Designing effective worksheets

Guidance to help you produce good worksheets for use on school visits.


Planning

What is the purpose of the worksheet?

It is important to have a clear view of the reasons why you are designing the worksheet.  For example, there may be a particular message you wish to convey, or you may wish pupils to record information which can be interpreted later on. Do not confuse an information sheet with an activity sheet.

It is useful to list what you think the pupils will have achieved when they have completed the worksheet. It also helps pupils to have the purpose clearly explained to them before they start.

Who is the audience?

The design of the worksheet will be greatly influenced by age, ability, and motivation of the pupils. For example, a young child may not be able to read or write more than a few words. Take advice from teachers who will have a better idea of their pupils' abilities.

Remember that paper based recording is only one possible outcome. It can also be oral which may involve the use of recorders, or visual such as a collection of autumnal colours using petals/leaves glued to a piece of card.

What sources of information are available?

If a worksheet is going to involve the pupils, they will need to record information which they can find on site. The emphasis should be on what the site has which is special and cannot be found elsewhere. The worksheet has failed if it can be completed in a classroom or on a coach to/from a farm!

Sources of information include:

  • crops and livestock 
  • where the plants and animals are found 
  • conditions needed for them to live
  • interpretative information 
  • recording devices such as thermometers

 

Preparing the worksheet

The layout and visual quality of a page is very important. A good starting point is to look at examples of worksheets produced by others and think about the design elements which make them work or fail.

The important factors are:

The general layout. Break the text into "bite-sized chunks" which are easier to read while walking about. Use illustrations to separate text blocks. Indenting and framing help to draw pupils' attention so they are more likely to read the information.

The choice of print. A clear type is essential but style and size can be varied to create interest and guide the reader through the text. Bold type is useful to highlight key words. Use a “house style” for all your worksheets

The use of headings.Headlines tell stories fast! They can summarise the main point of a
piece of text and help pupils' understanding as they go on to read more.

Amount of information on a page. Limit the amount of work on one worksheet. The pupils should all be able to finish - if it's too daunting they will give up.

Tasks. Use a variety of tasks and begin with easier ones, as success motivates. Make the tasks as enjoyable as possible.

Quality of illustrations. Good clear line drawings are essential. Photographs are useful, but what will they look like when photocopied?

Quality of reproduction. If your worksheet is good, but the reproduction is poor, then the final
overall effect is poor. Store the master copy in a plastic wallet in a safe place and use the original only to make any future reproductions.

 

Making Content Accessible

Limiting the complexity: Using short sentences and simple words makes text easier to understand.
Limit the number of technical words, and explain their meaning in simple language or provide a task which will do this. Avoid where possible abstract images.

Style of language: Try not to be too formal or official and therefore dull. Use a style which creates a sense of mystery and discovery about your subject and which invites pupils to notice things and explore.

What methods of recording will be used?

  • writing a piece of text
  • completing sentences or filling in gaps
  • recording in tables/charts
  • ticking
  • underlining
  • circling words or pictures
  • matching activities e.g. words
    and pictures
  • labelling drawings
  • making drawings

Evaluation

It is unlikely that your worksheet will be perfect after your first attempt. Remember to find out what the audience using it thinks and then modify the sheet if required.

The type of audience you are aiming at will also influence the level of formality or  informality used in the layout and language. Length of time which the pupils will spend carrying out the task must also be considered.