The classic handout is one of teaching’s most used resources. But what makes a good handout? Here, EF’s Marc Kets gives his top 10 tips for taking yours from fine to fantastic.
Firstly, why do we use handouts?
It’s not because we love wrestling with uncooperative photocopiers, right? In fact, handouts support student learning in several ways. When used well, they:
1. Encourage student engagement (after all, communication between students is key)
2. Encourage active participation (helping train learners not to expect to be spoon-fed the answers)
3. Contribute to controlled learning (giving students set questions, activities, and a place to write)
4. Support the class’s learning outcome (by working towards goals rather than distracting or detracting)
5. Elicit engagement on subject matter (when information is organized and presented in a logical manner)
6. Build on skills taught in class (and include steps to work through)
A note on using graphics
The 90’s are long gone, and with them, the days of quirky Clip Art pictures that elicit a chuckle and nothing else. By all means, include images on your handouts – but remember to use them effectively and consciously:
- Choose images and graphics that enhance and support the text
- Use them in a way that elicits learning (rather than simply being entertaining)
- Label diagrams and images where necessary (or leave space for students to do so)
- Stop when you’re ahead: less is (truly!) more
Marc Kett’s top 10 tips for great handouts
Now we know the “whys” of using handouts, what about the “hows”?
1. Know your audience
Just as marketers, when designing handouts teachers need to keep a detailed picture of their target audience in mind at all times. Your specific class – namely, their age, level, interest, needs, strengths and weaknesses – will affect the type of handout you create. Ideally, your handout will be age and level-appropriate, create interest, meet the learning needs of that level, enhance skills, and provide challenges.
2. Be clear about your expectations
When students know what an outcome should be, they can actively work towards it. Always communicate your expectations simply, or alternatively, help students gain the necessary skills to self-determine goals and outcomes.
3. Use whitespace effectively
Busy handouts are visually tiring, take away from the materials at hand, create confusion, and hijack students’ eyes, making them focus on the wrong elements. Use whitespace to your advantage to direct your class’s focus to the write content.
4. Encourage interaction
Handouts go well beyond gap-fills. Use yours to get students on their feet, working together, challenging each other, and discussing the topic at hand.
5. Think about what will happen to your handouts
At the very least, endeavor to design handouts that can be used multiple times – such as in class then again for homework and later review. (A simple numbering system and consistency with formatting helps a great deal.) Don’t create handouts for the sake of having them: if a concept or class doesn’t require one, don’t feel you must create one. Unnecessary one-use handouts and those without added value will be quickly lost or thrown away – which isn’t good teaching or environmental practice.
6. Differentiate the learning
In any given class you will have students who thrive on kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learning. Cater to their needs by creating handouts that alternatively play to the strengths of each learning type. Create dynamism by going past traditional activities and encouraging communication between students using the handout as a guide.
7. Flip the classroom
Try facilitating a class where your students take turns teaching, using a handout as the basis for their “lesson”.
8. Bridge the gap between watching and doing
Give students a jolt of energy by removing the expectation that you the teacher will provide answers. Challenge them to actively use their language skills to find answers; whether on their own or by consulting with a partner.
9. Encourage communication
Communication is the ultimate goal for students learning a foreign language. Ensure your handouts encourage communicative learning by requiring that students talk with each other.
10. Make them your own
Make your handouts unique to who you are as a teacher: write in your voice, use humor, or include class in-jokes to increase interest and connection.