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Three Essential Ingredients for Online Homework That Every Teacher Should Know


In a previous article, we explored the benefits and the cons of giving online students homework.

The Three Ingredients of Effective Homework

We will now discuss the three key ingredients that useful homework should have to be effective in online teaching: clarity, appropriateness, and engagement.

These three ingredients are essential to help you create and offer your students homework that will be both helpful and engaging for them.


1. Make Homework Clear

It is important for students to have a clear understanding of the task, its purpose, the feedback mechanism and any time constraints.

In order to complete a task, many people require a clear understanding of its purpose and the reason behind it to get it done or have the motivation to get it done. Having those clear instructions is extremely important and has a very defined scope.

There also needs to be a clear understanding of how they will get feedback. Will it be given during the next class? Or is that going to be somehow automated for them on their teaching platform? Or is it going to be given at some future time? It's essential to define a plan to avoid confusion.



2. Make Homework Appropriate

Online assignments should be neither too easy nor too hard, and they should always cater to the student's level and available time. It needs to be relevant and precise for the student and have that Goldilocks effect.

It must be challenging enough for the student to get something from it. It also has to fit their already level, so it's not too easy. If it's too easy, then the students really don't get much from doing the exercise. If it's too hard, there's a good chance either they'll spend far too much time on it or they'll find it so frustrating that they won't do it, or won't want to do any future homework in the future.

The homework assigned to students should be achievable within the given time frame and meet their realistic expectations. For instance, if a student is assigned a lengthy writing task, it may not be possible for them to complete it within the given time, especially if they have other responsibilities to manage simultaneously.

Homework needs to match the level and skill of that learner as well. If the assignment is a reading exercise and it's just set at far too easy a level, the student may not benefit from it. These are all things that homework needs to accomplish in order to be effective and achievable. 


3. Make Homework Engaging

The tasks should be personal and practical, and come in a variety of formats for novelty.

During the process of writing the Lang Tech book with Brian Kantt, we put a lot of thought into the most effective way of learning a language. We concluded that to make language instruction effective, it needs to be personal and practical. We believe these principles hold equally true for homework to be engaging and effective.

To be clear, by "personal" we mean "where the learner makes (or is involved in) most of the decisions about what will be learned and how. At its finest, a personal approach implies the learner not only contributes to deciding what will be learned and how, but also to the creation of the curriculum."

In the case of homework, "personal" would mean involving the learner in what the approach is to homework rather than a standardised homework approach where this is already predetermined.

It doesn't take very long to make sure you've got buy-in from the student but does take some effort. As educators, we need to be able to answer why a student should do homework in the first place and what we expect them to gain from it. We want homework that matches the personal objectives of that student, and it doesn't hurt to match their personal interests too.

By "practical" we mean the content, or homework, is "real-world relevant and easily transferable to non-instructional environments" and ideally presented in a way that this relevance is self-evident.


For example, a better approach to asking a teenage student to complete a standardised fill-in-the-gap exercise based on vocabulary about an office would be to create homework activities that align with the teenager's interest in talking about pop music with friends. 

Beyond ensuring homework is personal and practical, teachers should consider which specific skill (listening, reading, writing, speaking) they aim for students to practice and ideally mix up the types of activities they do between classes. Students appreciate variety. A varied approach keeps homework fresh and engaging. For instance, while a word-matching exercise might be engaging once, repeating it continuously can dampen a student's motivation.


While homework remains a contentious topic in education, its effectiveness hinges on its design and purpose. Homework when done right reinforces learning, keeps momentum, promotes autonomy, increases exposure to the language and helps students learn faster.

I hope you find these three ideas useful. I am looking forward to seeing what you produce and also LearnCube supporting you to create clear, appropriate, engaging homework through our upcoming AI Teacher Assistant.


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