How to find EFL worksheets on the internet
The quantity and quality of printable teaching materials on the internet is starting to reach the level of books in both quality and quantity, with the added advantages of being accessible without leaving your home or seat in the teachers’ room and most of the materials being free. Unfortunately, not every online search for worksheets turns out quite as well as that might sound, with search results often leading to out of date or disappeared pages, bad materials, lengthy registration processes or even requests for money. The following tips should make turning to the internet for handouts just as reliable and painless as turning to Reward Resource Packs or Communication Games. The ideas will also work with slight variations when searching for warmer ideas, game ideas, lesson plans, online games, songs etc. Please note that speech marks in the article do not necessarily mean that you should use speech marks in your search (the places where you should are pointed out in the text).
The first thing you will need to do is choose a search engine. I usually use Google, but Bing and others seem to work perfectly well too. You might then want to change the language or region of the search engine, with versions ending in .co.uk likely to be better for British English or British culture topics (and similar for .au for Australia etc) and searches in your local version more likely to send you to pages with instructions in L1 for teachers or students or being designed with particular language needs in mind.
The next stage is obviously choosing what words to put into the search engine. The simplest way is just to write in a few words to represent the topic (e.g. “Animals”, “Divorce in the noughties”), area of vocabulary (e.g. “Body part vocabulary” or “Colour idioms”), grammar point (e.g. “Superlative adjectives” or “Present Perfect”) etc, and a word or two to represent that you want something photocopiable, e.g. “photocopiable”, “worksheets”, “handouts”, “PDF”, “lesson plan”, “lesson share” or “printable”.
Refining your search
Expanding the number of results
If this first search comes up with only a few results, try using different words and a different number of words, e.g. “handouts” rather than “lesson plans”, and “Present Perfect” rather than “Present Perfect tense”. Here is a list of other common and useful alternatives:
• Past tenses- Narrative tenses
• Will- Future Simple
• … Continuous- …Progressive
• Comparatives- Comparative Adjectives
• Superlative- Superlative adjectives
• Prepositions of position- Prepositions of place
• Future plans- Intentions
• Modals of possibility- Modals of probability
• Articles- Determiners
• Phrasal verbs- Multiword verbs
• Verb patterns- Infinitive and –ing
• Relative clauses- Relative pronouns
Types of classes
• One to one- Private classes
• Medical English- English for Doctors/ Nurses
• Exam class- Test preparation
• EAP- Academic English- Pre-sessional course
• Junior high school/ High school- Secondary school
• Teenagers- Young adults
• Kids- Children- Young learners
• Kindergarten- Pre-school- Very young learners- Under fives
• Business English- ESP (English for Specific Purposes)
Type of activity
• Icebreaker- First lesson activity- GTKY (= getting to know you)
• Pelmanism – Pairs- Memory game
• Homework- Self-study
• Essay- Composition
• Exam- Test- Quiz
Level and exam
• Pre-Intermediate- Lower intermediate
• First Certificate- FCE
• Cambridge Advanced- CAE
• Functional language- Social English
• Phone language- Telephone phrases
You could also try clicking on the optional search terms given on Google, e.g. the alternative spellings at the top and the similar search terms at the bottom of the page. You could also take away speech marks if you used them, or split the phrase into two parts with speech marks for each, e.g. “Present Perfect” + “Photocopiable worksheet” rather than “Present Perfect photocopiable worksheet”. Other tips include:
• Switch to a different search engine or a different regional version
• Put more than one option from the list above with OR between them
• Try putting in an example of the grammar, collocation etc rather than the name of it, e.g. “He has been going” rather than “Present Perfect Continuous”, “In on at” rather “Prepositions of time”, or “Make breakfast” rather than “Nouns with do and make”
• Some sites don’t come very high on Google and their internal searches are not the best (such as the British Council Learn English and Teach English sites, Macmillan’s Onestopenglish and Onestopclil sites, publishers’ sites, and sites for specific textbooks), so try using the same search engine as usual but with the name of that site as part of the search, e.g. “Onestopenglish.com worksheet adverbs of frequency”
Narrowing down your results
The tips above might also be useful if you do get lots of results but the good ones are scattered amongst irrelevant ones, ones that expect you to register when you haven’t got time or even ones that ask you to pay. Another possible action in this situation is using the Advanced Search function to exclude certain results. Similar things can be done in the original search box without needing to switch to Advanced Search by using things like speech marks to show that words should always be next to each in the results and NOT to exclude particular results. These functions vary by the search engine you use. Alternatively, you can look for links that have already been narrowed down for you by an actual human by searching with terms like “list of…”, “links”, “best…” and “top five/ ten…” to get to other people’s selections. Searching inside bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit (either directly in the site or using the name of the site you want to look in as one of the words you enter into Google) works in the same way.
If most of the results are not even connected to EFL, try adding words like “EFL”, “TEFL”, “ESL”, “English teaching” or “English (language)”. This is particularly important when you are searching for something that has a different meaning in ELT and elsewhere, e.g. (newspaper) article and (definite/ indefinite) article.
Other useful search terms
Types of exercise- “gapfill”, “sentence completion”, “error correction” etc.
Types of game- “word search”, “pelmanism”, “SNAP”, “crossword”, “hangman”, “picture difference”, “picture dictation”, “board game”, “Taboo”, “Pictionary”, “Find Someone Who”, “mingle”, “GTKY”, “grammar auction” etc.
The name, level and maybe unit number of the textbook you are using, e.g. “New Cutting Edge Intermediate Module 2 Supplementary worksheet”
The meaning of the grammar point you are searching for (e.g. “Present Continuous for future arrangements”)
Names of levels- “Pre-Intermediate”, “False beginner”, “Proficiency” etc
Ages of children- “Kindergarten”, “Preschool”, “10 to 13 year olds” etc
Types of test- “progress test”, “placement test”, “end of level test” etc
Still nothing useful?
You could try starting a thread asking for links to suitable materials on the suitable section of a TEFL site’s forums
Searching for the same thing again
If you have a hard copy of a worksheet that you want to find again on the internet, the easiest way is to type in one long complete line of text from the worksheet with speech marks around it, which should usually lead to just the one result of the correct worksheet. There are also things you can do beforehand and as you go along that will make it easier to search for the same and different worksheets next time:
How to make it easier next time
• Put a couple of hours aside to join sites and then keep your log-in details very handy (e.g. all pasted into one Word document, or on a Post It on the side of your computer monitor)
• Spend a couple of hours looking through pages connected to popular textbooks and other pages from publishers, bookmarking the good sites and specific pages, and keeping a mental note of which sites are worth looking at when they come up during future searches
• Ditto for sample pages of books with relevant names e.g. “… Games”
• As you are searching, if you come across pages or sites which aren’t relevant but look worth going back to, quickly add them to Favourites, add them to your blogroll, add to a bookmarking site like Delicious or save on your hard disk
• Print out worksheets and add them to your or teachers’ room files, organised by level, grammar point etc.
• If possible, save website pages, PDF files and Word document worksheets on your hard disk, e.g. in My Documents or in a folder marked with name of textbook and unit you are going to use it to for, level, language point, site it is from etc
• Check your browser’s History for sites you found useful before, or do the same Google search as before (using Google search history) to remember which ones were worth looking at again
• Always use the same computer and search engine with cookies turned on, so that it can learn your preferences and interests and store your history
• Make a mental note of sites that need log in, have out of date links etc.
• Install a search engine plug in or put the search engine(s) in Favourites to save a few seconds every time you need to search
• Set how long your computer or browser stores your internet history as the longest possible so that things you found before can be found again by searching through History
Andrea @ Viadeo says:
Great advice! I always found it most useful to identify key sites with a number of high quality lesson plans that I could rely on repeatedly.
silvia fink says:
I have never found such an useful article like this one ( and the other you send,too)You are my best companion to teach to my students ,and the online podcast etc..
I am waiting for your future lessons.
Oh, and I forgot. Here’s one that I think is decent for adults learning verb tenses – it breaks things down into form, use, and exercises.
Thanks, Alex. This is very useful. Could you give us your personal top 10 picks ? Perhaps 10 that are relevant for adult learners and 10 for young learners? That would probably save us a lot of time, too, or at least get us off to a good start.
Thank you very much for this article. May I make another suggestion ? Use the Bookmarks feature of Mozilla to store useful sites under different headings: Games, Online dictionaries, Podcasts, whatever…there is also the possibility to organize bookmarks if you want to rearrange things.
Another idea…copy and paste in a word document dedicated to a certain topic all those links you found useful when you had searched for it earlier. After that, just click on them in that document to go again to that site.
Hope you find these useful !