Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This past week, I've been teaching about appearance and is/has. For example, "He is tall and average weight" or "I have short, curly, brown hair." An activity that worked really well was the following:

I found 6 pictures from magazines, clearly showing only 1 person. I gave each picture a number from 1-6. Then you can get the students(alone or in teams) to make or you can give them a sheet of paper with the numbers 1-6 and ABCD/each number. The A=age. B=weight. C=hairstyle/color. D= whatever question you want.

Then, the students need to walk around the class, looking at the pictures and making a sentence for each number/letter. The first one or two teams that are done filling in their entire sheet, with no mistakes is the winner.

Does this make sense? If not, leave me a comment and I'll explain further!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review: "Smart Choice" by Ken Wilson

For a couple of my classes, I've been using the book "Smart Choice" by Ken Wilson. So far, so good and it's been pretty easy to make my classes interesting and educational. The pages contains a decent amount of material on them, with a good mix of information and practice. The topics are relatively interesting for university students in Korea and there isn't much in the way of irrelevant or annoying stuff. Check it out, although I still like World Link better.

Check out my second review of this book.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Canadian High School=Korean University?

I was eating dinner with a couple of my coworkers tonight and we got on the topic of conversation about how our middle + high school experiences (Can/USA) are very, very similar to the Korean University experience. This is true for the following reasons:

1. Discipline in the classroom is exactly the same. You need to spell out to freshman students that they should bring their books/pencil/notebook everyday to class. And you actually have to kick out students once in a while for being disruptive and trying to have a power showdown with the foreign teacher.

2. For most of them, it's their first opportunity for interaction with the opposite sex since they've been in segregated schools since elementary school. And they're just as shy and nervous and annoying as I was in middle school, girls not wanting to talk to or sit beside boys and such.

3. Almost no one has ever had a part-time job since they've been studying for 20 hours a day, everyday for the past 6 years, so this is their first opportunity for that. Which leads me to my next point....

4. This is their first time not studying so much and so they can experiment with smoking/drinking/staying out late. Most people back home would do this much earlier, but not here.

5. They are still scared of their parents. For example: a student who doesn't study or do homework all semester will come to me at the end of the semester, after I've given them an "F" and beg for an "A" because their father will be really angry and hit them.

And the list could go on! I'm sure you can add a few more for me in the comments section :)

Anyway, once I realized this fact, my life, teaching in a Korean university became much easier. Like I really can't give my students a lot of freedom, because they can't really handle it. And I actually need to kick out students for not bringing books or lock the door after 10 minutes. And I need to give them stamps for motivation that translate into grades because they won't willingly learn English just for the sake of learning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Moving Beyong the Book

A major weakness that I can see in my students is their ability to move beyond the book. They're actually pretty decent for the most part at reproducing what's in front of them, with the typical answers. Examples: "My hobby is playing computer games." "I'm from Korea!" "I have a sister, brother, mother and father."

But anytime they need to move beyond this, it's like pulling teeth to get any sort of interesting, creative or original answer. My solution is to offer points/stamps/grades (whatever you use) for interesting answers, that use a bit of creative power and originality and to praise these highly, while just giving the boring, old answers a blank response basically. No response, either negative or positive. And the students pick up on this and in a couple weeks, they're all striving to move beyond what's right in front of them. Everyone likes positive a teacher, you can control the class using this to your advantage.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Regular classes are in full swing now and I'm down to the grind of teaching daily! Life is actually sometimes difficult for a university teacher. Overtime classes in various programs have just started as well so that's a lot of extra hours to teach. Some of my coworkers have a similar workload to me but aren't as busy. That's because they don't prep, but just open the book a couple minutes before walking into class and browse through it. They wear it kind of like a badge of honor, like they're such a natural teacher or something they don't need to plan. This is even with books they've never taught before.

This just seems weird to me. I prep for my classes, a moderate amount. Like for a one hour class, I'll usually take at least 15 or 20 minutes. My 2 hour classes that I teach 9 times, I spend about over an hour usually. It seems worth the investment to make it a good one, since no one likes teaching a dud class 9 times! There are lots of interesting things to do in the world of ESL/EFL teaching that aren't in the books and need some planning/photocopying/internet searching time.

To me, prep work is just part of being a professional. Like if I choose to make this my career (for the time being at least), then why would I be proud of slacking off while doing it? I don't want to waste my student's time, doing things that aren't helpful or interesting. And opening my book a few minutes before class for the first time definitely increases the chances of this!

What do you think about this?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who is a good teacher?

On Friday night, I had an interesting conversation with a coworker about who the best teachers at our university are. One conclusion we came to is that having an advanced level degree in ESL/TEFL essentially doesn't matter that much with regard to student evaluations. Of course, student evaluations are not the only thing to consider when evaluating a teacher but I think they should be a very big part of it. After all, they're the ones that have to deal with you on a weekly basis! And to be fair neither of us have advanced degrees in ESL, but instead have 4 or 5 year's experience each. And we both have gotten some of the highest evaluations around (among those who share this information!) the previous couple semesters, so this conclusion was pretty easy to reach after a couple beers.

Anyway, I still think this is true, 3 days later for the following reasons:

1. You're either a teacher, or you're not. Of course you can improve your skills with training but if you don't have that intangible quality in the first place, it will be tough going I think. It's a sort of charisma, or just being an attractive kind of person (not talking only about appearance here!) that people want to learn from. Advanced degrees don't seem to matter in this regard.

2. Emotional intelligence. Knowing when to push and when to back off. Having good hygiene! Being good at small-talk and keeping the conversation going. Smiling a lot. Not talking too much. Making sure everyone has their turn. Being aware of class dynamics and who is being left out or ostracized. Not everyone just has this I think and it's hard to learn.

3. Teaching intelligence. Knowing how to make things simple so the students understand. Talking slowly. Grading fairly. Making a syllabus that the students understand. Organization skills (very, very important!). These things seem like they could be taught, but I seriously wonder if this happens in the Masters ESL programs with all their focus on theory. It seems like it could perhaps just complicate these matters.

My thoughts on the matter. Of course, I'm sure many will disagree. Please feel free to leave me some comments :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to get students to do something they don't want to do

This is my secret for you...I'm not sure if I should really be spreading it around the blogosphere. Anyway, if there is something that you want the students to do, that cannot be turned into a game and really isn't that fun but is nevertheless good for them, you should do it at the end of class. Things like short writing assignments or an important grammar concept worksheet. Then, when they are finished, you can check their work and if it's acceptable, they can go home a bit early. I usually warn them beforehand that if the work is not quality, they'll have to do it one more time. This is a good thing to do for the following reasons:

1. Motivation. Who doesn't want to go home or go eat lunch early?

2. It's fair for the better students. If you know English already, why suffer through tedium if you know the stuff already. You can just finish fast and go.

3. It helps the slower students. I can usually sit with them at the end of class and give them some 1-1 attention, which they desperately need.

4. It's a good way for me to check if the students have actually understood the lesson.

One warning. If you have homework or news for the next class, tell them before you assign the little lesson to them. Once everyone starts to check their work with you, it gets chaotic and it's too late to convey any information.

The Silent Teacher

...kind of, but not really. Of course I talk, I just don't talk a lot. After all, I'm pretty good at English and don't really need the practice I think. On the other hand, my students have a lot to improve on and so I try to give them the opportunity to do that.

I'm also silent in regard to how I teach my grammar/vocabulary concepts. I will rarely just put up information on the board for students to digest because I'm convinced that they usually have learned the answers at some point already in middle or high school. I put up a structure or frame and then give some hints until the students can fill in the blanks. For example, today we were talking about verbs forms. This is what my lesson looked like on the board:

we/you/they/I he/she/it


Obviously my students need to fill in the he/she/it column. If they say, "studies," I would spell it, "studys" and then just quickly move on from there and see if they notice. They usually do and so I make a joke about how I sometimes forget and thanks for helping me. It's usually really funny, which I like because I think any laughs you can get while teaching grammar is a good thing.

Another example from today. We were talking about introductions, as in asking someone their name, where they're from, their occupation and hobby, etc. On the board, I had this across the top, spread out evenly:

first/ last name age city/ country interests occupation email address

I got them to give a few examples of each thing and then asked them what is a question they could ask about each one. "What's your name" "How old are you?"

Without fail, all the classes knew the answers already so this just served as a quick review in a way that keeps the students engaged and interested because they have to provide the answers for me.

Try it and see how it works for you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Helpful Tips

A heads up, if you are thinking of coming to Korea or are a newbie looking to make your life a bit easier. Head on over to Jason's Blog, called Kimchi-Icecream and find the entries around March 2, 2009.

He has written a series of articles, covering a wide range of topics such as health, dealing with co-teachers, cultural tips, ESL books, lesson planning, etc. The target group seems to be public school teachers but lots of good stuff for just about anyone I think.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The First Day

...does anyone else besides me sometimes feel as nervous as the students look? In some cases, I'm the first real, live foreigner they've ever been in contact with, believe it or not. And I don't speak Korean, which is a completely new experience for most of the students. And the syllabus, in English probably looks as intimidating to my students as a Korean medical form or credit card application looks to me. So I can sympathize of course with their nervousness.

And I'm not without my own. Walking into a classroom with 20 or 25 pairs of Korean eyes upon you is an intimidating experience in this culture where appearance at times seems like everything. Is my hair in place? My fly open? My nose is running but I can't blow it in front of everyone. And then I say hello and get nervous twitters back in response. So I plunge on, with the spiel of who I am and what we're going to be doing this semester.

By the end, I can tell they are not so scared or in awe of me, but maybe they see that I'm just a chilled out, regular sort of person who happens to not be Korean. And I happen to be their teacher for the next 16 weeks. I wonder at times if my job matters, not so much in terms of people actually learning English (although this is important in a global world!), but in terms of showing a whole generation of Koreans that foreigners are not altogether foreign. That people are people and we are alike in a lot of ways and we can also appreciate our differences without looking down on each other. Kind of like a cultural ambassador for all things Western to this world that is at time stifling it its all things Eastern. Open a few minds to the bigger world and broader possibilities of a life outside Samsung or Kia or even Korea.