By Steve Vassilakopoulos
1 Don’t set homework you have not covered in class.
This is very common, quite often in an attempt to cover all the material set in a course book. For example, a reading passage may be set as homework which involves reading the text and doing the comprehension questions and vocabulary exercises that follow. Similarly, grammar homework may be given that asks students to read the information covering the use, function and structure and then doing the subsequent exercises. However, by setting reading comprehension homework in this way, valuable pre-reading exercises are missed as well as strategies for reading not to mention that there is no checking done to ensure that the instructions have been understood correctly and there is no opportunity to answer queries students might have. Likewise, taking short cuts with grammar and not making sure all students have comprehended the construction, use and function of a grammatical structure and not having done controlled exercises employing the structure in class, will very often lead to gaps which severely limit a student’s ability to progress and use more advantaged language later on. It should always be kept in mind, homework should mostly be used to check what students have already been taught and not so as to keep pace with the syllabus.
2 Don’t spend most of the lesson taking up homework.
One of the consequences of giving homework on material that hasn’t been covered in class previously -and especially if was a lot- is that it takes up a lot of class time to check . It becomes worse when the exercise has not been understood well and it becomes necessary to do remedial work. Even when the material has been presented in class and has been well comprehended, make sure that taking up the homework does not take more than 20 to 25 minutes in a two hour lesson. Have most of the time available in a lesson for new learning to take place and for students to practice their English.
3 Don’t always set writing as homework.
It is very common to set writing exercises and especially essays and compositions as homework because doing it in class is considered a waste of class time. It truly can be a waste if the teacher does nothing except let the students write their compositions and collect them later, however, if the writing is guided and monitored as the students write, students can be taught how to structure longer pieces of writing effectively. Doing this periodically can especially help students who chronically have problems putting together a coherent piece of writing.
4 Don’t speak Greek most of the time.
Some teachers believe a teacher should speak the students’ native language so that they can fully understand all explanations and then use English to practice the structures which have been taught. Many students also prefer this too because they feel comfortable when everything is easily understood. However, much is lost doing this especially concerning picking up acquired language as opposed to language which is taught. The truth is most of what our students learn is acquired as opposed to what we have taught them in class and a great way to increase language acquisition is to speak and communicate naturally and authentically in English with them in class. Greek, I believe, should be used minimally. The lesson should in English and not solely about English.
5 Don’t be a one man show.
Some teachers feel they are doing a good job teaching when they deliver a powerful, dynamic lesson where their students are listening with rapt attention. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this and students do gain from it, but it should not be done all the time. If your students are spending almost all their time listening to you taking, they are not exercising or practicing their other skills, especially their productive skills. It’s important when you’re teaching to keep in mind what your students are actually doing in any given exercise and how engaged they are in doing it and how this will benefit them. Ultimately, students gain more and find it more rewarding when they are actively involved in classroom activities rather than being entertained. In other words, don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice.•
*Steve Vassilakopoulos is an EFL teacher, teacher trainer, writer and examiner for various exam boards. He has been involved in the teaching of English since 1985 and is holder of an R.S.A Dip. from Cambridge University and Masters Degree from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.