Word Surfing - Cards & Surfboards

as designed by Will McCulloch - May 16th 2004.

Basic Resources

Word Surfing Cards

i)Sets of vocabulary/language development cards - that can also be used as ordinary playing cards
ii)Cards are available for 5 levels
  • Beginner
  • Lower Intermediate
  • Intermediate
  • Upper Intermediate
  • Advanced

  • Total
 1674 word tests + 216 questions
 1674 word tests + 216 questions
 1674 word tests + 216 questions
 1674 word tests + 216 questions
 1674 word tests + 216 questions

8 370 word tests + 1080 questions
iii)Each set has 54 cards - 52 playing cards plus two jokers.

Vocabulary Surfboards

i)A4 pads of pages for recording , developing and checking knowledge of unknown words.
ii)A motivating method of assessing real language improvement.


  • Part of a long-term and graded vocabulary development strategy for learners of all languages.
  • Designed to encourage active investigation of words with the help of other quality resources - and conversational practice with teachers or native speakers.

Examples of the Word Surfing Cards for the different levels appear below by date and by day together with a Word Surfboard.

The examples given are only for General English… but the concept can be adapted - and is equally suitable for

i)specialised areas such as Business , Tourism, Banking etc.
ii)all other languages
iii)younger learners

These examples are then followed by Explanatory Notes.


Example of Word Surfing Card (by date) - Beginner

Word Surfing Card (by date) - Beginner  Word Surfing Card

Further word lists and sample questions for various levels:

Lower Intermediate
 1  had
 2  younger
 3  threw
 4  seldom
 5  get dressed
 6  curtains
 7  shower
 8  few
 9  beach
10  generous
11  grass
12  cross
13  ticket
14  loaf
15  spoke
16  was watching
17  bag
18  low
19  smile
20  scarf
21  didn't
22  hit
23  abroad
24  take off
25  haven't got
26  nephew
27  wives
28  advantage
29  accountant
30  history
31  bed and breakfast
 Where do you go if you have toothache?
 What are you going to do this weekend?
 Where do people usually get married?
 What did you do last night?

 1  divorced
 2  spare time
 3  had lunch
 4  match
 5  circle
 6  tick
 7  entertaining
 8  awful
 9  engaged
10  hardly ever
11  timetable
12  veil
13 complain
14  irritating
15  reliable
16  hilarious
17  crowded
18  afford
19  wrap up
20  kidnap
21  hijack
22  been raining
23  unique
24  torch
25  as good as
26  related 
27  would have
28  supposed to
29  high heels
30  cruel
31  has been delayed
 When did you last get a present?
 What came first - the chicken or the egg?
 What is the opposite of 'shallow'?
 What have you been doing today?

Upper Intermediate
 1  nod
 2  wink
 3  if only
 4  knit
 5  get a move on
 6  cell
 7  paw
 8  glance at
 9  ward
10  hedge
11  stroke
12  snore
13 dizzy
14  blackmail
15  suspect
16  should have
17  on average
18  spade
19  fed up 
20  plead
21  take off
22  witness to
23  were shut
24  don't mind
25  given the sack
26  could have
27  insomnia
28  gloomy
29  earthquake
30  clap
31  could have been mistaken
 How do you feel if you are 'over the moon'?
 What sort of friend is a 'fair weather friend'?
 How do you make a cup of tea?
 Do you prefer ironing or dusting?


Example of Word Surfing Card (by date) - Advanced  Word Surfing Card


Word Surfing - Cards (by days of the week)

The same card concept can also be repeated using other suitable variables such as days of the week. The example below gives

  • 1134 word tests per set of cards - with these tests involving "connecting words" at all levels except advanced;
  • 216 testing questions per set of cards.

Example - Beginner
table - chair - sit
doesn't - isn't - don't
married - single - church
train - bus - ticket
brother - sister - parents
reads - is playing - are sleeping
job - office - secretary
 What are you wearing?
 When is your birthday?
 What time is it, please?
 What is your teacher's name?

Lower Intermediate
has - have - had
always - seldom - never
bread - loaf - knife
put on - take off - wear
nephew - aunt - niece
lawyer - is postman - fireman
beach - sand - sunny
 Where do you go if you have toothache?
 What are you going to do this weekend?
 Where do people usually get married?
 What did you do last night?

Word Surfing Card (by days of the week) - Intermediate  Word Surfing Card

Upper Intermediate
Word Surfing Card (by days of the week) - Upper Intermediate  Word Surfing Card

Word Surfing Card (by days of the week) - Advanced  Word Surfing Card


Word Surfboards


Date: ..........
surfed: ..........

2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    

Date: ........... check.

Date: ........... check.

Date: ........... check.



Explanatory notes

1. Using Wordsurfing cards and boards for independent study

a)Choose the appropriate pack of WS vocabulary cards, shuffle … and place in a pile.
b)Take the top card and test your knowledge of the word(s) next to the day number of the current month (today is May 16th so the start would be at word test number 16 ).
  -If the word (or group of words) on that card is known (i.e. you are able to quickly use it) then put the card to one side and take the next card from the top of the pack.
  -Then test your knowledge of the following day's date (i.e. No. 17) on that card.
  -Keep repeating this process - (always the next card and the next number) - until you come across a word that isn't known (i.e. you are unable to quickly use it).
c)Count how many cards you were able to set aside before coming across an unknown word. These cards represent the number of "Waves" that you have successfully "surfed".
d)Enter the number of successful surfs into score box 1 towards the bottom of the Word Surfboard (see previous page )… and enter the unknown word into the "Words" column on the left hand-side of the Word Surfboard.
e)Shuffle the cards again - and repeat the above process until you have come across and recorded 10 unknown words with10 surf scores in the relevant boxes. Completing the whole pack to score a perfect 54 in one "surf" shows that you are probably ready to move on to the next level of cards. Three consecutive scores of over 50 shows that you are ready.
f)Now that the Word Surfboard page has 10 unknown words in the left-hand column, these can then be investigated in a good dictionary with example sentences.
g)Selected example sentences can then be entered under the "sentences" column. The example sentences may also be found with help from a teacher, native speaker or any other source.
h)Testing takes place at later dates by simply covering the explanatory sentences - and checking your knowledge of the previously unknown words. Any words still unknown at this stage are noted at the bottom of the page for further investigation, practice and testing.
i)Development of these words and any other personally selected vocabulary items can then also be made in the WS Book - the organised vocabulary notebook which is described in detail at http://www.wordsurfing.co.uk.

2. Using Wordsurfing cards and boards in the classroom.

The process of randomly selecting appropriate words for development and testing can be used with the help of a teacher in the classroom (or outside with the help of a native speaker). For example, the teacher can shuffle the cards and then read out the selected word(s) according to date - as described above in 1(b). Learners can then attempt to prove their knowledge of the selected word(s) through conversational practice and/or writing sentences. These activities will help them to become more familiar with L2 - and move away from reliance on translations.
The formality of such an activity can, of course, vary according to what is seen to be most appropriate to the individual needs of the learners involved. In some cases the teacher may want to mark hand-written tests in order to identify grammatical weaknesses that require further explanation and practice. In other cases the exercise may simply be used more to encourage confidence-boosting conversation with and among the students.


3. Features
WS cards (to be made available as complete sets or as individual packs)

   -provide virtually countless testing possibilities which are generated by combining (i) card shuffling with (ii) word tests based on an initial date selection. This makes sure that using the cards remains flexible and fun by always providing different tests.
   -help to make the process of developing vital vocabulary skills into a motivating game with progress being reflected by a series of "surf" scores.
   -encourage good learning habits (regular use of dictionaries/other resources , avoidance of L1 whenever possible or practical - and repeated exposure to new words/phrases through revision involving conversational/writing practice)
   -promote investigation of other graded resources outside the classroom - and more conversation within the classroom. They deliberately don't contain translations in order to encourage as much active L2 learning as possible in both these situations.
   -can be used for more informal conversation practice with native speakers.
   -can also be used as normal playing cards.
   -are attractive, high quality and durable.
   -fit very easily into a pocket or small bag.

WS boards (available separately in A4 blocks)

   -store important words together with grammatically correct example sentences.
   -reflect the level of vocabulary knowledge at the time of initial testing.
   -help learners to create an individual long-term vocabulary development strategy.
   -encourage learners to test their expanding knowledge on a regular basis.
   -demonstrate on-going improvement in a motivating manner.

4. Rationale

The reasoning behind the development of "Wordsurfing Cards and Surfboards" is basically the same as that behind the WS Book, WS AID (a CD-Rom idea for an Audio Image Dictionary) - and all the other learning opportunities that are presented at the Word Surfing website.
  • Real vocabulary (language) development happens when learners are given
       a)exposure to new words - preferably with the help of both sound and images.
       b)regular opportunities to mimic those words.
       c)graded examples of the words being correctly used in different sentences.
       d)encouragement to regularly practise their new words in their own way.
       e)the opportunity to check their own progress in a motivating manner.
  • A learner's real level of language competence is reflected by the number of individual words that can be used fluently and correctly in a variety of ways.
Learners who are naturally eager to improve their vocabulary may well be initially attracted to WS Vocabulary Cards by the idea of a fun and flexible game. However, the value of any such resource will depend on it's ability to encourage the use of other appropriate resources that can help real vocabulary (language) development start to take place.
WS Vocabulary Cards therefore aim not only to provide tests of vocabulary (and grammar) knowledge , but also to be a motivational catalyst that creates curiosity - and causes the regular use of complementary resources in all language skill areas. They encourage repeat exposures within a game situation - and natural familiarity through "learning by doing".
Learners are helped to move away from the habit of learning by translation as soon as possible - and avoid many of the fossilised errors that seem to be associated to that habit.


© Will McCulloch - 2004

Image: "The Art of Surfing"