I dislike the word homework

I was just about to turn off the Kalinago and go on over to write in How-to-Learn-English, about idioms and ballparks but just before I do that I just gotta get something off my chest.

I hate the word homework.

I teach mainly adults these days and you know what happens to their faces when you say '...and your homework is...! Ya, you know. But think about the little ones, the kids, if you've ever taught these. They like homework. It's fun.

Remember when you were a kid?

It was fun!
Always something cool to do, drawing or making stuff. Sticking and gluing, putting together projects and talking to Mummy and Daddy. And getting praised by the teacher the next day.

Even math was enjoyable because with a little bit of work, erasing, more work, you could easily get to the solution.


Somewhere along the way from childhood to early teens the word homework went and got itself distorted and it just began to signify pain: hard annoying tasks with no tangible value. Your students were teens once too so...

Newsflash: they still feel the same way.

It's not that learning English isn't fun - it really is - it's the word that's the problem. Yuck. Homework.

What am I doing about this? You don't really expect me to twitter on without a suggestion, do you? LOL. You know me, I've been experimenting for over a year now. I've some alternative phrases so don't laugh, they work:

Pre task activity &
Post task activity

Today, in class, I asked my little group of students at an investment bank "So, guys, what would you like to do for your post-task?"

V told me he is going to watch part 3 of the Taleb interview on CNBC because he didn't get around to doing this yet and M is going to continue developing his map of collocations from our dissection of a Nokia investor relations speech (er, a future blog post, coming soon)

No grumbling. No fuss.

'So what's the plan for this week's PTA?' I ask.

MA at the other bank is going to make a poster of linking words - she's having a bit of trouble keeping them straight and P is going to write up a short email about Chinese investments; G is very busy this week but she might listen to the Business Spotlight podcast while running. H is going to learn about RFID technology via slideshare as he's got a client in this field.

carrotdog and stickThey choose. They do. It's really as simple as that.


p.s - What do you think? Want to give it a go? (You'll feel a bit strange at first, getting that yucky word out of your active vocabulary - actually I still smirk when I've got a brand new group and I have to explain to them that we're not using the word homework - they do look at me like I'm nuts - but it's working!) Or perhaps you've got an alternative phrase to PTA/ post and pre-task activity?

Or do you just think I've been teaching way too long and finally flipped out? Whichever it is, do let me know your thoughts as I love sharing and learning from you guys too... xK

8 Responses to “I dislike the word homework”

  • Anonymous says:
    March 25, 2009

    Nice idea to change the terminology and give choice of what to do. Since I've started a class blog I often use that as part of the "homework" - I say "Please check out our blog for more information about this.../for another interactive exercise.../to watch the video again/to read an article that we are going to study more in detail next class".
    The other thing is that homework will often fail if it isn't perceived as having value or a clear link. The courses I've had where homework fails is because I haven't been disciplined myself in checking, feeding back on it. If students get a whiff of you procrastinating or being lax the chances increase that they will reciprocate.

    March 25, 2009

    Hi ya Lindsay, Great tips on running the homework session as a blog! I agree with you about being lax in checking, I sometimes fall down on this aspect - but here's the funniest thing, since I've been doing this "choice" way of working, more often than not the students volunteer what they've been doing and learning before I can even get my coat off!

    Also interesting is that sometimes they follow-up and report weeks and weeks later when a topic resurfaces by accident, leading me to realize that they're actually even doing more than what they're reporting on - kind of a continuous learning thing. All very cool.

  • Anonymous says:
    March 25, 2009

    Hi Karenne
    Interesting posting! I like the idea of pre and post task activities. I think there are a load of reasons why learners don't do their homework and you may well be right, they hear the word homework and it sounds so much like school that they think 'Oh yeah, that's something I don't do'(subconsciously). But maybe the word isn't wrong to describe the activity, but the activities often given don't really fit the objective. Sorry that doesn't sound very clear but I had an article published sometime ago about students not doing homework, why not and how to get them to. It's on my website at http://www.elgweb.net/hwk_article.html. Hope there's something useful there. I think one thing to remember is that homework is often better if it doesn't involve any paper!

  • Neal chambers says:
    April 02, 2009

    Great stuff! If I could add to the list I would put the word review on there too. Students definitely don't like to hear this word. I try to disguise of by calling it practicing again or trying to tell students that they need to build foundation before you can build a big house. Otherwise it falls down after you have it built.

  • Anonymous says:
    April 06, 2009

    I completely agree! Just one example - I have taught a group of women aged 50-80 for 9 years and they still do their pre and post task activities with enthusiasm - especially if they each have a different task and know that the others are expecting or even relying on it being done. It works really well if the time needed is a bit open - sometimes one will have spent 20 minutes and the other hours! Quite often the ideas for tasks at home come up during the class - they unfold naturally, and one will volunteer to do something, or I'll suggest to another that she could do X...

  • Anonymous says:
    April 10, 2009

    I like the idea of having students pick the activity they would like to do, and maybe the word "homework" has taken on the sense of drudgery that housework has. (Children like doing housework, too!) But "pre-task activity" and "post-task activity" seem like over fussy terms and not very focused. I would love students to do some "background searches" or "explorations" prior to a class and bring the results in to share. Then they could do some "follow-up activity" or "experimentation" afterward.

    April 11, 2009

    Betsy, you are a genius! I am going to try out these suggestions with a new group - the old ones have gotten used to the PTAs, but I think you're really on to something. I particularly like Follow-up Activities or background searches.


  • Carol Goodey says:
    August 30, 2009

    Just reading this post and discussion now as a result of your 'From my archives' tweet! I think it's a great idea to allow everybody to decide what do do between sessions. I haven't tried this, but will start experimenting as it seems to offer so many advantages. It would allow learners to suit the work they do to their own needs and interests. It may give them something unique to share with the group. It could encourage them to be proactive in their learning rather than expecting just to "do what the teacher says". Thanks, Karenne. I'll give it a go!


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