On 28 March 2019 we – Rebekka and Vanessa (Team VIII) – invited all the teachers at Lower Secondary School Ban Phang Heng to our workshop “How to create and structure worksheets”. We knew that previous volunteers had offered workshops on “Creating and using teaching material” and “Assessing and enriching teaching material” before, but actually working with our tandem-partners ourselves made us understand how they use or do not use teaching material in their classrooms. We observed that the material included flashcards or a projector, but that the use of worksheets was uncommon. Especially during our observation hours at Ban Phang Heng Lower Secondary School we thought that sometimes a worksheet would be quite helpful to support the teaching goal(s) while varying the style of teaching at the same time.
In Laos, all teachers are required to follow one mandatory coursebook in each subject. The exercises in the course book usually focus on filling out gaps and do not include tasks or activities. Sometimes, more exercises would be helpful, as there is no separate workbook. More open tasks and activities would also give a communicative turn to the more reproductive basics.
Additional exercises can be individualised on a self-made worksheet as “ideal learning aid” (Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg, Goethe Institut, 2018).1 In Germany, we also use worksheets to get more variety into our teaching and to secure the learning goals. As we are encouraged by our mentors to implement a variety of different teaching techniques and methods,2 in secondary school we also create worksheets for this purpose.
The previous workshop by Team V on creating and using teaching material was mainly targeted at primary English teaching methodology and therefore did not include the topic “worksheets”, as the (Western) focus in primary school is listening and speaking, not reading and writing. This time, our goal was to support the Lao teachers by showing them how to implement worksheets in the secondary classroom to enrich the coursebook.
According to our tandem-partner Ms Khamsee Thanbounhueang, some teachers would like to integrate worksheets into their lessons, but simply do not know how to get started on creating them.3 Ms Nalee Vonkhamsay pointed out that the teachers are familiar with using the “Word” programme. Considering this and the fact that there were prior workshops on lesson planning, creating and using teaching material, and assessing and enriching teaching material, which had also been documented in blog reports, we developed the idea to take up on this previous work, to consolidate it, and to extend the present range of teaching material and techniques by the usage of worksheets.
Very soon after we designed a poster for our upcoming workshop and handed out invitation cards to as many teachers as possible. During the preparation of our workshop we focused on the following aspects:
- Why use worksheets – “Advantages”
- The function of worksheets – “Functions”
- How to construct a worksheet – “Step by step”
- A checklist for creating a useful worksheet – “Checklist”
The day of the workshop
On Thursday, 28 March 2019, after school at 4 o’clock, the teachers Ms Khamsee Thanbounhueang (chemistry), Mr Sackbong Boulapan (chemistry), Ms Saysamone Singhalath (history), Ms Nalee Vonkhamsay (computer science), Mr Noy Sibounheuang (maths), and Mr Vienglakhone Keopaseud (maths) assembled in the Computer Room.
Worksheets are a good way to practise and review topics in any subject. They are used as a tool for pupils to use and enhance their learning (cf. Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg, Goethe Institut, 2018). Worksheets can also guide one’s pupils through one’s lessons. (Other forms of guidance are group instructions, games, and homework assignments, for example.) The pupils can also return to the worksheet for reviewing their understanding of the topic at a later stage (cf. Wikipedia,”Worksheet“, 2019).
Summary of the advantages:
- It is a good way to practise and review a certain topic.
- They guide one’s pupils through one’s lessons.
- They can be used as a tool for pupils to use and enhance their learning.
Different ways of implementing worksheets in the classroom were discussed: A worksheet might function as an introduction to a new topic, as a source of information, repetition, or practice, or as a quiz4 to check if the teaching goal has been achieved (cf. Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg, Goethe Institut, 2018).5
Specific questions on the worksheet can motivate pupils to develop an understanding of the topic. Information can be selected in a way that it deepens an understanding of new content. Additionally, worksheets “are useful for assessment of learning and […] progress” (cf. teflnet, “Guide to ESL Worksheets, 2019). The teacher is meant to address questions and difficulties, which means that the worksheet is completed in the classroom rather than at home.
It was also important to us to expound that worksheets can be supportive, but they can also easily be replaced by a more interactive task – “an effective and intentionally planned format of instruction that makes learning a shared social experience” (cf. Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, “Interactive Tasks – Teacher Story and Compiled by Sharon M. Look”, p. 4, 2011), which involves spoken interactions between the teacher and pupils or in groups. Worksheets should be replaced when an interactive task would more effective for reaching a certain goal than the exercises on the worksheet.
Summary of the functions:
- A worksheet can be an introduction to a new topic
- A worksheet can be used as a source of information
- A worksheet can function as a quiz to check if the teaching goal has been achieved
After activating our tandem-partners’ prior knowledge on how to work with Microsoft Office, we presented step-by-step instructions on how to create a worksheet. For the practice part, we then involved the participants actively in the workshop by suggesting that teachers create their own worksheet for their next class or upcoming topic with our support.
A worksheet has three parts: The head of the worksheet contains general information (cf. Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg, Goethe Institut, 2018). The main part in the middle includes an introduction of the topic, a characteristic question answered at the end of the worksheet,6 additional material (e.g. photos or illustrations), and the exercise itself, and then also work instructions.
At the bottom of the worksheet the learners can find an explanation or a conclusion. Additionally, extra exercises with different aims may be included here for more practice.
We also brought along some other examples of worksheets to show to the group:
In this example, the headline consists of the pupil’s name, the topic, and the date.
A characteristic question at the top of the main part activates the pupils’ thinking and is a motivating introduction . The example shows a variety of exercises and tasks:7 Task 1 and exercise 2 are gap-filling exercises whilst exercise 3 introduces a new topic. The last exercise (here at the bottom of the worksheet) is a good way to practise information that has recently been learned. The exercises increase in level of difficulty to challenge the pupils gradually.
To give the teachers as much personal guidance as possible, some time was planned in for creating the worksheets. It made us very glad to see that our group was able to relate very quickly to what we had wanted to get across. This way, the teachers also experienced that creating a worksheet is actually time-saving because the worksheet is created once and then copied for many pupils, and it can be adapted to other groups’ or pupils’ needs.
To conclude our workshop, we prepared a checklist on how to create a useful worksheet according to the following criteria: Content, didactics, form, and lay-out (cf. Kai-Uwe Oesterhelweg, 2018).
We are very grateful and would like to thank our Lao partners for working with us and showing so much motivation. We think both parties learned a lot through this workshop. It showed for one thing that our tandem-partners are really creative in adapting worksheets to their needs, which made it very pleasant and easy to work with them. It also made us understand once more that there is a variety of teaching in both our countries, and that we, as future teachers, need to be open-minded when it comes to teaching methods – there are many different ways of successful teaching.
We are glad that we could apply our theoretical knowledge about intercultural communicative competence to one specific learning experience which helped us, as future teachers, to open up more ourselves, and to develop this very important competence further. We became more understanding in the process of appreciating different ways of thinking and communication and more aware and responsive to other people’s ways of behavior and thinking.
We also learned that adapting communication is very important in order to communicate with a partner from a completely different cultural background. The more we learned about the Lao culture, the more our communicative skills improved. We needed to understand their way of thinking in order to respond in an appropriate way. We realized that essentially intercultural competence develops throughout one’s lifetime.
We have not received any newly created worksheets yet or feedback, nor do we know if any of the teachers has used a worksheet in their class since.8 This, too, is part of the subject of communication and intercultural learning in “The Laos Experience”.
Text by R .Vogt & V. Wecker, with notes by I. Martin
Photos & videos by E. Heinz
1 Editor’s note: It is expensive and impractical to make copies for so many children in one classroom. There is no school budget for worksheets and teachers normally do not have free access to a printer anyway. We suggested creating a “Didactics Room“, which AfC kindly agreed to finance, and Team III organised and opened it in spring 2017, complete with PC, printer, photocopier, and laminating machine. We subsequently discovered that when teams ran out of ink, it sometimes took a very long time until the cartridge could be replaced. It took even longer for us to understand why: The computer shops within reach do not keep cartridges in store, but order them on demand from Bangkok.
2 Method: “A method is a practical implementation of an approach” (My English Pages, 2019, “Approach, method, procedure, and technique”). Most recently: Grammar-translation method, audio-lingual method, communicative method.
Technique: “The actual implementation in the language classroom” (My English Pages, 2019, “Approach, method, procedure, and technique”). “For instance, when using videos, teachers often use a technique called “silent viewing” which consists of playing the video without sound and asking students to figure out what the characters were saying” (ibid).
3 “How to start?” is a frequently asked question in (further) teacher education. Understanding a new field of knowledge or method or technique is one thing, implementing it into one’s own daily routine quite another, because it means changing this routine. In this light, workshops are good, but tandem-work is better.
4 A quiz is an informal test of knowledge to find out if new content has been internalized.
5 Lao teachers test their pupils monthly orally. Pupils come up front and answer the teacher’s questions in front of the whole class. Another way of testing pupils is letting them answer questions on the blackboard in written form.
6 A characteristic question should be answered at the end of the worksheet. Therefore, the solution to the question should not be given before, as pupils would read the solution. The answer to the characteristic question should be given and written down by the pupils.
7 Exercise: “An exercise is a teaching procedure that involves controlled, guided, or open-ended practice of some aspect of language. A drill, a cloze activity, a reading comprehension passage can all be regarded as exercises” (J. Richards, 2016, “Difference Between Task, Exercise, Activity”).
Task: “A task is normally defined as […] something that learners do, or carry out, using their existing language resources or those that have been provided in pre-task work. It has an outcome which is not simply linked to learning language, though language acquisition may occur as the learner carries out the task” (ibid).
8 Many teachers have other duties in second jobs, at home, and in subsistence agriculture after their teaching hours.
Oesterhelweg, Kai-Uwe (2018). “Designing Effective Worksheets for the Classroom”. Goethe-Institut Munich, https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/mag/20577548.html (last accessed 9 June 2019).
Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (2011). “Interactive Tasks – Teacher Story and Compiled by Sharon M. Look”, p. 4. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjVm7vHkZ_jAhXDfXAKHYHyBuMQFjABegQIAhAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fprel.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2014%2F06%2FInteractive_EIS.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0dlTfeVvXmtVFNNLUOsjeD (last accessed 6 July 2019).
Rhalmi, M. (2018). “Approach, method, procedure, and technique”. “My English Pages”. https://www.myenglishpages.com/blog/approach-method-procedure-and-technique/ (last accessed 20 June 2019).
Teflnet (2019). “Guide to ESL Worksheets”. https://www.tefl.net/esl-worksheets/guide.htm (last accessed 20 June 2019).
Wikipedia (2019). “Worksheet”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worksheet (last accessed 20 June 2019).