Moving Beyond English Worksheets

Paul Main

Moving away from the typical English worksheets and getting creative in the classroom: A new approach to teaching English.

What is an English worksheet?

Downloadable resources like English worksheets saves teachers a lot of time. Without those valuable PDF's and power points educators will be turned into full-time authors which clearly isn't sustainable. There are many popular publishers offering downloadable classroom worksheets, many of these are now produced by classroom teachers. In this article we look at an alternative to using principal grammar worksheets. We recognise they will always have their place but our organisation is interested in enabling children to become better at learning.

Word Building
Being playful with English

Downloadable worksheets can be good at helping children to organise their thinking. Whether they are a simple worksheet or a new interactive tutorial worksheet they can sometimes constrain cognition. Teaching is a fine balance of guiding and delivering classroom learning. As long as this balance is achieved, downloadable resources that can be printed on the spur of the moment will always be important. Using these sorts of tools for drilling could put a child off learning. We are going to provide a different perspective using a metacognitive resource.


An alternative to English Worksheets in Year 5?

Downloadable resources are convenient as they can be filed away and used when returning to that particular topic. Organisations like TES have thousands of resources available for teachers from every phase of learning. But what could be an unhealthy side-effect of this convenience? Good classroom practice shouldn't be led by the resource. Fundamentally, the resource should compliment the learning intention. Whilst downloadable resource packs can save a lot of valuable teacher time they might not always lead to the valuable learning that we want. We have taken a slightly different approach, what we call 'cognition first'. This asks the question 'how exactly do we want our class to think'? The universal thinking framework is a metacognitive taxonomy that enables teachers to design rigourous learning sequences. It is quick to use and provide teachers with opportunities to take their classes learning in different directions. As opposed to traditional English resources that might be available on well-known publishing websites, we give teachers the tools to design their own learning sequences. Combining the framework with the metacognitive toolkit 'Writer's Block' positions children as active classroom thinkers who can go beyond the printable grammar worksheets. Some of the grade based English worksheets have ceilings that children cannot go beyond. This can stifle their creativity and promote 'teaching for the test'. Having a range of resources on your hard drive is convenient but these shouldn't drive the learning. Teaching resources should include 'content neutral' tools that promote deeper thinking. We have seen first-hand how educators creativity can be used to design rich learning experiences using these cognitive tools. 

Moving away from worksheets and being more creative
Moving away from worksheets and being more creative


Parking English Worksheets in Year 2

In year 2 children are well on their way with understanding how to connect sentences together. For many adults, the term 'conjunction' never crops up in everyday conversation. Six and Seven year olds use these connective devices to join thoughts together to add flow and meaning to their writing.

Ditching the English Worksheets

To master English language skills children need to understand the complexity and rules that govern the language. The easiest thing to do if I was teaching conjunctions would be to head over to a teaching website and browse through the thousands of resources available. You will see in the video below how language learning has been turned into an engaging activity. We have many English language teachers using the block building method to help children explore and develop their knowledge of English language conventions. Using the Blocks for the writing of sentences enables pupils to go beyond the task once they have mastered the fundamentals. Kids in school (and out of school) use the colours of the blocks to signify the word classes. Blue could be a verb, red could be an adjective etc. This approach to vocabulary instruction means that 'dry' grammar lessons can be camouflaged in engaging and social activities. Children can develop a strong vocabulary by taking on this metalinguistic approach. That is to say, they use words to describe words and talk about how sentences are formed and extended. Whether you are an English language teacher, a key stage 2  classroom assistant or an early years practitioner we hope that you will find our metacognitive tools a more healthy approach to classroom instruction.

Ready to leave your English Worksheet?

1. Metacognitive Tools enable students to learn at their pace. They allow them to move forward when they feel ready. Teachers don’t need to wait until all the pieces fit together before moving onto the next step.

2. Using these sorts of approaches, students become independent learners rather than passive recipients of information.

3. These tools encourage critical thinking and problem solving.

4. There is no right way to teach using these tools – it depends on what you want from your lesson.

5. Use the blocks to build up a picture of the sentence structure.

6. Build up a 'mental model' of the sentence structures.

7. Build in enough time to practice (and play) with each skill.