Use A Worksheet? You’re Not a Bad Teacher

Should teachers use worksheets? The war against worksheets - is that something more indicative in education than simply worksheets?

Use a worksheet as a teacher? I do. 

Teachers, they get bombarded with messages, with trends. Education faces waves of best practices, of new ideas, fresh implementations.

Without thinking for more than five minutes, I can recall these waves in education from my ten years in the field:

  • Different intelligences: cover all of them in every unit!
  • Tracking, not tracking: has this cycle stopped?
  • Timed math/ spelling/ reading: beneficial, hurtful.
  • Good teachers don’t use the textbook: toss it!

And I’m not saying that we haven’t emerged stronger from experiencing these waves. And change isn’t automatically bad. And many practices have positives and negatives.

It’s the extremity of these trends. The never and the I’m above that. The most current?

I never allow a worksheet in my class. I refuse to give a student a worksheet. Worksheets? Not here.

Worksheets are not inherently evil. Handing students a worksheet, returning to your desk, making students be quiet as they work though the worksheet, collecting it, grading and returning it with no interaction? Yes, terrible practice. (That is boring too, for everyone involved.)

Do you use a worksheets as a teacher? Teachers have multiple tools at their fingertips: should they use a worksheet?

When I use a worksheet, it is not the only vehicle of information or the only method of practice. (Should one way ever be the only method of anything?)

Still, teachers use a worksheet despite the “never” messages from colleagues and bloggers. It makes for cute headlines of a blog post. Is the extreme of never using a blog post fair, or even true? When we teachers take part in these extremes, we might build ourselves up as superior, but we should be sure we are adding value and being truthful.

Here are three reasons you are not a bad teacher if you use a worksheet.

Define “worksheet.”

The dictionary defines “worksheet” as a sheet of paper on which work schedules, working time, special instructions, etc., are recorded. I will always give my students special instructions and guidelines, which means I am giving them a worksheet. Is a note-taking sheet a worksheet? What about practice sentences? A digital sheet where students can explore the web and add to their ideas? The blanket “worksheets are bad” generalizes much of what teachers use as instructional materials, which leads to. . .

Anything can be “bad.”

If I give my students task cards and don’t allow them to interact with their peers for completing the tasks, that is not best practices. If I show a TED talk and connect none of it class content or student lives, that is poor practice. If I ask students to give a speech, and we never set goals, discuss improvements, or relate the topic to a bigger picture, well, you understand. Any teaching tool can be poorly used. I use a worksheet to give partners starting points for discussions, to provide instructions, to aid in difficult discussions. This leads into. . .

Worksheets clarify difficult concepts.

I always experiment with grammar instruction. I have introduced types of sentences (complex, compound-complex and such) through student writing, through mentor sentences, through created sentences together. I want students to see that they use these sentences already. And? The best way that I’ve found to teach sentence structure is to provide students with definitions. Yep. I hand them a worksheet. Then, we discuss the concepts and move onto other activities.

Don’t quote me as saying that new practices or ideas hurt education, because I’m not. We should grow, we should experiment, we should fail and regroup.

What if we alienated fewer teachers, what if we told fewer that they were bad teachers because they used a worksheet, when that does not define bad teachers at all?

Do you use a worksheet in your classes? This does not automatically label you as a bad teacher.

As a teacher with decades of experience, I’m glad I began my teaching career before social media. Just remember: edu-celebrities might not be in the classroom, and they might not be honest about what actually happens in their classroom. You are not a bad teacher if you use a worksheet.

What do you think?

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  • Theresa

    absolutely! in my almost-30 years in the classroom, I’ve never seen such “Keeping up with the Joneses” as I do now. What is the point of shaming others if a TREND is not their style?? I’m not a fan of flexible seating. I’m still a damn good teacher.
    And yes, I’ve already copied several worksheets for beginning-of-the-year reviews.

    • [email protected] (author)

      I love it!

      I almost added a section about introverts. Sometimes our quiet students prefer a worksheet because they understand the concepts better when they can read and study alone. And? Nothing is wrong with that.

  • Keisha

    I just read something or other on the last day of school a couple of months ago about how effective teachers scoff at the idea of using a worksheet. Well, I’m ineffective then–shoot. For me, there is always the choice to use literature selections in the textbook which comes with a wealth of resources for the text that likely includes worksheets for assessment, practice, graphic organizers, extension activities and daily bell ringer prompts…the possibilities are endless for teachers who want to allow expert voices in their classrooms.

    • [email protected] (author)

      I think the same. The information that comes with textbooks is not evil either. It makes perfect group work and since I have so much of it, it helps me differentiate.

      I feel like in education we are fighting against ourselves if we continue with blanket statements – all teachers who use worksheets are bad. That isn’t fair at all.

      • Keisha

        I had a principal when I taught middle school ELA who let us know during a faculty meeting that she was limiting our paper allowances because she was tired of walking into classrooms seeing worksheets. To be honest, I think she meant well, and then I tried everything for the rest of that year to avoid handouts of any kind, but then I thought, I’ve got to stop this. I have to be flexible enough to use any resource that my students will connect and respond well to and on some afternoons, if that means a worksheet–then so be it. Btw, I’ve been following you for a year now and have purchased some of your products. You’re one of a kind. :).

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