What Do You Do When They Beg for Worksheets?

What Do You Do When They Beg for Worksheets?

I was contacted recently by a teacher friend in Virginia whom I’d previously worked with about shifting her classroom environment more to a PBL setting. Ginny Ogden is a high school Spanish teacher whose kids have all been shifted for about half of their day into a PBL setting. The students had no say in this PBL schedule. And it’s not for their entire day. These two factors alone can drop some significant hurdles into the Project Based Learning process.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not demonizing anyone here. I just want us to recognize it’s a tough situation.

High school students are often some of the slowest to deeply embrace PBL because, let’s face it, it’s harder and they’ve spent how many years…what percentage of their lives learning how to “do school” a different way? And now we’re changing the rules. In many kids, this can cause frustration levels to soar!

And Ginny’s students were no different. In fact, she reached out to me completely exasperated because only a few days before, students were complaining about how hard they were expected to work and asking why couldn’t she just give them vocabulary worksheets like their other teachers? Ginny was devastated and felt as if she was between a rock and a hard place.

Don’t worry, this has a happy ending…

Ginny was heartbroken. She knew she didn’t want to go back to worksheets. She wanted her kids to want to learn. So when she reached out to me, she was at a truly low point and ready for some help. I was happy to help.

What do you do when they beg for vocab lists and worksheets?

Like a good PBL coach I listened, asked questions, and then I threw her in the deep end.

But she wasn’t alone there in the deep end. I also got in with her. I also recruited Maria Magdalena Ortiz-Smith and Jennifer Miller, two outstanding educators in Dodge City Kansas, to jump in as well. And once I explained the situation to them, they could not have been happier to jump! Jennifer is a 4th grade classroom teacher and Maria works with English Language Learner supports as part of her job. PBL ELL collaboration urgency

What we needed was Ginny’s class to have a little more authenticity to their work. Something that they could bite onto and that would bite back a bit if they began to slack off.

Enter Jennifer Miller’s 4th grade class, and more specifically, the 10 English-Language learners in her classroom. She also invited 4 other ELL students to the party!

What we did was to challenge, Ginny’s Spanish 2 and 3 classes to write a fun book for english language learners in Spanish that would help them learn English…with a bonus twist!

Here’s the script I used to hook them into the challenge.

short, sweet, simple, and delivered via Zoom

Boy, you want to talk about nerves, excitement, and engagement! Ginny’s students went from begging for worksheets to creating both fully-illustrated written and exciting audio books!

Because, you see, Jennifer’s students will be judging which book is the best. And the best book will be published! A handful of Ginny’s students will not only have written a book, but a book in Spanish and the stakes are high!

And boy, did the work attitude change in that classroom overnight!

How did they pull off this cross-country connection? 

Ginny reports that these high schoolers were so scared of being made fun of by these 4th graders that they worked way, way, WAY harder than they had been working — well beyond what Ginny’s highest expectations had been for them. They needed their books to be perfect. They didn’t care as much about being published as they cared about making a good impression on Jennifer’s sweet little 4th graders.

And these 4th graders, for the record, were gentle, encouraging, safely critical, and worked super hard to pick their favorite book to be the winner (and published)!

And Ginny reported that this was the project the students worked on tirelessly and had the best results on all year long!

This type of engagement isn’t an accident folks. It’s PBL with… 

  1. a great hook
  2. high stakes of collaborating with another class across the country
  3. high stakes of competition (winning the book publishing)
  4. regular and consistent check-ins during the process from both the collaborating schools and the challenging agent (me) 

Want to know more about how it was done?

Here’s the presentation that Ginny created and shared at a FLAVA 2018 (Foreign Language Association of Virginia).
Here’s the video Ginny used to hook the high school students into the project.


If you want to know more about bringing this type of engagement to your school and community, let me know

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Written by GingerLewman

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