Monthly Archives: July 2013

you speak english very well

The following is a translation of an actual conversation.

How long will it take?
Uh? Your pronunciation is really good! How long have you been in Korea?
Ten years.
Wow! Really good pronunciation! Say it again!
How long will it take?
Waaa. Really good!

There’s silence as I stare at her, trying to keep my feelings off my face. I live in another city and I just want to know when I can come back and pick up my damn blankets from the cleaners. It’s a full ten seconds before she gets it. We’ll send you a text message when it is ready.

I don’t get angry very often, so I decided to reflect on this situation a little. I was trying to get information, but the only feedback the lady was thinking about was linguistic. I was asking for content and getting unnecessary praise. I already know my pronunciation is decent because people tend to understand me. (Incidentally, today the same lady started hitting me because I didn’t understand her. #ohkorea). There are a couple things I take away from this situation.

1. Unrequested feedback is not always welcome. When I heard her say that my accent is really good, I only felt frustrated. I was thinking, Thanks, but can you please just answer the question?. I need to think about what kind of feedback I give in my classes during or after each activity and perhaps even ask students what kind of feedback (and delivery) they prefer.

2. It occurs to me that, as teachers, we have to listen to our students on multiple levels. If we only listen on a linguistic level then the student who is dancing at the door and learning how to say “May I use the restroom, please?” doesn’t care how good his pronunciation is. He isn’t listening to the lecture on restroom vs. bathroom vs. toilet and he will not remember the importance of article use.

Sometimes this occurs more subtly. When I’m having a conversation with my coworkers and one of them stops constantly to correct my Korean, it breaks my train of thought. I also tend to feel that they’re not really listening to what I’m saying, just how I’m saying it. They’d be missing any subtext as well. I wonder if my students sometimes feel that way.

“Teacher I didn’t do my homework because of the family vacation in Philippines.”
“Wow, Jinseop, your English got really good!” / “It’s the Philippines, Jinseop.”
“So what did you do in
“Uh….. mumble mumble …”

Taking the opportunity to praise or correct sometimes means losing the opportunity to listen. Do I spend to much time fixing them so they’re understandable that I forget to listen to what they’re trying to say? Or equally importantly, to what they’re not saying?

things i learned from giving a presentation

The best thing about teaching is that I am always learning.

I gave a 20 minute presentation last Saturday. I wrote another post dedicated to the information I wish I’d been able to articulate in the presentation. This post is about the things I learned about giving the presentation. I guess if you’re a regular presenter, this stuff is pretty obvious. Some of it is advice I sorta knew and just didn’t follow. Some of it I coulda followed better. I’d be happy for any corrections or additions to this list.

1) Don’t wait till two days before (or the day before, or the day of) to prepare. And also it probably would have helped to have said the whole presentation out loud at least once before getting up there.

2) If you’re going to use PowerPoint, learn how to use it well. Black text on white slides with occasional pictures is boring, especially when the other presenters have colored frames on their slides and have figured out how to make their bullet points come up one at a time.

3) Don’t try to pack in an hour of potential information in 20 minutes. And speaking of 20 minutes – time yourself. And speaking of information – remember your main point and stick to it.

4) Don’t wear clothes that you can play with when you’re nervous. I guess that’s all some people notice and then the content of the presentation is lost.

5) Know thyself. If you already know you are not the type of person who can talk about anything for 20 minutes with just a few ideas in your head then don’t expect to be able to magically do it in a presentation. Write the notes down. On note cards. Otherwise you appear as mentally disorganized as you are.

6) Ask for help. You’re surrounded by experienced people. Someone will certainly have time to listen and give you a bit of feedback. I feel deep gratitude to the someone who did this for me. I wish I’d asked for more.

7) Invite your friends. Or at least don’t keep it a secret from them. And definitely don’t ask them not to come. Maybe you don’t want them to see you mess up, but they’re the ones who will give you courage when you can’t find your own and they’re the ones who will still respect you no matter what. #sorryguys

8) Don’t give up. Okay, so it didn’t go so well this time. You don’t think you rocked the house. But you learned from it. You can give it another go next time.

Vacation camps: Teaching without a course book (the presentation I wish I gave)

Last Saturday I gave a 20 minute presentation about teaching without a course book and all the activities and things a teacher can do when not fettered by a textbook.

I wasn’t very satisfied with how I delivered the information. So this post is the better organized version of what I wanted to say there but don’t think I articulated very clearly. The PowerPoint is embedded below (just learned how to do that from this video!).

So, without further ado, the presentation I wish I’d given:

Vacation Camps: Teaching without a course book

I’d like to begin with a disclaimer. I am not jumping on the “materials lite” or “dogme” bandwagon here. I think there is a place for course books and a lot of good reasons to use them. I think even some camps have a place for course books. There are also good reasons for choosing not to use them and the type of camp I have in mind is one of those.

I’m working from the perspective of camps designed for elementary school students. Of course, most of what I say can be adapted to other ages and levels, and I’ll leave that up to individual teachers. In this presentation I would like to show some of the benefits to preparing a vacation program without a coursebook and also share some ideas and activities that can be used in lieu of “doing” pages in a book.

Starting with the benefits of preparing a vacation program without a course book:

1) Time

– To get to know the students and tailor activities to their specific interests and goals
Getting to know your students is important. Getting to know their interests, hobbies, or goals and showing them that you care about those things – as well as letting them get to know you – builds a relationship, fosters safety and reduces anxiety. And all that can lead to increased motivation. In a camp where you only have a short time with the students, you have to do this right away and sometimes jumping straight into pages 2 and 3 of the textbook (“Getting to know you”) is not enough and strikes the students as unreal. Also, the goal of “getting to know you” isn’t language learning (as in the book), but learning about each other through the language. Once you know your students interests and goals, and unfettered by a course book that forces language learning rather than language use, you can tailor activities specifically to your class.

– To not have to worry about “getting through the material” and “completing a book” that the parents have paid for and want to see used
There are a couple of big issues here. When you’re using a text book for a camp, the parents buy it and want to see it “done” (or so the administration believes). To them, “done” often means every page is written on and contains evidence of teacher checking with a red pen. But just because the students have done it, and have the correct answers (for whatever reason), doesn’t mean they have learned it or can use it. Most course books are also too long to allow for time to supplement their themes with more #engaging activities.

– To use your most valuable resource: the language, structures, and grammar that has been drilled into the students’ heads for years and years
All Korean students have been studying English grammar since first grade. Their regular classes drill grammar and sentence structures and the vast majority of textbooks used in English classes in Korea (I don’t care how they claim to be organized) has a built-in grammar syllabus. Instead of using another course book, in a camp setting we have the time to exploit the books the students have already “done” and give them the opportunity to practice and use the sentence structures and grammar they have been learning over and over in book after book. I don’t mean by telling them “now you’re going to use past tense to complete this task” but by letting them have the time to figure it out after setting the task, agreeing on the rules, and giving them support or guidance judiciously.

2) Freedom

– To try new things
There are so many activities teachers would like to try with their classes in order to support the materials the students learned in the textbook. With no new book to keep up with, now’s the time! The students have already learned the material. They’ve done the book. They know how to write and follow instructions using imperative; they’ve learned the verbs they need for cooking – so have them write the recipe and do that cooking class you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it will be a disaster, but it’s worth the risk.

– To give activities a purpose (and perhaps an audience)
Too often we have to ask students to do activities without being able to explain why they need to care about it other than “language practice.” Time to add an element of purpose. Sometimes this is as simple as mixing up the groups so students work with people they don’t know very well and sometimes it can be as complicated as connecting your classroom digitally to students in another school or even in another country. EFL students don’t often get the opportunity to speak to kids their own age with a different L1. Something as simple as exchanging products (magazines, videos, blogs) and feedback with other students can give an activity meaning from a student’s point of view.

Not using a course book is all well and good, but what do we do then? What are these activities? I turned it over to the audience and asked: “What are some activities you have done with vacation camps in the past OR what are some things you wish you could do with your regular classes, but just don’t have time? Take a few minutes to talk in your groups and then we’ll come back and share.”

A sampling of activities shared by participants:

– Rap
– Playing outside (review games and activities)
– Exercise
– Cooking class
– Student-chosen themes (Like a Harry Potter week)
– Student productions

Some activities I have used:

– Role plays (including Airport Role Plays)
– Amazing Race game
– Linking classrooms through video or blog
– Cooking class
Songs and drama
– Comic strip art / story-telling

The missing conclusion:

I feel strongly that the greatest resource in the classroom is the students themselves. We can even ask the students to get into groups and propose activities of their own. Everything that we do in the classroom can be based on what the students bring in. So while vacation camps can be quite successful without using course books, the activities we plan are built on the students’ prior knowledge, much of which came from books. In this way, vacation camps can support the learning students’ do in their regular English classes.

Below is the PowerPoint I used in the presentation.*
*Disclaimer: see this post for things I learned about giving presentations.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Your feedback, comments, suggestions, questions, and polite disagreements are very welcome in the comments below!

Why I use airport role plays

Disclaimer: this post was not written in response to @michaelegriffin ‘s excellent rant against airport role plays. It was written two weeks ago after I finished my most recent camp in response to a tweet he sent:

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 8.28.18 PM

With the idea in my mind that I might have to defend the very existence of the staple activity of English Villagedom, I began this post (admittedly in part as a response to the post I *thought* he might write). And you can see what happened just below.

This post was originally going to be titled “In defence of airport role plays.” However, I realized while writing it that I don’t really feel all that defensive. Role plays are things I do as part of my job. There are several reasons for this and I’ve tried to articulate them below. I am aware that they are not “authentic”, but I’m also okay with that. I can’t provide very much of what people who object to the supposed inauthenticity of the classroom would call “authentic.” I use these types of activities because they are in line with the goals of my program.

The "airplane" in our "airport"

The “airplane” in our “airport”

Why I use airport (and other) role plays:

1) Parents expect it. I work at an English Village. ALL English Villages have “airports” and are expected to use them. Yep, MG totally called this one.

2) Students love it. The feedback we get from them at the end of our camps is that the role plays (particularly restaurant and airport) were their favorite activities.

3) Some students say it is very realistic. (It took me a while to get my head around this, but when I thought about it I realized that for kids, their airport and travel experience involves following their parents around and waiting around and repeating what they are told to say. Yep. Pretty authentic.)

Security checkpoint

Security checkpoint

4) It takes up lots of time. When you teach 12 hours a day and you can fill some of those hours with students making their own passports and quizzing each other on their travel plans, that’s gratitude.

5) The students do all the speaking. We assign students to be airport staff, security, flight attendants and immigration officers. Usually they are lower level students because they’re going to be repeating the same dialogue time after time after time and by the end of it, they can get the hang of which bits of language go together (as chunks) and can pronounce the more difficult words. They gain confidence in their own speaking and find it motivating to be able to help other students.

The immigration desk

The immigration desk

6) It can promote critical thinking in higher level learners. We don’t allow higher level students to use their books. Instead we promote understanding of the questions commonly asked and statements commonly heard at an airport. Then during the role play, they have to respond in their own words based on the questions and statements they’ve heard. Most of the speaking in the dialogue is done by the officials and the passengers don’t have much to say. Their main job is to listen and respond appropriately. Perhaps you don’t need to say more than three words to get through an airport and on to the airplane, but they’d better be the right three or no dialogue practice in the world will help you.

7) It can provide a safe place to practice a scenario that might be stressful in the real world. (Provided, of course, that they have experience dealing with different accents and different ways of presenting the same information/ asking the same questions….) I’m speaking here from the perspective of camps involving kids, who are easily nervous about new environments. I have never used an airport role play with university students. It has never come up, even though travel comes up a lot. The airport doesn’t seem to be a place where adults feel threatened (linguistically, at least).

Serving in-flight drinks

Serving in-flight drinks

8) There’s no explicit grammar focus. One of the best things about working at a camp is that I can design theme-based programs that feature activities (like role plays, scavenger hunts, and cooking classes) that are focused on language without highlighting grammar. Why is this good? For one thing, it removes students mentally from “school” and puts them in a different kind of learning environment (a change is as good as a rest, right?). For another, the goal of the program is to use English they already have in a low-stress setting (i.e. each student does what they can with no penalty if they can’t), not to learn much that is new. Kids have never ever told us that they want to study more grammar.

I am aware that there are also many reasons why teachers might choose not to use things like airport role plays in class. How about you? What are your thoughts on airport role plays? Would you use them? Why or why not?

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