We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Busy Work?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Busy work is work which will keep someone occupied without being constructive or productive. This concept often pops up in educational institutions, especially in schools with younger students which are difficult to control. It can also be applied to the workplace. While it does keep people busy, many people frown upon because it can be boring and the lack of constructiveness can cause students or employees to get frustrated.

In schools, busy work may be used by a substitute teacher or by a regular teacher who wants his or her students to stay busy so that they do not get into trouble. Examples of busywork include projects with no clear purpose, word searches which do not actually teach or reinforce vocabulary, and similar occupations. Teachers may also use truly educational projects like teaching sign language, imparting first aid skills, or singing to keep their students busy, but these things don't really count as “busy work,” since the students clearly benefit from them.

In the field of teaching, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to keep students focused, especially younger students. Many teachers stress, however, that projects and classroom activities in their classes will never be busy work or “work for work's sake,” encouraging their students to engage in their projects and assignments. Some substitutes also try to embody this ethic, although it can be challenging when you are bounced into a classroom with students whom you don't know.

In the workplace, many employees find themselves working on busywork, especially in offices with very rigid hours. Some employees actually invent their own busy work so that they appear focused and occupied to their bosses, while some bosses will assign busywork or other fruitless tasks to employees because they don't know what else to do with them. This is common in an office with a fluctuating workload, where employees will sometimes have a lot to do, but are not really needed at other times.

The concept of busy work dates back to around the mid-1800s in the United States, an era when the Industrial Revolution was starting to take hold. While it is certainly true that people probably came up with mundane tasks to occupy themselves before the Industrial Revolution, the advent of mechanized replacements for workers probably increased the amount of busy work in the industrializing world. This issue can sometimes be averted by restructuring hours in the workplace to ensure that all employees are productively used when they show up for work.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BrickBack — On Apr 09, 2011

@Subway11 - I agree with what you said, but I hate when they give busy work for substitute teachers to give to the class. They should really have a lesson plan laid out that the substitute should follow so that the children keep learning.

I don’t have a problem with word searches or crossword puzzles as long as they are related to vocabulary or spelling words studied and they usually are.

I think that the substitute should have a more structured program so that the students don’t have time to misbehave and test their limits with the substitute. I rather see a substitute offer an art assignment that allows the children to be creative than a connect the dot page or a coloring page.

I also think that playing educational board games can also work. There so many things that a substitute can do in a classroom that there is no excuse for busy work. I think that if a teacher offers busy work then they don’t really want to teach the children.

By subway11 — On Apr 08, 2011

@Icecream17 - I agree with you. I think that first you have to understand the homework and if it really does not make sense then you should have the child do the homework anyway out of respect for the teacher and then have a conference with the teacher to discuss the assignment.

There might be another reason that the assignment was given. I rather see homework offered then no homework because they should be trying to reinforce some skills at home. I know that some parents complain of too much homework, but they should comply with the school because aside from reinforcing skills taught at school the homework is developing character in the children.

They will also develop more confidence because those children that work hard will see the positive results in their grades and will soon be addicted to working hard. So I wouldn’t knock the homework one bit.

By icecream17 — On Apr 07, 2011

I think that parents sometimes complain that their kids are receiving too much homework and some of it is really busy work for the students. I always look at my children’s homework and have yet to see work that is unrelated to their course of study.

Their homework is a reinforcement of the concepts taught in class as it should be. I think that parents that don’t feel that the homework is appropriate should do some of the homework to see if it does reinforce the lesson.

I did this recently when my daughter started a supplemental reading program afterschool. At first I looked at the work and could not make the connection with what she should be learning but the minute that I did the work on my own it clicked.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.