What do you mean you haven’t done your homework!

Homework motivation – how to get your students to do it

Homework motivation is difficult. Homework always has negative connotations. Most of us probably have bad memories from our obligatory education school days. It stops you watching TV, going out with your friends and all the other things that kids place importance on when they’re growing up.

We don’t tend to change much when we reach adulthood either. There’s always something else with a higher priority than homework that has to be done because homework is boring drudgery that no-one wants to do.

There’s something odd about homework and its necessity that escapes a lot of people. Most of us accept that if you want to get good at something you have to practice. It doesn’t matter what it is: playing the piano, swimming, riding a horse, etc. practice makes perfect. We are all told this and most of us accept it. So why is homework different?

The essence of homework is to practice so that you understand more and improve. The problem is that (usually due to our education systems) it is always shrouded by negativity. You have to do your homework.”, If you don’t do your homework you will be a failure.”, You didn’t do your homework properly so you will be put in detention after school.” These situations and many others are magnificent for reinforcing homework’s negative image.

Frequently, homework that is set is done so with no clear reason for doing it other than, you have to do it or else …”

People of all ages like to know why they are being asked to do something and why it’s useful. They don’t want to simply follow orders. The starting point for homework motivation should be to explain why it should be done and why it is useful. It’s use can vary. Perhaps there will be a test in the next class, there’s an exam next month for which your students must prepare, there was general interest in your class about a certain subject so the homework is to investigate some more, etc.

The underlying negative perception of homework has to be turned into a positive. You can motivate your students towards a positive view by comparing homework to practising a sport, playing a musical instrument, learning to drive, etc. These are usually things that people like to do and they value the practice because they can see a return on their effort. They become: a better golfer, swimmer, football player, musician, artist, etc.

Homework must be portrayed with the same positive aspects. Homework will make them better at English, it will help them read, write, listen, speak and understand, it will make them feel more confident and less fearful of learning English. It will make them laugh, understand circumstances outside their environment, appreciate cultural differences and generally give them a higher level of enlightenment. Odd? Not really. An article from the Center for Applied Linguistics” attributes a lot of positives at many levels merely by learning another language.

It’s sad that many English students only use English in the classroom. So apart from the hour or two a week that they spend in class, English is forgotten for the rest of the week.

To make homework more appealing, introduce variations away from the established norms. Filling out cloze sentences or converting sentences between tenses are good technical exercises, but English is alive. It speaks. It’s interactive. Set assignments where your students have to perform a task based on listening to songs, watching TV in English, watching movies in English (initially with subtitles), reading accessible books that are written using everyday English and that are interesting. Dan Brown and John Grisham come to mind. They won’t do for children but there are some great children’s authors out their too. My personal favourites are A.A. Milne and Roald Dahl. It doesn’t matter as long as the reading text is easy to understand and is stimulating.

Get them to write stories, sketches, record songs, short videos, etc. If they can do it as a group or with a friend, even better. Give them technical practice homework but balance it with investigative and creative homework. Passing a TOEFL, IELTS, etc. exam is one thing, but being able to understand and speak English is something else entirely.

If you do this, you will probably see that some students will take a much more active interest in English without your need to encourage them. Their natural curiosity will lead them to find out more. The more they investigate, the better they will get. They’ll see that their efforts are paying off because they will be able to read, listen, write, speak and understand with more confidence.

Homework can be set as a precursor for testing but just as importantly it can be set to encourage practice.

If you make homework a useful and rewarding task, your students will do it and ask for more.

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