I know, I know homework isn’t exactly the most fun word on the lips of either students or teachers, but it’s important. In fact, the longer I’ve been teaching, the more important I’ve come to believe that it is. It’s all too easy to forget to assign it or to correct it, but consistent homework is what will get your students to the next level.
In this post I’ll be discussing exactly why homework is important, some tips on how to correct it efficiently in the classroom and also the type and amount of homework that a teacher should give. Or, if you’re sick of giving same old workbook activities as homework, you can gain access to five alternative ideas for homework by clicking on the button below.
Why Homework is Important
Anyone who has put the effort into learning another language knows the importance of engaging in the language as much as possible. This is why it’s much easier to learn a language when you are living in a place where it is commonly spoken. A walk down the street looking at signs is like homework. Ordering at a restaurant is homework. Bumping into someone and apologizing is homework.
However, if a student is not lucky enough to be immersed in the language, teachers need to provide as much opportunity as possible to practice the language. Studying in class twice a week simply isn’t enough. Giving homework each lesson forces the students to spend a certain amount of time outside of class reviewing what they’ve learnt.
Not only that, but some students learn better by themselves than in a large group setting. They have the chance to look things up and to be careful with their choice of words. In a TEFL classroom, time is at a premium and students don’t always have the time to consider their answers.
Another advantage for young learners is that homework tends to get parents involved in their child’s language learning. Even if a parent has very little English, they can usually help with simple workbook assignments. An involved parent is also a happy parent.
Correcting Homework Efficiently
I recently had to have a parent meeting with a parent who was deeply upset about their child’s teacher. Apparently, the teacher had checked the homework and given it a star even though there were several mistakes on the page. It is a fairly large class, so the teacher likely just checked that the student had done the homework and checked it for mistakes. Checking homework in this way makes the idea of homework pointless, but what was my teacher to do? How could she check the homework carefully while sixteen five-year olds run a muck in her classroom?
For young students, it’s important to have a system. The best time to check homework is not at the beginning or end of class. The best time to check is during break time (especially if you have a teaching assistant to monitor kids). Have the students give you their workbooks with the book open to the homework page (this saves loads of time). Then, quickly scan the homework for mistakes. If you notice something circle it, then call the student over and show them the correction. When you’re finished, give the books to one student to hand back to the class once break time is over. In my class of sixteen students, this process takes under five minutes.
For teens and adults, where the tasks are more difficult, checking the homework by yourself simply isn’t an option. It would take way too much time; kind of like correcting a test every lesson. Instead, there are a few efficiency tricks that I’d like to share with you:
- Peer correction– Have them give their homework to another student to correct. While this is going on, you can monitor the room and look for consistent mistakes or mistakes that the students are missing when correcting. After the peer correction session, clarify any common errors with the whole class.
- Spot check– Homework is usually pretty repetitive. Instead of correcting everything as a class, go to one of the homework sections and ask for the answer to a few examples. Then, move to another section and ask for a few different examples. I usually choose the difficult ones to make sure they haven’t made a mistake. If they have, I show them how to answer correctly and why.
- Answer key– One very quick way to check homework, especially with adults, is to simply give them access to the answer key. If you do this, checking homework is just ensuring that they’ve done it and answering any questions they may have.
How Much, and What Type, of Homework to Give
For low-level young learners, there is very little decision to be made. Most kids’ textbooks come with a workbook that directly correlates to the student book. If you cover two pages in the student book (usually one lesson), then assign two pages in the workbook. The tasks are easy and shouldn’t take the students too much time.
The only thing to watch out for with these workbooks is that the students understand the directions. Especially when they’re first starting, it isn’t always clear. There are two things that need to be done here. Firstly, spend a little time at the end of class assigning the homework (I write HW on the top of the page) and go through the directions with the students (occasionally having the teaching assistant speak to the students in their L1).
The second thing is to make sure that parents understand the directions. If the parents don’t speak any English, the directions for an activity can sometimes be challenging to work out. Ask your employer to translate the directions for the workbook and give it to the parents when they sign up for a course. I did this for the parents at our school, and it’s helped dramatically.
When it comes to teen students and adults, it’s not always as prescriptive as it is with young learners. True, there is likewise usually a workbook of some type with homework. However, in my experience, older students don’t have the time to complete all of it. Depending on the textbook, some of the workbooks require about thirty minutes per lesson or more.
For some older students, especially those that are motivated, the workbook isn’t enough. They want to be spending hours each week outside of the class engaging in English learning. The solution is to discuss with your students how much homework they want vs. how much they need. This is usually a sort of negotiation.
For a large class, there may not be a consensus, so you may need to choose a happy middle ground. You don’t need to assign EVERY activity in the workbook for that lesson. Pick and choose the activities that you think your students were struggling with during the lesson.
Sometimes, the problem is that homework is just boring. If you’d like some alternative homework ideas, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
In the end, teachers need to be more than just a presence in the classroom in order for students to improve. We are like personal trainers telling our students what to eat. We need to motivate our students and make sure that they are working towards their goals. Homework, though not always pleasant, is one of our tools to help our students.