Are you looking for a way to teach language to your toddler or preschooler? How about targeting receptive language or you want to stimulate expressive language skills? Are flashcards good for preschoolers?
You saw it in college, for sure. In the library, hunched over, flipping through a set of small cards desperately before the final exam.
But for little kids? There has been a lot of discussion over the past 20 years on the subject, the pendulum swinging back and forth. Early ABA was heavy on flashcards (with research galore to back up the use!), and now we’re moving away from them more to naturalistic learning. I’m telling you, though, they have their place! And that place exists in the learning style of each individual child. If you are working with someone who can access learning from the natural environment, fantastico! Use that! If you have a student who needs more structured, systematic learning, well, flash cards are a great way to go.
Have you ever done a leaf/crayon rub? You know, you take some leaves or other items, put paper over it, rub a crayon sideways over it again and again until you have a pretty picture? Have you noticed that the picture becomes more and more clean the more often you rub it? Same concept!
Flash cards have been used across all sorts of domains in life from college and test prep to learning a new language. They work because they contain one small piece of information, clean without distracting stimuli, looking the same each time they’re presented. The person looking at each card gets the same content each time, making the impression stronger.
How do flash cards work for autism and language learning?
Flash cards are one form of visual supports that are powerful teaching strategies for autism and other disabilities as well as those with speech and language disorders who are developing language skills.
Some visual stimuli for young students...
1. Functional words
Put pictures of items on the actual items in the home or classroom. Whenever you interact with that item, point out the picture and say it. Hand the card to the child to hold. Eventually, you can take that picture and include in your teaching presentations for discrimination and language learning!
2. Receptive language targets
Bingo! Set out a group of laminated flashcards and a bingo dot dabber. Call out a word, and if the student sees it in their group of pictures, they dab it (or put a sticker on or whatever). When they have all been tagged, they get a treat! Great to do in small groups.
3. Expressive language targets
Speed! Having a group of pictures that are known of familiar to the student and maybe 1-2 that are new. Show each one quickly and get the response from the student. If they don’t answer quickly, move on to the next one. The faster the better! You’re building fluency. To make it extra fun, stand across from each other when you do this, and throw the card over your shoulder when the student answers. They think this is hilarious.
4. Intraverbal targets
Feature, Function, Class game. Place a bunch of pictures on the table. Slap it! “Find an animal.” “Find one with a tail.” For each one, the first one to slap it get to keep the card until there are none left. Then everyone gets a sticker.
5. Social language
Find out about your friend. Give two cards to the student. “Go ask Joseph which one he likes better.” Student comes back with the answer, and then you can graph who likes what! Great for social interactions later. “Do you remember that Joseph likes goldfish?”
Just a few ideas on how to incorporate flashcards in your teaching, but there are about a bajillion more ideas out there. Get creative, and have fun! Always remember to follow the lead of the student. If they do not respond to pictures, try something else. We never want an educational opportunity to become an aversive. Learning should be fun!