Skip to main content

No need to diss worksheets!

I sometimes pick up from articles and blogs that the word worksheet has a negative connotation. I think I understand why. If a worksheet is a grammar or vocabulary exercise handed out with little context; if it does not involve communicating in the target language; if it is used to keep a class quiet; if it is based on dubious methodology - well, these are all good reasons to be wary of the worksheet.

Good worksheets, on the other hand, are an excellent starting point for multi-skill work involving speaking in pairs or groups, information gap tasks, reading, listening, writing, grammar analysis and vocabulary building - in short, communicating. A worksheet is one resource among many which, if used skilfully, is a vital part of a language teacher's armoury.

I have blogged previously about how to exploit grammar worksheets to maximum effect.

Worksheets with texts and exercises are a super starting point for developing comprehension, practising reading aloud, question-answer, pair work, grammar practice, building vocabulary and general conversation. True, a text displayed on the interactive board is useful in that the teacher can work with it interactively (e.g. using iris and curtain tools, blurring, hiding, highlighting and so on). It is also good for making sure students are all focused to the front and so can be an aid to classroom control. However, a written worksheet allows the students to make their own notes, highlight, underline etc. It may also be clearer to students whose eyesight is not perfect.

A combination of both displayed text/exercise and personal worksheet is a useful combination and is easy to produce in the modern classroom.

My typical approach to a text + exercises sheet was as follows:

1.  Where possible arouse the interest of students for the task with simple questioning, a brief oral presentation in English or French, or showing a short Youtube video.

2.  Read aloud the text (good for listening comprehension input, sound-spelling relation ships, controls the pace of student reading - they shouldn't skim through too fast). With some, less focussed, classes get them to follow the text with their finger. (With weaker classes I would sometimes an instant translation of the entire text into English for their benefit, the aim being to maximise their understanding and maintain their interest for later.)

3.  Get individual students to read aloud (it is noteworthy that the ones who read aloud are often the best at answering questions about the text later). Weaker groups can read short chunks of text, faster classes can read at greater length. Even better get pairs of students to read aloud to each other, possibly assessing each other's performance - a great AfL task.

4.  Exploit the whole panoply of whole class questioning techniques (true/false, QA, giving false answers, aural gap fill, defining words in TL, "Comment dit-on en fran├žais" and so on). Use hands up and some no hands up. Differentiate questioning. Use quick students as models.

5.  Get the class to turn over the text and, as a whole class activity, fill gaps orally from memory. The teacher can adapt this to the speed and memory of the class. Students like this sort of instant memory test.

6.  Do written exercises of various types - matching, true/false/not mentioned, questions, gap fill, jigsaw tasks, giving definitions, simple composition, translation. These may be better left for homework so as to maximise time in class devoted to oral and aural practice.


You will note from the list above that the focus is largely, though not exclusively, on comprehension and target language. I rather like the notion that we should aim for about 90% target language.

A further reason worksheets are popular with teachers is that, although they are are costly in terms of photocopying, they can be adapted closely to the needs of the class and can match the teacher's preferred pedagogy. A text book source often fails in this regard. A former colleague of mine used to hand write all his worksheets to follow on closely from his oral lessons; they were personalised, amusing and pedagogically very sound.

Collections of handouts, in booklet form, "workbooks", are popular with students. They can be personalised, written on and students get a sense of achievement when they work through them.

So let's not vilify worksheets. When well written and used effectively they are an excellent source for target language teaching.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.


Setting work for home study

A major challenge for language teachers just now is selecting and sharing work with students to do at home. Here a few suggestions on the issue to add to your own. The sites I mention are the tip of the iceberg and focus mainly on French. I have stuck to free resources, not subscription sites.

By the way, I'm not getting into the use of tech here, as I have no great expertise on that. In any case, I imagine for younger learners especially it may be a question of setting other types of work.

ADVANCED

For advanced learners the job is not so tough. There is a plethora of listening, reading and grammar material they can use, whether it be from their textbooks, other resources shared electronically or online resources. You may have your favourites, but for a selection for French you can check out my links here and here. You may want to stick with topics on the syllabus, or free up students to read and listen more generally to what interests them.

One idea I used was to ask students to c…

"Ask and move" task

This is a lesson plan using an idea from our book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's a task-based lesson adapted from an idea from Paul Nation and Jonathan Newton. It is aimed at Y10-11 pupils aiming at Higher Tier GCSE, but is easily adaptable to other levels and languages, including A-level. This has been posted as a resource on frenchteacher.net.

This type of lesson plan excites me more than many, because if it runs well, you get a classroom of busy communication when you can step back, monitor and occasionally intervene as students get on with listening, speaking and writing.