Worksheets have a bad reputation these days. They are seen by some as mindless busywork with little focus on real learning. That is the case in some circumstances, but only if the work on the sheet is not serving any purpose other than filling time, or hunting and pecking for facts that don’t really matter. However, if crafted properly, using worksheets does not have to be a bad practice.
It’s not the sheet itself that can be the problem; it’s the tasks we ask students to complete that determine whether the activity is worthwhile.
Sometimes our students do need to learn facts. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, remembering is at the bottom of the pyramid for a reason: it’s the foundation that holds everything else up.
The problem occurs when students spend too much time in the basement of Bloom’s. Yes, it supports the other levels, but good teaching pushes students up the taxonomy where they do more creative and critical thinking. If we want to encourage this kind of thinking, we need to give our kids many opportunities to analyze, evaluate and create.
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Worksheets should require critical thinking
Let me illustrate with some examples from my classroom. We’ve just finished a unit on Macbeth. I wanted students to remember and understand some definitions like pathetic fallacy, comic relief and equivocation. I also wanted them to remember certain poetic techniques that Shakespeare uses. Because these things were important for my students’ understanding of the themes of the play, I wrote some of these notes on the board, and provided other information on a handout. Then, when I gave them work to do later, I didn’t ask them to spew back the definitions, I asked them to apply this knowledge and use it to analyze, evaluate and create.
Here’s a question that I had on a worksheet for the first act of Macbeth:
With this question, students have to know some facts: they need to know what an allusion is as well as what Ross calls Macbeth. To answer it, they need to apply their factual knowledge and then use it to evaluate Shakespeare’s choice. I don’t have them spend time answering questions about facts they already have; instead, they use the facts and use them for higher order thinking.
Here’s Another Example:
The witches greet Macbeth as the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor and king hereafter. What does Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ words tell us about his character? Give a thorough response with specific examples and at least two quotations.
👉🏻 Want a template for planning worksheets with rigour? Click here and I will send you some templates you can use to create some engaging learning experiences for your students – as well as some tips for how to use them.