Using Montessori 3-part cards, also known as nomenclature cards, is a proven way of introducing new vocabulary to your child on a variety of topics. Whether it’s science, biology or geography these cards serve as expansive tools for increasing comprehension and memory retention.

There are several methods of using learning cards, either as flashcards for learning math and languages or card-to-object matching. Any of these methods will increase the cognitive skills of your child. However, simple card-object matching is mostly for younger children. Once their skills have sufficiently developed, they should graduate to the Montessori 3-part card method to maximize the learning possibilities.

If you are new to this method, this article will shed some light on the benefits of Montessori 3-part cards for teaching various topics. If you read till the end, you’ll get some useful tips and ideas on what subjects these cards can help you teach. You may be surprised by some of them!



What are Montessori 3-part cards?

If you’re new to the Montessori method of education, 3-part cards can be a little confusing. They consist of, you guessed it, 3 cards, and they are usually laminated.

  • The control card has the object, or part of the object, with the name on it.
  • The object card has only the picture on it.
  • The label card has just the name on it.

Once you learn the process, they’re actually very simple to use.

It may seem illogical to start using cards with names printed on it with children who can’t read yet, and if you let your child play alone, you would be correct. But these cards are designed for guided teaching, led by a teacher or parent to introduce the new vocabulary or objects.

Later, when the children have grown and can read, their play can be more independent. But it’s not a stretch when I say that these cards can be used with children as young as 1 to 2 years old. 

Get them talking

Talking a little about the cards first gets your child familiar with each individual card as well. If they’re about animals, talk about where they live, the jungle, the desert or in the ocean. Make a conversation out of it and find out what they already know about each thing you will cover.

If they are cards with parts of things, like a flower or an animal, talk about the shapes, the colors or something it resembles throughout the lesson. Get them thinking, asking questions and, if you can, laughing. Laughing helps us remember and understand things better than a dull academic lesson.

What are the steps in the process?

First, make sure you have a basket or small receptacle for mixing up the cards. There are many different steps to playing with these cards and matching is one of them. This is why we need a vessel to store the cards without them getting lost by strewing them out on the floor.

If you have a large set of cards, like the animals of the world or human organs, it’s a good idea to group them into sets of just 4 or 5 cards. This way the kids aren’t overwhelmed by too much vocabulary at once, especially if they are younger.

What language to use

Control cards

Once you have the cards grouped, separate the control cards from the other two. Lay them out on a flat smooth surface one at a time making sure to introduce each card with:

“This is … Can you say …?”

This lets them know you are introducing a new object. Lay the cards out in a line either horizontally or vertically.

After placing the first group of cards, we start with the comprehension check.


“Show me the …”

to check their understanding and memory.

Important here is positive reinforcement. If they get one wrong, remark it until the end of the group and repeat your “this is …” as many times as it takes till they get it right themselves.

If they can’t remember a card, but can recognize letters and know their sounds, like when practicing sight words, ask them what letter each word starts with. I like to start the pronunciation, like ‘fo…’ or ‘tha…’ to see if they can finish the word. If not I feed it to them, no problem.

Try to avoid sentences like “That’s wrong” or “No, try again”. This only makes them less-likely to try again for fear of failure.

Object cards

After introducing the first group of 4 or 5 control cards, have them take out the corresponding object cards from the basket and match them. Be sure to let them say the name of the picture, only helping if you see they are having difficulty remembering.

Label cards

Once the object cards have been matched, take the label cards out of the basket. If they can read, great. They should read the card saying:

“This is …”

and match it to the corresponding cards.

If they can’t read, they can either match similar words or you can read it for them and see if they remember the names of the pictures they just matched.

This should be repeated with each group of 4 to 5 3-part cards, and then repeated again with the whole set as a sort of retention test.

Can you see the power of reinforcement taking place here? The kids are learning not only concretely by observing the object but also abstractly by associating a word with that object. Montessori is absolutely fascinating!

Just remember to keep it in that order as you expand into other groups of cards: first, the control card, then the object card, and finish up with the label card.

Move it up a notch

If you want to expand the lesson because you have nice figures to match with the cards, you can increase the sensory nature of the game. Simply replace the object cards with the figures. Go through the whole cycle of:

‘This is …’, ‘Show me …’, and ‘What is this?’

If you want to make it even more difficult, then take away the control cards and replace them with the object cards. Then they match their figures and name cards to those object cards.

And to move it up yet another notch, take away the object cards altogether and just match the figure and name cards, going again through the standard cycle of:

‘This is …’, ‘Show me …’, and ‘What is this?’

The figures can also be replaced by pieces of felt if you have bought one of our felt boards. Use individual organs, continents or even leaves in place of your object cards. The more you mix up the learning the more fun and varied you can make the lessons. The last thing you want are bored kids, right?

What type of lessons can I use these cards for?

As I mentioned earlier, these games are ideal for increasing vocabulary on a variety of scholastic topics. But they can also be useful when applied to more complex systems, such as the stages of a black hole forming or solving complex math equations. The sky is the limit really. I have seen cards for plants, bird beak shapes, even Egyptian hieroglyphics!

Learning not only the names but also how they connect and interact is critical to a child’s understanding of the whole

There are many different steps and degrees of difficulty to using these cards. Because of this variety and flexibility I think these cards are the best for introducing complex systems and vocabulary.

When children learn complex systems as a young learner, their chances of understanding and performing well academically are increased by many folds for years to come.

So I hope this article was helpful and if you have any questions or comments feel free to write it in the comments below or send us an email, I would love to hear what you think! 




130 thoughts on “How to teach vocabulary using Montessori 3-part cards

  1. Sally de Sayán says:

    Recién conozco su blog y me encanta! Muchas gracias por compartir toda esta experiencia. Realmente Montessori es una maravilla y el aprendizaje de los niños bajo esta filosofía es fácil e ilimitado, siempre que seamos nosotros quienes nos “transformemos” para que el método sea efectivo y en beneficio del desarrollo de cada niño; eso es lo más difícil, pero no imposible. Gracias nuevamente!

    • geodessee says:

      Muchisisimas gracias! Muy amble:-) Nos encanta Montessori tambien y pensamos que es el mejor método para enseñar a los niños.

  2. Bobbie Hallberg says:

    Both my kiddos would benefit from the 3 part card system. My oldest is very intelligent and my younger loves following in his sisters footsteps!

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