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You can provide a list of questions to help students "break the ice," or students can come up with their own. You might extend the activity by having each student introduce his or her partner to the class.

Give each student a slip of paper with the name of an animal on it. Then give students instructions for the activity: They must locate the other members of their animal group by imitating that animal's sound only. No talking is allowed. The students might hesitate initially, but that hesitation soon gives way to a cacophony of sound as the kids moo, snort, and giggle their way into groups. The end result is that students have found their way into their homerooms or advisory groups for the school year, and the initial barriers to good teamwork have already been broken.

Hold a large ball of yarn. Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll the ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself. Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web. After everyone has spoken, you and all the students stand up, continuing to hold the yarn.

Start a discussion of how this activity relates to the idea of teamwork -- for example, the students need to work together and not let others down.

To drive home your point about teamwork, have one student drop his or her strand of yarn; that will demonstrate to students how the web weakens if the class isn't working together. Questions might include the following: What is your name? Where were you born? How many brothers or sisters do you have? What are their names? Do you have any pets?

Tell students to write those questions on a piece of paper and to add to that paper five more questions they could ask someone they don't know. Pair students, and have each student interview his or her partner and record the responses. Then have each student use the interview responses to write a "dictionary definition" of his or her partner to include in a Student Dictionary.

You might model this activity by creating a sample dictionary definition about yourself. Born in Riverside, California. No brothers or sisters. Have students bring in small pictures of themselves to paste next to their entries in the Student Dictionary.

Bind the definitions into a book, and display it at back-to-school night. Ask each student to write a brief description of his or her physical characteristics on one index card and his or her name on the other. Physical characteristics usually do not include clothing, but if you teach the primary grades, you might allow students to include clothing in their descriptions.

Put all the physical characteristic index cards in a shoe box, mix them up, and distribute one card to each student, making sure that no student gets his or her own card. Give students ten minutes to search for the person who fits the description on the card they hold. There is no talking during this activity, but students can walk around the room. At the end of the activity, tell students to write on the card the name of the student who best matches the description.

Then have students share their results. How many students guessed correctly? Patricia McHugh, John W. Set up a circle of chairs with one less chair than the number of students in the class. Play music as the students circle around the chairs. When the music stops, the students must sit in a seat. Unlike the traditional game, the person without a seat is not out. Instead, someone must make room for that person. Then remove another seat and start the music again. The kids end up on one another's laps and sharing chairs!

You can play this game outside, and you can end it whenever you wish. Afterward, stress the teamwork and cooperation the game took, and how students needed to accept one another to be successful. Reinforce that idea by repeating this game throughout the year. Danielle Weston, Willard School, Sanford, Maine Hands-On Activity Have students begin this activity by listing at least 25 words that describe them and the things they like.

No sentences allowed, just words! Then ask each student to use a dark pen to trace the pattern of his or her hand with the fingers spread apart. Provide another sheet of paper that the student can place on top of the tracing. Because the tracing was done with a dark pen, the outline should be visible on the sheet below. Direct students to use the outlines as guides and to write their words around it. Provide students a variety of different colored pencils or markers to use as they write.

Then invite students to share their work with the class. They might cut out the hand outlines and mount them on construction paper so you can display the hands for open house. Challenge each parent to identify his or her child's hand. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on separate paper strips, then create a mini paper chain with the strips by linking the five talents together.

As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together. Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates -- for example, all the students have talents; all the students have things they do well; together, the students have many talents; if they work together, classmates can accomplish anything; the class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own.

Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits of teamwork. Your school librarian might have a discard pile you can draw from. Invite students to search through the magazines for pictures, words, or anything else that might be used to describe them.

Then use an overhead projector or another source of bright light to create a silhouette of each student's profile; have each student sit in front of the light source as you or another student traces the outline of the silhouette on a sheet of by inch paper taped to the wall.

Have students cut out their silhouettes, then fill them with a collage of pictures and words that express their identity. Then give each student an opportunity to share his or her silhouette with the group and talk about why he or she chose some of the elements in the collage. Post the silhouettes to create a sense of "our homeroom. You can use such cards to gather other information too, such as school schedule, why the student signed up for the class, whether the student has a part-time job, and whether he or she has access to the Internet at home.

As a final bit of information, ask the student to write a headline that best describes him or her! This headline might be a quote, a familiar expression, or anything else. When students finish filling out the cards, give a little quiz. Then read aloud the headlines one at a time. Ask students to write the name of the person they think each headline best describes.

Who got the highest score? It seems as if parents are contacted only if there is a problem with students. At the end of each grading period, use the home address information to send a postcard to a handful of parents to inform them about how well their child is doing.

This might take a little time, but it is greatly appreciated! Pop Quiz Ahead of time, write a series of getting-to-know-you questions on slips of paper -- one question to a slip. You can repeat some of the questions. Then fold up the slips, and tuck each slip inside a different balloon. Blow up the balloons. Give each student a balloon, and let students take turns popping their balloons and answering the questions inside.

Contributor Unknown Fact or Fib? This is a good activity for determining your students' note-taking abilities. Tell students that you are going to share some information about yourself. They'll learn about some of your background, hobbies, and interests from the second oral "biography" that you will present. Suggest that students take notes; as you speak, they should record what they think are the most important facts you share.

When you finish your presentation, tell students that you are going to tell five things about yourself. Four of your statements should tell things that are true and that were part of your presentation; one of the five statements is a total fib. This activity is most fun if some of the true facts are some of the most surprising things about you and if the "fib" sounds like something that could very well be true.

Tell students they may refer to their notes to tell which statement is the fib. Next, invite each student to create a biography and a list of five statements -- four facts and one fib -- about himself or herself. Then provide each student a chance to present the second oral biography and to test the others' note-taking abilities by presenting his or her own "fact or fib quiz. Mitzi Geffen Circular Fact or Fib? Here's a variation on the previous activity: Organize students into two groups of equal size.

One group forms a circle equally spaced around the perimeter of the classroom. There will be quite a bit of space between students. The other group of students forms a circle inside the first circle; each student faces one of the students in the first group. Give the facing pairs of students two minutes to share their second oral "biographies. After each pair completes the activity, the students on the inside circle move clockwise to face the next student in the outer circle.

Students in the outer circle remain stationary throughout the activity. When all students have had an opportunity to share their biographies with one another, ask students to take turns each sharing facts and fibs with the class. The other students refer to their notes or try to recall which fact is really a fib.

Contributor Unknown People Poems Have each child use the letters in his or her name to create an acrostic poem. Tell students they must include words that tell something about themselves -- for example, something they like to do or a personality or physical trait. Invite students to share their poems with the class.

This activity is a fun one that enables you to learn how your students view themselves. Allow older students to use a dictionary or thesaurus. You might also vary the number of words for each letter, according to the students' grade levels.

Bill Laubenberg Another Poetic Introduction. Ask students to use the form below to create poems that describe them. This activity lends itself to being done at the beginning of the school year and again at the end of the year. You and your students will have fun comparing their responses and seeing how the students and the responses have changed. Contributor Unknown Food for Thought To get to know students and to help them get to know one another, have each student state his or her name and a favorite food that begins with the same first letter as the name.

Watch out -- it gets tricky for the last person who has to recite all the names and foods! Here's a challenging activity that might help high school teachers learn about students' abilities to think critically. Send students into the school hallways or schoolyard, and ask each to find something that "is completely the opposite of yourself.

To widen the area to be explored, provide this activity as homework on the first night of school. When students bring their items back to class, ask each to describe why the item is not like him or her. You'll get a lot of flowers, of course, and students will describe how those flowers are fragrant or soft or otherwise unlike themselves. But you might also get some clever responses, such as the one from a young man who brought in the flip-top from a discarded can; he talked about its decaying outward appearance and its inability to serve a purpose without being manipulated by some other force and how he was able to serve a purpose on his own.

Joy Ross Personal Boxes In this activity, each student selects a container of a reasonable size that represents some aspect of his or her personality or personal interests, such as a football helmet or a saucepan.

Ask students to fill that object with other items that represent themselves -- for example, family photos, CDs, dirty socks, a ballet shoe -- and bring their containers back to school. Students can use the objects in the containers as props for three-minute presentations about themselves. The teacher who provided this idea suggests that you model the activity and encourage creativity by going first -- it's important for students to see you as human too!

She included in her container a wooden spoon because she loves to cook, a jar of dirt because she loves to garden, her son's first cowboy boot, a poem she wrote, a rock from Italy because she loves to travel, and so on. You'll learn much about each student with this activity, and it will create a bond among students. As each student gives a presentation, you might write a brief thank-you note that mentions something specific about the presentation so that each student can take home a special note to share with parents.

It might take a few days to give every student the opportunity to share. Getting to Know One Another Volume 2: Who's in the Classroom? As for more recent studies looking for a relationship between achievement and time spent on homework, the overall correlation was about the same as the one found in But if we look more closely, even that description turns out to be too generous. At best, most homework studies show only an association, not a causal relationship.

Nevertheless, most research purporting to show a positive effect of homework seems to be based on the assumption that when students who get or do more homework also score better on standardized tests, it follows that the higher scores were due to their having had more homework.

There are almost always other explanations for why successful students might be in classrooms where more homework is assigned — let alone why these students might take more time with their homework than their peers do. Again, it would be erroneous to conclude that homework is responsible for higher achievement. Or that a complete absence of homework would have any detrimental effect at all. One of the most frequently cited studies in the field was published in the early s by a researcher named Timothy Keith, who looked at survey results from tens of thousands of high school students and concluded that homework had a positive relationship to achievement, at least at that age.

But a funny thing happened ten years later when he and a colleague looked at homework alongside other possible influences on learning such as quality of instruction, motivation, and which classes the students took.

Do we really know how much homework kids do? The studies claiming that homework helps are based on the assumption that we can accurately measure the number and length of assignments. But many of these studies depend on students to tell us how much homework they get or complete. When Cooper and his associates looked at recent studies in which the time spent on homework was reported by students, and then compared them with studies in which that estimate was provided by their parents, the results were quite different.

These first two flaws combine to cast doubt on much of the existing data, according to a damning summary that appears in the Encyclopedia of Educational Research: Homework studies confuse grades and test scores with learning. Each is seriously flawed in its own way.

In the second kind of study, course grades are used to determine whether homework made a difference. Any given assignment may well be given two different grades by two equally qualified teachers — and may even be given two different grades by a single teacher who reads it at two different times. The final course grade, moreover, is based on a combination of these individual marks, along with other, even less well defined considerations.

The same teacher who handed out the assignments then turns around and evaluates the students who completed them. The final grade a teacher chooses for a student will often be based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, that student did the homework.

Thus, to say that more homework is associated with better school performance as measured by grades is to provide no useful information about whether homework is intrinsically valuable.

Yet grades are the basis for a good number of the studies that are cited to defend that very conclusion. The studies that use grades as the outcome measure, not surprisingly, tend to show a much stronger effect for homework than studies that use standardized test scores.

Cooper and his colleagues conducted a study in with both younger and older students from grades 2 through 12 , using both grades and standardized test scores to measure achievement. They also looked at how much homework was assigned by the teacher as well as at how much time students spent on their homework. Thus, there were eight separate results to be reported. The last, and most common, way of measuring achievement is to use standardized test scores. They are, however, excellent indicators of two things.

The first is affluence: Up to 90 percent of the difference in scores among schools, communities, or even states can be accounted for, statistically speaking, without knowing anything about what happened inside the classrooms.

The second phenomenon that standardized tests measure is how skillful a particular group of students is at taking standardized tests — and, increasingly, how much class time has been given over to preparing them to do just that. In my experience, teachers can almost always identify several students who do poorly on standardized tests even though, by more authentic and meaningful indicators, they are extremely talented thinkers.

These anecdotal reports have been corroborated by research that finds a statistically significant positive relationship between a shallow or superficial approach to learning, on the one hand, and high scores on various standardized tests, on the other. To that extent, students cannot really demonstrate what they know or what they can do with what they know. Multiple-choice tests are basically designed so that many kids who understand a given idea will be tricked into picking the wrong answer.

Instead, its primary purpose is to artificially spread out the scores in order to facilitate ranking students against each other. Moreover, the selection of questions for these tests is informed by this imperative to rank.

Thus, items that a lot of students answer correctly or incorrectly are typically eliminated — regardless of whether the content is important — and replaced with questions that about half the kids will get right.

This is done in order to make it easier to compare students to one another. In the latter case, a high or rising average test score may actually be a reason to worry. Every hour that teachers spend preparing kids to succeed on standardized tests, even if that investment pays off, is an hour not spent helping kids to become critical, curious, creative thinkers. The limitations of these tests are so numerous and so serious that studies showing an association between homework and higher scores are highly misleading.

The fact that more meaningful outcomes are hard to quantify does not make test scores or grades any more valid, reliable, or useful as measures. To use them anyway calls to mind the story of the man who looked for his lost keys near a streetlight one night not because that was where he dropped them but just because the light was better there. Even taken on its own terms, the research turns up some findings that must give pause to anyone who thinks homework is valuable.

Homework matters less the longer you look. The longer the duration of a homework study, the less of an effect the homework is shown to have. The studies finding the greatest effect were those that captured less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief. Even where they do exist, positive effects are often quite small. The same was true of a large-scale high school study from the s. There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.

The absence of evidence supporting the value of homework before high school is generally acknowledged by experts in the field — even those who are far less critical of the research literature and less troubled by the negative effects of homework than I am. But this remarkable fact is rarely communicated to the general public.

In , Cooper summarized the available research with a sentence that ought to be e-mailed to every parent, teacher, and administrator in the country: It, too, found minuscule correlations between the amount of homework done by sixth graders, on the one hand, and their grades and test scores, on the other. For third graders, the correlations were negative: He was kind enough to offer the citations, and I managed to track them down.

The point was to see whether children who did math homework would perform better on a quiz taken immediately afterward that covered exactly the same content as the homework. The third study tested 64 fifth graders on social studies facts. All three of these experiments found exactly what you would expect: The kids who had drilled on the material — a process that happened to take place at home — did better on their respective class tests.

The final study, a dissertation project, involved teaching a lesson contained in a language arts textbook. It seems safe to say that these latest four studies offer no reason to revise the earlier summary statement that no meaningful evidence exists of an academic advantage for children in elementary school who do homework. The correlation only spikes at or above grade A large correlation is necessary, in other words, but not sufficient.

Indeed, I believe it would be a mistake to conclude that homework is a meaningful contributor to learning even in high school. Remember that Cooper and his colleagues found a positive effect only when they looked at how much homework high school students actually did as opposed to how much the teacher assigned and only when achievement was measured by the grades given to them by those same teachers. All of the cautions, qualifications, and criticisms in this chapter, for that matter, are relevant to students of all ages.

Students who take this test also answer a series of questions about themselves, sometimes including how much time they spend on homework. For any number of reasons, one might expect to find a reasonably strong association between time spent on homework and test scores. Yet the most striking result, particularly for elementary students, is precisely the absence of such an association. Consider the results of the math exam. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score as those who did 30 minutes a night.

Remarkably, the scores then declined for those who did 45 minutes, then declined again for those who did an hour or more! In twelfth grade, the scores were about the same regardless of whether students did only 15 minutes or more than an hour. In the s, year-olds in a dozen nations were tested and also queried about how much they studied. Again, the results were not the same in all countries, even when the focus was limited to the final years of high school where the contribution of homework is thought to be strongest.

Usually it turned out that doing some homework had a stronger relationship with achievement than doing none at all, but doing a little homework was also better than doing a lot.

Again they came up empty handed. Our students get significantly less homework than their counterparts across the globe. Every step of this syllogism is either flawed or simply false. Premise 2 has been debunked by a number of analysts and for a number of different reasons. But in fact there is now empirical evidence, not just logic, to challenge the conclusions.

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