Do You Use Flashcards?

I’m sharing some favorites from the archives as I spend some extra time with my family and our new addition!

Flashcards are a common catch-phrase for developmentally inappropriate teaching methods.  Even I use the term that way.  But like many teaching approaches, it is important to separate the objective, the content, and the method.  You might be surprised to find that flashcards may not always be as evil as you thought.

The Objective

Flashcards are often used for enhancing quick recall of information, particularly to match symbols to their meaning.  Recognizing letters and numbers by their names, recalling sight words that have to be learned rather than decoded.  These objectives are not heinous in and of themselves.  Rapid recognition and recall are necessary, and require practice.  (Stick with me here.)

Flashcards are used for recall and recognition.  Review.  That is quite different from teaching.  Concepts that are practiced through flashcards must be taught in another way to build connections and meaning.  Otherwise, the rapid recall is useless.

The Content

Flashcards range in content.  Sight words, colors, numbers  — sure, but as high school and college students we have probably all used flashcards to study Spanish verbs or vocabulary for Anatomy class.  The key is in determining appropriate content for your objective and your audience.  Just as college students don’t generally need to be learning their colors, babies don’t need to review sight words.

The Method

Now here’s where my realization began.  Flashcards are often synonymous with the “drill and kill” method.  But as I’ve mentioned before, the same content can be taught with different methods.  If you’re a proponent of play-based learning, there are ways to incorporate a play approach and learn the same recognition and recall skills in more appropriate ways.

Here are some of the ways you may actually already be using  flashcards (or flashcard information) with a play approach.

  • Bingo:  Cards may match numbers, letters, and pictures in a fun and engaging approach to symbol recognition.  (Here’s an example from Teach Mama.)
  • Card Games:  Remember the card game war?  I loved it as a kid and now I use what is essentially a pack of number flashcards to play it with my kindergartener, who probably doesn’t even realize it’s a great way to incorporate number recognition as well as value comparisons.  We’ve also played “go Fish”, matching upper case to lower case or grouping numbers or letters together.  Uno is another fun card game that kids happily play as a fun alternative to color and number drilling.  (Check out an assortment of card games for young children at Preschool Express.)
  • Dance:  Scatter numbers, letters, or colors on the floor.  Turn on some fun music and dance or march around.  When the music stops, pick up one to identify and place in a basket.  Continue until it’s all picked up.  Hap Palmer’s Marching Around the Alphabet is designed for this activity, but any music will do.
  • Active Games:  Incorporate concepts into fun games like Twister (substitute color cues for other concepts like letters, shapes, numbers, or sight words for older children — “Right foot on a triangle”), arrange terms or concepts across the room and hop from one to the other as you call them out in a hot lava game, or pin cards onto shirts and play red rover calling for numbers, letters, or shapes instead of using the children’s names.  (No Time for Flashcards has a fun game for learning shapes here.)

Though you may despise the kill and drill format typically associated with flashcards (and rightfully so!), there are other methods based in play that can teach the same concepts.  The key is to keep it fun, active, and engaging, and to remember that these activities help with recognition and recall.  The real learning comes from meaning and connections built from experiencing and applying the concepts in real and meaningful ways.

So if your child comes home with a list of concepts to practice or a stack of flashcards to review, try one of these playful ways to incorporate the same practice in a more appropriate, enjoyable, and effective way.

What are some fun twists you put on the flashcard approach?

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5 Comments

Filed under Child Development & DAP, Learning through Play and Experience, Uncategorized

5 Responses to Do You Use Flashcards?

  1. We use them at home fore my emerging reader who needs support with site words. It’s like a game for him and he likes them. This also helps me figure out which words he needs help with. We have additional packages of cards but my daughter (2) likes to look at them and scatter them more than us using them for rapid recall. They have their place as you point out, but parents and educators shouldn’t rely on them.

  2. Julia Reffner

    I love using them for Addition & Subtraction war. Just use playing cards, put face up two at a time and the winner is the person with the highest number.

  3. Karen Pettit

    Put down three cards, say their names, rearrange, say names again, say a name and ask child to point to card, eventually ask child “what is this?” I have done this with my son and he calls it the guessing game. I agree flashcards are harmless educational tools as long as everybody is happy.

  4. You know Amanda, I don’t use them at all really but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. I need to think of some fun games we can use them for because I know I have tons of them stashed away around here somewhere!

  5. Annie Lewis

    As an almost senior going back for early childhood ed, I am a rotten typer but have enjoyed the articles you have on phonemic awareness. I found myself in a volunteer position to work with now 3 and 4 year old children. I have a”tigger” who constantly keeps bouncing and fur others. My teaching time has been lowered for stress purposes,etc. I am taking a literacy course as well as working on my family and”home”. Thanks for the memory words cards and I know that I will be back as my “baby” is fifteen and ha her own challenges. Blessings to you, Annie Lewis

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