Task Cards – a friend to students and teachers

What are Task Cards?

Physically, Task Cards are:

  • like index cards or larger
  • often laminated so re-usable
  • sets of tasks for students to complete.

In practice, they are basically like targeted, reusable worksheets, but with some advantages.

Here’s a sample of a set I’ve made for close reading and enjoyment of Robert Frost’s poetry.  This is one of 72 cards in a set exploring three poems (24 cards / poem).

You can see what the main parts of the card are (click the image to see a larger version):The Parts of a Task Card

Why are the a Friend to Students?

The main advantage of task cards is they act as one-on-one coaching to students. Instead of sitting passively in group discussions, students have a targeted task that supports the learning goal. The fact that cards come in a set makes them even more useful to students – they can choose the task and pace that best matches their current interests and abilities.

Why are the a Friend to Teachers?

First, every teacher (human!) likes to be effective. Knowing that students are getting one-on-one tasks increases your effectiveness. Doesn’t that down time – when some students have completed a task and sit idly waiting for the next – tug at your heart?  Quality Task Cards target a continuum of content, skills or understandings so when one task is completed, there’s the next, ready for learning!

Second, having just mentioned “content, skills or understandings” and “quality,” the best cards go beyond pointing students to retrieve or demonstrate declarative knowledge. Sure this is part of learning, but it’s the foundation, not the pinnacle.  So notice the “Task 1” and the numbers in the lower right corner (1-4).  These illustrate that Task Cards easily support a range of cognitive and even affective learning.  See how the four cards below progress in level of challenge and openness?

Task Cards support levels of learning

Card 1 simply asks students to read the poem. Card 2 prompts an engagement with the content. Card 3 asks students to draw inferences / make an interpretation. Finally, Card 4 moves beyond the surface of the poem into reflection and connection to students’ body of expertise.

Third, the savvy teacher can use such cards in many ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Differentiation: Some students use only cards 1-2 to focus on developing a solid foundation before advancing to cards 3-4. Extension activities in Cards 3-4 can be the main activity for more advanced students.
  • Jigsaw Groups – have students work in groups of 4 (or 8 if they need the additional support of a partner). Students in the group are then responsible for each task before sharing their learning to the group
  • Teachable Moments – If students become stuck on any one card, that’s great formative feedback and tells you that you have an opportunity to do some targeted teaching. You can have students offer their answers to inspire a class discussion or socratic session.  Notice that because the cards are not seeking “right answers,” getting students to share their ideas to the whole class multiplies insights and learning.
  • Sponge, Lesson or Unit – Because the cards come in sets, teachers can choose whether to use a card as a sponge or bell-ringer activity to engage students in learning rather than lose precious time. A whole level or set could serve as a lesson. Or, when the sets target broader and deeper content, use them as a core part of a unit.  For example the set I’ve made on Robert Frost promotes a close reading and analysis of three of his most important poems. That’s a main part of a poetry unit ready and waiting.
  • Personalized Learning – each student can move through a set of cards are her or his pace. This is especially true when Answer Cards are provided as in the Frost set. Click the image below to see a larger version.

Answer Cards

Fourth, did you notice that all this learning required NO ADDITIONAL preparation or grading! What better friend for teachers to have than ready-made and effective learning activities?! Remember that you can then re-use them whenever you like and in any of the above and other ways. The friendship keeps on growing!

Please let me know what you think and suggest other poets for whom you’d like to see such Task Cards made. You can use the comments, email or contact form.

#GettingPoetry 2 – Fiddling & the Genuine

You have to love it when a master of the artform begins one of her poems with this line. Marianne Moore‘s most famous poem, simply entitled Poetry, is a lesson in why poetry matters.

She’s obviously taking issue with the “art” of poetry, the fiddly terms, techniques and devices that poets use – and abandons most of them!:

  • Forget all that rhyme scheme, ABAB, business
  • Skip the scansion looking for iambs, trochees and meter
  • and you won’t even find much in the way of euphony, alliteration, etc.

But you will find a conversational voice, logic and amazing imagery. All to the point of challenging: if you are interested in “the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness” and “the genuine, then you are interested in poetry.”

And bitten by this interest in (life? reality? shared experience?), the irony is that we need to master What poetic devices are and How they are used so we can gain insight into the genuine: Why poets choose their “fiddly techniques” to communicate their vision of the genuine. To our edification, annoyance, sympathy, insight, etc.

You might wonder why I’m fixating on poetry these days. It’s because I’m digging back into my passion for it to create a set of learning activities that can help students (everyone?) to “Get Poetry” as something vibrant, not schoolish or a problem to solve. My goal in the “Getting Poetry” series is:

to help students understand and appreciate poetry so much
they might cry, sigh, smile or memorize!

Designing a New 3Rs Thanksgiving Activity

Introductory Video

As the air grows crisper and most schools in the US anticipate an upcoming holiday, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for a “real, rich and relevant” twist on traditional Thanksgiving lesson plans. This post will share my design process for curriculum development, on the chance it helps some young teachers.

Whenever I design a lesson or activity, I like to see what can be part of the “learning mix.” Obviously the upcoming holiday becomes one part. But by high school, teenagers have been through all the usual Thanksgiving inspired activities, prompting them to count their blessings. This is worthy, but I think something a little different is needed to hook students who can sometimes be justifiably jaded and skeptical. So isn’t it interesting that just as we in the US focus on a holiday about “unity,” the impeachment hearings and all our political and cultural divisions loudly buzz in the background! Great! This creates the “cognitive dissonance” that can lead to student insights and “ah-ha’s!” So there’s a “Big Tick” for “Real.” Now we need “Rich” and “Relevant.”

My biggest motivation is creating those sparks in the minds of learners. A second is the inspiration I receive from what can be found on the Web. These gifts never fail to provide something that can make student learning richer than we can with our traditional resources. Since first exploring the Web in 1994, I’ve never been let down, especially if I look using my adult, big-picture mind and lived experiences to search from a slightly skewed perspective. I encourage you to use the Web for what you can’t get from your traditional resources.

So here was my thought process: a bit of searching turned up all the historical challenges to our Thanksgiving Mythology, and that was interesting, but giving the divisive nature of our times, I wasn’t so interested in getting students to argue and persuade, reflecting seemed a much more fruitful cognitive pursuit. So how to feed this reflection? This is what lead to gathering links on the benefits of gratitude. Choosing an affective element like gratitude clearly brings in our last of the New 3Rs: relevance. Thus we have all the ingredients: a real topic, rich resources and a relevant task for students to engage in: reflection on some aspect of how giving thanks can play out for themselves in these divisive times.

Now with the Real, Rich and Relevant pieces in place, the last step was to figure out the actual learning activity. Experience has taught me that all but the most capable and sophisticated high school writers can use a bit of help to not only engage in the cognitive process of reflection, but to also shape those ideas into an essay. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back the Insight Reflector, one of the original Web-and-Flow activity formats.

Welcome to: “Giving Thanks in Divisive Times, 2019” a new interactive reflective writing activity I’ve just created and posted as a free download. The “Insight Reflector” is a scaffolded writing activity that prompts students to explore related Web sites and to engage in reflective thinking and writing. Here’s a brief walk-though of the activity.


Journalism : Then and Now

Pro – Con – Neutral

  1. Why would people be in favor of this?
  2. Why would people be against it?
  3. What would be a neutral position?

German coastguard

Why is it important to learn a language?

What things can still go wrong in cross cultural communication?


  1. Make a claim about the topic
  2. Identify support for your claim
  3. Ask a question related to your claim