Sunday, March 28, 2010

The expert game

This is a fun intermediate/advanced conversation kind of activity. I get the students to write down 5 things that they are an expert in. I do my own list first by way of example. I'm an expert in:

1. Scuba Diving
2. Teaching English
3. Canada
4. Reality TV
5. Gardening

Once they've written their lists, I get them to circle the 3 that they think will be most interesting to the other students in the class. Next, divide them up into groups of 2 and give them about 5 or 6 minutes to ask some questions to their partner about things they are experts in.

I like this activity because I think people tend to forget they are actually talking English, if they're talking about stuff they're passionate about. And it's interesting because you can keep changing partners.

No Homework

This semester, I'm doing no homework as an experiment for the following reasons:

1. The students will just generally copy the one or two best students anyway.

2. I've read a few studies that show homework, just for the sake of homework really doesn't increase true learning.

3. It's annoying to police, especially the copying thing. Like I know they've copied and then if I don't call the students on it, they just think I'm kind of stupid and they're pulling one over on me, which is an unenviable position for any teacher to be in. But they all copy, so I'd literally spend an entire class sorting out who copied what if I tried to enforce it.

4. Students who want to actually learn English, will, and probably not through little homework exercises in their workbook. They're going to find foreign friends, watch movies, take extra classes, or read English books.

So, I'm just doing 2 big projects, each worth 10%. My first one is to introduce yourself, on a single A4 paper using pictures and writing 10-15 sentences about family, hobbies, etc. I hope my students will like it, because who doesn't like showing off pics and talking about themselves? And I'm hoping they will actually learn/reinforce what they know in a way that is relevant and interesting to them. We'll see I guess. I'll get the first ones coming in next week. I'll take some pics and put up the best ones on the blog.

Project #2 will be a speech/show and tell sort of thing. Still thinking about it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Partner Conversations

A fun thing I do in class is partner conversations. For example, today we were talking about feelings.

So I gave them this conversation to get started. A. Hey _____, how are you doing? B. I'm great, how are you? A. I'm _______ (sad, embarrassed, angry, bored). B. Oh? What's wrong? A._____ B._________ A.__________ etc, etc.

I gave them about 10 minutes to write the conversation with their partner. You can adjust the number of lines to suit the ability level. Then, I have them memorize it, so that they can recite it without their paper. Then, they stand up in front of the class and everyone listens.

I'll give a reward (a stamp, which ='s grades in my class) for the team that is the most interesting or funny, has good grammar and clear speaking.

This is definitely not an everyday kind of thing because it does get boring if you do it too often but I find that maybe 3 times in a semester is perfect.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reader Questions...

These ones from Ellie.

"Some of my questions would be - where to start? Is it possible to get a decent university job before arriving in Korea? (I have heard that most people transition from hagwon to uni). What are the size of your classes? Are you the only English teacher on campus?"

It's extremely difficult to get a uni job before arriving in Korea, though not impossible. Maybe 1/20 people manage to do it. Another alternative would be to come to Korean on a tourist visa in either August or February, right before the semesters starts. You could pick up some last minute interviews and hopefully get a job.

My class sizes range from 15-25. But I used to have up to 50. There's basically the whole range from 10-100, it just depends on the uni. That's definitely a question to ask at the interview.

I'm not the only teacher on my campus, although this is the case for some people. I work with about 20 other foreigners. Again, depends on the uni.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Survey Activities

One of my favorite things to do is survey type activities, where the students have a sheet of paper with some questions or something and they need to find one of their classmates who fits each slot. Today, we're doing questions such as "Do you travel sometimes?" or, "Are you a university student?" Then, if their partner answers yes, they write down their name and ask them one more question to elicit an extra piece of information. They have to walk around the class, talking to everyone because they can only write each student's name in one slot.

I like it because students can get out of it, what they put into it. The students who are serious about English will actually speak English, and ask good, thoughtful questions.

The ones that aren't serious about it will just copy off their friend or only speak Korean.

I try to prep the activity well, before I turn them loose, saying what I'm looking for: only speaking English, talking to everybody, writing the answers in English. But in the end, it's up to them. As learning English should be. A teacher can facilitate but it's up to the student to really take it in. It's the same with teaching anything.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I've been saying this for years...

...but I'll have to see the changes, to believe them. Koreans study English for 10 years or so when they're young, solely to get a good score on their university entrance exam. They sometimes know these outrageous grammar rules that I don't even understand but can't tell me their name, in a complete sentence or reply with anything more than, "I'm fine, thank you and you?" when asked how they're doing.

And I've been saying for years that it's time for a change. Obviously, this is a complete waste of time and really doesn't prepare Korea to be an active player in the global economy where English in a necessity. Practical English. A speaking component to the test. A listening section, with real-life dialogues from native speakers. A bit on an essay writing section. Anything, basically to get away from the exclusively multiple choice tests that Koreans seem to love. And which, when learning a second language for any practical purpose are essentially useless.

Changes are perhaps in the pipeline. I hope someone will actually follow through.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another question....about grading participation/attendance

So a reader Crystal left a question, asking how I grade participation/attendance, of which I allot 20% of the final grade.

My system is quite simple, compared to many of my colleagues.

I have an ink stamp, and I stamp the backs of their textbooks. If the student is sitting in their desk, the minute class starts with their pen, book, and name-tag, they get one stamp. The stamp=1%. In addition, almost everything we do in class has a winner of some sort and this person gets a stamp. If someone volunteers to help me by doing a demo, they'll get a stamp.

That's it.

Life Work Balance

At the beginning of every semester at my university, it's a bit of a scramble, as everyone runs around trying to find overtime and extra classes to teach. I always have the internal debate in my head as to how much my free time is worth. I have lots of hobbies and even during vacations, with no classes I'm ever bored. So, I try to maintain a happy balance between a decent amount of money coming in each month and free time. I definitely make less than a few of my colleagues but in the end, I perhaps save more than they do. My secret is having cheap or free hobbies.

I exercise, which is essentially free (I signed up for the gym at my uni...$10/month). I read, and try to get my books through book swapping via the expat boards and forums here in Korea. I cook a lot, which in the end saves me money by not going out. I garden, which makes me money because I don't have to go to the grocery store for weeks a time for a few months of the year. I like investing and follow the markets, which is theory should actually make me money in the end. I chill out with friends, by going out for dinner, which in Korea is quite cheap. I just avoid the chilling out that revolves around drinking, which is the fastest way to suck up money. I take advantage of the internet and download TV and music for free. I go on vacation twice a year, so spend a few months planning each one of those. I think it saves me money in the end, as I feel confident enough to just book stuff when I'm on the ground and not before, which almost always ends up being cheaper.

So forget the working all the time. Who needs that? Just find some stuff that you like to do that doesn't require much money.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Back to the grind...

...of regular classes. I just had my first couple today. I have my opening routine down to an exact science, able to convey all the information I want to, simply in about 30 minutes. That's the key on the first day, and actually any day when dealing with people who kind of, but don't really speak English. Simple. Slow. No idioms or slang. Pictures on board.

If the students have no idea what you're talking about, right off the start, they probably will give up and resign themselves to not understanding anything you have to say in the future. The first class is more important than most people think :)