As a secondary teacher, I’ve seen fads come and go. Years ago, I witnessed a math teacher post half-sheets of papers around the hall, and her students would walk, collaborate, and jot down answers in their notebooks. I remember thinking, “that looks fun. What are they doing?” Turns out, she was using a variation of task cards.
I borrowed her idea and made task card activities my own. Now, I consider task cards a staple in my secondary classroom.
I tweak their uses, but no matter the implementation, I see the same benefits. You can create or buy task cards for your secondary students, and hopefully, you witness the following benefits.
Task cards. . .
Encourage student choice and buy-in.
I most often utilize task cards with stations or small groups. A student might not be ready to discuss every prompt on the task cards, but hopefully, they find one that intrigues them.
If a student is dismissive of ideas or questions, prompt them to choose one of the task cards. Framing the activity as choice allows reluctant students to find their strengths.
Allow for differentiation.
Especially with grammar, students need to practice their areas of struggle. I prep task cards in advance and when a student needs a review, I simply hand them a specific bag labeled with “coordinate adjectives” or “verb moods.” That way, students get the practice they need, but other students are not bored with reviewing a concept they’ve mastered.
I’ve also paired students with dissimilar strengths and weaknesses. A student who excels at passive voice but struggles with verb moods will work well with a student who excels at verb moods but struggles with passive voice. The students teach other, sharing tips.
Provide multiple uses.
I often use task cards as bell ringers, but you can implement them in other classroom areas:
- Review before large tests.
- Test prep activities.
- Part of station rotations.
- As a break from class work.
- An alternative assessment.
Sometimes, I spread out task cards and listen to conversations. Doing so provides me wonderful feedback for misconceptions and future activities. Students are in a comfort zone (with their peers), and openly speak. I get authentic feedback.
Support student comprehension.
I support student comprehension with task cards in two ways: cards for specific stories, and generalized literature cards.
Literature such as Animal Farm or The Fault In Our Stars might require extra review so that students are not confused. I’ve read those stories dozens of times, and I can easily regurgitate the plots. I must remind myself that students need opportunities to review and make mistakes, and task cards allow them those chances.
Secondly, I keep literary task cards on hand for spontaneous review or exit tickets. (You can download those cards for free, btw.) If a literature lesson is not shaping up, I’ll take a time-out and distribute those cards. I’ll allow students three minutes to focus on their prompt, and then we will discuss again as a group. If I feel a discussion could be better, I will switch the current activity to generalized task cards.
Reach higher-level thinking.
With task cards, students normally move around to different areas or pass around the cards. This allows the teacher to circulate and conference with students. Not only does this allow individual students to receive direct feedback, but it also allows the teacher to work to higher-level thinking.
Based on student understanding, you might ask:
- What previous concept is similar to this one?
- How did you interpret that _____ (characterization, verb use, sentence structure)? What do you think was the author’s intention?
- What theme do you see developing?
If students are ready for more intense thinking, you might ask:
- How would you assemble the pieces? What are your thoughts of how the author shaped this narrative?
- In what ways would the end result be different if this element (what is mentioned in the task card) was modified?
- Construct a different sentence using this _____ (name any grammar concept).
The task cards probably ask direct questions, but with a few purposefully placed questions, you’ve elevated students’ thoughts on the subject.
I frequently implement task cards into my secondary classroom. These benefits help me to reach and conference with individual students. Plus, my students generally enjoy moving around and working together. With task cards, both students and I win.