Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flashcards - StudyStack

Flashcards are a very practical way of learning vocabulary, especially in the initial stages of learning a foreign language.

  • There are a host of web sites nowadays, most of them free, to help students keep their own flashcards online.  See for a list of the popular ones.
  • Most of these flashcard sites have some kind of monitoring system.  The classic method developed by Leitner (see for a quick summary of Leitner's spaced repetition system) is often applied.  In this case, students simply review the flashcards, and indicate whether they know the word or not and they then see the word again according to the algorithm that Leitner developed.
  • Other flashcard sites provide games, activities and quizzes that recycle the content from the flashcards to challenge students to test themselves.
I've been a real fan of QUIZLET, but recently a colleague, Sercan Çelik, passed on a link to a different flashcard site,, which I thought I'd try.  It offers a host of fun and motivating games to play with the words you are learning, as well as quizzes.
  • I used the Common English Lexical Framework (see for the research basis for CELF in a CLIL context) as the basis for my stacks, and created a set of words from the CEFR A1 level from the original research data.
  • Here is a link to the 11 sets (each about 100 words) for A1 vocabulary from the Common English Lexical Framework:
  • You can also link to one specific stack, or embed the stack in a web page
  • Try one of the sets out.  
  • First you have to review the words.  
    1. Click on the card to flip it and check to see if you could identify the missing word from the prompt.  
    2. If you can, then you move the card to the CORRECT stack. 
    3. If you couldn't, move the card to the INCORRECT stack. 
    4.  Then pick the next card in the stack, and continue.
  • Once you finish, you review the words in the INCORRECT stack, until you can move them all to the CORRECTly remembered word stack.
  • From here, you can try some of the games and activities below, including the classic hangman and crossword puzzles, to arcade type games.  
  • When you are confident you know all the words, then you can take a QUIZ to check how well you have remembered them.
If you want, you can compare this flashcard site with Quizlet by looking at my QUIZLET stack for the same words: -- here I have the entire set as one stack, and I've included a 'hint' in the prompt (the first letter or two of a word, and how many characters the word has).  But the main difference is the number of activities one has to choose from in StudyStack as compared with Quizlet.

How to use this with students?
  1. I am a fan of Paul Nation, Paul Meara and Michael McCarthy, so I favour a systematic approach to learning the most commonly used words in English.  
    • The Lexitronics Research Group has made available the Common English Lexical Framework on a BY-NC-SA Creative Commons licence, so I am going to build up card stacks of 100 words a stack from the CELF for A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.
  2. I would then give students a schedule for learning the words, and test them in class using the printable matching output throughout the term. This would start from the A1 words and work up through the CEFR levels.
  3. Since the stacks are available in StudyStack (and can even be exported to be used on Smart Phones), I don't have to worry about copying or providing flashcards to the students.  In fact, if they want, they can print the cards on paper and create traditional flashcards for themselves.
  4. Since StudyStack will automatically produce a set of 20 matching questions (at random), all I have to do is click a link to generate a quiz, print it out and copy it to give to students.  I can then monitor their progress in an Excel sheet (after getting them to grade their neighbour's quiz in class for me).
  5. I can choose multiple stacks to work with, so I can generate these quizzes on a cumulative basis as well as on a stack-by-stack basis.  Here is an example of the type of matching quiz you can generate from a stack.  WordSearch puzzles are also printable.

What I like about this tool
  1. Really easy to create cards from pre-existing data.
  2. Students can build their own cards.
  3. Stacks can be protected or open for sharing, so I can let me students copy the lists they want and they can add it to their own stacks, with translations or additional example sentences, definitions, synonyms, etc.  Stacks can also be built collaboratively.
  4. Students can download the stack to their computer or their smart phone, and review the words wherever they are.
  5. Easy to produce simple matching quizzes or wordsearch puzzles to monitor students' progress.
What I'm not so sure about
  1. The CORRECT and INCORRECT flagging at the beginning do not follow a spaced reptition system like Leitner's.  It only works for the one time viewing the card stack.
  2. You can't seem to group your sets in a folder or with a label.  However, you can link to all the sets you create, and if you name your sets logically, you can sort by name and description.  Otherwise, if you want to direct students to particular sets of flashcards, you can have a web page (or a blog post) with the links to individual sets.
  3. If you open your flashcard sets to copying, it is possible for others to change your original cards (or even delete the entire stack.  
    • This can be a good thing if you are building card stacks for students to add their own content, but if you have a fixed set of cards and you don't want any changes, it can be problematic.
    • As a precaution, you can 'download' the flashcard set regularly as a 'back up', and if there is ever a point where you need to 'restore' the flashcard set, you can delete it and then create a replacement set by importing the saved 'back up' data.
  4. Unlike a fully-fledged social vocabulary learning site like, the ability to share set and form groups in not available.  However, considering that most students are not yet comfortable with a social constructivist pedagogy, this is probably not a big negative. 
Any comments or suggestions?


  1. Have you ever tried 'ANKI'? It seems similar. One of my students used ANKI and loved it. You could google it and take a look.

  2. Hi! Thanks for mentioning ANKI. We did try it a couple of years ago, and it has some nice features, such as automatic updating and built-in Leitner spaced-repetition-system. However, the students found it difficult to download, install and use. We created some ANKI stacks (see but in the end we migrated to QUIZLET and STUDYSTACK as options which the students found more palatable. Do you use ANKI with your students?

  3. Flash Cards for Kids MyKidsFlashcards offers educational language teaching flash cards as resources for kids, children, parents and ESL teachers of preschool, kindergarten, primary and secondary education. We offer more than 60+ card sets for language learning of English, Spanish, German, French, Pinyin or Chinese. Our flashcards provide high quality images with easy and clear illustrations. The pictures are easy to understand for all ages. Teachers can use the card sets for kindergarten level up through to high school students.