As teachers, we’re constantly doing three or four different jobs at once. In the classroom, you’re a coach, a counselor, and sometimes a little bit of a babysitter. When you’re creating your online materials, you’re not just developing a curriculum, you’re also developing a user interface. This article won’t replace a four year course in graphic design, but it will give you some tips to make your handouts more readable, more navigable, and most importantly, more copy-paste-able.
No alarms and no surprises
As much as we might want our students to hang on our every word, they’re busy people, and they need to be able to skim and scan. Help them do that by giving them a consistent design. When your handouts look the same from week to week, your students will quickly learn how to use them, and they’ll be able to focus on the content.
Try to stick to just two fonts. If you’re a language teacher like me, you need to be very careful about choosing readable fonts that are dyslexia-friendly. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t adopted OpenDyslexic yet, but some fonts come close. Architect’s Daughter is available in Google Docs, and it has unique glyphs for b, p, q, and d, so it’s a good choice for headings on a more casual document. Comic Sans may look cheesy, but people with dyslexia report that it’s much easier on the eyes. You can find a drop-down menu with more fonts in the ribbon bar.
Make it pop with just a few accent colors. Use one color to indicate instructions, a muted tone to indicate sidebars or optional advice, and another, vibrant color for super important warnings. You can add a simple background color to a section of text from the Format > Paragraph Styles > Borders and Shading dialogue.
Don’t go overboard here. When everything is colorful, nothing is. Keep it to three basic hues, and use tints and shades if you need a few more options. Adobe offers a free color palette creator on their website, so you can find a set of colors that works for you. Triadic schemes have a nice, vibrant look.
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Think about the last time someone handed you a form. How did you approach it? Did you start at the top left corner and read every word? If you’re a normal, well-adjusted individual, you probably skimmed it to find the places you’re supposed to fill in. Your students are doing the same thing with your worksheets.
Help your students figure out what they need to do by clearly signposting the sections they need to fill in. Make a table with just one cell, and give that cell a nice, thick border to tell your students that this is where their writing goes.
You can get fancier with larger tables, and students will usually be able to follow right along. Remember: conventional designs are conventional for a reason. Let your students’ experience work for them! Make your handouts follow the patterns they see everywhere in social media, games, and apps.
Go easy on them
Readability is key. Challenge your students with content, not with finding your content. Think of all the effort you’ve put into motivating your students . Don’t let it go to waste just because your handouts are too difficult to follow!
Wery, Jessica J., and Jennifer A. Diliberto. "The effect of a specialized dyslexia font, OpenDyslexic, on reading rate and accuracy." Annals of dyslexia 67, no. 2 (2017): 114-127.
Photo Credit: Jeff's Google Doc and screenshots
Jeff is a language teacher and linguist based in Tokyo, Japan. His research focuses on second language phonology and articulatory phonetics—how we learn to use our mouths to make foreign sounds. He would very much like to know how you pronounce “marry, merry, and Mary". Twitter Contact: @JeffMoore