Want Improved Worksheets? Up the Rigor and Pair With Active Learning

Can you believe it?? Many curriculum directors want teachers to stop using worksheets. But don’t panic… it’s only one specific type of worksheet they dislike: drill-and-kill, e.g. 20 of the same multiplication problems to solve. Educators know that worksheets are essential to learning so teaching strategies that increase rigor and incorporate active learning are a great way to give your trusted resources an update.

The first step is to evaluate the cognitive demand of the activity. Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge are the best tools for this. You can then increase the cognitive demand with modifications to the worksheet using TeacherMade. And then you can add in higher-order thinking/active learning by pairing worksheets with collaborative/cooperative activities.

In this article, we’ll explain the different uses for worksheets in any classroom, discuss how to evaluate worksheets using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, show how to enhance any worksheet using TeacherMade, and finally explain how to pair active learning activities and worksheets together for greater engagement.

Teacher Helping Student with Google Classroom Worksheet - TeacherMade

Worksheets are Classroom Essentials

Love them or hate them, worksheets have long been a staple of the classroom diet. Every teacher cooks up their favorites and students devour them, either because they enjoy the taste or just want to get to dessert.

But just like carbohydrates, worksheets have fallen out of favor in recent years. How could a tool so essential to every classroom be losing its footing among experts and critics? The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released its landmark study on quality in 2019 and it wasn’t pretty. We must increase the rigor of our favorite resources if we are to keep them in the 21st Century classroom.

Why Use Worksheets?

If used to supplement a solid lesson, worksheets provide essential practice of new concepts for students.

To help encode vocabulary, concept map worksheets might fit best. As their understanding grows, students might work on graphic organizers, timelines or quizzes. At each stage of a curriculum unit, worksheets (AKA activities) can be a part of the instructional scaffolding necessary to support student progression toward the ultimate goal of higher-order cognition.

Worksheets as Formative Assessment

Worksheets serve another key purpose during a curriculum unit: formative assessment. When deployed as structured low-stakes activities, worksheets capture important data on each student’s progress. Feedback on individual achievement levels is vital to providing differentiated instruction for each student.

Creating More Rigorous Worksheets for 21st-Century Learning

Since we can all agree that worksheets are a critical tool for teachers to employ in the service of student achievement, what should be considered when creating worksheets so that they consistently hit their target and engage the 21st-century student?

How can we spiral learning upwards through increasingly complex activities?


How Do You Evaluate
Worksheets and Activities?

When designing or choosing worksheets to use as part of a lesson plan, it’s important to evaluate each activity. By combining Bloom’s taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, you will gain insight into both the type of learning activity and its cognitive demand on the student.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Organizing objectives will allow you to better plan and deliver instruction that is consistent with your learning outcome goals. Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy while creating or evaluating your worksheets will ensure that the activities are aligned with your objectives.

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) will provide you with a means to understand the cognitive complexity of the worksheets and activities that you create. Understanding the various levels within the DOK framework allows you to increase the rigor and complexity of your materials.

If you’d like more subject-specific Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) rubrics, please visit Dr. Karin Hess’s website. She’s a thought leader when it comes to cognitive rigor and performance assessment, and has spent her time carefully crafting DOK rubrics for Teachers like you!

Use TeacherMade to Increase Cognitive Rigor of Any Worksheet

Once you understand the demands of a subject or activity, you’ll know where in a unit’s progression plan your worksheet belongs. And if you decide that you need to make some changes to the worksheet to improve its rigor, you can do so quickly using the TeacherMade app. Upload your PDF and get started editing:

  • Cover up an old question or two and replace them with better ones.
  • Add a second step where students have to cite evidence.
  • Ask students to show their steps in solving a math problem and explain their answer.
  • Have students highlight and circle a reading passage to discuss with their group.
  • Upload images, audio, video, and hyperlinks anywhere on the worksheet.

Active Learning Activities to Pair with Worksheets

Though worksheets on paper tend to fall exclusively in tiers 1–3 of Bloom’s Taxonomy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Providing strong foundations and scaffolding for students to build their knowledge on is important for their long-term success.

Combining worksheets with student-centered interactive models typically found in problem-based learning (PBL) instructional practices allows worksheets to climb up the hierarchy and transform into more demanding tasks. Try pairing worksheets with these activities to engage students in higher-order thinking:

  1. Cooperative Learning – Have students work together in small groups to complete a worksheet.
  2. Discussion Groups – Have students complete worksheets on their own and then come together in groups to communicate about and refine their work.
  3. Presentation Mode – Have individuals or groups use a worksheet activity as a springboard for multimedia or oral presentations.
  4. Q & A – Have individual students show their work and let other class members ask them questions about how they arrived at their answers.
  5. Workshop It – Have students collaborate to make another worksheet based on the first handout.

If you’d like even more ideas, you’ll want to visit veteran educator, author, and podcaster Angela Watson’s blog for additional inspiration… and validation.