Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

October 28, 2016
by leesensei

In Defense of the “Flashcard” Or “Yes I Use Them….!”

sentence cardsI notice flashcards talking some ‘heat’ on #langchat these days. “Not communicative”, “no real purpose for learning” etc. say the tweets. Mention the word in a tweet and watch your feed light up. Well…I like ’em. Yup I do. I use them a lot in my classes. I have flashcards sets for almost every unit in my Year 1 and 2 classes. However it is how and when I choose to use them that makes me okay with that…

Generally my flashcards do not use English and they are not electronic. They are a picture and another one with the word in the Target Language. Sometimes they are pictures only.  They are based on our ‘base’ vocabulary that I think we all should know. They are based on images we have used in class – the ones on the board as we told a story and introduced new vocabulary. If there is a key one we all want we add it.  Note – I have the classic solo-review flashcards on my Quizlet site (okay I don’t have the paid version for images – one day maybe).

The flashcards are never the purpose of the lesson that day. They are a warm-up, a 10 minute review, or a tool to a more communicative activity. They are not for ‘teaching’ – they are for short bursts of practice or review of something students have already encountered. My students always use them in class with a partner. Okay – sometimes I throw in one or two new words – they like to ‘find’ out things and its a backwards way to add 1 or 2 new words to the mix.

I use them many ways.  We use them in a ‘classic’  match the picture/word activity. Sometimes we play ‘grab the card’ with the pictures only (I call out the word – first one to grab it gets it) Other times we shuffle the whole deck – see the word-give the English; see the picture-give the Target Language. Always done as a pair…never in a ‘memorize this’ as an individual drill way.

But I have extended this – I use them for my novices as they get used to making sentences – essentially using visuals to create as they practice particular structures. We have used the pictures to create stories (always allow them to add 2 hand-drawn ones to spice up their story) and this becomes a story-relating activity. I have used this with student-generated flashcards for example in my Yr 4 class – and it became a 50 minute TL presentational/interpersonal experience.

I am convinced that we need to offer students a chance to learn in many ways. Some students learn visually and for some the kinetic flip of the card helps.  If we are working on something, and it involves vocabulary and they are trying to add it to their repertoire this is one way to do that.  I am convinced that they like to feel some confidence that they are learning and this is one way, and only one small way, to show them they are. “I know this” is a powerful inner statement. And working with a partner on these means that they have another person to support them (or to help find the word with).  It is a way to reinforce that does not involve a written worksheet – and this oral ‘worksheet’ is effective for them. No it does not appeal to all. No we will not be having a test on this ‘list’ of words. Yes we will be using these words in class in interpersonal and presentational activities. Every year I ask students “What is something that you found helpful/beneficial in class? What is something we did/use that helps you learn?” and it shocks me the number that say “the flashcards we use”.

So…there…I’ve said it. I like flashcards…

Do you use them in your classes…and if so…how?


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