Lesson Plan: “The Riddle Game”

Ladies and gentlemen, today I gift unto you one of my most successful activities of all time. Behold … THE RIDDLE GAME!

Joking aside, this is an activity that was in my textbook way back when I taught at my first hagwon. It worked so well, that I thought I’d modify it a bit. Since then, I’ve been using it for years, and I have yet to have it go poorly. So let’s get into it.

OVERVIEW

In this activity, students are put into teams and given secret pictures about which they write several clues. When all teams are finished, each presents their clues while other teams attempt to guess the secret picture of the presenting team. It can be used with low-level students to get them to practice sentence structure and adjectives, but works even better for exercising metaphorical and lateral thinking.

CLASS MAKEUP

This activity is mostly for middle school through adult students. It could probably be done for 6th grade elementary school, and even lower, with substantial simplification.

Regarding class size, I’ve used this for full classrooms of around 35-40 students. Of course, fewer works better, but it can accommodate a fairly large student number.

Finally, this works best for intermediate students and above. That being said, low-level students can also act as valuable participants, provided they have enough Korean language support. To that end, I personally allow groups containing struggling learners to discuss in Korean, as long as their final results use the target English.

TIME

Long. For a full public school classroom described above, this will easily take two full class sessions, and even then you might need to keep an eye on the time. You’ll probably want teams to begin their presentations at the end of the first class if you want to finish in under three classes.

MATERIALS

-Small pictures (photocopied or otherwise), 1 for each team. Preferably more just in case.

-Optional: papers for teams to write down their clues. Useful to keep students organized while presenting.

-A chalkboard or computer with screen share capability.

PROCEDURE

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1. First, you’ll need to introduce and model the lesson. Write the following diagram on the board or show it on a screen. (A simple word document works just fine for the latter.) You can modify it however you like; this is just an example.


Teacher PointsClass Points
Hint 106
Hint 215
Hint 324
Hint 433
Hint 542
Hint 651
Hint 760

Explain to the students that you are thinking of something that is not alive (not a plant, virus, animal, etc.) You will give them 7 clues (or hints). The more hints it takes them to guess the correct answer, the fewer points they get, and the more you earn. And then begin with your hints.

You can use whatever you want, but when I taught this for high school, I liked to use the example of fire. I usually start with more abstruse clues, such as “It cannot be held, but can be felt,” “It always eats, but never gets full,” and then get a bit more clear: “It has black breath,” “If it drinks water, it will die.” Make sure you give students plenty of guesses for each hint. You might want to consider giving them a time limit, or a certain number of guesses for each clue. Also, use your hand (or use Zoom’s annotate feature) to help students keep track of which hint you’re on, and how many points are at stake. In the event you get close to the last hints, you can start giving them more obvious clues like, “It is very hot,” etc., … but you might be surprised how good students can be at this activity! Don’t simplify it unless you need to. The more figuratively students have to think, the more fun they’ll have.

You might want to lead them through another round. I like to use a 500-won coin as an example: “2 of them together equal 1,000,” “It has two faces, but no body,” etc. Or anything else you can think of a lot of clues for.

2. Once students get the idea, put them into teams. Give each team a picture, and tell them to keep it secret. Some pictures I’ve found work well are: an onion, a glove, an ice cube, a clock, a tree, a shoe (although the kind of shoe can sometimes cause arguments), a plane, a star, a pencil, a chair and/or desk, and a subway train. Tell them to think of 7 clues for their item. You can also ask them more or fewer, but I’ve found that 7 gives just the right amount of information. They probably won’t be able to come up with 7 great clues, so it’s totally fine if they have some that are fairly basic, but I recommend encouraging them to try to be creative if possible.

Also, I recommend giving them a simple handout to help them remember, prepare, and organize their clues. Something like this could work well:

Note that the final part (“Our picture is ____.”) is important for you, the teacher, so you can know the answer (in case you’ve forgotten the pictures) and also so you can know what the team requires for an answer.

Tip: One problem with this activity is cheating. Sometimes students will find out other teams’ secret pictures in advance, and this leads to the issue of: “Was a student a good guesser or did he cheat?” While you can minimize this by giving teams ample space to work, it’s impossible to avoid it completely. So it can be worth a few minutes of class time to talk about this before the students begin. I often tell them, “Yes, it is possible to cheat, but you’ll make it un-fun for everyone else.”

I discourage students from being too vague with clues. Encouraging them to use “and” or “but” in their clues can help with this. For example, if describing a shoe, students will often say, “Its color is various.” Instead they can write “Its colors are various, but is often brown or black.” Or, if trying to encourage use of personification, “Its colors are various, but it likes to wear brown or black when it goes somewhere important.”

On the other hand, students should also be discouraged from making their answers too specific. For example, if giving a picture of a shoe, a team might expect the answer of “sneaker,” and this can sometimes lead to disagreements. If using the handout template above, you can preview their answer and avoid this issue.

If using this lesson to strengthen critical thinking, here are some tips I like to leave on the TV screen or board:

-Does is have any friends, brothers, sisters, parents, children, etc.?

-Does it talk or sing?

-Does have any body parts: head, feet, guts, skin, etc.?

-Does it run, jump, dance, etc.?

-Does it eat or drink anything?

-What does it like or hate?

-“It has (a mouth) but cannot (eat).”

-“It has (a foot) but cannot (walk).”

Finally, tell students that their team can earn bonus points depending on how creative their clues are. This will place a bit of a burden on you as the teacher, since you’ll be expected to allot points based on subjectivity, but without this rule, teams end up getting rewarded for having vague clues (since these will be harder to guess.) I usually give a bonus point if their clue involves “and” or “but,” and another point if it uses some kind of metaphor or personification. If doing this with a more basic class, you could award points for using target vocabulary, or other things.

Once all teams are done, they present. A team comes to the front of the class and presents their first clue. I recommend using the score board from earlier, using check marks or annotations to keep track of which clue they’re on. I recommend having each student in a team read at least one clue. After a clue is read, allow a few seconds for the other teams to guess. Encourage them to raise their hands, and stress that there are no penalties for wrong answers. I often give encouragement by saying, “Good guess, but not quite.” You might even want to consider giving teams bonus points for guesses that are particularly good, but just slightly miss the mark.

After a few unsuccessful guesses, I like to make note of the team’s clue. For example, on the scoreboard, I might write, “Many colors, go somewhere important → brown or black.” Just enough so students (and I) can recall all the information. Alternatively, you could keep these notes to yourself and encourage students to keep their own notes as an exercise in personal responsibility!

Once the correct answer is guessed, you assign each team the points they’ve earned. I recommend keeping track on a chalkboard, or perhaps a simple word document if using Zoom. When all teams have presented, the one with the most points wins!

CONCLUSION

And that’s how it’s done. Hopefully I managed to avoid inundating readers with too much information; however, if you find it confusing but still want to try this activity don’t be intimidated. As long as you follow the basic idea, students will get thinking and speaking in English, and (generally) having fun. The rest is just details that you can figure out the more you do it. Good luck!

Taking the Chaos out of Drawing Activities

If you’re looking for a class idea that is: A.) Easy to run, B.) Fun for students, C.) Promotes creative thinking, and D.) Reinforces vocabulary and grammar structures, then a group drawing project might be just what you’re looking for. For the most part, this activity simply involves putting students in groups, giving them an idea to draw, then having them present their ideas. And generally just this alone will meet with fairly positive results. However, there are a few things to know and follow that can help make drawing activities a lot more organized and effective. In this article, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process for doing a group drawing project in an in-person classroom.

1. Decide on a Theme

This is the easy part. There are many topics that can be made into a drawing lesson. Superheroes, robots, monsters, fashion, houses, inventions, spaceships … all these and more are good topics that students of all ages will find interesting.

Next, decide what kind of vocabulary and grammar you want to target with the lesson. For example, an activity where students create inventions might target conditionals: “If you press the button, it will do your homework.” Alternatively, you could target ordinal numbers: “First, put your homework into the machine. Second, press the button.” A lesson where students design the perfect pet might focus on words such as “wings,” “tail,” “fur,” etc. Modals (“can,” “could,” etc.) are a good fits for superheroes, animals, and robots.

In many cases, you might have the vocabulary and expressions first (if you’re using a textbook, for example.) This is fine; just try your best to fit the vocabulary into the activity.

2. Prepare Materials.

If you don’t like “crafty” lessons, don’t worry—I don’t either. So if I can do this, you can too. All you’ll need is a few basic drawing supplies, and a few handouts.

If possible, I recommend using some small, personal white boards. If you don’t have these available, I highly advise asking your school to invest in some, as they can be a great material for projects, games, and more. For a typical public school classroom, you’ll probably need no more than 8.

If you’re unable to get white boards, you can try laminating white pieces of paper and, if this isn’t an option, you can use regular paper. Paper can be difficult for a classroom to see, but I’ll show you a trick later that you can use to make it work.

Of course, you’ll also need at least one marker per board, but it’s good to have more in case some of them dry up.

Erasers aren’t necessary, as most students will have tissues or toilet paper. And if they don’t, they’ll figure something out. (They always do!) This is an important note because those boards and markers can be surprisingly difficult to carry, and erasers add one more thing to manage.

Finally, you’ll need some sort of handout or worksheet. Trust me, just having students describe their drawings to the class usually doesn’t meet with great results. I recommend just a simple template with about 5-8 blank lines on which they can write sentences describing their projects by using the key words. For added effect, you can also provide sample sentences, and scaffolded sentences with blanks, in order to focus on specific vocabulary or grammar. This can be provided right on the paper, or you can put it on the board as the students work.

Following is an example I use for a lesson on drawing monsters, with vocabulary selected to help students describe animals in real life.

This is the handout students receive. Note the space at the top for a student’s name and class number. This can be helpful if you plan on collecting the papers, then returning them for a subsequent class (but as we’ll see later, I often don’t do this.) Also, note the “extra” portion at the bottom, which allows groups with more advanced students to exercise some extra creativity. P.S.: no student has ever filled this part out, despite my recommendations.

And this is a sentence template I put on the screen so students can more easily create sentences. Of course, you would want to give them examples for each pattern, such as “It has a tail,” “It has a bat’s wings,” “It is covered with fur,” “It is eyeless,” etc.

3. Teaching

Nice and simple. The students sit in their chairs and listen to you while you tell them what they need to know. Don’t put them in groups, yet, as this will result in students having their backs to you, talking with their friends, and goofing around.

Bonus tip: Students, especially boys, think it’s the height of comedy to draw their classmates’ faces on their projects in some way. While sometimes this is done in good faith, other times it’s used as a means of teasing or bullying, so it can be good to take a moment to tell students that if they do this, or if they draw … ahem … inappropriate material on their pictures, there will be consequences (of which you’ll have to think of on your own. I usually just tell them I won’t show their work, and they will have wasted all that effort).

4. Form groups

There are two methods of this: a simple way and more complicated way. And, as you can guess, the complicated way meets with slightly better results.

For the simple method, just have students form groups by turning their desks towards one another. Generally groups of 5 work well: Smaller groups often result in too many groups to manage, and larger ones result in too little capacity for individual student input. A quick note: often students won’t know that they have to move their desks together, so, if you don’t speak Korean, it can be helpful to tell one group of students: “You five, please stand up. Okay, now move your desks into a table. Okay, that’s your group. Now, everyone else, do this.” And yes, you’ll probably need to do this every time you make groups; for some reason even high school students who can do trigonometry are completely baffled when it comes to forming the same group they did two weeks ago.

Korean co-teachers: if you are doing this activity with a foreign teacher, they will find it very helpful if you guide the students into groups, as this task is surprisingly difficult for those not fluent in Korean.

For the more complicated method, give each student a role. For example, one will be the drawer, one will be the “scribe,” or writer, several can be decision makers, another can be a captain (whose job it is to settle disagreements), and so on. Assigning roles can take a lot of time, but it can give each student a stake and sense of ownership in the group. If you choose this method, consider setting aside a day for making groups and assigning roles, then using the same groups throughout the year.

Whichever method you prefer, start passing out the materials to each group. You might want to have a student help you in order to save time.

5. Group work

Now the students do their work! But your job isn’t done. Make sure you walk around and give suggestions or feedback when necessary.

Also, time management is important. I recommend giving students a time limit, otherwise they’ll deliberate and work until the end of time, or until the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come to usher in the End of Days, whichever happens first. A helpful way to spur students on is www.onlinestopwatch.com You can set a time limit (about 15 minutes is usually good) and put it on-screen for students to monitor. Alternatively, you can appoint one student as a “time keeper” (and thanks to Betsey for this idea) to give students a bit of ownership and responsibility.

IMPORTANT (kind of): It’s likely you might not have enough time for all students to present in one hour. If you think this is the case, go around to each of the groups with a marker, and write their class number (for example, 2-1) somewhere on their boards. You’ll see why later.

ALSO Important (also kind of): Students of all ages will be tempted to start wandering around the classroom during this time. Don’t let them. I know, kids (and even teenagers) have lots of stored-up energy, but they also need to know there’s a time and place for it, and letting students wander will create a bad atmosphere in your classroom; students will think they have free reign of the place.

Oh, and what about letting students use Korean during group work? That’s really up to you, and it depends on your goals with the project. Personally, I find that my goal is to get students to strengthen creativity and group work skills, then implement the relevant vocabulary, and I don’t think they need to speak English all the time in order to accomplish that.

6. Clean up

Now it’s time to finish. I recommend you allot about 5 minutes for this. Yes, 5 minutes. Tell the students to move their desks back to their original positions. Don’t leave them in their groups if you have further things to say to them; as I said before, they’ll have their backs to you, will keep working, and won’t listen to you.

Also, take their boards and makers, or else the students will continue doodling and won’t pay attention.

7. Presentation

Okay, every team is finished, and now you have all the boards. Now choose a board, have the team come to the front of the room, and have each student read some of the sentences they prepared. Yes, in a perfect world, students would not need to read pre-written sentences, and could instead take turns saying a few things about their designs, but unless you’re teaching adults, or students with a high degree of autonomy, this won’t happen.

8. We’re out of time!

It’s quite likely that you won’t be able to have every team present in one session. Not to worry. Simply take pictures of their boards. Remember in part 5 how I told you to write their class numbers on the board? Well now, because of that, when you have all these images stored in your computer, you can tell which class they belonged to just by looking at the numbers you wrote on the boards. This is also how you can present images drawn on ordinary paper: By taking a photo of it, it can placed on a large screen.

What about those papers they wrote their English on? You could collect them, but I prefer to let the students keep them. In a previous post, I wrote about the value of teaching students accountability for their materials, and this is an instance in which you can help reinforce this skill. If a student loses his or her team’s paper? Well, they’ll have to try their best without it, most likely getting embarrassed in the process. Welcome to the real world, kids, where it’s important to keep track of your documents.

Conclusion

And there you have it. While even some guy off the street can probably teach a drawing lesson (and many years ago I was that guy off the street!) teaching them in a smooth and organized manner is something that takes a bit more practice and experience. Hopefully the information above can make your drawing activities run like a well-oiled machine.

Teacher Tech: Making Your Own Video Subtitles

There’s some debate about whether it’s worthwhile to add subtitles to video clips that are shown in class. While that’s a good topic for another day, there likely will be times when, for whatever reason, you’ll want students to have subtitles to read as they watch a video. But what if you’re unable to find subtitles? Well, it’s actually possible to add your own. This article will show you one way to do this, and it doesn’t require any money, subscriptions, or tears on your behalf. Well, maybe a few tears, but at least it won’t cost you money.

First, the bad news. Adding subtitles isn’t as easy as it used to be … or, at least last time I checked. Years ago Windows had a free app known as Windows Movie Maker that allowed users to effortlessly add subtitles to their videos; however, this program was discontinued and every other method of adding subtitles now requires a bit more work: enough work such that fully subtitling a feature-length movie is probably out of the question. The good news is that, while a bit time consuming, it’s not terribly hard, and once you get the hang of it, you can subtitle a short video in under an hour.

Before We Start:

Before we learn how to add subtitles, it might worth talking about why you might need to use them in the first place. I’ve found adding subtitles can be useful when:

A. The English is too fast for students to understand, or uses unfamiliar pronunciation,

B. You want students to focus on the video’s overall meaning, rather than interpreting the English,

C. The English is too difficult, in which case a “simple English” (or even Korean!) translation can be
provided through the subtitles.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s learn how to do it.

Step 1: Download Shotcut

Yes, I know: I hate installing random programs, too. But Shotcut is, in my experience, one of the better free movie-editing apps out there. I’ve experimented with quite a few and, while Shotcut isn’t always intuitive and takes a bit of practice to figure out, it tends to have the best usability-to-hassle ratio among other free programs out there.

Here’s the link where you can download the program: https://www.shotcut.org/download/

Step 2: Select Your Video File

Easy enough: Simply open Shotcut, then drag and drop the file to which you want to add subtitles:

Your video will now appear in Shotcut.

Step 3: Add your Video to the Timeline

You’ll notice a big blank spot at the bottom of the Shotcut interface. Drag and drop the video window down to that area …

… and this will happen:

Step 4: Split the Video

Now’s the hard part. You’ll need to split the video at any point you want to add subtitles. To do this, first click anywhere above or below the blue timeline. DON’T click on the timeline itself. Once you do this, a white vertical line will appear where you clicked.

The white line is the cursor. You can drag it wherever you want on the video. NOTE: pressing the spacebar will cause the video to begin playing at the cursor, and pressing the spacebar again will cause everything to pause.

If you press S or the ][ symbol on Shotcut’s interface, this will happen:

You’ve now split the video at this location. As with a word document, you can press Ctrl+Z to undo it if you’ve made a mistake.

Find a place where you want to add a subtitle, and split the video at the beginning and end of the part where you want the subtitle to show, like this:

If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice two black bars sectioning off a portion of the video. This will be the frame where your subtitles will go.

Step 5: Add the Subtitles

Now, click on the frame where you want to put the subtitle. You can click directly on the blue timeline this time. The frame will be highlighted in red.

Now, go to the menu at the top of Shotcut, and select “Filters.”

Next, hit the + button below the window in the upper left.

A menu will pop up. Type “text” in the search bar. Then you can choose from either “simple” or “rich.” So as to not get too confusing, we’ll go with simple text for now, but if you have time, you can experiment with rich text later.

Now type your subtitle!

NOTE: If your subtitle isn’t appearing in the video window, it’s probably because your cursor is at a different point on the timeline. Move the cursor to the current frame, and your subtitle should show up.

You can adjust the position of the subtitle by dragging the little gray ball in the center of the video window.

In the event you totally mess up, the subtitles can be removed by clicking the – button next to the + button you clicked earlier.

Here’s the good news: You’ve now added your subtitle. The bad news? Now you have to do that EVERY TIME you want to add more subtitles. Unfortunately, without advanced knowledge of subtitle-creation software, this is probably your best option.

Step 6: Save the File

If you just save from the menu, it will save everything as a Shotcut project, but not as an actual video. In order to change everything to a video, you must convert it. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.

Simply click on “File” on the far upper-left, then select “Export Video” from the drop-down menu. Finally click “Export File,” shown here:

It will take a little while to convert the file. You can see the progress in the window on the right. When there’s a green checkmark, your video has been exported and saved.

Good job!

You’ve succeeded in adding subtitles to your video!

Sources:

The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGXRSfdObag&ab_channel=EricaPrettyEagle.

Soft Skills in the Secondary ESL Classroom

Listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar . . . these are all skills that every secondary-education English teacher tries to improve in their students. However, being a teacher is more than just teaching the skills involved in a subject; it’s also about equipping students with the life skills they need to be successful members of society. Unfortunately, there are seldom any classes that teach these skills, but the good news is that we, as teachers, can incorporate them into our everyday lessons. In today’s blog post, we’ll look at some auxiliary skills—or soft skills— that high-school and middle-school teachers can subtly incorporate into the flow of their usual classes.

A quick note before we begin: this article is intended to simply bring awareness to the need for these skills. Readers might find themselves wondering just, how, exactly, to effectively teach them to their students. While this article will give a few tips, each one is a topic in its own, about which an entire book could easily be written! Fortunately, GIFLE often holds training related to these topics and more, so we encourage readers to keeping checking this blog for further teaching tips and advice – or better yet, enroll in some of our trainings!

Note-Taking Skills

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In my previous job, I was tasked with helping students deliver a speech for a school competition. To this end, I gave them a variety of words that I thought would be helpful in accomplishing their goal. “If I were you,” I’d say, looking over the rims of my glasses to drive the subtle hint across, “I’d use these words in your speech to maybe get a few extra points on your final score.” Then I watched as the students, instead of writing the words down, continued to stare straight ahead, slack jawed. During the students’ final presentations, probably one student among the whole sophomore class used any of the words I taught them (and that student got a pretty high score, incidentally).

Later, when test time drew near, I was tasked with overseeing student self-study sessions. It was during this time I noticed something curious: not one student studied from a notebook. Studying was done either by pouring over highlighted textbooks or grinding through multiple-choice problems in their practice books. It hit me then: my students didn’t know how to take notes. Or, if they did, they weren’t convinced of the skill’s usefulness.

Taking notes is such an important habit for students to have. As a former language student, myself — having logged in over 3,000 classroom hours studying Modern Standard Arabic — I can tell you that there are so many grammar points, words, and tips that might be helpful to one student, but not to another, and test-practice books alone cannot account for these. Students need to be encouraged to actively listen and be ready to take (and later review) notes in order to tailor their study to their particular needs.

What’s more, this is a skill that is not only useful for English, but for any skill. For example, anyone who’s studied taekwondo, for instance, can likely recall a time they were taught a technique, only to attend class the following week to find themselves asking, “wait, how did that move go?” Similarly, anyone with a busy schedule knows they need to write their meetings and appointments in some kind of planner, or they’re bound to forget an important event. Whether it’s English, taekwondo, or business, note taking is a skill teachers need to encourage in their students.

How does one teach that skill? Well, that can be a complex topic best covered in another post, but a good place to start can be to make sure your students come to every class with a notebook and pencil. When you teach a point that you think is particularly important or useful, tell them to write it down!

Personal Accountability for Assignments

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I used to teach a lesson about riddles. Students would spend one class period thinking, in a team, of abstruse clues regarding an object of their choice. They would write these clues down, then present them in the following period in a sort of class competition. Sometimes students would lose the papers on which their riddles were written. My solution? Tell them “tough luck.”

I’ve noticed this with other activities as well. Any time I’ve had a class that required students to bring in a paper (or other item) a following class session, several (or sometimes many) forgot. This shows a real lack of organization and responsibility in high school students . . . which is to be expected in teenagers, of course! However, that’s why we need to teach them responsibility now, so that today’s high school students don’t end up becoming tomorrow’s businesspeople who forget to bring important documents to meetings, or paramedics who forgets to bring important pieces of life saving equipment to emergencies.

To this end, I encourage teachers to resist the temptation to manage students’ materials. Often, teachers prefer to collect ongoing assignments (book reports, projects, etc.) and return them for students to work on in subsequent classes, since this insures students will be able to use class time productively (or, in the case of written assignments, that they don’t have their friends do the work for them). However, this doesn’t build habits of responsibility. Instead, it makes students think that, even if they forget something important, there will always be someone to cover for them.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about this, but when a student shows up in class with nothing to do, it’s much harder to enforce it in reality. Therefore, it’s good to have a backup plan for forgetful students. For example, if a student forgets a report they’re working on, have them try to their best to continue it in class, then later re-write it on the original paper. At the same time, don’t be afraid of awkward moments. If a team forgets presentation material? Well, then they have to try it from memory, and if it doesn’t go well, let it be a lesson for how the real world works.

Confidence and Risk Taking

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The famous American baseball player Babe Ruth once said that we miss 100 percent of the shots we don’t take. Well, Korean students often use the opposite idea: We never give a wrong answer if we never participate. This is an unfortunate philosophy by which to live life. While there’s something to be said for the “better safe than sorry” outlook on life (ask anyone who’s been injured in a fireworks accident), it also means they miss out on a lot of potential life opportunities, and in class this will mean that students, out of fear of appearing foolish to their classmates, seldom volunteer.

But how does a teacher help inspire confidence in students? Unfortunately there’s no easy answer for this; (GIFLE’s Level One teacher training last month centered around this very issue, in fact!) but a good place to start is to try to create a classroom environment that allows mistakes. I often tell students that shy people seldom make history, and that sometimes being successful means doing things wrong once in a while. If a student’s answer is wrong, I might take a moment to explain why the answer might have seemed right to them when giving corrections. For example, if a student makes a pronunciation mistake, I’ll tell them “yes, a ‘p’ usually makes that sound, but when paired with an ‘h,’ the sound changes to that of an ‘f,’” instead of simply telling them “no, that’s wrong.”

Of course, this isn’t to say you have tell every student every time that every effort is a good effort. Sometimes they need to be told to get their heads out of the clouds and focus! That’s our next topic.

Attention to Detail

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Many ESL teachers will tell you not to focus too much on minor grammatical mistakes, as fear of making mistakes discourages students from speaking or writing their own English (see above). There is a lot of truth to this: if a student has to pause every time to consider if they need a definite or indefinite article before a noun, it can really slow down the speaking process.  However, there are also times when students should be made to consider some of the finer details of their English. This is because students often have a habit of being hasty and overlooking certain small, but important points. For example, in their writing, they might forget to capitalize their names, or place a period at the end of a sentence. What’s more, they seldom take time to proofread any pieces of English writing they submit to the teacher. These instances and more provide opportunities to teach students to put effort into the quality of their work.

This is an important life lesson for students. Again, bad habits in school can lead to bad habits as an adult. A student who doesn’t take time to check to see if the first word in every sentence is capitalized might later become a doctor who forgets to check if his patient is allergic to any medications, or an accountant who doesn’t take time to check her math.

So when it comes to certain, basic, English concepts, don’t be afraid to make sure your students are paying attention to the little things once in a while.

Wait! What About …

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Critical thinking? Citizenship skills? The ability to draw a realistic-looking cat? Yes, all of these and more are valuable soft skills for students to have, and there are many more you might be able to think of, as well. The above items are just four examples to consider when teaching your students. Remember, our job isn’t just to create English speakers, but future leaders, as well.

Random Student Selection: Importance and Methods

When you teach class, how do you select students for giving answers? Do you ask a question and then move on when the smartest student in the class shouts the answer? Do you ask for volunteers, then just say the answer yourself when no one replies? Well, in this blog post, we’ll give you a few pointers for how—and why—to select students to answer your questions. 

The importance of student selection 

One problem with the methods above is that they don’t target the students who need the most help. This can be a big issue. When you simply ask a question in class and continue when several students shout the answer, or when the “smart” students in class volunteer, there are likely some students who don’t understand. It’s important, then, that you have methods for choosing not only the most proficient or the most confident, but also the ones you don’t always hear from. 

Selection methods 

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Now that you realize the importance of selecting students, how do you do it? First of all, note that randomness is important. If you always choose the students that struggle with your questions, those students might feel embarrassed, while the other students will feel ignored or cheated out of the opportunity to participate. By randomly selecting students, you can insure everyone has a chance to participate, and no one feels discriminated against.  

Now don’t worry. You don’t need any fancy pieces of software, or a spinning dartboard to choose students … although, if you want, you can find plenty of random number generation websites online, and sometimes a fun prop can add a bit of flavor to a class. In my experience, an easy way is to have a student choose a number between one and 10, or to use the day’s date, to arrive at a “number of the day.” Then count that number of students, and the final one will be the one who answers your question. While this isn’t truly random, it’s a quick way of selecting “volunteers” free from bias. Of course, if you use this method, attentive students will be able to predict the next student to be selected, but that’s fine, since it allows them to prepare accordingly. 

Also, it should be pointed out that random selection of students isn’t always good. It’s important to, at times, allow vocal and confident students to volunteer, and that does mean they will end up participating a bit more than other students. This is fine. It means they’re enjoying the class and this should be encouraged … but you shouldn’t forget about the other students who might need some extra help.  

One method of student selection that isn’t particularly helpful is having students choose the next student to answer. While this might sometimes add some fun to class (students will feel like the KING–or queen–OF THE CLASSROOM!!!)  it also results in only a small group of friends participating in class … or, worse yet, gives students the ability to bully other students by selecting ones they know will feel ashamed. Use this strategy sparingly.  

Special strategies for low-level students 

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Sometimes there are students who, when selected to give an answer in class, take a long time. This can make some teachers feel awkward or feel like it’s slowing the class down. There are several ways around this problem, though. 

The first solution is to not be embarased when this happens. Encourage the student to take his or time and let it be known that you’re comfortable with it. If you’re comfortable, they’ll be comfortable, and it lets students know that they don’t have to be pressured to come up with an answer instantly.  

Another way to deal with slower-processing students is to give them time to prepare in advance. Sometimes, I’ll choose two students at a time, with the first one giving the answer, and the other student being “on deck”—that is, preparing to answer the next question. This gives that student time to think and prepare. Then, once it’s that student’s turn, another student is put on deck. This way, every student will have a chance to prepare their answers a little ahead of time.  

In the event you’ve done all of the above strategies, and your student still has a hard time answering, you can make the question easier by giving them an easier version of the task. For example, if their task is to read a paragraph aloud from a book, you can simplify it by having them read one or two sentences or, if that happens to be too much, a single word. Having students choose one of two answers can also help. For example, if the question is “What animal is this?” and the student hesitates, you can prompt him or her by asking, “Is it a bird or a cat?” 

And if none of the above startegies work? Well, welcome to the world of teaching, where sometimes you can do everything right, and some things still won’t work. But again, the most important part is that you appear comfortable with the situation … even if you’re sweating like an ice cream bar on a hot summer day. 

Or, you can just close your laptop, put on a Hawaiian shirt, tell everyone you’re quitting, then book the next available flight to Bali. 

In all seriousness, though, teachers should resist the temptation to simply give up on certain students. Participating in class is important preparation for students’ lives beyond school. Life’s responsibilites don’t make exceptions, so you shouldn’t either. On the other hand, it’s also important for them to know that, while they might not be the best in class, there’s still a place for them, and they can still contribute in their own way.  

Conclusion 

The idea of making sure all students participate, even those of lower proficiency, can sometimes be easy to ignore. But what good is it to anyone if a student manages to “slip under the radar” for the majority of his or her education, then graduates without knowing the basic information needed for success? So don’t forget to take time now and then to slow things down and call on specific students to make sure everybody has the opportunity to learn.

Tips for Being a Successful Native English Teacher in Korea

For those first getting their start teaching in Korean public schools, the job can seem pretty straightforward: teach the textbook, be nice to everyone, and that’s that. In a perfect world, that would be all you needed to know. However, often foreign English teachers can meet with a variety of challenges, frustrations, or ambiguities that can seem like hairpin turns in what had appeared to be a straightforward path. In this article, we’ll go over some of these items and, while we can’t promise any solutions (our lawyers won’t let us,) we hope that, at the very least, it can shed some light on things, and reduce stress and confusion.

Esoteric Work Dynamics

At first glance, there’s not much more to Korean schools than planning, teaching, test making, and record keeping. However, there’s really a lot more below the surface that can be worth knowing about.

First, know that Korean school teachers and Native English Teachers (or, NETs) have some major differences. Being a Korean teacher requires passing a very competitive test, often working long hours, and receiving considerable compensation and benefits for their job (much more than NETs receive). For this reason, it’s worth noting that your job is often viewed as less prestigious than that of your Korean counterparts. At the same time, more emphasis is placed on the afore-mentioned test rather than knowledge of pedagogy, so it’s quite possible you might be better-trained in cutting-edge teaching techniques than your Korean co-workers.

And along those same lines, there are other things going behind the scenes. For example, not all teachers are of the same rank. Some of them are “temporary teachers,” and, though they might work for several years at the same school, have undergone less training and receive less pay and fewer benefits than their counterparts. Meanwhile, there exist two entirely different systems of hierarchy: teachers and administrators, with personnel from each group having different superiors to report to. This can sometimes lead to tension between the two parties.

Finally, it’s worth noting that public schools have certain curricula and educational goals that are set forth by the provincial government. You may have noticed that, in your school, teachers seem to place emphasis on certain aspects, such as doing projects, teaching culture, and giving presentations. This is not subject to the teachers’ whims; rather these are requirements they must meet. A list of educational standards can actually be found online, but it is difficult for foreigners to access themselves.

Basic Survival Tips

A lot of these might sound like common sense, but even the most seasoned among us sometimes need a refresher on the basics. Here, then, are a few tips to keep in mind that can go a long way towards getting your contract renewed:

  • Always be on time.
  • Dress professionally; appearance is extra important in Korea!
    • This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit every day; thankfully most schools have pretty relaxed dress codes. However, don’t get too relaxed—stay away from shorts and t-shirts and dress nice for the first day of classes.
  • Always try to look productive.
    • You’ll likely have lots of free time, and it’s okay to watch some YouTube once a while, but also try to look busy sometimes, even if you’re not.
  • Remember basic courtesies: greeting your co-workers, offering assistance with assorted tasks, etc.
    • You don’t have to be saccharine, but know that small gestures can go a long way.
  • Solve problems at the lowest level.
    • Although the East sometimes values indirect approaches to problem solving, you should always respect the chain of command—going above someone’s head when you have a problem is considered even ruder than in the West!

Balancing Conformity and Individuality

They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease … but sometimes it just gets replaced! Remember that Koreans look at the community first and the individual second, and demanding special consideration will make you seem problematic. However, there are times when it’s okay to demand special attention! While there’s no definite guideline for this, issues of health or personal/religious convictions are usually instances when one should stand his/her ground.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Further on the subject of proverbs, one we’re particularly fond of in the West is, “If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile.” … That’s “centimeter and kilometer” for our metrically inclined friends. In any case, we Westerners can sometimes be an argumentative sort, and one could claim that’s worked pretty well for us! … But it can also get us fired. As we’ve seen above, though, there are times when, if we don’t stand our ground, we’ll get trampled underfoot as well. So sometimes it can be of benefit to think carefully about where and when it’s worth arguing, and look at the big picture. It’s recommended you keep your contract in mind: If your workplace is costing you personal time (outside your 40 contractual hours), money, or health, it’s a good indication it’s time to say something.

Dealing with Test Questions

Let’s shift gears for a moment. One challenge NETs often encounter, and which often throws a variety of unexpected curve balls their way, is exam question confirmation. It’s common for both teachers and students to approach native English instructors with difficult, often abstruse, questions and issues for these tests. This is because much of Korean secondary education hinges on these examinations. Here are some tips for dealing with tests.

  • If a student comes to you with a test problem, make sure you consult with their English teacher before giving the student an answer. This can help avoid potential conflicts with that teacher.
  • Keep the teacher’s needs in mind. Often there needs to be a certain number of “difficult” questions for stratification of grade levels. At the same time, remember that teachers have to deal with angry parents when a son or daughter misses an A because of a misplaced preposition!
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know a certain grammar rule. Your job is to be an expert on native English usage, not on grammar. That being said, and time permitting, it’s recommended you take the opportunity to do a little research on the issue at hand, and broaden your grammar knowledge for future questions.
  • Don’t be surprised if someone comes to you for input, then doesn’t heed it. It could be they were looking for you to back up their (wrong) argument rather than seeking genuine advice. In the event someone disagrees with you, remember to choose your battles wisely.

Student Discipline

A big source of stress for NETs (and all teachers, really), is dealing with unruly students. As educators it’s certainly our duty to try to help as many students as possible, and it’s well-worth honing our skills for managing students. However, once again, one should always look at the big picture and keep a few realities in mind. First, remember that foreigners are outsiders on the fringes of the Korean student’s worldview and, as such, you can expect students to put less stock in your approval and advice. Second, it’s not really the NET’s job to discipline students in the first place. This is the co-teachers’ duty. So again, expat teachers are encouraged to try their best, but shouldn’t take it too hard if their efforts don’t meet with the success they expect. When NETs do take on the task of enforcing discipline, working with homeroom teachers or co-teachers to implement a system of rewards and consequences often meets with good results; however, this requires a certain level of organization and cooperation from co-workers.

NETs might also notice an unusually large amount of sleeping students in secondary schools. This occurs for several reasons, one of which is a culture stemming from students spending long hours in hagwons, after-school programs, and more. Another reason is that more emphasis being placed on test scores than in-class attitude combined with the existence of a baseline passing score for certain classes, means that students often don’t see any extrinsic value in paying attention in class.

Things Worth Teaching

On to a more positive topic: There are many things besides conversation and grammar NETs can teach Korean students. Here is a list of skills they likely won’t learn from anyone but you!

  • Names (Korean and foreign): This is a very basic skill that often “slips through the cracks” of a Korean student’s English education. Few of them know proper methods for spelling and writing their own names in English (capitalization, syllable placement, etc.), nor do they know how to implement foreign English names (putting “Mr.” or “Ms.” before the second name when addressing someone in a formal situation, usage of middle names, etc.).
  • Reviews vs. reports: Korean students tend to be adept at writing book reports, but get very little practice in the way of expressing their opinions about something they’ve read or experienced.
  • Story writing: Though elementary school students sometimes get a chance to practice creativity, the focus on test-centered English during secondary education causes this skill to dwindle. Encouraging students to write small stories—even only a paragraph or two—can be a great way to promote creativity.
  • Numbers and money: Yet another item that often gets overlooked. Many students still struggle to talk about numbers when they reach high school. You can help them with this important communicative skill.
  • Life and study skills: While many students are apt at “studying”—that is, doing exercises out of a book—many of them lack proper academic skills such as note-taking, organization, or paraphrasing skills. You might want to try to work some of these into your teaching, if possible.

Conclusion

Nothing in life is ever as simple as it seems. The basics of being a Korean NET are only the tip of the iceberg. Although one can easily navigate a strait with only what they see on the surface of the water, a little knowledge of what lies below can make the going much easier. Hopefully this information was of some help in your journey.