Letter Unit Activities · Uncategorized

How We Use 3-Part Cards

3 part cards.jpg


3-Part Cards (also called Nomenclature Cards) are traditionally used in Montessori classrooms and homeschool education. The “3 parts” refer to (1) the picture-only card, (2) the word-only card, and (3) the whole card or “control card” with picture & word. 3-Part Cards are used to enrich language, grow vocabulary, perfect spelling, classify material, and build connections.

We are not a traditional Montessori home but I am certainly inspired by many elements of a Montessori home education. I first tried using 3-Part Cards with my son (then 3 1/2) this past spring to help with wildflower identification. I created our own set of cards using photos my husband took, and I saw first-hand how incredible this educational tool was. I know for sure that they helped my son identify and name the wildflowers on our hikes because of the work we did at home with the 3-Part Cards prior to viewing the wildflowers in the forest.


Since beginning The Peaceful Preschool in May, we have used a variety of 3-Part Cards every single week. My son has come to expect them and gets so excited when a new batch comes out of the laminator! We had a little learning curve at the beginning to teach my 2 year old not to just play with the cards (by ripping the lamination off!), but now are in a good groove with keeping them in tact and special for learning & games.


  • If you are following The Peaceful Preschool I’m sure you are already aware of real life photo 3-Part Cards for each Letter Unit created by Lyndsey at Treehouse Schoolhouse. I predominately use these to pair with our curriculum, but also sometimes use the free 3-Part Cards from Kaitlyn at Simply Learning.
  • Make your own 3-Part Cards! I started out using this free template for creating my own 3-Part Cards (e.g. the wildflower cards show above), but have since created my own template that I work off of.
  • There are a lot of Montessori moms out there that offer themed-unit 3-Part Cards for free or for purchase. Teachers Pay Teachers offers a ton of sets. You can use Google or Pinterest to find free sets to match whatever type of unit you are studying (e.g. desert animals, fall leaves, parts of a bird, etc.) or check out my “Additional Resources” section at the bottom of this post for more sources!


Montessori Print Shop has a detailed list of three great options for how to prepare 3-Part Cards. Personally, I do Option 3 because it requires the least amount of time. I don’t round the corners of my cards because that also requires time and I have not had any issues with the corners bothering my kids.

Supplies I use (affiliate links):

My kids are fascinated by the laminator so any time I laminate I do it while they are around. It doesn’t feel like extra work to prepare the 3-Part Cards since we often do it together.


There are (I’m sure) much better ideas out there than mine, but here’s just a simple and cheap way to store the cards: A1 envelopes + an old shoebox! I label each envelope and place them in letter order. I’d like to put labelled tabs on the envelopes as I get more, but for now I just keep the sets in alphabetical order, and themed cards (farm animals, planets, desert animals, etc.) towards the back of the shoebox. Like I said, it’s not elaborate, but it does the job.



Below I’ve listed 17 different ways we have used 3-Part Cards and I will add to this list if we come up with more. Note that we do not do ALL of these with every Letter Unit, but rather find just a couple to incorporate at a time.

The point for me is that we are using the cards in a variety of ways; I do not just expect my son to handle the cards one time and have the material mastered.

Also, for practical reasons — since I am using all that printer ink & laminating sheets (neither of which are cheap) to create the cards, I have this inherent desire to get as much use out of the cards as possible!

And now for my list of 17 ways to use 3-Part Cards…



I typically introduce our Letter Unit 3-Part Cards on the first school day for that corresponding Letter Unit. Often I just do a simple identification with the kids, where we name each card and also review letter sounds. This works well for identifying the beginning letter and beginning letter sound and also for building vocabulary. The kids love this! They find it so fun to see lots of things that start with our new Letter of the Week (2 weeks for us)!

Also note that traditional Montessori use of the 3-Part Cards will involve use of the Three Period Lesson:

  1. Naming (Introduction): “This is a jellyfish.”
  2. Recognition and Association: “Show me the jellyfish.”
  3. Recall (Cognition): Point to the jellyfish and say “What is this?”

For the “Naming” phase I will emphasize the beginning letter sound“This is a jellyfish. J-J-Jellyfish.”

If you’d like to read more about the Three Period Lesson for use with 3-Part Cards, I’d recommend this post by Montessori Print Shop.

I confess I am not overly stringent with use of the Three Period Lesson in our homeschool but use it as a guide and a starting place. I do loosely follow it in that I always start with the Naming Period first before moving on to some of the games listed below (for Recognition & Recall).



Matching whole card to whole card has been a simple and fun way for my 2 year old to use the cards.  Matching the whole cards helps her make connections but also is great for building her vocabulary. I particularly love using the real photo cards for this as opposed to illustrated cards that use images she already sees in our picture books.

This also requires no fancy setup or extra effort on my part! I just give her all the cards and have her find the matches.


There are two ways in which I present split card matching work.

The first way is to put all of the whole cards in to our Learning Resources Tabletop Pocket Chart. Then, I present (1) the split picture cards and (2) the split word cards and ask my son to match those two sets together, using the whole cards in the Tabletop Pocket Chart as his guide or “control.”

I confess I was skeptical at first about buying this pocket chart for my little homeschool classroom, but now that we are on Letter K I can say that I absolutely love it and would highly recommend it!


The second way to present split card matching is to use a divided tray.


I generally prefer the first way for split card work. Using the tray means my son has to pick up the pile of cards to sift through, and they eventually end up on the table spread out anyway. But, what I do like about the tray is the ability to focus in on one item/card at a time! With the tabletop pocket chart it may be overwhelming to see 18 different items at a time.



Playing Memory is a super easy way to use the 3-Part Cards because it requires little extra work. I always use whole cards so my son can see the words associated with each picture every time he handles a card, but you certainly could do this with the picture-only cards. We work with 18 pairs at a time but you could always reduce or increase the size of the set for the Memory game.



My kids love scavenger hunts so I will occasionally do a scavenger hunt with our 3-Part Cards! I will hide individual whole cards around our living room, then give each kid a bucket and a mini flashlight (they love hunting with flashlights). The kids find the hidden individual cards and then match what they found to the control card (matching whole card) on a table which I set up in advance.



For some letters there are more than one beginning letter sounds to review. I know there are many different methods for introducing beginning letter sounds; my strategy has been to go through them as we encounter them, going through the alphabet A through Z.

The above picture shows two sounds letter C makes — obviously Letter C also sometimes makes the “s” sound but we did not have any 3-Part Cards in our set with that beginning letter sound.

Working with my son, I divide and sort the 3-Part Cards based on beginning letter sounds, naming each card and reviewing the sound as I go. Once they are divided, I go back and forth and compare the sounds. I then will mix all the 3-Part Cards back up and have my son try it on his own, having him say each name on the 3-Part Card out loud to help in his sorting



I will present between one and three sets of Letter Unit 3-Part Cards, all mixed together, then ask my son to divide the cards based on the beginning letter. He typically does this by looking at the letters on the card and matching it to the bowls or dishes I set up. If I am sitting with him, I will ask him to say out loud the word on the card as he goes, but this is also an activity he can do independently. If he works alone, he typically will not say the words out loud and I think he is doing it solely by looking at the letters on the card (as opposed to viewing the image, saying “Apple” in his mind, then thinking “Apple starts with A”, and “This card goes in the A pile”).



For most of our Letter Units (but not all) I have been able to gather items from around the house that start with that letter. One way to use the 3-Part Cards is to match the whole cards with corresponding little toys or items. You can present the basket of items plus a basket of the whole cards and ask your child to find matches. Again, this doesn’t work great for every Letter Unit because I know we have had trouble finding items that start with some letters around our house; I didn’t even have a basket of items for Letter J.


For themed units, it has been great to pair 3-Part Cards with small figurines by Safari LTD. Personally I was not initially excited to buy Safari TOOBs and have lots of tiny plastic toys around my house, but I have seen the value they have in a learning environment. Plus, they really do get a lot of play! My kids love playing with these figurines in sensory bins, with play dough, and even in the bath. I also absolutely love pairing the little toys with real life images. We are not going to encounter a bobcat in real life, so I enjoy when my kids can see what it really looks like in a photo card. These types of 3-Part Card sets that pair with Safari TOOBs are often available for free if you search for them!

9. I SPY


The classic “I Spy” is a perfect game for 3-Part Cards — it’s something I can easily do with both kids participating. I start by laying out all the cards on a table, and we first go through and name each card to make sure they know what they are. Then, I start by saying “I spy with my little eye something … that swims … and it’s orange…” and keep going until one of the kids guesses it, then they get to keep the card. The kids also like to take turns being the “I Spy” person so I let them.



Feed the shark a 3-Part Card! We have a little shark finger puppet from IKEA and I use that for a game similar to I Spy. Basically I describe what the shark is hungry for and the kids have to guess what that item is and feed the shark. This is just a way to add a little variety to the I Spy game.



Harold the Helicopter needs a landing pad. This is a movement game we played for letter H — I placed the cards around the floor (living room, bedroom, down the hallway) and my son had to take turns flying the toy helicopter around and move from “landing pad” to “landing pad” (a different 3-Part Card). He named the landing pad as he went — “Harold is coming in for landing! He’s landing on the hammer!

Movement games & large motor skill activities are SO GREAT to include in our school days — in addition to being fun & playful, they can be an excellent brain break from fine motor skill work or just something that takes a lot of focus.



We play “What’s Missing?” quite a bit with a variety of objects, but I do enjoy doing it with our 3-Part Cards as well. Lay out a few cards (I usually start with 3-5 cards), identify each card, have your child close his or her eyes, remove one card, and then have the child open his or her eyes again and identify which one card is missing. This can be challenging by engaging — a great way to use visual clues for association and identification, and it can be a great confidence builder when they get it right!

Alternatively, you could grow the skills of using visual clues by playing a simple memory game: place a few 3-Part Cards on a tray (start with 3-5 and work up higher), identify each card, then cover the entire tray with a hand towel. Ask your child to recall every card that is there.



Hiding 3-Pard Cards in a sensory bin (rice, lentils, acorns, etc.) provides some added “hunting” fun and sensorial experience to a simple 3-Part Card matching game. I usually do this type of activity with whole cards or picture-only cards. The idea is to find a card in the bin, name it, then find its pair on the table and match it up.



We most recently added a puppet show in to our 3-Part Card games list — it’s a new favorite! My son actually came up with this. We took turns making up silly puppet show stories: a KING used a magic KEY and with the help of a KINGFISHER unlocked a KENNEL to reveal a KANGAROO that promised to be his best friend forever. I don’t have an elaborate puppet show set up — we just flip a small table on its side and hide behind it. My 2 1/2 year old can do this too — her stories are not super elaborate but they are definitely silly! And by using the 3-Part Cards we are inherently working on letter identification, beginning letter sounds, and building vocabulary — not to mention working on storytelling and enhancing our imaginations.



Another matching activity with 3-Part Cards is to match cut up whole cards to a single sheet printout. I laminate both the cards and the sheet in this instance.

I like the whole-sheet method for our work with shapes or themed units in particular, but you could also do this with Letter Unit cards. Just print two copies of the whole cards, cut one and don’t cut the other. Match the cut cards to their spot on the whole sheet, having your child name each card as they go.

Note, these shapes cards exist as a free printable I created to use with our Melissa & Doug wood shape sorter, but it can certainly be used if you don’t have that toy.



Pick a 3-Part Card set and have your child select letters from a moveable alphabet to “write” the word. For a pre-reader this is just letter recognition, and you can also work on letter sounds.



I created some 3-part cards sets of our own and the intention is that the first number of cards would match the illustrated cards provided for free from Simply Learning (to pair with The Peaceful Preschool Letter Units). My son and I play memory with these two sets (a pair is one illustrated card and one photo card), and for my 2 year old she can do simple matching like shown in the picture.


I have several  sets of real photo 3-Part Cards available here — any cards I make for our own learning adventures I will continue to make available there.

I have also compiled a list of my go-to resources for more 3-Part Cards:

Hope that’s helpful! If you want to share activities you do with your 3-Part Cards feel free to comment on this post or send me an email!

9 thoughts on “How We Use 3-Part Cards

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s