How To Get Your Students To Do Their Homework

Homework can be particularly frustrating because it takes place outside of your presence. Once you send your students off for the day, they’re on their own—with only the faintest echo of your voice imploring them to get it done.

Furthermore, they may have soccer practice, music lessons, family responsibilities, and other obstacles standing between them and a time and place to concentrate.

They may have a chaotic home life, a barking dog next door, or their favorite video game blaring from the living room television. They may even be left to their own devices, with no suitable place to sit down or anyone to see to their basic needs.

Although the challenges can be daunting, with the right approach they can be overcome.

Here’s how:

Homework must be practice only.

To have the requisite motivation to get their homework done, your students need to know that they’re capable of doing it. They need to have already proven to themselves during the school day that they can complete it on their own and without your input.

It isn’t fair to them to struggle through work they don’t fully comprehend. Even one time will sap their motivation for completing future assignments. Homework is about practice, success, and building confidence.

Repetition, after all, isn’t a bad word. It’s an essential part of learning. It deepens the grooves and frees them to think creatively and to make connections and associations. Although it’s fine if parents want to be involved, it should never be a requirement.

Homework must be independent.

Many teachers complain that although they indeed cover the homework material thoroughly, they still have students reporting that they “didn’t get it.” In almost every circumstance, this is due to a culture of dependence in the classroom.

It’s due to the teacher doing too much for their students—buzzing around the room, hovering over shoulders, reteaching what was taught only minutes before. Daily independent practice is so, so important, yet many teachers disrupt this critical time with their overinvolvement.

As a result, their students become so accustomed to receiving immediate, extensive, and personal help that when it’s time to truly do it on their own, which is usually at home, they’re lost.

Homework must be nightly, not weekly.

The guidelines above are reason enough to forgo weekly packets in favor of nightly homework. Your students need to practice what they learned that day to further solidify learning and prepare them for more challenging material the next.

Furthermore, with weekly packets, the temptation to rush through the work, put it off until the last minute, or copy from a friend is too great.

Completing it each night, on the other hand, improves responsibility and academic discipline and makes homework less an event they have to steel themselves for, and more a harmonious exercise during which the material becomes second nature.

Homework must be checked first thing.

Accountability isn’t just a predetermined consequence. It can also be a personal accounting to someone respected and looked up to. In this vein, it’s important to check your students’ homework in front of them and first thing in the morning.

I recommend having your students set it out neatly on their desk as part of your morning routine. While they read independently or attend some other learning task, take five minutes or so to walk around the room and check each student’s work personally.

This is a very powerful strategy, especially if you’re following our principles and your leadership presence is growing by the day. In fact, done right, this strategy alone is your most important homework tool.

Respect & Influence

How your students feel about you is an important factor in getting homework returned. It’s a reflection of your level of influence and their level of respect for you.

This underscores the importance of building rapport and mutual likability with your students, while at the same time faithfully doing exactly what you say you will. These two pillars of effective classroom management work together to create an almost sacred respect for you and your classroom.

They work together to produce a deep trust, so that when you tell them that homework is important, they believe it and are willing to go to great lengths not to disappoint you.

They work together to extend your influence beyond the four walls of your classroom, and into the homes and living rooms of your students.

To the very time and place they do their homework.

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18 Responses to How To Get Your Students To Do Their Homework

  1. Nick April 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    If students have not completed homework, how should we hold them accountable. Also, I’ve seen other teachers use a strategy of “If you complete this in class you will have no homework.” Is this a good thing or is this setting them up to believe that homework is something to avoid?

    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2014 at 6:59 am #

      Hi Nick,

      This article series
      should answer your first question. As for your second question, I’m not a fan of the strategy. I think it’s best if they’re able to concentrate in class without that prospect hanging over them.


  2. Marta Peñalva April 13, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    Thank you so much for every new article. They really help me. I enjoy reading every one of them.
    Best wishes

    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2014 at 7:00 am #

      You’re welcome, Marta!


  3. Katie April 18, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Being a first grade teacher, it is hard to hold students accountable for their homework. I agree that homework should strictly be for extra practice only. We do keep track of the students’ completed homework assignments due to the fact that this helps us determine if falling grades could be due to noncompliance to complete homework. We have seen a pattern here! This is when we contact the family and encourage them to complete homework. Homework is not graded, but it is certainly encouraged!!!

  4. Martha April 19, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    How much homework is appropriate to assign students for a singular subject? I teach 4 middle school math classes a day and have recently adopted the flipped-classroom method, but there isn’t going to be a video every single night. If I do assign practice, how long should it be? In the past, I’ve felt guilty assigning 20-30 minute assignments because if they get equal amount of homework in their other classes, it’s up to 2 hours of homework. Then again the times I assign 10 or 15 minute assignments, they put it off until the bus ride on the way to school (knowing it won’t take them any time at all).
    As a side-note, thank you for your books and blog! I read Dream Class last year, wrote in the columns, and then sent it right up our hallway to another 4 or 5 teachers.

    • Michael Linsin April 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Martha,

      I think knowing how much homework they’re assigned in their other classrooms is a consideration, certainly, but what is most important is giving your students a chance to practice what they learned that day with confidence. In most cases, it shouldn’t take longer than fifteen or twenty minutes. As for when or where they do it? It’s not your concern. Your concern–in regard to fully independent practice–is that it gets done.


  5. Nicholas November 27, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    I’m doing a research essay on reasons for why kids have too much homework. I came across this article, and thought it was good for the purpose you were writing it for, but I don’t agree with your stance on homework overall. First of all, repetition is helpful, but only if you’re doing the problems correctly. If you misunderstood a piece of material taught in class, and you did thirty or so problems that night for homework, you would only be reinforcing the wrong way. It takes only 5 problems to show that a student either understands or doesn’t understand the material. Also, I think teachers should be more considerate/careful of over working us. We have extracurricular activities and family time, both of which are actually more correlated with cognitive development and achievement than is homework. In addition, too much homework can be a bad thing. Kids are developing more school-related stomach aches, headaches, sleep problems, and depression than ever before, as a result of stress from homework. The rate of suicide has gone up quite a bit too, also as a result of homework. I go to bed at around 1 in the morning most nights, all because I have around 5 hours of work every night. Six hours of school with about 1 hour of homework per class has kids working about 50 hour weeks.

  6. Evelyn W. Minnick February 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm #

    I think from my point of view we need to “Motivate Your Child to Learn” like to help your child organize her school papers and assignments so she feels in control of her work. Celebrate achievements, no matter how small. Focus on strengths, encouraging, developing talents. Turn everyday events into learning opportunities. Thanks!

  7. Arlene B. Morgan February 25, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

    I’m a Tutor. We have all heard and said this before. Students say they don’t have the time for homework assignments, while teachers keep on assigning. Many teachers end up frustrated because students do not meet their expectations in that matter. This is true! So if you want to see your students do their own homework assignments than be consistent, create a homework routine, assign homework in every class and if homework is occasional, students are likely to forget. Think of the amount of homework you assign and whether there is a proper time to have it done. I hope, those are helpful. Thanks

  8. Mac Francke June 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    Hello Michael,

    I read your homework plan from 2010 and I really liked it. A couple of questions:
    1) What kind of assignments are easiest to grade in seconds?
    2) What do you do with students that are talking while you are walking around?

    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin June 17, 2016 at 7:31 am #

      Hi Mac,

      1. If you mean while you’re walking around checking in the morning, you’re not grading. You’re doing an initial check to see that it was completed and you’re holding them personally accountable.

      2. You can create the class how you want it. You can ask them to work on a warm up assignment, read, or allow them to talk. If you model the short period, and explain that there is no talking, then you simply enforce it via your classroom management plan.


  9. Maja October 21, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    Any suggestions on how to check an ESL homework which consists of 3 ”fill in the blanks” exercises in a class of 25 students?


  10. Sara October 25, 2016 at 2:17 am #

    Hello Michael,

    Thank you very much for this!
    You mention avoiding weekly work to discourage copying from friends. This copying is a big problem that I am having with high schoolers in my elite private school. I love your idea of checking quickly in class for accountability, yet how would this help “catch” copying? My kids are very good at it, they have got this local culture supporting this. I have caught them copying homeworks from students in my other sections, but that is because I spend a lot of time reading through their daily summaries.

    The questions here are two:

    1. If I reward completion, but they get away with copying, I am teaching them wrong skills and mindsets. Remedy within your framework of quick check?

    2. Wouldn’t your in-class check suggestion encourage completion at the expense of depth?

    I think completion is extremely important skill on its own, by the way. It would just be great to teach the this without letting plagiarism and laziness pass.

    • Michael Linsin October 25, 2016 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Sara,

      These are big questions that I don’t have time or space to address here. I’ll be sure to add them to the list of future topics.