Worksheets. They have been around for a long time. I would imagine the first teacher was carrying around large blocks of stone with work etched in it for students. I remember working on worksheets with the blue printed ink (and now they are faded yellow). I mean, look at this beauty:
Apparently at five years old, I was going to be a doctor or a plumber. I’m so glad that I was inspired to go in a different direction. I would not make a good doctor – and plumbing, really? I know nothing about plumbing. Haha. Where did I get that idea?!
Anyway, climbing back up my little rabbit hole, worksheets have been around forever and, for the most part, are unavoidable in the classroom. However, we can try to manage worksheets and prevent worksheet overload!
Preventing Worksheet Overload with Our Students
As I mentioned in my blog post 6 Grading Mistakes You May Be Making, I used to provide an assignment for each subject each day! That was like a gazillion worksheets in a week! Those poor kids. Talk about worksheet overload. They must have been sick of looking at dittos. I know I was. I had to figure out alternatives so I wasn’t always grading and so they weren’t always doing paper and pencil work.
The Worth of Worksheets
When we put our students in “worksheet overload,” they are not as engaged, and (depending on the worksheet) it can become mindless work. Students don’t always learn skills using them, and therefore, they have very little value in education. If they are simply copying answers from a book to complete a question, then it’s busy work, in my opinion. Let me explain. I have repeatedly seen students not completely read the sentence and just skim pages for the answer. They don’t stop and think about the question first. It’s the equivalent of copying the definition of the word from the dictionary – it’s not helping you learn much. They definitely don’t stimulate a lot of critical thinking and creativity. Oftentimes, worksheets are also a “one size fits all” type of thing – unless you have selected multiple worksheets based on the students’ needs. (If you do that, kudos to you! You rock!) And the work it creates for teachers – copying, keeping track of them, avoiding spilling your coffee on them, grading them, keeping track again, passing them back. Ugh.
Now, this is NOT always the case. Worksheets can have its benefits, too. They are great for note-taking, and as I said before, I remember things when I write them down, so surely others do, too. When used correctly, they can be a beneficial review tool and, of course, as an assessment. The point is, there are better tools to help students learn.
Alternative Teaching Tools
Many children today need active and engaging learning environments that are full of discussion. They need hands-on activities and constant kinesthetic learning. We are in an information age and a technological age – we have the ability to avoid worksheet overload for sure.
1.) Research Projects – Bring in those iPads and Chromebooks. Go to the computer lab.
2.) STEM – Investigate science while integrating technology, engineering, and math. This is a great way to get students to develop their critical thinking and creativity. If you aren’t familiar with STEM, then read about the basics in this guest post.
3.) Draw – Instead of giving students a diagram with clip art that they must label, have them draw it and then label it themselves.
4.) Digital Sheets – These can border worksheets, but there are some very creative digitally-created products and resources that engage students without being too much like busy work.
5.) Movement – Create a motion to go with learning a specific topic, such as attract (push hands together) and repel (pull apart), role-playing, skits, reader’s theater, and so on.
6.) Centers – When you do centers, there is often only one sheet that you can tailor a bit more – include higher-order thinking.
7.) Games – Games are a great way to review and reinforce skills. You can also turn a worksheet into a game of Scoot!
8.) Whiteboards – Practice and demonstrate using whiteboards.
9.) Use Visuals – Three-dimensional models, diagrams, video clips, and graphic organizers
10.) Have a Chalk Talk or Gallery Walk – This is where you place large pieces of chart paper either in the groups or around the room, and students respond on them.
11.) Use Authentic Application – This can be done with simulations, real-world problem solving, creating a class store, expo, and so on – depending on the topic.
12.) Use a Workshop Model of some sort – this often doesn’t involve worksheets at all, but sticky notes and a journal notebook.
13.) Make Posters, collages, or some other product.
14.) Have Debates or Literature circles that increase discussion.
15.) Use Choice Boards – these are fun activities that allow the students to make choices on how they want to demonstrate their understanding. Check out my post on Academic Badges. These choice board activities are very engaging!
These are just a few ideas I had off the top of my head. I’m sure if we were to sit down and brainstorm, we could come up with even more. For some activities it may require a little thinking outside of the box, but it can be done. 🙂
By preventing worksheet overload in your classroom, you are freeing yourself from that xerox machine (hey – you can eat lunch in the lounge now!), and you are finding other engaging ways to help your students show mastery of learning. You’re allowing them to use higher-order thinking, to build critical thinking skills, and to develop creativity.
As I said before, worksheets are not void of value; they are just not the curriculum. Sometimes worksheets are unavoidable – and necessary.