Quizzing Students on Picture Hebrew Flashcards

“Students can’t simply sketch pictures on the vocabulary quizzes that I give them,” one professor said to me after I suggested he assign picture flashcards in his class. He didn’t see how he could measure his students’ knowledge if they learned vocabulary from pictures. However, since adopting this method three years ago, I have had great success quizzing students on our Picture Hebrew Flashcards. 

When I quiz students, I display the pictures and have the students write down the corresponding Hebrew form(s). I explain to students that I am intentionally quizzing them on a very high level of Hebrew knowledge. It’s one thing to see a Hebrew word and produce an English gloss. It’s another to see an English word and pronounce a corresponding Hebrew word. But it’s most impressive to be able to see a picture and describe it in writing with a Hebrew word. If students can internalize and produce all the most frequent Hebrew words, they will be all the more likely to truly read their Hebrew Bible.


Principles for Creating the Quiz

Like most first-year vocabulary lists, Picture Hebrew Flashcards are frequency-based. Since these words occur the most often in the Bible, they need to be in long-term memory. Students should spend as much time reviewing old cards as they do studying new cards. My comprehensive quizzes reflect this principle. Each quiz consists of ten cards: five new and five review.

I used to give quizzes as a timed slideshow in class. Now I put them online. For each picture, I indicate whether I am looking for one or two forms. For example:


Excursis on One or Two Forms

Whether a student writes one or two forms for each word is determined by the card itself. Verb cards have the qatal (perfective) and yiqtol (imperfective) forms on the back. Nouns list the singular and plural forms. Adjectives list the masculine and feminine singular forms. Students write two forms for each of these words.

Sometimes two or three synonyms appear on the same line of a card, separated by a slash.

For flashcard 26, I indicate on the quiz that I expect just one form. A student can choose to write either ל or אל.

Sometimes there are two different words on a card, each with two forms separated by two slashes on the same line.

For flashcard 96, a student can choose either word but needs to write both forms of the same word. That is, either קרב//יקרב or נגשׁ//יגשׁ.

Sometimes a card will illustrate one word and list a related word in smaller font on the back.

For flashcard 24, I indicate that a student should write the two adjective forms, טוב//טובה, not the one verbal form. (Turns out “to be good” only occurs in the yiqtol and vayyiqtol, never in the qatal.)


Principles for Taking the Quiz

Hebrew was originally written as a consonant-only language, and this is the case in Israeli newspapers today. With this principle, I do not require students to add the vowel pointings (niqqud) when they write in Hebrew. For example, students can write סוּס as סוס. There is variation in the Hebrew Bible where a vowel sound may be written as a vowel letter (plene) or full vowel (defective). As long as both forms are attested for a word, a student can represent it either way. For example, the flashcard form of “enemy” is אֹיֵב, but I don’t take off any points if a student writes אויב.

If you decide to take up class time with a quiz, here is how I decided the display time for each slide. At the beginning of the year, students get 45 seconds to write one form for a word, and 60 seconds to write two forms for a word. The quizzes get incrementally faster until it is 30 seconds for one form and 45 seconds for two forms. I never re-display a picture after the quiz is over. Perhaps they could have gotten the word right with more time, but the goal is instant recognition.


Principles for Grading the quiz

Especially because this way of testing vocabulary knowledge is difficult, I give partial credit for almost anything. Personally, I grade each word out of four points, so that I can take off half points or whole points.

I take off half a point if a student doesn’t use a sofit letter, or if a student writes the plene but the plene never occurs. If a student correctly spells the word phonetically but one letter is wrong, I take off one point. Our flashcard audio features an Israeli speaker from the standard dialect with many consonant pairs that sound the same. There are at least six pairs of consonants that can trip up students.

If a student correctly spells a word phonetically, but two or more letters are wrong, I take off two points. I also take off two points if a student correctly writes another word that has a similar picture, or if the words mean something similar. And I take off three points if the spelling is a mess, but I think they would recognize the Hebrew word if shown.


A Final Thought

Since these quizzes are hard, it is important to set students up for success on the first quiz. When they nail the first quiz, they can remain confident as the quizzes get harder. However, if they fail the first quiz, they may think it is impossible as the quizzes get harder.

To end with an example, this last year I taught a college Hebrew course as well as a community-ed class. The classes used different curricula, but I assigned the Picture Hebrew Flashcards for both. The first chapter of vocab in the college textbook assigned 30 words, while for the community-ed class I assigned 5 words for the first quiz and 10 words the following week. The community-ed students consistently got better scores, and enrollment retention was better than in the college class. So, it’s best to start slow with vocabulary assignment and increase the pace gradually.

If you teach first-year Hebrew, we invite you to adopt our Picture Hebrew Flashcards for assigning your vocabulary list. As a gift we will send you the digital flashcard images for use in making your own classroom materials.