Did you ever have that one teacher who went the extra mile?
When I had a teacher who devoted their time to developing exciting material, I was much more engaged in the learning experience.
The lessons and homework didn’t feel like work. Instead, I felt like I was in an intellectually stimulating space where I was learning important life skills.
Think about the more boring classes you had as a student. Do you remember how much you dreaded cookie-cutter homework activities that came in the form of a worksheet or textbook assignment? They were bland and lacking creativity, and you rarely felt like they actually helped you better understand the content.
Most of your ESL students feel the same way about the generic homework that comes with their curriculum. However, you can increase their motivation and happiness by developing homework activities that are creative and enjoyable. That way, you become that special kind of teacher who students enjoy learning from.
You’ll find that the majority of ESL students want homework. They see the importance of practicing English outside of the classroom. However, they also want activities that give them the opportunity to experiment and have fun with English.
Homework shouldn’t be a time for drilling verb tenses and memorizing definitions. It should be a time for students to express themselves using English. Give your students this important practice time by dedicating some of your lesson prep to creating meaningful homework assignments that help them reach specific goals, and they’ll feel like they’re really making progress.
The Creative Teacher’s Guide to Custom-tailored Homework for ESL Students
Things to Keep in Mind While Creating ESL Homework
Being able to self-study is an important part of learning any new language. You’ll need to motivate and inspire your students to learn outside of the classroom and make every moment an opportunity to learn something related to English.
Think of homework as being guided home learning rather than assignments to be completed perfectly to receive points.
Before you can create effective homework that your students will benefit from and enjoy, you’ll need to take some time to think about how you want to design your assignments. Here are some things to consider when creating homework:
- What topics your class is currently studying—think about the themes, relevant vocabulary and grammar structures you have been teaching.
- The average proficiency level of the class.
- What will the students get out of this assignment?
With these things in mind, homework assignments can be a great way to step away from the confines of your current curriculum and experiment with creative ways to reinforce the concepts you’ve covered.
Focus on your students
Try thinking about the general strengths and weaknesses of your classes when you create activities so that you can create customized homework that helps students overcome weaknesses while building upon strengths.
Not entirely sure what their weaknesses are? That’s normal. Students sometimes lack the vocabulary to explain why they’re confused in class, especially when you put them on the spot and ask about their level of understanding. They might not raise questions during lessons, but the truth of their comprehension will surface in homework assignments. By allowing you to identify students’ specific strengths and weaknesses firsthand, well-made, custom homework gives you the chance to be a more effective teacher.
Noticing those strengths and weaknesses will help you get an idea of how the class performs as a whole, as well as the specific areas that individuals need to work on.
With this information, you can then make modifications to your lessons and future homework assignments to help improve your students’ understanding.
Another benefit of customized homework is that you can base your assignments on topics that are hot and trendy. You can catch attention by referring to big topics in sports, entertainment and current events that you’ve noticed your students buzzing about lately.
You can also stay extremely focused on the themes you’ve been presenting during class time. This reinforces the material students have covered in class in a fun way, which greatly boosts their chances of retaining what they’ve learned.
Encourage them to open their books
This custom homework also gives many students a way to complete assignments with less stress; pupils can learn in a relaxed environment now that they’re working at their own paces rather than the teacher’s set speed, and they can also use outside resources to help them.
You can even design the homework so that they’re encouraged to seek help directly from a specific textbook, website or video.
Important Things to Remember When Creating Homework for ESL Students
There aren’t many students who like doing homework, even if they know it’s critical to their success with the language. While you won’t be able to change that, you can make their homework more enjoyable by taking these steps.
1. Make your homework relevant
Loading your students up with pointless busywork is going to only make them feel negatively about learning English. Spend a little extra preparation time on developing homework so that it’s engaging and has an obvious, specific purpose. If your assignment doesn’t have a clear goal that’s relevant to the students’ current lessons, change it up.
2. Write down your classroom objectives before making homework
Before you even think about creating a homework assignment, write down what you hope your students will get out of it. This will provide you with a blueprint that will help you design more effective material. With the right wording, you can even place this hope right on the homework assignment itself.
3. Don’t be so rigid
Homework should be an opportunity for students to step out of the confines of the classroom. Give them the chance to explore the language and tap into their own creativity so that they can incorporate their world knowledge into the learning experience.
4. Be consistent with grading
One of the quickest ways to stop students from getting creative with English is to mark their work stringently. Develop a grading system, let your class know what you’re looking for when you mark homework and don’t deviate from it.
Marking for participation rather than accuracy is a good way to keep your students motivated and active. If you do grade for accuracy, let the class know beforehand and give them ample time to complete the assignment (perhaps over the course of a few days).
5. Be mindful of your students’ limitations
Before you start assigning homework that requires computers, mobile devices or CD players, make sure that everyone has equal access to the resources. Teaching ESL means that you work with people from all walks of life, and some might not have access these devices. Make a plan to accommodate students or come up with a different homework exercise.
Ideas for Getting Started with DIY Homework for ESL Students
Making the perfect homework assignment takes effort, but it’s not impossible. With a little bit of time and creativity, you can develop material that helps your students improve their English skills in a fun and engaging manner. Here are some ideas that will help you make excellent homework.
1. Create debate teams
Debating is a perfect activity in the ESL classroom. It allows students to develop better persuasive skills while teaching them how to research in English. But every good debate requires some preparation.
Simply put your students into groups, assign a debating topic and make sure that every student is assigned a task to complete at home, like writing their argument or doing the actual research for the debate. Just make sure that you give your class ample time to prepare their arguments—they might need a few days for this homework assignment.
2. Give your class blogging assignments
Having your students write blogs provides two functions: learning how to write in prose and getting comfortable using an English keyboard. One of the biggest benefits of blogging assignments is their versatility.
You can have students write about literally anything, from daily diaries to structured academic essays. You can have students use specific vocabulary words or grammatical structures that were covered in class.
There are even blogging platforms available for language students where people will proofread their submissions and give feedback.
3. Use current events as curriculum
Being able to apply the news to your lessons and homework assignments is an excellent way to keep your students interested and engaged. Assign your students specific topics in the news to follow, then give them writing and worksheet assignments related to the topics.
If you teach beginner and intermediate English students, have them get their news from a platform that uses simplified English. Advanced students may use native sources.
4. Create homework that helps build functional life skills
Especially if you’re teaching English to adults, focus on homework assignments that they can truly benefit from in the real world. You’ll find that adult learners really enjoy assignments with a clear purpose instead of more general learning. Have them write resumes and cover letters for homework to let them practice writing, or give them time to prepare for a face-to-face mock job interview with you.
Another popular homework topic is writing complaint letters. Your students can choose a company that they’re dissatisfied with and write a letter complaining about the poor service delivery or something similar.
5. Use technology whenever you can
If your students have reliable access to smartphones or computers then you can start a chat group. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are two chatting platforms that allow for group communication. You can discuss things with your students in real time, share videos and audio clips and answer any questions regarding homework.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Creating Homework for ESL Students
Coming up with homework isn’t as simple as going to a website full of ESL resources and printing out a generic worksheet. If you really want to help your students succeed, you’re going to need to put a lot of thought into how you can help them self-study. For this reason, you shouldn’t rely too heavily on workbook-based assignments. If their textbooks come with an additional workbook, use it as a way to supplement their learning but don’t restrict yourself to using only that.
Planning ESL homework can be a challenging task, especially if you’re teaching adults. Try and get to know your students a little more personally so that you have an idea of what’s going on in their lives. Ask about their school or work schedules so that you don’t overload them with excessive homework during a time when they’re preparing for exams or completing important projects.
Moreover, as you’re designing material, keep your students’ cultures in mind. A common mistake many ESL teachers make is not accounting for the cultural differences, especially when teaching students from more conservative countries. Learn what is and isn’t appropriate!
Remember, homework should always have a purpose. Never assign homework that you don’t plan on marking or evaluating in some way. Effective homework is designed for two functions: to let students engage with the language without the teacher present and to give students constructive feedback that they can benefit from.
By creating ESL homework that helps students overcome specific obstacles and learn how to use practical English in the real world, you’re helping your students work towards reaching fluency.
And One More Thing…
Searching for fun, authentic videos to show your ESL students? Check out FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students. The videos make for useful in-class activities or homework assignments.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.