What’s wrong with worksheets?



The pariah of the PYP. The enemy of inquiry.

But why? What could be so bad about worksheets?

Through many collaborative planning sessions, professional development afternoons and informal conversations our staff has discussed some of the limitations of using worksheets in the classroom. Here is what we’ve come up with so far:

One-size-fits-hardly-anyone: For some students the worksheet will be too easy and they will fly through it. For other students the worksheet will be too difficult and they will struggle through it.

Detached from student questions: Worksheets are usually selected by the teacher, based on what they want their students to learn, often before or irregardless of students’ interests and questions.

Work without learning: Students can complete a worksheet without learning anything. A student who already knows how to add two-digit numbers or locate a verb in a sentence can complete the 20 questions on the page without building their knowledge, gaining new understanding or challenging a misconception.

Work without thinking: Students can complete worksheets without really thinking. Many worksheets are watch and do, read and copy, fill in the blank, or find the ‘right answer’. This doesn’t leave a lot of room critical thinking or heavy cognitive lifting.

School land: Worksheets force students to operate in ‘school land’, a place detached from their  real life. How many toys does Adam have total? Who is Adam? Who cares how many toys this make believe person has?

Focus on finishing: When worksheets are being used, ‘finishing’ is usually the goal. “Finish your work before recess?” “Stay in and finish your work.” “Put your work in the unfinished bin.” If a student isn’t ‘finished’ their work, maybe that is a sign that it was too difficult for them, or too easy… or just plain boring. Who cares if they don’t finish anyway? Shouldn’t our focus be on their learning and thinking, not finishing a worksheet?

(Not to mention worksheets are wasteful, bad for the environment, clutter causing, hard to organize, time consuming to prep and mark…)

In the words of Leah Osbourne –  worksheets are to thinking, what candy is to nutrition. 

worksheet candy

What are your thoughts about worksheets?

What would you add to our list?

8 thoughts on “What’s wrong with worksheets?

    • tbondclegg October 2, 2015 / 4:59 am

      Thanks for adding to our list Michael!


  1. mrcowell October 18, 2015 / 6:16 am

    Worksheets are simply another tool in the teacher’s toolbox. They can be used effectively or can be used to squander both time and student motivation. Worksheets can be an effective way to both practice skills and provide formative assessments for teachers.


    • tbondclegg October 18, 2015 / 6:52 am

      Thanks for sharing! The discussion around worksheets is a very interesting one with many different perpsectives. I’d love to hear more about how you use worksheets effectively in your teaching practice. 🙂


  2. Moly November 30, 2015 / 7:05 pm

    I wish I can share this blog post with parents 🙂


    • tbondclegg December 4, 2015 / 4:50 am

      What’s holding you back?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: PYP Bad Words –

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