Is homework necessary/valuable? Tips and best practices for meaningful and motivating homework #ELTchat Summary 12/12/2012

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Is homework necessary/valuable? Tips and best practices for meaningful and motivating homework #ELTchat Summary 12/12/2012


Sorry for handing my homework in late … ?

This post is a summary of an ELT Chat on the topic of homework which took place on December 12 2012 at 1300 CET.

The chat participants:

Made with

Having both suggested the topic and volunteered to write up the notes, I thought I’d better do some extra homework on homework. I decided to check out the links and watch presentations recommended during the chat. To be frank, I got quite carried away. At one point I was even learning so my about homework that I actually forgot why I was doing it…

So to focus on the task at hand : 

What are the pro’s and cons of homework’

What are the con’s:

The unavoidable issue is that of ‘homework for homework’s sake’:

I often feel quite conflicted about homework.  Half the time I only set it because I feel it’s required of me. I think left to my own devices I would set homework about 10% of the time that I currently do @teflgeek

teachers often have to assign HW they dont reallly approve of – a major issue @Marisa_C

and parents expect it too @Marisa_C

It’s part of the educational culture @NailiahRokic

Sometimes parents see HW as a way also to follow what’s going on in class and sometimes test teachers @NailiahRokic

and the converse issue, where homework becomes necessary because:

contact time set is often insufficient to cover all important aspects of course @esolcourses

or the opposite reaction:

To those who teach kids in the school system: Don’t they already study enough? Isn’t it too much to ask them to do it at home too? @theteacherjames

a lot of parents in Canada are starting to revolt against HW. Ruining precious family time. Parents getting frustrated with stressed out kids @David_Boughton

and the con’s don’t stop at homework for kids. Homework and adults don’t mix well either.

Teaching adults means I can’t exactly lay down the law, it’s up to them if they do it or not @theteacherjames

that’s my current struggle with busy professionals. Barely time to show up to class @David_Boughton

So we’d expect an analysis of the tweets be mostly negative?

ELT Chat Wordle

 Made with

(Un)surprisingly not. As @esolcourses put it:

homework is as good (or bad) as the teacher who sets it. Needs to be targeted & purposeful

So how can we best relate homework types to learners and class? I read Marisa Constantinides presentation on Homework vs Busywork. It has lots of great insights and also a really useful framework, which I’ve used here to organise the comments:

ELTChat Grid

Why do we do all of this homework?

I think HW has extremely good benefits when well planned and justified though. @theteacherjames

Makes adult learners more autonomous @SophiaKhan4

Pre-reading and post lesson activities really help to consolidate work covered in class @esolcourses

I do believe in HW, if it complements/improves whats being taught in class, but that also doesnt work if T doesn’t get s interested @NailahRokic


I always set optional extra work to do out of class, & in my experience (with adults and teens) s’s who do it tend to make better progress @esolcourses

And what about those SS who tend ‘not’ to do their Homework? How can we deal with ‘preparation’ homework that only some learners took time to do?

you put learners who haven’t watched it into groups with the students who have, to discuss @David_Boughton

Can you predict the content? Can you interview other SS who saw it and find out?@KerrCarolyn

perhaps an idea might be for class to do something else while indiv Students report to T in tutorial mode @Marisa_C

I sometimes do a quick multiple choice quiz on homework as a warm-up, in groups @esolcourses

How can technology help? Here are some comments on using technology as part of homework:

Tech can often make it more useful/meaningful, as it allows for instant feedback & collaboration @esolcourses

That’s where computer game-like homework can be fun? @FrancesEales

can have an LMS packed with busywork too  – true also.  Important to be discerning @esolcourses

social media can create a useful platform for sharing content between the sts @theteacherjames

I’ve also set up voxopop group topics or vocaroo speaking tasks which sts practise and then record and send to me. @FrancesEales

Should homework focus on more than lessons?

“As a language teacher one cannot escape the feeling that language lessons in and of themselves are not sufficient to bring language learning about and to lead to eventual proficiency” (van Lier 1996, p. 42).

I was curious to find out what people thought about ‘language exposure’ and the role of homework in that so I asked:

I think exposure to English outside the classroom is very important and homework is one way – but is it a good way?

@Marisa_C Immediately responded to this with a link to Steven Krashen’s talk from the Wired In Wired Out conference in Instanbul.


 As part of my homework I watched the video, which was both interesting and entertaining, and well worth the effort. A summary for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see it:

As many of you will know, Krashen is a linguist and (award winning) )Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California. He is an influencial figure to say the least! He is known for the introduction of the ‘acquisition-learning hyposthesis’. To sum this theory up in a couple of words:

Acquisition is a subconcious process (think of effortless absorbtion) and learning is a concious process (think of working something out step by step). According to his beliefs, activities which are focused on meaning rather than form, for example reading or listening to ‘comprehensible input’, are far more effective in developing second language ability than any other method.

In his talk he discusses reading for pleasure as a fundamentally important activity for language acquisition. The benefits he states are:

–      improved reading skills

–      better writing skills

–      increased ability to handle complex grammar

–      increased vocabulary

–      better spelling


ELTPics @AriannaBasaric



All those who commented on reading agreed with Krashen:

 I always set readers (e.g. for a week) and we have a feedback sess in class. @FrancesEales

I’ve used the ‘book box’ too and extensive reading does indeed help@Marisa_C

@theteacherjames I try to encourage all my students to read as much as possible. Find out what they like, lend them books etc.

Put newspapers in the kitchen and lounge and they are always reading them @David__Boughton

@theteacherjames also provided us with a link to a set of reading circle materials from OUP


But it is not a matter of just setting reading as homework. As @Marisa_C says

may work if motivating pre-reading done in class to whet ss’ appetite and stimulate curiosity

In my experience, reading (and listening) for pleasure is fundamental to progress in language. For my young learners I let them choose from a selection of storybooks with audio and they listen to them for fun in the evenings. I never fail to be impressed at just how quickly these kids progress.

I was greatly interested in what Krashen had to say about adults:

“good readers are narrow readers they stick to one genre at a time, one author at a time and gradually extend it as they go”

I’ve recently started taking Agatha Christie books along to my adult  business learners and am getting a lot of traction with them. Most adults here read them as children and now find them really enjoyable to read in English. One of my learners was enjoying her reading activity so much she literally could not put the book down, and here’s the proof

Agatha investigates


I’m glad I did my extra homework, I’m glad I clicked on all the links, and even though I handed my homework in late, I enjoyed doing it and it is nice to know that the great and the good of linguistics (Krashen et al) agree with ELTChat.

“Those who really engage with the L2 in and out of class will do better. We have no right to force people, but the obligation to encourage them.”

What’s more I’m also glad I got carried away with my homework, I’m glad I spent too much time watching presentations and clicking links to potential homework topics (I watched a TV presenter having a type of stroke). In doing this I proved one of Krashen and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s main theories : that a person learns most when they are so absorbed in what they are doing that they forget why they are doing it. Some people call this ‘flow’: it felt like ‘fun’ to me.

Further reading -Guest post by Rob Haines in Oregon (USA)

About the Author

Carolyn Kerr – @KerrCarolyn

View her blog here