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Language Card Games
Ages: 8-13   Grades: 3-8

Practice and apply knowledge of antonyms, synonyms, multiple-meaning words, and idioms with motivating card games.    


  • Learn antonyms, synonyms, multiple-meaning words, and idioms
  • Communicate with more richness and precision
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Language Card Games is made up of four decks of playing cards.  Each deck contains 26 stimulus-pairs and 2 jokers.  Students learn the target skills by matching hearts to diamonds (red to red) and spades to clubs (black to black).  For example, if a synonym pair has the number 9 on both cards, it is a correct match only if the cards are the 9 of hearts and the 9 of diamonds or the 9 of clubs and the 9 of spades.  Students can self-check to reinforce learning and still be engaged in a game-playing context. 

Directions are included for four games: Make a Match (played like Go Fish), Concentration, Face-Off (played liked War), and Go Together.  The decks can be combined as students become more proficient, giving the opportunity to work on multiple skills in one game.  A pretest/posttest is included for each of the skill areas. 

The words and phrases in each deck are arranged from easy to hard—the higher the card number, the harder the level.  The four card decks with examples of their stimuli are:

  • Idioms
    - Beginning Level: You're putting me on/ You are kidding
    - Higher Level: Keep an eye on things/ Watch to make sure nothing happens   
  • Synonyms
    - Beginning Level: noisy/loud, home/house
    - Higher Level: anxious/worried, confess/admit
  • Antonyms
    - Beginning Level: daughter/son, remember/forget
    - Higher Level: strong/weak, liquid/solid
  • Multiple-Meaning Words
    - Beginning Level: exam—a test; a careful check of someone's health by a doctor
    - Higher Level: bluff—a high, steep cliff; to try to fool people deliberately

Copyright © 2006

4 card decks (26 matched pairs and 2 jokers per deck), pretests/posttests, instructions, vinyl Velcro® bag
  • Effective vocabulary instruction strategies engage the student and require higher-level cognitive procession.  These strategies include using new words in novel sentences based on connections to prior knowledge, identifying synonyms and antonyms, analyzing word features, and using visual aids (Kester-Phillips, Foote, & Harper, 2008).
  • Although there are patterns in understanding idioms, children learn most idioms one at a time, generally in context (Vicker, 2007).
  • Language issues that underlie and support the school curriculum need to be addressed (Taylor-Goh, 2005).
  • Klein and Freitag (1991) found that instructional games, without sacrificing performance, enhance the motivation of students in the areas of attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

Language Card Games incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Kester-Phillips, D.C., Foote, C.J., & Harper, L.J. (2008). Strategies for effective vocabulary instruction. Reading Improvement, 45(2), 62-68.

Klein, J.D., & Freitag, E. (1991). Effects of using an instructional game on motivation and performance. Journal of Educational Research, 84(5), 303-308.

Taylor-Goh, S. (2005). Royal college of speech & language therapists: Clinical guidelines. United Kingdom: Speechmark.

Vicker, B. (2007). Aiding comprehension of individuals with autism spectrum disorders during one-on-one interactions. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from


JoAnne Abrassart


JoAnne Abrassart, M.S., CCC-SLP, received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Redlands in communicative disorders.  Her professional experience of more than 32 years includes public school, home health, and 21 years of college teaching in speech-language pathology.

Recently retired from the public school system, JoAnne maintains a private practice in speech-language pathology and serves as an educational consultant to private schools.

In her spare time, JoAnne and her husband, Rich, also an SLP, look for new places to travel.


Children with language problems frequently process word meanings at concrete levels.  As a result, they often have difficulty with higher-level linguistic word relationships, including antonyms, synonyms, multiple-meaning words, and idioms.  In addition to restricting spoken language, this deficit in semantic knowledge impacts reading comprehension.

Language Card Games provides a format for students to self-teach, practice, and apply knowledge of antonyms, synonyms, multiple-meanings words, and idioms.  Language Card Games is made up of four decks of playing cards—one for each of the four word relationships listed above.  Each deck contains 54 cards (26 matched pairs plus two Jokers).  The unique feature to the matched pairs is that hearts only match diamonds (red to red) and spades only match clubs (black to black).  For example, if a synonym pair has the number 9 on both cards, it is a correct match only if the cards are the 9 of hearts and the 9 of diamonds or the 9 of clubs and the 9 of spades.

This format is used to allow students to self-teach in the initial stages of learning and still be engaged in a game-playing context rather than direct instruction or drill.  As students become more knowledgeable about the various word pairs, the matchup of hearts to diamonds and clubs to spades becomes a built-in reinforcer.  Students will know that the pairing is correct (or incorrect) without needing feedback from the instructor.

As students become more proficient in their word knowledge, decks can be combined for the games.  At this level, students should be able to match word pairs or definitions (in the case of antonyms/synonyms/multiple-meaning words) and state the category in which they belong.  In addition to the words used in the decks of cards, students could be asked to generate their own words or definition pairs, possibly drawing information from their classroom textbooks.  Whenever possible, provide concrete examples of word/idiom pairs to further enhance comprehension.

The words and idioms on these cards come from a variety of sources, including the curriculum, educational assessments, educational activities on the Internet, and professional experience.  Of the words used on the Antonyms, Synonyms, and Multiple-Meaning cards, 87% are vocabulary words that are most likely to be encountered by students through printed language interactions (Zeno, Ivens, Millard, & Duvvari, 1995).

Some of the multiple-meaning words have additional definitions that are not included on the cards (e.g., chest, diamond, grade).  Discuss the other definitions with your students, and accept all appropriate answers.  And, depending on your students' level, you may decide to use the Jokers as wild cards.

Within each deck, the words/idioms begin with easier items on cards with lower values (e.g., twos, threes) and progress to more difficult items on cards with higher values (e.g., Kings, Aces).  The items on the pre/posttests in this manual are in the same order as the items on the cards.

No matter the level of your student's proficiency, these cards can easily be adapted to meet the individual needs of each student.  You can also use them for a variety of activities including articulation and fluency.  A pre/posttest for each area has been provided to track student progress.  Have fun!


Zeno, S.M., Ivens, S.H., Millard, R.T., & Duvvari, R. (1995). The educator's word frequency guide. Brewster, NY: Touchstone Applied Science Associates (TASA), Inc.