Paper-free teaching

6 tips for paper-free teaching

We can’t have a blog on sustainable English teaching without cleaning out our own backyard. And what does your average ELT teacher worry about, how much photocopying they do, how many worksheets get used (or thrown away) and how many trees get cut down to fuel all this.

As teachers there are times we need to make photocopies for students. The question we have to ask is what don’t we need to photocopy? A reading text is an example of something you will need to photocopy. Here we look at some ways in which we can avoid using photocopies, and in fact improve our teaching. Imagine if all of us in schools around the world asked ourselves this question before hitting the print button. How many trees would we save every week?

The good news is that paper-free teaching is actually synonymous with good, learner-centred teaching. By paper-free teaching we  go on the premise that students have their own exercise books, and you are reducing your needless photocopying, and saving trees as a result!

Paper-free teaching means small changes to your current teaching practice. Here are some ideas:


Rather than printing out a worksheet, dictate what you want to say to the class. For example, you are going to play a video clip about shopping, so you dictate the names of some foods, they write them down, and then tick the ones they hear in the listening text. Of course students will have to ask you how to spell words, or repeat them, but don’t worry, this is real communication in the language you’re teaching!

Picture dictation:

Tell your students to draw a number of objects in their notebooks. As a listening task they tick the ones they hear about, or the ones they see if its a video.

Student-generated Find someone who…

Usually involves photocopying. But it doesn’t need to. Just ask your students to draw a table with a few columns (demonstrate on the board if necessary). Then they write their own questions (e.g. Find someone who likes watching horror films) and then let them interview the class. It doesn’t need any photocopying!

Student-generated comprehension questions

Before a listening, reading or video clip, tell the students that their task is to create their own questions for the rest of the class or their partner based on the text you use. Not only does this save paper, but it is more learner-centred and allows learners to select what they want from a text, rather than just what the teacher wants.

Dictate comprehension questions

You needn’t write them out on a worksheet, you just dictate them to the students, and they copy them into their books. It takes longer, but only because the learners are fully engaged in the task, listening, spelling and writing the words, and checking for clarification (How do you spell…?). This is active learning, and paper free!


An old tefl favourite! And it doesn’t need photocopies, you just read a text out and the students copy it in their books. The difference from a dictation is that you read it faster so the students cannot copy it word for word, instead they catch the key words and then have to recreate the text. This means they play a more active role as they have to recreate the meaning using appropriate language that will differ slightly from the original. They then compare it to the original and notice the differences.

Photocopy-free teaching doesn’t mean bad teaching. The opposite is true, it makes for learner-centred lessons in which students are playing a more active role and therefore learning more. Not to mention you save trees! And don’t forget you avoid that horrible moment when class starts in five minutes and everyone is crowding round a jammed photocopier cursing and swearing!

Do you have any other tips for saving paper in class? If so please share then with us in the comments section below!

I would like to thank Calum Nicholson for the inspiration in creating this page.

10 replies on “Paper-free teaching”


Rather than photocopying a crossword or wordsearch, try projecting it onto the board and get the students to work in teams and fill in or find the answers on the actual board. Saves paper, is more interactive and fun.

Hi Marion,
A very good point. In fact using the board is an effective replacement for many worksheets. Perhaps it should be 7 tips to paper-free teaching: Use the board as the seventh. As well as the ideas you mention, comprehension questions for a text, a ´find someone who’ template could all be on the board rather than a worksheet.

And thank you for the first comment!

Make a class blog, and post all of your poster-work, flash cards, teacher-resources and the like on it. It’s easy to share, to test your ideas remotely by asking others to try them, get feedback and it’s all 100% paper free.
Check our recent one-month training course blog here:
and our photos here: (Permission has been obtained in writing from the participants to use their images)

aka “Lord of the Blog”

Hello again Owain,
Just finished a session here where I was lucky to have a kind of e-Teaching celebrity in class. She walked the group through her own page,
and got them so excited that they wanted to make their own right away. So they did: They went from knowing nothing at all to posting and editing the code on educational Youtube videos that they can now use in their classes….tomorrow!

Now that’s what I call ‘take-away value’!

aka “Lord of the Blog”

Hello Owain, I laminate all my comprehension texts and reuse them year after year. I also use a compiled study guide and learners return it at the end of the year so that the next group may use it. I am also using Google classroom for all notes. Learners write down notes. No copies.

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