If you have been following our blog posts last week, you potentially have added three tools to your Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. These include:

Today, we look at activities where index cards can be used during teaching, both in-class and online.

Use of index cards

Using index cards during activities can be a quick and easy way to gain feedback from students about how well they feel they understand a subject. Index cards can be used in a number of ways to foster engagement and cohesion within a group.

Think about colour coding. The traffic light colours red, amber, green can be used. Provide students with these three coloured index cards and insist they bring them to each class. Index cards are light to carry. Small to store. They’re not expensive and can be versatile in their use.

There are other activities which are not colour coding dependent. We’ll touch on these later.

How can I use colour coded index cards?

As a teacher, you can pose a variety questions to gain feedback. However, you need to give instruction to students. For example, show the red card if you don’t understand, the green if you do understand, or the amber if you are unsure of the content.

Why is this important? You can assess the groups level of understanding by a show of cards. As a teacher, you can ascertain whether you need to teach more on a particular topic or if it’s safe to move on to the next topic.

From a student perspective, students are helping with the pace of teaching and learning. Their voice is being heard collectively. This is beneficial for everyone.

Another use of colour coded index cards is around opinion and debate. You might ask do you agree (green), disagree (red) or are unsure (amber) about a statement. This can increase debate. Again, the student responses determine the direction of discussion and learning.

Credit: Board
Credit: Board

There is opportunity to ask quick fire yes (green) / no (red) questions to find commonality among a group. This might be nice as an ice-breaker activity. Keep this light in tone, for example, ask questions like:

  • Do you like football?
  • Have you ever been to (country)?
  • Have you ever done a bungee jump?

This can be a quick way to gain information on what your audience are like as people, thus building rapport. This (as an in-class activity) activity might also help students develop friendships with fellow students of similar interests. Be mindful of having a diverse set of questions to include all participants and encourage engagement but don’t let the task run past a few minutes in length. This can be used frequently.

Moving this activity online

This activity works well in a face-to-face scenario. It can be transferred to online spaces through using polls in live-teaching sessions.

For example, when it comes to understanding a subject, the poll answers might read RED, AMBER and GREEN. Students choose the written colour of how they feel they understand the current topic. This has the added advantage of anonymity among students.

The answers would be amended per poll for the Yes / No questions and for the Agree, Unsure and Disagree responses.

Yes / no results from online poll
Yes / no results from online poll

This will be a little clunky online as you need to provide fresh responses per question for students to answer. The quick fire yes/no questions won’t be as quick. However, advantages include it’s online. In-class and online audiences can complete the activity together. Responses are collated and this information can be further drilled into by the teacher (behind the scenes). By responding, learners are engaged. Everyone has a voice and it’s equally heard.

Can discussions become more interactive?

Instead of using colour coded index cards to signal responses, think about using cards in other ways to encourage questions, etc. If your aim is to have a group discussion, ask students to pose a question/concern or comment about the previous teaching session. This is anonymously written (this is an in-class scenario).

Teachers can review the cards and address their comments to the group. This is beneficial for quieter students in the group who may not raise hands to ask questions or voice concerns in-class.

Questions or comments that are repeated can indicate something you’ve omitted during teaching or a key aspect that needs covered again. This activity allows students to help sculpt your teaching and identify gaps and/or levels of understanding. Students have more control over their learning.

This can be converted to an online activity. Give students access to a shared document before a live-teaching session. This can be linked in through Canvas, email, OneNote or within the live-teaching space (i.e., MS Teams).

Template for class discussion (online)
Template for class discussion (online)

Ask students to list Questions, Comments and Concerns under the relevant headings in the document. This provides opportunity for all students to be heard and to raise questions or concerns about teaching, discussion, other content and the pace of teaching. Again, it’s anonymous.

There’s a word document template attached below. Save this to an online folder and duplicate as required. Share a fresh copy (or link) to each class to gain questions/comments about previous teaching or discussion.

Index cards and content recall

Another use of the index card is to encourage students to visualize concepts. In a classroom scenario, disseminate blank cards and ask students to draw their key learning point(s) from class? One side of the card would be a drawing. The other side, a written explanation of the drawing.

As a content recall tool, it will help students remember content more efficiently and effectively.

Encourage students to share their creations with fellow students. This provides a visual recall tool. If this is a regular task, the cards could be used as flash cards during revision.  

To make this an online activity, ask students to draw the visual concept on paper. Then photograph and upload it to a shared student space. The photo should have an explanation of the visual concept.

To make digital flash cards, students can download Apps such as Anki Flashcards or Quizlet flashcards. Others are available for Android and IOS.

Remember, flash cards are about recalling information. It’s about technique, not Apps. Low tech methods of creating flash cards are drawing or printing them out with an phrase on one side and image/description on the other side.


The simple index card can be used for a variety of teaching activities. Some simple. Others, more involved. How you use index cards during teaching makes it a highly engaging and effective tool for students. Students maintain focus whilst helping review subjects and revision.

Ultimately, this is another tool to be added to your toolkit whether in-class or online. If you use index cards and want to share ideas, please leave comment below. We appreciate your feedback and sharing of ideas and experience.

Next time

On Wednesday, we continue this series and take a look at problem based learning as another tool in the Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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