Monthly Archives: August 2012

What would make you happy?

Last week I taught the advanced class for the week. They are mostly teenaged girls who just like to have fun and mess around. I had a free hour for “activities” and I let my students choose: they could spend the hour in the library and do some extensive reading or they could spend the hour with a lesson on happiness. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t choose classwork over pretending to read, but their choice was unanimous.

So I followed this lesson plan by @designerlessons “Happiness – ‘One question’ – Generating Discussions”

I turned it into a listening/discussion lesson and didn’t emphasise accuracy. My goal was to see evidence of their comprehension of the video and to extend on that by reacting to the ideas in the video and adding their own. It wasn’t really a language learning goal, but I think being able to and having opportunities to think for themselves and express opinions is just as important as producing ‘correct’ language.

First I asked the students to think of things they would want to ask any random 50 people in the world. Their questions ranged from “What’s your name?” to “Do you like me?” to “Are you happy?” to “What do you know about Korea?”

Then I asked them the question asked in the video: “What would make you happy?” I asked them to take two minutes, think about it, and write the answers in their books.

After watching the video, they discussed the things that make those people happy. Some things my students were really touched by: “I’m already happy” reappeared in a comic strip they made several days later and “Being with my family” also resonated for them (unsurprising, since they’ve been away at camp for two weeks now). Other things they disagreed with: “Money” doesn’t make people happy, according to my students, and “a good wife” didn’t make much sense to them either.

So I asked them to get into groups and share what would make them happy with their group. And something magical happened. They, all by themselves, grabbed for poster-paper and markers and, while discussing the keys to their happiness, showed me a key to mine: these!

Seeing my students happy, interested and engaged makes me happy.

What would make you happy?

Teaching Rap

I hadn’t planned on posting again this week, but this came up in my TESOL topic about pronunciation. My prof stresses the need for teaching rhythm and intonation over individual sounds. For the most part, I disagree with her because she’s assuming the students will be speaking to the ever-rarer ‘native speaker’. However, today I had a situation where I desperately needed to teach rhythm and stress in  class and was grateful for her suggestions and extra materials on the topic.

My students have to do a class presentation (song and dance) at the end of the camp.

I let them choose their own song (having learned from experience that when I choose for them it’s much harder to keep them engaged for three/four weeks). This group chose Party Rock Anthem. I could not talk them out of it.

Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO

Anyway, three verses of the song are raps. One of the kids is diligently trying to learn them. Until today, the other 14 have been sitting in silence during those parts. So I decided that there’ll be no more of that.

I told them that they aren’t allowed to say “I can’t” anymore.

I wrote the lyrics on the board, line by line and got them to tell me which words were stressed. We underlined the stressed words. I then got them to tap it out on their desks without speaking. Then I had them listen and tap. Then they listened, tapped, and lip-synced.

Finally, I played the song for them again and they were ALL able to do the first rap without trouble. Tomorrow we’re going to do it again with the second rap. 

No more “can’t”s.


UPDATE: They can.

rookie mistakes

I have never been more tired. This is probably not true. What is true is that … I’m not quite comfortable with a sentence with so many finite verbs. It’s distracting. Let me start again.

Today was day 8 of a 20 day camp. My teachers are working 6 days a week from 9am to 8:30pm. I’m working 7.

The schedule is tough: not just the times, which are manageable if you have a day off, but the activities. We’ve been trying to improve it. Originally there was textbook work for three hours every day. We quickly discovered that not only did the kids not have the stamina for it, they weren’t retaining anything we could get them to study. So we took out an hour of the book three days a week and added sports/games. No, it’s not communicative. Most of the time it doesn’t involve any language at all. But it’s amazing what a little exercise will do for energy levels. Still, the schedule has activities that no one knows how to do and no one has much time to plan for. This is my fault. I wrote the schedule and failed to write down what was in my mind at the time. Now I’m too tired to remember. Rookie mistake.



We did a shopping role play. The students prepared all week – learning target language and making products for their shops – and were really excited about the idea of other students buying the stuff they made. Then we sent them all shopping and it was a disaster. Because of us. Instead of letting the kids run the shops, the teachers did it. Which means that much less language was actually produced and much more stress was involved. The kids had fun in any case and named it as a highlight in their journals that night (daily journals = great for feedback from kids). I mentioned it as a lowlight in mine. I was disappointed in myself. At our teachers’ meeting we reflected. What happened? Why did I feel it went wrong? We discussed ways to improve it for the future. That’s what I love about my team: they’re not complaining or blaming, but willing to reflect and to help fix problems. We won’t do another shopping role play this camp, but the strategy easily adapts for other activities with these kids – give them the opportunity to produce!



But when the time came – two days later during a cinema role play – we did it ourselves again. Why did that happen? I think it was a combination of stress (because money was involved, which we weren’t sure if we could let the kids handle) and lack of proper planning. I learned that in order to put an action plan into action, we need to discuss and plan it together and visualize how it will work, assign roles, and write things down specifically. We didn’t do that. I’d like to say we didn’t really have time, but we also didn’t make time. It should have been a priority. I have another chance on Friday. It’s lower-risk. I will make it a priority to plan, prepare, and provide opportunities for students to participate fully.



I enter this week in hope.


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