Monday, August 6, 2012

Task Cards

"We use task cards all the time. Students would rather do those than a worksheet. Plus, it's great for a quick mini-assessment. I usually use them after teaching the skill for a couple of days. We play Scoot a lot; students will do them in small groups, and sometimes in groups of three they will work on the activity cards."

-5th grade teacher

Are You Using Task Cards with Your Students?

This student is playing "Scoot," a game in which students move from card to card to complete each task.
Before you distribute yet another worksheet, ask yourself: Could I accomplish the same objective with task cards? Task cards are highly motivating and effective teaching tool that can be used across the curriculum. Here are just a few reasons you should consider utilizing this valuable tool:
  • Task cards are motivating for students because there is only one task per card. Imagine that you are a fourth grader struggling with summarizing. Receiving a packet of paragraphs to summarize will likely feel overwhelming. However, if those same paragraphs are placed on task cards, the student need only deal with one paragraph at a time. He or she feels that sense of accomplishment when one is completed before moving on to the next.
  • Task cards can be made to target specific learning objectives. This is great news if your district has adopted the new Common Core Standards. If your students are weak in a specific area, you can make or purchase a set of cards that focuses on the specific skill. This also makes task cards great for test prep!
  • Task cards make differentiation easy. Struggling students can just complete a few cards or complete cards with multiple choice answers. Another option is to allow some students to answer verbally. More able students will enjoy the challenge of open-ended cards and you can also require longer answers. In addition, you can create or purchase sets for different levels.
  • Task cards are versatile. A single set of task cards can be used in a variety of ways; at individually at centers or stations, in pairs or small groups, and even with the whole class. They can be part used as part of your daily routine, as enrichment, with games, or even as homework. Further, they can be used with any age group from kindergarten to adult.
  • Task cards save paper. Copy, cut, and laminate once. Use for years. Instead of copying piles of worksheets, you need only copy a single answer sheet for each student, or better yet, students can answer on notebook paper or individual white boards.
Putting Task Cards into prize globes or plastic eggs is a fun way to draw a random card!

Ways to Use Task Cards

One of the great things about task cards is that they can be used in so many different ways. You can make them a regular part of your day for all students, use them as extra practice for students who are struggling with a specific concept, or use them for enrichment for fast finishers. Here are some ideas.

Individual Use
If you are having one student at a time use a set of cards, you will need a method to keep track of who has completed each set of cards. You could have students keep track of the cards they have completed on individual recording sheets, in your grade book, or on a bulletin board or star chart. You may also want to provide an answer key so that students can check their own work. Here are some ideas for individual task card use:
  • At a center: You can make a center devoted specifically to a certain type of task card, or you can make task cards a part of a math or literacy center. Students could work on the cards during designated center times or when they have extra time.
  • At a station: Some teachers set up literacy or math stations that students rotate through. Task cards could be one or more stations in your rotation.
  • At seats: Students could take task cards to their seats to complete.
  • As homework: Do you have a student that is really struggling with a particular concept? Try sending home a set of task cards that targets that specific skill. Not only does this give the student some extra time to focus on a challenging skill, it also takes away the possible embarrassment the student might feel if he or she had to work on a remedial skill within sight of peers. On the other end of the scale, if you have parents begging for more homework for their gifted child, how about sending home some open-ended cards as enrichment?
  • As Assessment: Task cards don't feel like a test, but there is no reason you can't use them in place of one. Use a whole set or just a few to see if a student really "gets it."

In Pairs or Small Groups

Some task cards lend themselves to partner work or small groups. Here are some ideas:
  • In pairs, students can take turns reading cards to each other and answering. The reader can use the answer key to check his or her partner's answer.
  • In small groups, a leader reads the card and the rest of the group writes their answers on individual white boards, which they keep hidden until the leader says, "Answers Up!" The leader can rotate or stay the same for the whole time.
  • Since the cards do not have to be answered in order, several students could work on the same set at a center, sharing the cards between them.
  • Task cards also work well with games. You can get three free game boards here or use task cards with traditional game boards. Simply require each player to draw and answer a card before taking his or her turn. Using this rule, task cards could be used with Checkers, Jenga, Connect-4, Battleship, Trouble, Don't Break the Ice, and Pick-Up Sticks, just to name a few.
With the Whole Class
Teachers who choose not to use centers can use task cards with the whole class. Here are some ideas:
  • As bell work. Display an open-ended card (such as a journal prompt) on the overhead for students to work on as soon as they walk in.
  • Display a card with your document camera. Students respond on individual white boards or if you are using multiple choice cards, using sign-language for the correct letters. This allows you to easily scan to make sure everyone is responding correctly. Also, kids love using those white boards!
  • Use to play the game Scoot. You can get more details on how to play Scoot here along with a free set of "Mini-Break" cards that you can intersperse with any task card set when you have more students than cards. To play Scoot, distribute a card and a numbered answer sheet to each student. Students place the cards face up on their desks. To start, each student stands behind his or her own desk and answers the question on the card in the appropriate spot on the answer sheet. After a few minutes, the teacher says, "Scoot," at which time each child moves to the next desk and answers the next question. Continue moving until everyone has completed all of the cards. You may need to practice moving through the traffic pattern before playing the game and clipboards for answer sheets are also a nice addition. Another option is to post task cards on the wall in the hall as pictured at the top of this page.
  • Have students draw cards randomly. This would work well for longer answer cards or open-ended cards, such as journal prompts. It could also work well for cards that have good discussion prompts. You could put the cards in prize globes as pictured above. Plastic eggs would also work well. Another option is to roll them up like scrolls or fold them into fours.
  • Integrate task cards into a PowerPoint game such as Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Four types of Task Cards

Types of Task Cards

Task cards come in many flavors and it is important to make sure that you use the set that is right for your grade level, objective, and activity. Of course, there are task cards for different grade levels and subjects, but task cards also vary in format. One thing to consider is the type of answer the card requires. Different answer types lend themselves to different kinds of activities.

Multiple Choice
Multiple choice task cards are probably the easiest to manage. Students can complete them relatively quickly and because the format is similar to many types of standardized tests, they make ideal test prep. Answering is quick and easy since the student needs only to write a letter. If an answer key is available, students can easily self-check. Multiple choice cards are also ideal for using with the whole class, either in a game like Scoot, or by displaying the card with the document camera and having students answer on individual white boards or even with sign-language letters.

Short Answer
The main advantage of short answer task cards is that they are more challenging than multiple choice. One way to differentiate is to have two sets of cards with similar challenges, but have one be short answer for more advanced students. Short answer cards generally take longer to complete since the student must write more than just a letter. Again, if an answer key is provided, students can self-check.

Open-EndedOpen-Ended task cards do not have just one correct answer. There may be a range of acceptable answers or it could be totally open-ended with each student's answer being unique. This type of card allows for more creativity and is often a favorite of students. Writing prompts are an example of open-ended task cards.

Activity Cards
Activity cards don't usually pose a question. Instead, they require the student to complete a task. These cards are not likely to be completed in one sitting. A single card could take several hours to complete. This type of card is ideal for individual use. These Reading Response Activity Cards are and example of this kind of card.
These Inference Task Cards have been printed, cut, and laminated.

Other Considerations


In most cases, you will be printing, cutting, and laminating the task cards yourself. Whether you purchase task cards online or create them yourself, you will want to consider the time and materials that go into making the cards as well as how you intend to use them.
  • The size of the cards: Larger cards are great for younger students and they are easier to keep track of, but smaller cards save paper.
  • How color is used: Some Task Cards have colorful backgrounds. That can make for an appealing set of cards, but can also use up a lot of your printer ink.
  • Overall quality: I have seen task cards that are not aligned properly, task cards with text that runs into the graphics, and even cards with numerous errors. You also want to make sure that any cards you are using with your students are well-laid out and appealing.
  • If you are using a lot of task cards, you may want to invest in your own laminator. You can get a good one for about $30.

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