Tag Archives: EFL

how can i help you remember? (a snapshot)

Here is a thing that happened today:

I have a few middle school classes that only meet once a week. In one of the classes, the students almost never do their homework at home. They find themselves doing it or trying to do it frantically in the first five minutes of class. The result is a waste of time, terrible quality, and incomplete work. And of course an angry teacher.

Today was no different in terms of homework completion. But it was different in terms of response. I was midway to shouting when I realized that maybe the problem was that they couldn’t remember it. I mean, I have a hard time remembering the beginning of a day at the end of it. It would be no wonder if the homework got lost in the sea of other assignments. While I know that it’s their responsibility to record and recall their assignments, it is possible that they need some support.

So instead of shouting, I asked them: How can I help you to remember your homework?

I really actually expected them to just look at their desks and not answer me. But they picked up that my anger had drained and I was asking a real question.

And they answered.

One girl said, “we can make a Kakao group and you can remind us the homework one or two days before the class.” Heads nodded. Other students agreed. They looked around at each other. I confirmed that they all use Kakao Talk and I passed my phone around. They input their phone numbers and names. I put my phone number on the board and gave out their phones. They added me, too. One of the students helped me find them all and create the group.

Our Kakao Group

Our Kakao Group

At the end of the class, I wrote the homework on the board. I also posted it in the chat room. I also took a picture of the board and posted that as well. The ‘thank you’s started streaming in (which was a good reminder to turn off notifications!), along with banter and friendliness. I promised to repost the homework a couple days before class next week as well.

Hopefully it works.

A story is a picture in words

It’s the end of the year and a few of my classes have finished their books and won’t start anything new until January. So I’ve had a few lessons to play with and I decided to share one of my favorite short stories with my students.

This is a story by Kevin Stein that is titled “For One Picture.” It is the story of a girl who, in spite of her mother’s misgivings, sets off on a motorcycle with her camera promising to come back when has has found a perfect picture. Throughout the story, the girl sends her mother pictures she has taken and her mother begins to understand her daughter’s vocation, hoping, in the end, that the world really is full of beauty and feeling amazed that her own daughter is a person who can find it and capture it.

I hope you will read the story yourself because, even though I’ve already summarized it, the beauty really is in the way it is told.

I wanted to share a few things I have done with this story this week.

For my 13 year olds, I read the story to them. While they listened, they drew pictures that illustrated the story.

by Emily

by Emily


I read it again for them to fill in the gaps. They took their pictures home and rewrote the story based on their pictures.

by Lorraine

by Lorraine

A few of them chose to retell the story orally, and actually those were the most complete tellings. They ended by writing letters to the author. (And so that the author need not panic, I will say now that I have told them not to expect answers.)

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For my 15 year olds, I gave them the story first and let them read on their own. They were most interested in the photographs described in the story and we discussed the beauty that can be found in unexpected places. They took the paper home and chose a picture to write about. They invented short scenarios about the picture they chose. These led to further interesting discussions, especially where they told different stories about the same pictures.

by Alfred

by Alfred

by Chris

by Chris

by George

by George

by Nina

by Nina

by Dian

by Dian

All work shown here is shared with the permission of the respective students. 

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.

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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.

The choose-your-own-projects Project


At the end of each unit of their book, my students do a group project. I find that projects are a great way for them to collaborate, create, and show off what they have learned from the unit. Their unit 2 project was a bit of a disaster. They focused on one topic and copied a lot of information for their posters straight from the book without more than a sentence or two of their own analysis. Furthermore, they did most of their planning in Korean and didn’t present anything in English. I think the instructions were not very clear to the students and the purpose of the project was also unclear. They might not have had enough time to work on it as well. Also, I assigned the groups rather than letting them choose and that might have affected group dynamics (a dangerous thing to mess with when your students are 13). So for unit 3 I we made some tweaks.

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MY ideas

I wrote down the names of the lessons in the unit to refresh their memories and matched them to suggestions I had for projects that might suit them – role plays, comics, an acrostic, stuff like that. I set out some rules, too – planning has to be done mostly in English. They have to use the vocabulary from their book but they can’t lift whole sentences. They have to work as a group as well as individually and each student has to create something. They have to present their projects as a group and they can’t just read what they have written on their papers.

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THEIR ideas

Students divided into two groups. The groups divided naturally because the first day of the project only five students were present. The rest (all from the same school) were on a field trip. On the second day of the project I asked the first group to explain the project to the second group and write the ideas and rules on the board. And then something unexpected happened: the members of the second group put their heads together and decided to come up with their own projects rather than use what I had suggested.

And they proved to me yet again the value of giving students room to be creative.

"Anne, can I say it like this?" Language feedback request.

“Anne, can I say it like this?” Language feedback request.

The project lasted four sessions, including the presentations. Much of their art work they did at home. I helped by giving language feedback and pointing out errors when they asked me to look at their writing. They helped each other by choosing roles and responsibilities. One a student in group two was lagging behind, her whole group came together to help her finish up. When a boy in group one couldn’t figure out the last line of his acrostic, his group scoured the book for ideas and helped him finish it. During the presentations, group members helped each other by taking on roles to role play and applauding after each member did their bit.

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Helping each other

Helping each other

I think our tweaks to the group project idea worked well. I am really proud of my kids and happy with how this turned out, so I wanted to share it with you.

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Final products

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Final products

If you would like to see the presentations, you can find them here and here.


Something that happened today (#OneThing blog challenge post)

It seems like I come home from work nearly every day and shrug and say, nothing much happened today. Of course that’s pretty silly. Lots of things are always happening and I am just not attaching importance to them. So the purpose of this blog challenge (for myself) is to pay attention to what happens in a day, reflect on it, and share it. I invite you to join me.

butterfly closeup

Image by Josh Kellogg used under Creative Commons license


Something that happened today:

H came to class, sat down, and said, “Anne, I didn’t do any of my homework.”
H’s class is one-on-one. His homework was to prepare a presentation about a film or book that he wants to share. Mondays are Presentation Day.
I sighed. “Okay,” I said.
“Let’s work on essay writing more today,” he said.
“Did you write the thesis statement for your compare/contrast essay?”
“Did you finish outlining the part about imagery?”
“Okay. Did you print the story that you lost?”
“Okay, let’s try to find specific examples of imagery.”

And that’s what we did for the rest of the class. He re-read parts of the stories in depth, asked questions about words he didn’t know for sure, and underlined examples of imagery. He wrote the examples in his notebook and finally, as the class was ending, I asked him to look at what he’d written for each story. And he had an a-ha moment. I watched his eyes light up as he saw that the examples he had found and written on his own were going to be relevant to his essay – there was clear contrast.

And I had an a-ha moment, too. I realized that while it’s important to read carefully and deeply, it’s also important to pull back sometimes and see the bigger picture. So the class didn’t go the way I thought it would, but learning appears to have happened and I’m content with that.

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

Two things that happened today

I want to tell you about two interesting things that happened today.

My first class of the day is with my boss’s son. I’m teaching him reading skills, writing, and presentation skills in preparation to enter a high school in New Zealand. We started working on writing with a personal narrative essay. He’s on the third draft now. Today we went through his writing bit by bit. I circled the words that he chose wrongly (I think he was choosing by sound). I noticed that a lot of them were prepositions and I started thinking: I’ve read that prepositions are among the last things to be acquired in English language acquisition, so how can I help him help himself when he’s just not sure?

The answer, of course, is pretty simple. I turned to COCA. And I taught him how to use a corpus and to select likely combinations and take a look at the context. I didn’t fix a single one of his preposition mistakes but with the help of COCA he fixed them all himself. Granted nothing else I had planned got done in the hour, but he said this is a really helpful tool that he can start to use on his own now.


My last class of the day was switched at the last minute. Our middle school students are studying hard for their midterm exams, but a few students felt they’d studied all they could study and even done all the extra problems. They were tired of it. So my boss asked me to take those learners (from a mix of classes) and do something with them. They asked immediately for a game, of course. The first game to catch my eye is one called “Pass the bomb.” It has a plastic toy “bomb” inside with a variable timer that explodes as people pass it. The original game is played with cards. Each card has a topic (the forest, the toy box, the hospital, etc) and the idea is to say something related to the topic on the selected card and pass the bomb before it explodes.

We couldn’t use the bomb – people were studying and it’s too noisy. So I altered the game a bit – I asked them to choose a card at random and try to speak for one minute on the topic. I modeled it first (not very well) to show that it’s not an easy thing to do. They managed it and enjoyed the challenge, but the results were pretty boring so for round two, I asked them to choose a random card and create a story around the topic. That was a lot more interesting as students created stories about mad waiters in restaurants and thieves who steal and eat only fruit and homicidal toys from the toy box (who date, then break up, then date, then break up, then finally the two girl toys start a relationship and live happily ever after – all in heaven because they’d already killed each other at the beginning of the story).


Anyway, those are some things that happened today.

The Goat Baby

I asked Sarah to tell a story based on the picture below. She told this story, while I recorded it. I transcribed it for the next lesson and helped her edit it. This is the final product, shared with her permission.


Once upon a time, there was a couple who lived in the countryside. They didn’t have a baby, even though they married a long time ago. They worried about it, and then they heard about the fact that if they go to holy place with the goat and pray then they will get a baby.


There was one qualification that they have to treat a goat like a baby on the way to the holy place.


If they go there with the goat, like a baby, they heard that they will come together with a baby’s ghost on the way back home.


So they decided to go there. Before they left, they discussed how to treat the goat like a baby. He thought about the easiest way to carry the goat while he rides a bike. He reminded of his childhood and he remembered that if he was on the back of his mom, he felt comfortable. So he decided to carry a goat on his back.


On the way, he met a lot of people who were treating goat like a baby.


After they arrived there, they prayed for a new baby like they heard. They came back and they indeed had a baby. But the truth is, the baby resembled a goat.


By Sarah Hwang

Goat Baby

RPC 3: Description

RPC 3: Description

Instructions From John’s Original Post:

“Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

In addition, I would like us to pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved. How did we feel? How do we think the student(s) felt. For now, let’s not analyze why we think they felt one way or another (that’s for our next challenge).”

 As you might have seen from my comment on John’s original post, I have no intention of including the feelings of any participant other than myself. I am also going to try to state those feelings first and stick to pure description after that.

I invite readers to ask me questions to help clarify the description and to point out where my description might be turning into judgment or analysis (through use of loaded language or whatever), but I’m not looking for analysis, advice or suggestions at this time.

Let’s go!

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Here ends my description. I hope you can help me with your questions and comments.


Edit: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments! 

Here are some more descriptions to read and add your insights to: 

RP3 – The Description Phase on How I see it now by @HanaTicha

RP Challenge 3: ELC Description by David Harbinson (@DavidHarbinson)

A colorful lesson

This post is in part inspired by the Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT course with Jason Levine going on at iTDi right now. Jase, also known as Fluency MC, has a theory that acquisition of language has less to do with learning and use and more to do with repetition and relaxation.

I have a class of young learners who are learning colors this week. This is a review unit for them and they already know most of the basic colors. Their textbook introduces brown, black, and white and uses a chant to review the colors.

First the students listened and repeated the chant very slowly. Then I handed them each a colored marker. I asked them to stand up when their color came up in the chant. It took some ironing out, but they were good sports.

What I expected to happen was the whole class would chant while individual colors would stand and sit.

What actually happened was the students said only their own color and only repeated me. I figured enough repeating had happened, so I crossed my fingers and said, “one, two, three, go!” and held my breath. And they went: “purple, yellow, green and blue. Green and blue.” and then they stopped. And then they negotiated whether “and” went with green or with blue.

With that sorted out, they looked to me, and so I repeated, “One, two, three, go!”

Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.
Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.
Black, White, Brown, Red, Orange, too.
Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.

At the end they burst into applause and asked to do it again. So I collected the markers and redistributed them so that everyone had a different color (and different people had the four main colors) and we did it again. This time they re-negotiated “green and blue” during the chant and tried it a different way. And again at the end they applauded themselves.

We did it one more time (“green and” beat out “and blue“) before I let them use the markers to color. I think the activity was successful because each student got to be an integral part of the whole. It was an activity where every student could be involved in a positive way and I saw them supporting each other and paying attention and engaged in a way that other activities don’t usually inspire.

I also think using a chant and having a color to hold in their hand helped them speak without worrying about remembering the words or where their part is.

The students then provided more language as we moved on to “What’s your favorite color?” and they reported on their partners.

Next week  we can follow up by making a new chant that involves their favorite colors and test this “relax, repeat, remember” theory in my own class.

Traveling with teenagers

Last night I returned from a school trip. We took a small group of (17) students to London and Paris for a week. These students were between 14 and 17 years old. They were divided into two sections, and then within those sections into smaller groups of two, three, or four. 

Messing up

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The four youngest girls are a group. They were asked to lead the way on the second excursion. Two are bent over the subway map trying to determine the lines, directions and transfers. The other two are synching that information with what they see inside the station. After a few minutes of debate they proceed – in exactly the wrong direction. We all follow and take the subway one stop. By then they’ve noticed and tell everyone to get off. They lead us to the other side of the tracks and we start again. This time one of them asks someone waiting for a train whether this is the right train. It is. We get to our destination without further incident. Skimming, scanning and asking for information skills turned out to be very important. And messing up is an important part of learning.



Knowing the script

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At first most of the kids ate their meals at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Then the kids (and the Korean teachers as well) mostly chose cafes to eat their meals. In part because these were cheaper than restaurants, but I think it mostly had to do with knowing what to do. Three of our students entered a Chinese take-out ahead of us and looked at the food laid out behind the glass. They chose the items they wanted by pointing and reading the labels and stood around waiting for their order until the staff told them to sit down three times. They got their food on trays, shared and ate it up, and left. It wasn’t until later in the trip that many of the students were comfortable enough to try restaurants. I, on the other hand, am way more familiar with the script in restaurants and that’s where I chose to go when I was on my own.



Communication where it matters

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When we arrived in Paris, the kids quickly discovered that we couldn’t log onto wifi without a password. I shrugged and resigned myself to use my phone as a camera. The kids were not so easily satisfied. Coming back from an outing with the other adults, we found TG (incidentally, the weakest English speaker of the group) at the front desk talking to the receptionist. When we asked what was going on, he told us he was getting a wifi password. I didn’t hear the conversation, but he did get his password. And after he did it, the other kids were braver to go and ask as well.





On the last day in Paris, I decided to wander around by myself. I didn’t realize until that morning when my coworker told me how nervous she was to take the metro without me that I had been a leader. They got around and survived the day, even riding a double decker train. Even adults need the freedom to find out that we can do it by ourselves. 

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