Guide to ESL Worksheets

ESL worksheet concepts

The world is full of worksheets, many of them made expressly for ESL or learning English. But not all ESL worksheets are made equal.

When we speak of "worksheets" we are referring to ESL worksheets for the teaching/learning of English, but much of this guide is relevant to worksheets for other subjects too.

Why Use Worksheets?

Worksheets are generally popular with learners because they are usually non-intimidating and user-friendly as well as providing a finite exercise (ideally one page) where learners get rapid feedback and can often judge for themselves their own abilities and progress. They are also a convenient, often free, resource for teachers that can easily be saved and printed as required.

Features of Effective Worksheets

There are many different types of worksheet, but we can discern some common features that tend to make any worksheet work better for your students. When selecting or making a worksheet, bear in mind that an effective worksheet:

Types of Worksheet

Worksheets range in type from straight-text multiple-choice questions to illustrated puzzles and mind games. Here are a few examples of worksheet types that have proved particularly effective in teaching English. For each type we list language points it works well with.

Matching Worksheets

This type of worksheet usually asks students to match up pairs of items (for example opposite words or start and end of a tag question). This is often done by having one column of items on the left and the matching items, not in the same order, in a column on the right. Students have to draw lines between the matching items. (This is sometimes known as a spaghetti exercise.)

matching worksheet concept
Matching worksheet concept

Here are some ideas:

Word Scrambles Worksheets

Word scrambles or jumbles help improve vocabulary and spelling. In this type of worksheet the letters of each word are mixed up and students have to put them into the proper order.

word scramble worksheet concept
Word scramble worksheet concept

Here are some different types of words you can scramble:

Jumbled Sentences Worksheets

Here, each sentence is presented with its words all mixed up and students have to put them into the correct order (for example: walked/dog/the/boy/his → The boy walked his dog | time/go/to/it's/almost/school/to → It's almost time to go to school).

Here are some examples:

Sorting Worksheets

With sorting worksheets, students are presented with a collection of items (words, phrases, phonemic characters etc) and asked to "sort" them into particular categories (for example: male and female; stress on first, second and third syllable; Africa, Asia, Europe, S. America). From the examples, you can see that there might be two, three, four or more categories. This usually depends on the particular language point and level. One of the most common ways of doing this is to have all the items entered randomly in a box at the bottom of the worksheet, with a column for each category above - into which students write the appropriate item.

sorting worksheet concept
Sorting worksheet concept

Here are some ideas (the figures in brackets represent the number of possible columns):

Other Worksheets

There are several other types of worksheet, including:

Make Your Own Worksheets

You can find worksheets all over the internet, some free, some by paid subscription. There are also books of photocopiable worksheets from major ELT publishers. But after wading through the vast collection available you may sometimes feel that only a worksheet that you have made yourself will fully address the language point you have in mind. It was never easier to get creative and make your own worksheets, whether through a computer program like MS Word or an online worksheet generator. Whichever method you choose, the principles remain the same.

The formatting and presentation of a worksheet is important. Some worksheets are thrown together with little concern for their usability or the students who will have to do them. When designing your worksheet you can think first about the elements discussed above (Features of an Effective Worksheet) and then consider the following specific points:

Where to Find ESL Worksheets

Matt's ESL Games and QuizzesThere are hundreds of books, ebooks and websites offering free and paid ready-made worksheets for ESL that can be found through the usual search engines. Listed below are a few places to start from:

TEFL.net Worksheets
Ready-made worksheets that you can download and print off, mostly with key or answersheet.

EnglishClub Worksheets
Ready-made worksheets that you can download and print off, mostly with key or answersheet.

Worksheet Generator
Make your own worksheets and print them out instantly, complete with automatic answersheets.

ESL Worksheets Links
A directory of websites that host downloadable ESL worksheets.

Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes
Classroom activities for elementary to advanced learners of English