Friday, June 20, 2014

Task Cards - An Often Overlooked Differentiation Resource In High School

The first time I heard the term "Task Cards" I thought they were index cards that gave students directions for a task.  I wondered why teachers couldn't just tell students the directions verbally...  As time went on, I heard the term more and more but still never saw a concrete example of what they were.  So, I did what all curious people do - I Googled it!  While that gave me some clue, it was still not a definitive reason as to why I should pursue their use in my high school classroom.  I mean, let me be honest here - high school is overrun (like all grade levels are) with standardized testing, CCSS, and forty-seven things you must accomplish every day.  I had no time to add something new. 

Then I looked at my students and saw that something just wasn't working in my day-to-day structure.  So, I started looking for ways to better address student needs and learning levels WITHOUT adding extra work to myself.  Every search kept coming back to Task Cards as a viable solution.  So, I tried them and saw some amazing results.  Students were picking up on concepts that they had struggled with, discussion in class had students participating that I had rarely heard from and most importantly, grades were rising.

So, let's talk about Task Cards!

1)  What is a Task Card?  A task card is a card, piece of paper, piece of card stock (basically whatever works best for you) that features one problem, question or work task. 
Angle Addition Postulate Task Cards

Why only one problem/question?  Simple, it helps the students focus on just one problem, idea or skill at a time without getting overwhelmed thinking "I have 15 problems to complete and I can't even get number one done".  (Task Cards can be created to be four to a page that you then cut apart into individual problems like the ones at the left).

2)  How do you use a task card?  There are so many ways to use a task card.  A few are:
      a)  Pair students with a partner and have them pass the cards from pair to pair every 2 minutes.
       b)  Separate the cards by concepts/difficulty and have students work in small groups depending on
             their abilities.
       c)  Use the cards as part of a larger station activity.
       d)  Have students complete one (or two) as an exit card to test for understanding
       e)  As a warm - up or bellwork assignment
       f)  Laminate a set and post them around the room for students to rotate around.  This is great for those students who need to be up and moving around.

3)  How do task cards allow you to differentiate?  Since task cards feature only one problem you can write the problems to be at individual levels.  For example, when I teach Segment Addition I can use a variety of cards.  I can use some that are just simple adding and subtracting, some that feature algebra in a one or two step equation or some that are a challenge where the problems are multi-step with variables on both sides of the equation. 

Segment Addition Postulate
This is an example of four different levels of task cards that I use when doing the Segment Addition Postulate. It allows me to differentiate by giving students cards that are at their individual level and still assess all student understanding of the same concept!  It has been a real lifesaver!

4)  How do I create a Task Card?  The first step is to decide how many cards you want per page.  I find that four works well since it gives room to create the problem and is neither too big as to waste paper nor too small as to make it hard to read the problem/question.  You want to have a clear idea of the different levels of the concept as well as to how you want to phrase the questions being asked.  I find that laying it out first makes it easier to create them.  Once you have decided on a layout and the different levels of questions, you can start creating.  I will admit, creating task cards is a time-consuming process but once they are created, they are done!  (I find using PowerPoint the best program if your task cards require layering like mine do!)
Angle Relationships

5)  How I best utilize my resources and save myself time?  I recommend printing your task cards on card stock, laminating and then cutting them out.  Unless you really find it necessary for students to be able to write on the cards, there is no reason to recreate the wheel every hour and print them on paper.  Additionally, if you print them on card stock and laminate them, then students can write on the cards using dry erase markers and then "erase" when they are done without damaging the card! 

Coordinate Distance and Midpoint

I always make sure to include an answer sheet with mine for students to hand in when they are done.  This allows me to hold them accountable and again saves on the need to continually reprint the task cards!

All in all, I have yet to find any drawback to using task cards!  I highly recommend trying them out.  If you are a Geometry teacher, like myself, and want to try them before dedicating large pockets of time to creating them, I recommend shopping on TeachersPayTeachers.  I have the four sets illustrated above individually and in a money saving bundle (pictured below) in my store (with many more on the way!) but a search will turn up task cards on many, many topics! 
Beginning Concepts Bundle


  1. Thank you! It is my goal to get word out to secondary educators about the different resources available! :)


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