Welcome to our fifth post in this series. We hope you have enjoyed experimenting with the activities described so far! In this post, we are going to look in more detail at using flashcards, or picture cards as some call them, in the young learner classroom. If you are a very young learner or young learner teacher you know that flashcards are invaluable in the classroom. They are often used to present language, and they might be “flashed” or flipped (that’s why they are called flashcards after all!) but there are so many other activities you can do with them, the opportunities are endless. In this post, we will explore a few ways to use flashcards more creatively in our lessons.
Where to find flashcards?
If you use a National Geographic Learning series with your young learners, such as the Our World Series, most of the series come with flashcards. If you don’t use a course book that provides flashcards, you could draw images yourself, cut out images from magazines or download images from royalty free sites like pixabay.com, pexels.com or flickr-elt. Another way is to get learners to draw them as revision activity and laminate these for future lessons! You’ll be impressed by how creative some of your students are. Tablets also prove to be a great way to bring images into the classroom, either through a live stream from the internet or download your chosen images in advance and load them into an App like pic-collage.
Why use flashcards?
Flashcards can be used to preview, present, practice and review lexical items. They are often visually stimulating, bright and colorful and when the image they present is relevant to our learners they are an effective way to support students’ learning in a developmentally appropriate way. We’ve spoken about the myth of learning styles in a previous post, but young learners tend to respond much better to ‘seeing’ vocabulary rather than just hearing it being described.
Flashcards can often be used in an active, kinesthetic way, which also meets the characteristics of young learners. They can easily be used in playful ways which are highly effective with young learners as they lack the intrinsic motivation which adults might bring to the learning journey. And as we all know, activities that are enjoyable and engaging help make the new language stickier. Another advantage of flashcards is that they can be pulled out at any time during the course to revisit previously studied items, which means you can apply the principle of spaced repetition in your classroom in an effective and easy way.
How to use flashcards creatively?
1 – Categorizing
I love using activities where students can use their own thinking and logic to explain their choices, so one of my favorite activities with flashcards is ‘categorizing.’ Give learners a variety of flashcards they have studied before, for example, a variety of animal cards. Now, if you use Welcome to Our World or Our World printing out mini-flashcards means that learners can work in smaller groups. For our example, print out a set of different animal flashcards.
To make it more interesting you can put two hula hoops on the floor for learners, that slightly overlap so you can make a visible Venn Diagram. If you do not have hula hoops, use some rope to make circle shapes on the floor or draw circles on a piece of paper for each group. Give out the flashcards and get learners to place them face down, get learners to turn over the flashcards one by one and name the animal (good recall practice of vocabulary and pronunciation) then learners need to share and decide in their team how they want to categorize the cards into two groups. This is a lovely differentiated activity as some learners might only be at a level to talk about big or small animals, whereas others might think of pets vs farm animals, legs vs no legs, fins or wings etc.
2 – Pass the card!
This must be one of my favorite production activities for my young learners. I actually love to use story cards here if you have access to cards that are part of a story. If not, try to find some flashcards that are richer than just ‘it’s an apple.’
Before you start, select a song that you can play while learners pass their flashcards around. Ideally, each group gets the same set of four or five flashcards but if you only have one set of flashcards, get learners to decide on an item to pass around. Group learners into small groups of three or four. Tell them you will hand out a flashcard top-down for learners to pass around as long as the music play (or use a pen, book or bottle per group to pass around). Once you stop the music the student that holds the flashcard (or pen, book or bottle) in each group, turns the flashcard over and must make a sentence about it. If their level is too low, they can just point and give a word. If you use a pen, book or bottle then stop the music and get all learners to look to the front where you show the flashcard or project it on the board. Then the game continues; play the music, pass along the item and when the music stops the learner holding the card makes a sentence about the next flashcard. etc. When students have seen all four or five flashcards, show them all and get them in teams to recall orally what sentences they made. If they are already writing, you can follow this up by getting each of them to write the sentences. You can extend this by getting learners to put the sentences into a short paragraph, whilst they are writing you can feed-in more ideas e.g. by prompting “what color is it? How do you think she feels?” so learners can work on extending their sentences. This is a great preparation activity for learners who are planning to take the YLE test and need to write about pictures.
I hope we have given you some creative ideas to exploit your flashcards. If you have any other engaging activities or ideas for your young learners with flashcards the please share in the comments box below!
Author: Anna Hasper
Anna Hasper is a teacher, trainer and international English Language Teaching consultant based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Anna’s specialty is enabling teachers within local constraints, such as limited resources, to become the best teacher they can by enhancing all students’ learning opportunities through engagement. She has been working in the ELT industry for over 13 years and has worked on various projects for the british Council, International House, Ministries of Education, private schools, education providers and publishers in primary, secondary and vocational contexts. She loves exploring new places and learning about different cultures and has worked in a variety of countries such as China, Jordan, Iran, Uganda, Senegal, Algeria and Armenia. She currently writes and trains teachers for publishers and delivers a variety of Cambridge accredited teacher training courses (TKT, CELTA, YL Ex & Delta Module 3) around the world.