Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keeping students on their toes (or edges of their seat I guess?)

Now, in some countries I hear these outlandish rumors of students actually wanting to talk in class.  Like students fight with each other for the most talking time and there is a rush of hands in response to any question that you might pose. 

Here in Korea, I seem to have the opposite problem.  Even in high-level classes a simple question will usually elicit either dead silence, or a kind of awkward pause before any answer.  It's like the students are all computing the complicated formulas of Confucian Culture as to who should answer first and that if this person doesn't volunteer, can they give an answer that could not bring shame to any of their classmates.  It makes me a bit weary and back in the old days, it even used to make me question whether teaching was for me.  Except now, I have more confidence and don't worry so much about it. 

But, how do I run my conversation classes when no one wants to talk with me?  Well, if less than about 10 students, I will personally ask every student in the class for an answer of some sort.  Sometimes, depending on the questions, I'll spread it out, so that each student can give one answer /3 or 4 of the things that we're talking about that day.  I'll pick the best students first, so they can be a model of some sort for the weaker ones.

In bigger classes, I put the students in pairs.  They do almost everything in class with this partner, and at times, I'll combine the pairs to make groups of 4.  For each thing that requires an answer, I'll ask for one person in the pair to give me an answer.  They can choose who it is.  This way, the truly terrible student who really doesn't speak English can hide behind their friend and avoid embarrassment.  And usually between the 2 people, they can come up with an answer of some sort.  And I don't make it random, I go in a circle, around the class by seating arrangement.  So literally, every group will have to answer the same amount of questions.  But, they will always have to be ready because they never know which area of the class I'll start in.  And whenever the students do something in a group of 4 that requires giving some feedback in front of the class, I'll  them choose their own spokesperson for the group.

Occasionally, I'll ask for 2 or 3 volunteers to answer a question to reward/give practice to the students who actually want to speak English.

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