I’m generally not a fan of giving homework.

However, since it typically takes three-to-six-years to develop academic English proficiency, and the majority of Newcomers who enter high schools often have the low-end (if that) of that number of years to graduate, it may very well be in insurmountable challenge if the limit their study of English to class time.

Of course, any kind of class work at home often competes with time at a job they have to help support their family, or time they are spending caring for younger siblings or older relatives.

Given all those competing pressures, here’s a strategy I’ve been taking that – so far – has been more successful than any other one I’ve ever tried in encouraging ELLs to study English at home:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting individually with students at my desk.  I write out a short number line with 1 on one end and 5 on the other.  I explain that 1 means they just don’t have any time to study English at home and 5 means they want to learn English so badly that they are sure they can make some time to study English at home. I explain that I am going to ask them a serious question and that I just want an honest answer because I know they may have lots of other responsibilities (I work very hard at developing solid relationships with students, so I feel confident that I can get honest answers): Where would they rate themselves on this scale?

Almost everyone has said “5.”

Then, I ask how much time could they spend studying.  Pretty much everyone has said thirty minutes or so.

Next, I write “Ask _________ (student’s first name)” on a sticky note that I put on my computer or speaker on my desk.

I explain that the note will remind me to ask them each morning which of the English-language websites they have access to that they used the previous day (USA Learns, Duolingo, Raz-Kids, Lingo Hut, Brainpop, Quill, English Central, Ingles.com).  We also do a “pinky promise” that they will be honest with me if they actually did it or not and I assure them (though they know I would not, anyway) that I won’t be angry at them if they did not do it.  I kiddingly threaten them with a Pinocchio doll I have on my desk so they know what will happen to them if they do not tell the truth.  They also know that I receive reports from most, though not all, of the sites, so will know what they did or didn’t do.

Students have easy access to my desk and can see all the sticky notes with student names on them.  When I began doing this, students asked why their classmates names were on them, and it quickly built momentum – all the students wanted to meet with me to get their names on my desk.  I’ve done it over a period of weeks so that students felt like I was giving them individual attention, and it wasn’t a mass initiative I was doing with everyone.

When they arrive in class early before school begins, or when they are reading during the first ten minutes of class, I call each student up to my desk for a few seconds and  point to the sticky note with their name on it.  They then tell me what they did, or why they didn’t do it.

It’s been working.

We’ll see if it works over the long-term.

I’ll take what I can get.

I’m adding this post to The Best Online Homework Sites For English Language Learners – Please Offer Your Own Suggestions.