How to use Montessori 3-part cards (+free printables)

Have you seen the Montessori 3-part cards around but don’t know why they are so popular or you don’t know how to use Montessori 3-part cards effectively? Some people thing they are just flash cards, but they are much more than that.

Let me tell you this… they are brilliant! And such a simple but effective way to introduce new vocabulary and concepts to kids. Plus because of the Follow The Child concept, you can really help your child learn to read and write in a way they find fun.

For instance, when my son was between the ages of 4 and 8, he had an obsession with knights! If I introduced any topic using the theme of knights I was onto an instant winner. And at the Montessori school, I worked at we had a range of cards that we would recycle on the shelves depending on the season and the child’s interests at the school.

If your child is currently into knights and castles, then using a knights and castles set of cards will keep their interest! He also had a phase when he was fascinated by volcanoes, mushrooms and beavers! All of these are available as digital downloads.


What Are Montessori 3 Part Cards?

You may have seen them called Nomenclature, Montessori classified cards or classification cards. They consist of, yes you guessed it, three cards. They are a regular item found in Montessori classrooms and are popular with Montessori teachers because they are so versatile. They fit well with the Montessori philosophy of following the child which was the keystone to everything Maria Montessori laid out.

One card is the control card the others two, the object card and label card are the working set.

  • Control card this has the picture and the name
  • An object card (sometimes called a photo card or image cards) is just a picture, often it will be an object on a white background.
  • The Label card (sometimes called the word card) is just the name
Guide to using Montessori 3 cards

These cards typically find use with kids aged 3-6, but they can also cater to older children and younger ones. There are no strict limitations.

You can employ them with pre-readers and emergent readers. They are suitable for non-verbal children too; pointing helps assess their comprehension. Their greatest strength lies in their versatility.

The best thing about these cards is their versatility. You can use them in a variety of ways building vocabulary, matching, sequencing, reading, writing, hands-on activities, fine motor skills, classification, and various other educational activities such as the memory game. They are a great addition to your homeschool resources. I have a post here with extension ideas for you to use.

Montessori 3-part cards are designed for use with a guide (parent, teacher, or older child) who assists the child initially. Subsequently, the child can them for independent work, using the control card to self-assess their accuracy.

How To Prepare Montessori Classified Cards

In a classroom setting, teachers often back the cards with cardboard and laminate them to extend their durability. If you are using them at home then consider how much use the set of cards will get. 

For families with a single child and if you anticipate that the cards will only see occasional use, laminating may not be a worthwhile investment. If that’s the case, print onto thin cardboard. If you bought a digital download you can simply print out and replace any cards that might get damaged.

On the other hand, if you have more than one child or you think the cards will get a lot of use then laminating them or placing them in plastic sleeves will protect them from wear and tear. Knowing your children’s preferences and which resource types get the most use will help you make the decision here.

How to store Montessori Nomenclature cards

This is down to personal preference, many people use felt or fabric pouches to store their cards. Frequently, these 3 part card sets are colour-coordinated to align with the continents or study areas. But again, if it is just for personal use with one or two kids, stressing over all that is pointless, just use what is easiest for you.

If you are buying cards the card size can differ from seller to seller. Just something to be aware of before you purchase your own Montessori cards storage system.

When you display the cards for the child’s use, it’s beneficial to place them on a tray or in a basket. This way, the child can readily see and become engaged with the cards. Items stored in a pouch or folder can be easily missed.

How to use Montessori 3 part cards
How to use Montessori 3-part cards

Introduction Of Montessori Nomenclature cards

  1. Initially, place the cards in a basket and position it on the shelf. Begin with a limited amount, typically 4-6 cards, to prevent overwhelming the child.
  1. Roll out a mat and then bring the cards to the mat (remember that in Montessori we use the work cycle. Prepare the area, get the workout, do the work, and put everything away. If you need more info about the work cycle, read this)
  1. Show the child the cards and start talking about them, ask questions about what is on the cards:
    1. Have you seen… 
    2. Do you remember when we tried… 
    3. What do you think it smells/tastes/feels like…
Keep it light-hearted and fun 🙂
  1. When you are ready, take the control cards and from LEFT to RIGHT* place one card down at a time and say

“This is… “
“Can you say…?”

Sometimes the child won’t repeat the word, but that is OK for now.

*We always place the cards left to right as that is the way that we read and write, if you are using a language like Hebrew which reads right to left then present the cards that way. This step holds significance as it serves as a secondary function of presenting the cards, acclimating the child to the reading and writing direction.

  1. With the cards still laid out say:

“Show me…” 

This is to check the child’s comprehension and memory.

Employ positive reinforcement when they succeed. If they make a mistake, revisit the presentation with the cards they find challenging.

Do not move on from this stage until the child knows all the cards. 

Stages Of Use Of 3 Part Cards

Stages Of Use Of 3 Part Cards

Once the child knows the cards you can start having fun with them. These stages usually happen gradually as the child develops. It’s important to keep an eye on which developmental cycle the child is in so that you can introduce the right stage to them.

STAGE 1 Matching The Images

  • Present the cards, as usual, using the control cards and laying them out left to right.
  • Then take out the picture cards and match the images. Pick up the first card look at it and then at the cards laid out (in an exaggerated movement) and place the matching card under the control card.
  • Continue until you have used up all the cards.
  • Then pick up all the cards, put them in the basket and invite the child to have a go.

As the child becomes proficient in matching all the cards, you can progressively introduce more cards.

A kid is learning new information through Montessori cards

STAGE 2 Matching The Image and an object

For this stage, you need a set of cards and real objects that matches each one.

  • Present the cards, as usual, using the control cards and laying them out left to right.
  • Then take out the objects and match the images. Pick up the first object look at it and then at the cards laid out and place the matching object under the control card.
  • Continue until you have used up all the label cards.
  • Then pick up all the cards and objects, put them in the basket and invite the child to have a go.

This uses more developed critical thinking as it is matching a 2D image with a 3D object which might not look the same. You might have a photo of a black dog but the object is a spotty brown dog.

You can make this stage easier by taking photos of the objects and turning them into cards. However, often kids will make the jump from stage 1 to stage 2 quite easily when they are ready.

STAGE 3 Matching The Control Card With The Label Card

When your child starts to take an interest in letters and reading you can introduce the label cards.

  • Present the cards, as usual, using the control cards and laying them out left to right.
  • Pick up the first label card, look at it, and use your finger to read it. 
  • Then place it under the correct control card.
  • Continue until you have used up all the label cards.
  • Finish by checking that the label card and the control card match.
  • Pick up all the cards and objects, put them in the basket and invite the child to have a go.

Even children who are not yet reading can do this stage as they will start by matching the shapes of the letters. It is a great exercise for emergent readers.

A child is learning shapes through Montessori 3 part cards

STAGE 4 Matching The Object Card With The Label Card

This is the same as stage 3 but this time the child has to be able to read the label card to be able to match it to its object card.

  • Present the cards, as usual, this time using the image cards and laying them out left to right.
  • Pick up the first label card, look at it, and use your finger to read it. 
  • Then place it under the correct object card.
    Deliberately make a mistake and put the wrong label under the object card.
  • Continue until you have used up all the label cards.
  • Now show the child how to check if they got everything correct. Take out the control cards, match the image and then check that the text matches too. 
  • If it matches, place the control card under the label card and do the next one.
  • When you get to one that is wrong, take the label card away.
  • Once all the correct label cards are down, try and match the leftover (incorrect) label cards again, then check your work again. Showing the child how they can check their own work.

Many of the Montessori materials have this control of error system built in so that the child knows when they have made a mistake and can self-correct.

Using Montessori 3 part cards for education

FAQ’s about three-part cards In Montessori

What age are Montessori 3 part cards for?

Montessori 3-part cards are incredibly versatile. Although originally designed for ages 3-6 and later 6-9, you can effectively use them at home with children as young as 0-3 years old. Their adaptability makes them a valuable educational resource for kids of various ages

What is the purpose of 3 part cards?

3-Part Cards serve a multifaceted purpose, enhancing language skills, expanding vocabulary, refining spelling, organizing information, and fostering connections between concepts and objects.

What are the benefits of Montessori 3 part cards?

Montessori 3-part cards offer several benefits,

  1. Language Development: They enhance vocabulary and language skills as children associate words with images.
  2. Classification: Kids learn to categorize and group items, promoting cognitive development.
  3. Concentration: Working with the cards encourages focus and attention to detail.
  4. Independence: Children can use them independently, promoting self-directed learning.
  5. Sensorial Experience: The tactile interaction with the cards engages multiple senses, aiding comprehension.

To wrap up

If you are wondering whether Montessori 3-part cards are worth their price, the answer is YES! The kids can learn so much from these cards and they are so versatile. This is why I always include a set in the 193 Little Adventures Packs and have several free Montessori downloads available in the resource library.

You will probably find that your child will revisit the cards again and again over the years but use them differently as they get older.

Are you searching for cards to get started with? I have some over in the Etsy store.

If you are a jojoebi resource library member (it’s free) there are a set of Montessori 3-part card packs and other free downloads available too. Sign up to become a library member below:

Step by Step guide - How to use Montessori 3 Part Cards

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