Monday, December 28, 2009

The first day of class

I kind of loathe the first day of class stuff. Like the awkward nervous silence when you try to make light conversation but everyone just kind of stares and doesn't quite know how to react. Little icebreaker games and stuff are okay but so far, I haven't really found any that I actually like. For example, today I wrote up a few answers on the board, and got the students to guess the questions. They kind of liked it, I guess but still not great. Then, I got the student to do the same and the class went around and guessed stuff. No one was really inspired to actually say anything interesting, which was kind of annoying.

Anyway, what's your secret plan for fun, interesting first day introductions? Help me! Please. I still haven't figured it out after 5 years :(

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Anti-English Spectrum in Korea

An interesting Podcast from CBC's "The Current" about xenophobia against English teachers in Korea. It's pretty well done. They seem to have done their research and talked to people who are in the know.

My thoughts: I'm happy that this is getting to the outside world. I hope South Koreans are embarrassed and put pressure on the government/Naver to shut this group down.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buying and Selling Lesson Plans

An interesting Podcast from CBC Radio's "The Current" entitled "Teachers Selling Lessons."

The controversy is that some public school teachers (the regular kind...not ESL) are putting their lessons online and selling them. The teachers that sell stuff defend themselves by saying that they're underpaid and put a lot of their own money into stuff for the classroom. And that they'd share, for free with the other teachers in their school or friends or whatever. And that they put a lot of work into it, so why should they give it away for free. Those that buy defend themselves by saying that it takes a LOT of work to make up good lessons plans and that they obviously don't just copy wholesale but still put a lot of their own ideas and thought into the lessons they take from the internet.

The critics say that this will hurt education. Hamper creativity on the part of teachers and in essence seem to just think the teachers are lazy and don't care about the kids.

My view: have the critics ever been inside a classroom, on the teaching end of it? Do they not realize how much work it actually is to prepare a lesson, especially for kids? And...if I put all this work into creating an amazing lesson, isn't my time worth something, or should I just give it away to total strangers? And, why wouldn't I use someone's worksheet for the exact same lesson that I'm doing. They make it, or I do. It doesn't really matter. And just because I use another person's stuff, I obviously put my own thought into adapting it for my audience.

What do you think? Buying and selling materials is all good? Or, veering into the realm of sketchy?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Speaking Evaluation

I used to finish the speaking test portion of exams exhausted. I have around 200 students, so me personally, having a conversation with every one of them was too much for this introvert. The good students were fine and kind of fun but the bad ones used to wear me down. Like the one who didn't open their book until 2 minutes before the test and didn't know a single thing of what we'd studied that semester. But, then I felt like I had to try to help them and make them understand, or make it easier for them so they weren't embarrassed.

Now, I've revised my system (thanks to Jinks for his genius!) to make it more difficult for the students and easier for me. I give them a list of possible test questions (probably 12-20). They need to study all of them. Then, I take them to my office in random groups of 6 and from there I'll pick 2 random people and they have to ask each 4 questions each, but they can't ask the same question that was asked of them. They get 1 point for each correct question they formulate. Then, the answers I grade on a scale of 0-4 for a total of 20 points on the test. This would work well with 3 questions too, for a total of 15 points.

It's better for the students because they get practice asking questions, which they rarely have to do in conversational English classes. Plus, the 4 points I give them for it are just like freebies for the people who study.

It's better for me because I just observe. I keep things moving along and jump in if someone doesn't state a correct question but besides that I don't do much. It's also easier to grade fairly if I don't have to interact but can just focus on observing. The students who don't study are forced to say, "I don't know" and then we move on from there and that's that. There's no stress on my end to try and help them, exhausting me in the process.

And...I can do a class of 20 in under an hour.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do you like shooting Yourself in the foot Korea?

So there is a well-known group in Korea, called the anti-English spectrum which does such honorable things as making up complete lies in the form of crazy stats about how many foreigners in Korea have aids and are take drugs, stalking random foreigners, and sending death threats to the president of ATEK. More on the whole thing from Brian. Quite a nice friendly group of people, it seems. Despite numerous complaints from human rights organizations and the like, to both the government and Naver, who hosts the site, no action is being taken against this outright racist ( almost to the level of Klu-Klux-Klan-ish) and xenophobic group.

Anyway, their activities seem to have made news back in my motherland, Canada, in the well-respected National Post.

Now, all I have to say about this whole fiasco is well done Korea. Do you want to have a worse reputation overseas than you already do? Yes, it seems you do. Do you want the foreigners who get screwed over at hagwons to tell their friends back home all the shit they had to put up with in Korea and now the people they tell back home will have a newspaper article to put to the stories they hear? Yes, it seems you want that to. Do you want to prevent any quality teachers coming from overseas to teach a language, that despite all the money you throw at it, seems to be beyond your grasp. Yes, it seems that you do want the bottom of the barrel since a just qualified Masters in TESOL/TEFL/English grad, when reading that article is probably going to look elsewhere. Anti-English spectrum:you want quality teachers...except your blatantly racist hate campaign may actually prevent them from coming here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Native Speakers of English in Korea

There seems to be a lot of animosity from certain groups of Koreans towards the foreign English teachers. Sometimes, it has some merit. Like there really are a lot of dumb-asses who perhaps drink too much or (very RARELY) touch a child inappropriately. I would argue that these things happen a lot more frequently among the Korean population though. This is the only country that I've ever been to (and I've been to about 20) that you see businessman passed out on the street corner on a weeknight. AND it's socially acceptable. And the only place that I've ever heard of, where a teacher gets caught for molestation and they get a "strong verbal warning" and go back to class.

Anyway, the latest news in the native speaker world in Korea. Some talk of mandatory cultural indoctrination to hopefully combat this dumb-assery I guess. See Brian's article for the latest. My $0.02 is that it will be useless. Dumb-asses are dumb-asses and a week long training session about kimchi and hanbok is not going to help them. As Brian points out, the solution would seem to be not hiring them in the first place. I thought the stricter visa regulations and hassles from a couple years ago would weed them out but apparently not. A pulse still seems to be the requirement. Anyway, for the sake of Korea I sincerely hope that the ESL industry will grow up and get a bit of professionalism. It'd be good for everyone...Koreans and foreigners who are serious about teaching.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A reward for top students

In each class, there are 1 or 2 students that I excuse from the final exam and give an A+. I base it on the following criteria:

1. Grades (must be in the top 3 in the class).
2. Attendance (must be perfect).
3. Homework (must have done all of it).
4. Attitude (must be cooperative and enthusiastic in class).

I don't tell my classes of this possibility during the semester, they only find out on the last day of class when I tell the one or two students. I do this as a way to reward the students who are just good students without any obvious motivation. And it's also easier on me, as I have about 15 less students that I need to administer tests to and these students would get an A+ anyway. Works for me, works for them!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Review Game

For this one, make up a chart on your computer, maybe 5x4 or 5x5. Fill each square with a test question (I just take the ones straight off the test, since my students need all the help they can get!). Then, print out enough copies for one/every 4 or 5 students in you class. Cut them up, keeping them with the rest of their paper.

For the game. The students go in group in 4. They spread out the papers, face down on the desk. The first students picks one, and attempts to answer it. If the other students approve of their answer, they keep the paper, which equals one point. If they can't answer it, it goes back down on the table in the same spot. The next students goes. Easy? And of course point out: no fighting! Ask the teacher if you disagree.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Social Interactions

My uni, thankfully is not heavy on the mandatory-ish social activities. It usually works out to a beginning dinner every semester, possibly one meeting or workshop and then an end of the semester type thing, either a Thanksgiving dinner or a party of some sort. Some unis have weekly or bi-weekly meetings. I'm not really sure how much there would be to talk about. It's perhaps one of those things you could check on before agreeing to work at a place.

Anyway, my theory about interacting with the powers that be (this could apply to almost any job in Korea I think):

1. Go to all social events with your bosses, if at all possible and it won't burn you out. Even the fun, optional parties. Have a drink or two and enjoy yourself. And the workshops. This will definitely put you in the good books. However, there are limits to the amount I would do. My uni doesn't even approach them, so I'm cool with going to almost everything.

2. Avoid any negative interaction. ANY. NEVER complain to your bosses, international coordinator or English assistants. Have only positive contact. Such as volunteering to teach (paid) classes or camps. Offering helpful feedback when requested. Getting your syllabus and grades in on time. Do not bother these people with trifling things like a dispute with a coworker, a missing printer in your office, or a student who is not happy about a grade. Get some self-initiative. ONLY POSITIVE!

3. Make a good reputation for yourself among the students. At my school, we change classes each semester. I always ask who they had for their last teacher. In some cases, they don't even know their teacher's name, which says a lot I think. I usually ask if they liked their teacher. About the good teachers, the students will say, "He's so funny and cute!" or "Class was very fun." About the bad ones, "He's fat and smells bad!" or "Very boring." So what I'm saying is that there are teachers who are popular and fun and well-liked and those that are not. Be one of the well-liked ones because this reflects itself in student evaluations, which the powers that be see. And the word on the street about you gets back to them, I'm almost certain.

And about coworkers:

1. Try to minimize the coworker bitch sessions. This will only give you a negative attitude about a job that is actually pretty amazing. I've found that when I used to hang around certain people I work with, I'd start thinking my job is actually not that good. However, this is most definitely not the case and by not spending time with these people, it's much easier to be thankful and happy about my situation here.

2.This applies to the Korea haters as well. Stay away!

So these are my secrets for great happiness and success in Korea.

An easy game

...for the students and you. I use it quite often when doing review. I'll make up a number of sets of cards.

For example, some I used in class today:
I feel sad when...
When I'm angry....
Who's your favorite actor?
What was the last movie you saw?

...I fail a test
....I hit something
Brad Pitt is some handsome! He's my favorite movie star.
I watched Harry Potter last week.

I make a number or these matching pairs, and write them up on a chart on my computer. Then, I cut them all out. I'll put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and they'll spread the papers out, on their desk facedown. And then it's just a memory game, with the first student picking 2 papers, seeing if they match and going from there. Simple, but fun. And it can work with any level, even with those that can barely read.

Public School in Korea...

....everyone involved with it seems to know that there are issues and plenty of them. Sure, the system gets results, particularly in math and science but at the expense of stifling any iota of original or creative or critical thinking. And other issues, that are not so academic abound as well. The sexual abuse that goes on, with slaps on the wrist. Corruption. Violence, by teachers.

Anyway, a step in the right direction from the Korean government. Here's hoping the new laws stick.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


So, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it but I'm not fluent in Korean, after living here over 4 years. My excuse is that I've always worked, getting paid to speak English all day and never been a student here. The real deal is that I'm just kind of lazy and have lots of other stuff on the go (scuba diving/community organizing/blogging/studying other stuff). I definitely have a very solid grasp of the survival stuff however, and even veer into high beginner-ish, if pressed and there is no other option but me speaking Korean. I do get a lot of compliments from Koreans, on my Korean, whatever that says?! Expectations here are low.

Anyway, I was sitting in the taxi today and the driver had his old-style Korean music turned up. And I understood all the words. Without even trying. It freaked me out. So what I'm saying is this: to learn a language, it certainly helps to live in a place where everyone speaks that language all the time. Even if you're lazy, you can't help but learn things without even really trying. And you have motivation to learn stuff, or you'll just be in a fog of not understanding what's going on, all the time which is no way to live your life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The secret person

I've been playing a game this past week that has worked really well. We're talking about interesting or unusual experiences. I gave the students 5 minutes to write about their experience, 3 or 4 sentences. They wrote their names on the paper and I collected them. Then, I read out the papers one by one and the students had to guess who it was. I put the guessers in teams of 2 and warned the person whose paper I was reading to not give anything away, at the risk of losing a point for their team. Then, after we were done they pass their paper to another team and we marked them together.

The winning teams got a stamp, which is the currency in my class. You can offer a small prize of some sort, or whatever you do.

Very fun...but only works if the class is small (less than 20 for sure...better with 10 or 12) and the students know each other fairly well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A new kind of English teacher

Teaching English in Korea has traditionally been reserved for those from the big 6 countries: Canada/USA/the UK/South Africa/NZ/Australia. This is simply due to visa restrictions on those from other countries.

However, there is news coming down that next year, Korea will allow 100 teachers from India to teach in public schools. Probably in the most rural of schools where they have a hard time attracting/keeping a foreigner there due to the isolation factor.

As Stafford points out, he think it will be a 2 or 3 year experiment and then it will revert back to the system as it is now. I would point out that, even black or Asian teachers from one of those big 6 countries have a hard time finding a job here. Even when their accent is pure American all the way. And even if they were born in America and grew up there their entire lives. Even Gyopos, ethnic Koreans who grew up outside Korea have a hard time finding a teaching job here, even if they are fluent in Korean. This actually sometimes works against them. On some of the job ads, it will specifically request a white teacher. Recruiters will tell you that certain school districts will not hire non-white people for public schools jobs. Often times, there is an unspoken rule and after sending in a picture, the applicant will simply not get an interview.

So....what I'm saying is this. If these black and Asian people from the big 6 countries have a hard enough time getting a job teaching English in Korea, I wonder how long parents are going to put up with Indians teaching their kid English. The accent that is hard, even for me to understand sometimes. And in the hierarchy of race (ism) here in Korea, SouthEast Asians/Africans/Indians rank somewhere above pond scum, far below the whities. I sincerely hope Korea is changing their extremely racist ways but my gut feeling is that it's not time yet and this experiment will be tossed out and forgotten after the first year is over.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've been doing this activity to help get some questions going on in my classes. The students were studying a unit about shopping and one of the activities was to write a paragraph about their favorite place to shop. I got them to do it and then they went around the circle, one by one reading their paragraphs. At the end of each student, the other students had to ask 2 questions. It made it a much more interesting activity then just the straight up writing with no follow-up. Of course, this only works for a group of less than 8 or 10. In a bigger class, however, you could divide them up into group of 4 or 6 and then just supervise the proceedings.

And it turned a straight writing activity into a listening and speaking one as well.

Contracts in Korea

There is a big debate going on, on my Facebook page about contracts in Korea. A couple of my friends are annoyed that contracts aren't honored here, to the same degree they are back home. However, by understanding Korean culture, it makes a lot more sense.

Koreans are all about relationships and the group. In North America, we think we can have a purely professional relationship with our bosses. Like some greetings when seeing them in office, talk of projects and tasks, performance reviews and the like. In Korea, your boss and coworkers will want to be much closer to you. They'll want you to become part of the group, to kind of blend into the rest of them. This will happen through long work days and parties that usually involve a good deal of drink that seem to go on for hours. So the person who comes in 5 minutes before they work and leaves 1 minute after is seen as not part of the group. Same with someone who doesn't come to work events/meetings, no matter how trivial they seem.

How does this all relate to contracts? Well, many foreigners before they teach here seem to think that the contract is the most important thing. They negotiate endlessly over the little details, when in reality it doesn't matter. If your boss is dishonest, you'll get screwed no matter what your contract says. If you are part of the group, this will probably happen to a lesser degree. If your boss is honest, you'll probably get what is owed, as long as you maintain a reasonable relationship with them. If you don't, well, then things could get tricky. Think kissing ass.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You want to come to Korea?

Be wary...a bit of disturbing stuff going on that makes me sometimes wonder why I'm still here.

The Seoul Podcast...Bill Kapoun's mother
Mike White
Mathew Sellers
Nerine Viljoen

And this is not even touching on the 3D workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, who have it much worse than English teachers here in Korea. There is very, very little information about them in the English language blogs and newspapers around Korea.

What to say? My life is here now in a lot of ways, friends, a good job, special friend, some language skills and resources. If it wasn't...and I was considering teaching, I'd probably look elsewhere.

Further Education

A lot of universities in Korea look for teachers with a Masters degree in some sort of English or TESOL related field. However, I'm often not convinced that people having these degrees actually make the best teachers. I've been around the Korean ESL world for a few years and have met people that have masters degree in a seemingly relevant field do some completely wacky things in the classroom. For example: speak so fast that their students can't understand a word they're saying. Test on completely random things that had no relevance to what they studied all year. Letting their students speak Korean most of the class (okay in a grammar or TOEIC class perhaps but not in a conversation one). Droning on about grammar in a way that is not relevant, interesting or engaging. So I guess what I'm saying is that an advanced degree in the field, minus a large dose of common sense is almost useless in the classroom.

However, as far as further training goes: there are a lot of good basic teaching methodology books out there. Go to Kim and Johnson's book shop in Seoul or cruise around online for some recommendations. Check out a few of the good sites out there (links in my sidebar) and read some of the teacher training articles. Read the teacher's guides that accompany your textbooks. World Link has a particularly good teacher training section. Talk to people who are doing their masters degree or have done it. Suck all the information you can out of them. They probably won't mind. Listen to some podcasts (I like ESL Teacher Talk, Edgycation and Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips).

And...if you are serious about becoming a master of the classroom, take a CELTA course. It's reputed to be the best out there and almost a necessity for teaching in Europe. I would, except I'm more into the scuba thing now and most of my vacations are taken up doing courses in that :) One day, perhaps. It's a month long, so it's no joke.

Or, start a blog and start thinking about what you're doing and share that with others. Let me know and then we can be blogosphere friends. I feel like I'm the only one out here doing this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Warm up game

...a fun one to get some thinking juices going. It's called odd one out. For example, I'll have 7 or 8 sets of them on the board. You can make it into a review game in some cases. Body part, shapes and foods work very well.

1. apple/orange/onion/banana
3. Tv/cup/credit card/table

and on it goes.

Which one is different and why?

1. onion, because not a fruit
2. Mouth, because upper 1/2 of body.
3. Cup, because it's a round shape.

I usually put them in teams of 2 and they have to write down their answers. The first 2 teams get a prize of some sort.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why I appreciate uni students is probably apparent by some previous posts on this blog, I'm not such a huge fan of the kids. While cute and eager and quick learners, they make me very tired, very fast. And I don't think I'm really goofy or funny enough, in a kid kind of way to keep them entertained. Anyway, I like my uni students a lot. And I perhaps like them best when a class is done and I take them out for a dinner. We'll always have a few shots of soju and a bit of beer and have a good time and then say our goodbyes. This is just my style. Who doesn't like being able to go out drinking with the students?

***in a responsible way of course. Getting drunk with them is kind of bad form***

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting Ripped Off

Korea has a reputation for ripping English teachers off. It's not the universities or public schools that are such a problem (with some exceptions of course) but the hagwons. I think not getting ripped off is actually the exception. And you can count yourself lucky if you only get screwed over on some small thing and not on the big stuff like your salary or plane ticket. A big part of the problem is government agencies that are supposed to look after stuff like this but they essentially have no power to enforce any of their rulings. For that, you need to move higher up into the court system taking money, months, and translators. Few people will go through the hassle for a couple thousand dollars.

BUT...I'd also say that part of the problem is the teachers and their convoluted thinking. Recruiters are not looking out for you. They're looking out for their bottom line and a teacher placed is money in the bank. They don't really care if you get ripped off or it's the sketchiest hagwon around.

And...the hagwon owner or manager is not looking out for your best interests. They're looking out for their bottom line. When they rip you off, that adds to their bottom line, hence why they do it without the blink of an eye. Ethics and morals for those outside the "family" are almost non-existent. Your contract also isn't worth the paper it's been written on.

So come to Korea, but do your research before. There are plenty of information kind of sites out there (eslcafe) and blacklists so ask around about the school you're considering working at. Know your rights and at any sign of rip-offery, stand up for yourself. If you don't, you'll just keep getting walked over all year long to the point of not getting your bonus money.

Get references of past teachers who've finished their contracts. Like 3 or 4 of them. Email or phone them. The current ones are useless usually because perhaps they won't get their bonus money if they say bad stuff about the school and you don't sign.

Be prepared to stay after your contract. To have a sit-in, if necessary to get your airfare and bonus money. Do not leave the country before you get this. Your school will not send it to you in America. Also, be prepared to bail mid-contract if things look bad. It's often difficult (but not impossible) to change schools, so have some reserve money for a ticket to Japan/China/Taiwan to find a job there if Korea sucks for you.

Those are my tips for you. It's up to you to look after yourself, if you're coming to Korea. No one else will.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Video Logging

...I teach in this evening class where the students have been doing blogging and vlogging (video). It's been pretty fun to teach, because it's the kind of stuff that I actually like doing in my real life. However, one word of caution. If the students are not so advanced, it might not be that useful. Like, my coworker and I who designed the program were told that the students were the best of the best as far as English goes. In reality, they were similar to my average student in freshman English. Meaning, a basic textbook covering the basics of English would have been far more helpful perhaps.

Anyway, equipment was a bit of an issue as well, with the girl who was supposed to be taking care of video for us never coming to class despite the assurances of the coordinator. So, I took things into my own hands and actually figured out how to make videos on my macbook. It was outrageously easy, using Imovie. I learned how to do it about 30 minutes and it was exactly what we needed for our purposes in the class. Then, I uploaded them either to the class blog (blogger), which took an outrageously long time. So, I switched to youtube and then embedding the link onto the blog.

Results here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Whenever I have friends stay over at my house, they get a bit freaked out when they see me get ready for work in the morning. Like they can't quite believe that this person they had never seen not wearing jeans and a t-shirt or hoodie is putting on real dress pants, shoes and a nice shirt or sweater to go to work. While some of my coworkers wear jeans and running shoes to work, this is bad form, in my opinion. Look around at the Koreans. You'd never see any of them in something other than a variation on a business suit. Even the Korean part-time lecturers (which is what the foreign language teachers basically are) are dressed to impress. It's just expected here and goes along with part of the job. And I think it helps me with the students. Like if I'm all grubby, and not so professional, then the students might think they can treat me less than professionally. However, looking the part goes a long way in maintaining control, having authority and garnering respect. What do you think?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wheat from the Chaff...all while appearing to be a kind teacher

For my evaluations, I do 2 kinds of tests: a conversational speaking test and then a written grammar/vocab test. If the students study at least a couple hours for the speaking test, they'll get an A or B. I don't really have the heart to fault students who try hard but perhaps just don't have the background or exposure in English needed to speak fluently and flawlessly, even with things we've studied in class because everything we study (World Link Level 1) assumes a basic grasp of a lot of stuff. The students that don't study is an entirely different matter. While some of them do have enough of a background to get a decent mark, many do not and I don't hesitate to hand out C/D/F's. Now, it's natural for a student, if they fail my class to associate me with the bad grade. This is especially true for speaking tests where the grading is somewhat subjective, so this is why I won't give anyone who obviously studied below a B grade. The average for my speaking tests is a B+ usually for the better classes and B for the worse ones. At least 1/5 of the class will get a perfect score.

However, the written test is where I separate out the weak from the strong. I make it hard. Like you'd actually have to have studied the specific grammar and vocab and know how to apply it in order to do well. The average score is usually in the B/C+ range. Only 1 or 2 students will usually get a perfect score. Somehow, students don't seem to be as annoyed at me for getting a bad grade on a written test because it is what it is. They can't really argue with their poor answer down on the paper, especially after I show them exactly where it came from in the book.

I'm only allowed to give out 30% A's and so in this way, I can do that without appearing to be mean or stingy. My secret for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do my students know...

...that they could get kicked out of a uni in North America for doing the very same thing they try to do in front of my eyes?

Like, I try to minimize the cheating by not doing any written homework or assignment and being heavy on the speaking tests where there is almost no possible way to cheat. Except they try.

For example, this week I'm doing speaking tests in my office with groups of 4 or 6 randomly picked students from the class. And then out of those people, I pick 2 of them to ask each other 4 questions from a list I've prepared ahead of time. I listen and evaluate. I've had at least one student in the class have the questions written on their hand, back of their phone, their binder, etc. Do they think I won't notice them looking down all the time? Bizarre.

Or, the people that aren't going try to connive and figure out what questions they're going to ask each other. Do they think I don't notice them talking and pointing to the sheet. There are only 6 of them.

Sigh. How did this ever become okay in Korea? Ethics? Personal integrity?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time Wasting...

...I admit to being a time-waster in my first year teaching at a hagwon (private kindergarten/after-school kind of thing). Like, I'd plan my time in class based upon how I could fill up the minutes in the best way. Educational value was the second priority. Now, it was partly my fault for not reading up on ESL or taking a class before I came to Korea. But, I do remember expressing my frustrations/clueless-ness to the owner of my school and asking for advice and she said, "You speak English, how did you learn it?" Useless.

Anyway, just recently I encountered a teacher showing a movie in their class. They had the door open for some reason, so I stopped for minute to see what they were watching and say hello. The weird thing was that no students were watching. Like they were texting/talking to their friends, doing other homework and some were literally turned around in their seats, with their backs to the screen. The door was probably open because students were wandering in and out. And so I wondered what exactly the purpose was? There didn't seem to be one, except to waste everyone's time and fill up class time in a way that's easy for the teacher.

And so I thought a lot about how I plan my classes. These days, everything I do has a purpose:

I'll usually play a little warm-up game to start and the purpose is usually just that: to get the students thinking, in English, have a little fun and get their attention.

Paired conversations: to practice speaking, listening and asking questions. This is basic in a conversation class.

Readings in the book: usually to introduce new vocabulary, which is vital for improving language skills.

Grammar exercises. Usually a short lesson by me, a written and spoken practice session and then some sort of game or activity. Again, vital for improving language skills.

These are my basic activities in class that I'll do everyday. Other stuff, varies class to class. But these days, I feel like I have too much good stuff to do and not enough time! I wouldn't even imagine showing a movie that didn't have some sort of purpose or goal behind it. And so when you're planning your classes, try to get out of the mindset of wasting time and into the mindset of thinking about what kind of educational value this certain activity has.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Textbook Selection

I'm thoroughly convinced that textbook selection can make or break a class. While an excellent teacher can overcome a bad textbook, or just plain not use it and do their own thing, in some situations there is nothing that can be done.

In the kids program that I teach in, most of the students are fluent (ish) and are quite articulate, even in their writing. But the textbooks we're using are ESL textbooks, designed for adults. Do dating and Bollywood movies have any relevance for a 10 year old kid in Korea? NO! By way of example, I used the exact same textbook for my conversational uni class last year that the elementary kids are using now. And it went over well with the uni students so just imagine how much elementary kids like it! And so I wonder why we're not using textbooks that are designed for native speaker kids in the USA, Canada or England. Maybe at two or three grade levels below where they're actually at in Korean school to account for the second language factor.

And the thing is, that the teachers are getting hassled by the power that be to teach exactly what is written on the syllabus. In some cases, using 3 different inappropriate books in a 45 minute class. I'm frustrated. And powerless. And thinking that this semester might be the end of teaching in this program. The money is not worth the stress of trying to make something interesting, engaging and fun out of something totally inappropriate.

Active English Discussion 1 (With CD)World Link, Book 1 Teacher's Edition, With CD-ROM (World Link, Developing English Fuency, 1)Smart Choice 1 Student Book with Multi-ROM pack

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you a backpacker?

I teach in this program at my university, that's on weekends and for gifted kids. Because it's on a Saturday and for kids, the guy in charge seems to have a hard time finding foreigners to teach in it so there are various and random Koreans doing it as well. One lady, who I just met for the first time and I had a conversation that left a bad taste in my mouth.

The gist of it was, "So, you're just a backpacker?" Me: "No, I've been teaching for 5 years, I consider myself an ESL professional, I don't want to talk to you anymore, goodbye." Anyway, some thoughts:

1. I was most definitely a backpacker during my first year teaching in Korea. I was almost totally clueless about teaching, especially the kindy kids which are not my cup of tea. However, by year 5, I have gotten my act together and consider myself a true professional. I'm not formally educated in the area, but have done extensive reading, thinking and talking with co-workers about the field. So it's insulting to be labeled as a "backpacker" and clumped together with the newbies fresh out of uni and off the plane.

2. Korea is my home. I'm not here for the one year plan anymore. I have a garden, long-term friends, hobbies, and furniture. I will stay until something offers me serious motivation to leave. I'm definitely not backpacking through on my way to greener pastures.

3. Yes, I like traveling. But I do my job and am pretty good at it (I think!) for 34 weeks of the year. Why shouldn't I be a backpacker and enjoy the other 18 weeks traveling around Korea or other countries? Why does this backpacker label have to carry over to when I'm actually working and clearly not in that role anymore?

Your thoughts? Backpacker or professional?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Public Education in Korea

The foreigners that work at the public schools here in Korea often like to pick on them as having a lot of problems (compared to back home). But it seems like they're doing some things right:

I was shocked to see the USA high school graduation rate was only 69% and that rose from previous years (2006).

Canada fares much better at around 90% in 2005.

And Korea fares the best in the OECD at 97% (article written 2008).

Nice work Korea! Maybe it's time for the most vocal of the foreign-complainers to stop criticizing Korea and acknowledge that they're doing a lot of things right.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An example

I will ALWAYS do an example for every activity that I do in class. The times that I haven't, things have often gone quite wrong, with lots of confused students not doing what I want them to do.

Today, we were talking about memories and I had 2 conversation questions up on the board. "What's a favorite memory from high school? .....from middle/elementary school?" Then, they have to follow-up with some "W" questions. I prompt my students to ask me question #1. I tell a bit of a story from high school, but very vague with almost no detail so they want to know more. They throw a few more questions at me. Then question #2: same thing. Then, once they see it in action and understand, it's easy enough for them to do it themselves and they can talk to their partner for 4 or 5 minutes. If no example, the activity would have probably been done in about 1 minute.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Typhoon! Review Game

A fantastically fun review game that any age group of students will love that requires a little prep but no materials. Especially if (as in my class) the winning team gets a stamp, which translates into 1% of their final grade.

Draw a grid on the board, marking one row with numbers, one with letters. I usually do 5x5 or 6x6 for a 20-30 minute game.

Put in the following letters:

T=typhoon. Lose all your points
H=hurricane. Pick 1 team, for minus 5
V=vacation. Get 5 points for free

For these ones, I'll do each one 2 or 3 times

E=easy question, 1 point
M=medium, 3 points
D=difficult, 5 points.

Fill in the rest of your grid.

Then depending on how big your class is, make 4 or 5 teams. They pick a square, (B-6), then you write the letter in the box and ask them a question of whatever. Have a list of easy/medium/hard questions beforehand (I literally use the questions from the mid-term exam as a way to reward students who care/pay attention). If they get the question correct, give them the points, if not, erase the letter in the box and another team can pick that square if they want.

Play until all the squares are done. That's it! Make sense?

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It looks good... that I will probably be able to have a job in Korea, if I want one at least for the foreseeable future. An article from the Korea Times about how English ability seems to the major factor in whether people land the top jobs at the major companies or not. In the past, this was based solely on Toeic scores, but recently some companies have been introducing speaking tests as well, which is where I come in!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The main issue...

Korea, despite spending more money than any other country in the world on private English education, and studying it in public schools for 8 or 10 years, has an extremely low proficiency in actually speaking English. By the time students get to my class, at a middle-of-the-pack university, some of them don't know their numbers to 100, a few can't read, some can't tell me their name when I ask, they don't know colors very well and get confused with very basic grammar concepts such as is/are and past/present verbs.

How does this happen? My theory is that Koreans love to do the hard stuff without ever mastering the basics. For example, despite not knowing the basic things that I've listed above, I'll see people studying these crazy advanced grammar concepts, for a TOEIC test, with questions that I'd even have a hard time answering. Or, because they've studied English for so many years, most students will call themselves "advanced" and register for hard classes when in reality they are basically false beginners and going back to level one would sometimes be appropriate. When setting up programs, I keep hearing that the students are "high-level" so I do things appropriate for that kind of setting and then discover that what they really need is a basic textbook to get a grasp of the easy stuff before moving on to the stuff I had planned. Frustrating!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cultural differences

At my uni, there are a variety of programs that the foreigners teach in for extra money. Some of them are volunteer, while others are an ask a certain few people kind of thing. Some of my coworkers spend a lot of time and effort worrying and wondering about why there weren't picked for a certain thing. To me, it's just futile because what matters to a Westerner doesn't necessarily matter to a Korean.

Example: appearance. Westerners have kind of a minimum standard of appropriate dress that they would wear in a professional environment and as long as you meet that minimum standard, you're in the clear. However, appearance is much more meaningful in Korea and the best dressed=the best teacher in some cases. And of course, every Korean has an opinion about what skin or eye or hair color the "best" teacher has. And how old they are. You never know what is running through the minds of the powers that be in regard to this.

Example 2. Qualifications. A Westerner would think that the person with the best qualification to teach a certain class should get a job, regardless of almost all other things. However, Koreans seem to consider a wider array of factors such as if they know you and have a personal relationship already, if you smell bad, reputation among students, if you speak slowly and they can understand you, etc. A multitude of things that makes me head dizzy and leads me to not even try to figure it all out. In general, it won't really matter to the people you work for what kind of and what level of degree that you have.

Example 3. Positive attitude. Korea is a top-down kind of society whereas in the Western world we like to be all warm and fuzzy and pretend that organizations can be run by consensus. So any appearance of being a complainer, demanding extra things, or just being plain difficult to work with will lead to being taken off the list of people they ask to do the extra things. The person in charge is the person in charge in Korea and they don't like to be approached by you, thinking you are their equal whereas in the Western world, having a little heart to heart with your boss about an issue at work might be kind of acceptable and/or encouraged.

So realize these things and try to stay in the clear by dressing well, realizing there is more to you as a teacher than your degree and ALWAYS having a positive attitude when around the higher ups (and coworkers too...since it will usually get around who likes their job and who doesn't).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You don't like talking?

I have some classes in this optional English program where the students are very resistant to talking. The major problem of this program is that they basically get their credit for attendance and nothing else. There is a meaningless, token test at the end of the year. Anyway, the students all know this so a lot of them seem to just show up because it's an easy credit for essentially no work beyond showing up for class. To be fair, some students actually care about and want to learn English and they are a joy to teach.

My strategy for the ones who almost refuse to talk? Make it embarrassing for them not to. When we do pair conversation work, I'll set up the activity in a way that's very simple to understand. I'll write the question on the board and go over the 5 "W" questions for follow-up. My example from yesterday was, "What kind of movies do you like?" We'd been talking about movies the entire previous week so they should have had some familiarity with the topic. I'll do a teacher example, with the students asking me the main question and then some follow-up questions. Then I'll unleash them on each other, with a set time of say 2 or 3 minutes. Some students just won't talk. They look down at their books, out the window, sleep, anything but talk. So at the end I'll go around in a circle and ask for a quick summary from each students of what their partner said. The ones that didn't talk obviously have nothing to say. And feel very stupid because everyone else is able to do it. It only happens in one class and then they know I mean business. Try it out!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Slow down!

I have a couple office hours a week and tell the students to come chat, or I'll help them study, or they can bring me a snack or whatever. No students come. And if they do, it's just a little question about attendance and then they run off as soon as it's taken care of. But one girl came, and sat and chatted until I had to get ready for my next class. She told me that my class is like elementary school but that she liked it. Mostly it's because I speak outrageously slow, give crazy simple instructions, use a lot of hand gestures and play games all the time.

Anyway, in a foreign language setting, be careful how fast you talk. There is no need to drop articles and such, like some wayguk-salams do, because that just sounds idiotic and stupid. Just talk in a normal, simple kind of way but at about 1/4-1/2 of the normal pace you would talk, depending on the level. I've had many appreciative students tell me how much they like my class, simply because they undersand me as opposed to their other foreign teachers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When 2 worlds collide

One of my coworkers and I have started up this new class at my university, that is technology based and a new kind of thing (at least at my uni!). We are doing blogging and video logging. So far, it's been a fun time, with students writing, reading and commenting on blogs. They are entertained for an hour, quite easily. And I hope some learning will happen too :) I feel pretty happy too, being able to get paid to do something cool like this, that I actually really enjoy. Here is the initial project:

English Class Blog.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lost in Translation

So a lot of things in Korea are lost in translation. It's mostly my fault in most situations for not speaking enough Korean to grasp the intricacies of what being said. But there are some programs that I teach in, at my uni where a lot of stuff is mis-communicated, and it's not really my fault. In theory, those in charge of recruiting and directing foreigners to teach English in their programs would themselves have pretty passable English. Anyway, my tips to help in these situations:

1. Never give a verbal yes to anything over the phone. My Korean is horrible on the phone and so is most Korean's English. I always ask them to send me an email or ask if we can meet in person sometime to discuss it.

2. Don't worry about all the details. At my uni, it seems that the directors don't really care about what you're actually teaching, they just want a program of some sort and they want a foreigner to teach it. So the key is to ascertain if this is the situation or not. If it is, just agree on date/times/money and worry about the rest later.

3. Everyone says their students are "high level," whatever that means. Just prepare for the first class with some general introductory activities and then see what the actual level is and go from there.

4. And check to make sure you actually get paid. This often happens at my uni, with someone just simply forgetting about you, or they don't know your bank account #, etc.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Starting Class

I know everyone has their own way to start class but here is the method that I usually use and that seems to work pretty well at capturing and getting attention.

1. I walk into the class, adjust the temperature, desks and podium to my liking. I'll turn on the computer and projector if using it for that class. A few random hellos as students walk in.

2. I take my stuff out of my bag and set out all the materials I'll need for that class. Nothing is worse than having attention and then losing it due to poor preparation and having to search in your bag for things.

3. I write up the days agenda on the board. I'll also write the first 1 or 2 things that we'll be doing, so I don't waste time doing this later. By this time, there is usually about 1 or 2 minutes until class starts, so I'll walk around doing attendance.

4. I'll start with a good afternoon/morning and then some general chit-chat for a couple minutes. I'll avoid this with the dead classes because the dead silence is never a good start to a class, but it's actually quite fun with the better ones.

5. Then a game of some sort. Even if it's secretly studying or introducing the topic for that period, call it a game and make it into some sort of competition with a winner and have a prize. For example, instead of just reading the little descriptions in the book of 4 people's plans for after graduation, I copied them out and we'll play running dictation to start the class off with.

That's my routine. What's yours? One final tip that really works for me is to tell the students to talk to me only after class. When I'm getting all set up, I don't like to be interrupted with small issues that can be dealt with after class.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Basic Teaching Tips

Some great stuff on teacher training from the Eflclassroom website. Under teaching tips, there is a presentation of the basics:

1. Write the target language on the board! (always a good idea, since not everyone can pick it up just by listening and it helps to reinforce things, if they can see it).

2. Always provide a simple agenda (this is something I'm incorporating this semester into my far, classes are going much more smoothly when the students can see the beginning, middle and end).

3. Always teach the big picture first and then the details (obvious to me...not to everyone maybe?)

4. Pause often (I had one Korean teacher who would never give me time to think. She would just butt in with the answer when I just about to say it. It was the most annoying thing and even after I told her to stop doing it, she still would. She was just too impatient to let me go at my own, slow pace in formulating Korean words and sentences. I vowed to never be that teacher. So now, I just wait patiently, very often for responses. I will never give a response after I've asked the students for one. I don't care how long it takes. Someone needs to say something, even if it's one word and it's wrong).

5. Review (I never used to do much review, assuming the students would do it on their own. This isn't the case. And learning a language is all about learning the same things, over and over and over again, until there is no way that you can't possibly not know it!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Classroom Rules

...are very necessary in a conversational English class in a Korean university. If you think they aren't, get out of your North American/European mindset and take a small trip back to middle school mentality. It's actually pretty okay, as a teacher once you know what to expect and can prepare for it.

Here are my rules, in order to ensure a happy, stress-free year for me (and possibly not the students!)

1. Book! No book=no study. Goodbye, see you next week :) But of course, you can make a copy.

2.Listen. To me and the other students.

3. Cell-phone. I want a new cell-phone because mine is cheap and old. Yours is probably nice and new and expensive. So if I hear or see yours, I'll be very happy. Get it?

4. Time. For 10 minutes, I'm a very kind teacher. At 11 minutes, I'm a mean teacher and lock the door. It's too late. Run if you have to.

5. Nametag. You are young and your memory is good. I'm old and my memory is not so great, so please help me to remember your names.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sites for lesson planning

The 2 that I use most often for my uni/adults students are:

Heads up English
Breaking News English

I do some volunteer teaching 1-1 with Skype and find these sites extremely helpful for that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Even Public Schools Can Go Bad

We all know that hagwons in Korea are corrupt. While there are a few good ones out there, the majority rip of the foreigners in some way. Money, vacation, taxes, health care, housing, bonus pay, flight money. Something. And there is almost no recourse except the toothless labor board which seems able to be bought off by the employers. Due to this, I would generally recommend people stick with public schools or unis.

However, there are more and more cases of people getting screwed over by the public schools as well. There is the latest scandal, this time with SMOE (Seoul Public Schools) about them canceling 100/600 teachers the night before they were due to come to Korea. And getting renewed at the public schools seems to be at the whim of your potentially quite good or potentially pure evil co-teachers. Certainly not a comforting thought at times. And I also hear increasing stories of public schools pulling the same crap that hagwons are notorious for with money and housing and stuff. They get paid a certain amount/foreign teacher at their school and so many of them look to make a buck off of it and don't actually spend that full amount on the teacher.

So, if you are a newbie, looking to work in Korea, I would sincerely recommend that you look elsewhere. Somewhere where you can own your own visa and aren't indebted to your employer like an indentured servant. Somewhere where you have freedom to change jobs, with minor paperwork if your employer starts to screw you over. Somewhere where there are government regulations that actually protect and look out for foreign employees. Sadly, it is not Korea.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shootout at the ESL corral

I played this game with the kids at my last camp but think it could potentially be somewhat fun for uni students as well. Divide the class into groups of two. You can do this on 2 sides of the class, at their desks standing up or get the kids to make a line at the front of the class as well.

Then, there are are 2 variations. The first one is that the first 2 students play rock/scissor/paper. The loser has to answer a question about what you've been studying. I used it a lot of math when I was studying that for a couple days with the kids. I'd say what is 5x8 and give them 5 seconds to answer. If they got it, they went to the back of their line, or remain standing. If not, they sit down and the game is over for them. The second variation is to just ask a question to both students and the loser sits down.

It's a fun, high energy game with a lot of excitement to it. The kids seemed like they couldn't get enough of it. And you can use pretty much any topic you want. And it's definitely heavy on the listening and speaking skills.

Task Based Teaching

At my uni, the foreign teachers had a presentation on task-based teaching. While this is nothing new for most of us, I did pick up a few things. Of particular interest was the "task generator" that the presenter talked about. The basic idea is that there is a topic that the class is based upon and then various task based on that are created by the teacher.

This is the list of tasks, basically from easiest to hardest. I'll use the topic of weather.

1. Listing. Various types of weather conditions.

2. Ordering and sorting. What is the typical weather in spring/summer/fall/winter.

3. Comparing. Weather in Korea vs. weather in Canada

4. Matching. Pictures of weather conditions to the names.

5. Problem solving. Pick a destination you'd like to visit. When will you go and why? What special things do you need to bring?

6. Creative project. Research a major natural disaster and make a poster about it.

7. Sharing personal experiences or stories.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Making my life easier

I've talked about this before, in that there needs to be some sort of motivation in classes in order for the students to perform. While there are some highly motivated students around, I've found it to be the exception rather than the rule in Korea.

For the rest of them: rewards are key. In my uni classes, it's all about the final grade at the end of the semester.

Everyone else: candy and prizes. If I'm doing a single class with students that I won't see regularly, I'll buy a few cheap candies and such and hand them out liberally for games and activities. If I'm doing a camp with students over a week or two, I'll make a chart with their names and give them stickers for the winners of games or good behavior or whatever. I'll let them know at the beginning of our time that there will be small prizes for the top 4 or 5 students. I'm currently doing a camp and I picked up the following: a hula hoop, colored pencils, jump rope, pen and pencil. This system made my life considerably easier every day and it was all for under 10 000 Won. Well worth it, in my opinion.

The things I like about doing this:

1. It make a little excitement in the classroom, about things that are often not so exciting.

2. People like candy and prizes.

3. And most importantly of all, it rewards good behavior and I can ignore the bad after the first day or two. If someone is misbehaving I'll just generally give them no acknowledgment and it usually stops pretty quickly. Instead, I can focus on the well-behaved and give a lot more attention to them (as it should be!)

Friday, August 14, 2009


So I meet a few English teachers here and there who have extremely bad spoken grammar. I guess that written grammar mistakes could possibly be forgiven, since most of our jobs are of the English "conversation" variety and pretty light on the grammar/writing kind of stuff.

But a few people that I know, in the space of a 5 minute conversation will make at least one or two grammar mistakes of the subject-verb agreement type, or a word used in an odd way, a cliche-ish saying, or grasp at a simple word that they can't quite recall at that moment. It is the exception, for a native speaker who teaches ESL to make mistakes with this high of frequency. I even think that more advanced ESL students could pick out these mistakes.

I wonder if they know what they sound like? And how did they ever get like that? Was it their parent's lack of education? Or just their part of the brain responsible for language doesn't quite work as well as other people. Too much TV and not enough real life interaction? Is there any way to improve it? Interesting to think about.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Techings Kids Style

Over the course of the week at the kids camp at my uni, I've had a chance to observe all the Korean TA's and a number of the other foreign teachers and their style of teaching/leading. And I've noticed one major thing that sets a few people apart from me, and that is how much feedback they give the kids. I'm not talking about feedback directly related to activities in class and their English and spelling of words and stuff. Of course, I am pretty active in that regard. But it's all the other stuff I'm talking about.

For example, my TA keeps telling the kids to be quiet and to not talk, when they're waiting in line and stuff. But, in my eyes they are waiting very quietly and in an orderly fashion, so I don't really care that they're chatting a little bit with their neighbor. What difference does it make...and I wonder if he even has any clue how much negative feedback he is giving them and that that has a way of making kids not like you. Shouldn't camp be fun?

And some of the other people are yellers. Even yelling (as opposed to talking at a normal level) at other teachers without even really realizing it because they're so hyped up from yelling at the kids the whole day I guess. Yelling chants while walking down to lunch. Yelling at kids in the cafeteria to put down their umbrella and about where to sit. I will never yell. Never. Instead, I use the stare until quiet ensues. It will almost never take more than 20 seconds or so. Or I just use a gentle touch on the arm to get their attention and give them some directions. Walking down to lunch, I just don't care that they want to talk to their friend in Korean. They need a break from me and English. If they want to have a little conversation, in English with me, I'm happy to do it (and most of them do). In the caf, I just don't care if they bring their umbrella into line with them or where they sit. Basically, I see no need to yell or give directions to kids for things that just don't matter, or can be done at a much quieter level.

Now, I'm not a kid superstar, I fully admit this. These are just some thoughts. What do you experts out there think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Fun Camp Game

I'm working at a summer camp at my school and we played a pretty fun camp last night, that the kids seemed to enjoy for the most part. It was called Mission Impossible and they had to go in their classes around to 10 different stations, seeing if they could complete various challenges in 5 minutes.

Some of the stations:

1. Trying to make one of the teachers laugh.
2. Having to guess 10 words in 5 minutes, based on the teacher explaining them. Example. Teacher: "It's an animal that eats bananas" Student: Monkey!
3. Making shapes as a class. Square, diamond, etc. They did 2 in 5 minutes.
4. Listening to a song and writing down words they hear. If they get a certain number, as a class they get their challenge completed token.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's Camp Time!

I'm teaching at a kid's camp at my university for essentially 8 days and we have our homeroom class (mine is grade 4/5 elementary school) for 4.5 hours/day. That is fine, but the kind of annoying thing is that we have been given literally no material to teach them. Nothing. So we've had to be on our toes, coming up with 36 hours of stuff out of thin air, on short notice. We were all kind of under the impression that there would be books or something. Anyway, after much frantic internet scouring and such, I've come up with the following plan. Maybe it can help you if you're stuck in a similar situation.

Period 1. Make your own country. Each day will be a different theme. Example, day 1: make/draw a map of your country, with animals and kinds of plants. Day 2: education system and rules/punishments. Day 3. Type of housing/draw a picture of that. Etc, etc.

Period 2. Reading, I've picked out a book and will make copies of it for the students. I'll play various little activities and games to go along with it.

Period 3. Vocab and games relating to that. Day 1: days of the week/months. Day 2: people descriptions. Day 3: Numbers up to 100. Day 4. Review game for the first 3 days.

Period 4. Something active. Tag. Duck, duck, goose. Scavenger Hunt. What time is it Mr. Wolf? Leapfrog relay. Etc.

What are your best camp ideas?

Monday, August 3, 2009

How to maximize savings in Korea

I save a lot of money. As in my entire base pay, that I earn for teaching 7.5 regular classes of freshman English for 2 semesters of 17 weeks in a year. Do I not spend any money? That really is not the case at all....I just do a lot of overtime. During the semester, it seems to work out to 12 or more hours/week. And in the breaks, I do a camp and various other little things to essentially pay for all my traveling.

So, when you're looking for a uni job, the key is not really how much your base pay is. 2.0 or 2.5, it's not that big of a difference. The hours worked for that base pay and overtime opportunities are what really matter. If you make a base pay of 3.0 but have to work 25 hours a week to do it, you won't have that much time for overtime opportunities. Ditto if your accommodation is far from where you live. And if there is more overtime than you can handle, such as at my uni, that's how you can really make a lot of money here in Korea. Of course, you can do private teaching but there's the whole stress of getting busted and kicked out of the country, so I just avoid that whole scene in order to have a happy life in Korea.

When you're checking out uni jobs in Korea with an eye to make the big $$$, remember the 2 things that really matter.

1. Hours worked for base pay.

2. Overtime opportunities (ask the other foreigners working there for the 411).

(3). ....and, if camps during breaks are mandatory (which is okay in my eyes), are you paid extra for it?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Memory Circle

This is a game that I often use with smaller (less than 10 students) and younger students (middle/elementary school) but I've also used it with uni students with good results.

You can make a rule as to what kind of words the students can pick. If we're studying food and drinks, I'll say that the students can only use those. New vocab from a vocab book, only those words. Past tense verbs, then only sentences from the past.

Everyone will stand up, in a circle, and I will start the game off. "I ate pizza last night." The next student says, "She ate pizza last night, and I studied yesterday." The next student, "She ate pizza last night, he studied yesterday and I watched TV." And so on it goes, around the circle. If someone misses and gets it incorrect, they have to sit down and the game is over. I usually let it go until there are 2 or 3 of the geniuses left and then I give them a prize of some sort and start over with the same rules, or a new set of criteria.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lesson Planning

...for my students is perhaps less than ideal.

But perhaps, they are less than ideal students. Very low motivation, with the exception of a few in each class, a very low level when they start with some literally not being able to say their name and major, they straight-up refuse to do homework in most cases, they will skip the most classes they possibly can without getting an "F" and attempt to cheat their way through tests. And at the end of the semester, they expect to get an A+. It's almost laughable.

Anyway, that's life at a second/third tier uni in Korea so it goes with the territory. I'm not exactly dealing with the best and the brightest with the exception of a few majors here: robotics, nursing, animation, fashion, which for some reason attract much better students. And what electrical engineering student who just wants to stay and work in Korea really cares about English? I can understand and don't really blame them for their lack of motivation.

But, how does that affect my lesson planning? In a lot of ways. I know that I can't lecture because there simply isn't the attention span to make that possible. The minute I start is the minute that the students little heads start nodding and eyes start closing. So I make it interactive. Like they actually have to stand up and walk around talking to people. Or do a little presentation thing in front of the class, where if they don't at least try, they will look like a dumb-ass. Or I play a game where if they don't participate their group as a whole will suffer the consequences. It seems to keep the class moving along at a pace that's not tedious, clock-watching drudgery for me or them.

I try not to put people on the spot. I'm almost never pick someone out of the audience to answer a question, unless they've first had the opportunity to practice it with a partner. Then, if I do pick them and they have no answer, it's their own fault for being embarrassed for not being able to answer, not mine. They're low-level, so I always take this into account. I realize that big group discussions, or even discussions with 3 or 4 of their classmates just aren't possible for most classes so I don't try.

I will always do an example for each conversation question or game that I do. ALWAYS. They can not be trusted to understand and carry out my instructions, no matter how simply I explain something. The class turns to chaos without an example, and it's totally my fault, so I allow time in the lesson plan for this.

I have many more ideas. Perhaps this will be finished in a part two.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book or No Book?

There is a lot of debate in the ESL/EFL world about this. I've done both and can see quite a few disadvantages and advantages for either side.

Using a textbook in class:

-obviously, it's easier for the teacher in most cases, unless you are one of those organized people who has a whole file folder system with lessons and things. I'm not one of those people.

-the students can get a more systematic overview of a certain topic, because a well-thought out book will cover the basics.

-it can be motivating for students to finish a book.

Using no textbook in class:

-the lessons can be tailored to the student's needs.

-it can be more interesting because even the best books get old after a while.

Overall thoughts:

I almost always prefer a textbook, because I am perhaps a little bit lazy. Not lazy in the sense that I don't prep, I ALWAYS prepare thoroughly for every class that I teach. But I mean that if I have a book, and I've taught it before or am familiar with the system, I can plan for an hour long class in 10-15 minutes. If I have no book and I'm doing my own thing, it will generally take over 30 minutes to prepare since I'm searching around on the internet and through my old handouts and stuff. This adds up when I usually teach over 20 and perhaps closer to 25 hours each semester.

I also prefer a textbook because I think it's much more systematic. Now, I think that I have a fairly good idea of what I'm doing in terms of teaching ESL, but I certainly don't have the desire to reinvent the wheel. If someone has spent months/years putting a well-thought out textbook together, why would I not take advantage of someone else's labor? Of course, I can mix my own ideas in as well and then the students get the best of both worlds. And this keeps it interesting as well and prevents the boredom of doing the same book, all the time.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Education Fever" by Michael J. Seth

I recently ran across this book about Korea's obsession with education. You can read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Smart Choice Reviews: The Author's Response

So, as I suspected might happen, Ken Wilson, the author of "Smart Choice 1" did find his way over to my blog and my reviews of his books. Here are his comments (in blue) and my own thoughts (in black).

Re the dialogues - the formula for that page was kind of foisted on me by the editor, but got major good reviews in piloting classes, so I didn't object to it. The songs have caused a major split - about 60-40 against them, so they will probably be pushed onto the website in the second edition, which I will start writing in the fall.

I'm still not so into the dialogues and will continue to not use them in my classes, unless there are additional activities or something to go along with them. Or they are easier for the students to insert their own ideas in a way that encourages normal speaking instead of just weird conversations.

Moving the songs onto the website is definitely a good move I think.

The comic strip is a huge success just about everywhere, but of course particularly in Japan, where the manga style originates. They will stay in the second edition, but there will be extra activities to go with them.

If there are additional activities to go along with them, I'd definitely be willing to give it another go. And perhaps even have another try at them, as is. I think I just had a couple dud classes with them and wrote it off entirely as a dismal failure. Perhaps it was just the class that was bad, not the page in the book. 


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Giving clear directions

I think it's extremely important to be very, very clear when giving directions for activities and things but especially so for things that involve grades such as homework and testing. To ensure this, I try to give them in many forms.

1. I will tell the students about tests at least 2 weeks before the test, giving them a reminder every class for the students who were absent.

2. I give them a little handout with the basic points.

3. I write the basic info on the board and give them a little spiel in class.

4. I make them tell me the info before they leave for the day. For example, "When is your test?" "What % is it?" "Where is it? Here or my office?"

I think you can never be too clear when giving directions to people who might not necessarily understand you :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing on the board

Who doesn't like writing on the board, when you're a student? I get kind of sick of it, but the students seem to be fascinated by it for some reason. So at least a couple times a semester, I will do some sort of race, where there are 5 or 6 students up at the board and they have to write down the answer. Then I switch it up and the next teammate comes up and does the same. This is kind of genius for review sessions. Try it out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tips for a happy and stress-free life

Teaching at a uni in Korea is one of the most stress-free jobs I could ever possibly imagine having. With the exception of working at a not-so-busy library, which I did in grad-school. Anyway, it's stress-free, if you let it be that way. And it can also be very stressful, if you make it that way. I've seen both types among my colleagues.

Here are my tips for a happy stress-free life at a uni in Korea:

1. Of course the students will cheat and copy homework, etc, etc. It's part of their culture. Heck, even the top scientists think nothing of fixing results and haven't basically all the past presidents been under investigation for bribery? So don't let it get to you. Try to prevent it, of course in your class (I do oral tests, and have them do written tests, in my office in groups of 4 or 5 where I can keep an eye on them) but don't think that you're going to change the culture of corruption that is rampant here. Don't let it stress you out.

2. Of course the students aren't going to study as much as you did when you were in uni. They just finished 6 years of hagwon hell/high school/middle school. They need a break before selling their soul to Samsung or Kia, so just give them a break. Plus, everyone passes in the end and gets a degree that isn't worth the paper it's written on, so failing a ton of students doesn't really do that much anyway. So make your class on the easy side, and give lots of extra chances and stuff. Low expectations for your students goes a long way towards a happy life in Korea.

3. Of course the administration will slip in last minute stuff that you need to do and meetings you need to attend and such. This is normal. It's Korea, land of the last minute. If you can go, go, or can do it, do it. If not, make up some excuse (or perhaps even the truth) and don't sweat the small stuff.

4. Of course there will lots of notices in your school email account in Korea and whatever. But unless you're the only foreigner at your uni, you probably shouldn't worry about it. My theory is that if there's anything really important going down, either the English dept. or the International Coordinator will let me know and I can take action. Besides that, I don't worry about the unknown.

Some extra weird week shows up in your attendance, like you're supposed to have a make-up class or something? Whatever! Mark all the students present and move on with life. Class is cancelled for some strange lecture, and no one told you about it. Whatever. Count your lucky stars for a bit of a break, mark the students present and don't stress.

5. And relations. With your students: well, you shouldn't have any, apart from in class with them and 20 of their best friends in a group. This should be obvious (to me at least) to anyone who hopes to get their contract renewed. I will occasionally take students out for dinner, etc, but almost always in groups. If they want me to proof-read something for them, I will most often do it by email. NEVER have students over to your house.

Coworkers: be helpful, friendly, fun. Be considerate of those teaching next door to you if the walls are thin. Go to all the social events your schedule allows. Don't be all crazy and freaky if you have an issue with someone and go to administration. It just makes you look bad and you will have a new enemy. It makes life a lot easier and stress-free if you're well-liked.

Administration. I have a policy that's worked for me. Avoid all negative contact. Period. In 2 years, I've never complained or been negative about anything. But I will initiate positive contact, such as volunteering for extra work (with pay of course!) or going to faculty dinners and such. It works for me: I've gotten my contract renewed 2 times so far.

6. Stay on top of the paperwork. I set aside each Thurs. afternoon, when I had a 4 hour break for prep/paperwork. It usually took me almost that whole time every week, but I'm thankful now that's it the end of the semester and I can do grades in about an hour. And obviously, you should have back-up copies of your grades, at all times. I write them down on my attendance sheet, and go home, and put them into my excel spreadsheet. Then, I email it to myself for a third copy. This will save you much stress possibly if your computer crashes or you lose your attendance/grade folder.

So yeah, stress-free life.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I ran across this article on ESL Teachers Board, under the article section. This seems particularly relevant to me, in my classes where many of the students don't actually want to be learning English. I picked out the best ones and added some comments. Go to the article for the complete list.

50 Tips on Motivating Students

1. Know your students and use their names as often as possible.

This is one of my new plans, although I teach over 200 students each semester, so it's very difficult. However, I get them to use a nametag each class and this lets me call on students by name.

2. Plan for every class; never try to wing it.

Obvious, for a professional.

9. Review the class objective each day. Be sure the students see how the entire program moves along.

I always plan to do this, but never really end up doing it. This next semester, I'm going to write it up on the board at the beginning of class, and leave it up there.

19. Give lots of positive feedback when students respond, offer their ideas, perform a task correctly, come to class on time, bring their materials to class.

I think this really does work! I try to do the positive feedback thing through rewards and stuff, and just ignore the bad stuff.

23. Provide opportunities for the students to speak to the class.

I'm not sure if this is motivating or not but I've started doing presentations in my classes, with good results.

25. Return assignments and tests to students ASAP. Be sure to make positive comments and suggestions.

This is obvious. I give things back usually in the same class they do it, or the next class at the latest.

26. Teach by asking lots of questions during introductions, presentations, demonstrations, and lab work.

I will never just give away anything, but always make the students provide it for me.

32. Be consistent in your treatment of students.

Playing favorites is not cool. I make an effort to not do it because if I don't, I think it just happens naturally.

38. Recognize appropriate behavior and reward it on a continuing basis.

Having a reward system works for me. Check out my other post on this here.

by Richard Sullivan and Jerry L. Wircenski
The Vocational Education Journal
Published by the American Vocational Association

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And review...another round

So this semester, I came up with a somewhat genius game, on the fly and it turned out really well. I will share with you so that you don't have to rack your brain for goodness like this:

I basically wrote down all the conversation questions that are going to be on the final exam, on little strips of paper. I did some simple grammar questions mixed in as well. For example: "Tokyo is interesting, but....." Or, "It's my bag, It's_____. It belongs to _____."

Then I put the students in groups of 4, and gave them about 15 little pieces of paper/group. I organize it beforehand so that each group doesn't have the same question twice. Then, the first student picks a random paper (seeing, or not seeing them: you can decide), and then picks a random student in their group to ask the question to. Correct answer, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, the questioner gets a chance to answer. Correct, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, it goes back into the pile. The winner is the student with the most points.
And of course, I officiate for any groups having disagreements over any answer.

Make sense? I like it for the following reasons:

1. You can cover everything that's going to be on the test, easily and without much stress.

2. The students get some practice in hearing and ASKING the questions, which doesn't happen very much in many ESL classrooms (I think).

3. The students are the teachers, listening for crazy answers and deciding whether it's right or wrong. Any time students have to do this, it's a good thing I think.

4. I'm not the center of attention. In fact, I don't have much to do at all except general supervision and refereeing. The students are actually engaging with English, not just taking it in (or often not!) from me.

5. There is definitely an element of skill to the game, but a bit of luck as well, so even the bad students are motivated to keep trying.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On why I don't teach content classes

So at my uni, there are occasionally programs for public school teachers, or various other things where we do "teacher training." Now, I haven't gone to school to learn how to become a teacher, nor do I have any formal training in the ESL Field. Of course, I've read lots of books and articles, and think about it a lot and have 4 years experience. But I would never really pretend to be qualified to teach a teacher training class, or an interview skills class, or something of that sort. I generally will stick to conversation classes, with brief forays into reading and writing and listening, with a bit of grammar teaching mixed in, if required.

Part of the issue is that it's generally just not worth the money. Like I'd need to do a lot of research before doing a teacher training class, so I don't look like a dumb-ass and waste people's time. And there are handouts and stuff. And the $50 or $60/ hour that I would get paid for it just isn't worth the 3 or 4 hours I would need to prepare, plus the one hour that I would actually teach. For a conversation class, I generally prepare for 15 or 20 minutes, for a one hour class.

Anyway, I seem to have just been signed up for a program of this sort, this summer. The joys of my uni. More OT going around than teachers to teach it :) Sigh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life...and teaching in Asia

I was just listening to the most recent episode of the Seoul Podcast and they had these cool guys, from Jetsetzero on. They're basically traveling around the world, making enough money to keep their travels going. They got started by working minimum wage jobs for three months to fund the first leg. Anyway, they're now teaching in South Korea. Check it out, it's some cool movie-making.

And...if you scroll down a bit on the Seoul Podcast to Episode 56, you can hear what I have to say :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review 2: "Smart Choice" by Ken Wilson

I've used Smart Choice 2  for the past semester and am generally pretty happy with them. Interesting topics, easy to understand, a good workbook to go along with it. However, I've noticed 2 major weaknesses that make me almost not want to use the book again.

1. The dialogues. They are good enough for the students just to read and speak to each other. But for the students to insert their own ideas? It just doesn't make any sense in most cases. They are either too specific or complicated. And to me, doing dialogues where the students don't build on it with their own ideas seems like a waste of time, so I just don't do it.

2. The review sections. Singing? Filling in the blanks in a comic book? It's very lame and all the teachers in my program just skip right over it and do their own thing for the review days. It's almost like another author wrote it, it's so bad in comparison.

Does anyone else use this book and have some thoughts about it? Ken Wilson...have you found your way to this post? You can also check out my first review of this book.


I just read this interesting article about homework and its negative points. The one that was most true for me, in teaching at my uni here in Korea is the quantity vs. quality thing. I give 3 pages of homework each week, to correspond with the unit that we've studied in class. And the students, with the exception of 3 or 4 in each class don't take it seriously. They do a half-ass effort, or just copy off the good students before the class begins. But, for the ones who do take it seriously, I think it can actually help reinforce what they've learnt in class. Essentially though, it's not a matter of quality, it's just about getting it done.

And, so I wonder about some other way to do homework. Like homework tailored to each students, where they could explore what they're interested in. Or they do little projects each week. But I know the reality, my students are lazy and many of them probably wouldn't do it. And I worry about how to explain this to people who speak only a very basic level of English.

Any ideas? Please help!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thinking about coming to Korea?

It seems like a lot of people who are thinking about coming to Korea to teach find their way to my blog through searches. I've had quite a few people emailing me over the years (I've been here for 4!) asking for some advice. Here is some basic info for you.

1. A recruiter is not necessarily the best way to find a job. They are not your friend, the school is the one who pays them, not you. However, this is mostly for hagwons. A recruiter should be fine if you're looking for a public school job. But, be careful that you're not doing an after-school program, but the actual 9-5 thing.

2. A good way to find a job is to come and do a one-month long winter or summer camp. Look on ESLCAFE for the job ads. While you're working, you can be applying for jobs and set up interviews for the week after you're done your camp. Plus, you'll have $2000 or 3000 in your pocket so you won't be desperate enough to take the first one that comes along. Go for the interviews, get a feel for the place, talk to the other foreigners, preferably outside the school setting.

3. Ask for references from the PREVIOUS foreigners who worked there. The current ones sometimes can't tell you the real deal, for fear of getting fired/money taken from the, etc, etc.

4. You probably won't get a uni job (the coveted position!) your first year, but do the hagwon or public school thing and always keeps your ears/eyes open for better stuff that comes along for your second year.

5. If you want to do the public school thing, SMOE is a good way to go if you want to be in Seoul. EPIK is a good way to go if you don't mind the countryside. As far as hagwons go, they're a bit of a crapshoot, but the best of the worst (from what I've heard!) are CDI and YES Youngdo. Best in terms of paying you, not screwing you, not necessarily hours, vacation, etc.

6. Paperwork takes a long time. You may have heard stories about people deciding to go to Korea, flying over, getting a visa and starting teaching all within a week. This is no longer the case with embassy interviews, Criminal Record Checks, transcripts, etc. It can take monthS, so check online about what paperwork you need and have it together before you even start applying for jobs.

Specific Questions? Please ask, and I'll put them into another post.