italki Teaching Tips: Homework, what’s the deal? Should I assign it? What should I assign?

Our italki Teaching Tips are real teaching tips from real italki teachers who have first hand experience teaching different students from all over the world. We share these tips to help you become a better teacher.

Homework, what’s the deal? Should I assign it? What should I assign?

homework2Homework is a funny thing. I would say 90% of students who have asked me for homework never have anything completed when we meet the next time. Most students have the right intention by asking for it, but then they don’t have the time (or make the time) to do it. I send them links and encourage them to use the sites daily.

Ask the student what they have time for. Some really like to have an article to read and prepare for ahead of time. I have found that the serious students know what they want and will tell you. “I want to do an IELTS writing essay before each class.” All you need to is supply them with the topic.

I really encourage students to spend time every day on their English. Speaking to someone on italki is only part of the solution. I encourage them to use twitter and facebook to get daily exercises, watch youtube in their free time, listen to Podcasts on the metro, read articles about their profession in English… the list goes on and on.

10 Things I can give my student for homework:
1. Start a vocabulary journal and write down any unfamiliar words or idioms
2. Start a writing journal and write at least one page 3 times a week about a series of interesting topics or daily experiences
3. Interview a co-worker or neighbor about a current events issue effecting your town
4. Listen to the news or a documentary and write a brief summary of the major themes
5. Listen to a Ted Talk and give an oral presentation about the subject matter
6. Read the sports section of a newspaper and highlight all the action verbs
7. Do a grocery store scavenger hunt and have the student locate different departments and check prices on various items
8. Listen to some popular songs on your ipad, youtube or iphone and write down any idioms or repetitive phrases that you hear
9. Research a topic of interest and create a power point presentation
10. Go to and learn 10 new vocabulary words each day

Although I don’t usually assign specific homework assignments to my adult students, I may give them a website like or something similar and ask them to choose an article to discuss during the next session. Then I can be sure that we are discussing a topic that is interesting to the student. At times, I pick the article for discussion, but before I do that, I ask my student what topics they are interested in. Some of my students ask me to send them questions a few days before our session starts. So, sometimes I just pick a topic like cultural foods, traditional clothing, sports, etc and then I send my student a message with some questions. I often use this site as inspiration to know what to ask students: (I usually change, add, and/or delete from the questions on this site, but it’s a good starting point to get some conversation ideas.) Sometimes I ask questions that my students can just answer on their own without research and other times I ask questions that may require a little (but not too much) digging to come up with an answer. I tend to alternate between those ideas. For example, one week, I ask about family. Those questions don’t really require research. The next week, I may ask about currency or environmental issues their city is facing. These topics may require more research to find the vocabulary to answer my questions.
I may also accompany the questions with a short article pertaining to our topic. The student then reads the article and prepares the answers to the questions before the start of our session. The article may even help them answer some of the questions. I always tell them not to worry if they are not able to prepare answers for every question. At the session, I clarify the questions that they could not understand by asking in a different way and/or by providing my own answer as an example.

I find that these methods work great for my students. They are able to choose their own topics that really interest them and they almost always learn new vocabulary from the articles that they choose. When I choose conversation questions for them, they are always proud to share their creative answers with me and to tell me about the new things they discovered and/or new words they learned while they were writing their answers.

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