As Roald Dahl once said, “Life is more fun if you play games.” I could not agree more! That’s why I believe flashcard games can be an effective and practical tool to introduce a new set of vocabulary, revise newly taught words or as a way of starting a storytelling lesson. There are so many things to do with a bunch of flashcards. Playing flashcard games can help and encourage learners to maintain their work and enthusiasm. I believe every teacher has lots of games in their toolbox, and they get to choose one when needed.
“If it is accepted that games can provide intense and meaningful practice of language, then they must be regarded as central to a teacher’s repertoire.”
(Wright et al, 1984)
Here are two of my favourite flashcard games which you can play with young learners. You will see a few other suggested versions as well. As you can imagine, there is no one way to play a game. We can get as creative (and as crazy) as we want.
1) The Robot Dance
For flashcard games like this, the purpose is to revise any vocabulary taught and to practise giving directions. Another purpose of this game is to create a collaborative and inclusive classroom where everyone feels comfortable and happy.
First, hang some flashcards of the target vocabulary you would like to revise around the classroom. You can use as many as you want but I believe between 6 to 8 flashcards is a good number. You need a volunteer student for this game. He or she will act like a robot. Have them use robot sounds and movements to make the game even more fun. When you choose the volunteer:
- Ask them to come to the front.
- Tell the other students that this robot needs to find the flashcard the teacher tells them to find, but he does not think on their own. They need a little bit of help from their classmates.
- The robot will listen to the directions from the students and move toward the flashcard.
- For example, if you are teaching the words for wild animals and you say, “a lion”, the classmates will start giving directions, such as “Go along, turn right, look at your right etc.”, to the ‘robot’. The robot will have to follow the directions to find the flashcard.
- When the robot volunteer finds the flashcard, ask the classroom if it is the right one. If so, congratulate everyone on their good teamwork.
Ideas for adapted flashcard games
Instead of saying the name of the flashcard right away, you can play “I spy”, as well. You can say “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with the letter “L”, and ask the class to give the robot the directions.
Similarly, you can play the “I Spy” game, but this time instead of the first letter of the word, you can say the third letter to make it even more challenging. You can say “I spy with my little eye something whose third letter is “i”.
You can also describe the word in the flashcards. For example, if it is a lion, you can say “This animal lives in the forest. Some may say it is the king!” and wait for the students to guess what it is.
There will for sure be some noise in the classroom while you play the above versions of this game, and some people may not like it very much. I believe that some noise in the classroom can make the students feel free and in control. However, if you want a quieter version of this game, you can divide the students into groups and have one robot from each group. The groups can play in turns. If they can give the directions correctly and the robot can find the target flashcard easily, they get 10 points!
2) Pass the Card
The purpose of this game is to practice comparatives and introduce the new target vocabulary. You can also revise previously taught words.
You need to stand or sit in a circle for this game. When you and your learners are all in a circle, everyone can see each other well and you will all be at the same level. Once you have the circle with your learners,
- Hold the flashcards in your hand.
- Say the first one and pass it on to the student next to you. They will say what it is and pass it on to the next student.
- Then, take another flashcard and do the same.
- Shout “Faster!” and everyone will say the words and pass the flashcards faster and when you shout “Slower”, then they do the action slower.
- Repeat this until all the students hold and say the word.
Ideas for adapted flashcard games
Have a timer and see how fast you are as a class when you finish. You can compete against yourself, or you can shout “Slower” and see how slow you are as a group. Similarly, the only competition is against yourself. There is no one winner of the game. You win as a whole group.
If your classroom is not big enough to have a circle of students, you can turn this into a bus game. Students can sit in a row, one behind the other, and pass the flashcard to the one behind and again you can shout “Slower” and “Faster”.
I know that teenagers, at least some of them, are too cool for flashcards, so you can have a little twist by using word cards instead. In the second game above, for example, pass the cards by saying “slower” and/or “faster”, but say “STOP” and ask them to make sentences with the words, say the opposite of that word or add the correct prefix or suffix to change the word into adjectives or adverbs.
What other versions of these games can you think of?
Share with us in the comment box below!
- Games for Language Learning (2nd. Ed.) by Andrew Wright, David Betteridge and Michael Buckby. Cambridge University Press, p.1, 1984.
Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. She has worked with young learners, and now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey. She has delivered training sessions for different types of ELT events and has written articles for various ELT blogs and magazines. Follow her on Twitter @aysusimsek_ and on Instagram @aysushares.