Using Homework to Overview a Topic

By Scott Sterling

There are many times when an overview of a topic is a beneficial educational process. Skills and subjects are often interrelated. A student cannot see that without being able to occasionally step back and take a broader view.

This broader view can occur in class, but time outside of school can also be leveraged in this way. It’s often not necessary for the teacher to be present for the student to see this overview. Then, class time can be used to make progress through the curriculum or provide needed practice. Here are some homework ideas to accomplish these goals.


The primary tools of teachers seeking to provide an overview of a chosen topic are videos, particularly those streamed from YouTube. Although some videos can be found that cover granular topics, they are often best suited for focusing on a broader scope.

What you’re looking for is videos that help bring the topic at hand into a context that ties into the surrounding topics. If students can see where the new knowledge links with things they have already mastered, they are much more likely to start the unit with a basic understanding. Obviously, preview any video you assign students to watch.

With the wealth of information available online, it should be possible to find videos that can act as links between lessons or units. It can become a routine for students to close one chapter and open another with viewing a video at home.

Have the students search for meaning

As a capstone project, have the students find examples in which their new knowledge connects with what they have already learned or what they are moving onto next.

This can take the form of an actual project (although you will probably want to devote some class time as well, especially if you want the students to work collaboratively), or a simple task that can serve as both summative assessment and a preview for the next unit, something like an overview post on the class message board.

Outside reading

Often, when teachers assign reading for outside of class, it is a certain segment of the textbook, often the one they are about to cover in the next class period. Although this can serve as a previewing strategy, you should consider reading that can provide an overview of what’s going on in class over a period of time.

Every topic in a curriculum can be enriched through reading, and in this modern era it’s easier than ever to find the material. Simply type the topic at hand into Google, click the News button at the top, and you will be greeted with a list of recent news articles that contain your search. Choose one that can give the students some perspective (and is at the appropriate reading level) and share the link on your class website. As they are working at learning the requisite new skills in class, they can see what these skills are used for while outside of class.

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