5 Smart Tips for Creating Powerful Foreign Language Worksheets (Plus Templates and Resources)
Looking for a secret weapon for your classroom?
How about a tool that can promote lesson retention, encourage target language reading and support classroom differentiation, all at once?
Sound like magic?
It’s not. You’ve probably already encountered this tool many times—it may be hiding just under your nose.
I’m talking about classroom worksheets.
In essence, a classroom worksheet is any printed set of questions or prompts that requires student input. In language classrooms specifically, worksheets require active reading and writing in the target language, which means they can be an important tool for language retention.
As long as we’re smart about how we make them.
Below, you’ll find five crucial tips for creating effective, attention-grabbing worksheets, plus tons of templates and resources so you don’t have to make all of your own from scratch.
How Can Worksheets Benefit Your Foreign Language Classroom?
First and foremost, by transferring language concepts onto paper, worksheets give your students additional practice actively reading in the target language. As opposed to reading a story or textbook, worksheets require an immediate and direct interaction with what students have just read.
But beyond generalized reading practice, worksheets are also an important tool for reinforcing lessons. They can fit nicely into your lesson plan as a way for students to apply new concepts or review old ones. I’ve found that worksheets are especially useful right after a lesson where a new concept was introduced, solidifying the information I have just taught before students leave my classroom.
By reinforcing what has just been learned, students are better able to use that concept in a real target-language situation or understand it in real language usage such as a video from FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Worksheets are also a tried and true solution for classroom differentiation. By assigning worksheets to a group of students, you can keep them engaged while taking the time for additional individual or small-group instruction to others who need it. Teachers in overcrowded classrooms can also rotate a worksheet/small-group schedule to keep in touch with students’ individual needs.
Meanwhile, from an evaluation standpoint, well-crafted worksheets can help you efficiently identify where improvement is needed, such as grammar principles that aren’t sticking or confusing passages of a book your class is reading. Worksheet results will help you track student progress and tailor your lesson plans accordingly. They also provide students with a tool for self-evaluation without the pressure or high stakes of a test.
Helpful Templates and Resources for Foreign Language Worksheets
As a language educator, your agenda is probably already overflowing with lesson planning, grading and parent meetings. Finding additional time to create thoughtful worksheets can seem daunting, if not impossible.
Fortunately, there are tons of online resources that will give you a head start on the process. You can spend your time more efficiently by finding, imitating or building on worksheets to suit your students’ needs, rather than conceptualizing and drawing your own entirely from scratch.
The worksheet resources below accommodate a wide range of languages. You’ll find pre-made worksheets, templates and an endless source of creative ideas. And from a professional development standpoint, these resources are also useful for keeping up to date on what others in the field are working on.
Teachit Languages is a treasure chest of language education worksheets and worksheet templates, as well as other resources such as games and quizzes.
According to the company, these resources are created by teachers and edited by native speakers. The site is regularly updated and many resources are downloadable free, but you can also subscribe for full access for £25 per year.
The Internet Second Language Collective is a free platform for language teachers to share their worksheets online. There are six language platforms: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. All resources are downloadable free (Word or PowerPoint files).
You’ll find that the teachers in the ISL Collective community are very creative, often sharing fun new resources that are topical to pop culture or kids’ movies and music.
Language Nut’s Free Printables
Language Nut is a great place to turn for worksheets covering basic vocabulary, such as numbers, food, animals and families.
Head to their “Free Language Printables” (linked above) for worksheets in French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Italian and Gaelic. You’ll find word searches, vocabulary matches and more.
Teachers Pay Teachers
Here’s another site overflowing with teacher-made, teacher-shared worksheets that can benefit your classroom. Head to the World Language section for worksheets in more than a dozen languages.
Despite the site’s name, tons of resources—including completed worksheets and clipart you can include on your own worksheets—are available for free. Once you become a worksheet pro, you can share and sell your own printables as well.
5 Crucial Tips for Creating Attention-grabbing Foreign Language Worksheets
1. Write Direct, Clear Instructions
It should come as no surprise to any language educator that if your students can’t understand what you’re asking, they can’t show you what they’ve learned. This principle holds true for any subject from math to music theory, but is especially relevant for teachers like us, who are communicating with our students outside of their native languages.
The objective of each worksheet should be clear as soon as a student picks it up. Right at the outset, they should understand whether they will be defining new vocabulary, identifying characters in a play, conjugating verbs, completing sentences grammatically, etc. Otherwise, students’ energy will be spent deciphering the worksheet rather than completing it, and class time will be wasted.
It’s helpful to create a hierarchy of information on the worksheet, such as a clear header, an objective stated in one or two sentences at the top of the sheet, followed by your questions or prompts. You may want to bold or highlight important words in your questions and prompts. Make sure you leave enough space for your students to comfortably fill in their responses.
Before you hand out a brand new worksheet you should practice using it yourself. After I create a new worksheet, I like to take a short break or concentrate on a different task, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to fill it out and make sure nothing is confusing or misleading. It’s also smart to ask one of your colleagues to scan the sheet for unclear objectives or confusing questions/prompts before you hand it out to students.
2. Provide Visuals
Psychologists have long understood the importance of visual imagery in learning. For most people, visuals are easier to remember than words, and can decrease learning time, so incorporating visuals into your classroom worksheets will help your lessons stick. Visuals are also more attention-grabbing than blocks of text. Particularly if you see your students infrequently or for limited class time, it’s important that your worksheets grab their attention quickly.
For certain worksheets, it’s easy to incorporate visuals because they’re the foundation of the concept. For example: matching pictures to their definitions, filling in a story board, writing captions for a cartoon or filling in a Venn diagram. For others—namely grammar worksheets—it’s harder to figure out how visuals might be worked in. For these, it’s helpful to understand some of the different categories of images so you can identify which will work best:
- Representational: Illustrate what is being described in a text. For example, if the worksheet requires students to fill in the correct tenses for verbs in a story, a handful of pictures could illustrate that story’s narrative.
- Interpretational: Help clarify a complex or abstract idea. For example, you might include a word tree diagram that reminds students which order nouns, verbs, articles and others are placed in a target language sentence.
- Transformational: In essence, mnemonic imagery. You can include mnemonics that your class already uses to jog their memories, or create new ones right on the worksheet as long as it’s clear what your images are referring to—for example, in gendered languages, drawing a mustache on masculine objects.
Remember, you don’t want to overcrowd your worksheet with images or you will dilute their value. A small handful of carefully chosen images should do it.
As noted, many of the resources listed earlier provide clipart and graphics that you can paste into your own worksheets.
3. Use Process Questions
One primary reason that many teachers and students have an aversion to worksheets is that, when designed poorly, they become nothing more than busywork. For effective instruction, it’s important to create worksheets that reinforce concepts as well as content.
Process questions ask students to “show their work.” On worksheets that use process questions, for every space that students can fill in an answer, there should also be space for students to explain how they got that answer.
Some examples of how process questions can be incorporated into worksheets:
Worksheet: Students correct errors in a written text.
Process: Students explain what grammar rule was broken that they fixed.
Worksheet: Students illustrate scenes from a work of literature.
Process: Students write in the target language about how their illustration refers to the text, incorporating direct quotes.
Worksheet: Students pair sentence fragments together to make full grammatical sentences.
Process: Students identify how they realized certain fragments matched (same subject, verb tenses matched, etc.).
Of course, this is not possible for every single worksheet; a vocabulary word search has no place for process questions, for example. But the longer or more complex the concept behind the worksheet, the more important process questions become, so that students interact with the target language on a fundamental level rather than just surface-level memorization.
Process questions are especially important for worksheets that you assign to groups rather than individuals, to spark discussion in/about the target language.
4. Adjust Length to Allow for Class Review
Here’s another component to prevent worksheets from becoming mindless busywork. Figuring class review into your worksheet routine further reinforces fresh concepts while also creating space for additional discussion in the target language. (If you’re worried about students changing answers on their worksheets before handing them in, you can collect them first and then project a blank sheet for review.)
Let’s say you’re creating a verb conjugation worksheet where students will fill in sentence blanks with the appropriate tense. You have 20 minutes in your lesson plan to devote to this worksheet. You will need to decide how much time you want to devote to review (depending on students’ proficiency level and how new the concept is, you may want to spend equal time on worksheet execution and review, or half as much time on review, etc.).
When you have that portioned out, you can estimate how many questions to include on your worksheet to fill that time. Include too many, and you’ll either lose out on review time or your students will be frustrated with unfinished worksheets; too few, and you’ll have a gap in your lesson plan.
This will take practice. Ultimately, the goal is to recognize that time management is an integral part of formulating or choosing a worksheet, not something to worry about last.
5. Create Varied Worksheets
This principle should sound familiar to language educators: Variety in foreign language lessons is an important tool for effective teaching. It’s common sense, but there’s research to back it up, too. What I’d like to cover here is how you can achieve variety in your classroom worksheets without eating up all of your out-of-class time.
Your first step is to categorize the various kinds of worksheets that will be helpful to your class. Some may be quick vocabulary drills such as word searches and matches; some may be grammar fill-in-the-blanks; some may be literature-oriented; some may be simple prompts that encourage free writing.
Then, hone in on some different styles that you like for each of these categories and make templates out of them. Whenever you find a new worksheet that you enjoy, take the time to recreate it in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint so that you can substitute in your own text. For PDFs that you download, sometimes it’s easier to just erase all the text and save a blank version as a template, and then draw in new text boxes and pull in new clip art for each new iteration of the worksheet.
Make sure you cycle through your different categories of worksheets regularly to keep them fresh and varied. Even though you’ll be using the same handful of worksheet templates all year, you will build dozens of distinct and diverse worksheets out of them.
Again, it will take time and practice to hone in on which types of worksheets are working best for your classroom, and how to quickly adapt your templates to new lessons. However, by putting your efforts into a worksheet routine early—rather than designing each from scratch, or combing through the worksheet resources every time you teach a new concept—you will save considerable time and energy throughout the academic year.
If you came into this post staunchly anti-worksheet, I hope these tips and resources have illustrated some of the ways that they can actually be a boon to your classroom and a new tool for your belt. With some planning, careful design and solid time management, you’ll have an important new method for promoting target language retention for your students.