Phil Wade - Why make worksheets?

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When I did the CELTA TEFL course, it was standard practice to adapt the coursebook.

This was in the days before Edtech when we frequently used photocopiers and made worksheets by cutting up and sticking bits of paper together, and often our hands. Then when I got my first job, my heavy schedule and a 70% coursebook rule meant my creative worksheet hobby made way for extra coursebook resources like workbooks and test books. Once I’d used the same coursebooks a few times and got to grips with the content, I rediscovered my interest in making worksheets to not just complement the coursebooks but to sometimes replace them and even enhance the content. With the wealth of freely available worksheets available online, the modern teacher is spoiled for choice but as easy as printing and copying worksheets is, it is very beneficial for your students and for you as a teacher if you get your hands literally or digitally dirty with worksheet creation wherever possible. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. It is very easy to become dependant on a coursebook to the point that the book ends up being the course and not just a resource. I don’t know any book that meets a course’s objectives 100%. This kind of teaching can lead to coursebook dependance and trying to squeeze all 10+ units of a coursebook into your class time, sometimes at the expensive of not covering important objectives.
  2. Your students and you will become tired of doing the same kind of coursebook-led lessons every lesson, particularly if you teach daily. This is made more challenging by students who repeat a course and for us teachers who teach the same course over years. Many of us know the ‘mid-course blues’ so spicing up a course with weekly worksheets is a great way to avoid this.
  3. No coursebook is perfect. They generally use a specific methodology and are created to appeal to a market and a type of learner and teacher. If you teach more than 1 student, you’ll already have a mixed class of personalities and not every student will be a perfect match for your book. Worksheets are a way to widen your net to appeal to everyone’s personality and requirements.
  4. Students always appreciate the work you put into your lessons so when you present a worksheet you have sweated over and made just for them, they will respond in a positive way, especially if it is about something they need, want to work on or just something they are interested in.
  5. Worksheets allow you to plug the gaps of the coursebook and for some that is often intensive or extended writing or speaking work. In this way, 1 or 2 worksheets a week will actually improve your course and allow students to expand on what they’ve learned from the book and for you to provide more focus on their weaknesses.
  6. Books and any media dates quickly. Even after a year, the news stories or ‘cool’ topics in your coursebook may be out-of-date, particularly for young teens who are always on the ball regarding trends. To avoid looking out of touch, a fun worksheet of a more topical issue will help add a ‘then and now’ aspect to the text or book listening.
  7. Worksheets quite literally can be anything. Whereas a book page might be cramped with instructions, questions, texts, language boxes and pictures, you can make a very simple worksheet with a ‘Minimax’ approach of minimum input but maximum output that can also avoid the ‘students reading the task information instead of listening to your explanation’. You can very quickly make an attractive worksheet of just a few pictures, drawings, news headlines, important phrases or an email header.
  8. Worksheets give students freedom. For instance, some students like to doodle, others make notes and plans, use colours, highlight or write in pencil and rub it out. You can embrace this by adding an element of drawing, note-taking, colouring etc and so combining different skills.
  9. Students tend to be possessive over their coursebooks as they are a big investment and contain all their work. In contrast, a worksheet is just a piece of paper that they can work on with others, exchange, stick on the wall or even hand in for marking. It’s also much easier for students to move around the class or outside of it with a single piece of paper.
  10. The more worksheets you develop, use and reflect on, the more you will understand your students, their abilities, preferences and what really works in your class. With good feedback, your worksheets will get better every single time and create a channel of conversation between you and the students. Encourage them to make suggestions for future worksheets and even try to make their own.

Good luck with your worksheet adventures!

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