Tips for assisting private ESL students with homework

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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, you will undoubtedly find yourself doing private ESL lessons at some stage in your teaching career, and one of your most important responsibilities – from the students’ point of view – will be to assist students when they have difficulties with their ESL school homework. Here are a few tips to assist you in dealing with students’ homework.

Novice ESL teachers should first determine how their students feel about school homework: if students express frustration or annoyance at having to do homework, the rationale for setting homework should be explained to them. As a suggestion, here are some reasons that could be proffered: it improves your memory and powers of thought; it helps you to develop good study skills; it gives you the confidence to work independently and to take responsibility for your own work, and it gives you the opportunity to go over what you have done in class in order to check your understanding at your own pace.

When it comes to actually assisting students with their homework, the novice ESL teacher should do exactly that: don’t do students’ homework for them: this is pedagogically wrong; students will not gain any benefit from you doing their homework for them. Unfortunately, if parents insist on you doing it, you will have little choice but to comply with their wishes.

Discuss the homework with the student, and try to establish exactly what is causing the difficulty: Is it a lack of vocabulary? Is it an inability to understand the grammar? Was the subject taught in class? Is the difficulty due to poor teaching? These are but a few of the questions that you should take into consideration and then you should act accordingly, for example: if the subject was poorly taught or not taught at all, you will have to teach it again; if it’s a lack of vocabulary, you will have to direct the student in how to find the appropriate vocabulary, or you will have to provide a list of words that are required for doing the homework.

Probably the best approach to helping students is with the use of similar examples: this is particularly useful in teaching grammar, for instance: if the student has to write the sentence ‘The man is drinking a glass of water’ in the passive voice, rather than directly doing it for the student: use a similar example to show the student how to do it, e.g. ‘The girl is reading a book’: the student should now be able to do the homework. Always give priority to homework and try to cover it all in the lesson: don’t leave students with uncompleted difficult pieces of homework.

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