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Picture and Word Cards: 2 Cool Games for Beginning Readers

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Montessori picture and word cards reading lesson

In my previous blog post, I discussed the object game, where we match written words to objects. The next lesson in the Montessori reading series is picture and word cards

At this point, your child has had some experience with sounding out words. Now, we can explore reading even more words with sets of different pictures. 

Matching words to pictures is a fun milestone because we can organize the types of words in more detail. 

These cards are a very popular and iconic work in the Montessori classroom. In my experience, every teacher, classroom, and school likes to organize these cards by reading level in unique ways. The cool thing is that you can make these cards DIY, and the ideas for pictures and words are endless! 

In this post, I will share the two picture and word-matching card lessons I learned from my teacher training. I created printables to download if you’d like to try them. I’ll also share how it went with my five-year-old daughter, Annie, at home!

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In This Post

A reading game to help with decoding

This picture and word-matching reading lesson is exciting for young children. They love to see and read new words, and it’s intriguing to see the written words on the labels. 

While practicing the lesson, they realize that they can successfully match words on a card to pictures. They also discover that sounding out the word written is reading!

Note: before moving on to this lesson, your child should already have experience with the following:

  • distinguishing between different sounds
  • practicing visual acuity (matching)
  • writing words with the movable alphabet
  • the object game: the reading game that comes before this one

Practicing sounding out words or decoding is essential for your child’s success with reading.

The New York Times article, Sounding Out a Better Way to Teach Reading, by Bella DiMarco, discusses the importance of practicing decoding and the evidence-based “science of reading,” which is essentially phonics instruction. According to the article, 

Once students learn the alphabetical code — letters and sound recognition — they can decode words, improve their fluency, build their vocabularies and begin comprehending text.

The picture and word matching activity helps young children with:

  • learning to read written words
  • enlarging reading vocabulary
  • decoding the written word
  • practicing to match pictures to their labels
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match the written word to the picture

How to do the Montessori picture and word cards

What you'll need

You’ll need a collection of pictures with prepared word labels. Only use words that fit into the 40 key sounds. Phonograms are underlined or printed in red for Set 2. 

If you do not have the picture and word cards at home, I made printables of sets 1 and 2 (as you see in the photos), which you can download from the Resource Library!

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* Sign up for the Resources Library at the bottom of this post if you’d like to download the picture and word set 1 and set 2 printables I made. If you’re a subscriber, check my newest email for the updated password.

Here are the 2 versions of the reading game

Set 1: short vowel words

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Set 1: short vowel words

Set 1 includes three-letter phonetic words with short vowels, consonant blends, and two-syllable phonetic words. For example—basket, pan, pumpkin, nut, and clam.

The words that are included in set 1 we used are below: 

  • dog
  • van
  • hut
  • bat
  • cactus
  • lemon
  • hat
  • comet
  • robin
  • piglet
  • lamp
  • crab

Set 2: words with phonograms

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Set 2: words with phonograms

Set 2 includes phonetic words that include phonograms – those sounds represented on the green double sandpaper letters—for example, sheep, boat, car, nail, and coat.

The words that are included in set 2 we used are below: 

  • boy
  • glue
  • quilt
  • sheep
  • snail
  • fork
  • hammer
  • bath
  • book
  • bee
  • chain
  • goat

As I explained in the previous post about the object game, only use the double letter sound spellings from the green sandpaper letters for set 2. We will address various spellings later on in the sequence.

Step-by-step: picture and word cards lesson

Invite your child who has had practice decoding words to the rug. Sit on her dominant side. 

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Lay out the picture cards at the top of the rug

Lay the picture cards across the top of the rug, going from left to right, naming the pictures with your child as you go. 

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Lay out the label cards at the bottom of the rug

Random the labels along the bottom of the rug.

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pick one label and sound out the word

Select a label, read it, and place it under the corresponding picture card. Continue until all of the picture cards have been matched.

word cards, montessori, picture and word cards
place the label under the matching picture

Ask your child if she would like to repeat the activity or if she’d like a turn to do it independently. 

word cards, montessori, picture and word cards
match all the labels to the pictures

Tip: When I did this lesson with Annie, we only used seven pictures/labels at a time. The printable sets I made include 12 pictures/labels each. It’s a good idea to start with fewer cards at a time so your child does not get overwhelmed. 

Tip: if some of the phonograms in set 2 are tricky, repeat the corresponding green sandpaper letter. With Annie, when she could revisit the double letter, she picked up on it quickly and then read the word with ease. 

More Picture and Word Card ideas

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Picture and Word Cards

Use a different set of pictures. It’s always a good idea to change up the pictures often once your child mastered reading the words. This keeps your child interested and motivated.

You can look for more pictures or clip art/illustrations online to print and make your cards. When I first did my Montessori training in 2007, we would collect old magazines, catalogs, books, and textbooks to cut out pictures to make cards. 

In the image above, I cut those photos out from catalogs, magazines, and books. I glued the pictures to card stock and laminated them. Then, I typed the words, printed them on card stock, and cut and laminated them to make a picture and word-matching set. 

word cards, montessori, picture and word cards
variation: lay out labels first and match the pictures to the labels

Lay out the labels first and match the pictures next. I tried this with Annie, and it was an enjoyable way to do the lesson. For a child who needs to move, you could also place the labels on one rug and the pile of cards on the other side of the room. Pick a card and bring it to the other side of the room to match the label. 

Use the moveable alphabet. Another idea is to use the cards to write words with the moveable alphabet. Lay out the picture cards vertically and flip over all the label cards so you can’t see the answers. Write the word with the moveable alphabet letters. Then, check your work by flipping over the label cards. This is great for kids still working on the writing words phase.

Make a booklet of the words from the labels. This is great practice for kids working on handwriting. Young children love making little booklets. Little artists can also draw their versions of the pictures in their booklet. 

Two children can play a matching game together. Each child takes turns drawing a label, reading it, and matching it to the corresponding picture.

What are the pink, blue, and green series?

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green cards are words with phonograms

In many Montessori classrooms, the teacher will organize picture and word cards (and other reading and writing activities) into three categories: the pink, blue, and green series

I did not learn about this way of organizing language reading activities in my teacher training, but I knew about it later on from other teachers I worked with in the classroom. 

Some teachers like introducing short vowel sounds and moving to double letter sounds (long vowel sounds). Others like to split consonant blends into separate lessons/sections. 

So, there is no right or wrong way to work through these lessons. But I recommend starting with short vowels and following your child’s interest in more complex letter sounds.

I have found that this way of organizing the words is teacher or school preference. It’s up to you!

Here is how some teachers/schools organize the reading activities: 

word cards, montessori, picture and word cards
green series

Pink: simple three-letter phonetic words. I’ve heard many teachers call them “CVC words,” which means “consonant-vowel-consonant” words. For example: cat, jet, pig, pot, sun. Often, the teachers organize many pink sets of cards even further by the same middle vowel (cat, hat, bat, rat, mat).

Blue: words that have phonetic consonant blends or two-syllable words. For example: sled, soft, lamp, crab, pumpkin, basket. Word cards in the blue series could be further organized in sets of the same letters in the consonant blends or a set of two-syllable words (stamp, stem, stop, step).

Green: words with phonograms or double letter sounds from the green sandpaper letters. For example, book, sheep, bench, pail, goat, blue. These can be further organized by words with the same double letters (bee, tree, queen, feet).


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sounding out the word, crab

Concluding Thoughts about picture and word cards

Annie enjoyed working with the picture and word cards with me. She has been decoding words at her own pace for several months now. She also simultaneously writes words with the moveable alphabet to help strengthen her phonemic awareness skills. 

Every kid is different, and I have found that the longer young children work with writing words with the moveable alphabet, the more they strengthen their reading skills. Changing it up sometimes and practicing sounding out words with activities like picture and word cards is a beautiful way to keep your child excited while experiencing the joy of reading.

Another benefit of matching pictures and words is that young children begin to realize in new ways that writing and reading are connected with communication. They have experienced this connection in several ways every day since they were very young, but doing this hands-on decoding game truly brings it home for them!

Have you tried matching picture and word cards with your child? Leave a comment below! 

word cards pin

More Montessori Resources

Montessori picture and word cards reading lesson

* Sign up for the Resources Library at the bottom of this post if you’d like to download the picture and word set 1 and set 2 as well as the lesson plan printables I made. If you’re a subscriber, check my newest email for the updated password.

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montessori, picture and word cards, word cards,

32 thoughts on “Picture and Word Cards: 2 Cool Games for Beginning Readers”

  1. Marie Gizelle

    My kids grew up through Montessori methods, I remember being happy and assured everytime I drop them in the kiga and school. Cool word cards!

  2. I’ve been looking for engaging ways to support my child’s reading journey, and your post couldn’t have come at a better time. The idea of matching words to pictures seems like such a natural and enjoyable step for kids who are just starting to sound out words.

  3. This is such a great game and a fun way for children to start recognising, decoding and reading words. I had cards that I used for all of my children and they had so much fun when we used them. Once we learnt all the cards we had, we then started making new ones. It worked well with numbers too.

  4. As always, I truly appreciate the details you put into this post making it easy for anyone to help their own kids with learning… these cards definitely make learning both fun and easy

  5. Thank you for sharing this innovative learning tool. Word cards provide a wonderful opportunity for children to expand their vocabulary, improve their language comprehension, and spark their curiosity about the world around them.

  6. Thanks for sharing the picture and word cards games & reading lesson! This is perfect for my young nephew. I’ll share this with my sister-in-law!

  7. This looks like a wonderful lesson for kids to do. I can see them learning so much with the word cards.

  8. This looks like a fun game for kids to play while learning their site words. My kids are older now but I’ll keep this in mind if I ever have a grand baby.

  9. I love these games, and I’m glad I found your article. My oldest son is in kindergarten, and he needs help with reading. I`ll start practicing these activities with him this weekend.

  10. The variety of words you’ve included in the word cards is impressive, covering everything from animals and food to emotions and nature. It’s a great way to expand vocabulary and spark creativity in young minds.

  11. These word cards and pictures are fantastic. It reminds me of a similar thing my mom did with me when I was young. It certainly helped me learn the words.

  12. Having this on a mat is so smart, I had no idea this was a Montessori way to learn! This is super useful for children that are learning other languages, as the brain to picture connection really helps foster fluency.

    1. Hi Alice,

      Thank you for your comment! Doing the lessons on a floor mat is a unique Montessori feature. It helps to define their space and keep their work organized and together. The children love to get their mat, unroll it, put their work on it, and then roll it up and put it away independently.

  13. This is so so cool! I love word games, they’re so much fun and educational in nature. I will check these, thanks a lot.

  14. I love combining words with real-life examples. That’s such a great way to really cement the word and its meaning in a young mind.

  15. Montessori really is the leader in pre-school academics. When my son began kindergarten, the delta between kids that spent pre-school in Montessori (or similar programs) and those they went to a standard daycare was immediately noticeable.

    1. Hi Geeky Daddy,

      Thank you so much for your comment! When I was a teacher in the Montessori classroom, sometimes we had new kindergarteners who came from conventional daycare, and we had to start at the beginning of the Montessori sequence with them. With time, they caught on quickly!

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