Adam Simpson’s Six pitfalls in making your own worksheets


You may want to think of a more effective storage system...


Yes, it’s that time again… bring on the guest posts! This time I am joined by Adam Simpson, the man behind the friendly and interesting blog One Year in the life of an English Teacher. He wanted to share some of the things he’s done WRONGLY in making worksheets. And I thought a bit of reflection is always a good thing. I’ve certainly made some of these mistakes in my early days too. So pay attention, and don’t do what he has done!

I like making my own worksheets to accompany course book materials, I always have done and always will. For whatever reason, I never fully trust the coursebook to do the job of getting the teaching objective across as much as I trust myself. Plus, I like making stuff. I’ve always been meticulous in my preparation of something I intend my students to not only use in class, but also to reflect back on at a later date. Nevertheless, I’ve made so many mistakes over the years that it’s almost funny. Here is a somewhat carefully, well thought out list of things for you to think about if you also like preparing your own teaching materials.

1) Purpose What’s the point? Why are you bothering? There just might be something stuck away at the back of the teacher’s book that does exactly what you’re trying to do; stranger things have occasionally happened. Alternatively, maybe someone at school has already cobbled together something that meets the objectives you’re trying to achieve. If neither of these apply… make sure you start with a clear purpose and work towards appearance, not the other way round. Here’s an example of how I went wrong at the start of my teaching career: I still remember the weekend after my first week of teaching. I decided to wow my students with a crossword for the start of our second week. After an hour of labour I’d produced something that looked great, but actually led to about five minutes of class activity. What I’d made was a triumph of style over substance that didn’t really do anything that the book already covered adequately. I learned pretty quickly form this experience.

2) Language I’m not talking about the language of the particular teaching point, I’m thinking of the language I use to make sure that the learners know what they are supposed to do. No matter how careful I am in writing prompts – and I am very careful – sometimes I just have to reflect on the fact that what I gave to the students wasn’t clear enough. So… Ask clear and understandable questions. Match your questions to the level of the learner. Use bullet points for clarity. There probably are worse things than having handed out an absolutely killer piece of material only to be met with blank expressions and total malaise, but it’s still really depressing. Trust me: make your instructions clear.

3) Design The design of your worksheet should enhance the content rather than obscuring it. To be honest, it took me years to truly get my head round this. Indeed, I’m still a stickler for making my worksheets look as professional and attractive as possible, but like I said, this shouldn’t be to the detriment of the content. What steps do I now take to avoid this? Limit the range of fonts you use I have literally thousands of additional fonts added to my Microsoft word, but I rarely use more than two or three in my worksheets. Funky fonts that look good but are difficult to read will only serve to frustrate your learners. Limit the visual aids I still look to put my objectives and instructions into a fancy speech bubble, but that’s it. Don’t overdo it with pictures and borders and other fancy stuff, or the learners won’t be able to see the wood of the learning objective(s) for the trees of the design feature(s).

4) Product What do you want to have created in the end? Is the message clear? How can you make sure that it will appeal to as many of your learners as possible? Keep a collection of all the handouts you produce and reflect on them periodically. Here are a couple of reasons why I think this is a good thing to do. You keep making the same kind of resource again and again Try to include a range of tasks that will appeal to different types of learner (perhaps consider different learner styles if you believe in such a thing). Even the best of us do this. I remember one of my DELTA tutors driving me to despair with constant jigsaw reading tasks. She had no idea of how often she was using this kind of task until I pointed out that that was all she ever gave us. Keep a record of what you make or you’ll find you repeat yourself more often than you might imagine. You make the same kind of resource, regardless of the purpose What is it for? This will affect what kind of questions you can ask the learner. Homework / individual / group tasks will all require tailored questions. Don’t do what I once did and ask the learner to discuss a set of homework questions in groups. I found out the following day that they had spent all night phoning one another to come to a consensus over their answers.

5) Trial It isn’t going to be perfect first time. Treat your worksheet as a draft to be improved. This means trialing it in class to see what queries / confusion it raises. Take a revisable version of it into class with you to make instant notes of necessary changes. Also, make sure you follow up your revisions on the computer, or whatever method you have of maintaining the original.

6) Storage This is still my biggest fault. I can’t stress enough the importance of storing paper copies methodically for easy retrieval. Consider how you want to do this carefully, be it a filing cabinet (I hear these still exist), in-tray system, or ring binder with plastic pockets. My advice is to mark a master copy using a particular system so that you don’t lose it (I have a teachers copy with ‘Adam’s’ emblazoned across the top with a blank copy of the original stapled to it in a plastic folder separate from all other materials). Try to do the same with computer files; be as specific as you can when naming them! Go on, admit it; how many files do you gave on your computer labeled ‘grammar exercise’? Do yourself a favour and give your file a very specific name. The last file I created was called ‘L3 U1 I3 exercise to follow up on writing definitions about education’. OK, it took me ten seconds to name the file, but I’ve a pretty good idea of where to find it from the name next time I need to do a follow up exercise on writing definitions about education for the third input of Unit 1 of the Level 3 course book. I’d love to hear what other ideas you have, problems you’ve encountered and how you resolved these issues.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six writing analysis tools


Warning: this post might seriously waste your time!


Another day idly watching my twitter stream go by… I came across one of those links that analyze your writing for you (I can’t remember where from now). It’s fun to know about your writing, and some of these might even in fact have a pedagogical use too.  This is a short little post but that could end up wasting a LOT of time 🙂

1 Vocab Profiler – This is a great site of more pedagogical value. Paste in a text, and it shows you through a system of colours the frequency of the words. In their own words “Vocabulary Profilers break texts down by word frequencies in the language at large.” I used this tool quite a bit when writing low level texts or adapting texts for lower levels (I used something similar for a graded reader I wrote which never in the end saw the light of day… but that’s another story). I think this tool is a favourite of Scott Thornbury‘s too, or at least it was!

2 I write likeThis website says the following: “Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.” Then it gives you a little badge you can put on the blog. When I pasted some of my text I got the following. Cool! (or should I say ‘spiffing’?)

I write like
P. G. Wodehouse

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

3 OFaust – This site does the same as I write like, but you can also enter your blog url to analyze a larger sample. According to oFaust, I have a slight similarity to Lewis Carroll on my blog (a 22% likeness!)

4 Gender Genie – This one made the rounds a little while ago. It analyses a piece of writing and tells you if it’s more masculine or feminine. It seems to have become a bit more sophisticated recently and you can specify the genre. When I entered some of my writing I came up as Male (195 score) but a high level of female there too (105 score). I guess that’s because I have a girl’s name…

5 Text Content Analyser Getting more serious again now this site seems a bit more like a simplified Vocab Profiler (from above). It gave me the number of words according to numbers of letters which didn’t feel that useful. But it also gave information about lexical density, and something called the Gunning Fog index, which tells you what level of education (American education) your reader needs to have to understand. My writing requires a grade eight education to read which is either a testament to my clear and incisive prose or shows that I’ve been writing simplified grammar exercises and texts too long perhaps.

6 I actually write like

If all this is going to your head, then the last site brings you back down to earth hard. It also analyzes your text and lets you put a badge on your blog like the one above. Here’s what I got…


I actually write like
a moonstruck lunatic possibly actually wearing a straightjacket

I Actually Write Like Analyze your writing!

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Six places for English teachers to get published

There comes a time in many an English teacher’s career when they decide they want to turn to writing. Maybe it’s an urge to share some of the things they’ve learned over the years in the class. Maybe it’s seen as a way to get ahead at work. Maybe it’s seen as a way of making extra money. Actually, a lot of English teachers I know secretly harbour a desire to write a great novel (but who doesn’t?). And above all, it’s a boost for one’s ego to get published somewhere. For all of you wishing to get started in the glamourous world of ELT writing, here are my six recommendations. All of these places accept submissions from teachers, just like yourselves…


1. English Teaching Professional. One of the best known magazines for English Teachers with a worldwide circulation, ETp is a good bet. However, be aware that waiting lists can be long (up to a year). You could write an article, or submit some of your best ideas to their It works in Practice section. ETp’s style is informal and accessible, so don’t send your MA dissertation here.

Ego boost factor: High. Your article will be in colour, nicely designed, and with a photo and bio of you at the end. People all over the world would read your stuff. You may share content credits with very well known people in the field.


2. Voices. This is the IATEFL newsletter. You’d have to be a member of IATEFL to get a copy, but this publication is much more widely read than you might expect, and articles from it are quoted in other places. Here the style can be completely informal or quite formal indeed, but they are often short pieces. Voices has a very international makeup of contibutors. This is a place to submit an article, rather than a teaching tip (or make your teaching tip into a whole article, I’ve seen that done several times).

Ego boost factor: Medium. No colour inside and the design isn’t as nice as ETp, but your photo and mini bio would appear at the end. And you would probably find that you are being read in the most unusual places.


3. Modern English Teacher. A bit like English Teaching Professional (MET is a sister title, according to their website), this is another glossy magazine for teachers. It has several different sections including a big one on practical ideas which would be a logical place for many teachers to start. I don’t see this magazine around quite as much as English Teaching Professional, but it’s been  going on for 30 years. 

Ego boost factor: Medium to high. Design is slightly classier than ETp but not as colourful. I personally think ETp is better edited, but that’s just my opinion!


4. Onestopenglish. Web publishing doesn’t have quite the same feeling as seeing your name in print on the page, but the big difference is the number of people who will read your stuff. If you want to aim high, go for Onestopenglish. They scout writers through the Lesson Share competition. If you are a fantastically witty writer, submit an anecdote to the anecdote competition. Fancy yourself as a methodologist? Enter the methodology competition and get a chance to win a trip to IATEFL as well as getting published. Each of these could lead to paid writing work with the site. 

Ego boost factor: High. This site gets 400,000 visits or so a month. I haven’t been to a country and given a talk to teachers who don’t know Onestopenglish. It’s pretty motivating to think that your stuff could be read by tens or hundreds of thousands.


5. Humanising Language Teaching. The Pilgrims webzine started by Mario Rinvolucri is one of the oldest on the web. It’s been going for quite a while, and is read by an awful lot of people. They are also very open to new articles and submissions but be warned you may have to wait a while before it’s published. There also seems to be a rather flexible publication schedule, if your article is to appear in the November issue that could mean beginning or end of November or beginning of December even. Have patience.

Ego boost factor: Medium to high. The layout isn’t particularly interesting and sometimes looks all squashed together but your article will be read by many, and some gurus perhaps as well. 

6. Local newsletter or magazine. Even though I left this to last, it’s probably the first port of call, try a local magazine. Or the newsletter of your local teaching organisation.

Ego boost factor: Will vary. Some of these publications are very good-looking and well-edited indeed and may in fact bring more kudos than one of the bigger magazines above.

I realise there are probably more, and I’ve restricted myself as usual to only six. There were two notable omissions, English Language Teaching Journal (ELTJ) or TESOL Quarterly. These two publications are much more for the academically minded. The selection process is harder, and you will have to wait probably at least a year before your article is published. But the ego boost factor is probably very high if you work at a university, as appearing in either of these two might help you up that particular ladder. 

For more tips on getting into writing, check out the Onestopenglish’s section on Author of the month where authors share advice on how they got into it. My one piece of advice I’ll reprint here is “Don’t lord it over colleagues”. Walking around saying “As a published author…” won’t win you many friends. 

Good luck with it!

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (5)