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Concept Cards


Concept cards help students learn vocabulary words. They are similar to flash cards, but result in students learning more than just definitions. Concept cards encourage students to look at words in context, study the connotations of words, and use the words in their own sentences.


Concept cards help students learn both general and technical vocabulary that they encounter in their readings. They encourage students to interact with new words. This results in greater retention of the words’ meanings, as well as an enhanced ability to use the words correctly in writing.

How to Use Concept Cards

  1. Identify words for concept cards. This can be done in a number of ways: The teacher may choose to identify words from a text for which students will make concept cards. Students can identify new words as they read for which they will make concept cards. (The teacher may want to indicate a minimum number of words for students to identify.)The teacher can choose some words that he or she feels are particularly important, and then allow students to identify some of their own as they read.
  2. Write the word and the sentence from the text that introduces the word on the same side of an index card. Students do this as they read. When they encounter a word for which they will make a concept card, they stop, write down the word and sentence on an index card, and then continue reading. (If the teacher has identified words for students, the words should be given to students in the order in which they will appear in the text. Also helpful would be if the teacher indicated on which page in the text the students will encounter the words.)

Complete the concept cards. After students have finished reading, they add the following information to the front of the concept card (where they have written the word and sentence from the text): Superordinate Idea (or large idea): This goes on the same side of the index card as the word and sentence from the text. The superordinate idea chosen for a particular word should help the student classify or identify the word. Students add the following information to the back of the concept card where appropriate:

  • Definitions: Students first write their own definitions, based on their understanding of the word in context. They then check their definition by looking in a dictionary. If they feel that a change needs to be made to their definition based on the dictionary definition, they should make that change.
  • Characteristics or features: If appropriate, students write down a short list of characteristics for the words. Students might write synonyms and antonyms of a word, adjectives that describe a word, ideas associated with a word, etc.
  • Examples from the text and/or personal experiences: If appropriate, students provide examples of the words on their concept cards. These can be in written or pictorial form.
  • Personal sentences: Students write sentences using the words.