Flashcard games for very young esl efl kids- background image of a flashcard collage

There is no shortage of flashcard game ideas out here on the internet. So, why another article?! Well, I thought it was worth sharing some of my favourites for very young learners. Not all flashcard games are equally engaging, especially for little people with short attention spans. There are some that require the kids to wait a little too long for their turn, and what you might think is a fun idea, can quickly become a bore. I also wanted to share some ideas for how to manage a few popular games in a more collaborative fast-paced way.

In this post, you’ll find 8 of my favourite engaging flashcard games for very young learners that can be used to provide maximum English practice, with minimum fuss. You can also find another 10 in 10 small group card games for ESL/EFL young learners.

1. Teacher, STOP!

picture of teacher holding stop sign
Image by ElisaRiva on Pixabay

What is it good for?

How to play:

  1. Sit with the children in a circle. Hold the flashcards in a group in your hands with the picture side facing you.
  2. Shuffle the flashcards continuously. Signal for the children to shout STOP when they want.
  3. Stop shuffling when they shout STOP and hide the flashcard facing you.
  4. Place the remaining flashcards on the floor one by one, so the children can see. Say each word / phrase as you go, encouraging the children to repeat after you.
  5. The children can now take turns guessing which flashcard is missing. When you hear the correct answer, give the child the hidden flashcard and repeat the process with the other cards.

Variations:

2. The Tower Game

A tower of large yoghurt pots with flashcards between each one.

What is it good for?

How to play:

  1. Organise the children in a circle on the floor or around a table.
  2. Place one cup or large yoghurt pot face down in the centre.
  3. Offer a flashcard to the first child (fan the cards so the child can’t see them to create more suspense). The child says the word or phrase depicted on the flashcard and places it on top of the cup.
  4. Offer another child another cup to place on top of the flashcard
  5. Offer a flashcard to the next child.
  6. Continue as above until you run out of flashcards or until the tower falls down!

Keep them engaged and the suspense going by reviewing the flashcards each time before they place another card on the tower. I like to do a kind of nervous wiggly finger action towards the tower as I drill each phrase. The kids join in with the actions and phrases.

Variations:

3. Duck, Duck, FOX!

What is it good for?

Image of children sitting in a circle. There are two flashcards in the centre: a duck and a fox. One the outside of the circle one child is chasing another

How to play:

  1. Organise the children in a seated circle.
  2. Shuffle a flashcard set and tell the children to tell you when to STOP!
  3. Take the first two cards and elicit / tell the children the words, e.g. , Fox and duck.
  4. Demonstrate the activity: Stand up (the children remain in a seated circle). Walk around the outside of the circle, tapping each child on the shoulder while repeating one word, i.e., ‘duck’. Eventually, tap one child on the shoulder and say the other word, i.e., ‘fox’! Indicate that the child should stand up and chase you around the circle, trying to catch you. Run around the outside of the circle (with the child following you), until you reach the place the child was sitting in. Sit down at their place in the circle. The child standing is now ‘IT’.
  5. Play continues with the same words until the children get the idea, e.g., ‘duck’, ‘duck’, ‘duck’, ‘fox!’ Chase, sit, new person becomes ‘IT’.
  6. Change the flashcards to practise different vocabulary, using the procedure above.

4. Circle Slam

flashcards laid out on a table with two arms touching one of the flashcards

What is it good for?

How to play:

I’ve played different variations of this in the past. One variation is where flashcards are placed on the board and the students are divided into teams. One person in each team runs to touch the flashcard you call out. Another is where you place a line of flashcards on the floor with a team of students either side. While this works with primary aged learners, I find that the logistics of organising very young learners into teams, helping them know whose turn it is etc. can make it a bit chaotic.

This variation works very well with very young learners. There are no teams, but everyone gets a turn and doesn’t have to wait long for their turn.

  1. Place the flashcards face-up on a table. The children stand around the table in a circle.
  2. Identify 2 or 3 children that are equally distanced apart in the circle.
  3. Give the selected children a cardboard ‘stick’ or ‘slammer’ (I like to use cut up inner gift wrap tubes).
  4. Encourage the children to ask ‘What is it?’ or another phrase you would like them to acquire. Call out the name or representative phrase for one of the flashcards. The children with the ‘slammers’ race to hit the flashcard.
  5. The children with the slammers pass their ‘stick’ to the next person on their left.
  6. Continue calling out flashcards and passing the ‘sticks’ around the circle. No points, no problem!

5. Please Mr. Crocodile(or Ms Crocodile!)

children at top in a line, each with a flashcard. A crocodile in the centre in an imaginary river. On the other side of the river there are two children who have crossed safely

What is it good for?

How to play:

This activity is similar to ‘Jump to me’, where students ‘hop’, ‘skip’, ‘jump’ to you if you call out their flashcard. This version involves more language production and a bit more suspense!

  1. Organise children in a sitting line on one side of the classroom.
  2. Give each child a flashcard.
  3. Gesture to show that you are a crocodile and you’re hungry. Gesture that the space between them and the other side of the classroom is water / a river.
  4. Encourage children to repeat the chant after you: ‘Please Mr. Crocodile’, ‘Can I cross the water?’ Tell the children (in a crocodile voice!), ‘You can cross the water if (you’ve got **flashcard word or phrase**)’.
  5. Make crocodile motions with your hands and move from side to side across the room. Chairs with wheels can be fun for this too.
  6. The child with the appropriate flashcard tries to run to the opposite side of the classroom without being caught and eaten by you!

Useful tips for this game:

Obviously, you should probably let most of the kids escape the crocodile! You need to make sure that there are no dangerous obstacles in the way and that they don’t get over-excited! If you have quite a few children in your group, call out two flashcards at once, so that there aren’t too many left waiting. I never leave just one student on their own, so the last two students are usually called at once. It can be fun to let the waiting children give the crocodile cues like ‘go to sleep’ or ‘wake up’. They have fun helping (or hindering!) their classmates.

6. Yes / No Grab

children sitting in a circle with flashcards in the centre

What is it good for?

How to play:

  1. Organise the children in a sitting circle and spread out a set of cards in the centre.
  2. Secretly choose a card. Don’t tell the children, which one.
  3. The children take turns asking you  questions for a structure you want to practise,  e.g., ‘Do you like..’, ‘Have you got..’, ‘Is he…-ing…’, ‘Can he..’
  4. You give a negative answer if it’s not the card, then a positive answer, e.g., ‘No, I haven’t’, ‘No, I haven’t’, ‘No, I haven’t’, ‘Yes, I have’. When you answer ‘Yes’, the children try to grab the relevant picture card.
  5. Play continues with children asking questions and grabbing pictures.

Variations:

7. Musical cards

girl dancing to music in the centre of a circle of flashcards

What is it good for?

How to play:

  1. Arrange flashcards / pictures in a circle on the floor.
  2. Organise the children so they are making a circle outside the flashcard circle.
  3. Play some music and encourage the children to walk / dance / skip around the circle of flashcards.
  4. Stop the music. The children should stop and stand at the flashcard in front of them.
  5. Ask various children what their flashcard is, e.g., ‘She’s playing the guitar’; ‘It’s a pencil’.
  6. Continue playing the music and repeat the procedure.

Variations:

8. Fishing

Image of a fishing rod with a flashcard at the end of the line

This activity needs a bit of preparation but once you’ve done it once, you can recycle it again and again. It’s best to use smaller flashcards or mini-cards.

What do you need? How do you prepare?

Get your cards and stick a small piece of magnetic tape to each one. Make ‘fishing rods’ by tying string to one end and attaching another piece of magnetic tape to the end of the string. Now you can ‘fish’ the cards!

What is it good for?

How to play:

  1. Place the mini cards in a ‘pool’ on the floor.
  2. Give  each child a fishing rod OR get them to take it in turns with one rod.
  3. Let them ‘fish’, trying to pick up cards with the magnetic tape on the cards and rod.
  4. Once everyone has had a turn or interest has started to wane, ask each child what they have got.

Final thoughts

There are so many games out there that you can play. These are just the ones that I know work really well with my smallest students. In general, I’ve learned that with very young learners:

Adaptable games and activities mini-book thumbnail cover

The games described above, and many more are available in my Adaptable Games and Activities Mini-book. I put it together as a quick reference book to inspire me when me and my students felt like a change.

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