Intentional Vocabulary Learning Through Flash Cards

Speech Therapy
Intentional Vocabulary Learning Through Flash Cards

Intentional vocabulary learning can be defined as a deliberate attempt to learn words. On the other hand, incidental learning is ‘on the go’ in a natural setting. Both of the learning methods have their merits and demerits.

According to Elgort and Nation (2010), deliberate techniques such as learning from vocabulary notebooks, word lists, and word cards are useful approaches that are found to be effective and efficient. Based on a series of experimental studies, Elgort (2011) asserted that intentional learning of vocabulary is more efficient than incidental learning - as the latter often requires long-term and extensive exposure to linguistic input.

Intentional learning of vocabulary speeds up learner’s process of lexical development due to focused repetition or memorisation strategies that can be completed individually in a short period of time. It has also been argued that the retention rates of intentional vocabulary learning are generally higher than those obtained with incidental learning (Hustijn, 2003), suggesting that deliberate attempts to learning vocabulary are effective and worth the effort.

Now that you understand on which one is beneficial, I have listed four steps on how children can benefit on intentional learning by using flash cards.

Steps to successful intentional learning.

  1. Comfortable seating arrangement: Ensure that the child’s feet are rested on the floor or an anti-skid mat or have the child seated comfortably on a mat with legs crossed with essential back support. This will enable the child to stay more focussed on task and help with better sustained attention.
  2. Get the child’s attention: It is important for the child to be able to look at the flash cards to be able to comprehend, identify or label. Therefore, ensure that you first have their attention with you.
  3. Set the child up for success: Repeated failures in identifying or labelling cards can lead to ‘fear of failure’ and affect motivation to learn. Therefore, begin at a slow pace by placing only one card at a time when introducing the cards. In such scenarios, the child will invariably be right and will find interest to learning further. Once the child is able to comprehend the logic on looking at or identifying one card at a time, the caregiver can set the child up for the next challenging task, by introducing two or more cards at a time depending on the child’s interest.
  4. Spacing is more effective than cramming: Avoid placing the flash cards too close to each other. Instead provide at least two fingers spacing between each card for better visual processing.

NOTE: For some children who may not know how to identify or point, place your hand on the child’s hand and facilitate pointing until they are independent and have gained the confidence to do it on their own.

Benefits of learning through flash cards

  1. Develops right brain memory
  2. Improves concentration
  3. Increases vocabulary
  4. Facilitates early reading skills
  5. Improves figure ground perception

Strategies for children who are kinesthetic and learn best through movement

  1. Place flash cards on the floor and have the child move around and pick them up instead of seating the child on a chair or a table. Movement facilitates learning and for kinesthetic learners helps in better retention and focus.
  2. You can also place the cards on a mat for better figure ground perception. This can help children with peripheral vision and improve their attention on the task at hand. Further, it gives the learner a boundary thereby limiting excessive movement which can be distractive.

Strategies for children who are tactile learners

  1. Teach through touch - use animal models along with flash cards and have them match the model to the card.
  2. Allow the child to touch and hold the flash cards in their hands. This practice allows the child to exercise control over what they are learning and can help to speed up understanding, and retain attention.

Strategies for children with visual processing difficulties

  1. Use large flash cards with a white background, as it supports better figure ground perception.
  2. Use pictures that are clear/ close to what children see in the real environment. Avoid animations for beginners.
  3. Use flash cards that are not cluttered. Keep it simple with only one picture without too many details.

The strategies mentioned above are curated to help your young learner, learn intentionally. Please do try them out and share your experience with us.


Chitra Thadathil

Speech Language Pathologist



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