We Don’t Need To Use Them, Even If They’re There!

This morning, I saw a tweet from HJ DeWaard: a teacher that I love learning with and from on Twitter.


The moment I read the blog post, I knew what I would be writing about tonight. The truth is, in some regards, I think that the author, Beth K. Johnson, is right.

  • Worksheets do populate the web. 
  • They are used regularly: by many teachers, in many different classrooms, for many different reasons. 
  • I’ve worked in six schools before — most with large amounts of access to technology — and I still think, in many ways, worksheets have trumped technology use at most, if not all, of the schools. I know because I’ve been that teacher. I’ve probably killed a large forest with all of the worksheets that I’ve photocopied over the years … and all with the best of intentions. 
  • Often teachers do use technology for different purposes than worksheets: one is for reviewing facts, and one is for applying learning. This is seen as a balanced approach. 

What’s the problem then? I think my day today says it all. Our school is working on developing phonemic awareness skills in our youngest learners to help with their reading skills. There are lots of worksheet options for phonemic awareness. There are also lots of games/activities from wonderful programs that help with developing these skills. I haven’t used the worksheet options, but I have used the games/activities, and maybe they’re not much different. But then today happened

Some of my students are working on reading nonsense words. At a meeting the other day, one suggestion for developing this skill was to play with silly rhymes aloud in class. I decided to give this a try. As we were substituting sounds in some oral rhymes (e.g., Start with mat, now instead of an “m” say a “z.” What’s the word? Zat.), I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Seuss. His books are full of nonsense rhymes. A conversation after school with our LLI teacher had me putting out There’s A Wocket In My Pocket, as a provocation for creating silly rhymes … and hopefully, sentences and stories. Students loved this! They were making silly rhymes on the iPad, on the SMART Board, and on tons of different paper options. A few students were even writing and reading some rhyming stories (some of which contained and some of which did not contain nonsense words). 

Then one group of students that were playing with lots of silly rhymes (seen in the first video below), saw a few students working with the alphabet on the floor, and they decided that they were going to write The Alphabet Song. They started with a letter other than “A” though. That’s when I suggested that they write their own Alphabet Song. These students tried a couple of different options. The best part is hearing the corrections that they make to the song and why. These students understand rhyming, and while they’re not making silly rhymes at the time, they’re thinking about how rhyming works and making this learning meaningfulNext week, I can start my own Silly Rhyming Song, and see where this provocation takes this group. 

Now, let’s move forward a bit in our day until just after the nutrition break. It was time for a transition, so why not play a quick game to help with this? My students love Simon Says, so we played the game, but with different phonemic awareness skills built in. Listen to the students as they think through the different possible answers. 

In all of these cases, worksheets may have allowed for the practice of the same skills, BUT …

  • Would they have provided a meaningful context?
  • Would they have provided opportunities for extending learning?
  • Would they have been differentiated to meet different student needs?
  • Would they have moved beyond knowledge and understanding to thinking, communication, and application?
  • Would they have allowed for student voice and choice?
  • Would they have been as engaging?

Worksheets may always be readily available, be it online or in schools. But maybe if we begin to question their use and show other options, they’ll remain unused. I don’t think it matters if worksheets are replaced with technology, but I do think it matters that they begin to be replaced … with options that allow for more meaningful learning, critical thinking, and engagement. Maybe No Worksheet Week is the place to start. What do you think? What role do worksheets play in your classroom? Are they worth replacing? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


8 thoughts on “We Don’t Need To Use Them, Even If They’re There!

  1. As always, you’ve made me laugh, get a little weepy, and think a lot. The worksheet thing is always an interesting conversation. I do almost none in my Core French classroom, particularly as my students move into the senior grades. Very few verb practice sheets, very few word searches or crossword puzzle. Integrating grammar concepts into real-world context is more important for me, and I don’t think I’d have very much difficulty with #noworksheetweek.

    My struggle, and, after 22 years, I still haven’t found a solution, is that many of my students are moving onto a high school context where their French class will be focused on worksheets. I have Grade 9 students return to my classroom, showing me the duotang full of pre-copied worksheet units that they were given in September, that is their workbook for the semester. They are baffled, and can’t figure out why they’re not being asked to use their communicative skills in their second language. I feel like I’m not preparing my students for what’s coming next, despite the fact that I’m following the new curriculum for FSL. It’s not just me – I had dinner last night with 3 other intermediate Core FSL teachers, and we all expressed the same concern. How do we teach real-world context with grammar embedded in what we’re doing, and integrate tech, and work very hard to encourage our students to work in their target language while in our room, while still preparing them for a high school experience that may not look like that? We’ve tried for years to open up a transition conversation between Grade 8 and 9 teachers with little success – we seem to live in different worlds. Hoping a new curriculum for high school will help save some trees, and maybe make the transition a little easier for my students.

    I wonder about this with your students, too. How do they make the transition (if they need to) somewhere down the road to a less engaging, more rote-based classroom? Perhaps we’re teaching them flexibility along the way?

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! This is certainly something that I think about too. I know that worksheets are used in almost all schools, and I know that my students are likely to see them when they leave my classroom. We all have different opinions about what works best for kids. I get that! And if we’re all constantly questioning ourselves about why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re meeting all student needs, then I’m not convinced that there’s one right way to do things. Would I like to see the end of worksheets? Yes! Why? For all of the reasons that I mentioned in this post, my No Worksheet Week one, and probably other ones as well. Will this happen? Maybe, or maybe not.

      That being said, I’m not willing to use worksheets just because students may see them when they leave this classroom. I’m going to give students the best possible learning opportunities that I can in the best way that I know how. And if I don’t know how to meet student needs, or if what I’m doing isn’t working, then I’ll re-evaluate and try again. (I know that you also do this.) In my opinion, this is what the students deserve. All I can hope for is that as I give students more choice, more voice, and a better understanding of what works for them, they might speak up as time goes on, and maybe the need for worksheets will be reconsidered. And maybe not. But maybe as thinkers, students will figure out a way to push beyond the worksheet and still make learning meaningful for them. I have to believe that this will happen.

      I’d also like to think that as the curriculum changes and inquiry takes a bigger role in student learning, then other practices will begin to change too. I see this already in the tweets of some high school teachers that I follow. I know that this isn’t everyone, but change is happening, and I’m hopeful that it will continue to happen. What do you think?


      • Yes! Thanks for the reinforcement. There’s this part of my that hopes against all evidence to the contrary that at some point, one of my students will be brave enough to say (as they do in my classroom sometimes): “Could we try this?”. And I hope that, as you say, as inquiry and new curric begins to filter into the system, and into the learning of our students and our colleagues, that we will start to see a shift – to more differentiation, to more student-driven learning, to more inquiry pop-ups (what I like to call it when your lesson goes in a different, but equally legitimate direction from where you thought it was going), to more critical thinking.

        Thank you. Talking about it helps.

        • Thanks Lisa! Talking about it does help, and like you, I hope for more of these changes to happen. As I read your comment, I can’t help but think of Sue Dunlop’s recent post on avoiding our reptile brain. I left a comment on her post about how difficult standing up can sometimes be in large group situations (when you feel like you’re the only one asking questions or feeling a certain way). Sue made some great points in her reply to me. Maybe some people that haven’t made these changes yet are considering them, but just don’t know where to start or are concerned about varying from the status quo. Maybe more of these conversations online and in-person will help bring about more change: be it if it’s educators having these discussions and/or students, educators, and parents having these discussions. Asking questions can be a great way to start the conversations, and I think, make all of us think some more.

          Thanks again for the great conversation!

  2. You have really cracked this can open, Aviva. Your videos model what you believe and feel about good pedagogy. It is evident in the videos you captured that you are challenging yourself, and other teachers along with you, to provide opportunities for “meaningful learning, critical thinking and engagement”. Worksheets may be the ‘go-to’ option for teachers because of their ease of application, abundance, availability, and quick right/wrong assessment style. Doesn’t mean they have to remain the predominant method of delivering the learning. As your students demonstrated, they can deliver their own learning if given opportunity for activation and purpose.

    I’ve learned so much from your experiences this week as you tweeted out what your student were doing.

    • Thank you so much, Helen! In truth, I learned so much this week just from watching my students in action and being “challenged” during some PD to think about phonemic awareness and how I can link this skill development with comprehensive literacy. This week has been another good reminder that it’s good to get “uncomfortable.”


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