April 21, 2019

More Classroom Ideas for Old-Fashioned Index Cards

Looking for cheapskate lesson ideas? Love the idea of tried and true materials with major multipurpose potential? When it comes to affordability, index cards are hard to beat. Read on.

They come lined and unlined, colored and plain, small and large, blank on one side and ruled on the other. With all these options, it’s no wonder classroom teachers love to stockpile them. I’ve already addressed their uses for vocabulary study. These ideas provide strategies for using this flexible classroom supply in additional curriculum areas. Ready?

Flash cards.

Math facts, using two separate colors for masculine and feminine words in foreign language study, question and answer memorization and more are all ways to use these old-time cheapies effectively as study tools. If handwritten penmanship isn’t as precise as you’d like for the subject matter you are studying (foreign alphabets, mathematical equations), key the information into a printable table with uniform cell sizes using a basic word processing program. Then print, cut and affix.


These are a great activity to promote communication at all grade levels. Early primary pen pals, high school students writing to famous authors, requesting information and freebies from various programs and communicating with state and national leaders as part of a government study are all ideas where these would come into play. Four inch by six inch index cards are a great size to make your own postcards. I prefer the ones that are blank on both sides. On the back side, have students draw a line down the middle of the card while it is oriented horizontally. Then address as normal on the bottom right portion of the card and attach appropriate postage to the top right corner. Students will write a message appropriate to the assignment on the left side, and you can assign individualized card designs for the front of the student created cards.

Index card art.

Who knew these things were turning into an individualized art medium? I found this set of images from Flickr.Com, as well as one or two others from people who posted personal index card projects. Some ideas that come to mind for classroom use? Playbills for performances at schools for the arts, sketches that look like zoomed in photographs of simple items such as beach balls, sunglasses or flower blooms, abstract or free-form modern art assignments, working in a science-art connection while students are studying tiny life forms or cell anatomy (these would look GREAT as zoom-ins), buddy portraits, self portraits using miniature standing mirrors and charcoal pencils, recreations of famous works in miniature, book jackets for older grade levels reading novels and chapter books and recreations of headline photos and titles from a studied historical event or figure. A tightwad decorating idea for an older classroom would be a bold solid color wall and an arrangement of finished 4 x 6 or 5 x 8 index card projects protected in simple glass and steel clip frames. Think rows and columns like you’d see in a formal art display of repeating items.


There are a number of simple ideas you can use to create puppets from these little nuggets of classroom thrift. Three that come to mind are hinged shadow puppets, decorated craft stick puppets, and a simple 3 x 5 card folded in half with a stick-out dragon tongue and pop up eyes made from the classroom scrap box.

Project summaries or descriptions.

Call me a terror in the teaching trenches, but I seriously think art projects and math assignments are consistently overlooked as opportunities to include written assignment descriptions. When I assign a particular art or math project, I like to have the students write up a brief analysis or description on a small to medium sized index card and attach it somehow to the finished product. Since younger grades have the sentence writing requirements so heavily pushed in the curriculum, this is a great way to work in the skill. No more having them make something up that’s totally unrelated to your current theme, and writing it down on notebook paper. Can you say boring? Working in the sentence or paragraph writing as a project description keeps the writing assignment meaningful and shows them that their artwork is just as valuable as other classroom assignments. Love that.

Assignment modifications.

Trying to provide a successful inclusion experience for students with extra needs? Often their difficulty with completing certain assignments has more to do with being overwhelmed by the empty space of an entire piece of notebook paper. If you are assigning fourth grade persuasive paragraphs for example, why not hand out 4 x 6 or 5 x 8 lined cards to the entire class? That way, the students needing the modification don’t feel singled out since everyone has the same assignment length anyway.

Shorter assignments.

Why waste paper? If you have a project that can be accomplished in less space than a piece of looseleaf provides, assign the work on a medium to large sized index card. The work can be illustrated on the back and hung from the ceiling via twine and paper clips. These also look great on bulletin board displays. Think haiku or acrostic poems.

Interactive time line activities.

For any historic period or event you happen to be studying, assign a sub-event or important date to be written about, dated and illustrated on an index card. Have a horizontal time line with dates only marked off displayed on a classroom wall or above the chalkboard. Distribute student copies of a more detailed time line to discuss as a group. Call on individual students when their respective events come up in the conversation. It will be their turn to attach their card in the correct spot under the time line.

Mix it up.

This is certainly not the definitive list for classroom ideas using index cards. In fact. I found several other ideas of note while poking around for ideas to round out this article. Here’s a tip for introducing classroom rules and procedures at the beginning of the school year, instructions on how to make a jumping origami frog, another idea for custom designing your own classroom checklists and a fun format for working on math concepts that steps outside the box of traditional flash cards.

There you have it, folks. This is my hands down best Lesson Mag effort at providing you with index card strategies for an in-check classroom materials budget. For other ideas on how to use affordable supplies in your learning environment, check out these articles on glue sticks, newspapers, telephone books and file folders.

Photo Credit: Karin Dalziel


  1. [...] to integrate basic math skills for younger grades is to create response cards using large blank index cards with the less than (<) symbol on one side and the greater than (>) symbol on the other.  I [...]

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