Worksheets for the Classroom Struktur, Form und Inhalte

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© Goethe-Institut/Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg

Worksheets help learners to engage more thoroughly with specific elements of a foreign language – both in the classroom and at home. This only works if the worksheets are well-designed, however. This is easily achieved with the right structure and a few tricks.

Do learners of German as a foreign language actually need worksheets in the first place? Should students not rather hear and produce as much spoken language as possible? According to linguistic studies, listening and speaking alone are not in fact sufficient if a student is to learn the grammar of a foreign language (Swain 1988).  Learners additionally require structured exercises focusing on specific points of grammar. Worksheets are the ideal learning aid in this context – though only if the worksheet is well-designed. To this end teachers should take note of a few general rules which in principle apply to all subjects.

The ideal structure

A good worksheet follows a set structure:
  • A header containing general information which places the worksheet within the lesson context.
  • Clear instructions.
  • The exercise itself, including illustrations, highlighted points and sufficient space for answers.
  • Possibly additional exercises, each with their own instructions.
The header is the foundation for an organized approach to learning and contains information: about the subject; about the stage, class or level; about the topic and lesson unit; about further materials such as the textbook, and possibly any source references. This makes it easier for learners to keep their worksheets well-organized, to review specific topics and to repeat exercises when necessary.

Motivational content

A few points also need to be observed with respect to content – and ideally also with respect to grammatical issues: content needs to be up-to-date. This applies to technology (no telephone booths), to lifestyle and relationship constellations (not limited to married couples with children, a house and a dog), and to information about the country and its culture (topical developments or news from Germany). Content must have some relevance to the lives of the learners. It must also be age-appropriate.
 
Where a worksheet contains several exercises, all of them should relate to the same topic – preferably in terms of both grammatical topic and content. This ensures that learners will not be overburdened or distracted by too much new vocabulary. Furthermore, intensive engagement with a single topic anchors the content more firmly in the memory.

Not to be forgotten: form

Yet even the very best content is of little use if poor readability or other aspects relating to form place demands on the learner’s cognitive capacities – for good readability is important. Teachers should therefore avoid poor-quality photocopies of worksheets. Worksheets should provide sufficient space for answers so that students are not forced to write illegibly. Wherever possible, pictures should be used to illustrate content. It may be useful to underline the forms to be learnt, or to print them in bold type. Empirical studies show that learning is facilitated and accelerated in particular by illustrations (Carney et al. 2002) and highlighting (Schmidt 1992).

Peculiarities of foreign language teaching

Since foreign language lessons are not generally conducted in the native tongue of the teachers or learners, instructions on worksheets must be expressed in particularly straightforward and clear terms. However, the use of such simple language in foreign language lessons can easily induce the teacher to adopt childish themes, yet learners are in many cases teenagers or young adults who are not interested in the same topics as children. As a general rule, information about the country and its culture is important (cf. Salomo), and lessons should also draw on the experiences of the learners themselves.

Using special software to compile worksheets

Teachers can also use specialized software (not all of which is available free of charge) to compile worksheets. One such program is the Worksheet Crafter, which was used to create the example worksheets.
  The advantage of worksheet software is that pre-defined structures and functions can help save time. Another benefit of digital material is that it is more readable, better structured and takes up less space because teachers can use a digital template rather than a photocopy. With programs such as the Worksheet Crafter, it is easy to create worksheets with a clear structure, illustrations, highlighted points and text manipulations such as cloze texts or colour-coded syllables. In this way, teachers can quickly and effectively design worksheets which will benefit their students.
 

Literature

Carney, Russell N.; Levin, Joel R.: “Pictorial illustrations still improve students' learning from text.Educational psychology review 14(1) 2002, 5-26.

Salomo, Dorothe: Reference to Germany is crucial. Magazin Sprache, Goethe-Institut, November 2014.

Schmidt, Richard: “Awareness and second language acquisition.” Annual review of applied linguistics 13/1992, 206-226.

Swain, Merrill: “Manipulating and complementing content teaching to maximize second language learning.” TESL Canada Journal 6(1) 1988, 68-83.