Wednesday, 4 April 2012

In defence of the worksheet

Every single one of my Y9 lessons starts with a literacy worksheet. I make no apologies. I don't do it out of laziness, and can justify this decision for the following reasons:

The behaviour of the group is very challenging.
The routine really helps them to settle. I don't need to give lots of instructions at the start of lessons and that leaves time to sort out all the other issues they might bring to the lesson - and there are plenty of those!

The group has very low self-esteem.
The worksheets are designed so that the students can start the lesson being successful. That doesn't mean they get all the answers right, but it is deliberately pitched so they get high scores. It is also competitive. We have a league where the first three to finish, and make their own corrections, score points. They eagerly discuss the chart on the wall on the way in, out of (and quite often part way through) a lesson.

The end of KS3 targets for my group range from Level 2b to Level 3a.
This means the options for doing extended pieces of writing are somewhat limited. Their basic literacy skills have to be a focus and worksheets are very helpful. Breaking down tasks into simple, manageable chunks has seen the amount they are writing improve considerably and, more importantly, the quality. One thing to focus on at a time really helps. We then try to link the worksheet into the main part of the lesson as our key literacy objective, regardless of what that might be.

I have one hearing impaired student (and several others who can't listen to instructions!).
Having a series of tasks, questions and activities planned and written down means individuals can work at their own pace. Whole class teaching is extremely difficult with this group. It also ensures that instructions and questions are clear, which allows for those who can't (or choose not to) hear.

Several in the group have difficulty with handwriting.
The secondary focus is always handwriting. They have to sit the words on the line. It has made a big difference. They now have a sense of pride in their work that they didn't have in September. They are also able to find their own errors more easily. One student, used to having an LSA write for him, dictated all his answers at the start of the year. Soon, he started to complete every other answer himself. Recently, he did it all himself -what a huge move towards independence for him. I firmly believe the familiarity and security of the routine is largely responsible for this. It is easier to have this secondary focus when they are not putting all their energy into being creative or trying to understand more complex ideas.

The worksheets have built in AfL which allows the students to make their own corrections and targets.
With my worksheets, the word search, crossword, snail puzzle, or secret code is AfL. They have to do the task first and then check their answer with the puzzles. They can only do the puzzle if they get the right answers. Then they can make their own corrections and set targets. This is where I stole the idea from:

They really like them.
I am amazed at how much they like doing these worksheets. I have laminated them and they check the answers with removable marker pens. They have also started 'helping' each other when they have finished. They do find this very difficult to do without telling the answers, but they are learning. And not just the skills on the worksheets.

It seems to me that the method of delivery isn't the problem. It is the content. If a worksheet is poorly designed, has no challenge and is not followed up, then it is a waste of time. The same can be said of powerpoints, questioning, discussion, essay writing, model making and any other method of delivery.

And I'm not just advocating worksheets for SEN groups. I have also found Zigzag publications extremely well written and great for both independent study tasks and generating discussions in lessons at A level. The Hamlet one links specifically to the requirements of the AQA Language and Literature B Specification, which is great as most of the stuff out there seems geared to Literature only. Can't be all bad either as our students ALWAYS out-perform those at similar centres by some considerable margin on this unit. Again, though, worksheets are only part of the varied diet our students receive.

My belief is variety is the key to creating flexible, motivated and successful learners and that includes finding a place in your repertoire for the (challenging / thought- provoking / appropriately targeted) worksheet. If worksheets are all students do that is awful, but if all they do is discuss, write essays, read, or watch videos, that's awful too.


  1. This sounds brilliant! Would you be able to share an example of the worksheet with us? As a PGCE student I'd love to see how they work - I totally agree that the worksheet can have its place : )

  2. If you use the link in the blog and go to Amazon, they show you a couple of pages from the book I got the idea from for the grammar exercises. They don't have my favourite though which is based on multiple choice answers. Instead of an ABCD option for every question, the letters change and the right answers spell out the answer to a riddle or question (if you're being very clever, you can spell out your lesson objective!).

    Also Zigzag publications have a website with books of worksheets for just about everything:

    They are expensive, but well worth persuading a Head of Dept to fork out for a relevant title as they are then photocopiable and last for years.

    Hope that's helpful.

    Best of luck with the PGCE!