Are you tired, stressed out, and need alternatives to homework? Assigning homework can sometimes seem like a pointless task. Students that need the practice don’t complete or turn in homework, and students that generally excel complete the homework. Then there’s the decision to make about grading homework. Can it be a grade if you don’t know who completed it or how much help they received? Is it worth grading when you are so far behind?
At my Title I school I am mindful that not every student has a family member available to help them in the evenings complete homework. For this reason if I assign homework I try to make it something that can be completed independently. Since I teach second grade I might send home first grade reading passages for fluency practice with a multiple choice option for the comprehension section. Math pages might be a game to practice or flashcards to study.
This year I am not assigning homework. It feels so freeing! Some schools do require homework though so the following is a list of 5 alternatives to homework in an elementary school if you do not have a choice.
No matter what type of homework I use I always tell parents that I recommend 15-20 minutes of nightly reading and a quick 5 minute practice of their sight word and math flash cards. To me reading is one of the best things a student can do to improve in elementary school.
1 - Monthly Family Homework
Having a monthly themed family homework was my favorite homework when I taught first grade. There was little to nothing to grade and students loved getting creative. Each month is a different task and students are given most of the month to complete the homework.
The picture shown was our December holiday homework where students were given a tree outline and asked to decorate their tree using a “hidden holiday pattern.” Students that turned in the homework gave a super short presentation about how they created their pattern and the class guessed the pattern.
During November, the task was to disguise a turkey outline. This is a hilarious (and common) activity to do every year. Some families come up with some amazingly creative ideas. A few other ideas I did throughout the year for family homework was decorating pumpkins as a favorite book character, creating a leprechaun trap, and an all about my family poster.
2 - Choice Boards
Choice Boards are becoming very common for homework. I used choice boards as a gifted education teacher many years ago and brought them back last year when we transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19. It was an easy way to communicate homework with no access to a copy machine or a way to pass out packets.
Catherine, the Brown Bag Teacher, talks about how she uses a choice board in her first grade class as a homework alternative that focuses on non-academic skills her students needed. Click here to read her blog article about homework alternatives.
Fisyrobb also uses a choice sheet (choice board) and has a free, editable version on her website. Click here to find the article and free download.
Choice boards can be assigned for a week or a month depending on how many choices you add. I like to include choices that hit all of the learning styles so students can choose what best interests them. I also like to require that not all squares be completed.
3 - Unhomework Task Cards
This unhomework alternative is one of my favorites I’ve seen lately. I stumbled across this idea by Debbie of live, laugh, love to learn. While task cards are not a new concept I just love how she breaks down the tasks into four main categories: acts of kindness, good habits, create, and real world math and science.
Debbie’s tasks are super easy for students to complete and she assigns the whole class the same task each week. Students track their task such as how many times in the week they help their family. Then on Fridays the class has a meeting to discuss. Debbie also takes this a step further by compiling the information for a class graph or chart. Click here to go to Debbie’s blog post where she details everything you need to know to get started.
4 - Hands On Activities
Hands-on activities for alternatives to homework can really help your homework completion rate. Young students love doing activities. If you have a school population like mine, asking families to complete hands-on activities might mean going out of pocket to send additional materials home. For that reason, I recommend a Donors Choose project to help offset costs or making the hands-on activities a monthly requirement.
Some of my favorite hands-on activities revolve around spelling and sight word practice. At the beginning of each school year I send all my families my Sight Word Practice at Home booklets. Inside the booklets detail easy ways to practice sight words such as writing words in play dough or shaving cream.
Hands-on activities are also a great way to introduce families to partner games. One year I sent home photocopies of several math partner games, a die, and a paperclip alongside a sheet protector and a whiteboard marker. After we learned the games in class, students were able to play them again at home. Several families loved learning these games and found it a fun and enjoyable way to get in some math practice.
5 - STEM Projects
My last idea for alternatives to homework is to send home STEM or STEAM projects. I don’t know about you but I rarely have the time in my day to spend on these type of activities. Having students complete them at home with families is a great way of exposing them to the importance of STEM/STEAM but also frees up time in my school day.
Encourage families to take pictures or write a response to what they learned through the completion of their project. If time allows, have students share these pictures and responses during class. Seeing other students completing the projects is a great way to entice others to complete the work.
Last Thoughts for Successful Homework Alternatives
When considering any of these ideas for your year of unhomework, make sure to factor in how you want to make students accountable for completion. Will homework be a grade? Will you be tracking or rewarding students who complete the projects or tasks? Will you be supplying any materials needed to complete the assignment? How much time will you be giving for completing the work outside of class? Will your families be receptive to this new style of homework? Will the activities you send home be meaningful to your class and their learning? What is the main goal with this unhomework?