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ESL Lessons: How To Make Quality ESL Flashcards

Updated on October 12, 2014

ESL Flashcards

Welcome to this step-by-step guide to making long-lasting and functional esl flashcards for use in classrooms.

On my first day of my first job as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I was given the "new boy" task of constructing flashcards. This sounded like a job that even the most useless of simpletons could excel at and so, with little thought, I proceeded to draw, colour and cut at a manic rate . Consequently, with the resultant mess I created, I quickly relegated myself to the lowest of the simpleton leagues; this made me realise that a bit more thought was required in order to master the art of making flashcards

Have You Made ESL Flashcards? Let Us Know

Have you ever made flashcards for language learning?

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Consider These Aspects of Flashcard Creation

In flashcard development there are many things to think about when aiming to become a legend in your own lifetime. These are:

1 Size

2 Paper

3 Drawing Implement

4 Style

5 Colour

6 Lamination

To make flashcards of the highest order an effort to maintain quality and consistency in all these areas needs to be made. If one of these fields are neglected, it isn't too much of a problem. If two areas are ignored then you can be assured that your flashcards won't become the "old masters" of the future. Not thinking about any of these things before making your flashcards is right out, totally unacceptable, you'll be the mockery of the teachers' room and lambasted by the students - sent back to your home in shame.

Acknowledgements: The flashcard picture here comes from ESL Kids Lab where lots of teaching resources can be found.


1. Size - The Importance Of Scale In Flashcard Creation

Size is important, let no one tell you otherwise.

No matter how well you wield your weapon, if these flashcards are too small, then the children at the back will crane their necks like mating giraffes in an attempt to decode the microdot being displayed before them. Equally, flashcards that are too big, although being highly visible, aren't advisable. Flashcards the size of billboards can be seen easily by all it is true, but your school won't thank you for using so much paper or card on just one simple resource, not to mention that they are also a real pain to carry around with you.

In my experience, half an A4 sheet of paper (A4 is roughly 30cm x 21cm (12 inches x 8.25 inches)) is the ideal size for a flashcard. With this size the picture is clearly visible to all and at the same time not too draining on resources.

2. Paper - Choosing The Right Paper Is Important

The paper used for your flashcards will determine your options as far as drawing implement and lamination are concerned. A laminating machine chokes to a standstill if given thick card to deal with, in addition there is the problem of the laminate peeling badly afterwards. Paper that is too thin will result in ink running through to the other side when drawn upon, turning your flashcards into impressionist flashcards. Not a bad idea actually, perhaps this is the year that a flashcard wins the Turner prize for "art".

To get back to the point, you should choose paper that is sturdy enough to be drawn on easily (none of that toilet paper quality stuff please), but not too thick to cause problems with laminating. A decent quality printer or photocopy paper is sufficient.

Paper photograph by Michael Maggs.

3. Drawing Implements - What To Use For Drawing Flashcards?

This doesn't refer to drawing gardening implements. It isn't too often that one needs to teach vocabulary such as rake, hoe, spade etc. No, this refers to the implement that you draw with. This area can make a lot of difference to the finish of your cards. Flashcards drawn with a humble HB pencil can be effective, but doesn't give the finishing effect that will elevate you to a nomination for the flashcard oscars and so should be avoided by the perfectionist. Even so, in the desperation to provide well-finished resources the teacher shouldn't use their favourite board marker (and certainly not chalk for those denied the luxury of whiteboards).

The best finish is provided by using a not too wet, but not too thick marker pen. This provides a bold outline for any pictures on the flashcard that gives it a definition which increases visibility.

Avery Marks-A-Lot Dry Erase Markers, Assorted Colors (1 Black, 1 Blue, 1 Green, 1 Red) Pack 4 (24409)
Avery Marks-A-Lot Dry Erase Markers, Assorted Colors (1 Black, 1 Blue, 1 Green, 1 Red) Pack 4 (24409)

These marker pens are the type that I have found to be perfect for drawing high-quality flashcards. Their thick nibs make drawing an outline that can be seen from the back of the class easy.

Writing Style
Writing Style

4. Style - Consistency Of Style Is Paramount.

This is especially important for those of you who are tempted to farm out the drawing process to various friends. It is better for you to have all the flashcards in a particular series drawn by the same hand, in the same style. This provides a consistency that enables the students to remember the pictures in their groups.

Imagine an art gallery that displayed a DaVinci, a Jackson Pollock, a Constable, a Dali and a Canaletto all next to each other and you get an idea of how uncoordinated it looks when different styles are combined.

5. Colour - Carefully Coloured Flashcards Are The Most Effective

You've probably spent hours selecting the paper, drawing the pictures and cutting them out and now have about thirty seconds before going into the classroom and using them.

Please don't be tempted to colour them in a hurry and spoil your hard work.

Carefully select a good set of colouring pencils, well-sharpened and confidently make your way into the classroom. Felt-tipped pens (texters to some) are useless as they dry up halfway through colouring and run into each other. On the same note, crayons aren't suitable due to the amateurish effect they give the finished flashcard.

Simply ask your students to colour the outline flashcards (with copies ready to replaced spoilt ballots) to the best of their ability, using colouring pencils, and relax while your quality resources are completed for you. Ensure that they are done to a quality that you are happy with. If not, keep providing copies until you are.

Colouring Pencils - Simplicity is the key to colouring.

RoseArt Colored Pencils, 100-Count, Assorted Colors, Packaging May Vary (CYN00)
RoseArt Colored Pencils, 100-Count, Assorted Colors, Packaging May Vary (CYN00)

This simple set of colouring pencils gives a good finish to flashcards drawn with marker pens, in my opinion. These particular pencils are cheap, easy to sharpen and produce vivid colours on the paper, making the flashcards look attractive and well-defined.

laminating machine
laminating machine

6. Lamination - Adding The Finishing Touch

This is the most important step in producing quality and durable flashcards. If your school doesn't possess a lamination machine or is reluctant to let you use it, draw your flashcards on card to make them longer-lasting and more usable.

The process of lamination is quite an obstacle course in its own right.

Firstly the paper must be cut to a size so that the lamination overlaps the paper by about 5mm all way around. This ensures that nimble children's fingers aren't able to easily peel the laminating plastic off. Secondly, don't be tempted to laminate a whole sheet of A4 and then cut into two afterwards. This provides an unsealed edge which will soon be picked away at by your roomful of Artful Dodgers.

It helps to run your flashcard through the laminating machine twice. I usually flip it over and put it through again. This ensures that if the heat source is running low on one side of the machine, that all parts of the finished flashcard are equally heated and sealed, ensuring that the flashcards last far longer than your career in teaching.

Finally, when your flashcard is complete, take great care to cut the sharp edges of the lamination plastic into rounded corners. Not only does it protect your own hands from puncture wounds, but ensures that you aren't sued by the irate parents of your bleeding students.

Laminating Machines

Finish off your the flashcards that you have made with one of these laminating machines - it will make a huge difference to the quality and durability of the flashcards..

flashcard text
flashcard text

To Text Or Not To Text? It Is An Important Question

You will now have a completed set of potentially award-winning ESL flashcards. You will also be the envy of all the other teachers in your school and your popularity rating with the school administration should soar.

There is only one aspect which I haven't addressed, and that is of whether to write on the flashcard or not. This is very much down to personal taste. One of the advantages of including text is that it gives the students a chance to remember the spelling. On the other hand, including text can make the flashcard look cluttered. The most industrious teacher could possibly make two sets of cards, one with text and one without. I must confess that personally I don't fall into that category and only ever make one set...... WITH text.

Dr Seuss Flashcards

Fun and Games with Counting (Dr.Seuss Flashcards)
Fun and Games with Counting (Dr.Seuss Flashcards)

The Dr Seuss characters are amongst my favourites in children's literature and it is wonderful to see flashcards for counting available featuring Dr Seuss creations. Thirty flashcards are supplied.


Choosing The Correct Writing Implement

Have you ever had a group of young students for a writing activity where almost nothing gets done due to broken pencils, ink spills, tipped pencil cases and exploding pens?

If the answer is yes then you need to give more thought to what writing implements you are allowing in the classroom. By being in control of which pens or pencils are allowed in the classroom you can save lots of wasted time and use it to actually getting some meaningful work from your students: How to Save Time in The Classroom by Using The Right Pencil.

Teaching English As A Foreign/Second Language Jobs - Links to sites that have regular TEFl & ESL job postings.


    A website which has been providing TEFL career opportunities since 1997 with jobs added daily from over 15000 registered employers.

  • ESL Job World

    ESL jobs from all over the world, each continent has its own section for ease of searching.

  • Dave's ESL Cafe

    Probably the best-known and longest running ESL job site on the internet. Jobs added daily and there are always hundreds of current vacancies.

  • ESL

    Advice, articles and resources for English as a Foreign Language teacher but most important of all is a list of worldwide teaching vacancies.

  • ESL

    Eslbase provides English language teachers with information, advice and resources. On eslbase you'll find help if you're just starting out, a directory of teacher training courses, job adverts, teaching resources, discussion forums and much much more.

English Grammar - An Interesting Guide To Grammar.

English Grammar For Dummies®
English Grammar For Dummies®

This English grammar guide from the "For Dummies" series is a useful tool for ESL teachers and, as is typical of this series, it manages to turn a dry and dusty subject into something more amusing and interesting.



Thanks for the suggestions.

Thanks to Spirituality who gave me some useful critique on this lens which immediately resulted in a few changes to it. Thanks!

Leave Your comments - Anything To Say About Flashcards?

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    • blogalexg profile image

      Alex Graham 

      7 years ago

      Great lens! Very useful and practical for Teachers and Parents!



    • blogalexg profile image

      Alex Graham 

      7 years ago

      Great lens! Very useful and practical for Teachers and Parents!



    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      8 years ago

      Your writing is brilliant. I love the part about the kids straining their necks like mating giraffes. What imagery! Oh yes, and your ideas are very good as well. I make flashcards all the time for my little ones.

    • jenniferteacher1 profile image


      8 years ago

      This is great! I'm writing a lens on my favorite sources for flashcards, and I'll link it to this one.

    • masz09 profile image


      9 years ago

      Sometimes I do used flashcards, but not creative enough. Thank you fro sharing this

    • KarenTBTEN profile image


      9 years ago

      This is entertaining as well as informative. Blessed by a squidangel.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      10 years ago from UK

      A really thorough but also entertaining guide! Thanks for sharing your experiences and advice with us.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      10 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Wow, I have made a lot of flashcards but I always just use Index Cards. You've given some excellent instructions on how to make flashcards of the highest order.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      11 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I've used flashcards for my own second language learning. I bought blank business card paper for a very convenient size. I tucked them into my bag for review on buses.


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