Quizlet for A-Level Teachers: Teaching students to use flashcards

This is the second in a mini-series of posts about using Quizlet in the classroom. If you've never used it before, you might want to skip back to the last post to get a bit of an intro. I explain how to find a 'set' and then edit it to suit whatever you're doing, and also give links to a few sets you might want to start with.

Quizlet's main strength is helping with knowledge recall. Knowledge recall isn't the only type of revision students need to do, but fluency in the content they need to know is essential. It will help them to understand the question, gain marks in the short-answer section and spot links more readily. In Economics, I find that even if students understand the concepts, they can't always articulate them concisely or lose marks because the definitions they write down aren't precise.

Flashcards are a sure-fire way to practise knowledge recall, but, in my experience, students are epically bad at using them. Some students try to fit a whole page on one card with teeny tiny writing and an array of highlighters, never look at them again and then claim flashcards 'don't suit their learning style'. In my opinion, this is akin to claiming you don't like bananas when you've only tried them with the skin on.

Because of this, I spend quite a bit of time making sure students know how to use flashcards effectively. For the first topic or two, I by give them ready-made flashcards to show them what a good one looks like: a targetted question on one side and a clear concise answer on the other.

I then model in detail how to use them. I've used lots of methods over the years, and whilst the Leitner style works best, it's too intimidating for some students. As I result, I now go with this:

Step 1: Pick 10 cards to be your 'pack'

Step 2: If you get it right, put it on the 'done' pile. If you get it wrong, put it back in the pack.

Step 3: Keep going until everything's in the 'done' pile

Step 4: Next session, take the 'done' pile and add five more. This is your new pack.

I set this explicitly as part of their homework over a week or so and always follow up with a test. If a student doesn't do so well, I arrange to see them for 5 minutes at the start or end of a day for a week and to do it together. That normally encourages them to get their act together!

I can hear cries of 'but this is spoon-feeding them!' and I completely agree that this is the case to start with. However, I'd like to think I'm teaching them how to use a spoon. Once I'm confident they can use the flashcards effectively, I then dictate what should be on one side of the card (I just give them the No Gaps question list) and get them to write a concise answer for the other side. Eventually, they are good enough to go off and make their own. By that point, they've seen what a good set of flashcards should look like and generally do a much better job.

If you're wondering who on earth has time to make each student a set of flashcards, here's your answer: Quizlet lets you print flashcards which just need to be folded in half, roughly glued and then cut. I usually spend 10 minutes of a lesson demonstrating this and then allow kids to do their own set.

It's much easier to show you how to print flashcards so here's a quick video:

Once you've printed them, it's pretty easy to turn them into flashcards. (I had yellow paper in my printer, no idea why.)

Once I've got a set of flashcards, I use them for all sorts of things. I'll cover some of these in the last post in this series.