Making homework work

Written by: Syana Harizanova

This workshop addresses some of the problems we, teachers, as well as our students face with homework. The participants will be looking at ways of making homework more interesting, stimulating and worthwhile so that it can turn into a positive experience for both learners and teachers.

Part One:

1. Warm-up:
The participants are asked to recall the latest homework they gave to their students before coming to the Conference. If they feel like it, they can talk about it to the person sitting next to them. (Why they gave it? Do they expect their students to do it? What will they do if some students do it very badly or don’t do it at all? etc.) They do not have to report their conversations to the audience.
In plenary, the participants decide on whether homework is necessary and whether they believe in it. (They might have to vote on this.)

2. Do you agree? (An opinion survey + Discussion)

The participants read agree/disagree statements about homework (see Appendix) and tick accordingly.

The results are summed up on OHT (or on the board) and analysed in plenary. Conclusions about the implications for the classroom are drawn. It can be expected that the teachers will agree that they should make sure

  • HW is enjoyable
  • children are capable of accomplishing the task successfully
  • they use listening, speaking and reading activities to prepare children for their written work at home
  • children feel their appreciation for good work when they correct their writing
  • they are not simply looking for mistakes
  • they comment on their achievements
  • they display children’s written work, etc.

Part Two:

In the second part of the workshop, the participants are invited to take the role of their students and do a number of homework tasks. Each task is then discussed in terms of suitability, possible adaptations or changes, potential problems, etc. The tasks are organised according to their level of difficulty, length and time-consumption.

Some of the ideas have been borrowed and/or adapted from Writing with Children by J. Reilly and V. Reilly. (2005, OUP), Assessing Young Learners by Ioannou-Georgiu and P.Pavlou (2003, OUP) and Homework by L. Painter (2003, OUP).

Most of the tasks, however, are the result of numerous experiments and improvisations, based on personal and shared classroom experience.

Early writing (word level)

•  Sorting words

Aim: to make copying meaningful

  • Sort the words on the left under the headings on the right:
    (Encourage children to add at least one more word to each list.)

Africa
America
Asia
black
blue

bear
brown
cheetah
crocodile
ear

Europe
eye
gorilla
head
leg

lion
nose
red

colours
parts of the body
continents
animals
  • Sort the animals panda, elephant, fox, hippopotamus, whale, giraffe, snake, kangaroo:

biggest to smallest                  Africa   / Asia   / Australia                  land  / water  / sky

________________                ______   ______   ______                  _____  _____  _____

  • Sort these animals into a table: rabbits, dogs, sharks, bats, cheetahs, rhinos, parrots, snakes, cats, penguins, hedgehogs.
are pets. eat meat. have long tails. can run fast. can’t swim can fly.

Encourage children to add (at least) one more word to each list.

One-sentence homework

•  Creating a book page

Aim: to integrate reading/listening to a story with simple writing; to make children aware of the importance of the drafting/editing stage of the writing process

Pre-writing activities – Making a draft – Writing proper – Book compilation

Pre-writing:

  • Talk about kinds of animals (animals that fly, swim, walk or crawl; wild animals or farm animals; pets or animals in the zoo).
  • Make lists on the board.
  • From the board, children make a list of their favourite animals in their notebook.
  • Children choose one to write about – the one that they like best. They circle it.
  • Children each fold a A4 to make two sides, and write the name of their animal at the top. Under the name, at the top of the left-hand side, Children write can and on the opposite side cannot. Then they write things their animal can do, e.g. see in the dark, on the left, and things it cannot do, e.g. swim, on the right.

Writing:

  • On the back of the A4, children write some sentences about their animal, using the can/cannot chart. Then they think of how the sentences can be linked, using and or but. The teacher checks for spelling or punctuation mistakes.
  • Children make their book page: on a clean sheet of paper, they draw or stick a picture of their animal and neatly copy their sentences below the picture.
  • Children put the separate pages in ABC order, and make A Book about Animals.
  • If other classes have done the same, they can swap Class Books.

Sentence flap books

Aim: to practise sentence structure, to look at grammar in simple sentences, to combine writing with some basic craft, to have fun

  • Fold several sheets of paper in half and staple them in a line about 1 cm in from the folded edge.
  • Cut the book into three sections from the open edge to the stapled spine.
  • Write sentences consisting of a pronoun, verb, and noun, e.g. I like cats. Make sure that the pronoun is in the top flap, the verb in the middle, and the noun at the bottom. (Focus on ‘s’ for 3 p.sg.)
  • Create a humorous version – Do you like …..in/on/under/behind your …..?, e.g. Do you like ketchup in your soup? Do you like toothpaste on your wafer?,etc.

Alliterative sentences / Tongue twisters

Aim: to let children play with the language, to get them work with a dictionary, to stimulate their creativity and imagination.

  • Give some examples of sentences where most of the words begin with the same letter or sound, e.g. Ellie the elephant eats eggs in the evenings. Ask Ss what’s unusual about it. Show some more examples:

    Smooth snakes slide silently.
    Busy Brenda buys bananas.
    Silly Sarah wears sweaters on sunny summer days.
    Perfect Peter plays the piano perfectly.

  • Draw four bubbles on the board.
  • Elicit verbs and write them inside Bubble One, e.g. play, eat, sing.
  • Encourage students to find names and nouns starting with the same letter as the verbs, e.g. Peter, Polly, Patricia/ Earnest, Edward, Emily/ Susan, Sally, Stephen … peaches, pens, piano, paper, packet/ elephant, end, egg, eraser/ sun, song, star, sand….
  • Repeat the procedure with adjectives.
  • In pairs, students choose a word beginning with the same letter from each bubble to make a sentence.
  • Variation: Work through a couple of letters from the alphabet together in class to demonstrate the process. Then for homework, give each child 2 letters from the ABC to write sentences with. Encourage them to work with a (picture) dictionary!

Creative writing (text level)

•  Dictate a puzzle

Aim: to provide a reason for listening and writing in class and for reading and writing at home – to work out the solution

Look for a puzzle like the following one or create one yourself.

A blind man is in prison. He is sitting in a room. It’s a very small room, and it has only got one small window through which the sun shines. The room is empty – there is no bed, no chair and no table. The blind man is playing with two marble balls – one white and the other black. They are absolutely the same in size. The blind man will be free if he can tell which ball is black and which is white.

Can you help him find this out?

Key: He should put the balls where the sunshine falls through the window. (He can feel the place without seeing it.) After some time, the black ball will be warmer as it will have absorbed the sunshine.

Follow-up: Students find similar puzzles in children’s magazines and translate them into English. The teacher collects, corrects and repeats the procedure with the whole class.

•  Write your own comprehension questions (Can be combined with ‘Dictate a puzzle’ from above)

Aim: to provide practice in writing questions in English as well as in reading for detailed information

•  Pocket stories

Aim: to help students write a story using prompts (realia)

  • At the end of a lesson, organise students into pairs and ask them to take out three things from their pockets or bags. (Encourage them by taking things from your own.)
  • Ask students to writ e a six-sentence story which includes the three items from their partner’s pocket or bag.
  • In the next lesson, ask students to read their stories to their partners.

•  Pass the story

Aim: to make story writing a collaborative experience, with plenty of anticipation and fun

who? (characters)
when? (time, e.g. old times/ now/ the future/…)
where? (location/place, e.g. a city/a village/ the forest/ a castle/a spaceship… )
a beginning
a complication/problem
an end or resolution
(a possible twist at the end)

  • In class, ask students to decide on a who-when-where matrix for their story. For homework, students work the first part of the story (the beginning)
  • In the next lesson, collect their work, correct it and redistribute it so that each student receives someone else’s work. For homework, students write the continuation of the story they have been given.
  • Repeat the procedure with the end/resolution.
  • In the end, each story will be finished as a result of the collaborative writing of 3 different students.
  • If students enjoyed the task, repeat the process and ask them to write a twist this time.

•  Design your own homework task

Aim: to give the students the responsibility of creating a homework task for their class

Each student gets the following card

Mission: design a ‘super’ task

Your mission is to design a homework activity which you think will really improve your English. It should be something that you WANT to do and CAN do.

The activity must be fun, something that everyone will have time to do, and it should be creative! Then we’ll set your classmates the homework!

Appendix

Yes No Not sure
Homework should be seen by students as a routine.
Difficult home assignments can be used as a punishment.
Marking written HW eats up too much time.
Students don’t do their HW because they have no time.
Students don’t do their HW because they are not motivated.
Most students tend to copy answers since they have too many other subjects.
Students often come under peer pressure to under-perform.
Students will do things they enjoy.
Homework creates an autonomous learner.
Feedback is one of the most motivating forces that keeps

students doing their homework.

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