Tips for teachers: My love of pictures was always on the cards… 

Would you like to get your students to communicate quickly and easily, using lively visuals? Andy Cowle tells us all about the simple but effective Mini Flashcards, and how they make the difference. 

Andy is a writer, presenter and marketing professional who has worked in ELT for 25 years. Throughout his career he has worked with many ELT publishers and teachers’ associations, motivating audiences and introducing materials to language practitioners all over the world. 


My love of pictures was always on the cards…

by Andy Cowle

Visual Instinct


I’ve always been visually-minded. My father is a wonderful artist, so I must get it from him. Art was something I always did well in at school, and I’ve had a lifelong passion for cinema since I was in my early teens. I still flirt with the idea of making films, or taking photography more seriously or even doing graphic design and illustration courses. Time yet.

So, as a trainee teacher way back, I didn’t need to be told to mime, draw on the board, or find pictures to make and use flashcards on a regular basis. It was obvious. Even now, whenever I flick through glossy magazines, it’s hard to resist ripping out the mouth-watering, colourful images, filing them away and thinking of ways to use them later in class. Even now my PowerPoint slides are often only visual.

Images for all

It was when I was an ELT bookseller in London throughout the 90s that I first came across the amazing Mini Flashcards by Susan Thomas and illustrator Heather Clarke. The more I got to know the Mini Flashcards, the more I loved them and sang their praises – those playful, colourful images with their humour and movement; their range, their flexibility, and their invitation to respond and comment. For years I showed them in schools, events and presentations all over Europe – and I still do. Students and teachers love them. Such a change from the coursebook. Such a great way to get the students communicating. So memorable.

Look closely…

The Mini Flashcards are ‘mini’ in the sense that they are playing card-sized – for language-focused tasks, games in pairs, group work, or working alone. You can also combine them with dice [link to dice] which have numbers, colours, language (questions, prepositions, tenses etc) or mood (love/like/dislike/don’t mind etc).

Some teachers used to say the flashcards were too small or just for kids, but they were missing the point – large flashcards have their place but they are too limiting, too teacher-centred. And who says cartoon images are just for kids? Why should they have all the fun?!

The idea, therefore, is to let the learners (of any age…) hold and use the materials – so the cards need to be a manageable playing card size. Only then are we truly addressing a multi-sensory approach to learning: the kinaesthetic learners have something to hold and play with, the visual learners have pictures to rely on, the work-it-out-yourself learners can internalise at their own pace, and so on. Certainly the talkers will thrive in a dynamic which breaks down inhibitions and makes lessons and language truly memorable. And the cards do not just prompt vocabulary – they can be used in an infinite number of ways to introduce or practise even complex structures or functions.

Show and tell – with a kick!

The Teacher’s Book is full of ideas for generic or topic-specific language games, and includes black and white photocopiable versions of all the pictures and spinners. And if you and your students want to make up your own activities, so much the better. I know the cards are now used all over the world, and I’ve heard wonderful stories from teachers about how they use them.

And with preparations already being made for the World Cup next year, the boys – and some girls! – will love the other resource from Mini Flashcards creator, Susan Thomas: English Through Football. It uses the same communication game-playing principles [link to the ETF] and is full of photocopiable mini flashcards on the theme of football, but with everyday topics linked to the sport. Now you lessons can have an even clearer… goal. 🙂 

All you need to know about the Mini Flashcards

Why are the flashcards small? What level and age group are they for? Read answers to the most frequently asked questions to find out all you need to know about the mini flashcards.