Monday, 27 July 2009

Let's Flash(card) !

I sometimes feel that I should blog more often. But then I don't know what I would blog about. So I wait until blogs find me, if you like. And on Saturday, one did.

I received a link to ProProfs, which is an online poll, quiz and flashcard maker. It was the poll bit that caught my eye, as I have dabbled in online surveys for MFL Sunderland using questionform, which I really like.

I was then sidetracked by the flashcard bit. When I did my PGCE in the mid-nineties, we were taught to use picture flashcards to present and practise new vocabulary, but not a lot else. For KS3 I always preferred OHTs, as they were smaller and a bit easier to manipulate. Then a few years ago, presenting vocabulary via PowerPoint crept in. I have to say that I have never got to grips with that, and there are reasons why I don't like it.

PowerPoint seems a bit remote. Your pictures are always in the same order and fixed in place. Flashcards, on the other hand, are tactile, kinesthetic, portable and immensely versatile. It's sad but true that today's students aren't really exposed to the low-tech methods anymore, and so using flashcards might actually make a refreshing change for them. No more Death by PowerPoint.

So this all got me thinking: What can we use flashcards for ? What are the online flashcards all about ? I set about some research, and here are the ideas that I found:
Teacher-led activities:

1. Use flashcards for choral repetition, to introduce and practice vocabulary.

2. Show students the flashcard and say '¿Es una manzana?' (etc) and they say 'sí' or 'no'.

3. Show students the flashcard and say '¿Es una manzana o una pera?' and they call out the correct one.

4. Show students the flashcard and say '¿Qué es?' and they have to say the answer.

5. Put the flashcards around the room and they point at the right one when you say it, or eventually say the right one when you point.

6. Place flashcards all around the room - on walls, hidden and stuck under tables and chairs etc. Have the TL word on the flashcard as well. Give students the list of new words, either in English or TL, and they have to go round the room and use the flashcards to find the correct translation. Make it a race to get all the words.

7. Cover and slowly reveal the flashcard, asking students to say the correct word when they think they know what it is.

8. Quickly flash the flashcard and see if students can say the correct word or phrase.

9. Students have a set of the flashcards and they hold them up to demonstrate their understanding.

10. Students have a set of flashcards. You tell a story which includes these words and they put the cards in the order in which they hear them.

11. Write some random numbers, including negatives, on the board and stick flashcards over them. Organise your students in teams. They tell you a phrase, you take off the flashcard and that is the number of points they get.

12. Guess which card / Beat the teacher Hold the pile of flashcards with the facing you. Students have to guess which one is at the top of the pile. They have to listen carefully to each others’ guesses to eliminate wrong answers and work out what the right answer is. Whoever gets it right could come to the front to take your place.

13. Slaps Stick the flashcards randomly on the board. Divide the students into teams and invite one of each team up to the board. Say one of the words or phrases and the winner is the player who can slap the right card first. Slapping the board with a fly swatter adds to the fun.

14. Noughts and crosses / Snakes and Ladders Students have to say the correct word or phrase for the flashcard to be able to draw in their nought or cross or to advance along the game board.

15. Loto / Bingo Use small flashcards, and give each student or pair of students a set. They choose a certain number (say 6 or 9) of cards and lay them on the desk, face up. You call out the words and they turn over each card as they hear it. The winner is the one who has turned over all his cards. An extra test could then be for the winner to read back to you all the cards he has turned over !

16. Pass the parcel Find a box, bag or envelope that can be passed around the room to music. When the music stops the student holding the box must pick out a flashcard) and say whatever goes with the card. If you have a large class you can add in more boxes or have groups with their own boxes.

17. Les quatre coins Stick flashcards around the room. Turn your back to the class and play some music. When the music stops (or when you call 'arretez!'), the students have to go and stand by one of the flashcards. The winners are the students standing by the one you have called out.

18. Round the World Students sit in a circle. Choose a starting person. This student stands behind the next student in the circle. The teacher holds up a flashcard. The first student to say the answer stands behind the next person in the circle. If a sitting student says the answer first, the standing student sits down in the winner’s chair. This process continues until at least one student makes it completely around the circle.

19. Team Tag Divide students into two groups. Have them form two single file lines facing forward. The first student should be about 3 metres from the front of the room. Put two equal stacks of flashcards on a desk in the front of the room. When play starts, the first person in the line races to the desk, takes the first card in his or her pile, holds it up, announces the answer to the class, places the card in a discard pile, and then races to tag the next person in line. If the student does not know the answer or gives the wrong answer, he or she puts the card on the bottom of the pile and selects the next card. This student keeps selecting cards until he or she knows the answer to one or until five cards have been selected. The two teams play simultaneously. The first team to correctly give the answer to all the cards in its pile wins.

20. Flashcards at the door As the students line up at the beginning of the class, hold up a flashcard for each of them to solve in turn. The answer to the flashcard is their "pass" into the classroom. If a student answers wrongly, they must step to the side and work it out before they can come into the room. You will want to choose flashcards according to individual student's ability or you could be standing there all day with some of them!

21. I'm going on a picnic Students sit in a circle. The first one takes a flashcard from a bag. They say the word in target language. The next pupil takes another flashcard and has to say the word of the first person, plus their own, and so on around the circle, until all words are used. Words can be duplicated.

22. Monsieur Intelligent Ask the students to stand up. Show the flashcard, model and the students repeat. Except sometimes you use the wrong word and then they don't say anything. Those who speak when they shouldn't are out and sit down.

23. For moving them on to the written word: Have a set of flashcards with the vocabulary in the target language blu-tacked at the front of the class. Students have a mini whiteboard each. Call out the English word and they have to find and write the appropriate Spanish word from the list, onto their whiteboard. You can choose a student to be teacher and call out the words. And you can reverse it - you call out the Spanish word, they have to write the English word.

24. Kim’s game Stick the flashcards to the board. Ask students to close their eyes, remove one, then they have to work out and say the one that is missing. Alternatively, students put small picture cards on their table. They study them for a few seconds and then, at a signal, turn them over (but keeping them in the same order). Call out a card and invite them to try to select this from memory. They hold it to their chest until you say Show me. If they have guessed correctly, they put the card to one side. If not, they return the card, face down, to the same place. The first child to have guessed them all correctly is the winner. The winner can be the caller in the next round.

25. Odd one out Use the pictures to make some Thinking Skills-style odd ones out. For example, put together pictures of un crayon, une règle and un sac. Which one is the odd one out ?

26. Stand up sit down Set the students up in two teams and get the teams to line up in rows. Walk up the middle of the two teams and show a flashcard to each member in turn. The student that is shown the card should then say what is on the card. If the student is successful then he or she is able to stay standing. If the student is incorrect or then he or she should sit down on the floor where they are standing, and remain sitting until the end of the exercise. When the teacher has shown the flashcards to all of the students and they have all had the chance to take part in the activity the teacher then allocates one point for each student standing.

27. Board memory game Place all of the flashcards on the board that in a line so that all of the flashcards can be seen. Re-drill the vocabulary. Turn one of the cards over and then drill the line of flashcards again with the students saying what is on each card, including the one that has been turned over. The process is then repeated until all of the cards are turned the wrong way up. By this time all of the students should be able to say what is on each card even though they are unable to see the pictures on each card.

28. Use them to build up sentences. Use a structure such as J'ai or As-tu..? and add the nouns to it using the flashcards to illustrate the sentence. You can also add an adjective, the cards and their position making the word order clear.

29. Human sentences Students hold flashcards and make 'human sentences'. They can also work in pairs or groups with mini-flashcards to do the same. They are learning to read and write without using a pencil.

30. Sound-spelling link Have a set of phoneme cards and a corresponding set of picture cards. Say the sound and the students have to identify the word (picture) containing that sound.

31. Avalanche Stick 5 cards going vertically down the board for team 1 and 5 cards going vertically down the board for team 2. Team 1 line up behind the first set of cards and team 2 line up behind the second set of cards. The teams start at the same time and the first person in each line writes the French next to the first flashcard. Then the second person writes the French next to the second flashcard and so on. Each member of the team gets 2 points for a correct answer and 1 point for an attempted but incorrect answer. If there is an avalanche due to a wrong answer, all is erased and the next person in line starts with the first card again.

In pairs or groups:
1. Pelmanism Each pair or group has a set of flashcards showing, for example, pictures and the corresponding words. They have to find the pairs by turning over pairs of cards in turn, and remembering where each card is.

2. Classification Students sort the cards into groups and explain why they have grouped certain words together.

3. Dance mats / Hopscotch Put the flashcards on the floor, and students take it in turns to call out the order in which their partner must jump to the cards.

Private study:Students can make their own flashcards, with a picture on one side and the word on the other side, or the English on one side and the TL on the other side. They can then use them to help them to learn the vocabulary or structures. The electronic flashcards from online activity makers like ProProfs and Quia can provide an alternative to paper versions.

I'm looking forward to trying out some of these ideas with KS1 and KS2 next year. I've already started to make some
flashcards, which I have uploaded to MFL Sunderland, and will add more as I make them.

Do you have any other flashcard activities ? I'd love to hear about them. ¡Viva el low-tech! Let's all flash(card)!


  1. Clare,

    Lots of great ideas/activities! Do you mind if I post a link in our teaching recipes to help new teachers?

    I second your idea that low tech methods might actually be motivating to students and of course the tactile aspect is super. I make flashcards just by photocopying lots and lots of small pictures from resource books. I make decks and keep piles around in freezer bags. The pictures are great for prompting discussion. 1,000 Pictures for Teachers and all the Communication Games books are excellent for this.

    I'd also suggest that YES you can print ppts to make flashcards. So easy. Just File - Print Preview - 6 slides/ page - Print. Cut/laminate if you wish and play.

    Thanks again for all these ideas!


  2. Yes, of course you may post the link, David. Thank you for the comment.

  3. Thank you for all those great ideas and games. I now teach in a school where resources are limited and there are no interactive whiteboards, so I have gone back to flashcards. Pupils love the different games and so do I. As you say, you can manipulate them in so many different ways.
    Another ppopular game amongst students is "heads down, thumbs up". 6 students come to the front of the class holding a flashcard each. The rest of the students put their heads down and their thumbs up. Students with flashcards go around the class and touch the thumb of one student. Students who have had their thumbs touched have to guess whose student has touched his/her thumb by naming the flashcard he/she is holding. I often do this at the ned of the lesson as a plenary and it works well.

  4. Thanks Alice ! Have to say I've never quite "got" Heads down thumbs up, with or without flashcards ! Can see how your way will incorporate the vocabulary. Thanks again for the comment.

  5. I developed a method with flashcards as my main resource. I also use technology, but I NEVER use powerpoints. You'll see my logo with flashcards, even. Check out my website: Check out my lesson plans. You'll see video footage of some of the games you mentioned (loto, bingo, slap, avalance). I will upload more as I teach them.

  6. gracias, buenisimas ideas...