How to Use Flashcards to Introduce New Words

Reproduced from the Pearson Longman English Language Teacher Newsletter – May 2011

Article by Sarah Lynn

Flashcards are a great way to study new words, but students don’t always know how to use them. In this article I’ll share with you some of the classroom systems and activities I have used to get my students learning with flashcards.

Organization Tips

  • Cutting Expenses 
    File cards provide the sturdiest paper, but they can be pricey. My students cut 3 x 5 cards into quarters.
  • Rainbow of Colors 
    Use a different colored card for each set of vocabulary. For example:
    green: household items
    blue: clothing
    white: verbs
  • Plastic Sandwich Bags 
    Students can carry all the cards they need in one little sandwich bag.

Creating Sets of Flashcards 
In my class, students identify words they want to study. I write the words on the board and students copy all the words on cards: one word per card.

On the other side of each card, students can:

  • Write a translation of the word.
  • Write a sentence with the word.
  • Draw an image to illustrate the word.
  • Conjugate the verb or write it in a different tense or form (participles).
  • Write other words in the word family. For example:
    Front: class
    Back: classroom, classmate
  • Leave the back blank.

Using Flashcards in Class 
It is not enough to make sets of cards. Students need to use them in the classroom to develop this study habit. This is how we use the cards in class:

Spelling in pairs: 
Student A picks up a flashcard and asks “How do you spell [word on flashcard]?” Student B spells the word aloud. Then they switch roles. My students keep a piece of scrap-paper handy to write the word out as they spell it.

Point and Say in pairs: 
Student A picks up a flashcard, mimes its meaning, or points to it in the classroom or in a picture. Student B says the word. For example:

  • Colors: students point to an object with the color.
  • Verbs: student act out the verb action.
  • Household items: student point to the item in a picture.

Sorting
Individually or in pairs, students sort their cards into categories. The categories vary according to the word set. For example;

  • Clothing: indoor-outdoor, winter-summer, casual-formal, female-male
  • Foods: fruits-vegetables, healthy-unhealthy; sweet-salty; raw-cooked

Alphabetizing 
Individually or in pairs, students alphabetize their cards.

Concentration 
For this activity, one side of the flashcards must be blank. In pairs, students join their two sets of words and play concentration. Students lay all the cards face down. They take turns flipping over two cards at a time to find a matching pair of words.

Composing Sentences

  • Writing: Individually students write sentences with the words. The teacher circulates to correct their sentences.
  • Speaking: In pairs: Student A picks up a card and reads the word aloud. Student B uses the word in a sentence. Student A listens and takes dictation. The teacher circulates and checks the sentences students have composed.

More Flashcard Activities? 
The possibilities are endless! Please share your ideas. Send them to the Teacher2Teacher blog.

From Pearson Longmon English Language Teacher Newsletter May 2011  How to Use Flashcards to Introduce New Words