At my school, we start students at the very beginning. On the first class, some of the younger students can’t even identify all the letters in the alphabet yet. They’ve all heard “hello” before, but less than a third know what “stand up” means. Since we start from the beginning, the first semester leans heavily towards phonics and listenning comprehension.

We give taping assignments after every class. During the first month, we give worksheets for practicing the letters of the alphabet. Then, after the tenth lesson (about the fifteenth class), the students have to write three short questions and answers after each class. The questions and answers are based on the vocabulary and the grammar they learned in the lesson. Every six or seven lessons, there’s a “big homework”. Each big homework consists of twelve questions and answers.

Here’s an average student’s book:
A B- student's homework

Here’s a D student’s book:
A D student's homework

The Homework Cycle

  1. I preview the homework in class and assign it.
  2. They hand it in.
  3. I underline errors in their homework before class, and they correct it at the beginning of class. Before they go home, I give them a translation homework consisting of ten Chinese sentences they have to translate into English
  4. The class after that, they have to ask each other the questions they made in step #2
  5. In the next class, students who made too many mistakes the first class have to re-answer the homework questions. Everybody has to ask. Also, there’s an English-English test in class. I ask 10 questions based on the homework and they write the answers.
  6. In the sixth class, I hand out an English to Chinese translation homework. It’s also based on the same vocabulary and grammar as the homework assigned in step #1
  7. I collect the English to Chinese translation homework.
  8. I give the students a Chinese to English translation test. This is yet another iteration of the same material. However, it’s still the hardest part for them since they have to know where to use prepositions, what tense to use, etc… and don’t have any English to look at as a model.

Initially, my boss didn’t want any translation tests in the curriculum, but it turned out to be kind of necessary. Before there were any translation tests, students got good at recognizing grammatical patterns and figuring out how to manipulate questions into answers without understanding what they were saying. While this homework cycle only occurs once every couple of months, it is important for the students’ review. For my class that just handed in the homework (step #2), it’s the first real writing assignment. Before this every substantial assignment they’ve had to give me was taped. Also, up until this point, their grades have been based almost entirely on class participation and spelling quizzes. I’m sure the class rankings will shift around a bit. This class has only been studying for about nine weeks, so it’s still pretty easy for the struggling kids to get caught up and move up in the class.