How important is homework? – Cecilia Lemos

Homework, by definition, is an assignment that a teacher gives students to do outside of class, but just how important is it? If you ask that question to most teachers, very likely their answers will include:

  • It increases the amount of time the students will be studying the language (especially important if, like me, you only meet your students for two hours and thirty minutes a week)
  • It can help consolidate what is being studied and/or give the student a chance of recognizing doubts and difficulties they may have on a topic. Many times, in class with the teacher guiding them, students don’t notice their weaker areas but these become more evident once they are on their own.
  • It promotes student autonomy, and hopefully establishes a study habit.

We all have heard, read, said and discussed these things, but the key issue is to make students see those benefits as well. How can we do that? By doing things like talking to them about it and doing learner-trainer activities to raise student awareness… Yes, that may help. However what I have found to be more important and effective is to make homework meaningful to the students. They have to see the point in doing it. It helps if we are able to come up with assignments that they find interesting, relevant and… (Dare I say it?) fun. That last bit seems to work especially well with teen students. I know we are talking – or are we? – utopia here. It’s not always possible to do so, but I try my best to do it as often as possible. Have the students choose the topic of the homework and give them the guidelines, language, and functions to work with. Find situations your students will actually face in which the language will be useful or that are part of their everyday lives — such as transcribing the dialogue between two characters in a game they play or their favorite TV show, or having them create such a dialogue. That’s fun. The important thing is that they do the homework with attention, that they do it without finding it a waste of time, and that it actually becomes a bridge, a continuum between classes.