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10 practical ideas for using technology for homework

I imagine most language teachers still tend to set traditional learning tasks for homework: grammar exercises, vocabulary learning, poster creation, reading comprehension, translation, paragraph and composition writing, revising for assessments and so on.

The computer and internet allow us to set a greater range of useful tasks which should make homework more varied and stimulating, thus raising motivation and attainment a small notch.

Before I list a few, it's always worth bearing in mind to what extent you can check that students have actually done the work. In pre-computer days I would get students to occasionally record talks on to cassette tape. I could collect the tapes in and listen to them at home, or even play one or two to the class. If you can't check work has been done, then find an alternative you can check. Being a mistrustful fellow, I always worked from the assumption that some students would, for some reason or other, miss homework. So, with that in mind, and the fact that that I like practicable and productive homework focused on high quality input, how about the activities below?

1. Recording some speech on a phone or computer using a voice recorder or a downloadable programme such as Audacity. The speech may have been generated from previous textual or listening class work. Files can be uploaded to a school's storage system for checking or sent straight to a teacher's email.

2. Set a listening task from the internet (e.g. video listening worksheets on frenchteacher.net). The teacher chooses the source based on interest and language level. You can check task is done from a paper or electronic worksheet.

3. Set a reading task with worksheet (paper or electronic) from an online source. If you don't have a system set up at school to share and store student work, or if you struggle with tech, paper copies are fine. The key thing is that the work is done.

3. Have students do a task from any online material associated with your course package. Make sure you can check somehow that the task was done. Some packages allow you to track student performance.

4. Have students create their own blog using a free and simple platform such as Blogger or Weebly. They can write posts in the TL and embed TL videos such as songs. You can check the work by just going online. Keep a list of all the blog addresses and share with the class so that students can read each others' blogs.

5. Do a "flipped learning" style activity such as getting students to look at a video or text at home in preparation for the next lesson. Provide a sheet so they can show evidence of the task having been done.

6. Get pupils to use their phone or tablet to take a picture which can then be used for language production. At a simple level this could be description (e.g. a selfie or a simple scene). At advanced level students could use a picture for more creative writing.

7. For vocabulary practice you can use Memrise (free) and Vocab Express, along with other word-based apps. Some allow the teacher to set up class lists to monitor achievement. I confess I am not that keen on such single word based apps and programmes, but many students and teachers like them.

8. Use Siri, or similar, to practise conversation. Students set their language and can work through some questions you set. You can check the work by having students write down what answers they got.

9. Use Google Translate. Provide pupils with a chunk of TL text on paper which they have to type into Google Translate (focus on written accuracy), print or save the Google translation, then write their own, improved version.

10. Do a weekly online listening or reading task with high intermediate or advanced students. In this case students search out their own sources and do a set task e.g. summary in English of a TL article with a list of new words learned from the article.

Just to reiterate, some tasks are hard to check up on. For example, students can do valuable interactive grammar and comprehension tasks from high quality sites such as Languages Online, Textivate and MYLO, or they could use a text-to-speech site, but how would you be sure the work is done?

Finally, avoid gimmicky tasks which provide little TL input. As always, make sure all students have fair access to the technology needed.

Do let me know if you have other productive ideas. I am not the most creative person, but I believe I do have a decent sense, born of long experience, of what works and what is worthwhile!


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