Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to make a bad unit in the book into a whole lesson

Sometimes there are those units in the book that just seem irrelevant, bordering on ridiculous but you have to make it work.  This week, in Top Notch 2, there was a unit about being at a hotel and all the problems that you could encounter.  I just didn't think it was helpful for my students.  When in the next few years are they going to go overseas and stay at a 5-star hotel that comes to turn down your bed and provides you with skirt hangers?  If I was teaching adults, or even students besides freshman, it would have been more helpful to them. Anyway, my students are straight out of high-school so this was not what they needed.

So what I usually do when I encounter this is to take the grammar focus of the unit and build a whole lesson around that.  In this unit it was, "You'd better/You'd better not."  This is the lesson plan I made:

1. Review Game using materials from the past 2 weeks.  I made some mixed up sentences and they had to make correct sentences with their partner. 

2. Short grammar lesson/examples.  Then, they did 2 little sections in the book.  The first was a conversation speaking with their partner and the second was writing some sentences. 

3. Then, I made a board game.  I made a 5x5 chart on my computer and put problems in each square.  For example, "I'm so fat!" or "I have no friends."  Then, when the students landed on that square, they had to give some advice using the grammar point.  I also throw in a few random things like go back 3, move ahead 2, go back to the start, and switch spots with the person on your left/right.  I make it more fun by telling them that they're the teachers and have to listen for any crazy answers, and that person has to go back the number of squares that they went forward.  I give the winner in each group a stamp (which equals 2% of their final grade).

4. In the same groups of 4 or 5, they had to think of a small problem.  Each person in the group gave them some advice using the grammar point.

Overall, it was a solid lesson that got the students talking and listening, thinking, laughing and learning.  If I had just stuck with the book, it would have been an exercise in tedium I think.  Don't be afraid to use your own discretion to make whatever you have work.  My caution is that you really should at least make an attempt to use a page or two of the book everyday, or the students will get annoyed and wonder why they actually had to buy it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Movie Review

It seems like every ESL book out there has a unit on movies.  And the 2 I used yesterday, Smart Choice 2 and Top Notch 2 are no exceptions (and by the way these 2 books get the official "My Life! Teaching in a Korean University Stamp of Approval." 

Anyway, if you're looking for an idea to make that movie unit a bit more interesting, since your students are likely a bit weary of it, is to have them do a movie review.  It's been a decent/fun time in all the classes that I've used it in. 

How it works: I put them in groups of 3 or 4 usually.  Then, they have to pick a movie that they've all seen.  They write down the movie name and genre.  They have to tell the movie story in 4 or 5 sentences.  Finally, they say if they liked the movie or not and if they'd recommend it, in 2-3 sentences. 

Then, they appoint one person from the group to read out their movie review to the class.  I'll give one participation point to each member of the group who has the most interesting, detailed and easy to understand presentation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Activities for your ESL Classroom

I have a few other sites that I've made that are easier to navigate than this one if you just want some specific ideas for your classroom.  If you try any of them, let me know how they go.  Also let me know the websites that you use in your lesson planning and I'll add them to my site.

Warm-up game and activities

Websites for ESL Teachers

Speaking Activities

And of course, my favorite book recommendation for those looking for some fresh, new ideas for the ESL classroom:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Korean University Rankings

A list is posted here.  I'm not sure how "official" it is.  Anyway, I'm surprised to see my uni up in the high 20's.  I always considered it a middle of the road place.  Strange.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 Kotesol National Conference

I've officially been accepted as a presenter at the Kotesol National Conference in Daejeon on May 14.  I'll be talking about, "Motivation: Effective Reward Systems."

It's not an academic presentation, but a teacher training one, which is where you come in.  I'm looking for some qualitative kind of input from you about what you do in your classes to motivate your students.  What rewards do you use?  Grades, candy, other things?  How do you administer it?  Do you punish negative behavior or just reward positive?  Does it actually work?  What have you done that hasn't worked.  I'm looking most specifically for your experience in Korea, with both kids and uni students/adults.

Please, please, please respond either to my email: or leave a comment. 

Thanks in advance for your help my readers.  And be sure to check out my presentation!  I look forward to meeting you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reader Question...Too Old? and Public School vs. University

These ones from Carolyne:

"I'm not clear on whether I'd even be able to teach at a Uni in Korea with my qualifications."

Carolyne has a Master's Degree and is a USA certified teacher.  She is more than qualified to work at a Korean uni.  Most hiring committees love "real" teachers and she'd probably get hired in no time. 

"I've also heard that Korean culture can be very ageist, so I might not be considered for hire at the 'advanced' age of 46."

 Many unis actually prefer older teachers, as opposed to the hagwons who look for the youngest and most fabulously handsome they can find.  Many of my co-workers are older than you. 

"I would like to hear a little bit more about your take on the public school situation vs. Uni, which is where I'm most interested in looking."

In almost all respects, unis are better than public schools in Korea.  The starting salary is usually higher, and you'll have more overtime opportunities.  You'll also work fewer hours and have more vacation at a uni.

The thing I like best being at a uni is that I'm totally responsible for my own classes.  I have no co-teacher, which from what I've heard is a major source of frustration for public school teachers.  And I have complete control over grades, which gives me a large degree of power.  In public schools, your classes often have no impact on student's final grades, so it's hard to really have any respect in their eyes.  It's like your classes don't really matter at all.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reader Question...Coming with Family

This one from Sam:

"I have a Masters in Education & a B.A in English. I have several years of teaching experience under my belt.  I am interested in getting a job at a university in Korea.  I am married and I have two children. My wife does not teach. I know that I need a work visa to work in Korea.  Well, what about my family?  Can my wife and children stay with me at my expense?  What visa documents must I apply for them?"

I've never talked about this question on the blog before, but the quick answer is that yes, it is possible.  I don't know all the details, but I do have friends here who are with their spouse and are not teachers.  And there are plenty of foreign teachers around who have kids.  There is a spousal visa of some sort that is very easy to attain.

The only drawback is that some places won't want to provide housing for 4 people.  Most unis (understandably so) would rather provide a little one-room hovel than proper accommodation for an entire family.  You might have to prepare yourself for just taking the housing allowance and finding your own place to stay.  You''ll either have to pay monthly rent that is more than the housing allowance, or put down a substantial amount of "key money," which can be upwards of $10 000 US.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I know the feeling all too well.

A conversation class that alternates between periods of total silence and chit-chat in Korean, with a random English word thrown in here or there.  Sigh.

Here's A Geek In Korea's story.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reader Question: Is Korea Worth the Risk?

"Just a bit about myself. I have been trawling blogs trying to get a sense of South Korea. I have a Master's degree but am in a career rut at the moment working in a call centre at the age of thirty five. I have decided to do a TEFL in May and then go abroad to teach.

I have seen mixed reports about South Korea. There are possibilities to save money to nightmare stories about teachers not getting paid etc. What advice would you give to someone in my position?"

There are lots of mixed reviews about Korea because it really is a bit of a crapshoot as to what you're going to get your first year.  Most hagwons are kind of sketchy at the very least and not a few are completely sketchy.  You will get ripped off in your first year at a hagwon, almost without fail.  It's just a matter of degrees.  If you escape just a bit ripped off, count your lucky stars. 

Public schools are another matter.  Most of them are not so sketchy but you will have lots of cultural issues and misunderstandings.  Your year could be amazing or a nightmare, depending on your co-teachers.  And there are plenty of stories of teachers working camps, but not getting paid for them, or being stuck in terrible housing.  And these jobs are getting harder to come by.

My advice is that Korea is not really the place for someone looking to just do a year abroad.  It's just not worth it, because most people have some sort of bad experience.  However, there are plenty of good jobs in Korea that require some connections and experience to get.  If you're willing to put up with a bad first year, then you will be able to find a better job in your subsequent years, which is when Korea can really pay off.  You'll be able to get more vacation, better pay, or both.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


There is a new aviation services program at my university, and it's basically for those who want to be a stewardess or ticket agent at one of the airlines in Korea.  I was one of the "lucky" ones chosen to get in on the program from the start.  I use lucky a bit sarcastically because I'm one of those people who'd rather just be given a book and a little bit of direction and go off and do my thing, instead of being part of the confusion that a new program inevitably is for the first year. 

Anyway, the class I'm teaching is with a quite advanced group, for 3 hours a week.  At night.  And non-credit.  I met the students on Monday night and they seem enthusiastic and smart, but I fear that by the end of the semester, that no matter what I do I'm going to have about 5/20 students coming on a regular basis.  If it was your first year of freedom away from your parents, would you want to come to an English class every night, if it had no grades or credits attached to it?  Probably not.  And so I tried to offer a bit of incentive with a galbi/soju party at the end of the semester for anyone with perfect attendance. 

I'm at the point in my teaching career where I'd take a class with grades any day over one without.  I don't mind administering tests and grading them because I have a system where it doesn't really take me that long to do it.  And I think people are generally lazy (including me!) and need tests/grades of some sort to inspire some studying along the way. 

What's your opinion?  Grades or no grades?  What do you like?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


So this semester, my school has a new textbook series called Top Notch.  They have an impressive online homework thing that looks very well done, from what I've seen so far.  I just hope it's easy to administer and for the students to sign up, but I won't know that until a few weeks from now.

Anyway, in the meantime I've been planning my classes, taking this online homework thing into account.  And, I've decided to do away with paper homework entirely and just do 20% of the student's final grade as online.  I really don't know how it will go.  Korean students, on the one-hand are very internet savvy and should have no issues with the technical side of things.  But, on the other hand, they can't copy off of each other easily so that might be an issue for some.  And, I think only the truly dedicated will persevere week after week.  Whereas, in my normal class, I would just give 2 or 3 homework assignments over the course of the semester and so even the lazy students could muster up enough energy to get it done.

Who knows I guess...more reports later!