Vocabulary flashcards are great tools for instruction—and they're especially great for helping students remember words long-term.

Usually, when we think of flashcards, we think of simple 3x5-inch index cards with a word written on the front and its definition on the back. But there are other forms that flashcards can take. We'll talk about them in this post.

And when we think of using flashcards as a review tool, we often think of just going through each card in turn and forcing the words and definitions into our memories. But there are other ways to use flashcards, and we'll talk about those, too.

Make Interesting Flashcards

Going beyond the basics of words and their definitions is a great way to make flashcards more fun and effective. If an element you add to a flashcard gives your students that little something extra they need to make a word stick in their heads, you win.

Consider having your students add one or more of these elements:

  • An example sentence
  • A picture
  • A fact about the word
  • A related joke or amusing story
  • The word’s pronunciation
  • The word’s part(s) of speech

Flashcards are also more engaging when they’re interactive. If your students are working through Vocabulary Power Plus, Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots, or Growing Your Vocabulary, they can practice their vocabulary skills using the free corresponding digital flashcards found on VocabularyPowerPlus.com and VocabularyRoots.com.

Build Words With Latin and Greek Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Have you ever played with those Magnetic Poetry refrigerator magnet sets? Putting those words in weird combinations can produce some zany results—not to mention tons of laughs. So why not apply the same approach while studying Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes?

Make (or have your students make) a bunch of flashcards that review Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes. It's a good idea to also create cards for several English nouns and verbs—words that students can easily attach prefixes and suffixes to.

Then, ask students to play with the flashcards and create a few new words. Students should define the words they create and (this is the most important part) explain how each word’s meaning is affected by the Latin and Greek root, prefix, and/or suffix used.

Play Games

Whether you modify an existing activity to fit your flashcards or create something brand new, classroom games can be great tools for learning. Here are two of our favorites adapted from creative ideas by Tamara Jones.

The Clay Game

For this hands-on activity, you’ll need a set of vocabulary flashcards and pieces of modeling clay or Play-Doh.

Divide your class into 3-4 teams and give each team a piece of modeling clay. Once the teams are formed, have one student from each team come to the front of the class. Show that group of students one word flashcard, then send them back to their teams.

Using the modeling clay, the students should then form a 3D representation of the word. Remind the students working with the clay that they can’t give out any hints, including speaking or performing actions. The rest of the team must guess the word. Whichever team guesses correctly first wins the round.

The Flyswatter Game

This game may get a bit rowdy, but it’s bound to keep all your students engaged. To get started, gather a set of vocabulary flashcards and a few colorful flyswatters.

At the front of the room, tape some vocabulary flashcards on top of a desk. Divide your class into 2-3 teams. Give one student from each team a different color flyswatter, and have that student go stand at the desk.

Once everyone’s ready, give out hints about which vocabulary flashcard the students should hit with the flyswatter. The hints can be related to definitions, synonyms, antonyms, or any other information about the particular vocabulary word.

Watch carefully to see which student hits the correct flashcard with their flyswatter first. That student’s team earns one point. To keep things fair, the students should get only one chance to hit the correct card.

Rotate the students each round so everyone on each team gets a turn at hitting the cards.

Have any vocabulary flashcard success stories? Know of other fun classroom vocabulary games? Share them in the comments!