Flashcard tips.png

This is a contributed post by educator and Quizlet Teacher Ambassador Josh Kurzweil.

I use Quizlet when I am teaching English as a second language, in my teacher training, and for courses of a Master’s Degree program. Whether it is topical vocabulary for an ESL class or concepts related to the Science of Learning, it is critical that the definition section of the cards focus students on key elements of the terms so that they can learn more effectively. In this blog post, I’d like to share some of the techniques I have used for making Quizlet sets that support student learning in a variety of ways.

Tip 1: Make sure your definitions are comprehensible

If students can’t understand the definition of the term you are helping them learn, the card will likely not be of much use to them.

Look at the following two definitions — the first from Merriam-Webster:
Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.36.35 PM.png

The second from the Longman Learner dictionary:
Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.36.44 PM.png

As you can see from the above examples, the learner dictionary is much more comprehensible than the typical Webster definition. In fact, with traditional dictionaries the definition can be more difficult than the actual term! There are a variety of learner dictionaries available for free on the web. (Ex. Longman, Cambridge, Macmillan, etc.) The key feature of these learner dictionaries is that the defining vocabulary is limited to about 2000 words, so the definitions are much easier to understand. In addition, the definitions generally use fairly simple grammar, which can also be a big help for kids and English language learners. That being said, even my graduate students tend to appreciate simple, straightforward definitions.

Tip 2: Provide examples sentences

Another key component of a flashcard, especially for English language learners, is seeing the term in the context of a sentence. When students only see the definition, they don’t learn aspects of the word such as the part of speech or its collocations (i.e. words that frequently go with it). Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 4.16.55 PM.png

In the Quizlet flashcard above, I use a blank to replace the term ‘attention.’ In this way, students can see that ‘attention’ is a noun and often collocates with the word ‘pay.’ As an added little bonus, the Quizlet automated pronunciation calls the blank a blank, so that students can listen to the card and test themselves. Finally, simple example sentences can help students connect the word or concept to the real world a bit more, which can help them visualize and remember the words.

Tip 3: Use parentheses for hints

Another little trick that you can use to help students learn the word is to put hints in parentheses. For example, you can put opposites or related words that can help students avoid confusion:

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 5.41.27 PM.png

Another nice feature of Quizlet’s provided audio is that it skips words in parentheses, so that can help avoid confusion if students are listening.

Tip 4: Create grammar exercises

In addition to vocabulary study, Quizlet can also lend itself nicely to grammar exercises or even standard multiple-choice questions. With their simple two-sided card format, you’re not limited by what type of text you can enter on each side (even if Quizlet refers to the them as the “term” side and the “definition” side). Here are a few examples:

  • This ESL set focuses on using the present perfect and past simple in ‘How long’ questions. In this case, students have to make the follow up question using the correct tense.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.21.51 PM.png

  • This ESL set contrasts the present perfect and past simple for describing change. This set uses a kind of sentence combining to focus on the grammar.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.22.03 PM.png

  • This ESL set focuses on the difference between words like so, such, looks, looks like, etc. and uses parentheses to show the choices.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.22.16 PM.png

  • This ESL set focuses on when to use gerunds and infinitives. By putting the base form of the verb in parentheses, students are prompted to think about the correct form.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.22.28 PM.png

  • You can also create a kind of shorthand to help students drill things like questions, negatives, and affirmative sentences, like in this set.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.22.37 PM.png

  • For this set, I entered standard multiple choice questions from my son’s 8th grade science class.
    Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 2.22.49 PM.png

In the above examples, you can see that there are many types of exercises that you can create that can help students focus on various aspects of grammar. One of the things that I like most about grammar Quizlet sets is that, unlike paper worksheets, students can keep drilling themselves and get the benefits of spaced repetition and the testing effect, which help them really develop mastery.

Final thoughts

I hope that the above ideas and examples stimulate your thinking and get the creative juices flowing. The beauty of Quizlet is that it provides a wonderfully simple interface for students and teachers while also leaving the door open for innovation and little ‘hacks’ to help students learn.

What are other tips or tricks you have for creating cards that help students maximize their learning? Share in the comments below.