Using booklets in teaching A Level English Literature

The Covid pandemic has accelerated a huge rise in a particular method of delivering learning: the booklet. Almost overnight, teachers across the country printed off their worksheets and extracts in booklet form, hurriedly handing them to students as they walked out of the school gates in March 2020, or driving the length and breadth of the school’s catchment to post them through letterboxes. For many, this meant that students could have paper copies of the work they were doing, and made it easier to manage remote teaching and learning. Having a booklet to work on meant students could reduce their screentime, engaging with and annotating texts in a concrete way.

Since we have been physically back in the classroom, booklets seem to have stuck with us, with many excellent examples being shared online.

And there are so many positives about this. For me, pre-printed booklets means less planning time in the evenings as I have done the majority of the thinking when creating the booklet. It also reduces photocopier rage (the long queues, the lack of ink, the wrong size of paper…), and means that the students are responsible for bringing their own materials to class – so my desk is no longer groaning under the weight of messy piles of paper which, inevitably, get mixed up. Over the past few years, booklets have enabled me to rely less and less on PowerPoint presentations (although there is still a place for them), as I have replaced beautifully-decorated slides with annotating or live modelling under a visualiser. Whilst using booklets may require a bigger investment of time initially, the outcomes can improve daily planning and resource preparation.

Yet, as with almost everything in teaching, there is always the danger of becoming shackled by an idea that was once good, but has become entrapping. I have made booklets which, when I come to use them, feel reductive, or lead me an activity that isn’t actually quite right, or contain pages which I simply disregard altogether. This can be really frustrating and wasteful. It can also depend on how well you know the topic. So my “Othello” booklet – the product of 5 years of work – is quite precise and specific, as I have a pretty good idea of what activities or questions will be required at particular points of the course. However, my booklet on “The Kite Runner” is currently very loose, as I haven’t taught it for several years.

So in creating booklets, flexibility needs to be the key. For me, this means focussing on including really high quality reading resources and fairly open activities.

What you might include

  • Cover page – space for name, class, teacher etc
  • Contents page – this will help students to navigate the booklet as they revise (don’t forget to add page numbers)
  • Course or module outline – students need to know what they are learning, why, and how it fits into their studies
  • Suggested wider reading
  • Independent learning checklist
  • List of knowledge retrieval questions and/or knowledge organiser
  • Key extracts from primary texts with space for annotation
  • Key extracts from secondary texts (e.g. scholarly articles) with space for noting new vocabulary and summaries. You might also include Cornell note-taking sheets after these texts.
  • Model answers and excellence criteria/mark schemes

What you probably won’t want to include

  • Too many specific activities – some activities can be useful to include, particularly if they require something like a complex table that would need to be printed. If you are including these, remember that the first time you use the booklet this activity might need to be re-designed and reprinted separately, or abandoned completely.
  • Too much scaffolding – of course, this will depend on the class. However, if you are going to create a booklet which can be used for different classes and year on year, then adding in the scaffolding might make the booklet less flexible. Can you display the scaffolding on the screen instead?

Speeding things up

  • Create your booklets in powerpoint – to create an A4 booklet click “Design”, “Slide size”, “Custom slide size”, “A4 paper”, “Portrait”.
  • Create a “master booklet” which includes templates for frequently used pages (e.g. cover page, contents page, Cornell note-taking sheet).
  • As you use the booklet in lessons, write notes on it in a particular colour which will act as reminders of how to edit the document for the following academic year. Which pages can be deleted? Which pages need more empty space for annotation?
  • If you create any additional printed resources during the topic, staple them on to the back of the booklet so that you remember to add them in next time.

You can download some of my booklets for free from here.

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