ESL flashcard games

ESL flashcards by Teaching English Games

ESL flashcard games are fantastic for teaching English. However, it’s the games that bring them alive, not just the pictures.

You may have heard of Baby Einstein flashcards for keen parents with great aspirations for their babies. Along with the nappies (diapers) and bottles, flashcards to make your baby a genius, even though they are still regurgitating milk, are apparently now part of the essential baby kit! However, I have to agree with the authors of ‘Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn’, (Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff), that our children learn best through play rather than trying to force-feed babies to learn before their natural time.

Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff talk mainly about preschoolers, but their view that reciting and memorizing will produce “trained seals” rather than creative thinkers holds true for any child, in my opinion. Language drills are excellent learning tools, but they should not be the only method.

Of course, objects are even better than flashcards, but it is not always practical to use them. So, flashcards are brilliant for children aged three and up to teach English (or any language) because one can use them to play creatively. Through ESL flashcard games, one can teach English effectively and make it fun.

Some fun ESL flashcard games

There are literally unlimited ESL flashcard games to invent.

For example, how about a funky spelling test for age six and up? Instead of traditional dictation, how about if every child starts with a flashcard face down on the desk. Then, on “go” they turn over their card and write down the word it represents. This task tests both vocabulary and spelling at the same time. After thirty seconds, clap or blow a whistle. On that signal, pupils pass their card to the next person. Repeat the game and continue until the flashcards have done a circuit of the room.

Optionally, you might number the flashcards and students copy the numbers down as well as writing the word. This means students can check their vocabulary knowledge. For instance they may have spelled bird correctly when in fact the picture was a bear. As the word order will be different for each student, you won’t know which picture the student had without a reference number!

Variants for group sizes

Obviously, if you have a big class, then split it in two and give out two batches of the same words. On the other hand, if you teach a small group, allow children to move around the room. They go to the pictures instead of passing them from their desks. Either way, do tweak the game to work with your numbers and classroom arrangement.

Win-win learning

If you like the idea of everyone doing well in tests (as I do), then you could allow one minute at the end for the pupils to consult with each other. Students may cross-check their spellings, fill in any blanks and make corrections before going through the answers.

At the end of the day, all you have done is a vocabulary and spelling test, but clothed in fun packaging to engage your pupils.

Flashcard game with music

Here’s another fun game using flashcards. All the flashcards are face down.  Play some music, preferably a song you will be teaching soon or one pupils know already. While the music plays children pass the cards quickly to each other. When the music stops the children look at the flashcard they are holding and if they know the word on it they jump up, spin round in a circle, call out the word and clap. Then they sit down again. If they don’t know the word they have to stay seated.

If you think your children will be traumatized not to be able to jump up, make it a rule that those who stayed seated all jump up, spin around and call out any word in English of their choice.  This has them moving, participating and gaining confidence saying words in English – it’s better than sitting there, potentially feeling stupid for not knowing the word on the card!  This is a discreet way to include children with learning difficulties, without singling them out.

More advanced pupils

If you have more advanced pupils, or if you want to work on more than just individual words then flashcards can also be used in so many ways. For example give out random cards and let the students invent a story including those cards – however crazy it is. The more advanced students put something together on the spur of the moment, or, for less pressure, give them a few minutes to prepare before telling their story to another student or to the class.

You could work in a more structured way and hone in on some specific target language such as certain question forms or tenses. For example divide the class into small teams, turn over a flash card. Team A makes a sentence with the word in it – along the lines of the language you are teaching, team B makes another and team C a third. Team B and C must not use the exact same sentence as team A. If there is only one answer each time then each team makes a sentence with a fresh flashcard each time. Award points for correct answers and use a time limit to generate excitement.

Beautiful flashcard resources

I do provide some original printable flash cards in three sizes. There are now 100s of flashcards in the pack. So you can save yourself from trawling the Internet for cheap-looking clip art. See if you like my pictures, drawn especially for me in various styles. My flashcards are suitable to teach all languages because they are pictures only, while my word flashcards are only words. I chose this approach since students learn faster when they have to think and memorise rather than being spoon-fed.

Flashcards by Shelley Ann Vernon
Transport Flashcards by Shelley Ann Vernon

Get full details of my collection of images for ESL teachers here.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas, I’m sure that they will help you to think of tons more ways you can liven up your teaching and still keep control of your classes.


My flashcard kit comes with some handy extras, like Bingo, colouring and a fast-moving vocabulary snap revision game.

Two of Shelley’s cute flashcards for places, at the library and the cinema.

Printable ESL flashcards for games

ESL flashcards product cover

25 flashcard themes

+ Over 400 images.

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