Individualize Students’ Worksheets

A future WALL-E world.

A future WALL-E world.

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.

 

Telling Time. Minute By Minute

Clocks are everywhere.

Clocks are everywhere.

 ‘Telling time’ comes with many experiences.

My second year of teaching was second grade. To keep me on schedule, I posted clocks on the board showing the time the class needed to be somewhere. Next to the paper clock was where we needed to be. Fairly soon, the children were matching the paper clock to the classroom clock. We were never late!

With higher grade levels, the schedule was posted with the digital times. An analog clock in the classroom, helped students learn to ‘translate’ the time to match the digital. Students had to ‘remind’ me when to leave the classroom so we wouldn’t be late.

My first grade had a classroom bathroom. Near the bathroom door, I put a clipboard of papers with four columns. To use the bathroom, they had to sign in and sign out. In the 1st column they put their name or initials. In the 2nd column, they put the bathroom entry time in digital format. When they came out, they put their initials in the 3rd column and the time out in the 4th column. The classroom had an analog clock.

To make it easier, asking for assistance was encouraged. Some students followed immediately behind someone else so their times would be written correctly. As needed, there were review lessons given by students.

A wonderful benefit. Many young ones were surprised when they were asked to clean up a mess they made! (The child who followed them was always quick to report the problem.) I’m not sure cleaning up one’s own ‘playfulness’ in the bathroom is allowed today, but it worked many years ago.  It took awhile for students to realize their own names had told me who created the problem.

For older students, passes were used to leave the room, and they still signed in and out. This was a nice lead in to ‘clocking in’ for a future job.

One last idea. Next to the electric pencil sharpener were posted the digital times to use it. The times were before and after classes began; and before and after lunch. Nearby were handheld pencil sharpeners and a wastebasket to be used in between the scheduled times.  But, they weren’t as much ‘fun’ as the electric. A nice benefit. This approach stopped students from sharpening pencils during teaching time and tests.

 

Another benefit. When the math lessons were on clocks and time, the students were solid in the basics.