What are the pros and cons?

In this Teaching Channel video https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/show-your-cards-student-assessment?utm_campaign=digest&utm_medium=email&utm_source=digest , science teacher Steven English uses colored cards to assess students’ understanding of the content he is teaching, i.e. green for “got it,” yellow for “I still have questions,” and red for “I’m lost.” This teacher’s goal is to assess throughout the lesson, so he can quickly identify who still has questions and who is secure with the material and might be able to offer support to another student who needs help.

Have you ever used a similar technique? If so, how has it worked for you? What do you see as the pros and cons of using colored cards to assess learner understanding during a lesson?

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, Assessment CoP


Hi Susan and fellow assessment group members,

Many of my ESL colleagues and I have used answer cards in ESL for quick assessments and for small groups'  "heads together" responses to multiple choice questions or problem solving tasks. The cards are typically different colors but they also have text on them "A,B,C,D, E, "  "1, 2, 3,4,"  Yes, No, Not sure. etc.   In my experience, the Pros for the ESL classroom are that:

1) the cards provide  a non-verbal response tool that is ideal within the early production technique of leveling questions based on the amount of oral production required

2) the cards can "quiet" the dominating student and give all learners a voice

3) the cards help learners demonstrate their higher-level thinking at any level. (E.g. Imagine an image projected showing a boss, having had too much to drink at a wedding, picking up the keys to drive an employee home. (Problem Solving-Little and Greenberg)  Learners hear the scenario and then use A/B/C/D cards to "vote" on the most pressing problem they see. A/B/C/D problem statements are listed on the board. (E.g. A) The boss is drunk and wants to drive.  B) The employee does not want the boss to be angry. C) The employee needs a ride.  D) The employee doesn't want to drive with the boss).)  Learners choose which of the A-D statements and then are provided with yes/no or other multiple choice questions to explore their responses further.

4) They have myriad uses, for example:

  • The cards can be used to check comprehension and recognition of markers or structures during listening activities - for example, learners can hold up Singular, Plural, or Not sure cards when listening for plural markers
  • They can give editing feedback on a sample piece of writing that is being projected. (E.g. No Errors, Content, Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling)  

5) They can be used in small groups for consensus building (think jury voting) during tasks.

6) The cards can be a face saver, if-during an assessment with closed questions- a  learners holds up a card that is not the same as the rest of the class, s/he can choose to change it, but the instructor still gets to see that the original choice.

7) I almost forgot to add that in a large class, seeing the colors come up gives the teacher an easy visual check. (And we know that while choral responses to questions may be good for letting learners wrap their lips around the response, they don't let us  know who has responded and how. )

The cons that I have experienced are that:

1) learners (and teachers in PD settings ;-) ) quickly tire of using the cards if they are used for more than 8 questions, 5 seems to be the "sweet" number. 

2) face saving can still be an issue with open questions or check-ins because learners may not be willing to hold up that confused yellow card.  (Of course, with enough class community building this issue may be infrequent.)

3) cards disappear (I've got a storage system with labeled baggies, but I know one teacher who created sets of cards with all the possible card responses held together with a brad (or you could use a notebook ring) and she handed out and collected them back, year after year. :-))

I'm sure there are other pros and cons, but that's what my end-of-day Wed brain could generate.


Thanks, Jayme, for all the great ideas you shared about the pros and cons of using colored cards during instruction. I really like the idea of using cards for various ways to respond to complex situations. For one additional idea, I can recall seeing a teacher use colored cards at the end of a lesson to determine which students felt confident with a particular skill and who needed more practice.

I have used cards during pronunciation practice, too. Sometimes the cards can be the same color with numbers added when practicing minimal pairs. This addresses the self-consciousness factor, but still gives the teacher immediate information about who needs more practice.

What other ideas can members of our community share?

Best, Susan

Moderator Assessment CoP

Hello, all,

Thank you, Susan, for sharing this teachingchannel.org video.  I'm a huge fan of their videos--so many great ideas for increasing learning and improving teaching.

Jayme has given a comprehensive and clear list of "Pros" and "Cons" of the use of student response cards.  (Thank you, Jayme!)  I won't belabor the point too much.  I will add just a couple of ideas.

Jayme raises the issue--and I think we who watched the video were all thinking about--student authenticity and saving face in holding up their cards. One simple thing I do that can help some students is to encourage them to hold their cards in front of their chests.  For dominators, this can make their quick, decisive answers less immediately attention getting; for shy or unsure students, this can give them a little "cover' which can encourage them to share honestly.  Of course, as Jayme states, community and team building are super important element in building trust to allow for this honesty.

What is great about the color-coding is that the green and red, as we saw in the video, corresponds to "Yes" (go) and "No (stop), too.  And this can be carried over as a visual cue in writing sentences on the board or wherever.  Positive declarative sentences or questions can be written in green; negative sentences or responses can be written in red.  Students can see the contrast more quickly.

Here's to better learning and teaching!