7 Activities with Playing Cards for ESL Students

You will have hours of fun with these 7 activities with playing cards, they are cheap and convenient to use and you can find them in pretty much any supermarket. Moreover, cards are known throughout the world in any culture, which saves a lot of time in explaining what is a Jack or Ace. 

Similar to dice and an A4 sheets of paper, a deck of cards is one of the best resources a teacher can bring with them to every lesson. Their range of ranks and suits, as well as the element of unpredictability, are perfect for creative exercises, from practicing vocabulary to numbers to grammar to speaking. Below is a list of 7 such activities, all of which require one deck of cards and nothing more.

1. Memory

Level: A1 and above


ESL students love activities involving creating or playing with words. Here’s a procedure for a very simple, yet engaging, exercise you can do which will allow them to do just that.


What you’ll need: 1 deck of cards






Spread the deck of cards evenly on a flat surface. Make sure all the cards are facing down.


Note: Make sure the cards have enough space and aren’t touching each other.



The procedure:


1. During their turn the student will reveal two random cards on the table and see if they are the same. This means you should forget the suits and focus on the colors and ranks. Black 8 is the same as another black 8, red Ace is the same as another red Ace, etc.



2. If YES, they get to keep the pair and may reveal another set


3. If NO, they have to do a simple penalty.


The penalty can be anything, for instance, they have to answer a question or define a word or think of 3 synonyms/associations to a word you provide.


At the end the person who collected the most amount of pairs wins a price (a candy, excuse from homework, etc.)


2. English Car Boot Sale

Level: A2 and above


Car Boot Sale is a wonderful British tradition (similar to the American Garage Sale) where on a


Sunday morning your neighbours gather around a large car park (parking lot), open their car boots and start selling stuff they no longer need. Car Boot Sales are a great opportunity to expand your DVD collection for just £5 or buy a cheap antique. My proudest find was a tennis racket for £1.


Car Boot Sales are also excellent for learning new English vocabulary.






First of all use a deck of cards as fake money. To do that you’ll have to take out all the Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces (deciding that they are worth 10, 11 and so on will become too confusing).


Tell each student to prepare a list of up to 10 words. These should be rather unique words that their classmates may not know. For this part students can use dictionaries and/or the internet.


Note: it’s important that every student knows the meaning of each of their 10 words.


Once that’s completed ask them to assign prices to their words. The short and easy ones should be cheaper than the long and difficult words.




The procedure:


1. Divide the class into two groups, one group are the vendors (sitting at their desk-car-boots) and the other group are the visitors (customers) to the Sale.


Note: every customer will have the same amount of card-money.


2. The visitors will go to different vendors and ask about the words and their definitions. If they like one they can buy it (the vendor crosses that word off their list).


3. After few minutes change the roles.


Another British tradition is to present your new finds to the rest of your family or friends while boasting how little they cost.


4. In a similar fashion, at the end of the Word Car Boot Sale ask your students to present their new words and what they mean.


Later you can use this opportunity to assign homework incorporating these words.


3. Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb

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Level: A2 and above


The procedure:


1. Put a deck of cards in front of your students (facing down)


While doing this activity we’re only concerned with the suits: ❤ ♠ ♣


❤ (hearts) – NOUNS

(diamonds) – ADJECTIVES

(spades) – VERBS

(clubs) – ADVERBS


2. Write a word on the board: i.e. an apple


3. Now, the first student in the row picks the top card and turns it over to reveal the suit.


It’s Spades () so now their task is to come up with 1 verb associated with apples: to eat, to pick, to bite, to grow.


Variation 1: same word


4. The next student will pick their card and (depending on the suit) provide the next association to your original word (an apple).


Variation 2: new word


Every association resets the word on the board.


So, for example, the first word was: an apple, then the first student picked Spades and came up with a verb association: to grow.

Now the word on the board is to grow and the second student will pick a card and come up with the association to this one.


Variation 3: more complexity


You may also incorporate the cards ranks into this activity.


For instance King of Spades would be a task of creating a sentence with the original word and your association: The King grows apples in his palace garden.


With enough creativity you could assign an action to every rank.

4. Six of Hearts Letter Word

Level: A2 and above


ESL students love activities involving creating or playing with words. Here’s a procedure for a very simple, yet engaging, exercise you can do which will allow them to do just that.


What you’ll need is a deck of cards with the Face Cards removed (so no Kings, Jokers, Aces, etc.)



The procedure:


1. Put your students into small groups, or pairs, and give them a sheet of paper to write on.


2. Draw the first card from the deck.


Let’s say its a 6 of Hearts.


3. Your students’ task is to think of a 6 letter noun.


For example: bottle, forest, adverb.


❤ (hearts) – NOUNS

(diamonds) – ADJECTIVES

(spades) – VERBS

(clubs) – ADVERBS


4. When they’re finished let the groups compare their words and draw another card.


Note: you may need to manipulate the deck a little so that the first card doesn’t end up being a 10 letter verb or some other high number. To get your students hooked it’s best to start with a word under 6 letters.



Level: B1 and above


This is very effective if you want to get your students talking in pairs (or small groups of up to 4 people).



The procedure:


1. Distribute (or write on the board) a list of topics to discuss.


2. Give cards to your students – as many RED and BLACK suits as there are members of the group. So if the group has 3 students then 3 RED cards and 3 BLACK cards.


3. Instruct them to shuffle the cards and put them in a pile.


Now with every topic each student picks one card.

If it’s RED they are PRO this topic.

If it’s BLACK they are AGAINST.


4. Now your students engage in a short discussion supporting their positions.

5. For the next topic they’ll shuffle and draw cards again.

6. Dialogue with a Twist

Level: B1 and above


What you’ll need is a deck of cards (or more than one depending on the size of your class)




1. Put your students into pairs and give each pair a set of min 10 cards (or a full deck if you have so many).


2. The students will be having conversations with each other. The Twist is that the content of the conversations will be largely influenced by the card each person draws.


Every card rank has a different scenario attached to it:


Black Ace – You don’t like your partner.

Red Ace – You’re in love with your partner.


Black 2 -You want to share a secret but you don’t trust your partner.

Red 2 – You’re too honest and share too many secrets.


Black 3 – You only talk about yourself.

Red 3 – You only talk about other people.


Black 4 – You’ve had a car accident 7 years ago and that’s all you want to talk about.

Red 4 – You have a cute new kitten and that’s all you want to talk about.


Black 5 – You’re very stressed because of your work.

Red 5 – You’re very relaxed because you’ve discovered meditation.


Black 6 – You’re late for the next meeting and want to finish this conversation.

Red 6 – You enjoy this conversation and don’t want it to finish ever.


Black 7 – You forgot your partners name and try to get them to say it.

Red 7 – You think they have the most beautiful name in the world.


Black 8 – You’re paranoid and only talk about conspiracies.

Red 8 – You’re relaxed about everything (but it’s annoying).


Black 9 – You’re the voice of the Devil and give only evil advice.

Red 9 – You’re the voice of God and give only good advice.


Black 10 – You’re poor and need to borrow money.

Red 10 – You’re rich and would like to invest in your partner.


Black Jack – You’re a bad influence and try to get your partner to drink, gamble and be irresponsible.

Red Jack – You’re a good influence and try to get your partner to have a healthy lifestyle.


Black Queen – You’re very jealous of your partner.

Red Queen – You love all people and want the best for everybody.


Black King – You feel weak and complain A LOT.

Red King – You feel strong and boast A LOT.  



Suggest a general conversation topic:


  • Business meeting between two coworkers,

  • Catch-up coffee between two friends,

  • A romantic date,

  • Random conversation on the bus, Etc.



The procedure:


1. Put 2 minutes on the timer and ask your students to draw 1 card each without showing it to their partner. Instruct them to start conversing.


2. After 2 minutes have passed ask partners to try to guess each others’ cards.


3. Provide another topic and another 2 minutes on the clock.

4. Play until it gets old.



7. Ring of Fire (ESL version)

Level: B2 and above


Prep time: 30 seconds to grab the deck of cards (+5 mins to write the rules on the board)

What you’ll need: Deck of cards (or even better – two)




1. Put students into groups of minimum 4 people. I found 6 or 7 to be the perfect number for this game.


2. Instruct the groups to cut many small slips of blank paper and write any vocabulary words – 1 per slip of paper. This is perfect to review the vocabulary from the previous lessons.


3. While your students are busy with the cutting and words, write the game rules (clearly) on the board. (alternatively you can use our downloadable resources at the bottom of this article).

2SYNONYMS (give 2 synonyms to your word)

3 DEFINITION (define the word)

4 ASSOCIATIONS (provide 4 words that associate with the one you drew)

5 DEFINE OR DANCE (choose between either defining the word or doing a short dance)

6 PARTY (explain the word in the context of a party)

7 HEAVEN – everybody points towards heaven (the last person needs to say the definition)

8 MATE (choose a friend to copy everything you do)

9 FOOD (explain the word in the context of food)

10COUNT (you have to count from 10 to 1 while the rest is trying to disturb you, if you fail you must define the word)

Jack PICK A DIFFERENT WORD (you may choose to define the word you picked or draw another word and define that one instead)

Queen I’M A QUEEEEN (you don’t have to do anything until the next queen comes up)

King BOW TO KING (from now on everyone before doing anything must first bow to the King)

Ace EVERYBODY DEFINES (everybody says the word definition at the same time)


Note: These are all subject to change depending on your esl needs.


 The procedure:


1. The first person picks a word from the pile of vocabulary.


2. Next, they pick a card to see their action.


3. They perform the action as indicated by the card.


4. The next person picks another word. The used cards go to the used cards pile (expect current Queen and King cards)


Note: it’s better if students draw their cards (vocab and deck) only when it’s their turn.


8 – MATE card is valid for the entire game, whoever is chosen to be somebody’s mate has to do everything their primary is doing; if their primary is currently a Queen they still have to do the actions even though the Queen doesn’t have to. Someone’s MATE can have their own MATE, there’s no limit here.




  • Hello dear friends:
    Let me tell you that it is the first time I enter this website and I got immediately engaged. I like it so much because of the variety of activities for ESL learners. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • Dialogue with a Twist – pretty cool exercise. Conversations are always great way to practice English.


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