Death by worksheet
How worksheets can spice up any lesson
As we all know course books can get a bit tedious sometimes, so many teachers resort to the occasional worksheet to liven up their lessons and give students the opportunity to do something different. Students appreciate this approach as it means a break from possibly uninteresting course work.
Basically, worksheets can spice up bland lessons and complement dull and out-of-date course books as well as reinforce language skills. What teachers should avoid, however, is using so many worksheets that even the students get fed up with them.
Most schools around the world (should) provide course books for their students and teaching resources for their teachers. This should be the starting point for any teacher to plan their lessons as most ESL books have a well designed curriculum that teaches students little by little the necessary skills needed to communicate in the language of Shakespeare.
It is a fact, however, that no book is perfect, so teachers need to skip, adapt and complement. This is where worksheets can come in handy.
If you're teaching a class without a proper course book, things are slightly different. If it's a conversation class, using worksheets only can be ideal as you'll have a highly adaptable course that can take into account students' interests in which you can insert relevant and topical subject at the last minute.
You could even let your students decide what they'd like to discuss the next class, a course of action that usually not only leads to more lively lessons, but to better motivated students as well.
However, if you teach a regular class that is supposed to build students' basic skills, using an avalanche of possibly unrelated worksheets without a clear purpose is not such a good idea. Your lessons could easily degrade into a ‘rag bag' approach in which you feature as the magician pulling rabbit after rabbit out of your hat.
Although most of us enjoy magic shows, many students could quickly get bored of predicting what kind of rabbit to expect next. It should also be clear that it is very difficult to follow or teach a structured curriculum using this ‘technique'.
My favourite kinds of worksheets are conversation worksheets, pair and group work, creative writing worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, and ESL board games. The right mix of these makes communication possible, keeps students' attention going and puts some fun into learning.
I think most word searches are virtually useless unless they are picture word searches with no vocabulary given.
If students themselves need to come up with the words that go with the pictures and then find them in the grid, word searches can be great for reinforcing vocabulary. With the ‘traditional' approach, however, I could do word searches in Swahili or Finnish without ever knowing what the words I'm looking for mean.
Another kind of worksheet I don't really like are reading comprehension worksheets, not only because most course books already have plenty of these, but because they don't really improve students' fluency and are usually incredibly boring.
When it comes to making or downloading useful worksheets, it should be clear that content is infinitely more important than the layout and colour of a worksheet. Don't forget however, that students will usually prefer worksheets - and do them with a lot more enthusiasm - that have an eye-catching layout to ones that are plain text.
Bearing this in mind, I think teachers should try to find a middle way, making or downloading worksheets that are both educational and visually pleasing. If you don't want to make worksheets yourself, there are dozens of useful photocopiable resource packs on the market. Alternatively, you can browse the internet and get your supplements there.
Most of my worksheets are available for download on ESLprintables.com However, in order to download, you'll have to register (free) and upload your own original worksheets yourself first. Every time another member downloads your worksheets you get one point that you can use to download other members' worksheets.
Some of my worksheets are also freely available here. Only free (and painless) registration is required before you can start downloading. Enjoy.
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"...any use of worksheets that feeds into some kind of consolidation activity ... is to be welcomed and encouraged..."
Yes... as homework! Not in a bloody classroom.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (24th November 2015)
If you are using work sheets in your classes so that you can stop working for a while and read the paper, then fine, I get it.
If you are using them to seriously entertain and educate then you aren't 'teaching'.
Work sheets are a disgrace. They are just a way to fill time when you either can't be arsed to teach or you really have no other materials to teach from.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (23rd November 2015)
thanks for that: an interesting counterpoint to "Death by PowerPoint", which I immediately thought of.
I agree that "... most word searches are virtually useless unless they are picture word searches with no vocabulary given. If students themselves need to come up with the words that go with the pictures and then find them in the grid, word searches can be great for reinforcing vocabulary."
This is one I have used in the past and can be used with all levels as you can add your own lexical sets and the word search makes itself for you. You can download here - http://www.wordsearchmaker.com/demo.htm
You'll have to download it, but I can give you a password so no problems.
I agree too that you shouldn't get too carried away with making it look like a Picasso although with Asian students' fixation with the way things look on the surface, it's always a good idea to spend a minute or three making it easy on the eye wherever and whenever possibe.
"When it comes to making or downloading useful worksheets, it should be clear that content is infinitely more important than the layout and colour of a worksheet."
Again, any use of worksheets that feeds into some kind of consolidation activity e.g. reinforcing the use of some new vocabulary or leading into a communication activity is to be welcomed and encouraged.
"My favourite kinds of worksheets are conversation worksheets, pair and group work, creative writing worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, and ESL board games. The right mix of these makes communication possible, keeps students' attention going and puts some fun into learning."
By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (31st January 2010)