Adam John Simpson
There are so many things to consider when making our own materials for our classes. The physical appearance of our material is important, as are our instructions. What’s more, we should also think about the importance of context, as well as incorporating learner training into our worksheets. Nevertheless, when I reflect on the success of any materials I make, I can often boil down the process of making a great worksheet to the following two-stage reflection process. Using these guiding questions, I believe you will be able to create a worksheet that does more than simply fill time in class or merely consolidate whatever language point you’ve covered.
1. Start with a clearly stated objective and sticking to it
Ask yourself the question; ‘Do you know what the purpose of your material is?’ If you can accurately and concisely describe the objective that you would like your worksheet to help learners accomplish, you’ve already won half of the battle. This is your logical end point, so knowing this will help your material reach that goal.
For instance, you may want to create a reading worksheet that will help your learners to do one or more of the following:
- Employ various strategies to establish background knowledge
- Distinguish between fact and opinion
- Employ strategies to deal with unfamiliar key vocabulary
- Voice an opinion orally or in written form about a text
Having one or more valid objectives in mind will immediately enable you to focus on how each task on your worksheet is helping to achieve this end goal.
When you’ve made your material, reflect on the finished product by asking this question: ‘does this help learners meet the objective?’ If any task isn’t doing this, consider replacing it or removing it altogether. Remember: reflection is key! A good final step is to physically include the objective on your worksheet, making it clear enough for the learner to be able to understand the purpose of the tasks they’ll complete.
2. Go through the process of learning yourself
One of the best things you can do to reflect on whether or not the material is actually teaching the learner anything is to go through the experience for yourself. Once you’ve planned out your worksheet, or have it ready in draft form, work through it stage by stage and actively explain to yourself what you are being required to do.
As you proceed, write down what it is you are expected to do at each stage, what prior knowledge is necessary to complete each task and how one activity leads on to one another. Describe how and why each aspect is important to the overall explanation of the language point.
For example, when preparing a worksheet on the present perfect tense, you may find yourself asking questions such as these:
- Do I need to have prior knowledge of the third form of the verb (eaten, gone, etc.) to do this?
- Am I focusing on the form or a specific function of the verb tense here?
- Do my learners have equivalents to ‘for’ and ‘since’ in their mother tongue?
It’s surprising how often we can make too many assumptions about prior knowledge, or make huge leaps between individual tasks in terms of cognitive demand. Again, reflection is key!
Remember: your aim is to produce a sequence of questions and experiences that will aid learners to incrementally approach the main objective using the same chain of reasoning that you went through when designing the material. Such issues can easily be avoided if you work through your material and question the learning processes of your worksheet.
Creating your own worksheets can be hard work, yet also very rewarding both for you and your learners. While there are many issues to consider if you want to end up with truly high quality teaching materials, following this two-point plan of reflection will see you right in most situations.
Adam has been living and teaching in Turkey for more than fifteen years, all of that time spent in the tertiary education sector in universities in Istanbul. His interests include descriptive curriculum planning, developing flexibility in lesson design and the considered integration of technology in the language classroom. He is currently a member of the TDSIG committee.
Contribute to the blog
If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?