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5 Alternatives to Homework (That Help Teachers Out, Too)

6 Min Read
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What a dilemma homework can be! When you mention it, you probably hear grumbles from the crowd. Maybe you assign a lot, maybe you assign a little, or perhaps you don’t believe in homework at all.

How about a compromise? Some experts agree that quality homework has benefits. Try these alternative homework ideas. We think your students will be thrilled to complete them.

Alternative Homework Ideas to Keep Your Students Learning

1. Get busy with projects

Research suggests that projects can increase students’ motivation and benefit learning outcomes. So why not allow students to work on projects at home?

Not only do projects appeal to students more than traditional homework assignments, but they also save teachers valuable prep time. When I integrated project-based learning into my curriculum, it relieved some significant stress (for students and for me).

I enjoyed telling students that their only homework was to continue their projects. Then I’d provide them a due date for chunks of the task. So, yes, they still had to regulate their time and do independent work at home, and I had to keep tabs on them and guide them along the way. But they had more freedom to manage their time and exercise their creative muscles.

Projects do require work on the teacher’s behalf. As you’re aware, you can’t just tell them to do their projects at home without clear expectations, or without grading. However, once you set guidelines, you’ll open up some time for yourself to grade a stack of papers in the meantime.

You could also incorporate progress checks or have a specific task that you check the next day. Students could earn a homework grade for staying up to date with the assignment. There are many ways you can integrate projects into your homework plan, but the above techniques have worked for me.

I highly recommend assigning projects for homework because they also influence the work ethic in class. Students will often buckle down on their project in class when it came time to work on it. If they didn’t, they knew they’d have to complete more at home. Other kids even appeared to genuinely enjoy working on these assignments!

Ask yourself this: Would you rather work on a scrapbook that documents the Revolutionary War or complete a multiple-choice worksheet on the subject?

Projects for homework are simple assignments, but you do have to give the students some guidance and a timeline of expectations.

2. Assign educational video games

My students loved education video games, and I frequently assigned them for homework (gasp!).

My students enjoyed playing Spelling City to practice spelling and vocabulary, and Grammar Gorillas was another hit that hammered down the parts of speech.

Do you remember any educational video games from when you were growing up? I used to love an online geometry game that was based on billiards. Honestly, that game and the Pythagorean theorem are all I remember from geometry.

3. Read what you love!

I live in Marion County, Florida, and the school system made headlines when the superintendent cut traditional homework for the lower grades.

Instead of completing homework, students had to read a book of their choosing each night. This decision was based on research that there are few (if any) benefits to doing homework until the higher grades.

So why not assign 20 minutes or more of reading a night? When your students ask what they should read, tell them this is entirely up to them—and watch as their jaws drop! Odds are that more of them will read if you give them a choice, as opposed to flinging them a dusty copy of Great Expectations. I still love that book, and assigned reading certainly has its place in the classroom, but so does student choice.

If you’re concerned about checking up on the reading, you have a few options: Have a parent sign a sheet to verify that their child read that night, or have the kids come in and write a paragraph about what they read the night before.

Could they cheat the system? Sure. But you might be surprised to find that students who are given a choice of what to read will actually follow through. This makes sense since various studies have found that intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation.

As long as kids are reading, who cares if they’re busting out Captain Underpants or endless editions of Animorphs? Reading is reading.

4. Learn some practical life skills

When I was in graduate school for teaching, I took an educational trip to New Zealand. Why? It turns out this country has one of the top middle school philosophies in the world.

One of the lessons I took away was from a teacher who had an excellent (and innovative) homework idea. Students received what looked like a Bingo card, and it had random homework assignments in each square. Students had a month to complete all the tasks. These squares didn’t include multiple-choice tests or hundreds of questions about Shakespeare, but rather life skill activities and project-based assignments.

Some tasks were to do the laundry, write poetry in the woods, interview an elder, and propose a sustainable invention. It’s a brilliant idea.

5. Take a legit break and play

One of my favorite homework alternatives that I gave my students is to go out and play. Yep, you read that right. You might be scratching your head in wonder, but there are times when I firmly believe that students need a break.

I didn’t assign this every single night, obviously. However, I commonly assigned it at the end of each quarter when students had just finished midterms, big papers, projects, or other intensive work.

Like teachers, students need a break. You know the look—glassy, eyes, irritable temper, and tired expressions. Assigning them to write a paper on grammar at home was not going to benefit anyone. But telling them to go home and play gave them a spark in their eyes. It also encouraged them to come to school the next day ready and eager to learn again, with renewed energy.

Adults don’t function well when they’re tired, so why should we expect kids to?

And for younger students, the power of play is essential.

Why Not Give These Homework Alternatives a Try?

Regardless of your school’s policy on homework (or your own), you might be able to find some ways to squeeze in alternatives to traditional homework to keep everyone happy and learning.

You might feel that traditional homework assignments still have a valid place in your classroom, and you’re totally right! But why not implement some alternatives to homework here and there to keep things fresh?

Give it a try see how it goes! You might be surprised by the positive outcomes.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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