Monthly Archives: September 2014

A quick reflection on activities

Daegu’s reflective practice SIG meeting yesterday turned out really interesting. One person brought a couple of activities she wanted to try with her students and we played them together and considered their uses, benefits, drawbacks, and applications and adaptations.

I guess in a sense it was sort of a pre-flection (c Matthew Noble). The focus was on an activity that has not yet been tried in class to see how it might turn out. Doing this really helps to be more flexible in the classroom because when something isn’t working for a group of students then we have ways to change or adapt it on the spot, already thought out.

Anyway, as a follow-up for myself, I took both of the games and tried them in some of my classes today.

The first game was a memory game. The students put the vocabulary cards (two matching sets) face down on the desk and the first student picked up a card. He made a sentence with the word on the card and then picked up a second to try and find its match. If they matched, he kept both cards for two points. If they didn’t, he put them back and the next person got a turn. When we played in the meeting, we realized that the person who went last had the advantage when a large group plays, so I made teams of three. In the meeting the game took about 10 minutes, but my class didn’t finish it before the class time was over.

The students policed each other about their sentences, but I monitored the weaker groups. The words were quite hard for them and at the end only one student had a pair. I wonder if I should focus more on vocabulary in that class. Another thing I noticed is that the students focused more on finding pairs than on using the words. They wanted the matches to win and the language suffered from it. That could be a potential drawback to this game with some learners. On the other hand, they said they enjoyed the game and wouldn’t mind playing again.

The game was pretty low prep – I made it out of the vocabulary from their reading book and printed the cards, copied a few sheets, and cut them out. It took about 15 minutes to prepare.

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from

The second game was a version of tic-tac-toe. I tried a few variations of this. In a class of young learners, I created the tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses to some of you) squares on the white board and filled them with vocabulary. Then I wrote the target language next to it  and divided the class into two teams. They got really into it – every student participated and were eager to help each other. Then I gave them paper to make their own game and play against their partner while I walked around keeping an eye on things. This only worked for the more highly motivated students, but eventually everyone had played twice.

With a higher level class, I gave them a theme to play with (an idea that came out of our experimentation at the RP meeting) and used vocabulary from their reading text. We played on the board first and the combination of vocabulary and theme proved too difficult. I gave them pre-made games to play in small groups and didn’t force a theme, but it was still too difficult for some of them. They didn’t have positive feedback about the game and left the class looking frustrated. Perhaps part of the problem was the time of day (just before dinner for them), or their age (sixth graders), or that it’s Monday, or that the words were still too unfamiliar for them to use naturally. I need to find a way to support them more to play this with words from their book.

Anyway, that’s my follow-up reflection from these activities. I appreciate any feedback you might have, gentle readers.

The silent class

Week after week and class after class, they sit silent.
When they are called on, they sit silent.
When they don’t understand something, they sit silent.
When they understand perfectly, they sit silent.
When they have no specific task, they sit silent.
When they want to say something to their friend, they whisper in the friend’s ear.

What on earth is going on with them? I wondered. I was tottering between frustration and anger. I asked their classmates in another class who are more talkative.

Ahh, they said. Jung-i byeong.

Jung-i byeong. It’s a thing. It’s “second grade of middle school disease.” Also known as puberty.

I try everything from easier tasks to pep talks. They sit silent.
They will read. They will write. They will listen. But they will not speak.

Is it the topics?

Okay guys, here’s a scrap of paper. Write down the topics you want to talk about in this class.

No, you don’t have to write your name.

No, you shouldn’t all write the same thing. I promise I will use everything.

I make a syllabus based on their topic requests. I let them think and write before they share. They sit silent. One shares. I ask another to paraphrase or ask a question. They sit silent.

Okay, it isn’t the topics. What is it?

And then two things happened.
First, one student told me she didn’t understand how she was to prepare for the topic that week so she didn’t do her homework. Ah, I thought. Good question. I wrote my number on the board. If you have trouble understanding, contact me. Ask me.

Then in the next class I did something a little immature. I decided not to talk to them either. So I wrote the first discussion question on the board: “Do you get enough sleep? Ask two people.”

I asked for a show of hands – they all said they didn’t get enough sleep. I asked them to clear their desks. I set the timer for five minutes. They all went to sleep. Five minutes later, I woke them up and wrote on the board, “How do you feel? Ask three people.”

I wrote on the board again, “Can you fall asleep quickly? Ask three people.” They talked. And the reasons came out naturally.
I asked for a show of hands afterwards and wrote the reasons on the board.
I tried a few more of the discussion questions – sometimes they answered very briefly and went back to whispering to each other, but other times some pockets of them talked for quite a while in English.

I ended with “What helps you go to sleep? Ask 2 people.” By the time I called out for ideas to put on the board, they were all chiming in: a dark room, silence, a teddy bear, singing to herself, studying, taking a shower, sleeping with a cat or dog, taking a walk, listening to music, a soft bed, a soft pillow, thinking, reading, doing something I don’t want to do, exercise, medicine, sleeping alone.
I asked them then to choose three of those ideas to try themselves and tell two people.

Then I asked them to write their ideas down. Next time I’m going to ask how it went.

The last thing I did was ask them to look through their homework and see if there is anything we didn’t discuss in class. If there is, tell it to one person.

2014-08-26 20.23.08

I was absolutely amazed at how well this class went compared to all their previous weeks. My (somewhat embarrassing) moment of childishness “Fine. if you’re not talking to me, I won’t talk to you either!” turned out to be the best thing I could have done. As a result, I discovered that they want to talk, even in English, just not in front of everyone and not TO ME. It’s the best result I could possibly have asked for.

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