The dog ate it

This is a short post about a very simple afterthought that caught my class’s imagination.

he does look like he might have...


Last week I was running a workshop with some teachers at a school in Seville (a big thank you to Els and Enda for their warm welcome!) so a colleague took my classes for me.  She had a lesson to teach and homework to set. I was very sceptical about the homework being done.  It’s bad enough when I set it, but even worse when the kids think they’re never going to see the teacher who set it again.

I wanted to make a point, that homework is homework, whoever sets it, that we teachers work together, collaborate, know what’s going on, even when we’re not there, that lessons are planned and homework’s all part of the big picture.  I wanted to do it so that the students feel we care, but also so they know that we are checking up on them. Quite a few birds to kill with one stone!

Rather than just ask for the homework, or wait for the first, keen volunteer to hand their homework to me , I decided, at the last minute, to write up on the board before the class , in big red letters:

Did you do your homework?

If NOT please give me a VERY GOOD excuse!

The students come in in dribs and drabs and, as they did, I pointed them to the question.  They looked sheepish and mumbled, but I said no, no, give me an excuse, a good one, and I handed out a slip of paper. I’m collecting excuses, I said, they can be true, they can be false, but they’ve got to be good.

This was the first one.

I shared it with the class, commented on how classical it was, asked them if they thought any dog had actually ever eaten any homework in the history of homework excuses. The excuses got more creative – or at least more honest.

some honest answers

Students called me over to help them get it right.  As latecomers arrived their classmates called out to me to give them slips of paper. Their enthusiasm got contagious. I told them I was going to collect the excuses and use them as a basis for a lesson with another group.  The excuses came thick and fast, their attention was focused and they listened carefully and quietly as I read out each new excuse, asked each other what their excuses were, elaborated, tippexed (!), checked and changed.

What had been a complete throwaway opener – a quick reminder about homework duties – turned into a focused, focusing, engaging writing game. They worked so well for the rest of the class as well, applied, involved, participating.

I tried the same thing with my second class.  Same reaction.  I’m definitely going to need to capitalise on this for the next lesson. I think I might type up all the excuses from the two classes. I’ll give them to the other class next time round and get them to vote on them in different categories ( most original, most sincere, most hackeneyed). Maybe we can use them for collecting common mistakes.  Maybe they can write some comments on each on, some kind of reaction to the excuse. Something, just to show them that I really appreciated the time and energy and enthusiasm they put into it.

A very little thing, a very simple thing, but a moment in the class that we all enjoyed 🙂

I wonder if it’ll have any effect on their doing their homework in the future?  Probably not!

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17 Responses to The dog ate it

  1. Alan Tait says:

    Great spontaneous idea!

    I would have commented sooner but just as I was writing, my girlfriend put on the washing machine and the oven together, so the fuses blew, and by the time I got the power on again, something serious had happened to the computer so I had to reinstall the OS again. Sorry.

  2. FANTASTIC! You got them working, focused, paying attention to mistakes and it was fun – GREAT!

  3. T Bestwick says:

    What fun! I love the guy who says someone broke in and stole his English homework!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi T! Nice to see you here 🙂
      Yeah, I liked that one too :). We got into a surreal conversation about how there was a black market out there on the streets of Cádiz selling English homework at high prices – with a high premium selectividad essays!
      By the way, your FC essays went down really well. Hoping to get the time to blog about them soon.

  4. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Ceri,
    That’s a great idea! It reminds me of a time when doing my GCSEs. One of my classmates came up with an elaborate five-minute story about the pixies who had come in and stolen his homework from his desk while he was asleep – the teacher just laughed!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Sandy!
      That would make a good fairytale … a pair of students in this class came up with a similar story as we were chatting – the Homework Elves – who come and do your homework for you in the night They’d been telling stories to the primary kids earlier that week and reckoned they’d have loved it!

  5. Very cool.

    I’ve done this before in class for homework and for “why I was late”, because I emphasized the “fictional” possibilities. For whatever reason the SS love it, and being able to fib and create off-the-wall stories really gets them churning. 🙂

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Brad!
      Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? A licence to lie lights up their eyes and their imagination. When they first saw the question on the board they hung their heads in an attitude of mock shame, the one they’ve learnt to show to teachers and parents when they’re being told off. The one that closes their minds and distances them from the lecture and the situation. Being given the chance to “make amends”, to offer something concrete and positive and creative instead of the missing homework energised them. The idea that I was going to share it with another class even more. I hope that reading the other class’s excuses at the beginning of the next lesson will help create the same atmosphere, recapture the moment, and get us off to another good start.

      Thanks once again for pushing my thoughts beyond the post 🙂

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Leahn!
      Sorry for the delay in replying – your comment got lost in the spam tray for some reason 😦
      Great to *see* you here. Hope life’s good 🙂

  6. Lying is a truly a great motivator… when you can get your students’ imagination into the classroom you know you’re on to a positive thing. Great idea ~ and a subtle reminder for the students ;0)
    P.S. did they hand their work in?

  7. kylieliz says:

    Awesome! I love this! I will have to think of a way to adapt it into my classroom. I’m sure though that if I used it every time someone was late or didn’t have homework, they’d be sick of it the first week. Joking . . . I love this idea! I’d love to hear your follow up activities with it also!
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Anneh says:

    What a great idea. I’ll definitely try this sometime 🙂

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