Cleaning out my closet - Were those really the ‘good old days’?

While having a clear out or sorting through old boxes at home, have you ever come across a really embarrassing photo of yourself? You know the one I mean -a younger version of you with a particularly bad haircut (possibly a frizzy perm or a centre-parting), glasses so large they might have come from a fancy dress shop and a sweater with at least 8 different colours on it arranged in some hideous ‘pattern’… Well, I think I just had the teaching equivalent!

Today, while trying to clear some space in my study room, I came across a box full of old hand-outs buried at the back of a cupboard. These were all lovingly hand-crafted during my first teaching job here in Turkey at a dershane (language school for adults) - yes that’s right: hand-crafted as in written out by hand. Not a word processor in sight!

The first few I looked at were nothing special (just cuttings from various textbooks rearranged onto one photocopy page) but then I found some of my own creations - cringe worthy to say the least! Pages and pages of gap-fills, grammar questions of dubious accuracy and crappy illustrations!

I can only assume that I kept them thinking that my new job with young learners may only prove temporary and I may be back teaching adults before long. Or perhaps I thought they might be handy for one-to-one tuition… Who knows? Anyway, with on-demand computer access and a whole decade of teaching knowledge and experience to inform my efforts now, the only place they belong is in the recycling bin.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to let a few live on through the pages of this blog. ‘Why?’ do I hear you ask? Three reasons really:

  1. In light of Jason Renshaw’s recent excellent tutorials on how to make good quality materials, may these serve as an example of how NOT to make materials!
  2. To show how far I’ve come since those novice days.
  3. To demonstrate to all those Stage 2 dogme thinkers, that just because you used to teach in a school with no proper coursebooks and had to create your own teaching materials, it does NOT mean that you were ‘teaching dogme all along’.
  4. OK, so make that 4 reasons - I thought it would be good for a laugh.

Here goes! (You may need to click on the images to see them clearly… then again, you may not want to!)

Introducing Your New Teacher

New Teacher

Me! With hair!

Funny that I should find this one after my recent ‘Truth or Lie?’ blog challenge. The premise was simple - the students ask me questions to fill the gaps before deciding what information is true and what was not. The truth is, I didn’t really need a hand-out for this!

What’s Going to Happen?

going to

What’s going to happen? Your students are going to be very bored, that’s what’s going to happen! They are also going to finish this hand-out you wasted 20 pieces of paper on in about 2 minutes when you could have easily displayed the same ‘art’ skills on the board in a similar amount of time.

Multiple Meanings of Modals


This worksheet takes a tricky area for learners… and makes it harder! I seem to remember a couple of advanced classes really getting into the finer details on this one though (despite the stick figure illustrations!)

More Relative Clauses

Relative Clauses

‘Course 13’ at my old school was notorious for it’s heavy grammar content. I believe this hand-out was intended to alleviate the burden! Note my ‘made by Dave’ copyright claim in the top right-hand corner. ;)


stative and dynamic

A great worksheet to show how obsessed teachers and students alike were with grammar at my old school. Believe it or not, this was well-received in class!

“The Good Old Days”

Good old days

Saving the best till last, I challenge anyone, native speaker or not to complete this one without one or two serious ‘wtf?’ pauses. This was designed for an advanced class but, unsurprisingly, even pushed them too far. These days, I might do something similar but most likely I would just tell the story, invite comments on it and then have the try to reconstruct the gapped text. Still (at the risk of giving the answers away), I like the sentiment that “they were told/taught to teach with ‘just/only a pen’, as they used to do.”

So, what is the secret to making great materials? Answer:

“You must find a way that works for you.”

Smile with tongue out

Do you have any cringe-inducing materials lying around? Please do share!


  1. Great post! It makes me realise I was not alone in creating all hand-drawn materials (the computers were far too limited and slow for my liking) during my early days of teaching. Coming back from Korea, I recycled most of them, except for a few that I thought I could get more mileage out here, and probably did. Soon after arriving here though, I graduated to cutting and pasting articles from the newspaper and juxtaposing these bits and pieces with hand-written exercises. So professional... Haha. I'll look around to find a few.

  2. Love them! I got my first writing materials job out of doing this sort of thang... I used to make stuff on the ferry journey between Hong Kong and Lamma Is. I probably wasn't as thorough in texts as was doing back-to-back teaching and always had a penchant for the minimal.

    One day a hard-working-mother-of-three-teacher approached me, looked at my stuff and said, I'll pay you if I can have copies. I laughed her and said she could have my spare-copies, we did this for a while whenever we bumped into each other.

    A few months later she got a summer-school assignment - she then told me the 'specific' subjects that had to be taught and paid me to create her entire set of materials.

    :-) 'twas good fun, 'twas.


  3. Really enjoyed this, Dave!

    As a materials designer, obviously I cringed a bit looking over some of those handouts, but I also got a strong positive feeling about seeing a teacher personalising the materials process and really 'putting in' for his students. As scrappy as some of the results are, I think students in general still respond well to the idea that their teacher is creating content and material for THEM (and not just following the markings on a preprovided map made by someone who works in an office on the other side of the world and no longer actually teachers -- and certainly never taught or knew THESE learners).

    From my perspective, the goal is to take that personal effort/investment from the teacher and marry it with better teaching methodology and more professional design skills. This then amplifies a lot of the positives and increases the chance of a positive (and personal) reception from the students.

    I particularly like your point about unplugged teaching not necessarily being about just not using a commercial coursebook. As you mentioned, your handouts here are as 'plugged' as anything a coursebook asks of students.

    Whatever you do, though, don't dustbin these! I think they're precious and seeing where one has come from can be powerful in terms of recognising where one is at now. Would have really liked to see these materials perhaps lined up next to more recent material you've designed -- would have made for an excellent 'then/now' demonstration!

    Cheers mate - this blog has become so brilliant. Really required reading for the ol' Raven...

    - JR

  4. Hi Dave,
    I don't have any old materials yet. Give me a few years and I'm sure I will. It was fascinating to see them, and to appreciate how much effort went into them. As Jason says, I'm sure your students liked the fact you were thinking of them. You have great handwriting too :)

  5. That's cool, Dave!

    I think that at the same time you were doing this I was photocopying stacks of grammar gap-fills.
    The only work sheet I produced by myself in the early days was of a Nirvana song, but I don't have it anymore.

    The guy drinking up a bottle of raki was a great idea for the "What's going to happen?" - actually that's a great handout!

  6. I had a big clean out myself this summer so you are out of luck :P I didn't find many hand made worksheets as I had had a previous clearing session a few years back but there were quite a few Sentence Auctions in there on whatever grammar points we has been covering at that time. Like Willy, song worksheets were always hand written and took hours to make (rewinding the cassette - yes, cassette! - over and over to find out what that elusive word Liam Gallagher was pronouncing in such a strange way...)

    It's a shame you don't teach adults anymore, it could be interesting to see what today's learners would make of them!

    Thanks for sharing and making us smile! :)

  7. Loved it, Dave!

    I did many of those in my the dark ages (before computers and word processors and having access to them)... but I don't think I have any. I have a tendency of keeping too many things and having bursts of clean-up time every once in a while, when I go nuts and throw boxes and boxes of things and papers out.

    But seeing your ancient, handcrafted worksheets made me smile - and a bit of nostalgia crept along. I did them all: grammar, vocabulary, songs...

    I agree with Jason about the point you made about dogme not being the same thing as the absence of coursebooks.

    Thanks for another great post. :-)

  8. Very funny and all too easy to relate to! Don't know about you but I also had the additional embarassment of a box full of little bits of card of various activities, lovingly cut-up and put into labelled envelopes. Poor trees...

  9. Thanks for all the comments. :) It just goes to show that sometimes 'coming clean' about the less than perfect parts of your teaching past (or present) is the way to go!

    Tyson - I also had several 'cut and paste' hand-outs with newspaper articles, magazine adverts and so on but didn't post them as they technically weren't mine to post. One that was particulalrly inspired though was an article from an English-language Turkish newspaper proudly proclaiming that prestigious British broadsheet The Independent had published an article saying Turkey was the 'sexiest' place to go for your summer holiday. A quick email back to England and I got a copy of the original article, which (as I had suspected) turned out to be not so glowing and the Turkish writer had obviously missed the tongue-in-cheek references to cheap package tours. It made for a great lesson comparing the language used and a nice discussion on package holidays and sarcasm!

    Karenne - so you go to go into materials writing as a paid job and I didn't?!? Wonder why... :p

    Jason - I thought this would get your attention. There is a high level of personalisation, isn't there? Looking through those old materials actually brought back some memories of the events that led to me including a particular example on the worksheet (like me nearly breaking my leg and ending up with a massive bruise on my shin and ankle after a moped accident and the teacher from New Orelans who once got off a bus before it had actually stopped!) I made some material for my current learners to use just this morning and, although not as in-depth as the examples above, I'll post them later this week for comparison. ;)

    Sandy - you'll get there soon enough. ;) I think I did well to keep my handwriting legible as the space ran out on a couple of those worksheets! It always looks much better when I write on the large space that is the whiteboard.

    Tony - these are all samples of my work from my Kent English days. I believe it's a school you know well!

    Michelle - I had a couple of song worksheets as well, one for 'Being Around' by the Lemonheads ('Great for the 2nd Conditional' we used to say!) and another for a Turkish cover of a Beatles song! You've given me an idea for an interesting lesson/challenge - go into class with an old hand-out and see how your students react!

    Cecilia - 'dark ages'?!? 'ancient'?!? It was only 9 or 10 years ago! Technology makes time fly by, doesn't it? :)

    eltstew - I think my quiz and game cards are all stored at work with my early young learner materials!

  10. Great post Dave,

    Brings back memories. I used to sit next to a woman who thought she was that bloke from Art Attack. She spent hours copying, cutting up, sticking, folding and colouring in. She even used to buy her own coloured card and felt tips. The end result were creative looking worksheets that took 5 minutes to use and were left behind. I do hope she's packed it in now but somehow I doubt it. Perhaps she's got a job at Blue Peter (is it still on??).



  11. haha, i can totally relate to you. unfortunately, i HAVE shared my cringe-inducing material. on scribd/eslprintables i've posted many worksheets i am now ashamed of. but who says i go back there to revise or ultimately delete the embarrassing material? lol

  12. You look better with less, if you know what I mean.

  13. I came to this post late, having heard about it at a conference in Greece. Great stuff. I love the retro look of the materials (no offense there). It made me want to dig out some of my own, but when I looked at the box on top of the shelf I just lost heart...

  14. You heard about it at a conference in Greece?

    That's one of the things I love about the blogosphere - it's so connected and yet so random at the same time. :)

    I would love to see other people's 'retro' materials. Anytime you do dig deeper into that box, let us know. :)


Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting! Your comment will appear after Dave has approved it. :-)