Are you looking for ESL homework ideas for your classes? If you’re thinking about setting homework you’re onto a good thing. Learning a language requires a lot of exposure and practice. And much of that happens outside of class.
The more students make contact with English outside the classroom, the faster they’ll progress. And if you can connect their homework assignments to what you’re teaching in class, you’ll make lesson planning a lot easier for yourself.
So, without further ado, here are 11 ESL homework ideas for adults that you can use with groups, individuals, in-person or online.
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How To Make Homework Work For You &Your Students
Many ESL teachers are wary of setting homework because students often don’t do it! You may remember being set useless homework in language classes that you weren't motivated to do, such as learning lists of words for a test.
The problem is, if ESL learners rely too much on you or on coming to lessons, they will make slow progress because so much language learning takes place outside of the classroom.
The trick then is to integrate homework assignments into what happens in class so that it becomes non-negotiable. In the list of ESL homework ideas below, you’ll find tasks that are fun and motivating to do as well as ways to fit them into your class time.
1.Read A Short Story Or Short Book Chapter
Reading is the foundation of the StoryLearning method and makes for the perfect ESL homework idea.
Instead of spending time reading in class, get the students to do it between classes.
They can find a quiet time to read the story or chapter as many times as they like.
In my short story books, they’ll find tools to help them understand the material such as glossaries and comprehension questions.
In class, students can then discuss the chapter or story together. If you’re teaching 1:1, you can ask them to present a summary and show you new words they learned from the chapter. You can then discuss it together.
For more ideas on how to use my short story books for teaching check out my Short Stories teacher’s Guide.
2. Listen To A Short Podcast Episode
Many ESL students struggle with English listening skills so they need as much practice as possible.
If you teach conversation classes then this activity will also mean fewer lesson planning headaches. And you won’t waste any class time on listening.
Tell your student to listen to a short ESL podcast such as the BBC’s 6-Minute English podcast. Ask them to prepare a summary of it to present to you in class. If the episode includes show notes, they can compare their summary with those notes.
You can also adapt this homework activity for groups and ask them to discuss the podcast in pairs in class. This is also a great opportunity to use class time to clarify and new words, or structures that came up in the episode.
If you’re feeling ambitious or your students have a high level, you could plan a whole series of lessons or a semester around a particular podcast such as a true crime or other investigative journalism show.
3. Presentation About A Passion
Not everyone is passionate about learning English and many ESL students come to class because they have to. But even if they’re not interested in English, they must be interested in something, right?
You can harness their hobbies and passions and generate some excitement for the English language by asking them to present a special object to the rest of the class.
This can also work well in a 1:1 online lesson. You can ask your student to prepare a short talk about an object that they hold up to the webcam to show you.
You can use time in class to work on presentation and storytelling skills. You can model this type of presentation by telling them about your own significant object so they know what to aim for.
4. Write A Review
Who doesn’t love sharing their opinion whether it’s about the latest movie they’ve seen or the hot new restaurant they had dinner at?
You can harness this desire and get your student to practice useful language by getting them to write reviews as homework. These could be movie reviews, product reviews, restaurant reviews etc.
In class, you can take a look at the structure of reviews in English plus the language used such as colourful adjectives or phrases for giving opinions.
That way, your students will have a model they can use to write their own reviews at home. Back in class, students can share their reviews with each other and discuss them – would they see this movie, buy this product etc or not based on the review.
You can also give feedback both about the content of the reviews as well as any language points to improve.
5. Get Creative
Creativity requires constraints and there’s no greater one than writing a story in your second, third or fourth language.
You can challenge students to write a short story based on words they’ve learned recently in class or on a particular topic you’ve been discussing. Give them a word count to respect as well.
Again, you can use class time to read stories together and analyse their structure so that they know what to aim for.
After they’ve written a short story at home, they can come back to class to read and discuss each others’ stories.
6. Share Amazing Anecdotes
Telling an interesting anecdote is a real skill in any language, especially in a new one that you're learning. But it's a great way to work on your speaking skills.
You can use your class time to read or listen to anecdotes in English. You could even tell your learners a funny or sad story about yourself. Once they’ve understood what makes a great anecdote, it’s time to create their own one for homework.
At home, learners can write their anecdotes, or even better, can prepare and rehearse them orally, so they’re ready to tell them in class.
During the lesson, you and the other students can react to the anecdotes and ask follow-up questions.
7. Blogs And Blogging
Did you know that blogs are an incredibly rich resource for language learning and teaching? You can use blogs in many ways both inside and outside of the classroom.
As a homework activity you could ask students to read a blog post of their choice and leave a comment for the writer.
If your students prefer watching YouTube videos, they can watch videos and leave comments underneath them.
In both cases, in class time, students can report back on the blog they read, why they chose it and what comment they left and why.
If you and your students are feeling really ambitious, you could start a class blog or they could start writing their own individual blogs about their English learning journeys.
For even more inspiration for your teaching, check out these best ESL bloggers.
8. Start A Podcast
This one is a bit more ambitious, but as well as listening to podcasts, learners can also consider starting their own!
In fact, English learner Daniel Goodson from Switzerland started his podcast, My Fluent Podcast, to develop his speaking skills and gain confidence. He interviews other learners who have similar projects.
Of course, your students don’t have to make the podcast public. It can simply be a project between you and the members of the class. They could interview each other or otherwise upload short episodes on a topic of their choice.
Again, if they do this outside of class as homework you can use time in class to give them feedback on their work. Their episodes can also be a springboard for further discussion as well as a listening comprehension activity for the other students.
9. Class WhatsApp Group
Another way for students to use English outside the classroom thanks to digital tools is to create a class WhatsApp group.
Other chat apps like Telegram or Voxer would work just as well.
In this group, you can ask your students questions or share material for them to discuss.
Their homework in this case could be as simple as sending at least one message per week in the group. For more ideas about using apps check out this post about English teaching apps.
10. Write A Letter
Do you remember writing letters to a pen friend when you were learning languages at school?
Instead of writing letters to someone else, your students can try some creative writing activities that involve writing letters to themselves.
That’s right, you can ask them to write a letter to their younger self with advice or to their future self about goals and dreams. There’s even a website where you can write and schedule a letter to your future self called FutureMe.
This activity is quite a personal one so you’d need to be willing to get vulnerable yourself and share your letter before encouraging your students to talk to each other about the content of their letters.
11. The Student Becomes The Teacher
Here’s an interesting reversal of classroom roles that works well with groups. For homework, you can ask your students to teach the rest of the class some new vocabulary or a spelling or grammar rule.
You won’t expect them to give a whole class on the topic. But they could do a short presentation of the topic in the format they prefer – through song or story or in a more traditional way.
As long as you keep expectations clear, they’ll benefit from peer teaching this way. After all, you can only teach what you’ve understood well yourself.
11 ESL Homework Ideas
So there you have it – 11 engaging ESL homework ideas that your students will actually want to do outside of class!
As you can see, these ESL homework ideas are a million miles away from the types of boring worksheets that you had to fill in for language classes at school.
Thanks to these engaging ideas, you’ll make your lesson planning easier and your students will be excited to do their homework. And they’ll start to become more independent learners who make faster progress.