Thursday, October 30, 2014

Relative Clauses- Student-Centered Style

Relative clauses are important and we use them all the time in the English language.  Of course Native English speakers just use them naturally and rarely make mistakes and even use reduced relative clauses all the time without even noticing it.  The problem comes when teaching them to students because while important, it's also something that most students aren't really confident in, and it's also very heavy on the grammar and metalanguage (language used to talk about language-"reduced relative clause" for example).

So what to do? 

1. Skip that chapter in the book and save yourself a headache?  No! It actually is important and useful (for intermediate and advanced level students-I'm not sure I'd attempt this with beginners). 

2. Become a Powerpoint warrior?  No!  It goes against everything good and holy student-centered teaching.  It's the least effective teaching method and students usually just end up sleeping.

3. Attempt to teach it in a student-centered way?  Yes!  It seems like the best solution to me.

I made this Relative Clause Self-Study Worksheet in an attempt to get students to "discover" the grammar without me lecturing about it.  I'm going to point out the page in the book with the grammar explanation and direct students to refer to it if they are unsure; all of the students have studied this before so I'm hoping they can activate their prior knowledge.

After doing this worksheet, students will do a page in their book focusing on the forms (very controlled practice).  They'll compare with their partner first and then we'll check answers as a class.

Next, they'll think about 1 person-a friend or family member and write down 5 or 6 sentences about them, using relative clauses (2-3 object clauses and 2-3 subject clauses) (somewhat controlled but less than previous exercise).  They'll share with their partner who will think of some interesting follow-up questions.

Then, it's finally time for free(r)-practice!  I'll put this up on the screen: Friends and Family Relative Clause Discussion Questions and ask students to choose 2 or 3 questions to answer.  They can think of 3 or 4 sentences/ question, one of which must use a relative clause. They'll share their answers with their partner and have a discussion together.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thinking about coming to Korea to Teach English as a Second Language?

Maybe you've found your way to this blog through a Google search about Teaching ESL in South Korea.   On this site, I generally talk almost exclusively about things related to teaching at universities in South Korea, but here are some of my other sites that you might find helpful in making your decision:

Top 5 Reasons to Teach ESL in South Korea

Top 5 Reasons you Shouldn't Teach ESL in South Korea

(who doesn't like a bit of balance?!)

Top 10 ESL Teaching Myths

Monday, October 27, 2014

Advanced level small classes of burnt-out students= Settlers of Catan

These past few weeks, I've had some classes of students who are preparing for internships in the USA who are burnt out.  They've been studying for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for the last 4 months or so and they've had enough.  The classes are getting smaller and smaller as students are going to the USA, having to prepare documents or going to the US embassy for interviews.

These days, it's only 3-5 students and all of them speak English extremely well so I decided it was time to teach them how to play Settlers of Catan.  I love playing board games and so anytime I can do it in class, I will!  Other teachers in this program are showing movies, chit-chatting about random stuff or going out for lunch so I don't exactly feel terrible about the lack of "serious-study."

Anyway, I gave a quick run-down of the rules in about 15 minutes, in English and they understood easily enough, despite the fact that none of them had played the game before.  We got set-up, with a bit of coaching from me about the initial placements and played a couple games.  The students seemed to really enjoy it and I did as well!  They even spoke English basically the entire time without any prompting from me, which I was impressed with.

Give it a try in your classes if you teach small groups of really high-level students.  They're usually so tired of the normal "conversation" classes that they'll probably be happy for a new challenge.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tefltastic: Fabulous ESL Games, Activities, Worksheet and other goodness

I was perusing the Internet this morning, searching for some fun activities or games to use in my classes to review the future verb tenses and I ran across TEFLtastic.  It is indeed quite a fantastic site and I found exactly what I was looking for here:

Future Tenses Games/Worksheets

It's almost like he does what I do, just better.  Check it out!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Small Stuff that Matters: Ditch the Microphone

A small Sunday morning mini-rant.  When I go into classrooms that only have 30 or 40 desks filling up the entire space, there is always a microphone that has been put to obvious use.  Like it's actually sitting on the podium or something like that.  It always makes me wonder why.  Who actually has such a small voice that they can't project it enough for a class of 30 people?  Does anyone actually just stand at the podium and lecture the entire time?  Does anyone actually like holding a microphone for 75 minutes?  Most importantly, do students actually LIKE listening to a voice that is microphone projected, with a low-quality sound system and crappy microphone? 

It's all just so strange to me.  I've never used a microphone, even with classes of 40 or 50.  But, maybe my style is just kind of different.  I INSIST on absolute silence if I'm talking because I refuse to yell over the students.  I quite rarely write down things like answers to questions in the book so students ACTUALLY have to listen to what I'm saying in order to get the information that they need.  I also INSIST that students sit in the first few rows if it is a really large classroom, without a bunch of empty space because I refuse to yell over them.  I also tell them that I will never use a microphone so if their hearing is poor, they really should sit at the front of the classroom.

Anyway, isn't part of the job of "professor" at a university to be at least decent at public speaking?  The microphone/podium warrior just doesn't seem to cut it, in my world.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Get a University Job in South Korea

Maybe you've found your way to this blog because you're looking to break into the university job market in South Korea.  It's actually the topic that I get the most questions about, so I have a feeling that there are lots of you out there. 

Help is here!  I've been writing furiously for these past couple weeks and I have a 15 000 word Ebook about how to get a university job in Korea coming out in the  next week or two that I think you'll find very practical and useful. 

If you want to get it first and/or take advantage of any opening special offers, email me at and I'll send you an email when it's released.  It's quite possible that I'll release a limited number of free copies in exchange for promises of your (hopefully favorable) reviews on Amazon. 

Email: (Don't forget the "L" between the "J" and "Bolen") and put "Ebook" in the subject line.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making your test difficult, the easy way.

I teach the English majors at my university, which means that a lot of them are really good at English.  This is actually no problem, except when it comes to grading because I have to use a curve and there are a limited numbers of "A's" and "B's" available.  So, I have to make my tests quite difficult.  There are various ways to make a test hard, but the easiest way that I've found to do it is this:

Make each question all or nothing.  If my test is worth 15%, I'll have only 15 questions.  But, each question will have between 2 and 5 parts to it.  For example, 5 vocab matching things, or 3 fill in the blank with the correct verb form.  If the student gets even one part wrong, the entire question is wrong and they don't get the point.  I don't give 1/2 points and it truly is all or nothing.

The result is that student's scores are probably 20-30% lower than if I assigned 1/2 points because most students only get 1/4 blanks wrong, or 2/4 matching things incorrect and almost everybody would get at least 1/2 points for every question, instead of just nothing.

Is it fair?  I think so.  Nobody got 100% on my latest midterm exam, but quite a few students got 13/15 or 14/15.  But, they truly had to know their stuff and it was almost impossible to fake your way into this score.  Most students got around 10-11/15, which is what I wanted because that's a "D" or "C" grade, of which I can give an unlimited amount.  And those that are either terrible at English, or just didn't study got scores in the range of 3-5/15, which is actually what they should get.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An A-Z of ELT- Scott Thornbury (Short Book Review)

I bought this book for when I was doing the Delta course and found it invaluable.  There are entries for any and all English as a second language, or English as a foreign language related things.  Some random examples are: connected speech, deductive learning, dogme ELT, pairwork, and reflective teaching. I like this book so much because the entries are short, concise and just give you the basic details you need to know without all the fluff.  It's the perfect entry into a topic before you start digging further because it can give you a framework from which to work.

Plus, it's HIGHLY quotable for any kind of research paper that you're doing.  I can't recommend it enough for any English language teacher.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lunch at Work

This semester, I have breaks between all my classes, which is a bit annoying but nothing can be done about that, so I don't stress.  But, it does mean that I do spend a lot of time at work and on 2 days of the week, I eat both lunch and dinner in the office.  I don't like eating out for all these meals because it's so unhealthy and also expensive.  Check out a post on my other blog about how I deal with this situation.  A well-fueled teacher is a good thing!

Snacks and Meals at Work.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Speaking Tests: what went down

The other day, I talked about the various kinds of speaking tests for English language learners, but I didn't specifically talk about what I did this semester.  Here's what happened in my course for first year students in the English major at my uni:

I gave the students 6 possible topics, which were very general in nature and included things like, "Home and Family" or "Health and Exercise" and they were essentially what we had covered in class during the previous weeks.

The students came to my office in groups of 4, and then I randomly assigned them a partner and a topic.  The first 2 students had to talk about their first topic for a total of 2-3 minutes, and then the other topic for another 2-3 minutes.  Each person in the group had to start off one of the mini-conversations.  I only listened and quite rarely had to intervene (only in the case of someone giving 1-2 word answers and not asking any questions in return). Then the next set of partners had their conversation about their 2 topics.

I graded them on a 5 point scale on 3 things:

1. Grammar/Vocab use (only what we had studied in class).

2. Interesting, detailed answers (sentences +an extra detail or two)

3. Appropriate questions/ability to keep the conversation going.

Overall, this round of tests went very well. I was able to evaluate about 25 students in just under 2 hours. I finished not feeling totally exhausted, like I would have if I had had individual conversations will all those students. 

I think it was a good balance between random and predictable.  It was predictable in that the students had the 6 possible topics before the test, and they knew their 3 potential partners beforehand.  But, it was random in that the topics were randomly assigned, as well as the partner, so although students could prepare to some degree, they couldn't just memorize a dialogue.

One thing I didn't like was that the weaker students who gave one or two word answers and didn't ask a lot of questions made the test quite difficult for their partner, although I definitely took this into account during the grading. But, the students are all English majors so there are actually no truly terrible students in the class and most of them have at least a basic proficiency in English, as is not always the case in classes like mandatory Freshman English.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"English Language Education is a Rudderless Ship"

An interesting editorial from the Chosun Ilbo about the state of English language education in South Korea.  Basically, Ahn Seok-Bae says that while Koreans throw huge sums of money at English education, it's actually largely ineffective.

I couldn't agree more with basically everything he says.  During my years in Korea, I've seen the policies with regard to learning English in public schools change seemingly as often as the seasons change.  Unis are often no better, with people who often haven't set foot in an actual classroom setting policies with regard to language education that are more often that not short-sighted.  There are no easy solutions, but here's my #1 idea:

Public schools need to "clean house" and get rid of the all the Korean English teachers who can't actually communicate in English.  Replace these teachers (often older ones) with teachers who can (often the younger ones) or with QUALIFIED native speaking English teachers.  By qualified, I don't mean the prettiest one with blue eyes and blonde hair.  But, I mean those with Celta Young Learners or Deltas or MA Tesols, or actual teaching certificates from Western countries in things like ESL or English and a few years of experience.  Pay them decently and give them their own classroom, doing away with co-teaching, which is basically a ridiculous farce.

Then, adapt the Korean Sooneung (University entrance exam) to focus on all 4 skills equally: Speaking, writing, reading and listening.  Design the test so that is focuses heavily on real communication, as much as can be done by a test.

Using a textbook like this one at the high-school level would help: