The same homework for 3 years – how and why


We have a 3 year key stage 4. Students that opt for GCSE Religious Studies have 3 different homeworks that carry through every year. I have blogged previously about some of these (see links in headers) but not as our key stage 4 homework programme as a whole.

  1. Learning keywords

Students are given mini booklets of keywords that they need to know to understand the key beliefs and teachings of the religions studied. They are given these before they have studied their context. The idea is that they learn these ‘off by heart’ and then when we cover them in lesson their meaning and application to the religion becomes clear.

All keyword sheets are available in our classrooms and are always attached on ShowMyHomework when set.

We also have made Quizlet quizzes on all the words here. We also give students index cards to create their own testing set.


The students then have weekly keyword tests. One week they are the ‘current’ keywords that they are learning (one of the pages of words) and the other week are ‘random’ from all previous pages learnt. They complete the test in class and then they peer mark using the correct answers. They get very good at this. In fact from when I give out the sheets for them to write on, they run this part of the lesson themselves.

The basis for these are that retrieval practice is good for long term memory. The second random test allows for spacing of retrieval as they don’t know which words will come up and how often. I am currently editing Dave Paterson’s random generator so I can automatically generate and monitor the frequency of these repetitions.

Scores are recorded out of 20 marks each time. On the current keywords they have to make progress every fortnight. They chose a focus word that they will focus on getting correct next time to slowly increase their score.

2. Writing multiple choice questions


Student feedback on this system is overall positive with the caveat that they’re boring. I don’t care as long as they remember them.

After a few lessons of a new topic I set this homework. Students have to write a minimum of 6 multiple choice questions on the topic.


The rules are clear (see above).

The rationale for this homework is two-fold. Firstly it is really easy to see their misconceptions. If they indicate a correct answer that is in fact incorrect then I can see what they’ve misunderstood. Depending on the frequency and seriousness of the error I will give whole class feedback or individual feedback on that issue. Students then need to rectify their error.

I use their questions for the next homework.

MC template

3. Quizzes

The third type of homework uses the questions they previously wrote. I type them up onto a google form and then set them as a multiple choice quiz. There may be one or many correct answers. They must achieve full marks. Google forms records their scores.


They can actually cheat by doing the quiz once and then keeping the answer tab open. I’ve told them how they can do this! However I don’t care. The point is that the answers are shuffled so they still have to fully engage with the correct/incorrect answers. This exposure is important.


My screencasts on how to create these quizzes is here.

Once we have covered several topics, I can then start to repeat, space and interleave the quizzes. So year 10 currently have  quiz from a couple of weeks ago and one from January or year 9. This repetition supports the idea of retrieving information at spaced gaps of time during the time needed to learn them long term.

We have a class website and I also put a copy of these quizzes on there so any motivated student can go and complete these independently at any time. I’ve put a notification onto those sheets that email me when they’re completed so I can see straight away who has been doing some independent study.

The benefits of only 3 homeworks

  • Students always know what they need to do; it doesn’t change
  • All of these support research from cognitive science on long term memory
  • Parents know what to expect
  • Students can’t ‘get stuck’. There’s no new concepts (the keywords are initially just a memory task)
  • They need few resources: keyword list and a piece of paper to write the MC questions
  • It’s very little work for the teacher. I just check their MC questions which takes max. 15 minutes for a class. The online quizzes mark themselves. I just put the results on the screen. They mark their own keyword tests.
  • All homework set is of the same quality; no last minute rubbish made up by the teacher just because they have to set homework
  • All 3 homeworks feed into important knowledge and skills they need for their exam

The only issues have been if a student cannot access the internet for the online quizzes however, with plenty of time to complete these I always offer break/lunch access using our devices at school. In an extreme case you can print the quizzes but of course they won’t self mark.

I have been doing this for a couple of years now. I think our results show that this is significant in long term memory and consequently performance in their exam. To me, these are so important, I can’t imagine setting any other form of homework at key stage 4 that would make a bigger impact on learning.


In defence of marking


It seems that marking has become the enemy of the teacher. It takes hours, teachers spend their evenings and weekends lugging home huge bags of books and for little or no benefit when compared to other teacher feedback.

I know this may be an unpopular view but I think that a certain form of marking is useful but not for the reason other feedback may be.

To put this in context, last year I taught 19 different classes. Two were year 11 GCSE and one year 9 GCSE. The rest was ks3 and core RE at ks4. This ranges from seeing them 5 times a fortnight to once a fortnight.

My school policy is based around assessment pieces (orange stickers) at least once a half term (ks4 core doesn’t have these). It doesn’t specify other forms of marking except how SPAG marking should be presented. Subject areas fill in the gaps between orange stickers, how they see fit.

This is ONE of many ways I assess, mark, give feedback; whatever you want to call it. I still regularly use a visualiser, give exemplars, do criteria based work, give whole class feedback but I do this as well.

What I do

I read or scan their work. I check they’ve done the basics: title, date, underlined. I then check whatever it is they’ve done; always for SPAG errors, in pink, using squiggle and code.. If they’ve not done anything they should have (except SPAG errors) they come the next day and do it. Even tiny things.

Next lesson they are given 10 minutes at the start to do any SPAG corrections and respond to anything in pink.

Why I do this

It keeps high standards

If I am checking their work I am ensuring they are doing the things they have been told to do. Underline the title. Write what they need to write. If I don’t check that and allow them to get away with it, over a period of time their attitude towards their work/the subject/my class may follow.

It gives individual SPAG feedback

Whilst reading I do a general scan for spellings. Usually all capital letters and subject specific words. Then classic errors. It values literacy. It makes it clear that it’s not just for English lessons.

You’ve got to read it anyway

If I’m reading their work, I can’t imagine it adds much time putting sp/cp/gr/p on their work. I rarely write anything extra. All other methods of ‘not marking’ involve reading the student work. Why not pick up literacy errors?

It gives a message

I am bothered what they do and how they do it. If a teacher doesn’t check work it can give the impression it’s not important.

It values effort

We have an attitude to learning scale. One of the criteria is ‘goes beyond teacher expectations’. This means if they do ‘more than’ I’ve told them, they show an attitude to learning of 1. It shows me they are prepared to go beyond. This is a step towards more independence.

I can check understanding

They don’t have to write loads for this. I keep things minimal. Something that will show if they’ve understood.

It helps build a picture of the student

I have to write a very simple report on every child: their attitude to learning, attitude to homework and progress. (Using codes) Every time I do these checks it helps to build up a mental picture of that student, their understanding, their literacy and importantly their ability to follow instructions.

But who is this all for?

I was asked at #TLT17 if I’d still do what I do if no-one else was to look at it (other than students). I’m not sure you can honestly say what you would/wouldn’t do if there were no policies or people looking at it.

I saw a comment on twitter that marking is for parents. None of our students take their books/folders home and I’ve never had a parent ask. I’m guessing it’s context. The point is, this isn’t for parents.

This also isn’t for school leaders or ‘visitors’ to the classroom. Why would I dictate my marking for a person that might visit my classroom every four years?

If I don’t read student work regularly, how do I know how they are doing in my subject? It’s for me and it’s for them.

How to manage this system

Finally it’s important to share how I manage the workload. It’s a combination of things:

  • My school doesn’t have unrealistic expectations or make us spend time doing things with no/little impact
  • We don’t set work we won’t mark. There are times where in a whole lesson students don’t write anything. Plan these at heavy times.
  • Many lessons are note taking; the marking is checking for quality notes and inclusion of content
  • Core is kept simple. No books. Most lessons have minimal writing e.g two key words
  • Don’t get them regularly writing long long pieces or work. And when they do a long piece either use preprinted criteria or stick to one piece of feedback. Why overload with a whole paragraph of nonsense and expect them to change?
  • Stampers and stickers. I make my own stampers with common issues. I also use a ‘work checked’ so I can keep track what I’ve checked.
  • Do checks in class. A lot of my lessons include a video clip. Whilst watching I check their work and get them to change/add there and then.
  • Repeat expectations over and over. Including the end where I do a verbal checklist “when I check your work I expect to see…..”. This limits the things that will need to be addressed.
  • Do it regularly. I try to do this every lesson that they’ve written at KS3 and for core KS4 RE. On average it takes 10 minutes a set. If I do a set at break that still gives me 15 minutes and at lunch I still have 30minutes.
  • Wherever there is pink pen (mine) there must ALWAYS be a correction/addition/response by the student. I’m not wasting my time doing something if they don’t act upon it. Any uncorrected pink after the lesson is done at a break time.

The important part of this system is it fits our school model. I don’t bring marking home. I don’t mark in the evenings or weekends. I choose to take some break/lunch for it because I value being at home without marking. Others may value chatting with others at break more.

Whatever you want to call this, checking, marking, feedback, I personally think it’s an important part of what I do. It may not fit your model or curriculum. It’s important that people don’t think that we should do anything possible to avoid marking. However it must be valuable at least to the students, and be manageable for the teacher. I believe this model is for us.