Flashcards are so common in Young Learner classroom and when I first started teaching, they were definitely my favorite resource. Over the years a lot has changed in my teaching practice, including the way I use flashcards. I have a few things I stopped doing and I feel that my lessons have improved because of it.
Here are 5 things I stopped doing with flashcards to improve my lessons.
Listen and repeat x 100
Just because my students can name a set of flashcards, it doesn’t mean that they are learning to communicate in English. Especially if that is all they are doing in the lesson. Rote learning of a lexical list will not help reach the long term goal of becoming competent communicators in the foreign language. How about we stop making this the intended learning outcome of our young learner lessons and give them more opportunities to use language to talk about what they think and how they feel?
Say “My favorite food is broccoli”. Say it!
I am guilty of having planned many many flashcard games that required children to lie about what they thought or felt because they needed to use the “target language”. I am very careful to avoid this now and try to always make sure that the communication is genuine. After all, so much of a child’s understanding of the new words and structures come from the context. So, if the question is “What’s your favorite food?”, the answer should be based on what is true for them, not what’s on a flashcard.
Pink is for girls and blue is for boys.
For years now, respect for diverse families, cultures, languages and values has been a focus for curriculum and educational policy (Adam, H., Barratt-Pugh, C. & Haig, Y. 2019) and yet I rarely gave much thought to how my flashcards can potentially perpetuate stereotypes and lack diversity. Today, I have a much more critical eye and am actively working to overcome my own hidden bias. I want to make sure that the images I use represent a diverse range of family structures, ethnicity, lifestyle choices, race, genders, ability and social backgrounds.
Is it a pencil?
What is my name? Where is the nose? What color is it? My lessons used to be an endless stream of these kinds of questions and I’m so embarrassed about that today. I would spend the entire lesson trying to elicit answers to things I obviously knew already. These are also known as “display questions” and they can be very useful when you want to check to see if your students understood or can remember something. However, they shouldn’t be the only type of question that you are asking when you use flashcards. Let’s ask more questions that we really want to know the answer to and let our students do the same. The lesson is going to be much more interesting if we do!
That tree has eyes!
We use flashcards all the time to teach students about things they may never have seen or heard about before: an elephant, the snow or an apricot. Adults have no problem interpreting pictures as representations of something and often assume that children share this conception of pictures. Even when a child can identify what a picture shows, it does not mean they will have an adult-like understanding of pictures as representations (Wimmer MC, Robinson EJ, Koenig L, Corder E. 2014). Therefore, using cartoonish images of animals, trees and objects are not a great option. I’ve made a move to use more photographs and realistic images for flashcards instead.
Flashcards – doing it right
So, that’s what I DON’T do with flashcards but that doesn’t mean I have thrown them out of my lessons entirely. Not at all. In fact, there are lots of great ways to use them.
If you’re interested, you can read this post with some practical suggestions for ways of using flashcards with Young Learners.