Most teachers like making their own worksheets – for example, maybe a reading text with some questions or a worksheet with tasks that accompany a video. The fun part is coming up with creative tasks but it’s easy to spend more time on aspects such as adding headings, titles, rubrics and so on. To speed this aspect of materials writing up, I have a mental checklist of things that appear in every worksheet. If you make them an automatic part of your writing process, it frees up more time for the fun creative stuff.
The main title on the worksheet lets the students know what the lesson is going to be about and also gives them a reference when they look at the worksheet a few weeks later. Keep the main title general and not too specific so the theme will apply to a wide variety of contexts.
In addition to the main title, add sub-headings such as ‘Vocabulary: Places in the city’. These sub-headings break the exercises up into manageable sections and help the teacher and students navigate their way through the material.
If you are using your own materials, the rubrics or instructions for an exercise are less important. But if you want other teachers to use the material, then rubrics are very important. As a general rule, keep them short using one clause at a time. Avoid any complex structure like relative clauses. The aim of the rubric is not to test the students’ level of English but navigate them through to the next exercise or task.
4 Numbering and referencing
Number all the questions so using notation such as 1, 2, 3, 4… or (a) (b) (c) (d) etc. You’d be surprised how often materials are produced without this simple system but it speeds up classroom management and is crucial for checking the answers (as well as writing an answer key).
5 Example answers
As a general rule, provide the first answer in an exercise. This makes the task much more obvious and students will usually know what to do straight away.
Add pictures and images to your materials. Either integrate them into the exercise or add them to help the design and look of the material. Materials are so much more engaging when they have an illustration or photograph. Taking your own images is easier than ever but you will also find images that are free to use as long as they credited from sites like ELTpics, Unsplash and Flickr.
7 Reference boxes
If you want to teach language items such as a key set of vocabulary, functional expressions or a grammar point, it’s helpful to sum up the form, use and meaning of the language in a titled box. That way, it’s easy for the students to refer to and they always know where to find the ‘rule’.
When writing controlled practice exercises with gaps, multiple choice, and different options, don’t write more than is humanly possible to complete. For example, if students are listening and expected to write words they hear in the gaps, then they physically need the time to complete the gaps. As a general rule, exercises tend to include 8 gaps or questions though this will vary – any less than 6 seems to few and more than 10 makes the exercise either impossible and/or uninteresting.
9 Answer Key
Write one of these as it’s a quick way to check if everything works properly instead of students finding out you’ve made a mistake. And in the classroom it’s always helpful to have the answers on your desk anyway.
10 Heads-up and heads-down
For a final check of how well the material flows, check that within a worksheet there’s a good combination of exercises where the students’ heads are up looking at each other, and where the students’ heads to be down looking at the material. For example, if you have three exercises in row where students have their heads down in the material it’s time to create an exercises where their heads are up.
For 500 more ideas on writing materials, take a look at my book with ETpedia on the subject at https://www.pavpub.com/materials-writing-etpedia/