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Homework In Spanish Class

So one day a few years back, I was watching the show “The Real World” while lesson planning. I thought about how boring workbook pages are for homework. They just copy someone’s answer during breakfast or before class anyways. Their tag line “find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real…” made me think. What if homework was “real?” What would that look like?  So then the Real World Homework was created!

I went to the coffee shop to meet my friend Rachel C. and the ideas started flowing! So for the food unit, they can bring in a box with cooking directions in TL (target language), print a recipe in TL, try a TL restaurant, order in TL, bring in a dish, find a TL song with 3 food words, etc. We tried to vary the modes and the multiple intelligences on the tasks. We realized that students were finding the resources that we spent hours finding! Brilliant.

Next we added some student choice. We said that they only had to do 5 of the 10 activities. Also we put blank boxes so students can add their own ideas after approval. Talk to your Cuban neighbor about the foods he loves? Sure!

Finally we made a system to organize it and add a dash of fun: stamps. I have all kinds of Spanish ones! The homework is formatted where I stamp it after they show it to me (usually during independent work time). It’s either completed, or not. No “grading” right or wrong! It is due by the end of the unit, or sometimes I’ll say I need a certain one done by a date so I can use them in class the next day. Sneaky, huh? 🙂 It also has helped when a student finishes early in class. Now they have something they can work on independently.

I assign it at the beginning of the unit and decide how many they need to complete (usually 5 or so). Since it’s due on the last day of the unit, I like to have a stations day to review and practice right before the summative unit assessment. I set up one station to be me to check their Real World’s. I love having this time to chat with them about what they found.

I find that this creates a more authentic homework that students end up enjoying. They spend more time doing this than those workbook pages. This is no way perfect yet. I find that each time I reteach the unit, I add more authentic ones to replace a “forced” one. We have several already created in our Mercado.


Thanks to all our dedicated #langchat Twitter participants who shared some great ideas and suggestions on what homework ideas motivate students to keep learning world languages. We had a lively discussion on Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST. Thanks especially to Don Doehla (@dr_dmd) for moderating our chat. You can read the entire archive here.

So, how can we best use homework to support students’ second language acquisition? Participants shared many great ideas. Our moderator summed it up by saying we should try to engage the kids by including lots of creative practice for the target language, rather than merely requiring them to memorize rote chunks of knowledge. Web 2.0 tools are great for this. Also, honor the students’ time by ensuring that the assignments are worthwhile, not repetitive, and not assignments that can be done hurriedly before class.

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How to Motivate Students to Do Their Homework

How do we motivate students to get engaged in their homework? One thing we can look at is whether or not the assignment is tied to youth culture (@dr_dmd). Kids will be motivated to complete assignments that appeal to their interests and environment. They’ll be more willing to do the “boring” stuff when they have the opportunity to do lots of creative stuff as well (@dr_dmd). A simple idea that many teachers suggested is to offer students a choice in their assignments. You’ll be surprised at how engaged students can be when they’re involved in the decision-making process.

Another idea that many teachers mentioned is to eliminate busy work. If you assign it, make sure it’s meaningful–respect your students’ time (@spanishplans). Students really do appreciate it when they realize that their teachers understand that they have lots to do after school (@msfrenchteach). They are more likely to do homework if they see that it is integral to class the next day, or part of a bigger project (@profeguerita).

A final motivation strategy is the use of immediate feedback. Several teachers mentioned that they have had success with this. For instance, students are often interested in doing homework if it is online and immediately graded (@cadamsf1). Try texting feedback to them for some of their homework assignments, kids really try and improve (@msfrenchteach).

Flipping the World Language Classroom

Several teachers explained “flipping” as doing the routine language practice that we usually assign as homework during class — with teacher guidance and feedback — and having students learning and applying the language outside of class, at home, through the Internet and Web 2.0 tools. When flipping the classroom, homework assignments should be more about extension than about reinforcement and more creative than rote grammar practice. The reinforcement of concepts and the practice that students need to do would be done in the classroom with the teacher (@dr_dmd).

Flipped classrooms are a new phenomenon, but several participants have already been experimenting with the concept. It’s great to assign more creative assignments for homework, but it’s also important to strike a balance because if class is always practice, then class can bore the students (@cadamsf1). Also, some applied-language assignments don’t work as well outside of class. One teacher who has explored giving blog assignments as homework, @msfrenchteach, found that students actually write better and create more original work during class. Other teachers said that doing this in class can decrease the use of computer-aided translations, and that because students are being monitored in class they remain on task (@dr_dmd).

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Homework Ideas to Apply Language Learning Outside of Class

Coming up with creative assignments to apply the language is a great way to engage students — but what ideas can we use? Participants shared many ideas on assignments that have been successful for them.

  • Skype a friend or send a message to an e-pal in the target language. @dr_dmd
  • Create wiki pages to catalog students’ projects and stories, as well as track their progress over time. @dr_dmd
  • Create comic strips with pictures and speech bubbles — lots of Web 2.0 tools for this — and keep a copy on a wiki students have designed. @dr_dmd
  • Listen to a podcast, watch a target language video or find a song in the second language. @dr_dmd
  • Read up on a current event in the second language. @dr_dmd
  • Complete a short “Web quest.” Example: Go to BDZone.com, pick a comic book cover and describe the physique of one or more characters. @msfrenchteach
  • Learn mnemonic songs to help remember grammar concepts such as how to conjugate verbs. @mmebrady
  • Watch podcasts or vodcasts at home that the teacher has made, and discuss in class. @cybraryman1
  • Blog. Aside from reading, @SECottrell only really gives students blogging for homework.
  • Listen, watch or read the news and then do a news show in class (http://tinyurl.com/48pyrsn). @cybraryman1
  • A large number of creative language application assignments can be found on @SECottrell’s blog post on students chosing weekly independent tasks for homework at http://bit.ly/j3H45Y.
  • A lot of teachers suggested using Google Voice for various homework assignments. For example, you can have students call your Google Voice and talk for a while on various topics (@msfrenchteach). Several people mentioned embedding a Voki or other application in your site or wiki for kids to use.
  • Try having students participate in discussion threads and voice threads. You can create the topics yourself or ask students to make them. @cadamsf1

Engaging Reading Homework

Reading assignments don’t have to be a chore for students. Many of the tips provided above work great for them, such as letting students choose their assignment and picking stories that are appealing to their interests, levels and ages (@SECottrell). Several teachers recommended using current events and news stories to give students something they can react to.

  • Assign books that they are already familiar with in English. @CalicoTeach
  • Have students record themselves reading aloud. @CalicoTeach
  • Use audiobooks and other sources that they can read and listen to. @cadamsf1
  • Kids enjoy reading about other kids, so look for online youth magazines. In French, you can use GEO Ado and Planète Jeunes. @dr_dmd
  • Continuing on the idea of giving students a choice, put a bunch of options on your class wiki and let kids choose a story appealing to them. They should then post it, read it and make comments on it on their own wiki. @dr_dmd
  • Have students read each others’ work. @mmebrady
  • Several participants mentioned Google News. Students can choose any news article that interests them in the target language, teach the class several words that they looked up and give a sentence summary of the article (@MmeCref). Students can also write some questions about the article and you can make the questions available to the other students in the class, or they can write a summary AND questions (@dr_dmd).

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Engaging Homework Assignment Resources

Check out @cybraryman1’s resources on his Web sites, useful for creating homework assignments that encourage students to apply the target language both at home and in the classroom:

Check out @mmebrady’s blog for ideas on using tech in the classroom at http://mmetechie.blogspot.com/.

There are a great number of tools and applications available on the Internet for educators. These can be used to make engaging homework assignments that are interesting and new for students — not your typical grammar worksheet or vocab memorization. Many of them are great for flipped classrooms where you want students to watch mini-lectures at home to further their learning. Check out:

  • Empressr for voice recording — students can describe pictures that they take or find online. @mmebrady
  • Glogster, Blog Polls, Bitstrips and Storybird have some good art to use. @mmebrady
  • Memrise for vocabulary. @mmebrady
    • Students like this exercise written by @spanishplans for vocabulary as well.
  • Photostory from Microsoft lets you make a photo slideshow with sound, transitions and text. @dr_dmd
  • You can make digital flashcards in Quizlet and then embed them on a wiki to view and practice. Doesn’t have to just be for vocab and verbs, but can work for any data that students need, such as cultural information, place names or famous paintings with their titles and artists included. @dr_dmd
  • Let kids make videos using Xtranormal and show them in class for conversation-building exercises. @profeguerita
  • Fotobabble and Blabberize are good for engagement, too. Check out an article comparing the two at http://goo.gl/9VLyB. @engaginged
  • Yodio is great for projects because you can include pictures and voice. @cadamsf1
  • Make WordChamp activities for homework and give the students a few days to do it. @spanishplans
  • Use Screencast-O-Matic to do weather reports in class. @mmebrady
  • Use Audacity to create podcasts or radio newscasts. @dr_dmd

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Participants shared some fantastic ideas and resources this week, and I’m sure you can take some inspiration from their thoughts and experiences. Thanks again to everyone who participated, and be sure to check back next week for more great ideas and best practices from your world language colleagues. Just one more #langchat before we break for July!

Don’t forget to keep connecting and collaborating through #langchat, #flteach and the LangChat wiki!

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