The Homework Chair: Practical Furniture for Managing University Classes

Ron Grove, Mejiro University


  • Key Words: Classroom Management, Attendance Policies
  • Learner English Level: All
  • Learner Maturity Level: Elementary School and above (intended for university classes)
  • Preparation Time: Explanation (once, a few minutes); Every class (arriving a minute early)
  • Activity Time: Apart from the first explanation, practically none; Saves time not taken with roll calls

Instructors at Japanese universities face daunting challenges in classroom management, an "often neglected area of language teaching" (Tomei, 1996, p. 19). Some of the issues are:

  • relatively large classes;
  • infrequent class meetings;
  • teacher responsibility for hundreds of students;
  • student enrollment in fifteen or more different classes;
  • the assumption that students don't have to do or learn much; and
  • widespread tardiness.

These problems are of systemic or even broader cultural origins, so they won't be "solved" any time soon. However, teachers can cope with them and communicate reasonable expectations to students. I have developed a practice in large, required classes that simplifies attendance-taking, discourages lateness, encourages homework, and does not confuse even the densest students for very long: the homework chair.

  1. I consider it my job to get to class early. I put a chair under a door-side corner of the board. On the board above the chair, I write "homework (or your name)" with a large arrow pointing to the chair.
  2. When students enter the room, they put their homework on the chair. If they haven't done any, they put something with their name on it on the chair instead.
  3. After the chime marks the beginning of class, I pick up everything on the chair. Those whose names appear in that pile are "on time" for class.
  4. After fifteen minutes, I pick up anything that has appeared on the chair since class began. I keep this pile, representing those "a little late" for class, separate from the first pile.
  5. Subsequent arrivals are handled similarly, but as "very late" for class. There are consequences for lateness and absence in final grading based on a point system: more points for being on time, fewer and fewer for being later and later, none for being absent. See Grove (1998) for a more complete description.
  6. I usually have a chance to mark the attendance on the class roll during the class. (At least, I always return any ID cards or driver's licenses that may have been turned in.) If not, I keep the three piles separate and record the attendance when I look at the homework later.

Nearly all students grasp this procedure very quickly, although a few may need personal invitations by the teacher and/or explanations by peers. Two potential disadvantages, the ease of presenting homework or a scribbled name either in person or vicariously and not actually attending the class, as well as the lack of name/face association and minimal eye contact involved in calling the roll, can easily be compensated for. I check the number of names submitted against a nose-count of the class. Discrepancies are easy to resolve, and I make a note on absentees' homework indicating I know they were absent, despite the presence of their homework. No one has ever pretended to be present in this way more than once. Other cross-checks include handing back last week's homework, absentees' work remaining in hand at the end, and collecting occasional quizzes or other classwork from those actually present. Handing back homework and quizzes also provides face-to-face interaction with those whose names are called.

I find the homework chair helpful in several ways. It really does encourage students to do homework -- the beginning of every class is a reminder. Those who have their homework simply drop it off while others have to write their names on something or fish around in wallets for ID cards to turn in before class begins. Instituting it seemed to reduce tardiness greatly, since it provided a way to monitor it accurately without increasing the disruption late arrivals sometimes cause in class.


  • Grove, R. (1998). Getting the point(s): An adaptable evaluation system. In J. D. Brown (Ed.), New ways of classroom assessment (pp. 236-239) (New Ways in TESOL Series II: Innovative Classroom Techniques). Alexandria: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
  • Tomei, J. (1996). Classroom management in the Japanese classroom. The Language Teacher, 20(6), 19-21.