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Good Homework Assignments

By Karin A. Bilich

Homework not only helps a child learn about school subjects, it is also one of the first ways kids develop responsibility. Learning how to read and follow directions independently, how to manage and budget time for long-term assignments, and how to complete work neatly and to the best of their ability are skills children need for life. Homework can be trying for children, but with a little help from Mom and Dad, it can be a positive learning experience. Here are some ways you can help.

1. Designate a regular place to do homework. This location needs to be well lit and quiet, without the distractions of the television, other children playing, or people talking on the telephone.

2. Choose a time every day to work on daily assignments. Some children do best if they tackle their homework shortly after returning home from school in the afternoon; other kids may do best if they devote the after-school hours to unwinding and playing, and do their homework in the evening. However, some children respond poorly to a dictated study time, such as 4:00 every afternoon, and may be better off if they're given guidelines, such as "No video games until your homework is done."

3. Let your child play a role in the setting the rules. Make sure that you and your child agree on the set time and place, which can eliminate some of the homework-related dissension between parents and children.

4. Observe your child's homework habits. Is she stuck on a certain task or is she easily distracted? Does she understand the directions, or is she making the assignment harder than it really is? Is her studying interrupted by television, phone calls, or chatting with other family members? If so, you may need to rethink your homework rules or discuss these difficulties with her teacher.

5. Don't do your child's homework for her. It's perfectly okay to help your child get focused and organize her approach to the assignment, but insist that she do the work herself. Occasionally, you may need to clarify the directions of the assignment; in those cases, let your child take a stab herself before offering to help.

6. Give positive feedback. Look over your child's homework on occasion and praise him about all the things he's doing right. If you do find errors, don't criticize. Instead, review his work together and try to pinpoint his area of difficulty.

7. Keep in touch with your child's teacher. If your child is having ongoing homework problems, such as difficulty understanding what the assignments are or how to complete them, or if he breezes through them as though they were no challenge at all, let his teacher know. The teacher may adjust the assignments so they are more in sync with his capabilities.

Best Practices for Homework

But ESL students, on the other hand, may disagree. Adult learners will argue that they have busy schedules and a life outside the classroom, which translates into “no time for homework”. Young learners and teens may come to terms with the fact that they have to do homework, but do we want them to do it because they are compelled to do it... or do we want them to do it because they are excited to do it? Which would you prefer?

The only way to get young students excited about doing homework, and get adults to set aside some time for it, is through highly creative and thoroughly engaging homework assignments. And here are 5 examples:

Homework Assignments That Work

  1. A Word Book

    A Word Book or Vocabulary Journal is a classic among teachers of very young learners who are not adept at using dictionaries; here they have a chance to make their own. Help them design their very own Word Book from scratch, out of construction paper, cardboard, or any materials you have on hand. At the end of a reading task or activity, make a list of the words they have learned for the day. Their homework assignment is to enter each of the new words in their Word Book. The littlest ones simply copy the word and draw a picture of it; older students can use the word in a sentence that illustrates its meaning. There is no need to copy “dictionary” definitions. They may also cut out pictures from magazines or newspapers and get as creative as they like. But one thing is certain… these will be words they won’t easily forget!

  2. Do My Research!

    This is an extremely engaging way to provide extended practice of any grammar point. Say you want your students to practice comparatives and superlatives. Tell them you need information on this year's Oscar nominations. Tell them to go to Oscar.go.com and give them a list of questions they must answer:

    • Which of the nominees for Best Picture is the longest film? Which is the shortest? The most popular? Earned the most money at the box office?
    • Which film has the most nominations?
    • Which in your opinion is the best film?
    • Compare two of the actresses nominated for Best Actress. Who is older? Younger? Taller? Prettier?
    • Etc…

    You may assign any number of research tasks: ideal places for a family vacation (LonelyPlanet.com), best restaurants in the city (Zagat.com), or anything based on local information. Just make sure you give them a website to go to, a set of questions to answer or a task to complete, and above all don't forget to plan the assignment with a grammar point or learning objective in mind.

  3. In the News

    This is an ideal assignment for adult students. Most read the newspaper anyway, right? Or watch the evening news. Ask them to choose a news story that has piqued their interest, and have them:

    • Write a report on the news story
    • Write a dialogue in which a journalist interviews someone involved in the story.
    • Answer a question like, “What could have gone differently?”, thus prompting them to use conditionals, for example (If the truck driver had not answered his cell phone, he would not have caused the accident.)
  4. Email Writing

    This is clearly one of the homework assignments that works best with adult learners or those who specifically study Business English. Give them an email to read and ask them to write an appropriate reply. Or give them a situation that would require them to compose a message, like a complaint over a bad service experience or an inquiry into vacation rentals.

  5. Watch It!

    Choose a TV series that is shown in English, either with or without subtitles (you may ask students to cover the subtitles). Choose a show that is suitable to your students’ ages. Tell your students that their homework for that night will be to watch an episode of Modern Family, whether they usually watch the show or not. Give them a task to complete after viewing the episode: a synopsis of the episode, a character description, or a questionnaire (Do you usually watch this show? If not, would you start watching it? Why/why not?)

Another great way to get students actively engaged in their homework assignments is to ask them to come up with some ideas for creative assignments on their own and share them with the class. They may surprise you!

And if you’re still stumped as to which worksheets to assign to practice grammar, vocabulary, or reading, BusyTeacher.org is always available to help, 24/7, with wonderful ideas for activities and great ready-to-print worksheets.

If you have any ideas for other wonderfully creative homework assignments, share them below!

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