How to Help Your Kids with English Homework
Helping children with homework has become a real challenge for parents in recent years. The advent of Common Core standards, new tests, and ever-changing technology has left most parents feeling confused and frustrated when their kids ask for help. Arguably, though, English help is some of the toughest assistance to give your student. English is a subjective field, and different assignments may require completely different approaches and answers. Therefore, parents and students can find themselves Googling "English homework help" with few satisfactory results. To combat that, we've outlined a few ways to give your kids solid, creative English homework help.
Do Your Reading
One of the best ways parents can provide English help is to know what the curriculum entails. Most states have websites outlining English/language arts standards for every grade, and because of Common Core, these are becoming more cohesive. However, the English curriculum can change from classroom to classroom even within the same grade. Some teachers focus on novels and poetry, while others spend more time on grammatical and writing skills. Some teachers use textbooks while others rely on handouts, Power Point presentations, and smart board activities. Therefore, as soon as you know who your child's English teacher will be, get the lowdown on how he or she conducts class. Older kids' teachers usually have a syllabus, so get your hands on one as soon as possible, whether that's a hard copy or an online link. If your child is in eighth grade or younger, the teacher may not use a traditional syllabus, but he or she will likely have a reading list or a course outline available. If not, ask for one. You can then use the information provided to preview the texts your student will read or the skill sets he or she will learn. The more familiar you are with consistent themes, drills, and test formats, the better you'll feel.
Play Lots of Games
Most teachers want to provide a hands-on education that caters to several learning styles, but the reality is that they may not have the resources or time to do so. In addition, the constant focus on testing means that teachers often reluctantly fall back on traditional methods such as comprehension questions, weekly spelling tests, and book reports. If your student struggles with any of these, you can supplement the traditional classroom with your own English games at home. For instance, you may want to try:
Active Spelling Have your kids practice spelling words or grammar skills while jumping rope, walking the dog, or otherwise exercising. You can also use music to set spelling words or grammar rules to rhythms, such as singing the list of coordinating conjunctions to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Older kids can make up their own corresponding poems or raps.
English Jeopardy This one works best for the books or short stories read in class. Help your student make a Jeopardy board with different categories and dollar values for subjects like Themes, Characters, Symbolism, and more. Your child can then compete with a group of friends from his or her class, or play solo, with the object being to clear as many categories as possible.
Classic Word Games Many kids struggle with vocabulary, synonyms, or spelling, even in middle and upper grades. Traditional word games like Scattegories, Scrabble, Mad Gab, or Taboo can help with these issues. In particular, games like Taboo, where players aren't allowed to use common words to describe something, can help build one's vocabulary.
Read for Fun
Even students who love to read can have a hard time with English because they don't like the texts their teachers assign. If this is the case, ask your student what he or she doesn't like about the books being chosen. Is it that the protagonists are always boys, but she's a girl? Is it that they all seem to focus on the same themes? Is it that the language feels inaccessible? Any of these issues can be solved with a little parental savvy. For example, many teachers have made modern versions of Shakespeare and other older texts accessible to students. If your child's teacher does not do this, have your child sit down with you and paraphrase what he thinks the characters are trying to say. More often than not, he'll pick up more than he thinks. If your child is discouraged because the books chosen are otherwise un-relatable, go to the bookstore or library with her. Allow her to choose a book that she'd prefer to read, and make a deal that she can read parts of it after finishing the assigned reading each day. You can also try to find books with similar themes or settings, but different styles. For example, if your daughter is reading the third or fourth assigned book about a boy who likes to play sports, find her a book with a girl in a dynamic athletic role. If your child feels burned out and discouraged by Holocaust books, suggest that he read more about resistance workers or immigrants who escaped Nazi terror. Make time to discuss whatever your child is reading for fun as a family. If he or she sees that you're excited about reading and learning, the spark will return.
Break it Down
English can feel like a large, clunky subject even to the most adept students. This is often because it has many pieces; a good English student needs to know how to analyze literature, but also how to write a compelling argument, how to spot grammatical errors, and how to research. If you and your student find these tasks daunting, break them into small chunks. For example, maybe your student can read a Shakespearean play scene by scene and make her own flashcards rather than trying to tackle one act per night. Using highlighters to color-code the parts of a research paper might help your student know for sure what he needs to do next, or what research he needs to keep versus what he actually can't use. You can also enlist the teacher's assistance; some teachers may use these methods in class. If your child has a learning difficulty or reading disability, teachers can also decrease homework loads or record texts rather than requiring your student to read them.
Helping kids with English homework often feels tougher than helping with math or science homework. This is usually because English is subjective and deals with several skills at one time. Parents and students alike can easily get overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are creative, fun, and savvy ways to help make English less painful for your kids and for you.