How to support secondary school students with their English studies at home

Homework. The dreaded word that students (and some parents) hate to hear. Regardless, in most schools, homework is here to stay and can genuinely make a difference to your child’s academic ability and progress. A moderate amount of homework should be looked at positively and should be simply building on skills and ideas learned in school or pre-teaching key concepts and ideas- thus saving valuable teaching time in lessons.

When working with your child, try not to battle to get homework done. Give them a routine and a set time to do it. Straight after school? After a 30-minute relax and refresh? On Sundays? Essentially, homework should not be an all-consuming battle that causes arguments, and it should definitely not be done the night before deadlines; this can cause extra stress and does not allow for enough time to deal with any issues or speak to the teacher if necessary.

Most secondary schools will have policies around the period students spend on their homework and some will even provide you with a timetable so that you can plan accordingly. Years 7-8 should have around 20 minutes a week per subject, Year 9 -35 minutes, with Year 10 and 11 students pushing to 45 minutes. Year 12 and 13 students (remember those independent study hours!) should spend at least 5 hours outside of the subject a week.

There are many ways to support your child with their homework and you do not need a lot to get started:

  • Pens and pencils
  • Textbooks- if you have set texts – GCSE/ A-Level students
  • Paper/exercise book
  • Folders/ flashcards for year 9/10 and above
  • If possible, a tablet/laptop to access online revision quizzes/video and games.

You do not require bells and whistles to do well at homework. Remember, it is the quality of the written work that matters. Encourage your child to take pride in their work, this way they will want to show it off!

What are the key skills your child can practice to be successful?

  • A love of learning and thirst for knowledge
  • Independent learning
  • Perseverance and resilience
  • Motivation and Conscientiousness
  • Organisation and time management
  • Wider reading and research
  • Be a critical thinker
  • Note-taking
  • Discussion and debate
  • Enjoying learning successes!

Years 7 and 8

15-20 minutes of reading a day is a must! Think of all of that amazing vocabulary to be learned! They can read to you or themselves. Schools usually have a reading list of books students might enjoy and this can be found in the school library or by asking your child’s teacher!

Discuss what they have read: What do they understand? Have they noticed any subtle ideas? Any nuances or inferences?

Ask your child to write a summary of what they have read and/or write down ten new words they have learned.

Go to a library – let your child explore the books.

If you have any old magazines or newspapers- ask your child to cut up the words and create their own poetry!

Can your child create visuals for what they are reading/ studying?

Storyboards are key but also fun!

Year 9

Take a look at the examination board the school follows, can your child read a key text from the specification or read a text from the same author or genre? (Ask your child’s teacher if unsure).

Chunk homework if required – can they spend 15 minutes and then another later? After a full day, an extra 35 minutes of homework might make your child feel stressed.

Practise spellings together – ask your child to recite spellings. Or assess them. Improving their vocabulary is a must.

Create comprehension questions on the text your child is reading, try 3-5 per chapter (this will ensure that a foundation level of learning has taken place). It will also give you an opportunity to discuss what they are enjoying.

Practise writing letters and emails of complaint, letters to request a new service or product and speeches.

Year 10 – make sure notes are organised well.

Reading and re-reading key literature texts (your child will be examined on three in their GCSEs, plus an anthology of poetry).

Create a timeline of events in the texts with key quotations on them or character tracking grids.

Use technology – YouTube has a wealth of revision resources- songs and guides such as Mr Bruff.

Ensure that by the end of year 10, all literature texts are annotated. If sections are missing, ask your child to speak to their teacher.

Ask your child to tell you ‘five’. Tell me five things you know about XYZ!

BBC Bitesize

Year 11 – make sure notes are organised well.

Learning key quotations – Do they have thirty key ones? Can these be noted down under different themes and character headings?

Create flashcards – key themes and ideas.

Go out for the day. Ask your child to write about they have seen and experienced. Can they turn this into a narrative or a descriptive piece of writing? This could be done in timed conditions (45-60 minutes).

Talk to your child about issues in your local area- a lot of these come up in the transactional writing task. Having this conversation can help generate ideas. Can this then be turned into a written piece? A letter, speech or article?

Get as many past papers as you can- these can be found on the internet (ensure you are looking for the correct examination board). Ask your child to talk you through what they would write for each question. This will help them with recall and ensure they understand the top tips.

Practise questions for both literature and language!

Year 12 and 13 - Make sure your notes are organised!

Re-read the texts- this is a must! There is no getting around this! Two/three/four times!

Create chapter summaries and character summaries.

Read texts in the same genre/ by the same author- ensure that they fit with the thematic link of the paper e.g. tragedy, love.

Gather as much information as you can surrounding the contexts of the texts (what was happening at the time the text was written/set?)

For A-Level language, read around your theorists- have you read the latest David Crystal book?

Scour the British Library for any exciting articles.

Listen to podcasts and TED Talks around your texts and their subjects.

Read as much non-fiction as you can. This will help you in both literature and language.

This all might seem like a lot; however, the key is to break homework and revision down and improve knowledge and skills as they go along. Working gradually will help your child build up their resilience and work methodically through their work- rather than create a bottleneck at the end of term.

English is a fantastic subject with lots of real-life benefits. Working through these activities can help your child flourish.

They can do this!