I am coming to this industry from a different perspective.
Dedicated parent? Indeed. But I am not a classroom teacher or a homeschooler.
I am a behind-the-scenes person—a designer of educational materials.
I have been designing materials for education for over 16 years. Surrounded by banks of cubicles, 4 editors deep, I have helped to churn out everything from massive state testing prep programs to leveled readers.
My job? Attempt to conjure a well-designed worksheet out of a heavily marked-up Microsoft Word document.
This can be a big job. A worksheet has to make sense to the youngest eye. It also must please the writers and editors by clearly communicating the learning objective.
But I loved the challenge!
An editor would place a new project on my desk.
The text document would have been emailed to accompany the marked-up copy. I would flow the text into my layout program and sit. And sit. Staring at the page with the rough, un-formatted text on my giant, VeiwSonic monitor. How can this information be made inviting?
Add a text box here, a graphic there, a new font (not too many!) to emphasize a portion. The page would be labored until it began to fall into place. “Clarity,” I would whisper under my breath, while printing rough versions along the way to check for the overall look.
Finally, I’d settle on a shareable version. With slight trepidation, I would place the page on the editor’s desk.
Did I mention? Editors are brilliant. More brilliant than they will ever admit. They. Catch. Everything.
I would attempt to toil nonchalantly on another project, or organize folders while the page was being proofed, all the while glancing at the editor’s hunched, engrossed figure. If she marked something up, I held my breath.
Finally, she would hand me the marked-up page. I would hastily make the suggested changes, print anew, and place the still-warm, freshly-printed page on the editor’s desk.
With a nod, she would swivel their chair around to go tackle her next task. Page accepted. I would sigh with relief and grab a celebratory tiny, plastic cup of water. But what constitutes a “good page” in the world of education? What would elicit a “good,” from an editor?
I boil it down to three simple rules.
If you have that much, you will have a successful worksheet.
I know that many of you are creating your own worksheets out of necessity or for fun.
I am here to tell you that the bells and whistles do not matter.
Even the software does not matter—whether you have the oldest version of Microsoft Word, or the newest version of Adobe InDesign. I have even seen beautifully done worksheets written by hand.
What matters is keeping the eye on the ball.
Let’s break the rules down.
Merriam-Webster offers this definition of accessible:
easy to appreciate or understand
Remember your user is a child. You may be a master of the subject, but the subject may be entirely new to the child. This does not mean to “dumb down” for our children can smell that a mile away.
It means present the topic so they can reach it:
simple, clear language
simple graphics that do not get in the way
illustrations and charts only as needed to support the lesson
Got numbered problems?
Follow a consistent numbering pattern.
Choose either horizontal or vertical, and stick with it so your student knows where to go next.
A worksheet works best when it sticks to one set of tasks.*
Multiplication Practice or Short Vowel Practice
as opposed to Multiplication Practice and Short Vowel Practice
Allow the child to soak in the lesson, really master it, rather than having to jump around.
*An exception to this rule would be an end-of-unit review or test where jumping from topic to topic is sometimes required.
Whether you are creating a simple supplementary addition page for your second graders, or plan to create the next national workbook series, I hope these three simple rules help you and inspire you along the way.