Homework Alternatives

Are your students are getting tired of the same old types of homework assignments?
A variety of alternative homework strategies are shared that will engage students and keep them interested in learning. Many of the activities have video demonstrations.
#1 Tip--Help students see the value of homework. Make it relevant and efficient.
At the end of the day, you want the students to be tired, not you. Have students do as much of the work as possible.
No Homework Policy Shared Another look at this policy
Why teacher worked out solution keys to homework do not work and 2 good alternatives. Blog Post
Why I Let Students "Buy Back" Test Points Middle Web Blog Post
Homework thoughts for teachers and students. Edutopoia

My Favorite No Students need to be comfortable with making mistakes learn from those mistakes. This strategy has students looking a mistakes and sharing what they might say to the person to help them better understand the problem.
"Do This Instead" Alternatives to traditional homework task are suggested in this post. Instead of providing a list of things to memorize have each students develop a memorization trick for a word on the list.
From Marzano Games and Vocab resources

Cathy Vatterott "Homework Lady"

Suggestions to improve academic success from "Rethinking Homework" page 96
Cathy Vatterott and other links
  • Design quality homework tasks.
  • Differentiate homework task.
  • Move from grading to checking.
  • Decriminalize the grading of homework.
  • Use completion strategies.
  • Establish homework support programs.
  • More details are in Chapter 3, Effective Homework Practices.

Interactive Notebooks

Homework Quizzes

  • When assigning homework students complete the assignment by copying from someone or have a parent complete the work. Teachers can quickly walk around the room and give a 0,1, or 2 completion note. This provides feedback on student's effort to get work done but does not help to determine if the student understands the practiced concepts. Assign students suggested homework problems and let them know that instead of checking to see if their homework is completed a short quiz will be given with problems similar to the homework assignment. These two feedback methods can be combined to help students develop more ownership of their learning. Related discussion at MiddleWeb Blog post

Analysis of Errors

  • Both of these activities create more student ownership of learning. Each is a little different in focus and could both be used.
  • When taking a quiz or test have the students indicate for each question a C, S, or R for their feelings about the question. C = confident, S = Shaky or R = reteach. When students complete the assessment they can go back at the end and look at questions marked S to see if anything during the assessment helped them remember how to do the problem. (From David Hartman)
  • Error analysis. After the assessment is completed students complete this form. Questions are identified by topic and students indicate if the question was right or wrong. Then they indicate was a simple mistake, they got lucky, or they don't get it. Students correct the problems missed. Teachers can analysis the form to see where more instruction is needed. (From Waverly Intermediate School)
  • Have students answer the question "What was the hardest question on the assignment or test."

My Favorite No

  • Video Demonstration Leah Alcala gives her students a warm-up problem at the beginning of every class, which they solve on index cards. She quickly sorts through them, and from the wrong answers chooses her "favorite no." She and her kids then analyze what's right about the solution before delving in to what the writer doesn't understand that led them to answer incorrectly.

Homework Sums

Pass the Pen

Or You Take the Right Side

Three Heads are Better Than One

  • This document describes a process and considerations where students work together on an assessment or homework. Students work in groups of 3 or 4 to revise their work on an assessment or to complete an assignment. Description of the process and considerations are in the document Three Heads are Better than One.docx

Piece Meal Problems or Cooperative Activity


  • Make up as many problems as the number of students in the class. Questions can be teacher created, student created, or from the book. Problems are placed on note cards. On one side is the problem and on the other side is the solution. Each student gets a numbered notecard and an answer sheet. Students do the problem, check the answer and make sure they can explain the problem. Students then pair up with another student. Once the pair meets, they exchange cards, work out the problem on the answer sheet (that's the quiz-quiz), they then explain to each other how they got their solutions (the share). When they explain the problem to the other student they write their initials on that student’s answer sheet and keep the card that they just worked out. They then match up with someone else and start the process over again. The note cards are numbered so that each student makes sure on their paper that they have been exposed to each problem by the end of the activity. Cards and be laminated or placed in a "response sheet" to allow students to write on the card. Instead of having the students complete all of the cards a set number or percent of the whole number can be completed.

I Have...Who Has??? Line up or Circle Up

  • Line Up or Circle Up video demonstration
  • flash cards plus Version 2.0.xls This spreadsheet creates up to 42 cards. In addition to flash cards, table tents and "I have ...who has" cards can be created.
  • Create several sets of I Have..Who Has??? cards. For this activity I like to use 12 cards which is 2 sheets of paper.
    • Sets of cards can be made in different colors to keep them separate.
    • Different sets of cards can be created to differentiate the activity.
  • Have small group of students put them into a circle or line
  • Letters at the top can be used to make sure cards are in the correct order.
    • Letters can make a message or be random.
  • Samples

3 or 4 Match Activity

Formative Assessments

  • After grading an assessment, tell the student that you have 4 questions wrong, let them find which ones and correct the mistakes.
  • On each question have the students indicate how sure they are of the answer
    • On scale of 1-5
    • Very sure, Sure, Lots of Luck
  • After the assessment is return correct mistakes and indicate if mistake was silly mistake or error in process.

Scavenger Hunt


Zip Around

  • Scavenger Hunt template
  • Print the “I Have … Who Has …..” statements on a full sheet of paper
  • Place a letter at the top of each page. (this will be used to make sure students find the correct order)
  • Have students or pairs of students spread around the room in front of one of the sheets.
  • Write down the letter at the top of that sheet.
  • Students will read the bottom part, “Who Has ….” and determine the answer.
  • Students will then “Scavenger Hunt” for the sheet that has the answer on the top of the sheet.
  • Record the letter on the sheet. Read the “Who Has …” question at bottom of the sheet.
  • “Scavenger Hunt” for the answer and repeat the process until getting back to the beginning sheet.
  • Teacher will randomly pick a student to read the order of their scavenger hunt. Once students find the letter in their sequence the letter read will follow in the same order.
  • Consider having the letters spell out a phrase of answer to question.


Create dominos with a problem on one half and answer to another problem on the other half. Dominos can be place in envelopes around the room and students go around the room to get a complete set.


Students start on any slide. Solve the problem and follow the choices on the bottom. For example -2x + 3 = -9 If x = 6 then go to #3, if x = -6 go to #8, if x = 3 go to #5. Use common student errors for possible answers. One correct pathway will result in ending on the starting slide.
Problems on the Wall
  • Make up several homework type questions, write them on index card, write the answer on the back and number the cards. Tape the cards around the room on the wall. Students number their paper and walk around the room doing the problems and checking to make sure that they have the correct answer.

Round the Table

  • Problems are placed around the table or room. Problems can be student created, teacher created or problems from the homework assignment. Student created problems develop student ownership of learning. “Response sheets” can be used to write the problems. The problem is on one side and the answer can be written on the back. Students walk around the table, working the problem, checking the answer, and moving to the next problem. Student movement increases blood flow to the brain.

Wager Game or Golf

  • Wager Game: Each student begins with 0 points. Decide how much you will wager on getting the question correct. Students may wager 5 or less points. If the question is correctly answered the student receives the points wagered. If the question is missed the student looses the points. Continue for a length of time and see how much the students win. Stress celebrations for high scores rather than rewards. I have found that “natural game competition” kicks in and students are motivated by this. Some teachers begin with a set amount of points, maybe 100, and then wager from that point on.
  • Dick Stuart, Beatrice middle school teacher and golf course suggested this alternative to get away from gambling and get closer to his love, golf. He set up a golf course with 9 or 18 holes. Some holes are par 3, 4, or 5 to match difficulty of questions. Students then decide if they will get a birdie, eagle or double eagle. If the student gets the problem correct they get to subtract 1, 2, or 3 strokes from that hole. (Double eagles are not permitted on par 3 holes.) If the student misses the problem the strokes are added to the score. Students learn in golf that low scores are good.

Response Sheets

  • Response Sheets or Feedback Sheets use the clear plastic sheet protectors to hold graph paper, lined paper, venn diagrams, worksheets, or what ever you want to place in them. They are similar to the small white boards but more flexible in that any type of worksheet can be placed in them. Students use dry mark pens to write on them. Consider placing oak tag or thin cardboard inside to make them more sturdy.
  • Erasers—Kleenex, small erasers, socks OR Erasers can be found at http://dryerase.com click on the left side "markers and erasers" and go to the bottom of the page. 30 erasers for $14.70
  • Do not use non-glare sheets as they are more difficult to clean.

Lotus Chart

Lotus Chart is a graphic organizer that allows the teacher to provide some organization but requires that the students add the notes or details.

White Out

  • Loni Watson, a math teacher at Seward shared this strategy with me. She like using the white board (or response sheets) to get student engagement and to have them demonstrate their knowledge as well as a solution. What she did not like is that she spent her time looking at students white boards and giving them a thumbs up or down if their answer was correct. It did not allow her to work with students who needed help. Her solution was to give the first couple of student who correctly answered the question correctly a thumbs up and gave them permission to OK other students work. When a student understood the problem and had the correct solution they were allowed to stand up and help someone. The time was over when everyone was standing, a "white out."

Pick Five or QCC

  • QCC is for Quick Check Challenge
  • Choose 5 problems for the homework assignment. If the student correctly answers these 5 problems they are done. The teacher chooses 5 more difficult problems that require putting several concepts together. Students will concentrate and focus on these problems.
  • Teachers from Beatrice Middle School started using QCC. On QCC days students are provided 5 problems from the homework, usually a worksheet. If the students get the 5 problems correct they do not need to do the homework. Students are given the option to skip QCC and begin their homework. Student focus on these problems is increased. Students look forward to QCC days. I like the student ownership of learning that is created by students deciding if they are ready to skip the QCC or want to give it a chance.
  • Four purposes to aim for when assigning math homework.

Create a Video

  • Instead of giving 10 problems, have the student create a video showing one problem and explain the solution. Check out samples at Student Created Videos

Same but different

  • Thanks to Kris Linder from Bellevue Mission Middle School for this idea. Two sets of problems are created. Corresponding problems have the same answer. Students are paired up, work the problem and then compare. They work until they agree on the answer. Homework can be the other set of problems. Have students create the problems. I need two problems with order of operation that have an answer of 12. Not as easy as it looks. These problems can be used for future assignments.


  • This is a commercial product but I do like the engagement that it provides as well as a way for students to check answers. VersaTiles Go to this web page and take a look at the video down the page titled, "How VersaTiles Works" which explains the product. Students can check their own work as well. Problems sets can be differentiated for students. Set of problems can be purchased or you can create your own problems.

Facing Math

  • This is a commercial product. Facing Math provides a worksheet. Problems are multiple choice which each choice providing directions to draw something on a sheet of paper. For example one problem's choices might say to draw big ears, ears with an earring, ears with a large ear lobe, or small ears. When completed students will have drawn a picture that should be similar if all problems are correctly answered.

Musical Cards

  • Musical Cards Video--Students walk around and randomly trade cards until the music stops. Get students moving and analyzing information. Also a way to mix up cards for "match game."

Choice Boards.

  • Enables students to choose tasks, practice a skill and demonstrate and depth of knowledge.
  • Allows for differentiation of instruction related to interest or readiness level.
  • Teachers need to carefully design the boards to ensure a good experience regardless of which “path” is chosen.
  • choice board examples.doc Provide students choice can be done by giving assignments with choice board. Examples are shown.

Do this instead

  • Alternatives to traditional homework task are suggested in this post. Instead of providing a list of things to memorize have each students develop a memorization trick for a word on the list.

Quality Homework task promote ownership when they:

  • Allow for choices.
  • Offer students an opportunity to personalize their work
  • Allow students to share information about themselves or their lives.
  • Tap emotions, feeling, or opinions about a subject.
  • Allow students to create products or presentations.
  • Cathy Vatterott, page 104 Rethinking Homework

Completion Contract from Ken O"Connor

  • Page 52
  • Missed Work—The following work has not been handed in…
  • Original Due Date…
  • Reason—please indicate why the work is late.
  • Next steps—What will you now do to get this work completed?
  • New Due Date…
  • Student, parent and teacher signature

Homework Suggestions

  • Are long homework assignments effective? Research shows that larger quantity of problems results in more errors because of lack of focus. We do need practice, but what is the ideal number of problems, 25 or 10 problems + 2 word problems, or 8 problems explain why on one + 2 word problems.
  • Pick 5: Choose 5 problems that are more difficult and represent what you expect the student to learn. If the student gets these 5 correct they do not need to do the rest of the homework assignment.
  • Do as many of these problems as you can in 15 minutes. Bring those you were able to complete.
  • Find out why students’ work is late or incomplete and assist them.
  • Is there something that I should know that I don’t know?
  • Establish consequences (not penalties) for late work such as
    • After school follow up
    • Documentation

How to Make Homework/Feedback More Effective

Blog comments from a student to students about homework. His recommendations to students are: Use in school time, do homework in order it is needed, use social media, and make real world connections.
Homework tips from teachers.doc A variety of tips from teachers about how to improve homework's effectiveness.

Other Homework Ideas

  • Older students tutoring younger students
  • more advanced students tutoring less advanced students
  • Internet resources
  • Worked Out Examples--Research shows that providing worked examples for actual assigned homework problems is beneficial.
    • Decrease in “wrong learning”
    • Instead of “How do I start?” students ask “Why did they take that step?”

Teacher's Mind Set

Comments from Teachers
We can't play the blame game. There ARE circumstances beyond parents' control, teachers control AND students' control. We have to work the best with what we have. Parents don't sit back and say, I'm just sending them to school. School will fix everything. They actually send their best to school. In knowing and beleiving this as a teacher, I know that I have to work the best with what I have to work with, develop relationships with each and every child and help them develop to their greatest potential. As teachers, we in no way shape or form have control over that child. So much of their life happens outside of school. But if we're asking parents and students to give their best, we have to at least live up to that standard ourselves and give our best as teachers! In short, don't give up on any student- ever! You don't know all the personal circumstances.

I want to first validate the fact there is much in a student’s life that the public schools cannot affect. Many of our students- rich or poor- have very complicated lives that keep them from performing in ways that would make them successful students. However, educators who dwell on this do not create a learning environment where students can achieve in spite of their circumstances. We need to minimize our focus on what we can’t do and maximize our focus on what we can do. As a collective across the country we are not doing what we can to create an educated citizenry.

Students become dependent on the teacher when the teacher validate answers, uses questions that funnel to a specific answer, chooses to problems that have only one answer, or forces one method for solve a problem. In this type of classroom students know that if they get stuck the teacher will untangle them. So when they get stuck at home they have no skills for untangling themselves- enough of these experiences at home and the student will stop trying.

Worked Out Examples

  • http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/01/redefining-cheating-with-homework/Article for onsite help with math as well as being able to purchase answers.
  • Research shows that providing worked examples for actual assigned homework problems is beneficial.
  • Decrease in wrong learning
  • Routine questions that benefit few students is an inefficient use of class time.
  • Instead of How do I start? students ask Why did they take that step?
Web Sites for Worked Out Examples