Why Flashcards Work

When I was in elementary school, my favorite activity was whole-class flashcard races. I already had the longing to become a teacher and couldn’t wait to get my own set of tall, buff-colored flashcards for every math operation. When I had my own classroom, I used flashcards in a less competitive way. My students made their own—not only for math, but also vocabulary and any topic that needed reinforcement. The benefits were clear. On the home front, my daughter learned to put everything she wanted to study on flashcards: history and science terms, French vocabulary, and more. She continued using this simple strategy through college with great success.

So, why does it work?  

Flashcard practice incorporates retrieval, spacing, and interleaving, the three strategies behind the Simple Solutions approach. A plethora of research supports the efficacy of these strategies.

Flashcards are retrieval practice in the purest form. With the item on one side and the answer on the back, the learner must retrieve (get the answer from her brain), and flashcards provide immediate feedback. Retrieval practice strengthens neural pathways, making recall easier the next time. To get the most out of flashcard practice, the learner should say the answer aloud or write it down. Researcher Pooja Agarwal recommends regular shuffling and keeping every card in the deck until it has been correctly retrieved at least three times. Also, spending just a few minutes every day is more effective than one long practice session.

Spacing, or allowing time between learning events, builds long-term retention too. Flashcard users incorporate the spacing strategy when they shuffle and return to a deck after some time has passed since the last practice. Also, studies show more learning happens when students attack the whole deck, instead of making smaller piles. Shuffling through 20 cards, rather than 5, spaces out the time each card is repeated.

Interleaving is mixing up the practice, which is easy to do with flashcards. When practicing math facts, alternate the operations by mixing two, three, or four operations in one deck. Or, combine science and social studies vocabulary in a single deck. Will it be harder? Definitely. But that’s when the learning really takes hold.

Using flashcards can improve your child’s learning outcomes. In addition to workbooks, Summer Solutions provides math and basic sight-word flashcards.

If you’re interested in digital practice, explore Quizlet, Kahoot, Quizizz, or any of the apps recommended here

Download these free math worksheets to see how Simple Solutions combines retrieval practice, spacing, and interleaving. And, order Summer Solutions Math, Original or Common Core, to help your children retain everything they’ve learned so far.

Keep their skills sharp!

 Summer Solutions offers kids the ability to review the skills that they were taught during this school year. That way when they return to school in a few weeks or even next fall, they will be ready to continue right where they left off.

About the author

Pat K

Pat K. is a retired elementary teacher who has found a new career as a writer for Simple Solutions. She holds a Masters Degree and National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist. She enjoys the Cleveland Indians, Ohio State Buckeyes, golf, and learning new things, (which is why she loves working at Simple Solutions)!

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