Most teachers use flash-cards in their English lessons when they have to introduce new vocabulary. Using flash-cards our students will be able to understand the new vocabulary without any kind of translation. Anyway, we have to take into account that there are lexical fields that cannot be illustrated through flash cards (abstract words such as feelings, for example).
In this article, I’m going to suggest some activities with flash-cards that can be applied to any kind of vocabulary and almost any age and level.
To start with, we will always choose comprehension activities. This means that the students are not required to say the new words, just to understand them.
After this stage, it is good to introduce activities which require repetitive production.
Then they will be ready to develop tasks in which they have to speak without models.
Finally we will have to introduce interaction activities, which involve contextualized use of the language.
– Saying hello (only in infant education): Very young children enjoy saying hello to the animals, the people and even the objects. We can put the flash cards in different places of the classroom and greet them alternatively.
When the students have mastered the main vocabulary, we can make errors like saying ‘Hello kangaroo, how are you?’ when we are speaking to the monkey. Children will be delighted to say ‘Nooo! that is the monkey!!
– The chain: We put all the flash-cards in different places. We choose one student and we say one word, for example ‘donkey’. The student has to find the corresponding flash-card. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know the vocabulary yet. They can try luck. If one student fails, we choose another one, and so on until someone finds the donkey. Then we say another word, for example ‘monkey’, and we go on until the student fails. Then we choose another student and we start the chain again ‘donkey, monkey,…’. The idea of the chain is that when one student finds out the meaning of a word, the others will try to remember it. You will see that in twenty minutes all your students will have mastered all the vocabulary.
– Point to: The teacher says ‘point to the donkey, point to the kangaroo, …’ and the students have to perform the actions. When you see that the students are getting tired of this boring activity, you can transform it into a memory game: say ‘point to… the monkey, the elephant, the snake and the hippo’ and they have to make it in the right order. If you speak very quickly they will find it funny.
– Where is it?: We turn all the cards upside down (on the floor or on a table). Then we choose one student and we ask ‘where is the donkey?’ and the students uncovers one card. If s/he gets right, we ask again ‘where is the elephant?’, and so on until s/he fails. Then we turn all the cards upside down, we choose another student and we start the chain again (‘ Where is the donkey?, where is the elephant?, where is the kangaroo?…’).
– be quick! We put all the flash-cards in different places of the classroom. (Another good idea is to ask some students to hold them up). Then we ask two students to stand up. Then we say one word, for example ‘giraffe’ and both students will try to take it in first place. We go on with the other words. At the end, the student that has taken more flash-cards is the winner.
For this stage I suggest to introduce songs or chants with a chorus repetition. Anyway here I propose an activity with flash cards that promotes echoic repetition of new vocabulary:
– The parrots: we choose onw student. S/he will have to get out of the classroom. Then we hide one of the flash cards (for example, the monkey) in any place. Then the student gets in and the game starts: s/he will try to find the monkey and the other students will help saying monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey,… (continuously).
The key is that the students will say monkey, monkey, monkey … in a low voice when the player is far from the monkey, and in a high voice when s/he is close to it.
– Whispers: Divide the students in two groups. Put all your flash-cards on the blackboard. Then ask the students to stay in two rows (one row for each group). Then whisper a word to the two first students at the same time. Each student has to whisper the word to the following one in their rows. When the last students hear the word, they have to run and take it from the blackboard. The group that takes the card first gets one point.
– Mad pointer: We put all the flash-cards on the blackboard. Then point to a serie of four or five cards very quickly. The students have to pay attention and try to memorize the flash-cards and the right order. We ask them one by one to see if they are able to say the four words in the right order.
– Memory game: We put all the flash-cards in a lot. Then we show them one by one and students have to memorize the order.
– Upside down: We put all the cards upside down. Then we point to one of the cards and we ask one student ‘What is this?’ and s/he will try to guess. If s/he gets right we point to another card and so on. When s/he fails we turn upside down the cards and we start the serie again with another student.
– Just a little bit: We take one card and we hide it behind a book, a folder or something like that. Then we show just a little bit and students try to find out what it is.
– Just a glimpse: We take one card and we show it very quickly, so that students find it difficult to see it clearly. Then we ask what it was.
– Pass the ball: We give one card to each player. One of them will start the game. She says: ‘I am the monkey and I pass the ball to the snake’. Then, the student with the snake has to react quickly and pass the ball to another player (‘I am the snake and I pass the ball to the rabbit’). If any student doesn’t react quickly s/he will be eliminated.
– The missing card: Put all the cards on the wall or the carpet. Tell the students to look at them for 30 seconds. Then ask them to close their eyes and remove one card very quickly. They have to find out what is the missing card. (memory game) The student who gives the right answer will be chosen to remove the next card (takes the place of the teacher).
– Charades: One student takes one card and acts out the illustration. The other students have to guess what it is.
– On my back: Put one card on each student’s back. They have to go around looking at the other students’ cards, so that they have to guess what is their own card.
– Odd one out. Put some flash-cards on the blackboard. All the cards will be related to the same topic but one. For example: trousers, jacket, cow, shoes, shirt, jumper. Ask the students to find the odd one out (saying the word).
Interaction activities require contextualized language. For this reason, I cannot suggest any general activity that could be applied to different lexical fields.
For example, if we are learning vocabulary related to the animals, we could play the role of hunters in the jungle: Ssshh! I’ve seen a lion there… – No, it is a tiger! …