Digital Flashcards: Assess with Less Stress

Updated: Jun 16, 2019

I have a love/hate relationship with flashcards. There’s something special about buying a new box of cards: it’s like opening a whole realm of untaught content for students to master. However, I often couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I would spend hours creating flashcards by hand using Sharpies and 3x5” index cards. I meticulously drew circles, squares, triangles, etc. that were identical in every attribute other than shape so students didn’t confuse shape recognition with other variables like color and size. I hand wrote the uppercase and lowercase alphabet to exaggerate the difference between upper and lowercase letters for a student who was working on discriminating between them. I’d proudly take my creations to school, laminate, cut out, hole punch, and then put them on a one-inch binder ring. Viola, I was ready to teach!

Unfortunately my younger students were not always as thrilled as I was. I have had flashcards bitten, crumpled, thrown across the room, and cut with scissors. Physical flashcards are subject to physical damage and loss. Once the card for the letter “p” has been folded and bent, for example, are students learning by attending to the letter “p” or remembering it as the damaged card?

Here’s a quick graphic summarizing the reasons I like and dislike flashcards:

A couple of years ago as I gained proficiency with Google Drive and Google Slides, I suddenly realized I could solve many of the negatives associated with flashcards while retaining the positives.

Six Reasons to Go Digital

  1. Save paper and time. No more printing, laminating, and hole-punching.

  2. Prep only once. All the work involved in initially creating flashcards is permanently saved in Google Drive with no need for later replication. If students still do best with a physical copy, these can be easily printed without any need to recreate: the original is online.

  3. Always guaranteed a complete, undamaged set. It’s frustrating to be in the middle of quizzing students on their alphabet knowledge only to realize belatedly that the letter z has gone missing or that the letter d was destroyed. Online cards are impervious to damage, even if the devices used to display them are not!

  4. Storage location a non-issue. During my first year teaching, I organized what I hoped would be my go-to assessment drawer replete with all necessary test materials like flashcards and manipulatives. The reality was I’d borrow items from the drawer but a student behavior, a staff member’s question, or a whole-class transition would interrupt me and I’d invariably misplace the item. Staff might also borrow a flashcard set as part of their jobs, and I wouldn’t know where to locate it (or vise versa).

  5. Allows for multiple, simultaneous use. Online flashcards means my paraprofessionals and I can (theoretically)l assess four different students using the identical set of flashcards at the same time, thus eliminating friendly competition for limited materials.

  6. Flexible “card” size. The flashcards can be displayed on an iPad, a computer monitor, or on a SMARTboard at the front of the room. It’s a seamless way to vary practice conditions and accommodate students with visual impairments.

© 2019 by Amy Firestone