Flashcards can be helpful for beefing up vocabulary, but it’s tough to come up with new and exciting activities to do in every lesson. Here is a set of 8 flashcard activities you can put in the rotation so the kids don’t get bored:
Flashcard Activities for passive recognition
Use this type when you are introducing new material and the kids aren’t quite ready to say the words on their own yet.
0. The basic flash and repeat (so basic it doesn’t count)
This is probably the best way to get started using flashcards with kids. Just show the picture, say the word, and encourage kids to repeat the word. You can spice it up a bit for little kids by pretending to magic tricks (cover the cards with a cloth and when you remove it, the cards have changed), or by flipping the cards with a funny flourish.
This game goes by many different names, but it’s played the same way. Place your set of cards face up on the table or floor, and call out the words one by one. When the kids hear the word, they try to be the first to slap the corresponding card. If it is the correct card the child can keep it.
Little kids (2-5 years old) often don’t cope well with competition, so here are some variations:
Run and Touch: Put the cards in various places around the room, and when you say the word, kids run and touch it (with a finger, foot, elbow, etc.)
One Finger Fast Touch: Instead of slapping the card with your whole hand, everyone starts with one finger in the air and everyone gets a chance to touch to card. You can make it more challenging by saying 2 words at a time, and kids have to touch one card with each hand.
You can also add to the drama (and silliness) by saying words that are not on any cards, especially as you get down to just a few cards left.
2. Bean Bag Toss
This is similar to Karuta, but the kids go crazy for it. Put all the cards on the floor in the middle of the room, and have all the kids make a big circle around the cards. If your room is small you can have the kids keep one foot next to the wall, but if your room is bigger you may need to put down a carpet square or a masking tape line to keep them from getting too close. When you say a word, kids try to toss a bean bag (or chip, or other non-rolling item) onto the card.
This game works best in very small groups of no more than 5. Instead of playing 2 players at a time as in the traditional game, in this version the kids play one at a time. Put cards on the floor. The teacher should call out one word at a time, and the child can choose how to touch the card (with a hand or foot). Keep saying more words and the child has to keep touching cards with a different body part.
4. Who Has It?
Once the kids have a basic grasp of the new vocabulary, you can try this game to keep things interesting. Hand out one card to each student, but make a big show of not being able to see the card. Tell the kids not to say what card they have and to hide it behind them. When everyone is ready, choose one child and ask, “Do you have ~?” If not, then keep going around the group guessing cards until you guess them all. (This game works best if you cheat a little bit and see which cards the kids have.)
This game works great with 2-3 year olds. They love to see an adult not knowing the answer, and the more confused you act the funnier they think it is. Be warned, though, the little ones will not understand how to keep their card secret for the first few times you play. They are so honest they will show you their card and/or point to the person who has the card you asked for. But don’t give up! Either have an assistant come and help direct the game the first time, or just play again. They will get the hang of it after a while.
5. Three Card Monte (passive version)
This is the old street con game, except in this case you want the kids kids to win. Just lay out your cards face up as you repeat the vocabulary. Repeat the vocabulary one more time as you turn the cards face down. Then, mix up the cards. The kids will try to follow and remember where the cards are.
For the passive version of this game, you say the target vocabulary word, and the kids point to where they think it is. If they are right, high fives all around; if not, then that’s just one more chance to review another vocabulary word.
Flashcard Activities for active production
Use this type when kids have seen the material before and are ready to say the words on their own.
o. Three Card Monte (Active version)
This is just the same as the passive version of the game (above), except that you point to a card and the kids have to say what card they think it is.
This game is so popular it’s easy to rely on it too much. All you have to do is put in a special “action” card somewhere in your pile of flashcards. For slightly older kids it can be something mildly scary, like a ghost, a spider, a snake, etc., so when they see that card they all scream and run away. For smaller kids (2-3 years old) the card can indicate something to do, such as hop like a bunny, wiggle like a worm, etc. The kids get so excited anticipating when the next action card is coming that they forget that they are reviewing vocabulary.
You can keep this activity fresh by switching out action cards or adding more to the pile. Here are some suggestions for action cards:
- bunny/frog = hop around
- spider = run away OR make your fingers into a spider and pretend it is crawling on the floor
- bee = buzz around flapping your tiny wings
- butterfly = flap your big wings (if you have a lot of space)
- monkey = jump around with arms curled inward like a monkey
I like to use this game when I have vocabulary words that go well in pairs, like opposites. (You can also make extra copies of your flashcards so that you have 2 sets of each card.) All you do is lay out all the cards in a grid, repeating the vocabulary as you go. Then, turn all the cards face down and have the kids take turns trying to find a match. Make sure the kids say the word as they turn over the card, otherwise they are just matching pictures.
3. Musical Chairs
This game is good for classes where kids can’t sit still for very long. You can use chairs if you have them, but I opt for carpet squares because it’s less likely that someone will get hurt. Just put your cards out in a circle (on carpet squares), saying the words as you put them down. Then, play some music or sing a song, and when you stop the kids run to a carpet square and say the word that is on that square. Then, take away one square and start again.
For older kids you can play this game the usual way, but little kids do better without the competition. For them, I still take a square away every time, but allow more than one child to be on a square. This way, all the kids are trying to crowd onto one square at the end of the game. Everybody laughs, and everybody wins!
These are just some of the games I use in my classroom. Please share your own in the comments!