Six ideas and tips for homework

The other day I received a message from a teacher in Slovakia I’m in touch with on Twitter. Her name is Vladimira Michalkova, and she asked me why I didn’t have something on homework on this blog. It’s a very good question, as I have written quite a bit on homework in a book that came out a few years ago. But Vladimira was also interested in starting her own blog, so I suggested that there was no better way to launch your own thing than by posting on someone else’s! Plus it means I get another guest post. Without further ado, here are Vladimira’s six ideas for more successful homework. Enjoy!

There are several reasons why our students reject (or deliberately forget to do) their homework. If you are teaching adults who are happy to save their time for your lesson, you more or less do not even expect them to spend hours with their homework. So why don’t they do homework? I suggest three reasons.

• Lack of time

• Not interested enough to open the book or notebook (lack of motivation)

• Monotonous exercises (tasks not meaningful or relevant )

When designing or setting the homework, try to keep in mind that one kind of activity does not have to fit the needs and interests of all your students. You can’t avoid that, but keep changing the style! Things I keep in mind are 1) Multiple intelligences theory (logic, visual, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal… not only “fill in the gaps”-type activities) 2) Avoiding complicated instructions 3) Relating it to real life.

And here comes the list of my favourite homework tasks:

1. DO WHAT YOU USUALLY DO – IN ENGLISH (read your horoscope, crossword, quiz, read the morning news online, make notes on your shopping list). Students are supposed to either keep track of their use of English or recap orally in the next lesson.

2. CHALLENGE – give them a riddle, race or puzzle to solve for the next lesson. I tend to award my students (even adults!) with stickers (“Well done!” and this sort of thing). Dogs are trained best when you count on their curiosity. And so are we .

3. BROWSE THE WEB – send your students a link to something interesting, provocative, awakening or entertaining on the internet. Work with headlines, brief news, videos or anything they can manage during their coffee break. Ask for their opinion, comment or specific task. I ask my students to reply to my emails. On Thanksgiving Day, I sent my students a link to the following video. Their task was to remember at least ten out of 50 things mentioned. I was really pleased to hear that they watched it several times to understand more than 10 things. I knew that it’s not difficult to recognize 10 things but asking for 50 could have been de-motivating for some of them. I Avoid traditional project works that are usually pretty time-consuming and result in copying of texts from the internet.

4. ENGLISH AT HOME – we usually work with English materials and forgot about the vast range of sources of material in the mother language of our students. Try doing things vice versa. Do you have a favourite song in your language? Try to translate it! Are you watching new dubbed episode of C.S.I. Miami or your daily soap opera? Sacrifice few minutes and translate the dialogues simultaneously in your head or aloud (if alone at home). Have you bought a product with instructions only in your mother tongue? Translate or create a new label for it in English.

5. I SPEND MY TIME ON IT ANYWAY – do what you like to do in English – it is usually connected with watching TV, reading books or newspapers. It is an easy, painless way of learning that creates associations. I love watching Sci-Fi TV series and even though I learn pretty useless words like Warp drive or Roger that! , I keep learning many slang phrases and very common expressions. Many of my students love watching the Discovery Channel because there is always something interesting. They can watch short episodes on YouTube as well, see here for example.

6. KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR FINDINGS – however, it is necessary that your students report back on what they’ve done every week or so. You can choose to do it in the form of a warm up group discussion or through writing. My students write diaries. They are allowed to write anything there, but there is a condition that they must at least write something by the next lesson. They can write down their notes on any of the above-mentioned tasks or just write their reflections from the day. It is up to them what they choose but they know they have to keep a record of their progress.

Finally, ALWAYS FINISH WITH FEEDBACK – the golden rule of feedback is MEDAL AND MISSION (give praise and set a new task, to work on their weaknesses).

There you go! Six nice little ideas for homework. For more from Vladimira, please go check out her blog My English.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 11:31 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like the idea of MEDAL AND MISSION. I normally praise the students (medal), but I simply underline their problem, without telling them what to do to overcome it. From now on, I will also give them a mission. Thanks for the idea!

    • Hi Paola,
      I remember when I was told about it at the course and I liked it very much. It is much easier for students to improve if they are given specific goals. I just have to keep in mind that it needs to be done very carefully – motivation and inspiration 🙂
      Thanks for comment


  2. Much too sensible and well-thought out a list for my students’ liking!

    • Dear Adam,
      thanks for your comment. I have just given some tips that are usually successful in my classes but I can imagine there is still someone in the classroom who is not entirely pleased. Anyway, that’s why I change it quite often.
      What kind of homework do you usually give your students?

  3. Lindsay! Thank you for posting “Do what you normally do – in English”. I’m a strong believer in giving motivating homework of this type…and I never forget to begin a course by saying, “If you don’t read novels in your own language, DON’T do it in English!”

  4. Hi, just a quick note that the link “the following video” has a problem.
    And a second quick note to say thanks for a useful blog.

    • Thanks for the heads-up on that. I’ll see if I can find another video link. And thank you for dropping by!

  5. I find that homework becomes off-putting because of the simple fact that it comes back with red ink and lots of criticism. There’s not enough positive feedback usually, and this demotivetes students.

    If you accentuate the positive, as well as do justice to the necessary developmental (i.e., negative) feedback, I find I get more homework handed in.

    And what could be better for a teacher than more homework to mark!

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