Building vocabulary is critical to successful language learning, but it doesn’t have to be a painful process. If students discover how to make meaningful flashcards and use them in creative, productive ways, they will walk out of your classroom equipped with valuable learning strategies that will serve them well.

All flashcards are not created equal…

Many students have used the quick and dirty flashcard method of an English word on one side and a first language translation on the other; however, this doesn’t help develop fluency and relies on rote (and boring) memorization.

It is also helpful to prepare and model super-sized flashcards which can be used for warm-ups and vocabulary review with the whole class.

The attached template will help students prepare better flashcards that will radically improve their fluency and ability to retain new words well beyond the last vocab quiz. Once the cards are created, a variety of games can be played in pairs and groups to help solidly establish the new words in students’ everyday language. Be sure your students understand the importance of using a language learner English-English dictionary such as the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary as they fill out their cards. It is also helpful to prepare and model super-sized flashcards which can be used for warm-ups and vocabulary review with the whole class.

Let the games begin!

  1. Sentence Tag: Teams of up to four or pairs work well for this activity. Have students sit around a large desk if possible and place one set of cards definition side down all across the desktop. Students take turns making original sentences using as many of the words as they can in one sentence. If the grammar and usage is correct, the student collects the cards and the next person takes a turn. The student with the most cards after all have been picked up wins the game.
  2. Spelling Check: Students quiz each other on spelling. In groups, each member reads five cards then passes the stack to the next student to read the next five, and so on. Students check each other’s spelling and pronunciation. Parts of speech can also be included here, as well as phonetic spelling if desired.
  3. Vocab Pictionary: This is a great reward and a review activity leading up to a test. The class is divided into teams. Make sure each team has adequate board space and faces a different wall if possible. One member from each team will be the ‘artist’ and must draw pictures to help his or her team be the first to identify the word pulled by the instructor from the stack of cards. No letters or symbols may be used, and the artist is not allowed to speak or gesture. This can also be expanded to require that a complete sentence correctly using the new word be stated for full points.