Articles for Teachers

The Importance of Homework
By:Sharon De Hinojosa

Mention homework and you're sure to elicit a couple of groans from your students. The problem is that often teachers assign long, unnecessary, useless exercises for homework. Look at the suggestions below and you'll find that although your students won't be bouncing off the walls when you give them a homework assignment, they will stop complaining.

Daily: Homework should be given daily. Here's why: chances are that if you don't assign homework the majority of the students aren't going to review what you did it class. If you only have class once a week or have night classes with adults students, it's your call as to how much homework you assign. If your students have the time and are motivated, I would give them short assignments to be done daily. If you can't do that, then I recommend that you assign homework after every class.

KISS: Keep it short and simple. Homework doesn't have to last 30 minutes or an hour. It can be a short assignment that only takes up ten minutes. Your students could easily do that while waiting for the bus. Remember to keep the task simple as well. You don't want them spending ages trying to figure out what they have to do.

Make it relevant: Fill in the gap/blank grammar exercises are a necessary evil. But let's face it, when will your students be faced with a task like that in real life? Probably never. So make the homework assignment relevant to their lives. Creating schedule (present), describing people (present), explaining about how they met their partner (past), talking about their favorite teacher (past), naming goals (future) or making predictions about their country (future) are all relevant issues that can be used to practise grammar. But don't forget there's more to learning than just grammar, for example reading.

Comprehension questions are stock in EFL classes, but again, not very relevant to real life. Opinion and T/F questions are good. In fact, I would try asking your students to simply read an (online, newspaper, magazine) article, tell the class about it and give their opinion on what they read. Students would enjoy doing that more than simply answering questions. And best of all your letting them practise something in English that they already do in their native language.

Listening is a bit harder to do. But can be done. Especially with the internet or cable TV. Ask students to listen to something (news, movies, interviews, even youtube), though I would probably be against having them listen to music. Lyrics being what they are, they're probably too difficult to understand due to all the noise, or grammatically incorrect. Then, like the reading, explain a couple of things they learnt/remembered, or what the segment was about. Then have them give their opinion if applicable.

Speaking can be a challenge and for some students embarrassing. If students have friends or family members that speak English, then it might be easier. If they don't, they might be able to speak to English speakers studying or working at the school where they are. The problem is that often this is an artificial environment. Students usually ask set questions or do a survey, which is something that they might not have to do outside of the classroom. Even so you should try to assign speaking homework. Things like asking people what they think of the country they're living in, what they do in their spare time, etc are good questions. However, as mentioned above, unless your student and the other person are friends, the questions maybe in an artificial environment. That being said, they are practising and the questions are relevant.

Don't assign homework at the end of class: Typical classes are often wrapped up by the teacher saying, "Ok class, do exercises A and B on page 27." This is bad, very bad. Students might not have heard what the homework was, they will probably forget because they are rushing out of class, and nothing was explained. Give homework at the beginning or middle of class. If for example, you correct homework at the beginning, you could assign the new homework right after that. Write the assignment down on the board and go over the exercise to make sure the students know what is expected. Another idea is to assign homework after you deal with the particular teaching point you were practising. For example, if you just finished explaining a grammar point, you could give the homework out then.

Acknowledge it: Obviously if you have many classes and you assign daily homework, it'll be nearly impossible for you to correct it all. And don't even try. While there are many reasons for homework: to practise, to show you what the student knows, so the student knows what their weak areas are, etc, correcting every homework assignment will just leave you bitter and exhausted. You should go over the assignment and correct it as a class. Students can check their own or exchange papers. The biggest advantage to grading in class is that if a student has a question, he can ask you then and there and you can answer it. Chances are other students will have questions about the same issue. While you shouldn't grade every assignment, you should mark down who has their homework and who doesn't. Then at the end of the term, you can give points for each completed assignment.

Do grade some homework. Whether you tell your students ahead of time which pieces of homework will be graded or simply randomly choose, you will need grades for your students. I'd suggest trying to get a grade a week. And as mentioned above, you can easily have your students grade their assignments during class.

Sharon de Hinojosa (naturegirl321) has lived and worked in the US, Scotland, Spain, the Czech Republic, China, Korea, and Peru. As well as teaching short-term in Venezuela and Taiwan.

She has created TEFL Tips which has information for teachers from writing a CV, to giving a demo lesson, learning the local language, teaching tips for the classroom and more.

Since living in Peru since August 2004, she wrote The Ultimate Peru List http://www.theultimateperulist.blogspot.com/. With 80 pages it's a comprehensive guide for those living in or moving to Peru.





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