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There’s a time and a place for flashcards

Written by: Jessica Curtin, M.Ed.
April 1st, 2015  |  Categories:

flashcardsThere are so many different ways for students to study and learn information effectively, yet if you ask them which one they use most, the majority of students will answer with the same strategy: flashcards.

Yes, those small, square(ish) pieces of paper with questions on one side and answers on the other definitely top the study charts. Unfortunately, many students use them as their ONLY method of studying, which means that they are working harder and less effectively to learn and retain information.

This is not to say that anyone should do away with flashcards – far from it! When used at the right time during the study routine, they are a powerful tool for assessment and practice. The thing is, students need to learn when to use flashcards and why.

So, when should students make and use flashcards? Towards the end of the study routine, after they’ve already read, re-read, and reorganized information into outlines or graphic organizers. (Brain Frames are perfect for this!) These activities are crucial to the study routine, as they require a student to connect with and review the information and (if they reorganize the information into graphic form) create a powerful image of what they are responsible for remembering. Displaying information in a visual format helps the brain retain and later recall it, and that’s the aspect of the study routine that gets skipped when students jump right to flashcards.

Once students have spent time going through those first few study activities, then it’s time to grab a deck of index cards and flashcard away! By posing questions on one side and writing the answers on the other, students create their own self-test, which allows them to judge how effective their studying has been up to that point. If they find themselves unable to answer any of the questions without looking at the back of the card, that’s a sign that they may need to go back to an earlier study point in order to get more information. If they know most but not all of the answers, then the cards can be sorted into those respective piles, and students can focus on the concepts they are having trouble remembering.

Creating and using flashcards after completing other study activities not only gives students another tool to use for reviewing information but also makes for a more strategic and comprehensive study routine. If you want to help students study effectively, then help them put flashcards in their place!