Flashcards to Teach Vocabulary

This is less a full lesson plan than a sequence of activities for flashcards that get gradually more challenging.  This activity is a good follow-up to the presentation stage–it starts with simple word recognition and builds up to matching with definitions. The sequence also provides lots of repetition so students can remember the words. Finally, students also walk away with flashcards that have the words on them so they have instant study aids!


  • To revise words that have just been learned
  • To review words that students learned earlier
  • To introduce students to the benefits of flashcards


  • Index cards or pieces of paper that can be turned into flashcards
  • A list of words that students have already been introduced to.


Put students in pairs. Tell one student to write half the words on the flashcards. The other student writes the other half of the words.


  1. Students lay the flashcards down face up (words showing) on the desk between them. There should now be one card for each word.
  2. Students take turns saying a word while the other student finds the card. If they find the right word the first time, they take the card. If they can’t find the right word, the student who named the word gets to take the card. At the end of the game, students get a point for each card they took.


  1. Students divide the cards between them.
  2. Students take turns reading the word on their card. The other student has to write the word down on a piece of paper.
  3. If the student spells it right, they get a point.

Memorization: Concentration or Pelmanism

  1. Give students more flashcards and have them again write half the words on the new cards–when you are done students should have two complete sets of cards with all the vocabulary words written on them.
  2. Students shuffle the cards and lay them out on the table face down  (Words not showing) between them.
  3. Students take turns flipping over one card and then flipping over one other card, looking for a match. If they find a match, they get to keep it. If they don’t find a match, they have to flip the cards back over right where they were. Obviously this is a game about memory as well as luck.
  4. The student with the most pairs of cards wins. Or keep a running tally of points throughout class–give one point for each pair of matching word cards.

Checking the Definition

  1. Students divide the cards so that each one has a complete set.
  2. Students take turns showing each other the words. The other student has to come up with the definition.
  3. Both students then check to see if the definition is correct or not. In any case, they should write the correct definition on the back of the card; this way they end up with two sets of flashcards that have the words on one side and the definitions on the other.
  4. Obviously, this activity should be open book/open dictionary but beware of iPhones with Google Translate. Students will end up writing the wrong definition of the word–like, “an area of changing pressure” for front, when you wanted, “the opposite of back”.

Matching to the Definition

  1. Students lay out the cards so that one set of cards has the words facing up and the other has the definitions facing up.
  2. Students take turns picking a word card and then matching it with a definition. Students get a point for every word they can match.
  3. Alternatively, students can challenge each other. So student 1 picks a word card and student 2 has to find the definition. If student 2 can find the definition, they get a point. If student 2 can’t find it, student 1 has to find it. If they can do it, they get a point. Otherwise no one gets a point and students move on. Eventually, the process of elimination should help them.

Remembering the Definition

  1. Students each take one set of cards.
  2. Students take turns saying a word. The other student has to say the definition.
  3. If they can do so, they get a point.


At this point, students are probably tired of the words and class may be over anyway! I usually teach them how to study with flashcards and tell them homework is to learn the words. The next lesson is dedicated to using the words in context and getting into parts of speech and so on.

For another fun flashcard game, see Draw Something about adapting the iPhone game to classroom learning.

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