Simple Flashcard Games to Foster an Engaging and Engaged Classroom

Simple Flashcard Games to Foster an Engaging and Engaged Classroom

Flashcard games are a brilliant way to throw in some beneficial visual learning and engage students in the ESL classroom. Although many of us associate flashcards with burning the midnight oil, these games are far from boring.

ESL students are mostly appointed routine, unimodal assignments that might not present immersive experiences. Thankfully, flashcards are versatile with remarkable potential for diverse and creative classroom games.

Coming up with new flashcard games may not be a breeze, but we’re here to show you how! Teachers can also adapt or modify these games to accommodate different learning goals and proficiency levels. So if your students are more advanced on the ESL spectrum, basic vocabulary memorization could be a waste.

First off, let us begin with how teachers can prepare flashcards.

Preparing Flashcards for ESL Students

You don’t have to be the crafty type to customize flashcard sets for your classroom. But on the off chance that you are, you can try your hand in more artful methods that we will start with:

  • Index Cards with Words or Pictures

Index cards are one of the most flexible and inexpensive resources for making flashcards. These are the preferred choice when you want each student to have their own set, then tailor it to their individual learning abilities.

Instead of simply writing vocabulary and definitions on either side of the card, you can encourage students to glue pictures onto them. Cut out images from old magazines or print them online. This method is excellent in supporting memory retention, helping students to build visual associations with unfamiliar words.

Visual flashcards are primarily instrumental for lower-level students who do not have a profound lexicon. On the other hand, they are also valuable for eliciting words from advanced students when testing their productive vocabularies rather than receptive vocabularies.

To ensure that loose cards do not go missing, you can punch a hole in the corner and thread the cards together with a binder ring. Then, hang them up on a bulletin board with pushpins when not in use.

Invest in a laminator! That way, you can take any piece of paper—whatever size you choose—and transform it into a flashcard.

In addition, you may type out the words to avoid inconsistent handwriting and even copy-paste pictures and clipart. Teachers will also have the option to create a template through word processing programs, allowing for quick plug-ins of new material for different lessons.

Laminated Flashcards

Adapting regular playing cards by sticking printed labels onto them is ideal for fast-paced games. Since playing cards are specifically designed to be sturdy, it is no worry to wear them out with extensive handling.

Moreover, you can easily keep these flashcards, replacing the labels accordingly, from one year to the next. This is another method that requires some financial investment, but you can use the cards long term.

  • Online Flashcard Creators

If you don’t have time to be creative on your own, try some online tools to help you create standard flashcards. It will save you the time of printing labels on regular paper and cutting them out manually so you can spend more time planning the games!

Some popular flashcard creators include Flashcard Machine and Chegg Prep.

5 Surprisingly Engaging Flashcard Games for ESL

Now, on to the fun part! Here are five flashcard activities that can substitute non-immersive study time, in and out of the classroom:

1. Don’t Sit on the Booby (Flashcard) Chair!

As you can probably tell from its name, this game is simple yet fun for your younger ESL students. You can arrange the chairs in a circle musical-chairs-style, or even in random order. Then, place a flashcard on each chair with the one that is ‘correct’.

Next, teachers can choose to read out a definition or a vocabulary’s synonym or antonym. Students will have to identify the correct ESL flashcard called and race to sit on a chair that does not contain the right answer. If the loser sits on it, they must form a sentence with the word.

2. Playing by Ear

Flashcards do not necessarily benefit only visual learners, and you can also use them for a listening game like this one. For this activity, bust out the laminated giant flashcards, making them A4 size and giving one to each student. Keep the information on each card at least as students will be listening for specific words or phrases.

Teachers can then play a song or movie clip that comprises the target words. You may also give particular instructions like listening for ‘adjectives’ or ‘nouns’. When students hear their words, they must quickly stand up and hold their flashcards above their heads.

This game targets students’ listening skills and makes room for some fun in policing their peers who miss out on raising their cards.

Playing by Ear

3. The Generation Game

This idea was borrowed from a British television game show, where family members of varying generations split into two teams and played against each other to win points.

However, teachers can easily modify the game should their classroom make up teens, preadolescents and kids. Review a set of ESL flashcards and give one to each student, instructing them to form a long line in separate teams, ie teens vs kids.

Appoint one student from each team as the ‘main player’ seated at the front. One by one, students will walk past the main player and show them their flashcards. Once the line is disbanded, calculate how many words the player remembers and jog down the points (1 point for each word).

Ensure that everyone on each team has their turn and tally the points at the end. You can choose to award the winning team with the most points or perhaps dangle an incentive before hand.

An excellent way to put your students’ memory to the test!

4. Whispers

The stakes are always higher with opposing teams, so here is another game to get your students amped up. It focuses on reviewing sentence structures and tenses, motivating them to be grammatically correct.

First, place two sets of identical word flashcards in front of the class and divide students into two teams. Line them up facing the cards, and the last student will whisper a sentence to the one in front. The following students will go on passing the message until it reaches the first student.

That student will have to pick out the flashcards that make up the gist of the sentence and put them on the whiteboard or the floor. The first team to arrange the sentence correctly scores a point. Shuffle the students to the back of the line and repeat until everyone has participated.


5. BrainDrain

Brain Drain is a clever flashcard game that is adjustable to fit multi-levels of abilities and varying ages. If you want to engage and stimulate your students’ thinking a little more, try this out!

Divide your students into small groups and pin a flashcard from your lexical set to the whiteboard. Then, set a timer for 60 seconds where students have to brainstorm a series of associated words. For instance, if the word is ‘avalanche’: snow, mountain, disaster, ice…

For older students, you can give each group a flashcard and allow several minutes for them to write as many related words as they can. When they are done, take back all the flashcards and instruct them to exchange their lists with another team. The team will then guess the missing flashcard word based on the list.

These activities are a great way to shake things up instead of having students read words off a flashcard. By engaging in fun and interactive games, you can excite them for the learning process. Discover why ESL games are useful and how you can use them to your advantage!