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Designing Effective Worksheets

Graham, B. (1998) Environmental Education in Botanic Gardens Training Course, Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden, South Africa


What is the purpose of the worksheet?

It is important to have a clear view of the reasons why you are designing the worksheet.For example, there may be a particular message you wish to convey , or you may wish pupils to record information which can be interpreted later on.It is useful to list what you think the pupils will have achieved when they have completed the worksheet (it also helps pupils to have the purpose clearly explained to them before they start)

Who is the audience?

The design of the worksheet will be greatly influence by age, ability and motivation of the pupils.For example, a young child may not be able to read or write more than a few words.The type of audience you are aiming at will also influence the level of formality or informality used in the layout or language.Length of time which the pupils will spend carrying out the tasks must also be considered.

What resources are available?

If a worksheet is going to involve the pupils, they will need to record information which they can find on site.The emphasis should be on what the site had that is special and cannot be seen or found elsewhere.The worksheet has failed if it can be completed in a classroom or on a coach to or from the botanic garden!

Resources available may include



-environment they grow in

-labels and interpretive information

-recording devices such as thermometers

What methods of recording shall be used?

-writing a piece of text

-completing sentences or filling in gaps

-recording in tables or charts

-ticking, underlining, circling words or pictures

-matching activities e.g. words and pictures

-labelling drawings


Remember that paper based recording is only one possible outcome. It can also be oral which may involve the use of tape recorders, or visual such as a collection of coloured petals or leave glued on pieces of paper, or taking photographs.

Preparing the worksheet

The layout and visual quality of the page is very important, A good starting point is to look at examples of worksheets produced by others and think about he design element which make them work or fail.The important factors are:

The general layout

Break the text into ‘bite sized’ chunks which are easier to read while walking about.Use illustration to separate text blocks.Indenting and framing help draw pupil’s attention so they are more likely to read the information.

The choice of print

A clear type is essential but style and size can be varied to create interest and guide the reader through the text. Bold type is useful to highlight key words.

The use of headings

Headlines tell stories fast! They can summarise the main points of a piece of text and help pupil’s understanding as they go on to read more.

Amount of information on a page

Limit the amount of work on one worksheet.The pupils should able to finish – if it is too daunting they will give up.


Use a variety of tasks and begin with easier ones, as success motivates.Make the tasks as enjoyable as possible.

Quality of illustrations

Good clear line drawings are essential.Photographs are useful, but what will they look like when photocopied.?

Quality of reproduction

If your worksheet is good, but the reproduction is poor, then the final overall effect is poor!Store the master copy in a plastic wallet in a safe place and use the original only to make any future reproductions.

Making the content accessible

Limiting the complexity

Using short sentences and simple words makes text easier to understand. Limit the number of technical words and explain their meaning in simple language or provide a task which will do this. Avoid where possible abstract examples.

Style of language

Try not to be too formal or official and therefore dull. Use a style which creates a sense of mystery and discovery about your subject and which invites pupils to notice things and explore.


It is unlikely your worksheet will be perfect after your first attempt. Remember to find out what the audience using it thinks and then modify the sheet if required.