Grouping your students
Some pros and cons to teaching English online

Is homework important?

Analia RTEFL Contributor
Photo by Charlotte May

Whether you assign homework or not will depend on the demographic of your students as well as the kind of English classes you teach.

There are a number of benefits to assigning homework or activities to complete in the students’ own time. Doing everything possible to help your students improve their English language ability will reflect positively on you as a teacher; students will be more likely to continue your English class if the choice is theirs, resulting in more income for you.

Homework helps you determine how well your lessons are being understood by your students, but more importantly, it gives students an opportunity to review the material and language presented in your classes. As an added benefit, students may feel empowered as they take responsibility for their part in the learning process.

Despite this, some educators doubt the effectiveness of homework observing negative attitudes and poor performance from students, especially from younger learners; however, if you are a freelance or private ESL/EFL teacher, you probably find that your students are already motivated to learn English and welcome a challenge to work on in their own time.

High-quality homework may improve student achievement and help to reinforce classroom learning while also developing good study habits. Learners require independent work to internalize new concepts. Some students learn by repetition and all students learn with practice. Homework gives students an opportunity to do that.

How much homework is enough?

Too much homework can have a negative effect. High school students often argue that too much homework leads to feeling overwhelmed and a lack of sleep. “Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents” says The American Educational Research Association. Students may already be overburdened with other school tasks in the case of children or the demands of work and home in the case of adult learners. Students claim they don’t have the time or the interest to complete boring or pointless homework typically referring to studying for tests, doing workbook exercises, finishing incomplete classwork, memorizing lists of vocabulary, or writing compositions. However, students who choose to study for international English tests or have specific English language goals will likely not feel this way.

The “no time for homework” argument is probably one of the hardest obstacles to overcome with adult learners. You don’t need to assign homework at all and if you do, it does not need to be long or complicated. Negotiate with your students to determine what would be reasonable. How about an email to you after each lesson using the target language in context?

Effective homework?

High-quality homework is challenging, meaningful, and authentic. It should have a clear purpose connected to what students are learning in their lessons. It allows students to work independently and can empower them with the knowledge they are taking an active role in their learning.

Remember that clear and carefully explained directions are as important as guiding students to adopt positive learning strategies such as goal setting, self-regulation, planning, time management. Self-regulation is the ability to monitor one’s own performance and adopt and adjust strategies depending on feedback, to work on a task autonomously. Self-regulation also means learning understanding to structure the environment to benefit learning, for example, by minimizing distractions; however, these benefits only occur when students are engaged and willing to learn. Why not encourage them to contribute ideas for homework? It would improve involvement and motivation.

Make it something they can really use

If you give students homework that helps them build the skills they wish to develop, and they know it, they will give it greater importance. For example, if a student needs to write emails in English at work, they can write an email for homework… and you will reply. Students who need to give presentations could prepare and practice them for homework. How about arranging a meeting with a “business partner” (played by you) via email? Students have to put real-life skills to the test and use the target language presented in your lesson to come to an agreement about date, time, and place to meet.

Reading at home

Don’t spend time reading silently in class, especially if you are teaching online. Instead, introduce and practice target vocabulary and do the pre-reading activities in the lesson plan to prepare students for reading at home. During the following class, you can check comprehension, discuss, and perform the other vocabulary and grammar-based activities in the lesson plan. This type of homework allows the students to think about the content before having to discuss it. Learners can be encouraged to read, listen and watch for pleasure and share their experience in class.

If you want to assign homework or your students request it, you should consider what you assign, how meaningful it is, how demanding it might be, and how interesting students will find it.

Analia RTEFL Contributor
Analia is a recently retired EFL teacher with over 40 years of teaching experience and is now an educational writer. She has taught every age of student at every level of competence.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes.

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