How do I learn this? – Three-sided index cards for

Has a learner ever asked you, ‘How do I learn this?” 

Learners look to us to not only for delivering the course content, but also for advice and strategies on how to learn that content. A number of instructors suggest to their learners that index cards are an excellent choice for learning terms, vocabulary, and processes. Index cards are great since they are cheap, easy to make, and usable anywhere.


Some learners and instructors have discovered that three sided index cards are even better, since they address another learning style by linking terms, definitions, and processes to a visual for better retention. 



How do learners make three-sided cards?

  1. Write a term, vocabulary word, or process on the front of the card (side 1).
  2. Add the name, course, and text page it refers to.
  3. On the top half of the card back (side 2), write the definition or description. Learners can obtain this from their notes, textbook, or glossary, as well as from their fellow learners, or the instructor.
  4. On the bottom half of the card back (side 3), learners create a visual that will remind them of the term, vocabulary, or process.



Instructions for using the cards:

  1. Flash the cards at yourself. Make the front into a question using the words: what is ..., who is ..., where is..., when do I use..., why is ..., or what are the steps …?
  2. Answer the question out loud or on a piece of paper, and also recall the visual.
  3. Turn the card over and check for correctness.
  4. Go through these cards once a week and sort them into two piles—cards you know and will review weekly, and cards you don't know completely. Take a small number of cards (5 to 10) and review them when you are on a break, on the bus, during homework, at lunch, before class, or any time you have a few moments.
  5. Shuffle the cards for a change of order, and do them again.
  6. Redo the cards by looking at the visual and recalling the definition and term.
  7. Pick three cards at a time and explain how those cards are the same and how they are different.


How to make three-sided cards even more effective:

  •        Use coloured cards for different subjects or topics.
  •        Use different colours for key words, emphasis, etc.
  •        Put them up on a wall, mirror, fridge, locker, etc. where you will see them many times a day.
  •        Have your children, partner, or friend flash the cards to you.
  •        Place many cards down on a table and create linkages, mind maps, or webs.



Once they know how to use three-sided cards, learners will have an answer to the question, “How do I learn this?”



*This Terrific Teaching Tips (4T) have been selected from over 120 Tuesday’s Terrific Teaching Tips (4T) which are NorQuest faculty sharing and celebrating best practices and tips with each other on teaching, facilitating, assessing, or one to one work with our learners. (From Jan. 28, 2014)