In a previous post (Is Homework a Waste of Time?) I argued that homework is a great opportunity for independent learning. In a classroom it’s difficult to differentiate tasks and ensure that everyone is doing what they need and/or want.
I was recently chatting to by dear friend Anna Miller in Athens. She teaches a lot of adult students online and they have very little spare time to dedicate to homework and I started thinking about ways they could practise and develop their English easily, focussing on language that was relevant to themselves. Below are some of the ideas I came up with. I have indicated what skills they particularly focus on for teachers and students alike need to know.
1. Shopping lists / to do lists
Most of us write lists on a regular basis – what we need to buy or things we need to do. I suggest that students get into the habit of writing these in English. The things we buy and do relate directly to our own lives and this is vocabulary that we would use to talk about ourselves, order food in restaurants and even include in a CV.
The shopping list would be basically vocabulary (nouns) but can be expanded to include adjectives, numbers and types of containers. Mine would look something like this:
A kilo of new potatoes
A small organic chicken
A bottle of dry French wine
The ‘to do’ list might be more complex and include verbs and imperatives, e.g.
Phone dentist and make an appointment
Invite Jane and Peter to dinner on the 26th
E-mail Tony about holiday dates
Students would be writing such lists anyway, but writing them in English will be (a) good practice (b) meaningful (c) helpful for memory and (d) hopefully, a fun habit.
2. Texting friends
· Various vocabulary and grammar
It won’t be that unusual for a student of English to have friends who are also studying English. Suggest that instead of texting each other in their mother tongue, they do so in English. Again, they will be using English for a purpose, practising language of personal significance and writing regularly.
3. Join on-line forums
There are many on-line forums, some specifically for English language learning like those on the British Council websites, where students can exchange messages with students of English around the world.
Plus, there are many different forums for exchanging ideas and information which are job or interest specific e.g. pinterest.
4. Reading online
· Developing vocabulary
· Learning about topics of interest
The internet has revolutionized the way we do so many things including reading. It’s hard to encourage students to read in English if they don’t read in their own language, but DO encourage them as it’s a great way to practise and develop language.
Students can read absolutely anything that is of interest to them personally and professionally from online newspapers e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/uk, to short stories, to recipes, to academic papers.
What I would stress here is that it is NOT necessary to ask students to write about what they have read. This is not an authentic response to most reading we do in real life. If anything, it will put them off reading, if they have a summary to write afterwards!!
Reading online can be done anywhere on a smart phone, so they could read for 5 minutes a day on the bus, if that is the only opportunity they have.
5. Watching TV or films
In many countries it’s possible to find English language TV programmes and films which have not been dubbed into the language of the country they are shown in. Suggest to students that they watch at least one hour of English language TV a week. To get them to pay more attention to the words spoken, they can play this game: spot the difference between what is said and what is written in the sub-titles. This can be a lot of fun!
Students may feel that watching English language TV is too difficult, but once they get into the habit it and they are enjoying the programme, it will feel less like a chore.
All of the above can become habits rather than chores!