Fun Fun Vocabulary Building

If you’ve learned a language yourself, you know what a struggle learning vocabulary is. Although it makes up the core of a language, it can take hours upon hours of using flashcard apps like Anki or Memrise to feel like you’re making the tiniest bit of progress. These apps have a second problem, too – they’re largely for disciplined, older learners and definitely aren’t what kids think of as fun or engaging.

When it comes to vocabulary acquisition though, explicitly teaching words like this isn’t the only way or even the best way. In this post, we’ll go over some other (fun!) ways to really plant new words deep into the brain.

1. Wide reading

Photo by Leah Kelley on

It’s no surprise, but reading – and reading a lot – is one of the best ways to encounter new words. In fact, by simply reading a language learner can encounter way more vocabulary words than they could hope for by receiving explicit instruction in a class. Through reading, the learner can also reinforce that vocabulary by seeing it over and over, and reading it in different contexts. Reading is also a lot more fun than trying to do flashcards – there’s nothing to lose!

2. Read Out Louds, Audiobooks, etc

Photo by jonas mohamadi on

This is a great choice for learners who aren’t strong at reading, or, well, just don’t like actually sitting down to read much. As long as the language used is high-quality (meaning, it contains more high-leveled vocabulary and grammar structures than just conversational English), students have the opportunity to acquire lots of new vocabulary words. Personally, I like listening to podcasts with really meaningful topics – even in English (which is my native language) I find that I can still learn tons of scientific vocabulary.

3. Word Learning/Recognition Strategies

If you had to do any sort of standardized test or test prep, you’ll know the usefulness of learning things like word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In the same way, learning such parts of speech can help students acquire and easily recognize new vocabulary.

4. Build Consciousness to Words

Photo by Keira Burton on

Hey, do you know how old an onion is? Five (오년)

What happened to the three cats that crossed the river? Un, deux, trois cats sank.

What is turtles favorite food? Cherry pie (черепахи)

Super lame puns like these are one of my favorite things to both learn and teach languages. They’re easy to remember and develop an interest in words. Of course, you don’t have to only use dad jokes to build word consciousness! Think about incorporating things such as riddles, poems, and anagrams into your vocabulary building as well.

Those are some of our favorite ways to learn, teach, and most importantly, retain vocabulary both in and outside of a classroom setting. Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Using Gamification in the EFL Environment

Outside of the learning environment, gamification is nothing new. Industries and businesses have been using this strategy to incorporate gaming aspects into their businesses for several years with varying degrees of success.

More recently, language learning environments have been tentatively incorporating gamification into their classes, and this trend is increasing yearly.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of aspects of gaming and game design techniques in traditionally non-gaming environments, such as finance, marketing, and education.

Why Use Gamification?

Gaming is a popular global pasttime that makes a lot of people happy, transcends age, gender, nationality and language. It also encourages motivation, has easily achievable “goals” and promotes a relaxed environment. All of which are seen by educators as desirable qualities in the classroom.

How to Use Gamification in an Educational Environment

‘But we’ve been using games in the classroom for years. This is nothing new,’ some educators may proclaim.

And indeed this is the case. But it’s important to preface at this point that gamification is not the use of games, it’s the use of gaming techniques and aspects of gaming. 

So how can you use Gamification to enhance your class?

Gamification, as mentioned before, has clear goals, measurable progress, and just as important, requires participation. As any experienced teacher in Korea can attest to, getting students to participate in activities can be a labor of misery, especially as many Korean students don’t like to make mistakes in front of their peers, and so avoiding the activity entirely seems a better choice than trying and failing.

So with a combination of gamification techniques such as badges, leveling up, quest-lines, you not only encourage students to participate in activities, you also create a social element as they can join a group, compete against friends and experience both teamwork and solo.

With the development of technology used in EFL classrooms, gamification can naturally evolve alongside the technology. There are numerous examples of educational gamification being entirely technology-based; Duolingo being a prime example. While the EFL instructor can take advantage of wide-ranging technology advancements, gamification isn’t all about the technology.

If the teacher finds themselves in a technology-barren space, gamification techniques can still be applied. Paper-based points systems, achievement stamps for younger students, all work well in the classroom without the use of technology.


Gamification is a widely used and versatile technique that can enhance any classroom environment. The core components of participation and achievable goals make it a must for any classroom, and the overall style can be adapted for any age group or ability level.  

TPR as an Activity to Encourage Speaking

TPR or Total Physical Response: matches vocabulary/phrases with actions.  It utilizes kinesthetic learning used in combination with visual and/or auditory learning, thus producing multi-sensory learning.  TPR activities are great for language acquisition and for getting the wiggles out (when students start fidgeting in their seats in class or when online at home) of students of any age.  I have used this for my students in classes from elementary to university and adults.

How to use TPR

  • Prepare: Plan the vocabulary you want to focus on and the matching movements.
  • Teacher Modelling: The teacher does an action, both demonstrating and saying it (ex: “I’m washing my face”).  Be prepared to exaggerate, use gestures, facial expressions, and props if you have them.  For example, use a pen as a prop when you do the action and say “Write your name.”
  • Student Participation: Get your students involved!  Have all the students repeat the action and say the word or phrase together.  This is when you can see if everyone understands.  It also helps reduce part of the insecurity your students may feel speaking English.
  • Optional: Write the verb/phrase on the board or screen AFTER modeling and getting the students to do the actions with the words.  

    Not writing or having the words up earlier helps students focus on the sounds of the words and your actions, rather than the spelling of it.  Writing it down for them after helps students connect the sound and action with a written word/phrase.
  • Repeat: Repeat this for additional vocabulary.  After you have introduced all the new vocabulary or phrases be sure to review all the new words and movements with the class.

    Return to these words and phrases regularly throughout the school year to reinforce memory assisted by the TPR mnemonic device.

Read more here:

TPR and C.A.R.E.

C.A.R.E. is a mnemonic device (in this case an acronym) to help you remember the 4 main types of memory activities for English Language Learning.  

  • TPR often incorporates these 4 main types of memory activities:
    • Creating a mental linkage (connecting action to words)
    • Applying images or sounds (students hear/speak to match TPR)
    • Reviewing well (repeating TPR activities works as a mnemonic device)
    • Employing an action (this is TPR)

Read more here:

TPR: Total Physical Response activities

Simon Says

This is a great game because your students probably already know it as it has probably been used in the students’ L1.  This is a very useful activity for reviewing vocabulary from previous lessons or at the end of a complicated lesson. Simon Says is great example of an action and speaking activity tool which reinforces the language acquisition through kinesthetic learning.

“Simon says” to do something, and you do it.

If the leader doesn’t say “Simon says” first, you don’t do it.

Traditionally teachers in large classrooms typically have all of the students stand up to start.  Then throughout the game, teachers usually have students sit down if they miss a question or answer incorrectly.   However, some students will deliberately make a mistake quickly in the game so they can sit down and not have participate.  Instead of having students sit down when they get caught making a mistake divide the class into teams and when someone on one team makes a mistake award a point to the other team instead of having the student sit down.

Simon Says as a Speaking and Action Activity

For example, you’ve just taught a lesson on meeting new people (unit 1 of almost every ESL book).  You can use these phrases with actions for Simon Says.

  • Simon Says “greet your neighbor” (turn and say hello)
  • Simon Says “ask your partner about their family” (make a circle w/ hands)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s job” (I’m a student)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s pet“ (actions matching dog/cat)
  • “Introduce yourself” doesn’t have Simon Says in front, so speaking here is incorrect and loses a point for their team.

Group Singing

A great example of group singing with total physical response is the grade school classic, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”.  This song is not only fun for students to sing but incorporates movements that students can remember even if they can’t quite get all the words.  

Songs work as an audio, visual and physical mnemonic device.  They help students remember the words more accurately as practice or repetition combined with the tune reinforces the meaning of the words/phrases.

You can add actions use this TPR with popular songs as well.   There are often actions you can add to every line of a song that reflects the meaning of the lyrics.  Popular songs are usually catchy, repetitive, and encourage movement.  It is one reason they become popular.

Some fun songs that can be easily made into TPR songs are:

TPR can also be done in a call and response chant or song. Call & response chants are usually short and are used to get students’ attention or to reinforce and give positive stimulus.  The TPR actions can all be modified easily for online zoom classrooms.

Here are some fun examples:

Call & response chant examples

Ss = Students
T = Teacher

Teacher says:Students respond with
words and actions:

“Listen Up!”
T: Put hands facing front on both sides of your face
“Listen Up!”     
Ss: put hands facing front on both sides of their face
“Hocus Pocus!”
T: Wiggle hands as if making magic
“Everybody focus!”
Ss: wiggle hands, too, then point to the teacher
“Macaroni Cheese!” 
T: Wave hands in the air
“Everybody Freeze!” 
Ss: put hands in the air
“If you’re happy and you know it…”
T: One hand cupping ear
“Clap your hands!” 
Ss: clap hands
“One, two, three, eyes on me!”
T: Use fingers to count, point to your eyes
and then point to yourself
“One, two, eyes on you!”
Ss: use fingers to count, point to their eyes and
then point to the teacher
“A better you!”
T: Hands out the students palms up.
“A greater us!”
Ss: make a big circle with their arms
T: One hand pointing or in a fist up high
Ss: two hands up
“Stay focused because?”
T: One hand cupping ear
“There’s great work to do!”
Ss: two hands up in power fists
“We are the movement”
T: Marching on the spot
“We are the voice!”
Ss: cup hands around mouth
T: Hands out
“Lives here!”
Ss: point down

Literature-Based Learning and Instruction: The Basics

The concept of using literature in education is perhaps one of the oldest pedagogical frameworks, but the resurgence of literature-based instruction in the classroom, especially in the language classroom, has brought new life to the age-old approach. Literature-based instruction in the language classroom focuses more on the communicative needs of language learners and moves away from the more “literary” aspects of literature study such as critical lenses and stylistic analysis. Let’s look at the who, what, why, and how of integrating this “new” form of literature-based learning into the language classroom.

Who is LBL for?

            Because of the necessity for discussion and a deeper understanding of the text, literature-based learning works best in secondary classrooms.  Learners with lower proficiency may also find the activities related to literature-based learning frustrating as they may not have the vocabulary or grammatical knowledge to accurately express their opinion and personal connections to the material in L2.

What is LBL?

Literature-based learning, in essence, is when an educator uses literature as the basis for instruction. The core content for the entirety of the curriculum comes from the reading material, however additional texts may be used to complement the literature.

The types of activities used in literature-based instruction are what is natural do to after reading. After reading, one often discusses the plot or shares their personal connection or opinions to the themes represented in the material. However, a 10 question comprehension quiz is not an activity naturally done after reading, outside of the classroom.

In Literature-based instruction, learners choose their own high-interest piece for extensive reading. There should be a variety of options for students to choose from in varying reading levels. Many educators choose to incorporate themes into their LBL curriculum, thus offering book choices to students that all fall under that central theme (Khatib & Nourzadeh, 2011).

Students are given the opportunity to then discuss the reading with peers and complete tasks related to the reading material (Sidhu, Chan, and Kaur, 2010).

Why use LBL?

Using LBI promotes learner’s….

  • Vocabulary Knowledge (Frantzen, 2002)
  • Grammatical Knowledge (Tayebipour, 2009)
  • Knowledge of L2 lexical phrases and fixed expressions (MacKenzie, 1999)
  • Language Awareness (Chan, 1999)
  • Sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences (McKay, 2001)

Using authentic literature texts (unaltered and unabridged) provides opportunities for learners to interact with original expressions and natural vocabulary (Puspitasari, 2016).

Literature also helps learners to develop affective skills (Violetta-Irene, 2015), and cultural knowledge.

Studies have proven that learners tend to enjoy learning through literature-based instruction, especially when given a choice of reading material (Piscayanti, 2010; Darmawati et al., 2020). Learners have also been proven to achieve better language acquisition results when learning through literature-based instruction (Piscayanti, 2010).

How to implement LBL?

As stated, learners should be given a choice of literature text at an appropriate reading level and (if applicable) within the central theme of the unit.

The teacher can then engage with the students in several ways including pre-reading activities, during reading literature circles and discussion groups, and after-reading deliverables such as cooperative tasks and projects.

The central focus should be on language acquisition and personifying the general themes present in the literature. Students should be given ample opportunities to share their opinions and engage with the text in creative ways.

For a full list of references on this post, click here.

A Crash Course into UbD

When we teachers design curriculum, we want it to be effective. We want our students to achieve their results and goals in both the short and long term. We want our students to understand and gain something from what we teach them, and to have a lasting effect on their education and maybe even lives.

This is, unsurprisingly, tricky to do. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and throw a worksheet or activity at our students that’s disconnected from our long-term goals and begs the question about what exactly is gained from doing them.

Now that I’ve presented this strawman argument, let’s crack into what this article is really about: understanding by .

Understanding by design framework (UbD), as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, is a way of writing curriculum that helps ensure that students actually understand what’s being taught, rather than simply gaining knowledge about the content material they might forget in time. It wants students to have knowledge, rather than being able to simply memorize something in order to pass a quiz, and for this knowledge to be lasting, meaningful, and appropriate to their everyday life.

Sounds great, right?

Let’s look at how to actually do it.

Backwards Design

In “traditional” curriculum planning, teachers usually look at the textbook first. We see its content, and from there, develop goals for our students and chart out our lessons.

When working in the UbD framework, we need to work backward. It goes like this:

  • Identify your goals
  • Figure out what you need to get to those goals (tools, assessments, etc)
  • Plan how you’re actually going to teach it

So, imagine that you want to teach your students about plant biology, specifically the parts of a plant

Now, in the traditional method of designing curriculum, you’d probably give students a short lecture on the subject. Maybe you’d have them read the textbook or some other materials. You might have them do a short assignment or two, and then eventually have them do a test or quiz.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with planning curriculum like this, necessarily, but, pop quiz: can you, the person reading this article, recall words such as “petiole,” “node,” “anther,” or “style”? I can almost guarantee you, at some point, had to memorize these words or even take a quiz on them, but as an adult, these words have not stuck with me. I do remember, however, thinking how pointless this all was the time and just wanting to hang out with my friends instead.

Now let’s look at how you could plan a similar lesson using UbD framework.

The teacher might choose several types of plants – moss, ferns, azaleas, grass, tomato plants, or even algae. The teacher then divides students into small groups and asks them several questions. What parts can they see of the plants? What do the plants have in common? How can these plants be classified? After coming up with these answers, students can then label plants in their own ways in their groups. After each group has come up with their answer, they can then compare their responses with the other groups. Did they all come up with the same answers? It is very likely that they did not, and students will argue with each other about why their categorizations are correct. They can listen to each other and even change their original answers as they discuss their ideas. Then, students can discuss why it might be beneficial to have official ways to talk about plant parts and categorizations.

Only then would the teacher open the book and have students read about plant parts and categorizations.

Crafting True Student Understanding

Understanding has six aspects:

  • Explaining
  • Interpreting
  • Application
  • Perspective
  • Empathy
  • Self-knowledge

Let’s see how they apply to our plant biology class. First, plant classification is discussed (explanation) and students talk about their own ideas about how it can be done (interpretation). Next, students apply this to label their plants in their groups (application) to decide plant classifications. Afterwards, students discuss the classifications they came up with in their other groups (perspective) and are asked to listen to or even change their original classifications (empathy). Finally, the students can crack open their textbooks to learn about actual plant classifications (self-knowledge).

In order for the teacher to determine that understanding has been achieved, the teacher can assess using something as simple as a test or quiz, but they could also do an alternative assessment, such as having students label or categorize the plants in the “correct” way.

Big Ideas and Core Tasks

As I’ve already mentioned, backwards design begins by determining what students should know by the end of the program or unit. In UbD, this is also called the “big idea.” When developing UbD curriculum, the teacher should develop content around the “big idea” and connect all course content to it. Big ideas and core tasks are the ideas that anchor the curriculum and represent the true heart of the topic. Big ideas have no “right” answer and are meant to be argued. For example, in a biology class the big idea might be something like “species adapt to survive.” Over the course of the year, there exist a myriad of core tasks the teacher could develop in order to discuss this idea.

Essential Questions

Essential questions are questions that help frame your content goals. Like big ideas, these questions shouldn’t have simple answers, but should spark ideas and discussion in the classroom. For example, in our biology class, our essential questions might be something like:

  • What are the basic structures of a plant?
  • What does a plant need to survive?
  • How have different plants adapted to different environments?

Overall, when writing your essential questions for a unit, think about ones that will foster inquiry and meaning to your students.

Closing Thoughts

As a curriculum designer, I love working with UbD framework. I think it’s helpful to look at things from a broader, student-centered perspective to create engaging curriculum. There are tons of resources and further reading you can do on UbD framework (to start, I’d recommend the book written by the original creators of UbD). I hope this short crash course can get you started on your own UbD journey.

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 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.


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:

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!


The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from

Tips for Selecting Appropriate Videos for the Classroom

Picture this: you’re back in school, ready for another boring day of learning. You’ve got out your textbook and corresponding notebook, and have just set your pencils at the top of the desk when suddenly the teacher rolls in an antique relic of a TV player and a VCR. The mood in the class suddenly lifts – it’s a movie day!

Videos can be a great way to pique student interest, add other authentic voices to the classroom, create engagement, and a lot more. They can also be a great “treat” for students, but it’s not always appropriate to rely on videos rather than have a more active, student-centered classroom. In this post, we’ll go over ways that you can incorporate media into the classroom.

Consider Video Usage

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When considering a video, think about why you want to use it. Will it add something to your class, or is it just an interesting time filler? Of course, the latter is fine in some circumstances, but if you truly want students to learn, it might be best to watch the video yourself and come up with a lesson or activity from it. 

When planning to use a video in your class, consider this: if parents, a principal, or other educator were in the room with you, would you still play it? If the answer is “no,” then strongly reconsider using it.

Preview the Video

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This may seem like common sense, but when considering showing a video or videoclip to students, you should always watch it in advance. Nothing is worse than frantically trying to stop or block a video that takes a sudden inappropriate turn, and the fallout from showing inappropriate material – even accidentally – can be severe. You’ll also want to make sure that the video is appropriate for your students’ ages, English levels, and interests. If you don’t have a ton of time, consider playing the video at 2x speed when previewing. You’ll still be able to understand it, and you’ll get through it twice as fast. 

Use Subtitles

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I have a confession: I always watch movies and television shows with subtitles, even when the media is originally in my native language. I get distracted by what’s going on in the background, my phone, and of course, listening becomes an impossibility the minute I decide to eat some chips.

In the classroom, students likely have similar distractions, or have other reasons they need subtitles. Subtitles can vastly improve comprehension. Depending on what your goal is with the video, consider using subtitles – or if you can show the video more than once, try using subtitles for at least one of the views. 

Think About Video Length

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If you’re teaching a forty minute class, it’s probably not in the best interest to use a full twenty minute episode of something. When playing a video, its presence in the classroom needs to be justified with your teaching practice. Do you really need to play the full time, or can the actual content you want to use be made shorter? We can circle back to the parents or principal rule: if you would cut the video down if they were there, do it for your students.

Pick Appropriate Clips or Pieces From the Video

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I once met an instructor who, instead of teaching a class, would simply play entire Ted Talk videos as a substitute for actually teaching.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using Ted Talks to supplement your class, but videos definitely should be used alongside teaching, rather than replace it!

As discussed earlier, it isn’t always the best choice to simply play a full video in class. Instead, you can glean pieces of clips that are relevant to your classroom. This will make sure that the video content is concise, and give you more time for teaching and going over content in class. If you do want to use material from a video in class, or you think that what they’re saying is good, you can watch the video, learn it yourself, and then cite what they are saying in a shorter way. This will make your class go more smoothly, and ensure you can maintain a better balance.


These are just a few things to keep in mind when selecting a video to use in your classroom. As ever, use your own judgement – it’s likely that you know your students and what is appropriate to use for them in the classroom.

Experiencing Global Interactions in the Classroom

For 3 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at a senior high school and be a part of the teaching team for a subject called, “Global Interactions”. Aimed at first year students, this subject was for the entire year consisting of several different modules that led to a final year-end project. The aim of this course was to give students as much exposure to life outside of not only their neighborhood, but to the world.

1st Semester

The first and main focus was to teach students what a “digital citizen” was. As a “Googley” school, it was necessary for students to learn how to at least successfully create projects and share documents through Google. They learned through trial and error how to navigate through Google Workspace for Education services; in particular, Google Slides, Google Forms, and Google Docs. It was also imperative for students to learn how to use the internet in a safe and responsible manner. 

The second focus of the semester was for students to gain as much confidence speaking in front of their peers. As a student-centered class, students were able to steadily gain confidence through numerous solo and group presentations. These presentations were all the more meaningful to students since their audiences were not just their classmates, but guests from different countries such as, Singapore, Taiwan, America, and Canada. Through these brief international interactions, students were able to broaden their views of life outside of what they were familiar with.

The culmination of their 1st semester was a school trip to Singapore where they visited several schools in the area to present on culture and other various topics.

2nd Semester

During the second semester, students learned to voice their opinions in English. They learned it’s okay to disagree with their peers and voice their reasons for doing so. They had ample opportunity to have conversations with their classmates through group projects and conversation tests.

At the end of the semester, students met with 5 ~ 8 foreigners who were teachers and international students. For an entire class period, students were able to interview these guests, asked them why they moved to another country, what their career aspirations were, and any other question students deemed appropriate.

Finally, students used what they learned in their interviews, coupled with what they had experienced and learned during their international interactions to create a final project focusing on what a global citizen was.

My Thoughts

This course offered students something outside of their regular textbook regurgitating lessons. Students learned to think for themselves, value their opinions, and make their voices heard if they disagreed on something. For some, this class gave them the first opportunity to talk to people who were not from the same background. For others, this class provided them with the only environment to talk freely in English.

Through this class, students were given a reason to learn English. They had an attainable goal in sight: to talk to their peers. This student-centered class focused on teamwork and building cooperation not only between students, but with members of the community and other countries. Many students were able to use this class as a stepping stone to study and travel abroad during their 2nd year and eventually even move abroad for university. The class gave all the students the chance to grow and see the world in a new light, outside of the safety of their home.

I believe if we open ourselves up to new experiences and give our students the opportunity to do so as well, we can create a global community rich with understanding and mutual respect.

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.