First 15 stages of using worksheets in pre-school English classes
1. Colour anyhow
Very young children will colour a picture without paying any attention to the colour of the real thing it represents nor to the lines that are supposed to mark its limits. As these things will develop naturally with the help of practice in their other classes, there is no need to push for these two things but you can help reach the other stages quicker and add more language by giving them only the colour that the object should be and chanting all through the activity something like “Colour the apple red, colour the apple red, colour colour colour colour, colour the apple red. Finished?” Other ways to prompt them to use the right colour include giving them colour photocopies with part of the shape coloured in already, showing them version that has already been coloured in, or using worksheets that are the same as the colour flashcards they have seen many times before.
2. Control the colour
Depending on how willing the students are to speak out, the next stage is usually to still stick to one colour per worksheet, but with them thinking of and/ or asking for that colour, e.g. “What colour is the sun? Pink?” “No! Yellow!” “That’s right! Ask me for a yellow crayon- (yellow please)” “Yellow please” “Here you are” “Thank you”. In a class where you don’t have time to give the crayons to each child you could let them listen and choose their own colours, but this doesn’t produce as much speaking and they can tend to copy each other instead of paying attention to what the teacher says.
3. Control the shape
Children tend to become more careful about their colouring with time, but you can help them make progress in this and therefore towards the following stages by giving marks and/ or praise for neat work, making everyone wait until the last person has finished each time to discourage rushing, or giving kids who have really messed up another copy to try again with. The design of the worksheet can also help, with a simple design with very thick lines and no corners being easiest.
4. Several colours
Once the students can more or less stay within the lines, you can start to give them several objects on one page, for example an apple, an orange and a pear. To make sure there is still lots of language in it, start off just giving them each crayon as they guess the colour and ask for it.
5. Combined colours
The students should be now be ready to combine several colours in one object, e.g. colouring the leaves of a flower green and the petals yellow.
6. Move up to pencils
Although crayons are easier for small children to grip and use, the thickness of them will eventually become more of a hindrance than a help as the fine detail of the pictures increases, and they will need to be able to use pencils as they start to do tracing and writing. You can make the transition easier by using specially shaped pencils or putting plastic grips on them. If they get frustrated, switch back to crayons for a lesson or two and try again, repeating this process as often as you need to.
7. Complete drawings
Around the time when they are making the transition to pencils, it will also be time to slowly make the transition away from colouring. The easiest activity is to draw missing parts of a picture, starting with (more or less) straight lines and circles. It is easiest to start with pictures where what is missing is obvious, e.g. a teddy bear with one eye or a flashcard they know well with something missing, but you still don’t want them to start drawing before any language has been listened to or produced. Once they have the hang of the activity, move onto things they can’t guess or spot so easily like the chimney on a house or the tail on a rat.
8. More complex instructions
With younger classes it is often best to make a transition by pushing them by trying something new and then going back to something familiar for a while. You can keep colouring useful and fun for a while after just repeating the same colour words all the time is no longer useful with instructions like “Colour ten flowers red and three flowers blue” and “Colour the boy’s hair brown and the girl’s hair yellow”
As you move towards the first stages of writing, students should also be able to draw more and more themselves. To still give drawing some structure to help them and add language, give them a worksheet that represents the background of what they should draw, e.g. a classroom in which they can “Draw a book on the table”. If they can’t yet draw real pictures, they can just draw shapes such as stars in the right place on the picture.
10. Colour in letters and numbers
One step towards writing that can be done fairly early is colouring in block letters and numbers. These can then be made thinner and thinner as the kids become capable of finer motor control until they are ready to just draw a line in the space given rather than colour it in.
11. Mazes/ tracing
The first real step towards writing is making the kinds of straight lines, curves, corners etc that they will need to use to make those letters. This can be made more fun by making the shape part of a picture, e.g. by students drawing loops on the head of a lion to make its mane. Either on the same worksheet or as the weeks go by, students should progress from going over dotted lines to doing it themselves to the teacher’s instructions. The same stages can be used with simple mazes, where students go from trying to stay between the obvious lines to make a squiggle on the way to the aim to choosing the correct one of several options to find the exit from the maze.
12. Identify letters
As students are working on the basic shapes and motor control for writing, they need to be learning how to identify the letters and numbers that they will eventually be writing, e.g. by circling A if the picture has an apple, an angel and/ or an aardvark on it. This can be combined with mazes by having students predict which letter and picture (e.g. the letter C and a picture of a cat rather than the distractor pictures of a dog and hippo) match up and then tracing their way through the maze to check.
13. Give letter and number clues for colouring
Basic reading comprehension can be combined with the old reliable and reassuring colouring activity by children using letter and number clues such as having all the places where they should colour red marked with a letter R. When first doing this, have a key with the colours and first letters somewhere on the sheet as a colour photocopy or on the whiteboard. Other things that can help include colouring things obvious colours they can guess and having only one large block for each colour. As they get better, these things to help them can be slowly taken away and the colour words can be written out in full.
14. Puzzle aspects
Perhaps the final useful thing you can do with colouring as you are making the last steps towards students tracing over and then writing letters and numbers is the letter and number clues leading them to colour something in that they can only identify when they are half finished, e.g. a seemingly random collection of triangles and squares that becomes a chair and table as they colour in the right bits black and brown. Join the dots has a similar appeal. These kinds of simple puzzles are especially popular with 4 to 6 year olds, and so perfect for this stage.
Introducing scissors at this stage can both add variety to what you can do with artistic worksheets and help with the final bits of motor control they need before taking the final step into writing. Easy ways to introduce it for the first time include simple shapes with mainly straight lines they colour in or finish drawing and then cut out (e.g. a house), or cutting out shapes from coloured paper to stick on the right places on the worksheet.