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ESL Fundamentals: Should I always set homework?

The fact that this question is so often asked is a symptom of the sorry state of language teaching today. To be quite frank, it is an absurd question. It’s rather like saying “I want to drive to work…should I use a car?”

Before we answer it however, you must remember one of the key principals of the I-Ling Research Network: context is king. There are very few universals in ESL and one of the great errors teachers make when deciding issues around language learning is to dive in there without asking about context. One applies different soloutions and answers in different EFL contexts, depending on variables such as how much study time a student has, whether they are in an academy or self studying etc etc.

Please remember: never rush into your answer or to provide solouions to students without asking some key questions. This is true with the homework issue. While you should always set homework, one must first enquire into the circumstances of your student’s life.

2 exceptions to the homework rule.

1. A busy executive with three children doing a company class will probably not have time to do homework. (What to do in this case is the subject of my next post.)
2. Someone who is happy with their level and simply wants to maintain it.

These exceptions serve to remind us that we must always ask about context first. Now that we have done that, let’s return to the general rule.


Wether your students have worked hard or not – set them homework
If they’re about to go off for summer recess – set them homework
If they’re off to an important congress – set them homework
if they’re wife’s just left them, they’ve lost their job, and a small lump is rapidly growing on their left testicle – set them homework

Always set them homework because they will respect you for it. Always set them homework because if they’re not capable of designing their own study plan and executing it, they’re never going to reach fluency; you must be pushing them to study outside of the class.

If not, everybody is wasting their time – as anyone knows who’s read TEFL Insurgent – the route to fluency is about 800 hours. If they have three hours of class a week it’ll take them (800/3 = 272 weeks) approximately five years. However, because they will soon start forgetting what they learnt months and years before, they will never get to fluency. Therefore you better make sure that they are doing homework.

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