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5 Amazing Ways to Use Index Cards in the Classroom!

Index Cards Became One of My Biggest Helps

Simple index cards. Who would ever think that this simple tool would become one of my most-used teaching strategies?

If you’ve been teaching for any time at all, you know how easy it is to get caught up in the “new stuff” … new technology, new standards, new administrative requirements. And the list goes on.

In some ways, I’m pretty old-school and traditional. I still use a paper planbook because I just  HAVE to see things laid out that way. I still believe in holding students accountable for their actions. Yet I’m pretty much one of the first ones in our district to try new teaching strategies and new technology.

But the longer I teach, the more ways I find to use index cards in my classroom. And the more I appreciate how much this simple tool helps me and my students.

So here’s a list of 5 ways that I’ve used index cards in my classroom.

1. Use index cards to help with seating charts.

At the beginning of the year, I seat students alphabetically to help me learn their names quickly. And that works for the first couple of weeks. But then as they start to get more comfortable it tends to start getting more noisy since sometimes students end up being placed near their friends. I have tables in my room which I arrange in L-shapes, so it makes it easy to do group work, but also to chat!

So I change my seating charts fairly often. First I chart them out on paper. It takes a surprisingly long time to do this when you have several students that you don’t want seated next to each other … classrooms are only so big!

I used to assign new seats by telling students when they walked into class where their seats were. But often this would lead to “Ugh, I have to sit next to HER?” Because I was standing there apparently they thought it was ok to question my arrangement.

But one time I decided to use my name cards BEFORE class and just place their cards at their new seats.  As I greeted my students in the hall I told them to find their name at their new seat.

What a difference that simple change made! As I entered the room, there were no arguments or rude comments. For some reason, seeing their name cards at their seat made it feel more “official” to them and they just accepted it. I very rarely hear any kind of negativity now when I change my seating.

index cards classroom use

Use different colors for different classes!

2. Use index cards for random responses.

This is probably a well-known use of index cards, but for some reason I didn’t start doing this until well into my career. But what a difference it made!

At the beginning of the school year I write each student’s name on a 3 x 5 index card. I use different colors for each class for quick recognition.

I use these pretty much every day in some way. After I take attendance in each class I quickly pull out the names of absent students. And then I shuffle the remaining cards and just start pulling them when I ask questions. Having their names come up randomly shows that I’m not “picking on” anyone in particular. It also shows that everyone is accountable for the concepts being taught.

When we’re doing group work I walk around with the cards. The kids know that if I just randomly pull a card and that person is on task, they’ll get a Jolly Rancher! Hey, I’m not above bribery if it helps with learning and engagement!

3. Use index cards to set up random groupings.

I do a lot of collaborative groups and station work in my classes. Index cards are invaluable for setting up groups.

If I want to set the groups up myself, the cards are a great visual to have as I do that. It’s easy to move the cards around on my desk as I figure out the groupings.

Sometimes I want the groups to be random. In that case I’ll use the cards in class so the students can see that it’s truly random. For example, if I want to have 5 groups, I pull 5 cards randomly and just set them in a row in front of me. Sometimes I do this under my document camera. (Click here to see other cool ways I use my document camera!) I just continue randomly pulling cards and adding them to each group. It’s almost like setting up a solitaire game!

As crazy as it sounds, when I do random groups this way there’s never any argument or disagreements. The kids accept their groupings a lot better this way.

4. Use index cards as response cards.

Response cards are a great way to see what all of your students are thinking, not just the loud ones.

I have sets of multiple choice and True/False response cards for my classroom. They live in the supply baskets on the student tables. So it’s a very quick thing for me to tell the kids to grab the MC cards and let’s review.

I use these in lots of different ways. Sometimes I’ll project MC questions on my screen and have the kids hold up their answers. Other times students work in groups and I ask the manager to hold up the group answer.

The True/False cards are great to use for class discussion starters. To do this, just make a statement that might be controversial and ask kids to hold up the card that matches their opinion. (Obviously I don’t use topics that might cause issues. Topics that I use are usually bioethical in nature.)

Then I have all the “trues” move to one side of the room and the “falses” to the other side and we have an informal debate.

5. Use blank index cards as exit tickets.

Exit tickets are great formative assessments. Blank index cards are an easy way to do these.

I set the blank cards out for students to pick up as they enter the room. This saves me time near the end of class since I don’t have to pass anything out. In the last 5 minutes or so of class I project the exit question on the screen and simply have the kids answer the question or perform the short task on the cards and turn them in before they leave.

They’re also very quick to look over later to see where the students are in regard to the lesson. I don’t grade these but I do pass them back quickly the next day so that we can discuss the exit question and they can see if they got it right or not.

Do you use index cards in your classroom? If you have some different ways of using them we’d love to hear about them! Comment below!

Happy Teaching!

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