.
Have the students walk around the class in time to the music; each student has a different letter with them. When the music stops they have to order themselves alphabetically.
Once they're familiar with this, you can give them words to spell out, mix up the cards and so on.
This works in pairs or small groups and it can also be made into a team game.
One student picks a flashcard from the pile and has to explain it to their partner without naming it. From the description the partner must guess what it is. Points are awarded.
Arrange the cards on the floor. Students line up and from a few meters away they have to toss a beanbag onto the cards and whichever one they land by they have to identify. Alternatively they could play in teams with their opponents having to identify the card item. (This encourages accurate shooting to get the "difficult" cards!)
For more activities, see the links below.
Don't neglect the idea of encouraging students to prepare their own flashcards also. Students should be encouraged to write new vocabulary on cards, perhaps with the definition on the reverse, to help memorize new words.
Get the students into the habit of testing themselves and if you can, get the class to test each other on the cards.
If you do this, mention to your students that a short bursts of practice with flashcards is much more effective than long periods of study. Ideally they should bring out the flashcards to study them whilst waiting for a bus or standing in a queue, etc.
Flashcards don't always have to be just pictures though. You can have flashcards with words on them. But don't neglect to use additional visual aids when you do this.
For example, you can color-code your cards so that verbs are blue (with irregular verbs light blue) and nouns are red for example.
On another tack, red cards could be for pictures of non-count nouns and yellow ones for countable nouns, for example. Although remember that if you want to practice an activity where the students have to identify between these two color-coding could make it too easy!
But remember, don't put too much information on a card. It's there to jog the memory or to encourage thought, not to give the full answer. A quick glance at the flashcard should be enough to tell you what you want to know.
Finally, remember to shuffle them well before using them!
What's Missing? - quick flashcard activity you can use every time you finish a lesson involving flashcards
Kim's Game - as a flashcard activity
Lesson Preparation Tip - Delegating Tasks - how to get your class to prepare flashcards for you
MemoryLifter (CALL Software) - software for displaying and preparing flashcardsImage © Meryl Spider