In this blog post Dan Shepherd (Director of Studies at Oxford House) gives his top tips for how to get your students doing more homework and how to keep it interesting for them.
1. Give homework a communicative twist
Why not try getting students to record themselves and send voice messages to other members of the class using WhatsApp? Then play them back in class and correct any mistakes. To make this easier for students set them a discussion question to debate. How about encouraging students to take part in language exchanges or join interest groups where the common language is English? Meetup.com is a great website/app which makes this possible. Teaching Young Learners (YLs)? Get them to interview a relative or neighbour and ask the parents to film them doing it. In English of course!
2. Set the homework before the end of the class
Homework always gets left to the last minute and teachers end up rushing through the instructions. If the students don’t understand what they have to do, they aren’t going to do it. Think about when you set the task. Do it in the middle of the lesson or even before you start. It will show students you are serious and you will have plenty of time to go over any doubts.
3. Invest class time in homework
Similar to the previous point, if you actually use part of the class to set up the homework, there’s more chance they are going to remember to do it. Brainstorm ideas, go over the structure and format of the writing, read the introduction of the article, etc. The more time you invest in class the more likely they are to invest their own time at home.
4. Talk to your students (or their parents) about homework
Find out more before setting homework. How much time do they have? What are they interested in? Which skills do they want/need to work on most? Explain the importance of homework in general and the purpose of the task you are setting. Students are more likely to do something if they understand why they are doing it. With Young Learners speak to their parents and make it clear what your expectations are and find out theirs.
5. Give them a choice
Why not select two or three activities and let the students choose which one to do? By including them in the decision making process they’ll be more engaged. You could even get them doing homework in pairs or groups. That way they can divide the work up how they see fit and will motivate each other to complete the task. Google drive is a great tool for this. You could also try setting compulsory homework which is necessary for the next class (pre-reading texts for example and reviewing the tricky vocab) and a range of optional activities for those who want more.
6. Make it achievable yet challenging
There’s no point setting your students hours and hours of work if you know they aren’t going to do it.Their time is precious and you should respect that.Only give them the amount you think they’ll actually do. Also, think about what you are giving them. Students love completing gap fills and grammar exercises, it gives them a sense of achievement, but what have they actually learnt or improved? Think of ways of pushing them and activating their brains. Try a noticing activity where they read a text and have to find examples of collocations, phrasal verbs, unknown language etc. which they then have to research and present in the following class. This activity would work especially well with high-level exam classes like Cambridge First, Advanced and Proficiency.
7. Don’t forget to correct it
There’s nothing worse than spending ages on something which your teacher then collects and never marks or ignores completely. If your students have made the effort to do it, then so should you by going through it in class. Think of new ways of correcting homework. Instead of simply getting them to read out answers or writing the correct ones on the board, do a running dictation or grammar auction. Make sure those who haven’t done the homework are still involved and are getting something out of it. Who knows they might even do it next time!
8. Stick to a routine
This is especially important with YLs. Set homework on the same day each week. If you teach twice a week, think about setting it during the second class so students have the whole weekend to complete it. If you have a homework policy in place with consequences for students who don’t complete it, make sure you are consistent and you always follow through.
9. Celebrate homework
Instead of punishing those who don’t complete their homework – reward those who do. Display good examples of homework in the classroom or around the school, give students positive feedback on the tasks they have completed or even put up a chart where you can keep record of who’s done what. Has everyone completed his or her homework this month? Why not give them a prize such as a class party or a weekend without homework.
Practical Ideas (thanks to everyone who took part in the online survey):
- Take homework to the Get students taking photos of English they see all around them. Discuss it at the start of the next class.
- Use Google docs for pair or group homework.
- Use Storybird (http://storybird.com) so students can create their own stories.
- Use Edmodo, Slack, WhatsApp or even Snapchat to stay in touch with your students.
- Encourage students to join groups on com to practice their speaking.
- Create a class blog using WordPress.
- Get students to keep a journal using Penzu.
- Use Quizlet to make online flashcards to review vocabulary from class.
- Use EDpuzzle (https://edpuzzle.com) to make videos more engaging and to check who is actually watching them.
- Get students to record short videos on their phones linked to the theme of the class. E.g. if you have been talking about food in class, students could make a video of them cooking their favourite meal, walking around a supermarket and buying things etc. Want to make it more humorous? Add a filter on Snapchat.
- Have a class book. Get students to read one chapter a week. Talk about the themes in class and then review any new vocabulary that came up. If your students would rather work on their listening skills, do the same thing but use a popular TV series or podcast.
- Do a pair translation activity (note students must share a common L1). Give the students a text and ask them to translate it into their own language. Get them to swap with another member of the class and then translate it back to English. At the start of the next class get them to compare with the originals and highlight examples of good language use and where they can improve.
- Use this ready-made lesson from Designer lessons to get students thinking about English outside of class – https://designerlessons.org/2012/03/26/esl-lesson-plan-english-outside-classroom/
- Barber, D. Foord, D. ‘From English Teacher to Learner Coach.’ The Round.
- van Lier, L. 1996. ‘Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy, & Authenticity.’ London: Harlow.