Using Flashcards in Science Instruction

Patricia H., “Flashcards [Day 31/365]” . November 1,2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.I have recently integrated the use of flashcards into my science instruction and I am energized by their effectiveness and simplicity.  In the past I would have balked at using flashcards due to their implicit “drill and kill” stereotype; however, I am finding that they can be a dynamic part of instruction if used thoughtfully.  In reflecting on how I will implement flashcard use next year, I have come to the following conclusions based on my experience thus far:

Photo by Patricia H.

  • Engage and Explore First – I like that I implemented flashcards AFTER the initial exploration and learning of the material.  Students were engaged in hands-on and inquiry based instruction before being given information to internalize.
  • Set a Limit – I like that I set a limit to the number of flashcards I was going to have my students create.  By setting a limit, I was forced to examine what was most important for my students to know.
  • Include Concepts – The focus of the flashcards is science CONCEPTS.  Vocabulary is secondary.  I expect my students to already know the vocabulary.  Vocabulary is defined inferentially.
  • Be Flexible – Several of my students have suggested changes to either add information to a flashcard or to change wording to increase understanding and as a class, these changes were made.  I think this helped create a sense of ownership and pride over the flashcards they created.
  • Be “Low Tech”– The first step of mastering material on the flashcards comes from creating the flashcards.  Let students write out their own flashcards themselves.   On the other end of the spectrum, it can be beneficial to be “high tech”.  Here are examples of my quizlet science flashcards.  I would only introduce this to students AFTER they created their own personal flashcards AND had opportunity to interact with them.
  • Go Beyond Plain Text – I required, modeled, and encouraged the use of bold print, italics, underlining, color, and pictures on student’s flashcards.
  • Give Time - Giving students time in class to study their flashcards sends the message that their flashcards, as well as studying their flashcards, is IMPORTANT.
  • Accountability – I have my students take “flashcard” quizzes to hold my students accountable for learning the material on the flashcards.

Related Research

Austermuehle D, Kautz T, Sprenzel J. Improving the Knowledge and Application of Vocabulary within Content Areas [e-book]. Online Submission; 2007. Available from: ERIC, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 5, 2010.

  • In “Improving the Knowledge and Application of Vocabulary within Content Areas”, three word building strategies were investigated: 1.) Vocabulary Dictionaries, 2.) Four-Square Strategy, and 3.) Flashcards.

Overall, students showed a growth in vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension…Students at Sites A and C demonstrated more vocabulary growth using the flashcard strategy while students at Site B showed the most growth using the four-square strategy.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Carol Jacobs says:

    I equate typical flash cards to asking children to memorize the telephone book. Try it, it isn’t easy. Instead I try to make my “flash cards” thinking skills, by incorporating associations, relationships, inference, questions, etc. instead of “yes/no” tests. I saw some flash cards with the pictures on the back. Why not have the students identify the picture as their flashcard instead, and then justify why they chose that identification, showing that they know the facts? I also like to use sorting activities with flashcards, how they are alike and how they are different. Using flash cards to memorize facts can torment those children who do not have memorization as a learning style. I also like to show the students their progress by having them make two or three piles of their flash cards, one pile of those they know immediately, one pile of those that they need a little more work with and the third pile of those that they still need to learn more about. It is very reassuring to see the pile of cards they know increase and the pile of what they don’t know that well etting smaller, quite a motivator.

  2. Carol Jacobs says:

    oops! typo! That’s supposed to be “getting” smaller

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