Worksheets are a staple of Junior and Senior High School students’ lives. The kids encounter them frequently. They are an incredibly useful tool that a Foreign Teacher can employ every lesson if they so wish. Some JTEs even insist on worksheets being made.

The first worksheet I ever made was the most pathetic thing ever spat from a Canon. It had a monstrous WordArt title taking up about half the page. It had maybe six very simple sentences, each with the verb replaced by a blank line. Around these two aspects was a thick frame of white nothingness. That was all. That was the keynote to my début into the teaching world.

I’m going to share a few pointers on making worksheets that I’ve picked up over the years in the hopes that they might steer others away from the perilous cliffs of in-class uselessness.

A quick Elementary note.

Worksheets are not so common in Elementary. This is largely because the students haven’t learned to read or write in English yet. However, this doesn’t mean that a simplistic semblance of a worksheet can’t be used. A common example is a bingo sheet. Just a plain piece of paper with a nine by nine grid on it. I used this when practising food names. The children would draw pictures of various foods from a set list into the boxes on the grid and then use this to play bingo.

The main thing to remember when making worksheets for use in Elementary schools is to focus on the visuals. Instead of the writing compositions that are expected at higher levels give students something more tactile to do.

The Whys Whats and Wheres

Why make a worksheet in the first place? What’s the benefit of it? And where can one find such a mysterious beast?

Getting students speaking English is a wonderful thing and having them speak for the entire length of a lesson is an amazing achievement. But, how do they know what to say? Writing on the board is time consuming and they can’t possibly remember all of the vocabulary and sentence structures a teacher may throw out. A worksheet is an aid. It gives them the support they need go beyond being passive users of the language and into the realm of active use.

  • Why make a worksheet in the first place? Because it gives the students a workspace that guides and supports them.

The purpose of the Foreign Teacher’s lesson is usually not to go over the contents of the textbook, it’s to bring the contents into the real world and make it relevant. However, when it comes to exam time most of the questions will stem from the textbook material. So students will be looking to revise from that. With a worksheet a teacher’s lesson can be tied directly to the textbook and thus it becomes an extension of the available revision material.

  • What’s the benefit of it? It can be an invaluable revision tool for those all-important exams.

Obviously the contents of a worksheet are defined by the lesson’s topic. Once the topic has been decided the worksheet needs to be pulled out of somewhere. The Internet is the most common container for such a thing, and indeed there are many worksheets available on-line. Just be aware that whoever made those worksheets has never met your students. How do they know what kind of worksheet works with your students? Only you can make a worksheet for your classroom. Sure, one can get ideas and help from co-workers or Internet sources but at the end of the day the best results will be those pulled from one’s own brain-hole.

  • Where can they be found? Mostly, they’re in your own noggin.

The Construction Phase

When it comes to the overall structure of a worksheet there are a few basic essentials that I believe they should all contain:

1. Header. In Japanese schools the students are trained to fill out the top of each worksheet with their name, number (each student is assigned a number) and their class as soon as the sheet lands on their desk. It’s good practice for Foreign Teachers to give them space for this information too. It lends a sense of importance to the paper, plus by writing their names down students will think there is a possibility that the sheets will be collected and checked later. Some people also leave a space for the date, which can help with organisation.

Header

2. Goal. It’s always a good idea to give the class a goal to shoot for. It can be pretty simple, something like “You can interview your classmates” or “You can read about Kenyans” or “You can use a coaster properly”. Then at the end of the lesson you can congratulate the students on having completed reached their goal. Actually I think that now the Ministry of Education requires teachers to make a goal for the day.

Goal

3. Title. A title is a perfect way to highlight the topic and/or link the worksheet to the corresponding textbook section (if any).

It could also just be the theme of the lesson. So in this case I could have used "Making Worksheets".
It could also just be the theme of the lesson. So in this case I could have used “Making Worksheets”.

4. Sections. After all that stuff comes the real meat of the worksheet, the activities. A well-constructed, well-formated worksheet helps students to both read and understand the sheet. Having well-defined sections means that you can easily refer to parts of the worksheet and students will be able to follow.

Best to keep section names simple too.
Best to keep section names simple too.

Simple Section Simon

Simple Section Simon says “Keep it simple, yo!” As an example let’s say you’ve made a writing section where students have to write missing words into gaps in a number of sentences. You could write an instruction such as this:

Here are some sentences. Read each sentence then think of the missing words and write them in the spaces provided.

But first, ask yourself these questions: What essential information does this mini-paragraph contain? How does the detail it contains help the students? Is it any better then simply:

Write in the gaps.

Simplicity and clarity are worthy targets to aim for.

As well as simple instructions it’s imperative to include an example for every activity.

Example

Sometimes even instructions and examples are not enough to foster understanding so it’s very important, especially with new or rarely-used activities, to go through an example or two together with the class. This stage can range from simply writing up an example sentence on the board to doing a couple of practice runs of an Interview activity with a student volunteer.

By using these three pincers of the genetically-altered language crab a teacher steps closer toward the goal of all students knowing what to do.

Making Worksheets – Fonts ‘n’ Other Fluff

When choosing a font for a worksheet it’s necessary to consider readability. So the curly Serif fonts are not really any good. Also think about whether a font looks too condensed or stretched out.

Readability

I think a good looking worksheet can contain a fun font here or there plus one or two pictures. I know people who are totally against putting pictures on their worksheets for decoration. They only approve if the picture is somehow part of an activity. I partly agree with this and a large portion of my worksheets are picture free, but sometimes I just find something I want to share.

I think I used this in a lesson on present continuous tense.
I think I used this in a lesson on present continuous tense. (I got this via Google by the way.)

I suppose my underlying advice is this: Priority should be give to making worksheets functional and accessible before sprinkling them with glitter. Substance over appearance.

What golden rules do you adhere to when making a worksheet? Have my opinions been of use? If not, why not? Share with us in the comments.

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