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. English worksheets are useful teaching tools for students who struggle with learning vocabulary. These printables provide practice and reinforcement, helping learners build confidence and develop skills in a fun and interactive way.

Worksheets are especially helpful for young children, since they allow teachers to focus on specific concepts while giving students plenty of opportunities to practice. Worksheets are also effective at reinforcing key points during lessons, making them ideal for independent study.

There are two types of worksheet available: flashcards and games. Flashcards are typically used to teach vocabulary, while games are usually used to reinforce grammar rules. Both types of worksheets are easy to create, and both can be adapted to meet the needs of different age groups.

Flashcards are created by printing off cards with pictures on each side. Students then match the picture on one side of the card to the corresponding word on the other side. Some flashcard sets include matching activities, allowing students to apply the knowledge learned in class. Games are similar to flashcards, except that instead of matching the pictures, players try to complete puzzles based on the word on the opposite side of the card. There are several online resources that offer flashcard sets for various topics, including math, science, history, and language arts.

These resources are free to download, and they can be easily customized to fit the needs of individual classrooms. For example, if you're teaching a particular topic, you might choose to add additional questions to the set. Or, if you'd like to introduce a game component to your lesson, you could include a scoring system. In addition to flashcards and games, there are also worksheets designed specifically for younger students. These worksheets are meant to be played independently, rather than completed by students. Examples of these worksheets include coloring pages, counting sheets, and matching games.

Some of these worksheets are free to download from sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, while others require payment. However, regardless of whether you purchase them or download them for free, these worksheets are a valuable tool for improving student comprehension and retention.

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


Reasons to be cautious of worksheets

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.

There are a number of reasons why English worksheets might not be suitable when teaching students English. Here are five common ones:

1. Worksheets can seem boring. Students who aren't interested in learning tend to skip over them.

2. Worksheets can be poorly designed and not always clear. When teachers assign worksheets, they usually expect students to complete them. But students rarely remember the instructions or follow directions.

3. Worksheets can become expensive. Many schools buy hundreds of thousands of worksheets each year. Memberships to large publishers that supply them soon financially stack up and the cost of printing them should not be underestimated.

4. Worksheets can become impersonal. Teachers hand out worksheets instead of interacting with students.

5. Worksheets are limited. Most worksheets focus on grammar and vocabulary. They don't offer enough practice in speaking and listening skills.

To avoid these problems, try using other methods to teach students English. Try having students developing their own ideas with different scaffolding mechanisms. Or, create activities that allow students to interact with each other while practicing English.

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.