You’ve reached a certain level of ability and confidence, and now want to join a conversation class. Great choice!
One conversation class per week is recommended by the local language school. Enrolled!
You are nervous at the beginning of the conversation course (who isn’t), but muster courage and turn up each week.
In class, you speak as much as you can. Excellent!
When each class is over, you leave that target language behind, until the next week’s class.
A little weekly conversation was not enough
As a Japanese language student, that’s what I did.
A few months down the track, I wondered why I was still at the same level, struggling to find the words, making the same grammar mistakes. And worse, forgetting vocabulary and grammar that I used to know!
I didn’t have anyone around me to practice Japanese with outside of the class, and there was no homework set. My motivation fell drastically.
1.5 hours of Japanese conversation per week was not even enough to keep me at a stable level, I was sliding backwards.
Can’t I just attend more conversation classes?
Speaking more is definitely a help. But just focusing on speaking/listening will not push you forwards as much as when you also include writing and reading in the target language.
That’s why homework is important for conversation classes.
It uses the other language skills and links new words and grammar more thoroughly in our minds. This makes it easier for us to recall what we’ve learned, and use it in conversation.
As no homework was set for the Japanese conversation class, I started writing letters to a couple of friends in Japan as ‘homework’. My conversations became easier and more fluent as a result.
Written homework tasks as preparation
I experimented with many approaches both in and outside of conversation classes when teaching English here in Germany.
The best results for my students came when I set a written homework task that required a little bit of reading, comprehension and then writing, prepared for the following week’s topic.
Arbitrary written or reading tasks were usually ignored – they were not immediately useful, and didn’t help with the next class.
Writing even just a couple of paragraphs about the topic of the next class’ conversation, pulled the vocabulary from long-term memory, and allowed time for some interesting questions to formulate.
This made the conversations in the class much more interesting and fluent.
As I was teaching adults and it wasn’t an accredited course, I couldn’t make the ‘homework’ compulsory. Even though the tasks were short (30 minutes at the most), those students who didn’t do the homework usually dropped out, discouraged by how quickly the others improved.
Reading comprehension in addition
Occasionally, to be less of an homework-ogre teacher, I used short articles as homework. These were typically ignored, and had to be read in the class (if I had set them as preparation) – reading is more easily put off.
But I did find crossword puzzles and short stories to be popular. Especially the puzzles! Students said they spent hours with a dictionary (or an hour online) trying to find the solution.
I’m sure some of those words were permanently engraved in memory!
Once or twice per course, I include a multi-lesson project like the Medieval Village project, which has a lot to read as preparation.
Short stories to read worked well if they were used as a template for students to write their own story, or explain something similar in the next class.
Make the homework fun
Doing at least one session of homework means the target language is not buried from lesson to lesson.
Because it uses skills other than speaking and listening, the homework links new words and grammar more thoroughly in our brains.
And because it’s fun, we are more motivated to learn, to complete it, and to participate more in our conversation class.
What’s your favorite form of homework?
Imagine you are attending a conversation class – what homework tasks would you find most fun?
What type of homework task would help you (or your students) improve the most?
Let me know in the comments below!