Friday, December 31, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Little things help you land the big TEFL Job

Some excellent tips from Ted for those who are applying for ESL teaching jobs abroad.  I agree wholeheartedly!

If you follow his tips, you've already beat out 1/2 your competition!  It really is that easy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Different level students

I've ended up teaching a 2 week intensive class for those students who failed their freshman English class the first time 'round and need it in order to graduate.  The desperate of the desperate essentially.  And most of them are truly terrible at English. 

In my regular class during the semester, I'll have one or two of these students in each class, mixed in with some average ones and then a few ringers who are little English geniuses.  This makes it very hard to teach at a level that makes everyone happy.  But this class I'm teaching now, they're all at the same level: very low.  And I'm actually finding it much more enjoyable.  Like I know what I'm dealing with so I can adapt my class and take everything really, really slow.  And nobody is bored I think and they actually appreciate how simple I'm making it. 

Anyway, my point is this.  If I had to choose between a mixed level class with a few stars in it, or a completely low-level class, I'd take the low-level one any day.  Of course, a class with all high-level students would be better!  Haha!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Should foreigners be tested for Aids?

An accurate article from a top North America magazine "Time" about foreigners having mandatory HIV tests here in Korea.  But, let's be clear about the situation.  Prostitutes, entertainers and migrant workers are exempt, it's only the ESL teachers.  Unbelievably. 

Brian's commentary here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010 maybe don't make teaching at a Korean uni your long-term plan

From the Korea Times.  Not the main focus of the article, but in 10 years time, the number of college freshman is expected to be 1/2 of what it is now because of falling birthrates.  My uni is already pushing to recruit Chinese students to bolster their ranks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On getting extra work

I was talking with my friends last night about pay at a Korean University. One of my friends who works at another uni, said that she would appreciate it if Korea unis would bump up the pay by 100 000 or 200 000/month after a couple years service.  I said that I didn't really care and am quite happy working for the salary I agreed to when I started, plus a little cost of living increase once in a while.

It's not about the base pay, but it's about the overtime opportunities.  There really isn't that much difference between 2.0 million and 2.3.  And, as my other friend that I work with pointed out, if you make more than the newbies you work with, it just makes your more expendable.  So back to the overtime.  When you are at the interview, you really should ask about overtime opportunities.  You will have plenty of free time, so can reasonably do 5-20 hours/week of overtime.  If the uni doesn't have any, I wouldn't necessarily work there unless the base pay was over 3.0 million.  But, if the uni has opportunities, this is how you can really make good money at a uni in Korea.  And, the longer you stay at a uni, the more connections you will make and the more offers you get.

What's your experience been like?  Lots of overtime?  Not so much?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Searching ESL Cafe

Okay, so that last post about taking a break for some R&R was kind of a lie.  I had good intentions, but as soon as I finished writing it, I checked my google reader and what popped into my list, but something too good not to blog about. 

ESL Cafe is the site for English teachers in Korea.  Jobs, forums, idea cookbook.  All good stuff. The horrible thing is the search function on the forums.  However, hope is here!  Thanks Brian for the tip.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Grades are in...

The semester is done and all my grades are entered into the computer.  Thankfully.  It was a good, but a long one and I'm feeling weary.  Now, for some much needed rest and relaxation and Christmas festivities with coworkers and friends.  Then, onto some studying for my upcoming trip to the Philippines to do a scuba diving instructor course.  Back on the other side of the desk for a while for me. 

So my readers, updates will be sporadic(once or twice a week) until mid-Feb when I'll start thinking and contemplating and planning for next semester.  Then, I'll be back to my regularly scheduled blogging.
If you're fixing for a hit of learning though, why don't you check out this book?  It comes highly recommended by me!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 50 Blogs for Teaching Abroad

I've been featured on a list for the Top 50 Blogs for Teaching Abroad.  There is lots of good stuff on the list that I've added to my Google Reader.  Check it out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do I really need technology to teach English

I would argue that in most cases the answer is no.  I've talked about it here and there on this blog but I've posted all my arguments in one place to make it easier to see what I really think.  Check it out here and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teacher Development

And...another site of mine that focuses exclusively on teacher development and becoming a better teacher.

Games and Activities for the ESL Teacher

Lots of people that find their way to my blog, find it through searching for games or activities they can do in the classroom.  To make the information on this blog easier to access, I've started a new site that profiles the games I use in the classroom.  And this is the site where I plan to list the activities that I do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Helpful Sites for the ESL Teacher

I've started posting on another site called Squidoo.  The content on there and here will mostly be the same, except it will be easier to find what you're looking for on Squidoo.  I've analyzed what people are searching for when they come to my site and I hope to be able to refer them to another site of mine that is more specific to what they're looking for.  No more wading through stuff that you're not interested in.  And don't worry, if you want all your information in one place, it will all still be on here as well.

I know that Squidoo has lots of ads.   Some people hate that in a website, so I still plan to maintain this site mostly ad-free.  But, if you do visit my Squidoo pages, please click on a few things.  I will be giving 1/2 the money I make to Kiva, which is my charity of choice.   They make loans to small entrepreneurs in developing countries.  You should check it out.

Anyway, my first new site that I'll introduce is: Websites for ESL Teachers.  This is the place to go if you need a bit of inspiration for your classes and want to introduce some new activities or games.  I've added a personal blurb to each link saying specifically how I use it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reader Question...difference between English/ESL

This one from Sam:

"I have a B.A in English (Literature & Composition).  I also have a Masters in Science: Curriculum,Instruction, & Assessment. There is a job in Korea that is seeking an ESL Teacher.  Are my degrees sufficient or do I need more experience with ESL?  What are the major difference from teaching mainstream English as opposed to teaching ESL? Any suggestions would be helpful."

To answer the first part.  Your qualifications are more than sufficient.  All you need is a BA in basket weaving to teach here.  If you want to work at a uni, standards are a bit higher but you seem to have it covered with your masters degree.

Secondly, teaching ESL and teaching mainstream English are a world apart.  If you have extremely high level students, and are teaching an "English writing" or "English literature" class then it might be somewhat comparable to what you'd be doing back home.  Except these jobs are few and far between in Korea.  At my uni, only 2 or 3 out of the 25 of us actually teach these high level classes.  Anyway, the major difference is that you won't be teaching content, you'll be teaching very basic English vocab, grammar and conversation strategies.  If you have lower-level students, then think, "How are you today" and "What color is this?"  Mid-level students, then think, "What's your favorite movie?"  or "What did you eat for breakfast today?" 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Quiz Show

I usually have a class of review before the midterm and final exams.  I choose a couple of games that we can play.  This week, I've been doing a Jeopardy kind of quiz show. 

I make up categories from stuff that is on the test: "Vocab, grammar, movies, body"  I think of questions that range from easy ($100) to difficult ($500).  I put the students in groups of 3 or 4 and the they have to pick their category and question.  They can pick whatever they want, but the key is that if they get it correct, they obviously get the points.  If wrong, they get minus that number.  I put in a few +/- 500/1000 to make it more interesting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


We all know and love Bingo.  I remember back when I was a kid and I just couldn't get enough of it.  Well, believe it not, university students in Korea seem to enjoy it as well.  Except if I did it where I just called out the words, and they crossed them off I probably couldn't really consider myself a real teacher.  So, instead I modify it to make it more more educational.  It's actually a fabulous way to get students to review a large amount of vocab.

I make up a grid, and at the bottom list all the possible words they can choose from.  They take a few minutes to write in the words that they want.  Then, I just give hints about the words and they need to figure out what I'm taking about.

Examples:  "I have many of them in my mouth" =teeth
"It's something difficult, not easy to do" =achievement

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A group project idea

This week in my classes, I've been doing group projects worth 20% of their final score. 

The students could go in groups of 1-5 people.  I always hated group projects in school, so I like to give the option on going alone (maybe only 1 person/class chooses this).  They have to choose a problem such as global warming, eating junk food, human rights in North Korea, etc and make a poster about it that's worth 10%.  I give points for things such as how beautiful it is, English writing on it, and grammar. 

Then, they have to do a presentation about their poster worth 10%.  I take off points for reading from a script, and copying from the internet and give points for interesting and clear speaking.  Each student in the group has to talk for 1-2 minutes.

Results so far?   Quite good.  The students have done some amazing posters and there is always at least one group in the class who does a fabulous presentation.  They seem quite happy and proud of themselves when they're finished.  And not that it's all about me, but it has been a nice break from being up at the front and doing lesson plans for the week :)

I did this assignment before, a couple years ago but I was much more rigid with the groups and made everyone be in a group of 5. This time, by being flexible, it's caused me much less stress and made it a much better experience for the students as well because they can just go with their friends and don't have to work with people they don't want to.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

High drop-out rate of Native English Teachers due to lack of qualifications?

It seems to be, according to this article from the Joongang Daily.  I would just have to add a few things to the list:

1. Most unhelpful and/or creepy co-teachers in public schools who have no interest in working with a foreigner to conduct English classes.

2. Moldy, one-room hovels that pretend to be appropriate housing.

3. Not being paid for the work done.  Or not getting the promised benefits, such as health-care of pension.

4. Desk-warming with the janitor while all your co-workers are at home (public school). 

5. The old bait-and-switch.  You actually thought you'd be able to take one of those 4 weeks of vacation days or 5 sick days?!  Haha!  And that you'd only work 20 hours a week?  Haha!  

Anyway, Korea has definitely got some issues going on with the whole ESL industry here.  Part of it is the unqualified teachers, but the other big part of it is lack of policies/laws that protect foreigners in the case of unqualified hagwon owners masquerading as business people/educators or public school English teachers pretending that they can actually speak English and understand foreign culture.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Funny....and kind of true.

Want to teach in Korea?  Well, you should know what you're getting into first.  And the thing is, it really is true about crappy hagwons.   It happened to me in my first year. 

Thanks Stafford for the laugh and happy memories.

Korean culture in the classroom

I attended this presentation this past weekend at Kotesol about Korean culture and how to work with it in the classroom.  It was done by a second generation Korean-American, so he knew the fancy Korean words for loss of face or high school test.  Except, when it came to Korean culture I don't think he really knew what he was talking about.  He was telling us this story about how a class gave him a terrible interim evaluation, when he thought everything in the class was fine.  They said he was rude or something like that.  Instead of looking at himself and taking the advice for what it was, he confronted the students and sounds like he made a scene.   And I'm sure he got even worse evaluations at the end of the semester. 

In Korea, confrontation is such a big no-no.  Like bad, bad, bad.  If it is done, it has to be done with the upmost delicacy and in a such a way that no one loses face.  Think a win-win situation, not a win-lose one.  I don't think I'm skilled enough in the Korean social etiquette to even attempt this and I'm quite shocked that the presenter would think confronting his students like this was a good idea. 

He did have some good points about how in Korea, it's the teacher who has to work hard to make a connection with the students, whereas in other countries, the students will just accept you into the family without much effort of your own.  And that students are scared to appear either stupid, or too smart in front of their teacher or peers because of the whole shame/loss of face thing. 

Something that was omitted from the session that would have been most helpful to include is the positive aspects of Korean culture that you could work with in the class.  The one that most easily comes to my mind is the group dynamic thing they've got going on.  Back in the West, students are quite happy to be given a worksheet or something and told to do it. Or prepare an individual presentation.  In fact, many would much rather prefer this alone stuff to doing it in a group. 

Here in Korea, it's the opposite: people love doing things in a group or with a friend.  This works out in my class in that I'll rarely do activities that involve being alone.  Even with book work, or grammar exercises I'll tell the students to put their pencil down and read the sentences with correct answers with their partners.  And in games, I'll never let students go alone but put them in groups of 2-4.  This also helps overcome the shame factor because you appear stupid or smart with other people, so it's not so terrible!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

EFL Teaching Methodology + Must have resource books

Thanks to Kimchi Icecream, who is now in China for this great post.  2 things are helpful:

First, he talks about his teaching methodology.  This could be quite helpful for those getting prepared for interviews to get some ideas.

Secondly, he makes a nice list of books that should be in your resource library if you're an ESL/EFL teacher. 

Back to Basics

This past Saturday, I attended the Daejeon/Chungnam Kotesol conference, conveniently hosted at my own uni.  I will talk about some of the presentations in a couple posts.  But to start things off:

My first presentation was someone talking about motivation uncovered using surveys and blind variables and why students study English and how their motivations correlate with grades and high level and low level students and what differences there are in time studied outside class and if the teacher is handsome matters. that a most confusing sentence?  Yes?  That's what the presentation was like. 

Anyway, not much to take away from it, but since I make it my goal to extrapolate something from every single presentation I go to, I've kicked my brain into overdrive and come up with the following: people that do presentations like this seem to have way too much time on their hands.  Teaching ESL/EFL is a pretty simple thing.  A book (or not).  A blackboard to write on.  Notebooks and pencil.  Some handouts (or not).  To me, doing all these surveys and extrapolating all this data just wouldn't seem that helpful to me. 

And going along with this, I attended a session from Joshua Davies about Powerpoint's good and bad.  There was a lot of bad.  And you know, actually I never use PPT in my classes.  I could (and have in the past) but it just doesn't seem that helpful.  Like, I don't want to be competing with what's written on the screen.  And, I generally write very little text during a class anyway, so can write it on the board very easily.  Josh pointed out though that for some things, a visual can say it like words never could.  So, perhaps I will start to integrate more video or pictures into my classes next year.  We'll see.  But for now, no more nagging guilt feelings that I'm being a bad teacher by not using PPT.  I have a feeling that the students are doing fine without out.  Sticking to the basics works for me, due to my sparkling personality and beautiful-ness. Hahaha.  It's probably just the little stamp I give them in their books.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reader Question...level of students

This one from Chris:

"I'd like to know a bit more about the standard of your students.  The reason I ask is that when I look at some of your games (although undoubtedly well designed) they appear extremely simplistic and almost aimed at children.  I'm sure most of my high school class would breeze through them!  How can than this be a class for a university or have I misunderstood something?  Is university teaching really about doing stuff like this?!"

Well Chris, the simple answer is yes, it really is like this sometimes.  Korean students (and parents), generally seem to want an entertainer vs an actual teacher when they have a foreigner in the classroom.  Those that are "real" teachers and conduct their classrooms as such generally have a pretty hard time teaching at a uni here.  I remember one of my old coworkers who was a principal back in the USA getting very low evaluations from the students because she actually had expectations for the students and was serious about teaching.  The handsome/funny/not too serious performer seems to be the one who thrives.

Of course, all situations are different.  If you work at a high-level uni, then yes, of course you'll probably forget the little games and stuff and it will be a lot more serious.  However, my uni is not high-level:

1. It's out in the sticks, away from Seoul.
2. It's a science/engineering school so the students are good at math and science, not exactly humanities stuff.
3.Anyone can get in.

So, some of my students can barely say hello and tell me their name.  If they have problems about homework or something, I have to resort to speaking my sketchy Korean because their English is non-existent  (of course some are freakishly good and almost fluent). So, I conduct class like they're in elementary school almost.  And, in some ways they are.  We're re-learning the grammar and vocab they should have learned then.  I give them such simple assignments that an 7 year old kid at a hagwon would be able to do it.  I give them the questions for the test a couple weeks before the test.  They are generally kind of jaded about English, so I try to make it fun and interesting and hope they'll leave my class and have a wee bit more confidence about actually using it in real life.  And actually Chris, the kindergarten kids you teach at your hagwon are probably much better than my students.

Anyway, at a uni you can generally do whatever you want in class.  Some of my coworkers are quite serious (we have thin walls!) and seem to be doing lots of paperwork and book activities.  Some are like me and play lots of games and have a happier class.  It's up to you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 cup style

Even though the fad has passed, this can still be a fun game that Korean students get kind of excited about.  First, write up some questions.  I use review things mostly but add in a few random ones like, "What time did you wake up this morning?" or "How long did it take you to come to school this morning?" 

Then, in class count up your students and make up a "draw."  You know, the round of 16, quarter-finals, semis and the final.  If you have an odd number and it doesn't quite work, make up some "last-chance spots."  So all the people who lost their game in the section of the draw can compete against each other for the last spot.  Write up student's names in the draw, randomly (I use the attendance list).  To add some more fun, and for smaller classes you can get students to pick a country.  For bigger classes, wait until the semi-finals before you allow country picking.

Anyway, ask the students a question from your list and the person to answer the fastest gets to move onto the next round.  That's it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A fun vocab review game

Write the vocab words on a flip chart of some sort.  I use an old notebook and write one word/page.  Divide the class up into teams.  I find that 5-8 people/team works well.  One student from the team comes and sits at the front of the class facing his or her teammates.  I show one word at a time to the team but not the person sitting at the front.  The team has to give hints about the word, in English only, using no body language.  An example: EYE.  Hints students give: 2, on face, I can see.

I do 2 or 3 rounds of 1 minute each and the goal is to get as many words as possible in that 1 minute.  If the team uses body language or Korean, I discount that point.  This game is very, very fun.  Lots of laughs and happy times.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Teaching in North Korea

Thanks to Gusts of Popular Feeling for the link to the article in the Korea Herald.  Some fascinating stuff and not so wacky as I would have thought.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A fun game....telling a story

This is a game you can play if you're talking about interesting experiences, achievements, or telling stories.  Give the students a few minutes to write about something that they've experienced in the past.  The examples I give them are: paragliding or bungee jumping, meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend, a special vacation, eating an interesting food, etc. 

When the students are finished writing, have them put their names on the paper.  Collect them.  At this point, I'll usually put the students in teams of 2 or 3.  Then, read the papers out loud to the class and have the students write down the name of the person they think it is.  Exchange papers with another group, give answers and you have your winner. 

This works well in my classes because even though there are about 20 people, they know each other  well because they are all the same major and have all their classes together.  If there are some students not of the same major who are repeating the class, I'll make sure to put them in a group with other students who know the majority of the students. 

This could also work well for a smaller, more advanced level class of mixed-major students as a "get to know each other" kind of activity. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Switching from elementary to uni...Reader Questions

These ones from Kerry:

"1. Regarding the interview. What kinds of questions should I expect?  And what questions should I ask them?

 2. I'm making  2.6 million won a month here teaching 22 hours a week (plus desk warming until 5 pm) and was wondering if the pay/hours at universities would be close.

3.Typically, do universities provide housing? "

My answers:

1.About the interview, I've talked about it here already.  And actually, I'm not really the guru on this one, I've only been to 2 in Korea.  As for what to ask them...well, what's important to you I guess!  But, I'd caution you not to waste your interviewer's time with trifling stuff like whether your office has a printer, or if your housing has a washing machine.  They often won't even know all this logistical stuff. 

2. Typical pay is 2.0-2.5/month for 12-18 hours/week teaching.

3. Unis will usually provide housing.  If they don't, they'll offer you a housing allowance of 300 000 Won+ /month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reader Question...uni job without a masters

This one from Anne:

"I'm an ESL teacher in Korea, and have just started my second contract here. I have about four years' teaching experience, and hold a degree in English and a TESL 2.  My partner and I were hoping to crack the university job market after finishing our current contracts. We both have years of experience, but without Masters degrees, we're worried that competition would be stiff.  If you have any tips on how to approach the univeristy hiring process, I would love to hear them. I've read advice that you've given on your blog, but was wondering if you had any tips for our specific backgrounds."

I've talked about this before and have said that without a masters degree, it can be tough going to get a uni job in Korea.  Even people with masters in ESL are having hard times these days it seems.  However, you do have 3 things going for you:

1. You are in Korea, and will have 2 years experience (and hopefully references to go along with it). 
2. You have a TESL cert. 
3. Your degree is in English. 

There's always hope for people in your situation, especially at the lower-level unis.  I always see ads on ESL Cafe where the minimum requirement is a BA, but not to say that's who gets hired I guess.  Just apply to every single one of these ones.  And you could even apply to the ones where the minimum is a masters degree.  If you are organized, it doesn't take so much more time to apply for 100 unis as it does for 10.  A somewhat likely scenario is being able to scoop up one of the last minute jobs.  Like a uni had someone all lined up, but they backed out and now they're desperate and are just moving down their list of candidates.  But, for a couple?  Most unlikely I would think.

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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's all about relationship

So I've been thinking lately about teaching, and what is really important.  I increasingly think that it's not so much about handouts, excessive prep and fancy powerpoints.  I think it's about all the relationships you can build with students.  If the students like you, they will want to learn from you. 

I remember back to when I was a student, and it's not the material I remember, but about the relationships I had with the teachers.  My favorites were the ones that were kind, and funny, and gentle and who cared about me as a person.  And those were the classes I cared about.  The arrogant, bad-communicators, and those with no social skills?  Well, it didn't matter how good their presentation was, or how relevant their material was...I just didn't care and only wanted to make it through. 

So how does that relate to teaching in Korea?  I have some coworkers who I see, as I'm walking by classrooms before class who have these crazy impressive powerpoint presentations.  And I see handouts that are left in classrooms by teachers before me.  They are also most impressive.  Except the teachers that have this stuff are generally those that I would consider weak on the social skill end of things.  They are definitely on the lower end of the well-liked people at my uni spectrum.  I think they use technology to hide behind, as a way of avoiding real interaction and engagement.

On the other hand, those that I would consider the most well-liked kind of people, seem to not have so many impressive handouts or powerpoints.  But, I think that they actually engage the students in a real, interesting kind of way and I have a feeling that their students are actually learning English. 

So, not that technology, impressive handouts=bad teacher, and no technology, no handouts=good teacher.  It's way more complicated than that obviously.  But, I would definitely think carefully about your purpose behind using this stuff.  Is it to further student's learning or is to hide behind?  Teaching is all about relationship and I think it's pretty hard to have a relationship with a TV screen or a piece of paper.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Public school jobs now require some actual credentials?

Check out this post from Joy about her recent public school job, job search.  Despite having 2 years of experience, she's having a hard time because schools seem to want to hire someone with a teaching or English degree or something similar. 

My thoughts?  Good for you Korea!  It's about time you stopped giving jobs to people with a BA in computer science (or something of the sort) and a pulse.  Not that I'm qualified as a "real teacher" but at least my degrees are in the social sciences, I had to write papers and take English classes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chinese students in English class

I've had a few Chinese students in my classes over the years here in Korea, and from my experience, they are either far better than most of the Korean students or far worse.  By far worse, I mean don't know their numbers, colors, and day of the week and don't know what sounds the letters make.  What makes it tricky at my uni is that I teach mostly required classes.  The students have to pass 2 semesters of English to get their degree.  Anyway, how do I deal with these students who really can't read?  I get them to come to my office for some private tutoring once or twice a week for an hour or so and teach them how to read.  This improves the situation considerably and they can at least try to participate in class.  And I give them special, extremely simple tests on the stuff I've worked with them in my office about.  If they do okay, I give them a "D" in the class and they're on their way to bigger and better things.  If they are unwilling to work with me, I'll give them an "F."

Anyway, here is a story from A Geek in Korea about a particularly bad Chinese Student.  My main question would be whether this class is a mandatory one.  If yes, well, then, I can't believe that the Geek didn't show a lot more compassion.  The student hasn't made it his " fail a class so completely."  He is simply unable to perform to the same abilities as the other students, which is probably no fault of his own.  Maybe this is his first English class ever?

If this class is an optional class and the student signed up for it voluntarily, this changes the situation a bit.  But, the Geek mentioned that the student doesn't really speak Korean either.  So, the uni has to register him in something, and this class was probably one of the only ones even remotely possible.  So, again, a little compassion perhaps?  Have some private sessions with him in your office?  Work with him on his presentation, so he can do it in class without making a total fool of himself in front of his classmates. 

Anyway, poor guy.   And I don't mean the teacher.  I mean the student.  I just hope the teacher isn't as cruel in class to the student as he is in writing about him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reader old is too old?

This one from Blair, wondering if 61 years old is too old.  He's tried EPIK, as well as some recruiters so far and has had, "You're too old," or no response at all. His question is whether it is worth it to apply to unis in Korea and China, and if yes, how to go about this.  He wants to work for 6 months-1 year.

I'd deal with the age thing first.  I've had a couple coworkers who were in their 50's or 60's.  And I've met some foreigners teaching in various kinds of jobs that were that old as well.  So, it certainly is possible.  However, in most places, it's the younger and the more handsome/beautiful, the better teacher you must surely be.   If you're willing to work in the countryside, then you would have a much better chance at getting a job.  But, being the only foreigner within 50 square kilometers is not so appealing to everyone. 

As for China?  Well, it's a much bigger place so I'd say your chances are certainly higher of getting a job there.  And  I would venture a guess and say that there is probably not a lot of demand for those 4000-6000 RMB jobs.  But, I don't have any information on the age thing.  

And the 6 month thing.  NEVER say this on your application to Korea.  All places want a minimum 1 year contract. 

As for how to apply?  Blair is wondering if he should just send a package to every uni in Korea and China (there are lists out there somewhere).  This is kind of a waste of your time I would think.  For one thing, unis in Korea generally don't hire out of country applicants.  Secondly, unsolicited applications don't get any attention (I've been there and done that in Korea!).  Based solely on my perusing the China job boards, it seems that unis there will hire from out of country. 

So my final piece of advice!  Peruse the Chinese job boards at ESL Cafe and ESL Teachers Board.  Follow the directions precisely for what they want in your application package.  Get a professional picture taken wearing a suit and tie.  And not that I'm the grammar police or anything, but your email to me had many typos and grammar mistakes.  Get someone to proofread your resume and cover letter.  If your resume was the same quality as the email, a native speaker (and fluent-ish Koreans or Chinese) would just throw it in the garbage.  Be concise.  You are quite possibly dealing with people who don't know English that well.  They just need the highlights of any teaching related experience you have.  That's it. 

Good luck.

Can/can't...a fun game

This week, my classes are learning about can/can't.  A fun game you can play is the following:

Put the students in teams of 2, 3, or 4 depending on how big your classes are.  They have to pick 1 animal, and 1 thing, but must keep it a secret from their classmates.  My 2 examples were:

Animal: Giraffe

1. It can eat leaves
2. It can't live in Korea
3. It can see easily over tall things

Thing: Air Conditioner

1. I can see it now
2. It can be bad for the environment
3.It can help me in the summer but not winter.

The students write their 2 secret words, as well as their 3 hints for each one.  Then you collect the papers and use them to play a game.  There are various ways you can do it, but I will go in a circle based on where the teams are sitting.   The team whose paper I'm reading has to be quiet and can't give hints.  The first team get the first hint and then they can have a guess.  If no answer, the next team gets hint #2 and a guess.  And so on.  If the three hints don't do it, I'll give additional hints so make sure your students write the answers on the papers.

Public school jobs in Korea

A decent summary of the Gepik/Smoe/Epik programs in Korea.  However, there is one inaccuracy.  These three do not encompass all the programs.  Gangnam, Chungnam, and Busan hire people apart from these programs.  There are probably more, but I don't know them off-hand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A simple game to review vocab

I'll use this game once or twice a semester to either review vocab that we've studied in class that day, or to start off a new class to review stuff from the previous week.  I make a grid on my computer.  Maybe 4x5.  Then, I fill in the chart with half words and half definitions.  Examples from this week:
Exhausted/very tired. It's between my head and shoulders/neck. If I drink too much soju/stomachache.

Make a few copies and cut them out. Put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and have them put them face down on the desk.  They go around, one at a time trying to make a match.  If you make a match, you get to go again. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Student Evaluations

Another helpful thread on ESL Cafe, this time about contract renewals being based solely/heavily on student evaluations.  And, I've talked about this topic numerous times.  Anyway, check these two things out for some "pro tips" for happy success at renewal time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grade Inflation

There is a thread going on, on ESL Cafe, talking about "integrity in university grading."  If you've never taught at a Korean uni, you probably won't have any idea of what it's like and assume it's kind of the same as it was when you went to uni back in the Western world somewhere  Well, it's not. 

Standards here are extremely lax and getting into uni is basically a guarantee of getting your certificate 4 (for the girls) or 6 (for the boys) years later.  Homework, studying, reports: they all seem optional. 

Anyway...some of my coworkers stress continually about this.  Talk, talk, talk endlessly and compare it all to how it is back home.  In fact, it's often these same people that compare daily life kind of stuff to how it is back home and they find that Korea can never measure up.  This is not really a good way to live, because it just causes too much stress and your life becomes this weird warped reality.

So what should you do?  Just chill out.  Take a few deep breaths.  Go with the flow.  Yes, we all know that academic standards are non-existent in Korea, and that cheating/plagiarism is rampant but you can't change the system, you know?   What you can change is how you run your classes.

How does this work out in my classes?  They are easy.  Far easier than any uni-level (or even high school!) language class back home would be.  I have such low expectations that it would be almost impossible for students not to meet them.  It's a win-win for everyone.  I freely give out A/B's for moderate efforts and C/D's for minimal effort.  Only the truly terrible students get "F."  Seniors will always get at least a "D" for showing up/doing a little homework, no matter how bad their test scores.  This reduces my stress considerably.

Testing?  Of course students will cheat, which is why I do speaking tests 1-1 with me, where it's impossible to cheat.  Written kind of tests?  I spell it out to them before.  If I see a cellphone-fail!  Writing on desk/arm-fail!  Talking to their friend-fail!  And of course I make multiple tests with slightly different questions and in a random order.  Assignments?  If you copy off the internet-fail!  Copy off your friend-you both fail!  I essentially have no late policy for assignments.  I always give them 2 weeks to do it, and after that, it's a "0."  It's actually quite simple and doesn't cause me any stress.  If you spell it to the students beforehand, who can really complain to you when you give them an "F."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Steal the Eraser

Thanks to one of coworkers, Danielle for the basic idea of this game.

Divide the students into 2 teams.  Have 2 desks at the front of the class, facing each other, with an eraser in the middle of the 2 desks.  One student from each team comes and sits in the hot seat.  Rotate through so that all the students get a chance to play.  You then ask a question of some sort.  The first person that grabs the eraser can try to answer the question.  My rule is that you can take the eraser whenever you want, but I"ll only say the question once.  I then count 10 seconds down on my fingers.  Their team can help them with the answer, but only in English.  If correct, they get 1 point.  If not, the other team gets a chance to answer the question.

This week in class, we're studying "When I _________, I ______/ I __________when I ________.

So, I would say something like, "When I feel happy, I _________." Or "I'm late for school when __________"

And of course, to make it even more exciting or if one team is behind by a lot of points, have a "Bonus Round," where the teams pick their best 3 players and each question is worth 2 or 3 points, or something like that.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Late students

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How students actually learn English...some theories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Need some new ideas for class?

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Which recruiter to use?

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reader Question...Jobs

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

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

But to directly answer the question:

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

Anyway, here are some options:

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Multi-level classes

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

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

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

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

What are your strategies?

Friday, October 22, 2010

University rankings in Korea

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How much effort does a teacher need to put in?

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hoping for the best but assuming the worst.

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

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

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

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

A graded reader listening exercise

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Public schools

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

Rote Memorization for vocab learning

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evaluation...Alternative Style

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

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

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

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

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

The Post-modern teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Kotesol Conference...the good

So the good things:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kotesol Conference...the bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reader Question: Student Motivation

This one from Maisha: 

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reader Question: the Master List

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


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

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

And a few points from me in response to this:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to come up with games?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Minor mistakes add up

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Japan vs. Korea vs. How to actually teach English

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

The best quote from the article in the Times:

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

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

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rules and perception

I've talked about rules many times already on this blog, but another reason that I like them that I haven't talked about is because you can be perceived as kind (and I actually generally am kind!)

My rules are quite tough.  For example, I say that I lock the door 10 minutes after class starts, and that if they're even 1 minute late, they won't get their participation point for that day.

But, the way that it plays out in class is that I'll generally give them about 20 minutes before I lock the door.  So, if a student comes at 15 minutes, they will be generally suprised and thankful that I'll let them in.  They won't be annoyed at me for not giving them their participation point.

And, I'll usually give students their participation point even if they're a couple of minutes later if I haven't officially started my class yet and am doing attendance, or handing out papers or having general chit-chat with a few students.  And students realize that they're a couple minutes late and I give it to them and they are surpringly thankful. 

So, I think in the end, it's better to be a hard-ass up front and then extend a little grace later instead of having no rules at the start and laying down the law further down the road. 

Public school in Busan? might want to reconsider.  Evaluations are now going to happen, and the result of a poor one is that you'll lose your job before the year is over.  Now, I have nothing against employers evaluating their employees.  And actually, I wish it would happen a lot, lot more at the uni level before decisions of contract renewal are made.  At the uni, you teach alone, expectations are generally clear and how you run your class is entirely up to you.  It seems much easier to evaluate someone's teaching skills in a situation like this. 

However, the public schools are an entirely different matter.  Like Brian says, no expectations combined with no plan to effectively use native speakers in the classroom makes for a tough situation for the foreigner.  So how could they reasonably be evaluated when they don't actually know what they should be doing in the first place. 

And, who exactly will be evaluating?  Someone with a masters or Phd in education and years of experience teaching a second language?  Someone who actually KNOWS English?  Or will it be some head office guy who has never been in a classroom in his life and can't actually understand what is happening in the classroom.

And, will the evaluations be done randomly?  If yes, perhaps head office will see how many native speakers are left totally alone in the classroom, and have become the head teacher, without the help of their co-teachers, despite only being "assistant teachers."  Will there be some recourse for these lazy Korean teachers?  Anyone can put on a little dog and pony show, but the real test is the random evaluation. 

And, will people be "let go" at the 10/11 month mark?  This could be an excuse to avoid paying airfare and bonus money in a quasi-legal-ish way.

Too many questions and no answers for a while.  All I know is that I'd avoid public schools in Busan for a year or two until we see how this all shakes down.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A quick warm-up game for all levels of adults

Put the students in groups of 2-3-4.  Have them pick 4 famous people, dead or alive that they'd like to invite to a party they are having.  Then, they have to say the reason why they're inviting them.  I do an example like this:

Person: Michael Jackson
Reason?  He can play some dance music for us.  Also, I want to know why he got so much plastic surgery. 

Give them a few minutes, depending on the level.  Then, I get the student to pick 1 or 2 of the people, depending on the size of the class and tell the rest of the class their answer. 

I've gotten an interesting array of answers and the students are quite interested to hear what the other groups have to say.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On being left to your own devices

I've had an ongoing email conversation with Paul, who is a newbie to university teaching in Korea. Here is an excerpt from one of his emails:

"At my uni I've been completely left to my own devices and whichever curriculum I develop is completely up to me.  Having no supervision is great in many ways but also a little unsettling in others for a newbie."

Remembering back to own situation 4 years ago, I understand exactly how he feels.  Some thoughts on how to handle this:

1. Talk to your coworkers who've taught at the uni for a while.  Everyone likes being the "expert" and I'm sure they won't mind answering your questions (just like I don't mind answering reader questions).  If you don't have a shared teacher's office, and rarely see your coworkers send out a group email with your questions and I'm sure you'll at least get a few responses.

2. Relax.  Administration at unis in Korea generally have low expectations.  Just show up to class every week, give some tests, input attendance and final grades, come to meetings, and don't sleep with the students.  Really.  Now, of course as a professional teacher your own expectations for yourself should be much higher but don't stress about curriculum and stuff.  No one else is.

3. Do some searches online for things like, "writing class university Korea syllabus" or "freshman English university Korea."    You'll find that many teachers post their syllabi online and this can be a valuable resource for you. 

4. Read the archives of this blog for some more tips.

5. Ask questions on the Korean Job forums at Eslcafe.  Many uni teachers are on there and will answer any question you have.