R&D guidelines: FLASHCARDS


1) Defining what a flashcard is

Flashcards are two-sided note cards used for testing and improving memory through practiced information retrieval. The best way to think about flashcards is that they represent the links we are trying to encourage during language acquisition. The fundamental link for language is between sense imagery and its corresponding speech symbol.

So the first side of the flashcard represents sense imagery (usually an image) while the other represents the speech symbol (audio, or the text symbols that stand for the speech). (Below: Side A represents the left half of the equation, the sense experience; Side B represents the right half, the linguistic symbol):

Other forms of flashcards are increasingly abstract versions of these two categories. They may include definitions, concepts, stories, or other information that represents either the sense imagery or the speech symbol sides of the flashcard. Fundamentally, however, a good flashcard is one that links these two things by Side A providing sense imagery (an image, a non-linguistic sound, or a prompt that represents a smell or texture or feeling / emotion, or otherwise, the situation or context or story) and Side B providing the linguistic symbol that corresponds to it (by describing it, or being elicited by it).

2) How many flashcards per lesson?

Less is more. There should be no more than 10 flashcards per lesson. Frequent words and important grammar structures should also be repeated / used again in future lessons—that’s okay! It’s good for learners to see things from multiple views, many times, over a long period of time (again and again).

How to choose the vocabulary of the flashcards?

  • Choose frequent vocabulary (that represents the communicative aims of the lesson)
  • It’s best to re-use the same images from the lesson if possible (or one that’s similar enough to trigger a memory of the lesson)
  • It is especially good if the image comes in a memorable context, or within a memorable story or dialog — the more memorable or interesting, the better!
  • Use collocates from the material (which has been edited with an eye towards frequency); or, check the corpus for examples of what words frequently “go together”

3) Types of Flashcards (& examples)

EXAMPLE 1 Side A (sense imagery) Side B (speech symbol)
Basic One of the “5 senses” sensory input (an image; a non-linguistic sound; or an image or sound that represents a texture, taste, or smell) — representing a concrete object, experience, or feeling Audio of the speech symbol
+ optional * multiple sense images (eg an image of an apple + the ‘crunch’ sound of an apple bite) * the text symbol
Example འཐུང་
We see someone drinking (we may imagine or include the prompt, “ཁོ་ག་རེ་བྱེད་ཀྱི་འདུག”?). … which elicits the verb for drinking, “འཐུང་”. (We may imagine or include the full respons: “ཁོ་ཇ་འཐུང་གི་འདུག”).
EXAMPLE 2 Side A (sense imagery) Side B (speech symbol)
Abstract Language that represents an experience, situation, feeling Audio of the speech symbol
+ optional * images or sounds that accompany or illustrate the situation * the text symbol
ལམ་གའི་___་ལ་ཁྱི་གཅིག་འདུག ཟུར་
We see a sentence with a blank for the target word: “ལམ་གའི་___་ལ་ཁྱི་གཅིག་འདུག” … which elicits the target word, “ཟུར་” — or the full sentence version, “ལམ་གའི་ཟུར་ལ་ཁྱི་གཅིག་འདུག .

4) Side B options: Writing a Definition (some more details)

First, think of the concept’s category and its differentia:

  1. Category — what category or class does your concept fit in?

  2. ex: a Zebra fits in the category of “hoofed mammals”

  3. ex: “Baked goods” fit in the category of “things that are baked (in an oven)”

  4. Differentia — what makes your concept different from other things within that same category or class?

  5. ex: a Zebra is like a horse, but it has black and white stripes

  6. ex: “Baked goods” are made of flour (many things can be baked in an oven, but “baked goods” are different b/c they’re flour-based)

There are many ways to differentiate your concepts. Some examples are:

  1. Parts / Wholes
    a. ex: “Yeast” is a key ingredient in many baked goods

  2. Actions
    a. ex: “Yeast” is used to help baked goods, like bread, rise and become airy or fluffy

  3. Synonym (same-word)
    a. ex: “Biscuit” - A British version of an American Cookie.
    b. ex: “Cookie” - An American version of a British biscuit.

  4. Example(s)
    a. ex: “Baked goods” - Breads, cakes, pastries, cookies, biscuits, scones and similar items of food

  5. Characteristics
    a. ex: “Baked goods” are made of flour

Think of what kind of category and differentia are most useful to make the concept clear!

Side A (sense imagery) Side B (speech symbol)
Abstract + Sense imagery (or language that represents an experience, situation, feeling) a definition (further step of abstraction) that represents the speech symbol; provides an example; relates it to parts and wholes; or uses characteristics
Example འབྲོག་པའི་སྡོད་ས།
An image of a nomad’s tent… … is used as an example of one kind of “སྡོད་ས་” (defining by example)
Example ཞོགས་ཇ། ཞོགས་པའི་ཁ་ལག་དང་འཐུང་ཡ་ཡི་མིང་།
Here, “ཞོགས་ཇ་” represent breakfast (it is an abstraction for the sense imagery of actual breakfast experiences) “ཞོགས་ཇ་” is defined by a description of its parts — “breakfast” is made of morning-time food and drinks (morning-time is the differentia and food and drinks is the category)
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