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Katherine Bilsborough - Taking the stress out of homework: 5 tips and 5 tasks
Homework can be stressful – for the students who are often over-burdened, for the teachers who are already up to their necks in marking, and for the parents of young learners, constantly fighting (and losing) homework battles with their children. Nobody can agree on what’s right when it comes to homework. It is impossible to please everyone. Adam Simpson shares his four favourite arguments for and against giving homework in his blog post this month. He isn’t a fan of homework but agrees that if used correctly, it can be a good teaching tool.
Here are some tips to make the issue of homework less stressful, more democratic and, as such, more effective.
Have a homework discussion with your students before deciding on a policy. Talk about whether homework is useful and how much homework is reasonable. Agree on a policy for a limited time, to be reviewed if necessary. If you teach YLs, explain your homework policy to their parents.
Sometimes students want extra homework. Show your students where they can find self-study materials. Websites like Learn English have online and downloadable resources for all ages and levels of students.
Set up a homework corner in your classroom with a noticeboard and a small table. Put homework tasks on the noticeboard (with dates) and, wherever possible, add answer keys so that students can correct their own work. Provide a grammar book at the students’ level and a dictionary so that students can check on their errors.
The most important! Always give students a choice of homework. My own classroom research has shown that in classes where students are given a choice of homework tasks, the number of students who regularly do homework is significantly higher.
Generic homework tasks provide students with choice. They are ideal for mixed ability classes and allow for different learning styles, different interests and different levels of creativity. Here are some generic homework tasks that work with most levels and ages.
Write a fact file about (e.g. a person who shares your first name or surname/a great place). Include 5 interesting facts.
Find the lyrics to a song. Choose 5 words or phrases you don’t know. Find out what they mean and write definitions. Listen to the song and sing along.
Find a short text in (English / your first language). Translate it into (your first language / English). Then put the original text into a free online translator. Compare the two versions and focus on any differences. Don’t assume your version is incorrect – sometimes the translator gets it wrong.
Choose a topic. Make a list of 26 words beginning with A to Z related to the topic. For difficult letters (Q, X, Z) try to find a word that contains the letter.
Read a short text a couple of times. Leave the text for at least an hour. Try to remember the information in the text. Give yourself a limited time to write as much of the text as you remember. This can be isolated words, short phrases or complete sentences. Look back at the text and analyse your writing. How much did you remember? What did you forget? Did you spell any words incorrectly?