How To Differentiate Math Homework

Teachers have been split down the middle for years regarding if students should be assigned homework or not. Some think that it is very effective, while others disagree.

Whatever the case may be, many students are still getting lots of homework, especially in math. Math can be a very hard subject for many students, particularly when you add the “New math” aligned with the Common Core. Many students need to review and practice these skills at home with their parents.

However, many parents do not have the knowledge or the skills of how to help their child with the new math, resulting in the teacher having to re-teach the concept the following day.

Here are a few math homework teaching strategies, as well as a few teaching strategies on how to make math homework more meaningful.

Homework Teaching Strategies

Students are taught at a very young age that homework is meant to help make the information learned stick to their brains. However, many students (especially the older ones) do not believe that homework will help them. Keep that thought in mind before you hand out any homework, as well as the following tips.

  • Keep homework assignments short and to the point. You do not need to assign students 20 of the same problem to see if they understand the concept. Just assign a few of each concept.
  • Before even assigning any homework, make sure that all students know how to do the problems so that you don’t have to waste any time the following day re-teaching it.
  • Consider only assigning homework to the students that need the help. If a student completely understands the concept, they do not need to keep going over it time and time again.
  • Try to differentiate the homework. If you don’t have time to do that, then consider assigning students a math app review game that is at their level.
  • Start each class with a quick review of what was taught the previous day. This will help you see which students really grasped the concept, and which students still need a little more practice. Considering having students complete one to five practice problems.

Quick Check

As mentioned earlier in the homework tips, consider assigning only the students who need the practice homework. You can figure this out by doing a quick check. A quick check is a popular teaching strategy that only takes a few minutes, and you can have students complete the problems on scrap paper or on a dry erase board. Make sure that you let students know, that if they get all of the answers correct on their quick check then they will have no homework. This is a great motivator, especially for the students who never hand in their homework. You will find that you will have a lot more engaged students once you implement this teaching strategy.


  1. Here’s how to do a quick check. Write down a few problems on the front board and have students (privately) do them on their own. Tell students to make sure that they show all of their work. If you are using dry erase boards then you can have students just write down their answers and show their work on a separate sheet of paper. Or, you can have students complete one problem at a time, then as a class check their work.
  2. Give students enough time to complete each problem. If students finish early, have them re-check their work and remind them they only get one shot at getting it right or they get homework. This strategy really works because you will find a lot more students paying attention during the math lesson.
  3. Walk around the classroom and mark off the students that got all of the problems correct, and also keep track of the ones who didn’t, these will be students who will receive homework.
  4. When everyone has completed their problems go over all of them, then discretely hand out the homework to the students who need it.

Making Homework Work

Here are a few tips on how to make math homework more meaningful.

Utilize Class Time

Use the extra time at the end of class to allow students to start their homework. You do not know the kind of parental support that they have at home so it is wise to give your students the support they need during class time.

Use Technology

Children love technology and any chance that you give them to use it, they will take it. There are millions of fun math apps on the market that students can really benefit from. Try assigning an app for homework and you will never hear “I forgot to do my homework” again.

Use Real-World Connections

How many times have you heard a student say “When am I ever going to use this in my life?” Well, you can answer this question by showing them that people do use math in their everyday lives. You can show them how chemistry is applied in their kitchen, or how electricians need to use the correct equations and formulas to get their job done.

For many teachers, homework is a struggle. The students that really need it never want to do it, and the students that don’t need are always the ones that are first to hand it in. If you are really have a difficult time getting your students to do their homework, then please consider the quick check strategy. Many teachers have been using this idea with their dry erase boards for years, and have found it to be extremely effective.

How do you make math homework more meaningful? Do you have tips that you would like to share? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

The Never Stop Learning Hub Teach Meet, took place on Thursday 20th March 2014.  It was the first to be run by the inspirational @MrOCallaghanEdu and took place at Bristol Brunel Academy.

There were ten workshops and I led one of them with Tom Leahy (@MrTLeahy a fellow Maths teacher).  The idea for running our workshop on Differentiated Homework came about due to us considering the differentiated lesson.  “We differentiate in lessons so we should differentiate homework…right?” Right!

How can we as teachers insist upon differentiating our classwork and feel justified in giving the entire class the same piece of homework?  It can become boring for the more able, consistently annoying for those who are finding the work challenging and it can be boring for the teacher too!  To an outsider, it may seem strange that we are not differentiating homework, so what’s happening?  Why are we all giving our students the same homework?  Let’s consider the “Why? How? & What?” of this homework scenario…

Why do you want students to complete homework?

How do you want them do it?

  • On paper – Will the students (claim to) lose their paper work?
  • On-line – Do students have access to the internet at home or at school?

What are the next steps?

  • How can you maintain this level of homework?
  • How much effort are you putting in when setting and marking the homework?
  • How can you ensure that your students learn from the homework and not end up with lots of pretty displays? What level of feedback/marking is the most effective (#Takeawayhmk – how can you fairly assess the homework…see Marking #TakeawayHmk part 1; part 2 coming soom.)

Differentiated Homework

Knowing the current approaches that are taken with homework and the completion rates, the following is a list of different homework that can be tried with classes (examples of these items can also be found here).

Top right ‘Poetry’ Concept Card by @Zedagogy

Examples of Concept Cards on Concept Walls can be found here & here

Rick Wormeli: ‘Homework’ versus ‘Practice’

Another aspect of homework to consider is how you talk about homework to your students.  Some teachers refer to this as practice as opposed to homeworkand as such, this can affect the quality and quantity of homework that is received.  For a slightly different perspective, watch this video clip of Rick Wormeli talking about Homework vs. Practice.

ConclusionThis workshop was a challenge to prepare but fun to run and differentiated homework will be an ongoing project for me.  I intend to trial more approaches to differentiated homework (see Marking #TakeawayHmk) but in the meantime I will try to convince other teachers to do the same.  With this in mind, I expect differentiated homework to be a way that students can experience an appropriate level of challenge in their work outside of the classroom…practice or homework; what ever you choose to call it!

Thanks for reading @SPorterEdu

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