ESL flashcard games for kids

By Allan Sweeney

By Allan Sweeney

By Allan Sweeney

What if you could turn every ESL lesson into a game your students can't wait to play? Get ready to unlock the secret with these fun flashcard ideas.

ESL flashcard games kids

Whether you're a seasoned ESL teacher or just starting your journey, our carefully curated selection of flashcard games will hopefully provide you with some fresh ideas, invigorate your lesson plans, and above all, help your students embrace the English language with enthusiasm.

Our flashcard library has more than 1100 printable ESL flashcards across 60+ categories. There are also detailed printing instructions on creating exactly what you need.

This article focuses on ESL classroom game ideas. If you're looking for activities to bolster your lesson plans, check out our separate post on 'ESL flashcard activities for kids'.

Alright, let's get to it!

ESL flashcard games for kids


In this memory match game, students take turns flipping over pairs of flashcards, aiming to find matching pairs.

To prepare, print multiple copies of your chosen set of flashcards, making sure there are at least two copies of each per group. To save paper, we suggest you use the print settings of '9 pages per sheet' described in our printing instructions. This also makes them the perfect size for the game. You can also print one set of images and one set of words as detailed in the same print instructions.

Next, lay the flashcards face down on a table, ensuring they are all mixed up.

Briefly explain the rules of the game to your students. For each turn, a student will flip over two flashcards. If the two cards match, the student keeps the cards and takes another turn. If they don't match, the cards are flipped back over, and play continues with the next student.

Divide your class into small groups or pairs to play the game. Encourage students to say the adjective out loud when they flip over a card.

As the game progresses, monitor your students and assist them if they have difficulty pronouncing or remembering any vocabulary.

The game continues until all the flashcards have been matched. The student with the most pairs of matching flashcards wins the game.

Whiteboard relay: Flashcard spelling

Teams compete to be the first to correctly spell out words corresponding to flashcards displayed on the board.

For this game, you'll need a set of flashcards and a marker for each team.

Start by dividing your class into two teams. If you have a large group, you should create more teams. 

Divide your whiteboard into sections equal to the number of teams, and on each one, add a collection of flashcards(One for each team member).

Once the teams are lined up at the back of the room, give the student at the front of each line a marker. Explain the rules of the game: when you say 'go', the first student in line must move to the whiteboard and write the word that matches a flashcard on their team's section of the board.

After writing the word, the student returns to their team and hands the marker to the next student in line. This continues until every team member has written a word on the board.

The game becomes a race against time, with the first team to correctly write all of their words declared the winner. However, accuracy is important, so check each word for spelling accuracy before declaring a team the winner. If a word is misspelled, that team must correct it before moving on to the next one.

Flashcard hot seat

Teams race against the clock to describe flashcard images to their teammate in the 'hot seat'.

Start by dividing your students into two teams. For each round, one member from each will sit in the 'hot seat' with their back to you. As the teacher, you will stand behind them with a stack of flashcards.

Before starting a round, set a timer for a specific duration. You could opt for 1 or 2 minutes or any other time appropriate for your class size and level.

When the round begins, hold a flashcard behind the student in the hot seat. Their teammates must then describe the word or image on the flashcard to the student in the hot seat without saying the actual word or phrase. This requires the team to think creatively and use their English vocabulary skills to describe the flashcard effectively.

When the student in the hot seat guesses the word or phrase correctly, move on to the next flashcard. The aim of the game is for the team to guess as many words or phrases as possible within the allotted time.

Repeat this process for as many rounds as time permits, ensuring each student gets a turn in the hot seat. Keep score of the number of correctly guessed words or phrases for each team.

The winner is the team with the most points at the end of all the rounds.

20 Questions

Players hold up a flashcard and ask yes/no questions until they can identify the image or word.

Begin by holding up a flashcard towards the students, ensuring you can't see the word or image yourself. Your students will be able to see what's on the card, but you won't.

Now, ask 'yes' or 'no' style questions about the flashcard. These could be questions about the flashcard's category, characteristics, use, or any other hint without directly stating the word or image. For example, if the flashcard is an image of a dog, you might ask, "Is it an animal?", "Does it have four legs?", "Is it a pet?" and so on.

The students answer your questions with a simple "yes" or "no". Keep track of the answers and the clues they provide you with. Continue asking questions until you can correctly guess what's on the flashcard or until you have asked 20 questions, whichever comes first.

For more advanced classes, a variation of this activity can involve not revealing the card to your students and letting them ask the questions.

This activity provides a fun way to reinforce vocabulary and critical thinking skills and can be used with various flashcard sets. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice forming questions and responding in English.

ESL Go fish

In the ESL version of 'Go Fish', students play in groups using paired flashcards to ask and answer questions, aiming to collect the most pairs.

First, prepare a deck of flashcards making sure there are at least two of each image or word so that students can form pairs. Depending on your class size, you may need more. Refer to our printing instructions for how to print flashcards as playing cards for classroom games.

Divide the students into groups of 3-5 and give each group a deck of these flashcards. Instruct each group to shuffle the flashcards and deal five to each player. Placed the rest of the deck face down in the centre to form a 'fish pond'.

Players take turns asking another player if they have a specific card to match one in their hand. For example, if a player has a flashcard with the word "apple", they may ask another player, "Do you have an apple?" The player who is asked must hand over the card if they have it. If they don't, they say, "Go fish!", prompting the asking player to draw a card from the fish pond.

The goal of the game is to collect pairs of matching cards. When players get a pair, they save it to their own pile, and the player with the most pairs at the end of the game wins.

This game is a great way to practice speaking and listening skills, vocabulary review, and asking and answering questions in English. To increase the educational value, require students to use complete sentences when asking for cards (e.g. "Do you have an apple?" instead of simply "Apple?").

The video below from Linguish shows the game in action:

Flashcard spelling bee

Students blindly pick a flashcard from a deck and attempt to correctly spell the word on it to earn points for their team.

Start by dividing your class into two teams, having them sit on opposite sides of the room.

Next, you need to prepare your deck of flashcards. Each card should have a word that the students are already familiar with. Be sure to gauge the difficulty level of the vocabulary to suit your class's proficiency.

To begin the activity, call up one player from each team to the front of the class. Position the students so they are standing on either side of you. You'll hold the deck of flashcards in your hands, facing down, and have the student pick one randomly.

Once a flashcard is selected, the student's task is to spell the word out loud. If the student spells the word correctly, their team earns a point. However, if they misspell it, a volunteer from the opposing team can steal the point by spelling it correctly.

Continue this process until all students have had a turn or until you've gone through the entire deck of flashcards. 

Finally, tally up the scores and congratulate the winning team!

ESL flashcard charades

A fun team-based game where students must act out words or phrases from flashcards for their teammates to guess.

Start by dividing your class into two teams, setting the stage for a friendly competition.

You'll need a set of flashcards with the words or phrases you're currently teaching or reviewing. These cards will be used by the 'actors' on each team to provide non-verbal clues to their teammates.

At the beginning of each round, a student from one team steps forward. They'll be acting out the items for their teammates. As the teacher, you'll privately show them flashcards, ensuring the rest of their team cannot see them. 

Remember to set a time limit for each round. Typically, thirty seconds to a minute per round works well, but you can adjust based on your class size and the complexity of the words or phrases on your flashcards.

When the round starts, the student will start acting out the word or phrase from the flashcard to their teammates using only silent, charades-style gestures. No spoken hints can be given, and the student cannot point to any objects in the room.

When their team successfully guesses the word or phrase, move on to the next flashcard. Keep track of the number of correctly guessed items and update the scores at the end of the round.

After each round, the teams alternate, allowing everyone to guess and act out the words or phrases. 

The team with the most correctly guessed words at the end of the game is declared the winner. 


Students form words using alphabet flashcards arranged in a 4x4 grid, mimicking the rules of the classic game Boggle.

Start by preparing a sufficient number of alphabet flashcards. Ensure you have multiple copies of common letters, and use the 'playing card print instructions' on our website for printing guidelines.

Divide the class into groups of 3-5 students so they can comfortably fit around the tables they are playing at, and arrange some flashcards into 4x4 grids on each table. Explain the basic rules of Boggle to your students - that they have to form as many words as possible by linking adjacent letters in the grid. The letters can be connected vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, but each letter card can only be used once in each word.

Once the rules are understood, set a timer for 2-3 minutes and instruct the students to start forming words. Encourage the students to write down all the words they find. 

When the time is up, ask the students to share their words, verify them and award points for valid words. To encourage the students to think of longer words, a sample scoring system might look like the following:

  • Two letter words: 2 points
  • Three letter words: 5 points
  • Four letter words: 8 points
  • Five letter words: 15 points

Run multiple rounds of this game and mix up the letters in the grid each time to keep it exciting and challenging.

Head to head: Flashcard memory

In this memory-based ESL team game, students are challenged to recall and recite a series of flashcards shown to them in a specific order.

To prepare this game, split the class into two teams and gather a collection of ESL flashcards your students are familiar with.

For each round, select one student from each team. Call these students to the front of the class, making sure to shield the flashcards from the view of the other students.

Depending on their age and level, discreetly show a sequence of 3-6 flashcards to each student standing at the front of the class before placing the cards face down on a table.

Once you've shown the flashcards to both students, ask them to recall them in the same order they were shown. Each team earns a point for each flashcard that their player correctly remembers.

Repeat this process for each round, selecting a new student from each team. The game continues until every student has had a chance to participate. At the end of the activity, the team with the most points wins.

Snowball darts: Flashcard challenge

Students have to complete a challenge to earn a throw of the snowball and a chance to win points for their team.

We can use this idea from our post on ESL whiteboard games with any set of flashcards.

To prepare the game, draw a circular target on the whiteboard with several concentric layers of score values, with the highest score in the centre. Also, crush some old paper into a ball shape to use as a snowball. 

For each turn, give a student a challenge related to a particular set of flashcards.

  • Identify the word or concept from a flashcard.
  • Spell the word that the flashcard represents.

Look for opportunities to revise concepts your students have already studied (colours, adjectives etc.)

If a student completes the challenge, they can throw a snowball at the board and try to win some points.

Depending on the class size, play as an individual or team game. Tally up the scores at the end and declare a winner.

Kim's game

For this fun memory challenge, the students must determine which flashcards have been removed from the whiteboard.

For this ESL adaptation of Kim's game, start by attaching a selection of flashcards to the whiteboard. Choose flashcards that align with the current topic or recent lessons to ensure familiarity.

Ask your students to spend some time memorising the flashcards on the board. You can walk through each flashcard once, saying the word aloud and having the students repeat it. Have the students close their eyes once you feel they've had sufficient time to study.

While the students' eyes are closed, remove one or more of the flashcards. Remove one or several flashcards depending on the students' level and confidence. Once you've removed them, tell the students to open their eyes.

The students' must identify which flashcards have been removed. You could ask them to raise their hand and answer individually or have them discuss in pairs or small groups before providing their answers.

Finally, reattach the removed flashcards and repeat them to reinforce the vocabulary. Repeat the game as many times as you like, removing different flashcards each time.

Wrap up

Remember, the beauty of these flashcard games lies in their flexibility. Don't hesitate to adapt and customise them to fit your students' needs, levels, and interests. 

At the end of the day, the goal is to create a lively and engaging ESL learning environment that your students look forward to being a part of. I hope these ideas help you to create plenty of fun and memorable learning experiences for your students.

Check out our flashcard library

The TEFLHandbook has more than 1100 printable ESL flashcards across 60+ categories. There are also detailed printing instructions on how to create exactly what you need, whether it’s vocabulary handouts for your students to study, or playing cards for some of the game ideas in this article.

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Allan Sweeney

Allan is the Co-Founder & Lead Developer on the TEFL Handbook project. He spends his time building software and creating resources that support English teaching. You can learn more about his goals for the project here.


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A library of ESL lesson plans for teachers.