A cue card is a portable, compact aid that contains a piece of useful frequently used information, such as instructions, reminders, prompts, mnemonics, or definitions. Though typically on 3-inch by 5-inch paper index cards, cue cards can be any portable low tech technology with handy short pieces of information. While similar to a flash card, a cue card has a different intended use: flash cards are for training and repeated exposure during study, whereas cue cards are organizational tools to help students avoid forgetting key information. Cue cards are not topic specific and can be used in basically any subject.
Cue cards can be used as compensation and remediation for memory difficulties, which can in turn help with organization challenges (Codermin and Hedin, 2011). Cue cards provide easily accessible reminders (compensation) as well as repeated exposure to important information when used (remediation).
According to research, using cue cards increases comprehension, aids in remembering, clarifies behavioral expectations, and facilitates higher level cognitive tasks (Codermin and Hedin, 2011; Deshler & Schumaker, 2006). Cue cards also help with self regulation, particularly goal setting and self-monitoring (Mason, Harris, & Graham, 2002). For example, Grade 4-6 students as well as middle school students with learning disabilities have shown better performance than typical students in reading comprehension exercises when using summary skills printed on cue cards (Englert & Mariage, 1991; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992). Another study showed that when students were taught math problems using cue cards with examples and instructions on them they were more successful than when they did not use the cue cards (Joseph & Hunter, 2001). The same study also showed cue cards may not be as helpful for students without learning disabilities, and that they are more useful for students who already have moderate planning abilities. In short, cue cards take a bit of skill to use and require training from educators to yield benefits.
The simplest cue cards have only one column: a single prompt or list. This format is preferable as a reminder when student knowledge is high, but the frequency of a desired behavior is low. For single column cards, information should be as simple as possible (Coldermin & Hedin, 2011). Two and three column cards are better for building associations and knowledge (e.g. matching letters to word sounds). In general the more columns and information on a single card, the more it will be useful for teaching content instead of reminding and prompting.
Codermin and Hedin (2011) performed a literature review of cue card research and compiled a best practice based on studies conducted for how to use cue cards. When designing cue cards, each card should have a title consisting of 3-5 words that describes the task the card is to be used for. If the cue card is providing steps for a task, no more than 7 steps should be put on the cue card. The vocabulary on the card should be targeted to the level of the student, and the card will be more appealing to the student if it is bordered or cut and shaped (e.g. made into a circular disk). For storage, hole-punched cue cards stay more organized than those stored loosely in bags, boxes, folders, and pockets. Finally, it is recommended to write on only one side of the cue card.
Research Rating: Because this data comes from peer reviewed, experimental studies, the findings are robust and rely on very little opinion or general knowledge; however some findings are also interpreted or derived, rather than based on purely experimental studies.
Help organization and academic skills
Students will need to be taught how to use them effectively
Not suitable for extremely disorganized or severely unregulated children
Need to be paired with something else (e.g. a strategy); the cue card itself is a blank slate
There is no product matrix listed for cue cards because there is not enough variability in products and brands to warrant exploring different products. When designing cards, ensure contrasting colors of text to the color of the cue card. Unless the colored cards are used with an organizational scheme, stick to plain white with lines.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Conderman, G., & Hedin, L. (2011). Cue Cards: A Self-Regulatory Strategy for Students With Learning Disabilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(3), 165-173.
Deshler, D., & Schumaker, J. (2006). Teaching adolescents with disabilities: Accessing the general education curriculum. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Joseph, L. M., & Hunter, A. D. (2001). Differential application of a cue card strategy for solving fraction problems: Exploring instructional utility of the cognitive assessment system. Child Study Journal, 31(2), 123–136
Englert, C. S., & Mariage, T. V. (1991). Making students partners in the comprehension process: Organizing the reading “POSSE.” Learning Disability Quarterly, 14, 123–138.
Malone, L. D., & Mastropieri, M. A. (1992). Reading comprehension instruction: Summarization and self-monitoring training for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 58, 270–279.
Mason, L. H., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2002). Every child has a story to tell: Self-regulated strategy development for story writing. Education and Treatment of Children, 25, 496–506.
Written by Francis Wall, Last Revision March 2018