ESL flashcard games

Ideas for using flashcards in the ESL classroom

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 he or she is still regurgitating milk, have apparently become part of the essential baby kit! 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.

However, for children aged 3 and upwards flashcards are brilliant to teach English (or any language) exactly because one can use them to play creatively. Through games one can use them to tremendous effect for language learning.

esl flashcard back
esl flashcard eye
esl flashcard car
esl flashcard vet
esl flashcard preposition in

While real objects are far superior to picture flashcards, logistics can be an issue and flashcards certainly serve as excellent replacements to the real items they represent.

There are literally unlimited games to invent with flashcards.

For example how about this idea for a spelling test for age 6 and up: Instead of the traditional dictation method, how about if every child starts with a flashcard face down on the desk. On “go” children turn their flashcard over and write down the word it represents – testing both vocabulary and spelling at the same time. Every 20 seconds you clap or blow a whistle which means that the card must be passed to the next person and you continue until the flashcards have done a full circuit of the room. 

The flashcards can be numbered and the students copy the numbers down as well as writing the word. This prevents the wrong word being spelled correctly; i.e. correct spelling of bird when in fact the picture was a bear. As the word order will be different for each student, it’s difficult to know which picture the student was looking at, without a reference number!

Obviously you can adapt this idea if you have a big class by splitting the class in two and giving out two batches of the same words, or tweak the idea for a way of using this flashcard game that works with your numbers and classroom arrangement.

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 and fill in any blank words, or make corrections, before going through the answers.

If you have a smallish group with some space you could put flashcards around the room, say “go” and give the children a time limit to move around the classroom writing down each word.

At the end of the day all you have done is a vocabulary and spelling test, but you have clothed it in fun packaging that will be sure to capture the children’s imagination.

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.

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.

I do provide some beautiful flash cards which are printable in three sizes. There are now 100s of flashcards in the pack Save yourself time trawling the internet for cheap-looking clip art. See if you like my pictures, drawn especially for my ESL flashcards. Suitable for all languages.

Get full details of the flashcards here.

Or obtain them for a discount, because it’s very important to me that customers, wherever they are from in the world, get outstanding value from my resources, when you order 176 English language Games for Children.  You can add them on at a discount on that order page.

I hope you enjoyed these games 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.


Fantastic fast-moving vocabulary snap revision game.  Bingo sets, Colour the Card and Vocabulary Revision Snap, a game to revise 57 words

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