Appendix VIII. Flash cards

Flash cards are a popular tool for studying, particularly in vocabulary intensive courses such as geology. Students in introductory geology don’t always have experience using flash cards to study. The purpose of this appendix is to offer those students support, to help them find a place to start if they want to use flash cards as a study tool.

This appendix contains examples of flash cards and similar study resources. It also contains examples of ways students use flash cards to study. This appendix is a work in progress!

I am grateful to students in Geology 108/121 Winter Semester 2019 for sharing examples with me of the ways they use flash cards in their studies, and for exploring flash card ideas with me during office hours. Your input and participate are very helpful in helping me to generate this resource to help all my students with their studying.

-Dr McBeth

What you need to prepare flash cards

There are two options for flash cards: paper flash cards or digital flash cards.


  • Paper flash cards are the classic way to prepare flash cards. They are portable and very versatile.
  • Some ideas for how to use paper flash cards: you can use them to test yourself or a friend, you can shuffle your flash card deck and play word association games with them.
  • You can either print out flash cards on cardstock or paper using a printer, or purchase index cards and write on them yourself. You’ll probably want to get some elastic bands to hold your flash card decks together.
  • For printable flash cards – here is a website where you can prepare printable pdf versions of flashcards to print double-sided, or to prepare foldable flashcards:
  • If you want to write out your own flash cards, index cards are available from most office supply stores and are cheap ($5 or less for 100 cards) (e.g., the USask Bookstore, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Superstore, Staples, Dollorama). Index cards are made of thicker paper than printer paper so they withstand more aggressive study use!


  • Quizlet is a popular on-line tool for preparing flash cards and other study materials, they have both webpage and app interfaces for using their tools.
    • The materials students prepare on quizlet can be shared with others, made publicly available, or kept private if you prefer not to share them with others.
    • Previous geology 121 students have created numerous decks of flash cards on quizlet that you can check out.
    • This resource is free, it has ads but students can pay for an ad-free version if they want to.
    • Note that I have not vetted any of the slide card decks on Quizlet, and some of these decks were generated for sections where other profs taught the course. It is up to you to determine that the information in the decks is correct and relevant to the course you are taking.
  • There are other options that are similar to Quizlet, however some of these charge for access to resources that have questionable value to your learning in this course. Check with me if you think you’ve found something that may be valuable.

Types of flash cards and ways to use them

Simple vocabulary flash cards

  • one side of the flash card has a word, the other side has the definition.
    • you can test yourself using either the definition or the vocab word, for example for a flash card with quartz on one side and 3-D framework silicate on the other:
      • What type of mineral is quartz? It is a 3-D framework silicate mineral.
      • Give an example of a 3-D framework silicate mineral? quartz.
  • Example of simple vocabulary flash cards: Flashcards – Common Minerals.
    • This is a link to a pdf example of some vocab flash cards that you can use to study for this course.
    • These cards each have a common mineral on one side, and its corresponding mineral class on the other side.
    • Print this pdf double-sided, then cut them into individual cards.
    • Check that the correct mineral and mineral class/type are matched up for each card after you’ve cut and printed the flash cards.
  • You can also use either side of simple vocabulary flash cards as a seed for ideas for connecting ideas together and discussing a variety of course topics.
    • E.g., using the word quartz as a seed for discussion:
      • What kind of mineral is quartz? What does its crystal structure look like? what are its properties?
      • What are examples of some kinds of rocks that contain quartz? what other minerals do we find in these rocks?
      • What environments do we find quartz in?
      • What happens to quartz when you weather it?
      • Describe the journey of a grain of quartz from its source rock to deposition in the ocean.

Vocabulary flash cards incorporating images

  • One side of the flash card has a vocabulary word, the other side has an image illustrating that vocab word.
  • Students can use the vocab word as a seed idea to draw related images and diagrams to practice the concept and visualize the concept in association with the word.
  • Students could use the image side of the card as a seed to discuss related concepts.
  • Examples of vocab flash cards with images that students have used in this course:
    • photo of mineral on one side of flash card, name and properties (lustre, cleavage, hardness, etc.) on the other.

Word association using flash cards

  • prepare a deck of flash cards with various vocabulary words on them, and nothing on the other side. Mix them upside down on a table, then pick out a few cards at random. Try to create a sentence that makes a connection (or explains the differences) between the words. For example if the words you select include igneous, quartz, and tephra you could make up a sentence such as:
    • Felsic igneous rocks contain the mineral quartz, and when felsic lava is erupted it generates tephra including ash.

Other advice on preparing flash cards

  • when practising remembering definitions for vocab words, try to word the definitions in your own words. This helps you to test that what you are practising is connecting the vocab word to its meaning, rather than a memorized definition (that you may not truly understand).
  • Try to link definitions to an image in your mind, e.g., vocab word: mafic, definition: igneous rock composition rich in iron and magnesium rich silicate minerals such as pyroxene and olivine, images: pahoehoe, black lava rock.
  • you can use coloured pens to highlight different kinds of information on the flash cards, with this approach you can test many different things at once. For example, on your mineral index cards you could add lustre in a different colour, formation environment in another colour, etc.

Flash card ideas from GEOL 108/121 students

  • lecture cue words on one side, used for reviewing the topic at a glance.
  • use the lecture slides like flash cards, review the slide, then test yourself on what you have retained.
  • Use the visual on the slide to help you remember the concepts and link them to Earth’s examples. e.g., draw a picture of a stratovolcano on one side of the flash card, then have words associated with stratovolcanoes on the other side.
  • something similar to flash cards: a list of terms on a piece of paper, with definitions beside them, with the definitions in a different pen colour from the vocab words. This allows you to selectively not look at the ink colour of the definitions when you look at the vocab word (or vice versa) and then you can test yourself on the definition/vocab word combination.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Physical Geology Workbook Copyright © 2019 by Joyce M. McBeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book