Are Worksheets a Bad Practice? - Room 213

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Are Worksheets a Bad Practice?

Worksheets have a bad reputation these days. They are seen by some as mindless busywork with little focus on real learning. That is the case in some circumstances, but only if the work on the sheet is not serving any purpose other than filling time, or hunting and pecking for facts that don't really matter. 

It's not the sheet itself that can be the problem; it's the tasks we ask students to complete that determine whether the activity is worthwhile.

Sometimes our students do need to learn facts. In Bloom's Taxonomy, remembering is at the bottom of the pyramid for a reason: it's the foundation that holds everything else up. The problem occurs when students spend too much time in the basement of Bloom's. Yes, it supports the other levels, but good teaching pushes students up the taxonomy where they do more creative and critical thinking. If we want to encourage this kind of thinking, we need to give our kids many opportunities to analyze, evaluate and create.

Let me illustrate with some examples from my classroom. We've just finished a unit on Macbeth. I wanted students to remember and understand some definitions like pathetic fallacy, comic relief and equivocation.  I also wanted them to remember certain poetic techniques that Shakespeare uses. Because these things were important for my students' understanding of the themes of the play, I wrote some of these notes on the board, and provided other information on a handout. Then, when I gave them work to do later, I didn't ask them to spew back the definitions, I asked them to apply this knowledge and use it to analyze, evaluate and create. 

For example, here's a question that I had on a worksheet for the first act of Macbeth: 

Ross describes Macbeth using an allusion. What is the purpose of this allusion? Is it appropriate for Macbeth, based on what you learn in this scene? Why or why not?
With this question, students have to know some facts: they need to know what an allusion is as well as what Ross calls Macbeth. To answer it, they need to apply their factual knowledge and then use it to evaluate Shakespeare's choice. I don't have them spend time answering questions about facts they already have; instead, they use the facts and use them for higher order thinking.

Here's another example: 

The witches greet Macbeth as the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor and king hereafter. What does Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ words tell us about his character? Give a thorough response with specific examples and at least two quotations.  

I could have asked students to list the predictions of the witches, but instead I gave them these facts and used the question to get them to analyze and to demonstrate (apply) the skill of choosing and embedding quotations in their answers.

Finally, I gave them this task on their worksheet: 

Write a diary entry for either Macbeth OR Banquo where you reflect on your meeting with the witches.

Students then had to use their knowledge to create something new. This was meant to be a relatively short draft, not a major assignment. Too often we save the creative tasks for projects, rather than building these activities into our daily lessons. Creating is at the top of Bloom's taxonomy but that doesn't mean it can only come at the end. Instead, find ways to build students' creative muscles on a daily basis with short activities that allow them to explore their own craft and technique.

NOTE: it's an important skill for students to be able to recognize key facts, rather than just being spoon fed them from the teacher, either through questions or notes. To give them the opportunity to build this skill, my worksheets will often have a space for students to record the key facts from the text they have read. 

If you're a subscriber to my newsletter, you'll be getting some activities you can use to create worksheets that get your kids  thinking as they move up Bloom's Taxonomy. If you aren't, you can click here to sign up! You might also want to check out these activities that can be used with any text.



  1. Hi Jackie! The timing of this blog post is perfect as our school is currently focusing on how we are applying critical thinking in our classrooms. Thank you so much for sharing!


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