a perfect homework: what is it like?

should all our students get homework? Even the busiest (and the laziest) ones?

I am sure they should. Let’s see: if a student comes to class 2 times a week and doesn’t  get (or doesn’t do) any homework, that’s all the English he has – 4 academic hours a week. not to much, is it? But if we add some homework to it, even just a bit of reading, listening, writing, anything – it would already add up to that time. And our student will be spending 5-6 hours on his Enlgish every week. If this is a good – enthusiastic – student we are talking about, he might be listening to podcasts in his car, or watch a movie in English once in a while, and that adds up even more to his “English time”.

But unfortunately, not too many people love doing their homework. Even if a students understands he should do his homework, and is going to, it still doesn’t mean the homework will be done. Why?

because they are lasy? Because they are busy. Because there are so many other things to do and to pay attention to. And we always prefer to do what we really like over something we must do.

That’s why I am sure a perfect homework for everyone just doesn’t exist. Alas.

What exists though is different homework for different people and different needs. But “homework” sounds to some people very school-like. Should it stay in school then?

From my own experience I know how  much difference in progress there is if a student does anything at all in English between classes and if he doesn’t do anything at all.

So what could this anything at all be like? Here are some ideas of either alternatives or supplementaries to usual homework based on a lesson (like grammar/ vocabulary exercise from a workbook):

  • listening to English podcasts (on the move, in the earphones, podcasts for English learners – like “words in the news”, “the English we speak”, “6 minute English on http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ , or just usual podcasts in English – if your students have a high level/ audiobooks, both abridged and unabridged: one of my students, an energetic mother of 4 children, always listened to audiobooks when she was driving, and the results were amazing).
  • watching movies and series in English (with or without subtitles), or just a YouTube video of their interest.
  • reading books and newspapers, or English-language websites and blogs – even several pages or a short article/post would be good for a start
  • writing on a blog – as many of us know, encouraging students to write their own blog in English is a very practical idea.

I really like the approach to homework that is practised by Macmillan in “Global”: both electronic and paper worbooks are available, along with a DVD. A student can download podcasts onto an Ipod/ smartphone, and listen to it on the move. There are also great videos to go with every unit and other great features. All of them worked perfectly for me and my student, who was very enthusiastic. She was also very independent, so sometimes she would completely forget her homework, but watch a video and tell me all about it, and how she understood it, and what she agreed/ didn;t agree with.

And that is the secret: if you want your students to be consious about their learning and to benefit from it, always ask them to share what they got to know when watching a video, looking through someone’s blog or reading a book – not because they have to tell you as it was their homework, but because you will be happy to share something nice with you – just how we share with our colleagues and friends when we saw a nice movie or read an engaging book. And then “homework” will lose its school taste, but keep its effectiveness then.

What do you think?

Do you always assign homework for your students? And what is this homework usually like?


About Svetlana Urisman (Englishteachingnotes)

I am an ADOS and an English teacher (and materials writer) in a language school in Moscow. I have been an ADOS and a teacher trainer for almost a year now and a teacher for about 5 years. I am keen to share some ideas and materials I've developed in order to take them further and not to forget or lose them You are welcome to use any materials represented in this blog, and I will be happy to get your feedback afterwards if you take them to your classroom! ;-)
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