Let Me Count the Ways: Index Cards — Don’t Leave Home without Them

by Carol Oseran Starin

Just before Simhat Torah my colleague Rivy Poupko Kletenik burst in on a Monday morning with, “Carol, I’ve got the greatest idea for the class I teach on Shabbat.” Rivy’s great idea inspired this week’s column. Rivy took 54 index cards. On each she wrote the name of one of the parshiyot. Each person in the class was invited to take one of the “parsha cards” and spend a week preparing one of the following: a drash, a poem, song, a teaching, game, cartoon, creative midrash — to find a creative way to express one of the ideas in “their” parashah — and to come prepared to make the presentation on Simhat Torah. Imagine the possibilities!

Index cards! They’re inexpensive, easy to handle, come in various sizes and colors – and have the potential to be the most versatile teaching tool imaginable. Index cards can help you manage time and manage students. Index card become games and flashcards, extend and support learning.

Here are 5 ways to use index cards in your classroom, followed by the ‘granddaddy’ of all ideas.

1. Interactive Bulletin Board

Lynn shared a bulletin board idea she learned from her teacher, Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz (from Original Bulletin Boards On Jewish Themes). You will need two envelopes (or old fashioned library pockets) and a box of colored markers. In one envelope place a stack of 3×5 cards. In the second envelope supply some graphics. Write a question (an open-ended “thought” question that has no one ‘right’ answer) to place at the top of the bulletin board. Students are invited to take an index card, write an answer/response to the question, sign their name, and affix their card on the board under the question. This is a great way to start each day or to build thinking and ideas over time.

2. Games

a. Shira’s class plays “lekh la-dag,” Go Fish, with English, Hebrew or graphics. Each player needs to make “books of 4.”

b. At the conclusion of each class session, students can generate questions about the lesson – one question per card. Amass a collection of questions to keep in a special box or bowl. Toward the end of the year, use the question cards for class customized versions of Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, or Tic Tac Toe.

3. Managing students: grouping students/ attendance/learning names/seating charts.

a. Use index cards to teach students to recognize their – and others’ – Hebrew names. Put the English name on one side of the card and the Hebrew name on the other. For younger children you can put the name on one side and a photo on the other side. Use the card for games, groupings, seating charts, flash cards.

b. Use cards for signals. When a teacher holds up a certain color 3×5 card, it is a signal for: it’s time to be quiet; return to your seat; get ready for music.

c. Use cards to gather information on individual students – especially at the beginning of the year: name, e-mail, favorite movie, sport, book, Jewish holiday, food, etc.

4. Review

a. Sequencing activities: order of the worship service; events in the book of Genesis, events in a story, months of the year, holiday cycle.

b. Timeline. Mike Fixler puts up a giant time line across the room. As students learn about people and events throughout the year, they note the event on an index card, illustrate and elaborate, and pin the card on the line.

c. Vocabulary cards. For self-study, put one Hebrew word on each card. Put a hole in the corner of each card and gather the cards on a binder ring.

d. “Out of season” review. At the end of each session or lesson, ask students to develop a list of questions about the learning – write one question on one card. Use these cards for review throughout the year – a good transition activity – and a good way to review Hanukkah in May.

5. Extending and enriching learning

For a particular topic of study, each student puts one idea on an index card. Cards are randomly arranged on a table, floor, bulletin or white board. The teacher asks the kinds of higher level questions that invite students to make connections between the concepts and ideas on the cards: What is it that connects these ideas? How do these ideas fit together? How can these ideas be put into categories? If we want to use a string to connect the ideas, where do we begin? Where do we go next?

The Big One

Paul Epstein has the ‘granddaddy’ of index card activities. The theory behind this activity is to set up a familiar structure and routine.

Each day as students come into the room, the teacher is standing at the door to greet them. Teacher hands each student an index card – I recommend 4×6 for this use. Students write their name and the date on the card, then head for the “question of the day.” Students write their response to the “question of the day” and keep their card for the rest of the period. During class students use the card to: take notes, write key points, list what’s not clear; write any questions they have. At the end of the period, students use the back of the card to fill in a sentence completion (e.g. My main concern about what’s going on in Israel is ________________.) or to complete an “I learned ________ statement.” (e.g. I learned that Jerusalem _________________.) These kinds of statements go beyond the mere writing down of facts – to demonstrate learning not learning about. This activity offers students an opportunity to express their opinions, create a new image, or demonstrate a new skill. Students can also give feedback about the lesson. Now, here’s what Paul does with the cards. He collects them at the end of the session. He never has to take attendance because he has the dated cards. His roll sheet is accurate. The cards can serve as a set induction or as a transition activity. The cards can become the basis for the narrative on the report card. By saving the cards, what you have is a mini-portfolio. You can actually quote what students have written. This system is also great for substitutes to use. The retuning teacher gets to see what the kids did last week.

Cards can be color-coded by day, class or hour. For example, first hour classes get yellow cards. Second hour classes get green cards.

Thanks to Lynn Shirley, Sharon Morton, Shira Raviv Schwartz, Mike Fixler, Beth Weisberg, Fran Pearlman, Sharon Halper, Michael Raileanu, and Paul Epstein.