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Making Homework Meaningful and Purposeful in Languages classroom

I believe that homework is crucial for successful delivery of languages curriculum and should be treated as such. It is not an optional but an imperative extra to successful language acquisition. If it is used effectively it can support and aid learning of a new language, develop students’ language skills and cultural awareness.

Meaningful and well-thought through homework also helps to reinforce what’s being taught in the classroom and gives students a good chance to practise what they have learnt at school as the time in the lesson is limited and often not enough for students to explore and practise. 

Students often question the purpose of homework, so making it clear why this homework is set (i.e. to improve fluency in the TL) or why in this way (i.e. to improve listening/writing/reading skills or Grammar knowledge) is also very important if we want our students to complete their homework to high standard. The discussion about how we learn and how to organise learning to aid retrieval; using spacing to avoid forgetting is in my opinion also very important to have with our learners.

With subject such as foreign language which on average is timetabled maybe for two lessons a week at KS3 and 5 lessons per fortnight at KS4 in most of the U.K. comprehensive schools, it is also essential that students regularly re-visit new language and structures again at home as this will reinforce their knowledge.

Because the research on homework is rather mixed, we should think  carefully about the types of tasks that we assign and what is their purpose and whether they have a positive impact on students’ learning and progress.

There have been times in our teaching careers when many of us have been guilty of  setting  homework just for the sake of it, following the school’s or departmental homework policy with tasks ranging from word searches, designing posters to asking students to write paragraphs on specific topics that we have taught in the lesson only to find out that the work submitted to us didn’t really enhance students learning or that it has been completed by Google Translate and not by our students!

Over the past few months during the ‘Lockdown’, I had the time to critically look at how we set homework in our department and update our homework policy and on reflection I have decided to change how we set homework! These are the changes we have decided to make.

We set two types of homework:

Learning Homework

This type of homework supports learning of new vocabulary and structures based on our sentence builders. Students can complete this type of homework in two ways.

1. Students can either use Quizlet cards that I have created for them – they practise first choosing any games and activities they wish, once they feel they have learnt their key vocabulary they need to take a test. Acceptable % benchmark is set by the teacher (i.e. they need to get 80%), when this benchmark is reached students take a screen shot of their result and upload it to Show My Homework (SMHW) as evidence.  

This ensures that students complete their homework to a desirable standard and if they don’t the teacher will notice immediately, it also enables them to improve (i.e. having to practise more in order to achieve the acceptable standard), they will also instantly notice where their weaknesses are for example in spelling.

 Example of Quizlet cards

Another tool you could use for homework is Carousel Learning, where you can set up your questions and classes and create quizzes to assigned to your students as homework. This platform is new to us and we are still exploring it. For a useful and easy to follow tutorial on how to set up your carousel learning classes, upload questions and assign quizzes watch a tutorial created by @basnettj here.

2. Students can use self quizzing at the back of their book with set of key structures given by the teacher – this also gives no excuses to students who can not access the technology for various reasons.

Example of Self-quizzing

Homework supporting language skills

This type of homework is set to support listening, reading or speaking skills. Please, note that we have decided against writing tasks for homework as we have come to the conclusion that they were often not completed by students using their knowledge but using ‘google translate’, which then proved to be a complete waste of time not just for the students but also for the teacher and didn’t enhance students’ learning, progress or knowledge. 

We are now focussing on independent writing skills in the lessons during our production or extension phase when we can oversee that students are completing them without any support.

The types of homework we set (click on the picture for a link to the resource):

  • TeachVid – supports listening and reading (writing) skills. The resource below I made myself, but there are many ready made videos in different languages which can be used. You and your students will need to open a free account to access the activities. You can give students a link for the specific task you want them to complete i.e gap fill, break the flow etc. Once the task has been completed students will be given a score, so no marking for the teacher. I do not set a % benchmark for these tasks – this is more about exposing students to different resources and also to the cultural capital. They might find some of the tasks challenging, but what I tell my students is – the more they practise the more words/structures they will encode and it will get easier. The key here is exposure to as much language as possible in variety of contexts.

  • LearningApps – you will need to open an account and can create your own activities or there are ready made activities that have been shared by other teachers and which you can use. Result is generated upon completion of the task. Teacher marking not required.

  • Wordwall – you will need to create an account. Free account will allow you to create 5 resources, for more you will have to subscribe, but again there are many resources ready made and freely shared by other teachers. Many resources for German have been shared by Abi Bryan. Result is generated upon completion of the task. Teacher marking not required. 

Resources by Abi Bryan

  • – supports listening and reading skills as after watching the short video there are comprehension questions to answer. Levels from A1 to C1 covered with various topics to choose from. Result is generated after completing the comprehension task. Teacher marking not required. 

  • – good for Grammar testing, but specific for Logo, so you will have to choose activities carefully. Result is generated upon completion of the task. Teacher marking not required. 

  • Flipgrid / TEAMS or QWIQR – great to support speaking practice, especially now during ‘Covid times’. Teacher feedback can be recorded as well.

Other websites that could be explored for homework :

Final thoughts… 

So how do we ensure that students do a ‘decent’ job when completing their homework? What are the consequences if the homework is not of the desirable standard? Well, these are the questions individual schools/departments will have to decide on and answer for themselves, but if homework is to make an impact on learning and students progress long term it is an important and valid point for discussion for the departmental meeting agenda.


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