• Anita Demitroff

A tall order: find an alternative to worksheets and help learners develop creativity and hand skills

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid those A4 rectangular pieces of paper called worksheets. But there are other kinds of paper-based activities,called fold-ups, that consolidate content and boost creativity and hand skills through folding, cutting and drawing. Moreover, we can use recycled paper to make them.

This idea is appropriate for all ages in Pre-and Primary and can even be adapted to science classes. Below are pictures of two examples. One is a follow-up to “The Big Wide-Mouthed Frog”and deals with animal descriptions (you can see how this was done in Lesson Plan 4). The other is from a unit on nutrition and deals with four paper doll characters who have food intolerances (I’m Greg and I can’t eat egg. I’m Mary and I can’t eat dairy. I’m Pete and I can’t eat wheat. I’m Barb and I can’t eat a lot of carbs.).

An A3 sheet folded in half can be cut to produce three flaps on the top section to make a Venn diagram. This can help us compare reptiles and amphibians, for example.

The flap on the left is for characteristics unique to reptiles (have scales); the one on the right, those exclusive to amphibians (have skin and gills) and the one in the middle, what those two groups have in common (lay eggs, have lungs).

The basic fold-up and the routines that go with it

Fold-ups are ideal for the story-songs from Barefoot Books. All of these are appealing to young learners and some can even be used by learners in later Primary and each has eight elements, for example, eight animals in “Animal Boogie” or eight forms of transport in “We All Go Travelling By”.

After reading these books, we can start with the basic fold-up: fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise and then in half again and … again. There are four rectangles on each side of the fold-up when it is opened, as in the picture below. Fold is a common command in English and art classrooms, so make sure you give it its own musicality when we say this word so that children can recognise it better. And of course, the phrase for confirmation “Like this?” comes into play.

Another routine we can reinforce here is for the children (from early Primary on) is to chant, as you are handing out the paper: one piece of paper, please. This is a mouthful and takes some practice, but it reinforces the concept of uncountable paper, which they will study later.

Eventually they will be able to say, “Can I have one sheet of paper, please?” We can ask how many pieces of paper we need for a row of pupils and, when they count and say, we respond “Four. Four bananas?” to get them used to saying “Four pieces of paper!”

To inspire creativity, we can say what we think the piece of paper can be as we fold it. This can be a pair of glasses. This can be a hat. This can be a book. This can be a computer. Rather than fight this tendency to be playful, we make the most of it.

Foster autonomy

In my experience children start to be able to fold like this from early Primary. If they do folding activities on a regular basis, they will slowly get more competent and confident. One child will inevitably ask someone else to do it, but our response should be “You can do it!” and then we teach that child how.

In Pre-primary, the fold-ups are pre-folded and reused; the hand skills entail manipulating the fold-up in class, pointing to each element as it is mentioned. They can even lift a flap as each element is mentioned, though this option normally works best with the older children in Pre-Primary. The example below shows children that girls can be doctors or astronauts and that boys can be dancers or nurses.

You can ask children to draw the elements themselves when they are five or older. In an inclusive classroom, you may have the pictures copied onto the fold-up in some cases. Drawing is a skill that can be lost, yet it fosters imagination, observation and hand-eye coordination. To find more time for these activities, make them a project for the arts and crafts class.

More creative formats

If you have time to prepare a more ambitious fold-up, copy illustrations onto the sheets. Also, we can tape two folded A3 sheets into a crown or two A4 fold-ups into an arm band. Below is a crown from “We All Go Travelling By” and an arm band adaptation of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: We’re going on a pilgrimage, We’re going to Santiago, what a rainy day! We’re not tired! Oh no, river!

When doors and other manipulable elements are added, fold-ups become even more special. Below is one based on “Rocket Countdown”. Early Primary pupils make them and then they have been used by their five-year-old classmates, they go back to their original owners.

We can make more and more sophisticated fold-ups and eventually inspire learners to design one themselves to be used in a presentation or as a unit summary. Folding a sheet lengthwise into thirds leaves a street in the middle and rows of shops on either side, perfect for neighbourhood descriptions (What’s opposite the chemist?)! Fold the same sheet the other way to expose the blank side and you have a pair work exercise: A can describe what is on her street plan to B, who draws it on the blank side of his sheet.

With time, pupils can look at examples of creative paper in books for inspiration, like the ones illustrating processes and phenomena in “How the World Works”. Alternatively, they can consult menus of options for pop-up and attachment techniques from other sources, like this display from Michigan Destination Imagination .

Or the guide, “Pop Up”.

By providing our learners with alternatives, teachers show that we can break away from flat, A4 pieces of paper!


By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.