Sunday, October 31, 2010

Late students

Korean university students seem to think that walking into class 30, 50 or even over an hour late (in a 1.5 hour class) is acceptable.  And they want their little attendance mark when they do it, because if they have over a certain numbers of absences, then they automatically get a failing grade according to university policy. 

I hate this.  I loathe lateness.  LOATHE.  It's actually my #1 Pet Peeve, and the first year I taught at a uni in Korea, I felt like I had no control over this situation and so the students took advantage of it.  They would wander in and out of class continually and disrupt any kind of vibe or activity that we had going on.  It was extremely frustrating.

So, I made a new rule.  You need to be sitting in your desk before the class officially starts in order to get your point for the day (a stamp=1% of the final grade).  Then, I lock the door after 10 minutes to prevent any late-comers from even trying to come in.  Because I'm so kind (!), a few more people who are 1-9 minutes late can come in as we're playing the daily warm-up game but they won't get their point for the day.  And to minimize the annoyance even more, the first thing I do every day is play a 5-10 minute warm-up or review game so that a few late students don't interrupt everything or miss vital information that they'll need to further participate in the rest of the class.  They just sit down, and relax until the game is over.

Do you hate something about teaching at a uni in Korea?  There might be a solution to your problem that you can implement because you'll generally have full control over how your run your classes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How students actually learn English...some theories?

At my uni, the students generally switch teachers for the second semester of the mandatory first year that they have to study English.  Except this semester, it was a bit of an exception for me.  3/9 classes are the same students as last semester, where it had only happened to me once in the past years that I've taught here. 

And in those three classes, it seems that they are actually better at English than the other classes that I've taken over from other teachers.  Like, their average scores on homework and tests are higher than the other classes.  I was thinking about why that appeared to be the case and came up with the following theories:

1. I'm just a better teacher than some of my colleagues.  I know this is for sure the case in some instances but I've taken over classes from some excellent teachers so this can't be true 100% of the time.  

2. My students just seem better at English because they understand my rules and instructions and feedback I give them after getting used to them the entire last semester.  The other classes are still figuring stuff out. 

3. The students are less shy.  They know me and I know them so they don't feel scared to speak up in class.  And they know I won't make fun of their mistakes or ridicule them in any way which makes it a safe kind of place to give an answer without fear. 

4. Luck of the draw.  This could definitely be part of it, but actually, one of the classes that's doing really well this semester was one of the weaker ones from before, so perhaps not so much.

Anyway, it is probably a combination of the first three things.  What I do know for sure is that I really like having students for the entire year.  I think it's hard for the teachers when students compare you to the last one they had.  And it's better if you can just start the semester off on the same page, instead of having to go through that whole adjustment period as in any new class where you're figuring out the students and they're figuring out how you run your class.  And I like the idea of building relationships over a year instead of just a few months.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Need some new ideas for class?

As I was cruising the 'net for a few new ideas of my own, I ran across this amazing list of stuff to do with kids.  It's like the equivalent to my own "master list" that I have for teaching adults, for kids.  Lots of it can be adapted for any age group though.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Which recruiter to use?

I'm not really the expert on this, since I've only used one, years and years ago before I came to Korea the first time.  They got me a dud job that ended with me going to the labor board to get the money owed to me.  But that's a long story for another day.  In 2 further jobs, I used contacts to get better stuff than a recruiter could find me.

But, as Chris in South Korea says, recruiters are a necessary evil, and for your first job in Korea, it's realistic to expect that you'll use one.  And actually, you should read his read his entire post for some good advice.

I'd add ESL Planet to his list of ones that are less sketchy than the others.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reader Question...Jobs

This one from Suzie.  She's basically asking if it's possible for someone who is well-qualified (experience and education) to get a uni job in Korea can get one without actually having worked in Korea before, and not living there now.

I've talked about this (sort of) in many previous posts

But to directly answer the question:

Yes, even though the job market is tighter these days, anything is possible, especially if you have a Masters degree in an area related to ESL, English or Education.  If you add in at least a few year's experience, good recommendations, and something like a Celta, then it's even better, and if you are in country for interviews, you'd for sure be able to get a uni job of some sort (as long as you're "normal").  But, most universities in Korea will not hire over the phone (with a few exceptions...but they are not really the unis you'd want to work for perhaps?) so you have to be here for interviews, which can range anywhere from 6 months-1 week before the semester starts (September/March).  If you live in the UK or North America, or anywhere else really, it would seem crazy to just fly here for a job interview, even if you are lucky enough to get some scheduled within a week or two of each other.

Anyway, here are some options:

1. Plan on being in Korea for 2 months before the semester starts.  You can pick up a lot of last minute interviews hopefully.  But these are often not the best jobs.  The top unis are generally more organized and hire early to get the best people.

2. Hope for the phone interviews and look for a better job next year when you're in country.

3. Work a summer/winter camp that will often pay for your plane ticket.  Find one easy on the hours or with a couple flexible days off so you can go to job interviews.

4. Work any connections that you have in Korea to see what they can do for you.  Connections are the best way to get jobs and many of the people at my uni got hired this way (but please don't ask me readers, since I don't recommend anyone I don't personally know).

5. Bite the bullet and do public school for a year.   They hire over the phone.  Some of them are not so terrible in terms of vacation/pay.  Network so you can get a sweet job for next year.

Good luck!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Multi-level classes

One of the negatives of teaching at my university is that students are grouped according to what major they take and not what their level of English is.  This results in classes having one or two students who are semi-fluent (having studied overseas perhaps, or at hagwons for years) mixed in with a few students who struggle to say their name and how old they are.  And the instructors are supposed to make one book fit all.

How to deal with this as a teacher?  It's not easy.  I struggle with it, even in my 4th year of having to work with it.  Essentially, I teach to the middle 80% of the class.  I know that the top 10% of the class will be bored with what I"m teaching.  If the student has studied overseas and is way above the class level, I'll often excuse them from actually attending and just make them do the homework and tests.  And I know that the bottom 10% of the class will not really be able to follow what I'm doing or participate in a meaningful way.  I usually leave these students to do their own thing as long as they don't disrupt the class.

And this also makes testing a challenge.  For the recent midterm exam, I did a speaking test, where I gave the students some sample questions that I would be asking.  I asked some questions straight off the study sheet word for word but changed some questions slightly (for example: What's your plan for after graduation? ---> What's your plan for tonight?  What's your plan for after English class?  What's your plan for winter vacation?)

For the top students, the test is almost edging into the ridiculous.  It really is way too easy.  And for the lower-level students?  Instead of asking some questions that have been changed slightly, I would ask the ones that came straight from the book, or study paper.  That way, if they really did study they would for sure be able to give at least some answer. 

What are your strategies?

Friday, October 22, 2010

University rankings in Korea

Here is an unofficial kind of list.  If you're looking for a job, the higher you go up on this list, the chances are that you'll have more motivated and smarter students. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How much effort does a teacher need to put in?

Paul Nation, in one of his presentations at Kotesol mentioned that the best vocabulary activities do not require a lot of effort from the teacher.  Does increased effort by the teacher result in increased learning or does it just assuage the nagging guilty feelings that you have about being a good teacher?  After all, it's not the teacher who doesn't know the material, it's the students, so shouldn't they be the ones struggling away to learn it?

I'll extrapolate this modicum and apply it in a broad stroke to all teaching that is not content based.  By this, I mean mostly conversational or speech kinds of classes (and writing to some degree as well).  Of course, if you're teaching a Western culture class, then you'd need to do a significant amount of preparation. 

So your classes? Ideally, the students would leave, having used their brains a significant amount.  And hopefully, your voice would be barely strained because you'd only have talked for a few minutes out of every hour.  And in theory, everything you do in class would be simple enough that you'd never have to take more than a couple minutes to explain it.  If this is the case, I think that the students will have learned at least a little bit.  Or, worked on their fluency, practicing using what they already knew.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hoping for the best but assuming the worst.

Check out this guy's blog for a post about how his students make his life much more difficult.  In this case, 2 of them were late for their midterm exam and threw off his whole plan.

As a teacher, of course you have to expect and hope for the best out of your students.  I start the semester off assuming that they want to learn English and that they'll come to class each day ready to participate and learn.  Most of my students do live up to this expectation for the most part but there are always a few who don't.  It's human nature.  There are just those people who don't care for whatever reason, or have some bad stuff happening outside the class, or don't have any friends in the class, or just don't like me, or don't like the style of class that I run. 

But, I'm also a realist.  Which is why I don't run my midterm exam on such a tight schedule that 2 late students will throw off my whole day.  I get all the students to come at the class start time, and then bring them into my office in groups of 4 for their test.  I use the attendance sheet and go from top to bottom.  If someone is not there at the beginning, I'll put them in the last group.  There's always there by that point and their lateness is really no problem.  And the last students actually don't mind waiting because they have an hour or so of extra cramming.  And the first students don't get angry at having to go first because I've done it purely on the order of my attendance paper and haven't played favorites. 

Anyway, it really is possible to design your class (and testing) to take the unknown, variable kind of stuff into account and not have so much stress over something that's not a big deal.

A graded reader listening exercise

I went to a session at the Kotesol National Conference with Paul Nation where he talked about the 10 most effective activities for vocab acquisition.  The list included such things as extensive reading, well-designed book work, intensive reading, and speed reading.

The one thing that most interested me, but that I've never done before is the idea of listening to stories.  The idea is to get a graded reader which is at the student's level and read a bit to them each class.  When the story gets exciting, you end it with a "to be continued."  At the beginning, you can read each sentence 2 times, once slowly, and the second time more quickly.  Write words they may not know on the board.  Towards the end of the book, read each sentence only once and a bit more quickly and it becomes more of a fluency exercise vs. a meaning-focused input one.  He recommended "Of Mice and Men" and "The Phantom of the Opera" in graded reader form.

I plan to do this next semester in all my classes.  Perhaps the last 5 minutes of class or so.  I do like the idea of students reading graded readers on their own, but with 9 classes of 20-25 students this just doesn't seem so feasible (money or logistics wise) for me to carry out, which is why I like the idea of me reading the story to them.  I'll keep you updated with results.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Public schools

I've talked about public schools on this blog here and there, but I don't really know the inside information since I've never worked at one.  However, you can check out this blog for an extremely negative view of things.  The videos are quite illuminating.  While he is a bit extreme with the negative, I've heard similar things from my friends who are doing the public school thing.

Rote Memorization for vocab learning

I went to a couple sessions with Paul Nation, who is generally considered to be the expert on vocabulary acquisition.  I'll probably do another post with some details from him, but the one thing that resonated with me deeply was his emphasis on rote memorization of vocab as an essential part of learning another language.  It's quick, easy and effective.

From my own experience in studying Korean and Greek, I understood intuitively what he was saying.  I've picked up some Korean words simply by being exposed to it to such an extent that it'd be impossible to not remember it.  Hello, here, thank you, it's okay.  I knew the Korean word by sound even before I knew the meaning of it.  But, most of my vocab acquisition in Korea came through flashcards.  And what I know of Greek was exclusively through flashcards.  And it's actually the stuff that I still remember.  The videos I watch or the books I study seem like grains of sand slipping through my fingers.  It's there, somewhere, but not in a place that I can easily access it when I need or want to.  Vocab that I've studied with flashcards is there, right in front of me, and comes to me almost instantly with little recall effort. 

And so I tell my students, especially the ones that actually want to learn English but are quite weak on vocab this but they don't seem that excited by the idea.  For some reason they love to write out the word over and over and make lists with them.  I'm not sure this is so helpful because it's usually not random, which is a much greater challenge for the brain to accomplish.

Anyway, time for me to study!  Where are those flashcards I made?!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evaluation...Alternative Style

At the recent Kotesol conference my biggest frustration was the lack of practical stuff that I could actually use in my classroom.  Academics just seemed to blab on about their research findings in a confusing kind of way that really made no sense to me.  And, I consider myself a well-educated, academic kind of person conversant in stats and scientific method.  So if I didn't get it....well then, you know....  Perhaps the fault is with me for choosing sessions poorly. Or perhaps it was the fault of the organizers for organizing a conference heavy on the academics when most of the people attending were actual classroom practitioners.  Anyway, enough beating on that dead horse.

So, a session from Bita Tangestanifar from Sookmyung Women's University about alternative assessment was like a much needed fresh air.  I'm pretty weary of the traditional speaking/written grammar and vocab test characteristic of the modern world.  And I think these postmodern students might be as well.  I've talked to many of my coworkers about this and their ideas don't really seem any better.  One of them makes students memorize some random great American speech.  Others have students prepare and memorize a conversation.  Others do a presentation in groups of 4 or 5.  None of these struck me as any better than what I'm currently doing for various reasons. 

Bita mentioned three ways that she has done alternative assessment in her classrooms: podcasts (either alone or group), chat and penpals.  The chat and penpal thing would have had significant appeal to me if I didn't teach 9 classes of 25 students.  The logistics of it would just be staggering.  Bita has a good thing going where she only teaches 50 or so students/semester. 

However, the podcast thing seemed like something I could feasibly do in my classes.  Like the students have to do 5, 2 minute podcasts over the semester.  I could grade all these without going crazy.  Or, they could do it in groups to make it even easier for me. 

I need to think further on this whole thing, but at the very least I plan to include the podcast/chat/penpal ideas in my planned portfolio creation as a way of assessment. 

The Post-modern teacher

This post is inspired by Andrew Finch, who gave my favorite presentation of the Kotesol Conference this past weekend.  He talked about postmodernism and how it relates to teaching ESL.  I wish I had a handout, but sadly, they only had 50 for a room of about 500 people.  So, here's hoping the memory still has a wee bit of elasticity left.  Oh wait, maybe I'll use my postmodern skills to think of an alternative way to get the information.  Hmmm....think, think.  Wait!  I don't need to store information in my brain anymore or on paper anymore because I have my old friend Google.  "Postmodern Andrew Finch."  Ah yes, #1.

Basically, he was saying that in this constantly changing world, the actual facts we can give a student will no longer be relevant at some point in the future.  The best thing that we can offer students is to teach them how to teach themselves. 

Students these days are living and thinking and doing life in a postmodern kind of way.  And teachers are caught up in the modern world of tests, textbooks and competition should be replaced by collaboration, English learning through pop culture and assessment using portfolios.  And the most effective learning will be student centered and directed, not the teacher as expert kind of thing.

So how does this translate into my class?  I'm going to introduce the portfolio style of assessment for next year.  I think I'll come up with about 20-30 potential assignments the students could do.  They can choose to do as many as they want but I'll suggest a minimum amount in order to get a "C."  I'll probably assign a significant amount of the final grade to it: say 40 or 50%.  This way, if a student doesn't do it, they'll fail the class.  These assignments could range from making a video in English and putting it on youtube, to writing an introduction of yourself, complete with pictures, to making an English resume.   I'll put these assignments on a class website.  I'll try to meet with each student 2 or 3 times over the semester to track their progress and offer some feedback on what they've done so far.

I'm kind of excited!  This could be really fun for me, and for the students I think.

Kotesol Conference...the good

So the good things:

1. Networking opportunities abounded.  If you were in the market for a uni job, then this would definitely have been the place to be.

2. The venue was ideal.  Sookmyung university is the perfect place to hold a conference, very close to major public transport points and a plethora of food and drink options just outside the main gate. 

3. The students volunteers were great.  They could speak English very well and were quite helpful.

4. Some engaging presentations.  I particularly enjoyed Andrew Finch on Postmodernism, as well as Paul Nation on Vocab Acquisition. I also attended one about alternative assessment by someone who wasn't a luminary but came away with a few helpful ideas.  I'll talk about them in a later post.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kotesol Conference...the bad

So I've just returned home from a busy weekend at the annual Kotesol Conference in Seoul.  I liked a lot of things but I have a few complaints.  I'll start with the complaints first and then end on a positive note, since I'm such an optimistic person :)

1. Registration.  Why should your desk be so hard to find?  The one arrow pointing the way could have led up the stairs, or just straight.  I chose straight and was quite lost.

2. Registration, part 2.  Thank your for having my name-tag in a nice, organized pile since I pre-registered.  Except maybe you should have told me that I needed to go around the corner and  down the stairs to pick up my little package.  Good thing I overheard some other confused guy asking what to do. In fact,  it's almost like you could have given me my nametag AND my package at the same time.

3. Speakers.  Hit and miss most definitely.  The conference seemed pretty heavy on people just presenting findings from their research.  Since I'm all about practical, apply it to the classroom kind of thing, I felt extremely frustrated.  And I even asked a couple of questions along this line, and got: "Oh, I don't really know off the top of my head."  So, if someone does all this research about the most effective ways to to teach ESL and can't give me a couple of activities for the classroom, do they really even know what they're talking about?  A total waste of my time.

4. Speakers, part 2.  Why do so many of you have such poor time management skills?  Are you really teachers?  I find this quite hard to believe.  And do you really think reading off a powerpoint is a good way to do a presentation?   And do you think having at least a simple hand-out with your presentation outline or business card with your name and title and email would be a good thing?  No, you don't it seems. 

Anyway, some were so bad that I felt inspired to present at next year's conference.  Seriously.  I'm no star presenter but I'm sure I could a better job than them.  I have an idea about student motivation and reward systems that I'm working on now.

5. Scheduling.  At some points, there were only 3 concurrent sessions.  This is fine.  Except there were over 1000 participants at the event.  Now, basic math would tell me that I should have 3 classrooms with enough seating for at least 333 people in each one.  Perhaps even rooms for 400 or so because you never know what will be popular.  Perhaps you were as baffled as I was to find classrooms with only about 100 seats.  Strange.  And do you really think 50 handouts will be sufficient for all these people?  We could share with our 6 closest seat-mates?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


In a recent blog post, I mentioned how frustrating it can be to teach highly unmotivated uni students here in Korea.  And that this is one thing that would make me consider leaving this otherwise sweet job for another country or career.  But, in class this week I'm preparing the students for their midterm exams and another frustration that I have came to forefront: the lack of academic standards.

When you compare Korean uni to those in Western countries, it's actually kind of a joke.  Classes here are ridiculously easy and students actually get 20% of their final grade just based on "attendance."  Plagiarism is rampant.  Seniors with jobs are excused from their last year of classes.  Graduation is expected as long as tuition is paid. 

In my class, I make it outrageously easy.  No homework, 2 tests, 2 homework assignments and a little group project over a 17 week semester.  And yet, many of the students don't even bother to do the homework assignments (that would take them about 5 minutes). 

And for the exams, I actually give them the questions beforehand.  The EXACT questions I'm going to ask them for the speaking test.  And I do little examples in class about what I expect.  And yet, some students actually come to the exam, and when I ask a question that is right off the study sheet that I gave them, act surprised, like they've never heard or seen it before.  And then they give some crazy answer that doesn't make any sense.  So I give them an "F."  And they will come to my office the next week and say their mom and dad are angry at them and they want to get an "A."  And sometimes, I have to hold onto my desk just to prevent myself from falling off my chair in disbelief.

Anyway, I read all these books, listen to podcasts, and cruise internet sites about teaching ESL and see all these cool ideas that I'd want to do in my class but I've given up trying them for the most part because the most of the students just won't do it, if it requires more than the minimum effort.  And if you make your classes too hard, and with too much homework the students will give you bad evaluations and you might not get your contract renewed for the next year. 

So, what I'm saying is this: if academic standards were higher at unis in Korea, my life would be much happier.  Like, if the bad students were weeded out in the first month, or semester of their studies, my job would be so much easier.  And, if the Korean teachers made their classes much harder, then, I could expect much more of the students and still get my contract renewed.  But, I don't have so much faith in Korean unis changing anytime in the near-term, so perhaps Korea is no longer the place for me.  It's starting to get to me. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reader Question: Student Motivation

This one from Maisha: 

"My question is, are the students motivated at all at University level?  I deal with middle schoolers who are burnt out on school, so I wonder if the students are more burnt out by college or if they suddenly become interested critical thinking proactive learners!"

I can only speak from my experience at my uni, which is a middle of the road kind of one.  There are unis that are a lot lower in terms of academic standards and admission criteria so they probably have much less motivated students.  There are also the top unis (like SKY) that have the best students in Korea, so I'm sure you'd find very motivated students there.  

The students that I teach are for the most part, unmotivated unless they have some sort of reason for studying English.  For example, nursing students want to go to North America to get jobs so they are excellent students to teach.  And fashion students want to keep up with the fashion industry outside of Korea so realize the value of my class for them.  Same with fashion and robotics students.  Some of the sports students want to go pro and know they need to speak English if they have any hope of making it outside of Korea.  And there are some students who are quite ambitious and want to work at one of the big Chaebols (Samsung, Kia, Hyundai, etc) or a global company and realize that they NEED to know English in order to get these jobs so they are quite motivated as well.

However, the vast majority of my students just want to get an average job in Korea at an average kind of company so don't really care.  And they never want to leave Korea.  And if they do, they'll probably go on some package vacation tour with a Korean tour guide.  And they are not that interested in foreign culture or having foreign friends.  So, motivation is quite low, understandably so.  

Most first year students at uni in Korea are completely burnt out from their 3 year nightmare of studying for the big high school test.  And all the boys, after their first year will have to deal with the 2 year nightmare that is army conscription so they view their first year of uni as kind of a break time.  Critical thinking is in short supply and expectations are low.  It's quite frustrating as a teacher and as the years pass is actually the only thing that would make me want to leave my job for another country or another industry altogether.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reader Question: the Master List

I've been talking about my "master list" of games and activities that I consult when prepping for my classes.  Danielle asks if I'd be willing to share the list.  And yes, I would but it wouldn't make much sense to anyone but me.  Most of the things on it are just 3 or 4 words and offer no explanation as to how to actually play the game or do the activity.  It'd be much more beneficial to use the label I've listed in the sidebar "game."   There are 36 entries listed and some of them talk about games in a general kind of way but most of them are specific things that I do in class.   Some more good stuff is to be found under "warm-up."


Yesterday, I talked about some mistakes that A Geek in Korea made in class.  He responded to my criticism today on his blog.
 This is what I said:
When I do prep for a class, I’ll generally plan enough activities and games to fill the entire time.  And then, I’ll include one more optional one.  This way, I’ll always have enough to use the entire time and not have to make up stuff on the spot.  And, I have a roster of about 30 games and activities that I’ll cycle through in a semester.  This is enough that I never have to do the same thing twice, but it’s small enough that I understand thoroughly how to do/play all of them.  I suggest that you make your own master list.  Occasionally, I will incorporate news games into the list, but I’ll work through all the possible questions that students might have first to make sure I am the expert in how to play.
And this was his response:

(30 games! No way. I just don’t teach this way. Never have, never will. I have activities and different worksheets I make, and I have lots of things we do, but I never play that many games with any batch of students at any time of the year. Even when I taught children, I never played 30 different games, even when I had dozens of classes! How to you keep people interested in a lesson when they just play games all day? How do you have so many games connected to conversation topics that are in books required for the courses? That’s amazing! I do not play games in most of my freshman classes, but I will supervise activities and help them with their language to improve.)

And a few points from me in response to this:

1. Please note that I said games AND activities.  Some of my activities include things like survey your classmates, fill in the blanks on a worksheet by talking with your partner who has the corresponding information, or make a conversation and present it to the class. 

2. You'd be surprised as to how easy it is to make games connected to whatever grammar point or topic that you're studying.   Most (all!) of the things on my master list are just generic type games that I can adapt to whatever we're studying.  And yes, it would be totally boring and irrelevant if the game was not related to what we studying that day.  But, I NEVER do that, unless it's just a little 5 minute warm-up game once in a while.  Anyway, I challenge anyone to give me a topic or grammar point and I'm sure I can come up with at least a couple interesting, relevant games in a few minutes for you :) 

3. How do I keep people interested by just playing games?  In my 1.5 hour class, I'll usually do 2 games/activities where some people get a reward of some sort (in my class, a stamp worth 1% of their final grade).  One warm-up game, and then one game or activity to reinforce what we studied that day.  This seems to be an optimal amount.  I do other stuff too, including writing practice, partner conversation, grammar work in the book, etc.

4. And, it seems like A Geek in Korea has this idea that game cannot equal learning.  I totally disagree.  I think that sometimes the best learning happens when people forget that they're actually learning English and are focused on the game in question.  It's like a different area of the brain gets accessed, besides that area that is just focused on language.  The same thing happens when teaching content, in a  second language context.  It's like the students forget they're actually learning English too, because they're so focused on the content.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to come up with games?

This is a question that I get from some of my colleagues.  They hear my class, through the wall and wonder what I'm doing that sounds so fun.  The fun is usually some type of game, involving an element of skill but also random luck.  And they want to know where I found the idea. 

The truth is that I love games!  Ever since I was a little kid, my family has played board, word, and card games for hours.  My sister and I still play games endlessly, whenever we're together.  Many of my games, I've adapted from my old favorites.  For example:

1. One of my favorite get to know new people games is: Two truths and a lie.  Students write down on a piece of paper 2 true things about themselves, and one lie.  Example: I've been bungee jumping 2 times.  I have a twin sister.   Then, the student reads their 3 sentences and the other students have a few minutes to question them, to try to uncover which is a lie.  The rest of the students choose which one is a lie, and if they're correct in their guess, they get one point. 

2. A favorite party game is: guess the job/animal, etc.  I adapt this to whatever unit we're studying.  If we're studying about jobs, I'll write down lots of them on pieces of paper.  Then, you tape one to each student's back, so they don't know what job they are.  They have to walk around the class asking their friends questions until they can uncover what they are. 

3. I love board games.  So, I'll often make one up, Snakes and Ladders style to fit whatever we're studying.  If we're doing the simple past, I'll make a question for each square that the students have to answer if they land on that square.  If they're incorrect, as judged by their classmates, they have to go back to the previous square.  And to introduce some random luck, I'll put lots of go back 6, or trade with the person on your right, or go ahead 4 squares. 

4. I liked 20 questions a lot when I was a kid.  And it can actually fit with a lot of things that you're studying.  Animals, famous people, or countries for example.  I sometimes adapt it to 10 questions if I choose the category for them already.

5. And do you remember x/o?  You can play the simple tic/tac/toe variety, but I used to play the big board version when I was a kid.  I do this in class sometimes and Korean students love it.  It works best for review.  They have to answer a question and if they are correct, they get to pick a square.  Usually the first team to get one point is the winner.  

Anyway, for your own ideas?  Think about games you played as a kid.  I'm sure you can adapt them to fit your class and have a happy, fun English learning environment!


Minor mistakes add up

and often can equal a bad class.  Check out A Geek in Korea's account.

His first mistake was staying up too late the night before a long day.  In my opinion, I think this is actually the most important factor for a class going well or disaster.  Being well rested, awake, and alert before you set foot in the class is so important.  For me, this means going to bed at around 10:00 every night.  Then, even though my first class is at 10:30 and it's only a 3 minute walk from my house, I wake up at 7:00 everyday.  This gives me time for last minute prep, reviewing what I'm teaching that day so it's fresh in my head, and paperwork in my office.  Also, I have time to eat breakfast and cruise the internet and update my blog, all of which help me ease into the day and be alert for class.  If I go to bed any later, or wake up any later, I feel a bit stressed, which leads to stressful classes.  And of course, sleepy students need a happy, awake teacher to help them wake up.  A sleepy (or hungover!) teacher is just unprofessional I think.

His second mistake was playing a game where he didn't know all the rules!  This has happened to me before and it's been a nightmare.  Students were frustrated and I was embarrassed. So how to prevent this?  NEVER make up games on the spot.  NEVER!  This has been the source of my bad games.  You can avoid this situation in the first place by doing prep, and lots of it! 

When I do prep for a class, I'll generally plan enough activities and games to fill the entire time.  And then, I'll include one more optional one.  This way, I'll always have enough to use the entire time and not have to make up stuff on the spot.  And, I have a roster of about 30 games and activities that I'll cycle through in a semester.  This is enough that I never have to do the same thing twice, but it's small enough that I understand thoroughly how to do/play all of them.  I suggest that you make your own master list.  Occasionally, I will incorporate news games into the list, but I'll work through all the possible questions that students might have first to make sure I am the expert in how to play.

And finally, his third mistake, which he doesn't point out himself but that I've extrapolated: he talks way too much in class.  I wonder how he is able to not give the students chances to speak.  Maybe he's teaching something other than conversation classes, I'm not sure.  But, if he is teaching conversation classes, then I wonder how it is possible to wear your voice out.  In each 1.5 hour, I talk for about 10 minutes total.  The rest of the time, I'm talking individually with groups, or supervising a game or activity that the students are doing.  People learn language when they are actively using it.  They don't learn it passively by just listening to someone talk about it.  I try to remember this as I plan my class. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Japan vs. Korea vs. How to actually teach English

Chris in South Korea's look at an article from the Japanese Times.

The best quote from the article in the Times:

"The point is, JET (the government run program that recruits foreigners for public schools) cannot fix — in fact, was never entrusted with fixing — Japan's fundamental mindset toward language study: the dysfunctional dynamic that forces people to hate learning a language, then exonerates them by saying nobody can learn it anyway."

My thoughts?  Sure sounds a lot like Korea.  There is most definitely a dysfunctional dynamic here towards learning English.  It's all about grammar and textbooks and vocabulary with no thought or care taken to make sure students can use  grammar and vocab to actually communicate with someone, or understand an English TV show, or read a newspaper, or search an English site on the internet.  And because there is no real communication happening, it's boring and irrelevant.  Students pick up on the irrelevancy and start to hate English.  And they get scared of it.  And have a million excuses as to why they don't need to learn it, when in a globalized world, there is really no excuse at all for someone who wants to be anything more than a store clerk, taxi driver or garbage man to not know English.

Like Japan, something needs to change in Korea.  And it needs to come with a nation-wide overhaul of the public school English education system.  Scapegoating the foreigners is getting kind of old.