Setting meaningful homework for ESL learners – Top tips and ideas

Homework is often disliked by students and can make extra work for teachers if it involves marking. Depending on where you work, homework may or may not be part of your curriculum, but it certainly can be used in meaningful ways to extend student learning.

If you’re not sure what homework to set, how to make it useful and worthwhile, or looking for ways to avoid creating extra work for yourself, we have just the article for you!

Here we will explore several approaches to setting homework which ensures progress, learning, and both teachers and students feel the benefit.

So why bother setting homework?

When used well, homework can add a lot to a student’s learning experience and help them to develop their English skills between classes – something many may not usually do. Homework should, of course, be beneficial rather than a process of ticking a box to say you’ve set it.

“Homework assignments should not feel like mindless, repetitive exercises; rather, they should present novel problems for students to solve, require them to apply what they’ve learned in new ways, or ask them to stretch to the next level.”

Carol Dweck – Author of – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

So all of this is well and good, but how do we as a teacher ensure the homework we expect our students to do is not boring, has meaning and can push them to improve their language skills.

First, we should consider the following homework tips:

  • Homework should be reasonably quick to complete (this will help students find time to finish it too).
  • Tasks do not need to be marked – instead, why not check answers as a class, feedback key ideas as a warmer or have students discuss in groups during the following class. This approach also means students who were absent when homework was set do not feel excluded when you review.
  • Try to allow for differentiation wherever possible. This means students of different levels can all complete the same task at varying levels. The easiest way to do this is to make homework fairly open to avoid.
  • Consider the resources available to your students. For example, don’t assume everyone has access to the internet at home – if you know your class well, you will avoid setting tasks that some students simply can’t complete.
  • Write homework tasks on the board. If you only say it out loud, students are unlikely to make a note of it and will probably forget.

Interesting and meaningful homework assignments – Our top picks

1. Quick survey:

Have students do mini surveys at the end of class in groups with maybe 5 -10 questions depending on their level.

They should then ask the questions and complete the survey ready to report back their findings. This can be linked to what you are learning in class, plus it develops teamwork skills, writing, speaking and listening all in one go.

2. Use of technology:

Assuming students do have internet access, setting a quick video to watch or podcast to listen is a simple, effective way of continuing their English practice outside class.

Just remember to make sure you consider age, level and cultural background before choosing. Again, this type of task is relevant and up-to-date and allows for feedback and discussion as a follow-up.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/news/watch_newsround is a great video resource for news rounds up in British English with accessible language and often funny or unusual news stories.

https://www.podcastsinenglish.com/ is another good site which provides a range of podcasts which can be chosen based on student’s levels.

3. Creative videos

Another fun and meaningful homework is asking students to make a short video on their phone (maybe 2 minutes long).

Again this will depend on your class and school’s rules on technology. But if you can do it, then it’s an enjoyable and useful assignment. Students just need to film and narrate, in English of course. This could include pets, other family members, a review of food they have eaten and so on and so forth.

Students then share their videos with a partner in the next class and ask questions about them.

4. Flipped approach:

Maybe you’ve heard of the flipped classroom approach? This is known as blended learning and is popular with many institutions to link student school lives with their home lives.

New thinking or information is introduced at home via homework first – so students work on content such as a video or reading independently.

In theory, they then come to class with some prior knowledge and maybe some questions or ideas to share with the class. This requires well-motivated students so we would suggest using this approach sometimes rather than for every homework!

Also consider your content carefully, thinking about time frames as well as opportunities for all learners.

Conclusion: To draw together our thoughts on homework, we refer to a quote from Alfie Kohn.

If… students groan about, or try to avoid homework, it’s generally because they get too much of it, or because it’s assigned thoughtlessly and continuously, or simply because they had nothing to say about it.

We feel that this comment demonstrates that homework should be thought out carefully, taking into consideration the age, level and background of the class it is being set for.

Homework set for the sake of it will often be ignored, dismissed and forgotten about by the majority of your class so knowing why you’re setting it and what you want students to gain is really important.

With your students in mind and learning objectives considered your homework will become more meaningful before you know it. We hope you can incorporate some of our ideas into your own ESL classroom very soon!

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This article was published on June 16, 2020.

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