An Illustrated Guide To Making Your Own ELT Cards

I. Introduction

II. The materials you'll need

III. Procedure for making to the cards

There are many advantages to making your own cards for using in a language class. You can match a precise vocabulary, level, activity, or teaching method with uniform size materials. You can use the precise images that you want, and tailor the texture and durability of the cards to the age level that uses them.

Buying factory-made cards at any of the numerous ELT stores in Japan is cheaper and faster. However, if cards with the images, vocabulary, quality or style that you want aren't available, you can find great satisfaction in making your own. Having a library of cards to fit any language target at any level gives the


teacher tremendous flexibility, and liberates the lesson from textbooks. This is a guide to making your own cards, based on my ten years experience of creating my own materials.

Finally... a request for feedback! Making cards has become a major hobby for me. I hope this guide can help you find satisfaction in making your own cards. Also, if you have additional advice (I have had no success in laminating, for example), your contributions are very welcome. Please post any comments on the ETJ-Aichi web site, in the Forums section.

Thank you for your interest, and good luck with building your own library.

Peter Warner
Nagoya, Japan


Materials You Need

1. Card images


These are the image and/or text that you want the card to show, drawn or printed on paper. Color images keep children's focus far longer than black and white, and convey meaning more clearly. B/W images can be colored in by hand with felt tip markers to make them more effective and unique. Color copiers at convenience stores vary widely with image quality, paper grades, and cost. Having your own scanner and printer, and an internet connection for getting free clip art from the internet is far superior. When you are copying or scanning, put a sheet of solid black construction paper behind the page you are copying; it prevents the images on adjoining pages from seeping through. Remember also to be sensitive to copyright laws.

The materials




Different thicknesses of
card stock


2. Printer paper


Some expensive color print paper doesn't stick well to card stock, and with some cheap paper, the images wear off after months of sliding across the table face down. (Laminating seems to invite pealing off). Interestingly, cheaper paper works better with black and white images than expensive color print paper. Find the type and grade of paper that matches your printer and use.
3. Card Stock As with the printer paper, there are many different thicknesses, finishes, and size of card stock to choose from. In the stationary stores, they usually have a wide selection, kept flat in a metal cabinet with numerous thin drawers. Some thick stock will de-laminate in less than two years. A higher degree of whiteness in the outside finish seems to indicate higher quality and durability inside. Spend some time looking through the drawers, to find what you want. The actual cost is about \20 or less per A3 sheet. I buy mine in heavy reams of 100 sheets, for much less per sheet. Printed paper glued to a single layer of high quality, thin, stiff paper is very durable, but can be folded and mangled by restless fingers. A single layer of thick stock is fine for most uses. For little children's cards, I use two or three layers of thick stock, sometimes even with an additional layer of high-grade wear resistant (shiny finish) stock as a backing. Those cards last over four years of daily use.
4. Spray Adhesive The only way to get a smooth multi-layered card, without lumps, is to use spray adhesive. It's fast, uniform, and touchy to work with (more on that later). 3M produces several numbered grades of spray adhesive in large aerosol cans; 55,66,77, 88, and 99. The 55 grade can be peeled off, like a post-it note, the 99 grade will never move (you can't get the air bubbles or even small wrinkles out) once contact is made. I use only the 77 grade. Small wrinkles and bubbles can be smoothed out, yet it never peels off. Card stock will fall apart before this adhesive does.

5. Disk Paper Cutter

A guillotine type paper cutter will never cut a triple layer card; disc blade cutters can cut material of over four layers. Disk blade cutters also hold the paper securely, are light and smooth to operate, can cut minute portions off with high accuracy, and are completely safe. Guillotine cutters offer none of these features. However, disk cutters are more expensive and require frequent maintenance. It should be cleaned and oiled (lightly) every three hours of operation, dis-assembled and oiled every six hours. The cutting mat (under the blade) should be flipped over often, then replaced every six hours, along with the disk blade.

6. Old Newspaper Spray adhesive seems to travel horizontally throughout the spraying area, far beyond the material you are spraying. You will need to cover a large area to protect from this wandering glue.
7. Large Table You need a large flat surface to push down on as you press the paper together. Once the adhesive is sprayed, you have about fifteen seconds to get the material smoothed out. Have a large work area to avoid clutter, panic, and mistakes.


1. Glue the image onto the card stock
Spray safely! This spray adhesive is serious stuff for the serious card-maker. To protect your lungs, eyes, brain, CD player, computer, tatami and carpeting, DO ALL YOUR SPRAYING OUTSIDE. Avoid windy (papers flop around) or hot days(sweat doesn't adhere well) . Move plants and hanging laundry away from your work area. Keep your hands clean, and take off your rings before you start (they might mark the material as you smooth it out). Wear goggles and a mask if you can bear them. Most important of all, DO IT OUTSIDE!!! This spray is highly invasive. I've had an air conditioner filter get clogged up with the spray adhesive, had it gum up the inner parts of a CD player, and I believe that using a gas fan heater nearby at the same time can be possibly deadly. If you want to live to see your grand-children, do it outside.

Spray outside!!


How to arrange


Spread two layers of newspapers out, creating a backstop and floor covering far beyond your actual spraying area.
Place a final newspaper in the center of this, so that you can open to a fresh page as the over-spray builds up.
Lay the image paper face down on this newspaper, and spray them with even passes, keeping the spray tip about 20 to 25 cm from the material. Once you have applied the adhesive, you have less than fifteen seconds to smooth the image paper onto the card stock, so only lay out as much you can work with in one cycle. Arrange your material neatly to allow you to work quickly.
2. Bond the card stock for durability

If you are making multi-layered cards, do all the the bonding now, so you only have to cut it once. Two layers is very durable, three is great for kindergarten monsters, four layers is like a thin block of wood. A large four-layered card might actually hurt someone if thrown.

After spraying and bonding, leave the material stacked flat. It will continue to emit strong fumes for two hours.

3. Cut the cards

Here the fun begins!

To keep your card sets uniform, keep a full set of size templates (perhaps worn-out cards) for each of your card sizes. Use these old cards as an edge reference when making the first side cut, and the first end cut.

After making these first two cuts on all the material, use the template again to set the magnetized bar on the base of the cutter for the final two cuts.

Tape the bar down, to prevent it from shifting, or re-check it against the template as you continue working (it will shift). Make all the third and fourth cuts at the same time, to ensure uniformity.

With thin, flexible cards, finish by cutting off the corners by hand with a sturdy pair of scissors. Even adults work out their nervousness by fingering the corners, and once someone has separated the layers at the corner, that card is doomed to that big ELT classroom in the sky very quickly. A card with no sharp corners lasts three times as long. Sturdy and small, or multi-layered cards don't have this problem.

First side cut


Setting the magnetic bar

Final cuts

4. Index the cards

If you have a set of over twenty cards in one category (people, for example: boy, brother, brother-in-law), it would be good to separate them by levels. Mark the edge of the graded set with a wide stripe of a coded color with a felt-tip marker.

The martial arts sequence of yellow, green, brown, and finally black works well for this. Middle levels (between green and brown, for example) can be indicated by a stripe of an upper color (a stripe of black down the center of the green band).

Some observant children will notice this, and find pride in reaching the 'green belt' level, but mainly it allows you to move quickly to the right set of cards, and simplifies keeping track of the progress of each class in your class planner (Example of class planner entry: "For Wednesday 4:30P.M. class = yellow body-cards, green verb-cards, yellow/green adjective-cards").

Graded levels

5. Storing the cards

Use rubber bands!!

Keeping the card sets in boxes is cumbersome. Having each set separate and banded means they are instantly visible and quickly accessible. Furthermore, the children enjoy being given (as a reward, or even mild rebuke) the task of getting the set back into a rubber band, as you prepare the next activity.

Stationary stores and home centers sell lots of rubber bands, but some brands are worthless. Many of them will fall apart just sitting on the shelf, letting the cards come tumbling out all over as you reach for them, or even spontaneously. The brand I like most is オーバンド (oh-bando). Even so, keep a few bags of spares within easy reach.

If the band size is too small for the card set it's wrapped around, it won't last six months. The wider bands (over 6mm) look rugged, but actually tend to come un-joined more frequently than the slimmer ones.

Copyright © 2001, 2002 Peter Warner


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