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No Busy Work! Just Say "No" to Worksheets! -- a personal philosophy from your teacher
I truly believe if you invest the time to teach writing authentically and well, then state tests will take care of themselves. Writing skills create strong, independent thinkers.

When I was a kid in school, our worksheets were printed in purple ink, not black ink. In the days before Xerox machines, teachers had to run off their copies using chemicals and a special machine that printed everything in purple. If the teacher passed out purple worksheets that had been made just recently, they smelled like chemicals. Ask your parents if they remember the smell of their teachers' worksheets before there were Xerox machines. Most of us remember that smell as a pretty great, chemical smell.

As a student, I always did well during worksheet time, which was usually quiet time when I was a kid in school. I worked quietly on these pieces of paper designed to keep me busy. I almost always got a 100% on my worksheets, but I don't think I ever learned very much from completing them. As a teacher now, I know worksheets are not the best way for me to see if you've learned something well, so I try not to use them very often. I have always considered worksheets to be a classroom technique that keeps students busy-- "Busy work" --but doesn't challenge them to think very deeply.

Even though I liked worksheets myself as a student, as a teacher I came to discover that they aren't something I want to use very often. Not saying I never use them; to the contrary, I've collected some pretty amazing ones over the years.

But I am the teacher who tries not to over-worksheet you, my students. I honestly just don't think you show me that you know very much by filling out a worksheet on a topic. I'd much rather assign you a group task or have a whole-class discussion that shows me you learned than pass out a worksheet.

If you really want to impress me on that occasional day that you catch me passing out something akin to a worksheet, do this: Raise your hand politely and ask, "A worksheet? Isn't there a better way for me to show you I know about today's topic, Mrs. Harrison?"

At right, you can a worksheet my mother saved from my school days. Look it over and let me know why you think I didn't prove I knew very much about the topic--apostrophes--when I turned it in for a grade. By clicking the image, you can print out the worksheet and double-check my answers.

Below, you will see where I have begun to post some of the grammar and convention learning activities I have been using with you. The topics these activities cover could just as easily have presented to you in worksheet form, but I want to be a better teacher to you than that.

I am hoping by posting my newest ideas several times a year, I'll eventually house an entire collection of engaging activities for my students, but also that inspire other teachers to stop using so many worksheets too. As teachers, we owe our students such better teaching than busy work and worksheets.

Moving Beyond the Worksheet, Example 1: My Task Rotation on the Parts of Speech

A task rotation is a teacher-designed activity that specifically honors learning style theories. Students do prefer to learn in different ways; this a foundational concept when differentiating instruction. Some students need to work alone to learn; others learn best while talking about the topic with small groups. Some students learn better when the activities force them to be creative; others want the information to be presented in a straight-forward way. Some learners need to see the "big picture" first; others would prefer to start with small parts of a concept. Which of these sounds more like you? A well-designed task rotation provides different options for different learning styles.

At left, you can click on the task rotation I designed for my students in the Fall or 2010. It's on the topic of parts of speech.

While it would be easy to ask all students to simply choose one of the four tasks that best fits their learning style, I believe it is critically important for my students to also think in ways that challenge their normal thinking patterns. This is why my students are required to choose three or the four tasks on the task rotation; with three choices, they can choose one that best fits them, reject one that least fits them, and push their thinking by trying two tasks that wouldn't be their first choice.

If you click on the task rotation at left (or here) you can open it and print it for your own students. In addition:

  • Click here to open/print the practice sheet for the Mastery quadrant's activity.
  • Click here to open/print the word bank for the Understanding quadrant's activity.
  • Click here to open/print a student's example superhero idea for the Self-Expressive quadrant's activity. Click here to print a teacher model (from WritingFix) that will inspire superhero ideas. My students also used this planning sheet (from WritingFix) for their superheroes.




Photos of my students at work on their task rotation tasks. Click the images to view them with more detail:


WritingFix is the best website ever. And not just because they have several of my lessons posted! This site covers every writing topic out there!

If you're not a member of the NNWP's Writing Lesson of the Month Ning, change that fact right now! Click here and create a profile to begin receiving the monthly lessons!

The NNWP's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Guide is a great teaching resource. You can order your own copy by visiting the NNWP's Publications Page.

Creating Writers through 6-Trait Writing
by Vicki Spandel. A really great teaching resource!

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins. My three classroom copies see no dust as they're passed from reader to reader.

My husband also keeps a webpage of his lessons and his professional development resources. Click here to visit his site.

Click here to see some of my past students who are "famous" because they were published at the WritingFix website.



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