ESL Teachers Ask: How Can I Get Adult Students to Do Their Homework?

ESL Teachers Ask: How Can I Get Adult Students to Do Their Homework?

“I have a group of adult learners, and while they’re good students generally speaking, they never do the homework I assign. There’s a good reason I give them homework; I believe it will help them strengthen some weak areas. So how can I get them to do their homework on a regular basis?” *

The issue of homework with adult learners is a tricky one. Kids have their parents on their backs; most of the time we can count on them to steer the little ones in the right direction. But adult learners are on their own. We need them to be completely on board, and that includes the completion of homework tasks. Because we can all agree that homework is important for the ESL learner, no matter their level or age. So, how can we get adult learners to do their homework? You might want to try some (or all!) of these ideas.

Get Adult Learners To Do Homework Effectively

  1. 1

    Make It Something They Can Really Use

    We must remember that adult learners are very different from young learners. They have different needs. And while kids may have fun completing a crossword puzzle for homework, most adults will find it childish. Good homework tasks, homework that really works, is the kind that will allow them to continue working on the skills they need to hone. With this in mind, it would make more sense to have adult learners write an email for homework, which has to include the vocabulary they’ve recently learned, for example. Or have them watch a video on Newsy so they can keep sharpening those listening skills. Or have them find a MeetUp they can attend in English. Who says homework has to be written all the time?

  2. 2

    Make It Challenging (But Not Too Difficult)

    Ask your students to create a PowerPoint presentation with at least 15 slides. How many will actually do it? What are the odds? What if you ask them to research a famous person and write a summary of their life? Sounds long and tedious to me. Now, try assigning an email with a few complications. Have them arrange a meeting with a “business partner”. Divide students into pairs and have them email each other till they reach an agreement on a day, time and location for the meeting. Students will have to put real-life skills to the test and use the target language at the same time (Is Friday good for you?/Friday doesn’t work for me. How about Monday morning?)

  3. 3

    Make It a Priority

    Here’s the cold, hard truth. More often than not, adult learners have a lot on their plate. On their busiest weeks, they barely make it to class. Doing homework is not a priority. Some may even tell you their goal is to practice speaking and see no point in doing homework. But chances are they feel this way because you’re not giving them homework that works for them (see Point 1). If you give them homework that helps them build the skills they wish to develop, they will give it greater importance.

    And sadly, there are teachers who also feel that homework is not a priority. They assign it “just because”. If you’re not invested in the importance of homework, your students will not feel it’s that important, either. So, tell them exactly why it’s important for them to complete their homework regularly. And to take the pressure up a notch, tell them you’ll grade it and that the average of all homework assignments turned in will count towards their final grade.

  4. 4

    Overcome the “No Time” Argument

    This is probably one of the hardest obstacles to overcome with adult learners. I’m talking about the “no time for homework” argument. And while your students may have very valid reasons for not completing their homework tasks, there is always a way to get past this barrier. For starters, try to negotiate what a reasonable homework assignment would be. One written email per week? A 5-minute video they must summarize in 100 words? 50 words? Deal! No matter how busy your students are, they must understand that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. They can do their homework over breakfast or on their lunch break. How about taking just 10 minutes before they go to bed? It doesn’t have to take up a large chunk of their valuable time, and any time spent on homework is time well spent.

  5. 5

    Follow Up

    Raise your hand if you’ve ever assigned homework to adult learners and then completely forgot to check if they did it. (*Raises hand*) Yeah, I thought so. We tend to give adult learners more credit, greater freedom; we believe they will “do the right thing”. But if we don’t at the very least ask them if they did their homework and try to find out if they had any problems or doubts, they will get the idea that it’s not really that important or that it’s an “optional thing”, when it’s not.

Homework isn’t a chore. It doesn’t have to be. If adult learners see it as a continuation of what you’ve been working on in class, if they see the value in completing a particular homework task, all of their objections and misgiving will vanish.

Do you have any tips for getting adult learners to do their homework?

Well, don’t be bashful and pop them in the comments below!

* This question was sent in from a real ESL teacher, just like you! If you need any advice on a particular topic, share your question in the comments below. Or tweet your question to @busyteacher_org with the hashtag #ESLTeachersAsk. Your question might get picked and featured in an article!

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