Using Trade Specific Documents to Teach Table Structure to Apprentices

Apprentices deal with different types of tables such as load charts for determining load weights. In technical training, tables often contain information unique to the trade and apprentices may have difficulty both understanding the information in the table and the way it is organized.  It is important to teach how the table is organized as well as the information contained in the table.

Instructors can ask apprentices questions that require them to locate information using the table features.

Questions to teach table structure

  • What is the purpose of this table? Locate the table heading and decide what the table is about.
  • List the 5 kinds of wire rope slings in this table. Use subheadings and/or diagrams to locate the information required.
  • Highlight the column that gives information about 2-leg bridle hitch with a 45° horizontal sling angle. Understand how the information is organized horizontally and vertically.
  • A worker is using a single vertical hitch with a 1 ¼ inch rope. What is the working load limit? Use headings, rows and columns to locate the answer.
  • How do you calculate working load limit for a double choker hitch? Use details such as additional information or notes.
  • What happens to the working load limit for a single basket hitch with legs inclined as the angle decreases? Understand the relationship between columns and rows.

Asking questions based on table structure helps you to identify the concept an apprentice is struggling with, for example, understanding table features. Ultimately, apprentices will be able to apply their understanding of table structure to tables when they are introduced.


For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide

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Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

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Why Instructors Should Ask Apprentices Easy Questions During Technical Training

It may seem like a waste of time to ask easy questions when your lesson for the day is calculating lifting capacities or reading foundation plan specifications. But taking the time to ask your apprentices easy questions is no different than taking advantage of another teaching opportunity.

Examples of easy questions include:

“What type of drawing is this?” or “What does TLL mean in the drawing?”

“What is the equivalent of 30’ in metres?”

Helping low-level readers

A question such as “What does BLL mean in the drawing?” has a dual purpose. You want to know if the apprentice knows what BLL means, but also if they can find where abbreviations are explained in the document. They can use this information to answer more challenging questions that require locating specific details to make calculations.

Teaching specialized knowledge

In addition to teaching apprentices how to find information, you can teach them specialized knowledge by asking questions. By asking a question such as “Which load chart should be used for loads lifted over the side?” you are directing attention to the fact that there are different capacities for lifting over the side and over the front.

Directing attention

Sometimes information may not be where you expect it to be. Your purpose is not to confuse or trick apprentices, so ask a question to draw their attention to the unusual characteristic.

For example, you are teaching a lesson on using load charts. Information in the document on gross capacities is to the left of the labelled capacity, not the right, which is opposite to the direction we read. Ask apprentices a question that will make them aware of this difference.

“Easy questions” may seem unnecessary when you have been teaching more challenging concepts. But questions like these should be included in your teaching because of the important purpose they serve.

It’s possible to tell apprentices what you want them to know instead of asking them these questions. You could tell them where to find information, or tell them what the specialized knowledge is, but you would be missing an opportunity to assess their ability to find and understand information.

Take the time to ask those “easy” warm-up questions. They are mini lessons that prepare apprentices for what they need to know before facing more challenging tasks.


For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide.

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

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5 Tips for Developing Answer Keys with Steps

Answer steps are valuable teaching tools that are just as useful as the worksheets you make. Answer keys that include steps break down the thinking process into a teachable strategy. This ultimately helps promote consistent thinking patterns that are transferable to other tasks. It also helps you to pinpoint exactly where in the process an apprentice is having difficulty.

When writing answer steps, keep the following in mind:

1. Number each step

The numbers show a sequence which makes it easier for learners to follow.

2. Begin each step with an action word

This word directs learners what to do. For example: Shade the area of the load chart that has a gross capacity of 6220 kg.

Use the same wording as in the worksheet examples to help learners see a pattern when solving similar tasks.

3. Show each line of the calculation

Breaking down the calculations helps learners see the process that leads them to the answer.

4. Bold the wording of the question in the final step

This format helps learners to confirm that the answer is the information that is required.

For example:

Task: Calculate the load weight of the steel beam.
Final step: Load weight = 6,100.5 lbs.

5. If there is more than one method to get the answer, include the answer steps for each of the ways to get the answer

Answer keys with steps for more than one way to get an answer show apprentices different ways of thinking. One of the methods may be easier for an apprentice to understand

Answers with steps provide models of a thinking process which help reinforce the skills taught and show how calculations are done. It builds consistency and proficiency in doing a particular type of calculation which helps apprentices continue to build on those patterns to successfully solve more complex tasks. These answer steps provide a strategy that apprentices can follow and learn from.


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4 Tips for Setting Up Useful Answer Keys

Answer keys aren’t just for instructors – they are invaluable for apprentices too. Well designed answer keys help apprentices navigate through material and make them better organized with locating information and answering questions. The set up of these answer keys guide apprentices to find the information they need to get the answer, which, in turn, will encourage independent thinking and learning.

Below are some tips to help you write answer keys.

1. Orient learners to the information

  • Include the question to make it easier to locate. Also include the title of the worksheet for quick reference.
  • Bold the answer to make the answer easier to identify.

2. Use consistent vocabulary

  • Include the same wording, formulae and format as the worksheet examples to help apprentices locate the information they need to answer the questions and at the same time, reinforce vocabulary.

3. Make abstract ideas more concrete

  • Include diagrams and visuals to visually clarify the measurements being calculated.

4. Show apprentices different ways to answer

  • Provide all methods of calculations. Answer using alternate methods when there is more than one way to get the answer. This acknowledges that there is more than one way to do the calculation.

Following these tips will help you write answer keys that become useful teaching tools that reinforce skills taught.


For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide.

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Next Blog: 5 Tips for Developing Answer Keys with Steps

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Why you should Promote Mentorship to Apprentices in Technical Training

Apprenticeship used to include long talks and job shadowing between a journeyperson mentor and apprentice, but times have changed. With today’s demanding production targets and changing demographics, companies have become more dependent on technical training to fulfill this mentoring role. Discussing and practicing mentorship in technical training ensures that all apprentices recognize their role as learners and their responsibility to share what they know with less experienced workers.

Technical training instructors can play an important role in contributing to the continued success of apprentice-mentor relationships. Including a mentorship component in technical training is one way to build relationships. Recommending your fourth-year apprentices take a mentoring course is another way.

There are many mentorship programs that effectively teach these skills. Below is an example of one part of a mentorship program that experienced apprentices can use when passing on a new skill or set of skills to a beginning apprentice. The mentorship program consists of a series of six steps to follow to effectively convey the message and teach the skill that is introduced.

The Six Steps to Mentoring are:

  1. Identify the point of the lesson – The mentor states the learning objective.
  2. Link the lesson – The skill of one lesson is linked to other lessons and the trade.
  3. Demonstrate the skill – The mentor (skill expert) explains the new skill and shows how it is done.
  4. Provide opportunity for practice – The mentor starts with guided practice and then allows the apprentice additional opportunities for practice with increased independence.
  5. Give feedback – The mentor tells the apprentice how he or she is doing with the skill using supportive and corrective feedback.
  6. Assess progress – The mentor assesses the individual skills learned as well as the apprentice’s overall progress in the trade.

The key is for mentors to learn and apply these steps until it becomes second nature. Applying a mentorship model, during or after technical training, is an effective approach to ensure that skills and knowledge are transferred to continue the tradition of a mentor and apprentice relationship.

For more information about the Mentorship Program featured in this blog:

SkillPlan Mentorship Program      SkillPlan mentorship videos      BuildForce Canada Mentorship Program package


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How to Increase the Essential Skills Levels of Apprentices (Part 2)

Apprentices with Level 2 Essential Skills will struggle with technical training. They need clearly laid out learning materials and are not very good at explaining what they are having difficulty with. They may require individual tutoring.

In the previous blog, we had a look at how Level 3 apprentices can be more successful in technical training if instructors provide them with some strategies. Now we will look at some strategies for Level 2 apprentices.

Improving reading and document use skills

  • Demonstrate organizational strategies

Apprentices at this level of Essential Skills tend to be slow readers and generally aren’t well organized. Show them a few techniques for organizing their notes and reading material, such as using stickies and highlighters to mark important information and sections in their notes.

  • Teach strategies for finding the main idea in a reading

These apprentices have difficulty deciding what information is and isn’t important. Strategies that teach them how to find the main idea are beneficial. For example, teach them to read a paragraph from a textbook and then write a sentence to summarize the main idea of that paragraph.

  • Teach apprentices how to navigate reading material

They need practice using organizational features such as headings, indexes and tables of content to help them find information.

  • Provide strategies for multi-tasking

Apprentices at this level are overwhelmed by information from a PowerPoint presentation, the instructor’s notes on the whiteboard and readings from textbooks. Point out which source of information to study first, or show them how to integrate information from these sources. For example, tell them to read class notes for an overview of the topic, then textbook readings for more detailed information.

Improving numeracy skills

  • Provide more guidance with numeracy problems that require several steps of calculation

Apprentices at this level can manage one or two steps of calculation with minimal translation. Translation requires apprentices to understand that terminology such as “half of” means dividing by 2 or multiplying by a half. Instructors can break complex numeracy applications requiring several steps of calculation, or some translation, into a series of smaller tasks.

  • Make relationships between concepts more explicit

These apprentices do not understand that using more than one method for a calculation can lead to the same result. For example, weight can be calculated using pounds per cubic foot or pounds per lineal foot. When teaching a concept with more than one method of calculation, instructors can demonstrate both ways and provide a summary sheet with both ways for reference.

  • Provide examples with steps to practice a new concept

Provide apprentices with a worksheet to practice a new concept. The worksheet should have examples and clearly written steps that apprentices can follow to remind them how to complete the calculations.

Apprentices with Level 2 Essential Skills need learning materials that have a clear structure. Instructors can help them by showing the steps for completing a task, breaking the task into more manageable, smaller tasks, and showing them how to organize and find information. Including some of these approaches in technical training will help these apprentices to grasp concepts.


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How to Increase the Essential Skills Levels of Apprentices (Part 1)

Typically, 30 to 50% of apprentices have Level 3 Essential Skills. At this level, apprentices are becoming independent learners and can explain what they are having difficulty with, but they are still struggling with some technical training material. They need help with strategies for organizing material from different sources and need extra practice with trade applications. Technical instructors can teach learning strategies to help apprentices strengthen the skills they need to pass technical training.

Improving reading and document use skills

  • Provide apprentices with practice using various documents and integrating information from multiple sources

Apprentices need to locate information from several sources, such as two or more documents or different parts of the same document, to get the information they need to complete a task in technical training. Instructors can teach apprentices how to highlight information in the sources so that the information is easier to locate. Apprentices also need strategies on how to take notes or summarize key ideas from readings in textbooks.

  • Assist them with summarizing and organizing information so that they can use this new information in a different way

A task may require apprentices to find information about a tool from two different documents and make a decision about the best tool for a specific job. To complete the task, apprentices need to establish criteria and eliminate information. Instructors can show them strategies such as creating a table to compare information about the tool.

Advantages to using this tool Disadvantages to using this tool
•    Advantage 1
•    Advantage 2
•    Disadvantage 1
•    Disadvantage 2

Improving numeracy skills

  • Provide them with practice translating a problem into a series of math operations

Instructors can teach apprentices a strategy to complete numeracy tasks. The strategy should provide them with practice choosing a method to make a calculation (calculate weight, for example), and choosing the operation to complete the calculation.

Apprentices with Level 3 Essential Skills are becoming independent learners, but would benefit from learning strategies to help them deal with information from multiple sources. Instructors can incorporate teaching these strategies during technical training and increase the chances of success for these apprentices.

Read more in Part 2


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6 Strategies to Help Apprentices Overcome Reading Challenges

Many apprentices, regardless of Essential Skill level, do not spend a lot of time reading outside the classroom. As a result, they may need more practice in reading regulations, standards and codebooks. You can help apprentices to overcome reading challenges by drawing attention to the way text is organised and by teaching reading strategies.

1. Identify the purpose for reading

To help apprentices with low reading skills, explain:

  • Why the apprentices are reading the material (for example, to learn about welding using oxy-acetylene)
  • What the apprentices are supposed to know when they have finished reading (for example, to learn the definition of a term such as “mechanical advantage)

2. Give a focus for reading

Using the questions at the end of a chapter in a textbook is one way to give apprentices a focus for reading. Questions indicate what is important in a chapter.


3. Preview reading material

Ask questions to draw attention to notes, tables of contents, chapter objectives, paragraph headings, glossaries, appendices and indexes. Have apprentices use these organizational features to locate information.

Example: What is the subject of the notes under RJC-50?

4. Teach how to identify keywords, main points and other important information

Demonstrate how to highlight the important words by using highlighters.

Example: What us the purpose of a regulator?

5. Provide practice locating information in headings, chapters and paragraphs using keywords

Keywords are the words in a question that help apprentices locate the answer in the text.

6. Teach apprentices how to integrate information from different parts of the text or several sources

Example: Demonstrate how to combine notes on one topic in one place. Suggest using sticky notes to organize information that is located in more than one location.

Reading strategies are important to teach in technical training to increase skill level. Previewing material, identifying key words and main points, locating and integrating information all contribute towards apprentices becoming focused and efficient readers.

For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide.


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Why Instructors should use Plain Language when Teaching Apprentices

Consider how often you ask your apprentices a question or give instructions, either verbal or written. When communicating, more words mean more information, and sometimes extra words aren’t necessary for making your point.

Using plain language is an effective way to make your point efficiently.

Compare these two technical training tasks. The second version of the same task is written in plain language. Fewer, precise words keep the task brief and easy to scan.


By simplifying the wording, you can make your instructions clearer.

For apprentices who struggle with reading, plain language makes the reading level of a task less challenging. The difficulty level of the task itself, however, including the calculations required, does not change.

Organizing the information you want to teach in an effective way will also help apprentices.

A few well placed words can make a point better than a lengthy explanation. In the following example, the teaching steps are bolded and numbered. Each step starts with a verb to indicate an instruction. Each step is also brief and to the point. For example, “Calculate the total deductions.”

In the example above, the heading “Note” is followed by specific information. Using the same heading “Note” each time you want to explain specific information will teach apprentices to scan for that heading when they are looking for that type of information.

Formulas should also be worded as briefly as possible.

For example, “Net Capacity = Gross Capacity – Deductions” is easier to read than “Calculate the net capacity by subtracting the deductions from the gross capacity.”

Plain language reduces the number of words and clarifies explanations.

To check if you are using plain language, remove a word or words from your sentence. If the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change, then use that shortened sentence. Using clear language is one way to provide clear instruction.



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How to Teach Apprentices to Minimize Errors by Organizing Their Work

When apprentices organize information on paper as they work through a complex math question, they improve accuracy and minimize calculation mistakes. An instructor should model how to organize work while completing a question and point out the benefits of this approach.teach_to_organize_work1_400w

For example, ironworker apprentices have a rigging assignment with a plan drawing that lists the part numbers, quantities, and dimensions of each component of a complex steel structure. The apprentices have to calculate the weight of each component and then the total weight. The instructor models how to complete the calculation steps required, how to organize the work, and how the organization helps to locate all the subtotals to complete the task.

What to include

Instructors can teach that organizing work should include:

Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks

Chunking big tasks or applications into smaller tasks or steps teaches a process. Instructors should use the same steps when teaching the process on a whiteboard or worksheet. Apprentices should use the same steps each time to answer similar math questions. Organizing their work the same way each time helps them to learn the process.

Writing out the formula before plugging numbers into the calculator

This strategy helps apprentices remember to include each number needed in the formula. Writing out the formula helps them to memorize the formula. They also have a chance to check that the numbers they want to use are in the correct format. For example, ironworker apprentices have to convert inches and fractions of an inch to decimal feet before calculating volume.

Including units with calculations instead of just the numerical answer

Including the units builds awareness of the purpose of the formula or step. Apprentices can refer back to the question to see if they’ve answered it or not. It also develops common sense as it makes apprentices consider whether the answer is reasonable. For ironworker apprentices, 374 kg is a reasonable weight for an 8 650 mm beam.

Following a process allows apprentices to keep their work organized, minimizing calculation and other errors.


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