Revisiting old posts: KS3 homework: minimal effort, maximum gain


There has been much debate recently about homework.  For me, homework is an integral part of the educational offering we make.  If we don’t set homework we are, in my opinion, confining learning to the four walls of a school building.  Setting homework at KS3 is an important lesson in independence and wider reading which will undoubtedly have a greater impact later on.

However, setting homework does not have to be effortful for teachers.  Here is what I do:

  1. Vocabulary

Each week pupils are assigned six words to learn.  These words are the tier two words taken from the text we are reading in class.  Pupils need to

  • Construct a sentence that embeds the key word
  • Phrase a question that requires an answer using the key word
  • Identify synonyms
  • Draw an image they think reflects the key word.

Vocabulary sheet available here: (scroll to the bottom)

The vocabulary is pre-collated by term meaning all resources for one term are together.

I collect the booklet in each week and mark, awarding an effort grade solely.  This takes me no more than half an hour.

However, I assess the pupils’ understanding of the word in a variety of ways.

  • Through a vocabulary quiz
  • By asking pupils to embed the words into the reading and writing assignments we do.

In addition, a parent recently showed me so this free app might be worth exploring to support this work.

  1. Reading

Years 7 and 8 – Readtheory. (

I have set my year 7 class up on readtheory.  Readtheory is free and you will need to create an account.  You will also need to manage your class by creating a class and then adding your students.  This is done by inputting their first name and last name which is used to generate their username.   You will then need to create a class password for access.  Readtheory collate the usernames and I print this out and cut it out to give to each pupil to help them log on.

Pupils initially complete a pre-test which determines their ‘grade level’.  The system is American so it is an American grade.  However, this is easily translated into the British equivalent which then gives you a reading age.


Once the pretest has been done, pupils can quiz.  Readtheory provides pupils with short texts and comprehension questions that are matched to their ability and adjust depending on how well a pupil is doing.  As a teacher, you are provided with information about how well pupils have performed on these quizzes by being told whether they are below pretest level, at pretest level or above pretest level.

Quizzes taken

I set three quizzes a week and award points to those quizzes where pupils results are above their pretest level.

I also award points to those pupils who complete more than the three quizzes assigned each week.

You could also share with pupils how many quizzes have been taken and how many knowledge points they have acquired (texts to build cultural capital).  This might be particularly effective to compare across classes.


(I can already see here, that in one week my pupils are performing better than on their pretest)

I have set the duration for this to run up to Christmas.  I will then complete a second pretest with pupils in January to see if the programme is having an impact on their ‘grade’ level / reading age.

Year 9 – Common Lit (

As an alternative to readtheory and as a precursor for GCSE, I have assigned my pupils Common Lit, another free reading base programme from America.

Common Lit contains a wealth of non-fiction and fiction texts on a variety of subjects.  My pupils are studying A Christmas Carol this term so I did a search for texts on Capitalism and assigned them one of these for their first reading.

Common Lit has also started to match reading to common literary texts.  For example, Animal Farm.  What the programme offers is reading related to Animal Farm and also instructs you when that reading is most relevant by identifying the chapter it should go with.


The text themselves are graded so you can choose age appropriate texts.

The beauty is in the support that is offered with the text.  You can enlarge the text to any size you wish.  You can have the text read to you.  You can translate the text into a different language.  This makes the programme ideal for second language learners.

There are stop points identified and guiding questions as well as discussion questions and an annotation tool to make notes.


To set up a class, again you will need to create an account for yourself.  It will not accept some email addresses so be patient.  You will then have the opportunity to create a class which will be given a unique class code.  Common Lit have printable instructions for pupils to follow in order to join the class using these unique code.

I use the assessment questions with my pupils.  My pupils have to read the text assigned to them and answer these questions.  These questions are multi-choice in the main with one short response also used.  The short response take me no time at all to mark online.  Then Common Lit collates the pupils’ answers and gives you data to show you how well the pupils have done on each question and overall.  Once all assignments have been collected, you can release the results to the pupils and print off a copy for yourself.


The reading pupils are being assigned is to support wider reading of the topic area.  I will seek to bring the reading into our discussion of texts and the work we do when exploring the texts.

At the start of the year, I gave my year 9 pupils a NGRT test to determine their reading level and I will test them again in January to see if this programme has helped them at all with their reading.

Both Readtheory and CommonLit are fantastic websites that support pupil reading but are not effortful for the teacher.  In January, I will assess the impact of both on my pupils.


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