Teaching first grade for the first time, my experienced co-teachers offered to help. Each Monday morning, they left a stack of worksheets for the week. We’re talking of a stack at least eight inches high! The stacks of papers reminded me of WALL-E, a children’s animated film of our world covered in trash. Reading, practice printing, math, the seasons, the holidays, coloring, cut outs – no worksheet was left out.
I was worried. While teaching fourth grade, my principal had admonished me, “If you hand it out, hand it back the next day.” Were my evenings about to be filled with correcting worksheets?
As many teachers know, students can finish their worksheets faster than you can hand them out much less correct them. Why? Because the usual worksheet directions are too simple.
Fill in the blank.
Circle the right answer.
Put an ‘x’ on the picture that doesn’t fit.
Write in the correct word.
Color the right answer.
Put a check by.
Looking at the coming week’s stack of papers, I thought: “How can the children learn, and I have my evenings free?”
The idea came: Let them create their own worksheets – let them individualize their worksheets!
For example: Learning Shapes. Each child receives a blank piece of paper, pencil and crayons. Samples of the shapes being learned are posted on the board with labels. Directions for their work might be: “What shapes are on the board? What makes that shape special? Today, you will use the shapes to draw a cat (Or an animal.) Use three different shapes.” Color? “Fill in your shapes with solid colors and designs – stripes, bubbles, even waves!” There was no end to the possibilities! To make sure they knew the shape, I said, “Write the names of the shapes you used on the back of your picture and draw the shape next to it.”
Correcting them was a breeze. There were lots of great grades! We shared them with partners, posted them in the hall, and took them home.
My co-teachers? After two weeks of noticing that the stacks were untouched, no more were brought. Oddly enough, they never asked what my students did for practice work.
IDEAS FOR INDIVIDUALIZED WORKSHEETS
Vocabulary and Definitions. Are they writing sentences that focus on vocabulary definitions? Have them use part of the word’s definition from the dictionary in the sentence with the word. Directions: “Look up each word. Choose part of the definition that makes sense. Write a sensible sentence using the word and the part of the definition that makes sense.” (This last note is so they choose a definition that fits what is being studied.)
Any Assignment. Let them choose a few of the options you offer. Or, use Creative Thinking and let them identify options and then choose.
Writing Sentences for Vocabulary Homework. Combining a vocabulary word with a theme idea makes sentence writing go more quickly. Before the students go home, use Creative Thinking and have them identify themes. For example: lunchroom, sports, the beach, zoo or farm animals. Directions: “Write one sentence for each vocabulary word and use the theme you chose.”
Fractions. You provide the list of fractions. They create their own examples of fraction pictures and share with others. ( For example: one fourth can be one fourth of a pie or a hubcap or a package of gum or the number of cars in a parking lot.) Directions: “Choose something to draw. Be sure it can be divided into equal parts. Draw the picture. Divine it into ___ equal parts (The denominator.) Color in the parts that match the fraction. (The numerator.)
Illustrations. Move from words to pictures whenever possible as many students recall better from what is seen. Directions: “Draw a picture of the story with five details from the story.” Option: “List the details on the back of the picture.”
Two benefits of individualized worksheets: No one can copy someone else’s homework. Students enjoy doing something that includes creativity.