Make Better Resources (Part 2: Appearance and Challenge)

In Part 2 of my blog post about creating quality resources quickly, I’m focusing on the ‘quality’ aspect (For the ‘quickly’ part, click here). There will be a final part about creativity next week.

Soooo here we go…


Step 1: Appearance

This is probably the aspect least focused on when creating a resource, yet it’s so quick to do. Make that pile of questions look presentable. You might even make it look appealing in the process. It’s not that hard, honestly. Here are a couple of simple design tips:

1. Don’t put a title in the middle with an underline. (trivial, but effective)

I mean, does anyone apart from teachers actually do that?? Find me a professional poster or any documentation with a centre-aligned, underlined title (don’t really). Does it stem back to the days where we ourselves were in school? And were we taught it because our teachers were taught it? It’s like an underlined centre-aligned title fractal.


On a serious note, we’re inadvertently contributing towards students creating posters, adverts, brochures etc in any subject, that look more like this:

rubbish poster

than this


What’s wrong with left aligned bold large text (with…no underline!!). It looks NICE! Or even, my favourite, the hugely unpopular, but awesome… right align. You could even change the font colour occasionally (I know it’s most likely going to be black and white, but there’s still room to manoeuvre !)

So unpopular. So pretty.


Text can be pretty regardless of content.

2. Don’t go text crazy.

There are a few exceptions that I’ll come to, but more text = excluding students who have poor literacy. It’s a maths lesson. You want literacy links? Great. You want students to be unable to access the maths skills you’re trying to get them to harness? Knock yourself out. Of course there will be lessons where the point is to unpick the text, I’m CLEARLY not referring to those lessons here. I’m talking about run of the mill embedding a skill. That rhymes, it must be important. Write it down.

3. Ugh. Just… this.

not ok

(Yes, this is taken from a certain ticky thing. Which incidentally DOES have some good stuff amongst the… other stuff). This is not OK. This is never OK. The white sheet with 700 questions on it, squished together because students need MORE questions. MORE MORE MORE. Is it engaging? No. Is it increasing in challenge? Just barely, but mostly in terms of concentration.


I get embedding. I really do. The whole point of this three part post is about good resources for EMBEDDING. But the white page squishy-mush questions are LAZY. Naughty lazy, lazy teacher. You’re paid for this! Is it so important that a student does 30 questions in a lesson? I’m pretty sure 10-15 questions plus some kind of recall and recap (are they the same thing? Meh). a lesson or three later is WAY better for retention. Because research, research, research, research, research, research.

Add some colour (if you can afford it. Put colour prints in plastic sleeves so you only print them once).

Add some pictures – put some GOOD pictures in your clipart folder.

clipart folder

(click for larger image)

Step 2:  Choice and Challenge

OK, here’s my rule of thumb. If it’s not challenging FOR YOU even in the slightest, at any point, then it’s not challenging enough for them. Even middle sets (if setting is your thing). Bottom sets … OK this rule won’t work, but the principal is the same. Don’t underestimate the challenge they want and need.

Let me clear, I don’t mean from the first question, I mean in the build up.

Here’s an example:


There’s 15 questions, I tell students I want them all to do question 1, then they can choose their own path, so long as they get another five questions done in ten minutes or so. The algorithm is the same for every single one of those questions (except maybe q15 if you’ve taught bloody FOIL), so what’s to stop them? And at around question 11 my teacher brain starts thinking “ooh that one’s a bit different” and there it is. I had to think. Just for a second, but that tells me I have challenge in there. Some students won’t get there. Some will cling to the left column for life. But they have access. Surely you are OBLIGED to give them access?! You might be surprised how eager students are to show you they can do that last column. And how some students can even take that in their stride.

Don’t assume your students aren’t as smart as you. Some are much smarter, they just don’t have the subject knowledge yet.


One thought on “Make Better Resources (Part 2: Appearance and Challenge)

  1. Pingback: Actual Maths: Thoughts on #mathsconf4, part 5 (at last!) | Teaching at the Edge of Chaos

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