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Flashcard, The

How to Make This Visual Aid Work for You



WRITTEN BY: Patrick Bickford     ADDED: Feb 15, 2011



Flashcards are boring!

This has been my opinion for years. I have always loved making games and activities to practice new vocabulary but I never really focused on the actual introduction of the target vocabulary because it usually included drilling via flashcards and I have long thought this type of drilling was boring. And, as a teacher, if I thought this I could almost guarantee the students’ heads would be bouncing off their desks trying not to doze off. That was until recently…


I recently discovered a flashcard underworld. This underworld contained the key I never knew existed. It allowed me to effectively teach that monotonous repeat-after-me drill and still keep the students engaged in the lesson. The process I learned unlocked an effective & fun method of using these archaic visual aids.


This underworld presented itself when my one of my JTEs asked me to go with him to a teacher’s seminar in Sendai. I would have normally declined the invitation because the total cost for transportation, lodging and seminar fee was close to 40,000 yen, but I was intrigued because the style of teaching he utilizes in class is nothing short of an English-ONLY classroom, which is a teaching style he said was modeled after the seminar’s sponsor, TOSS (Teacher’s Organization of Skill Sharing).


So, sit back, relax and brush-off the dust on those flashcards and get ready to enter the fun and exciting flashcard drilling underworld.


While you might have the luxury of having pre-made flashcards at JHS & HS, many ES don’t have flashcards so you might need to make your own.


If you do make your own, here are some tips:

  1. AMPLE SIZE: Your flashcard needs to be big enough for the student in the back row to see, but small enough to easily flip through them.
  2. PICTURE/VOCAB: In JHS/HS, you will most likely be using flashcards that only contain words, but ES flashcards should be picture-based. However, along with the picture, it is a good idea to write the actual word underneath the picture. Over time, students will learn the spelling automatically, call it 'osmosis'. The idea is to slowly do away with the picture so only the word is left on the flashcard. NOTE: If you make flashcards using a computer, use the same font for all of your flashcards. I recommended ‘Comic Sans’.
  3. NO LAMINATION: While your first instinct is to laminate the flashcards, I recommend not doing this. Lamination makes the cards glossy and hard to see from some angles, especially when the sun is shining into the classroom. That being said, you might be able to find some anti-glare lamination paper at your local electronics shop.
  4. NO GLUE: While it may be easy to make flashcards by gluing a picture to the front of a piece of cardboard, I recommend printing out the picture directly onto the flashcard. The reason for this is because when you’re flipping through the cards, glued pictures have a tendency to catch and sometimes rip. 'Catching' is bad because one of the keys to flashcard drilling, which I will outline later on, is ‘rhythm’. That being said, schools should have thicker flashcard-like paper that will feed through a printer without any problems. And, if you should have to result to gluing the picture onto the card, cover all the edges of the picture with tape to help avoid ‘catching’.
  5. TAPE: On the upper-section on the backside of each flashcard, horizontally attach a piece of tape. This allows traction for your fingers when you’re rapidly flipping through the cards.


Okay, so now that you have your flashcards, let’s move onto the actual drills.


The drill I’m about to lay out has been tested in the classroom and has been proven successful.

Here are the steps:

  1. JTE-LED FLIP (2x): The JTE begins by showing the students the English-side of the flashcard and saying the word; the students repeat. Then, the JTE flips the card over to the Japanese-side and says the English word again; the students repeat. Move through the entire set of flashcards TWO TIMES using the same routine. Then, move to Drill #2. (NOTE: I have the JTE begin the drilling process because it’s their job to give a little explanation in Japanese about the word, maybe the translation, brief explanation of how it’s used, and a simple example sentence. Don’t worry about the pronunciation being butchered because your responsibility is to clean up the students’ pronunciation when it’s your turn to drill.)
  2. STUDENT-LED FLIP (2x): The JTE still has the reins for this drilling procedure. Instead of the JTE starting out saying the word, the students say the word. The drill goes like this:
    • Students say the word.
    • JTE repeats the word and flips the card to the Japanese-side.
    • Students repeat the English word again.
    • The JTE repeats this drill two times and hands the set of flashcards to the ALT.
    • Move onto Drill #3.
  3. ALT QUICK-REPEAT, ENGLISH-SIDE (2x): Unlike the first two drills, the ALT only practices the words using the English-side of the flashcard. The pattern goes like this:
    • ALT says the word from a flashcard.
    • Students repeat the word.
    • ALT says the word again.
    • Students repeat again.
      Then, move onto the next flashcard. Go through the set two times.
    • Move onto Drill #4.
  4. ALT QUICK-REPEAT, ENGLISH-SIDE (1x): This drill is exactly like the previous drill, except instead of repeating two times, the pattern goes like this:
    • ALT says word.
    • Students repeat.
    • Then, move onto the next flashcard. Go through the set one time.
    • Move onto Drill #5.
  5. STUDENTS ONLY, ENGLISH-SIDE (1x): The ALT simply flips through the English-side of the flashcards and ONLY the students say each card one time. This is the point where you clean-up their pronunciation. If the students mispronounce or forget a word, stop, and have them repeat that word after you a couple of times.
  6. ONE-BY-ONE DRILLING: This drill focuses on individual students, rather than the class as a whole. There are various ways to conduct this drill:
    • VOLUNTEERS: You can ask for 'volunteer rows' to raise their hands. You choose the row that has the most hands raised and have that row stand up. Then, starting from the front or back, each student takes turns saying the vocabulary as you slowly flip through the cards. I have been doing this style of flashcard drilling for over a year now. Surprisingly enough, I have entire classrooms raise their hands when I ask for volunteers. I think the key to this success has been that students feel confident after so much drilling that they want to show-off what they have learned.
    • NON-VOLUNTEERS: If you happen to teach a class where nobody likes volunteering, the following two techniques have worked with amazing success.
      • 2-NUMBER GAME: Have two students choose a number between 1-10. Then, using the first number and starting at the front-left side of the class, count out each row until you reach the first number chosen. Then, from that row, count vertically using the second number chosen until you come to rest on one quivering student. Have that student standup and then let s/he choose tate (vertical) or yoko (horizontal) and have the entire vertical or horizontal line stand up. Then, flip through the cards having each standing student say a word. Rinse and repeat. NOTE: Start the next round’s counting from the place where the last student from the previous round sat down.
      • MISTAKE GAME: Have the entire class stand up. Say a card and the students repeat. Do this two time and flip to the next card. Occasionally, say a different card than the one you are showing the class. If the students repeat what you said versus saying what is on the card, they must sit down. This little game is was a surprisingly awesome activity in my classes. It’s the newest rage and it is even popular with the ‘bad’ students. My JTE uses a point system. I give out a point to students still standing after about 5-10 mistakes.
  7. Repeat from #3, but this time use the Japanese-side of the flashcards.



  1. CONSISTENCY: An important thing to keep in mind when drilling is creating a system and sticking to that system every time you do flashcard drills. In other words, each time you introduce a new set of target vocabulary to your students, the drills should always be the same. I believe this a key element to erasing students’ apprehension. Student apprehension is often created because the student doesn’t know what is going on. Having the same drills every time new vocabulary is introduced has the probability to reduce a student’s shyness to participate because they know the upcoming drilling process from previous drilling practices. Similar to all facets of learning, if students know what step is coming next they can lay needless worrying aside and focus on the new information/vocabulary being taught. They need not concern themselves with the method of how the information is being taught because it will all be consistent.
  2. FAST PACE: I know this will sound bad but I treat my students like an ADHD child. Meaning, the pace at which I do the drill outlined above is done at a constant fast speed so that it decreases the chance of students becoming bored. Quickly moving from drill-to-drill keeps the students’ minds actively moving and focused on the task at hand.
  3. CONSTANT RHYTHM: The idea behind this tip is similar to rocking a baby to sleep. I’m not suggesting putting your students to sleep, not that it wouldn’t be a bad idea sometimes, what I’m saying is ‘constant rhythm’’ has to do with keeping the same tempo throughout all the drills because a constant tempo speed has a hypnotizing effect on the students and keeps their attention focused on the flashcards. (NOTE: I keep a steady pace by tapping my foot.)
  4. FINGER CONDOM: I carry around a finger condom (you know, those rubbery things that many bank tellers and/or secretaries use when they are flipping through money or paper really fast) on days I know I’m going to be drilling flashcards. It allows me to grip each flashcard better as I flip through them. NOTE: I only use one condom and since I’m right-handed I wear it on my right thumb.
  5. STACKING HORIZONTALLY: If you’re leading Drills #1-2 (explained in the 'Drilling' section above), you will most likely be going through the target vocabulary at a much slower speed. For these two drills, I never ‘square-up’ the flashcards, rather offset them a little horizontally and stack them off to the right. This allows me to grab-n-flip a flashcard more smoothly. See picture to the right for an example.


I think that's about it to the flashcard. Hopefully you've picked up a couple of hints to use your flashcards more effectively in your classroom. I am planning on adding some instructional videos to this article in the near future in hopes to bring a little clarity to the written explanation.


There's a box below to post your suggestions, comments, etc.



  • (Dec 28, 2011) Kekki said: Rhythm is great for kids. I don't use flashcards, my JTE has me write stuff up on the board and drill it that way. I usually tap myself and then gesture to the students to have them repeat in the same rhythm. I'll try flash cards if I get the chance, but I need practise... I usually end up dropping the damn things!
  • (May 9, 2011) Kelly from Doshi said: This is seriously good advice, I used to hate doing flashcards with my kids, but after this it was a breeze and so much fun. When making your own cards for ES, writing the word on the back of the picture flashcards helps, so you don't have to waste time looking at the picture on the front and you never loose your place.



This page was last modified on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:06:08 AM