5 Language Games to Play with Visual Flashcards

Images are versatile game elements. Here are five vocabulary games that require nothing more than a set of cards with vocab images on them. All of these games ask players to repeatedly access target words from memory in order to achieve a goal that requires more than just vocab recollection.

Don’t have an image set already? Try some of these.

Data Theory Play llama holding alligator vocabulary flash card

1. Spell a secret word: using the first letters of the words represented by each image, spell out a word for a partner to identify. Take this farther by making the secret words directions to find something hidden in the room, or to plot a path on a map to a pre-determined destination (map bonus: instant assessment).

2. Longest word wins: using the same principle as #1, have students in pairs or small groups take turns laying down a card to form a word. Time them and award points according to the lengths of words formed.

Alternate version: in pairs or small groups, first player to end the word wins (or loses). This is more strategically challenging, but requires much more advanced knowledge of vocabulary and spelling.

3. Image Password: Password is the game that gives you a word (and a group of related words you’re not allowed to say) and asks you to describe that word while your teammates try to guess as many as possible within a time limit. Ask players to describe the image without naming what it depicts. Easy: describe in the native language, guess in the target language. Harder: describe in the target language.

4. Categories: give players categories (things that start with “p,” verbs that end in –ir, irregular plurals, masculine nouns, etc.) and have them find as many images as possible for each category. Possible rules: players work in teams, with the whole group working on the same category, and win points for finding the most images; players work with a partner who tries to guess the category based on the images assembled; players draw a hand of cards randomly and try to come up with a category that fits as many as possible.

5. Word poker: define winning hands and play with image cards. Examples: straights begin with consecutive letters; flushes begin with the same letter; suits might be parts of speech or some other characteristic relevant to the vocabulary set, such as noun gender or verb conjugation. To give players more of a chance to strategize, tell them how many of each kind of word is included in the deck.

While evidence hasn’t demonstrated that images are better than translations when it comes to memorizing vocabulary lists, many language teachers (myself included) still prefer to steer our beginning students away from translating whenever possible, and towards associating words with ideas and experiences. Like these games? Please share and link. If you try them with your students, tell us about it in the comments!

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