Booklets: Some Practical Advice

When it comes to booklets, I started out as a sceptic. Seeing so many other schools touting their shift to booklets on social media, I wanted to think carefully about the pros and cons. I saw two major pitfalls: the workload involved in producing booklets and a concern that they would become too restrictive for teaching and learning. Having now started on our booklet revolution, the former is definitely true but the latter has not proven out to be a problem for us.

I had a conversation at the Geographical Association’s annual conference – with a textbook publisher no less – about our shift towards booklets and the lessons we’d learnt. So I’m just typing up those learning points. I don’t want this to be an evangelical post. I’m all for schools making their own decisions after deep thinking and careful consideration. A lot of what I say could be classed as practicalities, when and if you decide to take the plunge.

  • Plan/outline your lessons first. This might be obvious to most readers, but it is really important that you go through the thought-process of planning your SOW before you then put the booklet together. If nothing else, it avoids your lessons being task-oriented. In terms of workload, now that I’ve made a couple of booklets, I can safely say that the actual booklet-making is quite a swift process if you have a good grasp on the intended content for each lesson and how the SOW looks as a whole. So if you’re planning a brand new SOW (rather than ‘converting’ an existing SOW into a booklet), then do the planning first and then produce your booklet alongside your slides and other resources.
  • We have found that using PowerPoint is easiest. Having tried various software packages, we found that PowerPoint, while not perfect, offers the easiest-to-use package for manipulating the text and objects which you’d want to include on each booklet page.
  • Number your pages. This helps with lesson flow, especially when you’re starting lessons. It quickly becomes part of student routines: ‘turn to page X and start your recall five’. You can also put the page numbers on lesson slides to further aid this.
  • Number the lessons. Before we routinely numbered pages, we numbered lessons. This helps to tie in with your IT filing system.
  • Add extra lined pages. As well as putting in plenty of lined pages for extended writing tasks, we’ve also added more lined pages at the back of each booklet. This allows students’ to ‘overflow’ and it also allows teachers to do additional activities beyond the core SOW, overcoming that potential fear of booklets straitjacketing teaching and learning.
  • Include wider reading articles. One of our more recent innovations, which is yet to be fully tested or developed, is to add an article or two which can be used for wider reading. This might be a useful extension task for students who have completed their main task, or it could form the basis for an additional lesson which you might need if you’re trying to avoid the department becoming too far apart in terms of where they’re up to on a SOW.
  • Don’t worry about dates. Originally we had a line for students to add the date. Then we realised this really wasn’t necessary, especially with lessons being numbered. Plus it is really easy to see in the booklet where a student has been absent.
  • Knowledge organisers, vocab lists, etc can be easily included. We’ve had to change them from A3 landscape, to A4 portrait (spread over multiple pages) but having the KO at the front of each booklet puts everything easy-to-hand for students. The same can be said for vocab lists and any other key resources which you want students to access across a SOW.
  • Include a space for students to stick in feedback sheets. I appreciate that feedback policies and practices will vary from school to school. At my school, we provide whole class feedback on a pro-forma which is broadly standardised across the school. We just have a space on a page for them to stick in an A5 copy of the feedback sheet, followed by some lined pages for them to do their response activities.
  • Keep a teacher copy for modelling and scripting. I’ve done a fair amount of reading and research around modelling, questioning and exposition. I also recognise that as we become more experienced as teachers, we accumulate our ‘best approach’ in terms of how to explain concepts, which questions to ask, what common misconceptions arise, etc. I know teachers will have a range of ways of keeping track of this accumulated wisdom. For me, having my own copy of the SOW booklet has become the ideal vehicle for keeping track of all of this experience and has really helped me to sharpen up teaching. You can also have your copy (or a fresh blank copy, which you can live model in) under a visualiser for modelling. As well as having my own notes on activities, which I’ll sometimes do alongside the students, I’ll also script (or at least bullet-point) my explanations and questions. I also add sticky notes to pages to track possible improvements for the SOW.
  • Print the booklets saddle-stitch. I know this is an incredibly practical point, but it is a really valuable one. We have had booklets printed both saddle-stitch (A3 folded down to A4, for those of you who aren’t reprographics nerds) and A4 side-stitched. The saddle-stitch booklets are much more durable, so if your school has this option go for it.
  • SOW review. I mentioned above about how I keep sticky notes in my teacher copy of the booklet as I go along, with improvements/ideas which occur to me as I’m teaching and reflecting on lessons. This is obviously possible without booklets, but I guess it is easier to annotate a booklet with changes so that comments appear in context. It also proves the point that booklets are evolutionary and dynamic – they can improve over time, just like a SOW which you deliver via exercise books or any other model.

These are the main learning points we’ve gleaned to far from moving to booklets. For a bit more context: as a department of three teachers, we decided to start with Key Stage 3 (which is three years at our school). We have rolled out the booklets and accompanying lesson resources over the course of the year. Producing the booklets for the first time is time-consuming; as I said above though, it is easier when the booklet-making comes after the SOW thinking/planning. Also once you’ve done a booklet or two, you will have familiarised yourself with the software and also have a handy stash of pages/objects which you can reuse and tweak. My last booklet took me less than four hours to put together, included thirteen lessons, re-formatting a knowledge organiser and tweaking the accompanying slides.

I’m sure that we will continue to learn from and improve upon our booklet-making process. As I do, I’ll try and update this post and/or follow it up with subsequent posts. I am also conscious that other educators have already written a lot about booklets. I’ve put a few links below and will add to that list where I can.

As a ‘starter for ten’, here is the booklet and accompanying slides (so you can see how they link) I made for our Year 11 pre-release issue evaluation (AQA GCSE):

I’d welcome feedback – questions, comments or contributions. I hope this has been a useful read.

Other useful resources

Mr Thornton Teach – Booklets, a labour of love – I think this was one of the first blogs on booklets I read and Greg does a better job than I do of justifying booklets as a model for delivering the curriculum.

Alistair Hamill – why I love using booklets – a geography-specific blog, which means I don’t need to say much about why booklets are a good option. Alistair also covers more on the thought-process to go alongside some of the more operational practicalities which I cover here.

Miss Cox – a fabulous directory of resources on booklets – this is very extensive and probably negates the need for me to list more resources, but I will add any which I find particularly useful.

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