Tag Archives: Korea

A month of ‘Things That Happened Today’ – a cup of milk

Every month the Daegu Reflective Practice Group makes reflective goals for the month. And nearly every month, I fail to complete mine (or even remember what it was most of the time). Last month, we all committed to bring an incident to reflect on so there would be plenty of material for the workshop (which is tomorrow and is being facilitated by a guest: Mr. Bryan Hale). I realized upon making this commitment that I almost never remember a thing that happened at school without a lot of effort. By the end of a school day, I normally just want to crawl in bed and try again tomorrow. But I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I made the rather ambitious goal of keeping a running log of at least one of the myriad things that happen each day… for each day. 

What follows is four weeks of things that happened, with edits for clarity where possible and a few pretty pictures that might be related.

Things that happened today:


What are students made of? What are teachers made of?

I took a picture of what happened when we talked about this in Esther’s class.

What is anybody made of, really?

What is anybody made of, really?


Sera’s story of Trevor’s stick up the dog’s butt joke. She also said he gave the finger to a teacher and ran away. And a lot of other bad boy things. She thought it was all hilarious. I asked him what he was playing at, and he said it was a comic he’d drawn and it didn’t really happen. I think I was most bothered by fact that they all found it so funny. Except the violent kid – he thought animal cruelty is horrible.

*Editor’s note: this came up again today in a conversation with another teacher about how Trevor tells stories.


I don’t remember.

*Editor’s note: I don’t remember what happened in class this day, but I have a very clear memory of why not.


Today I gave the M2s their new free writing notebooks and pencils to go with. Then we did free-writing in class to begin the notebooks and I took them away again. I wonder if that was the right thing to do.

*Editor’s note: they were very excited when I gave back their notebooks with comments for each of them.


I was reading a story about trolls who came and stole a sleeping baby while her sister wasn’t watching. While I was reading, Paul and Sera got into an argument. I stopped to see if they would resolve it. They didn’t. So I put the book away. Some of the other students were annoyed because they wanted to hear more of the story.


‘Tom’ walks in the classroom to the usual chorus of groans. I don’t know how to stop them from ostracizing him. I don’t know how to teach him acceptable classroom behaviour. Julie, who wasn’t paying attention anyway, interrupts the class to tell me that Tom has been sticking his tongue out at her. Tom says she started it. She says he started it. I wish they would stop it.


Ellen just flat out refused to work today. No idea why. She put her head down and wouldn’t participate. She wouldn’t speak during the group speaking task, even when her group members tried to engage her and I backed off. She wouldn’t read during the reading task. When I asked her if she had some reason, she said “no.”

Another thing that happened was I realized that kids don’t know how to look at pictures in a story book.

Editor’s note: since I discovered that, I started teaching them to notice the pictures (which are really where the story is).


April Fools’ Day


The Thoughts and Notions class Kakao Group. (I blogged this one because it was such an interesting experience)


Today I changed the seats in NP5 by lottery (pick a card and line up alphabetically according to your card). Ellie was so angry about it, she moped for the rest of the class. Her mood seemed to affect her group, who look to her as a leader (as most of the class does).

Editor’s note: I also remember that when the class ended that day, she came up to me to tell me that she wouldn’t do my homework. I told her to give it a try.


M3 debates: The first group worked out really well. The timing was almost perfect and their arguments were clear, concise, and well-prepared. They also used their survey tools. That was fantastic. The second class was not a train wreck, but not nearly as good. They spoke in Korean a lot, used their phones and dictionaries during the debate, and had a really hard time understanding not only their opponents’ arguments, but their own as well. Their topic was too hard, I think.


Total lack of clarity about homework in the M1 classes and I didn’t really remember either what had been assigned. One new kakao group made.


The mind maps from Junho’s class and Michelle’s class. Peter and Ben had a tiff but Ben didn’t know why.

They haven't generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

They haven’t generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!


The kakaotalk group class. All but one did their homework. Seriously. And so since they’d done it we were able to make questions about the text and play Golden Bell. Max and Mike won the game – the two weakest students. Their next teacher reported that they came to class smiling and seemed more confident and happy and cohesive as a group than before.


Ellie refused to do the reading: “I skimmed it and I think it’s not interesting to me.” But she was clearly in an awful mood for whatever reason, so I asked her to read it again on Sunday and see if it was interesting then. Later I found out that she was in a bad mood because she had mistakenly told the other students in her class wrong information and half the class came unprepared and it was “her fault” in a sense. No wonder she was in a bad mood.


Katie and Heather’s compliments in other cultures. The difference between singular and plural compliments: Good job! I liked that song. Vs Good job! I like that song. Katie’s response: Oh, no. It was not good. It was just so so. Which led to a mini-discussion on how different cultures respond to compliments (In Korea brush it off; In the USA acknowledge it – we’d all love to know how you respond to compliments!).

*Editor’s note: This conversation might be related to the upcoming #KELTchat.


The M1 debate disaster – only three students talked and as it turned out, they didn’t understand their topic well enough or the information they had found well enough to explain it to the other team (or me). Six silent students, and in the end everyone had the same opinion anyway. What a fail. I wish I’d recorded it. But I think what happened is that they didn’t have clear enough tasks while they were preparing and I rushed them because they’re going to be off for two weeks. Next time I’ll remember this.


Somehow nothing at all got done in OW1 except a spelling test about the months and a memory game using “I want/ He/She wants”. And suddenly the time was over. I don’t know how that happened.


Homework charts finished. Most of the kids get gifts. And I’m the fool who lets them choose. Anyway, so little Paul says he wants o-gamja, the blue one. It’s a potato chips brand. So I went shopping and there were orange, green, and a sky-blue at the store. I got the one that was not orange or green, but was a little surprised because it said it was onion flavored. As soon as I pull it out of the bag, he starts complaining that it’s all wrong. And I overreacted. I just tied up the bag again and said, we’ll just do this later. And I was too angry to talk so I wrote a note on the board for him that said, ‘It’s a gift. Next time, just smile and say thanks.’ But then I changed my mind and gave everyone their gifts anyway. Now I realize that I had failed to leave my baggage at my classroom door and little Paul is in no way to blame (although he was, by my standards, a little rude – he had every right to express that he hadn’t got what he wanted).


I made amends with little Paul and got him the right snack. He said thank you.

I played pictionary with the phonics kids. I didn’t let them draw, though.

I found more mystery puzzles for the M3s because they love those.

Oh, and I took a picture of my graffiti wall. Three weeks of student art. One group asked for a new paper. I said no.


What I learned from the process – lots of things happen every day and it is really hard to decide what is important and what isn’t. Also, writing stuff down isn’t enough. It’s important to go back and read it. Some of the things that seemed important at the time seem pretty trivial now. I wonder what that means. I wonder what I should have remembered about those days. For example, I remember now yelling at a student about his racist comment. How did I not write that down? What did I write instead on that day? I notice I wrote a lot about individual students and their feelings or attitudes, and less about lessons and successes and failures and challenges. This is just the beginning and maybe it would be more useful to focus on a single class each day next month and see how the posts develop. 

TL;DR – stuff happened. I wrote it down. Pretty pictures.

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.

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.

2014-07-10 19.22.24

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.

2014-07-14 19.04.00

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.

2014-07-16 19.19.31

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.

2014-07-18 19.03.15

Final products

2014-07-18 19.02.44

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.

GUEST POST: The Breakfast Club’s Guide to ELT

This is the first guest post ever on LivingLearning and I am delighted to welcome my best friend David Mansell (@HebrewH) as its writer. David blogs at Standards and Practising about his life in Korea. David’s been in Korea a number of years and has a lot of insight into the classroom and a creative way of expressing it. 

David bravely and creatively took up Michael Griffin’s blog challenge in his post Major League ELT with this brilliant Guide to ELT from The Breakfast Club. From here on out, I will let him speak for himself. 


So this is a bit of a departure for me. I don’t normally do Blogs on TEFL teaching, at least not in a serious way. In fact, not even semi seriously. So,maybe I should preface this by saying the writing will only be semi serious at best. Also, I am sure people in the TESOL community will be tearing their hair out at both my improper use of ELT language, and at the conclusions I have reached in my classroom.


Cool beans.
So Anne, my very best friend and an absolute beast of ELT, linked a post to my FB wall, in lieu of having a proper chat because , well, 21st Century. It was an excellent blog post on learning new TEFL philosophy from our favorite movie moments. The blogger in question has done the Big Lebowski and Major League so clearly he is a film connosieur of the Fourth Order. Anne wanted me to do something similar.


My problem here of course is that me choosing a movie is next to impossible. I love movies. I love them like a fat person likes pizza. One slice is never enough and the idea of a single favorite topping is rikonkolous. Top Five movies always switch around, so i have chosen a movie that stayed in the Top Five for the longest time.

The Breakfast Club.

Man, I love the Breakfast Club. I love that it is utterly unlike any school experience I ever had, in my single sex British middle class life. I love that five children would be left alone for an entire day in a school building, to smoke weed and dance. I love that Emilio Estevez pretends to be 17, when he looks like he was born in his thirties. I love that Judd Nelson is bad ass guy from the wrong side of the tracks. HA! Delightful.
And so many lessons….

We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

This opening salvo starts off the movie and it is so true. Students often get identified by their teacher by their first meaningful interaction. A kid acts grumpy on his first day of the academy semester, the teacher will mark him down as a problem child. All other interactions will be colored unfavorably from that moment on. If a kid is shy, a teacher sighs and ‘accepts’ they are essentially a lump of meat in the classroom. If a student is a model of virtue, you will trust them with the books forever and a day. Well, hold on Sparky. Are you the same person, the same character every damn day of your life? I think it is fair to say, no, and neither are your students. Little Miss Priss will be cool another day, that perfect student will act out on occasion. Be fluid, roll with the changes.

See, you’re afraid that they won’t take you, you don’t belong, so you have to just dump all over it.

Said by Claire to Bender. Often, when a teacher works with young kids, the kids are into the stupidest things. What the hell is the deal with the plastic toys they lay on the ground then slap with yet more shapeless plastic lumps? I have no idea. But my kids are into them. Perhaps instead of dumping on them, I can learn more about them. Then I can make a lesson using them, or the mythos surrounding them. Some of my middle schoolers were really into weird japanese stories, examples of Otaku culture. We did almost an entire semester on insider/outsider culture. My previous recalcitrant girls were pushing themselves to express their emotions when talking about a Japanese dude marrying his computer girlfriend. If I had just dumped on their thing, that semester and their english development would have suffered.

You ask me one more question and I’m beating the shit out of you.

Man, I feel like my kids give me the stink eye Juguleh almost all the time. And it’s totally fair. I am constantly asking questions. I am always interfering. WHAT THE HELL, TEACH? BACK OFF ALREADY. Well, yeah, that’s one great reason why limiting the level of teaching talking time works. Instead of me being the Great Inquisitor, the other students can ask each other. Now they are having a conversation and they can be silly with it. They can check each other’s pronunciation and they are not wilting under the gaze of me and their peers as they struggle to remember an answer.

Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.

Man, lesson plans are great ideas but sometimes, they just fall flat on their face. You can either try to bring it back online, cry in a corner or switch it up. Really, this is similar to my first lesson but the first lesson is soooooo good. Be flexible. Kids like structure in their classroom, but don’t be afraid to read the room. If they are bored, if they are not understanding, if there is not active learning occurring, find a way to keep the lesson going. Do not Corpse and play possum. Your kids will thank you for not freaking them out.

Andrew Clark: What do they do to you?

Allison Reynolds: They ignore me.

Andrew Clark: Yeah… yeah.

Earlier in this article, I played a nasty experiment on you. I referred to some of my students as Lumps Of Meat. If you didn’t rage and raise your fist at the page and swear vengeance, you failed a little. That’s okay, I still love you. And besides, I also have done it. problem kids get all the negative attention and we clock their hours versus the hours spent on the rest of the class with also a ghoulish fascination. We never notice how much more time we spend on the ‘good’ students, the ones we know will have the correct answer, will put their hands up, the ones we can have a actual conversation with. But how does that make the others feel? you know, the others. The ones you never really learned the names of. You certainly don’t know what they like to do, or what grinds their gears. They can’t be having too much fun in your classroom. I mean all they do is wait for the bell to go. In the classroom, you probably think you are splitting the time equally amongst your students. fact is,you’re probably not and you should probably think it over. Also, outside the classroom, maybe say hello to them. They may love that. They may love any attention. They may respond by working harder, more interactively within the classroom confines. Well done, you just made your own life easier.



My great thanks go to David for allowing me to post this as a guest post here. 

Readers’ comments are welcome.

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)

reappropriating resources

I hijacked the “Go Fish” game cards for a class of ten year olds. I’d had them out intending to use the alphabet letters to help the phonics class review (they just finished their first alphabet book), but they’d wanted to play animal memory instead. So “Go Fish” was sitting on my desk untouched.

Actually it’s not a bad little game. There are 50 cards – 25 matches. They’re labeled with a letter of the alphabet and a corresponding animal. And it qualifies as educational in two ways: the matching alphabet letters are upper case and lower case (perfect for my phonics class who have just finished their first go at learning the alphabet) and the matching animals are adult and young (and the upper case letter is always on the adult animal while the lower case letter is reserved for the baby animals). The game even goes so far as to avoid animals whose young are commonly called something different from their adult term (e.g. bunny, kitten, puppy…). But it wasn’t the game I needed.

Where DOES a yak live?

Where DOES a yak live?

You see, my students are learning about animal habitats and behaviours (with the aim to be able to describe an animal without needing to know its name). It is also very important for them to be able to ask questions, so this unit introduces “where” questions as well. They came to class with their homework (singular and plural “where” questions) so full of mistakes that I knew they needed more practice. So I elicited the questions on the board:

Where do (animals) live?

Where does (an animal) live?

And I started a drill. After a painful two minutes of correcting mistakes and trying again, I glanced over at my desk and saw the “Go Fish” cards still sitting there.

I divided the class into pairs and divided the go fish cards evenly between each team (10 cards each) in random order. Player 1 fanned out the cards and player 2 chose one. If it was an upper case letter, player 2 would ask a singular question about the animal on the card (e.g. Where does a goat live?). If it was a lower case letter, the question would be plural (Where do goats live?). Player 1 had to answer the question correctly to take the card. If the answer was wrong the card went back to the deck. Then the players swapped. This continued until all the cards were used.

It took about 15 minutes and they asked a lot of questions, argued some about usage, and helped each other out. When I did a comprehension check at the end of the game, the percentage of correct answers had doubled. And instead of bored or frustrated, they were smiling and confident – raising their hands and speaking louder than before.

One of those lucky moments when a spur-of-the-moment idea born from materials intended for another use just works.

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.

Poetry on a Topic

My students have been doing a lot of writing recently, mainly because I want them to express their ideas and opinions, but they are still too shy to talk a lot.

We are using a book called Teen Talk (now out of print, I believe). The book was published in Korea for Korean students and is divided into Issues. The theme of Issue 9 is: “Everybody Does It.”

The issues all have a variety of activities designed to draw out students’ opinions verbally through readings and comprehension questions. This does not work very well with my class, so rather than badgering them one by one in a circle to give their opinion I have begun asking them to write down their opinion, either by themselves or in small groups, and then present it.

On Tuesday we read and discussed this poem:

Teen Talk 1: Issue 9

Teen Talk 1: Issue 9

During the discussion, this line from the poem: “Once I tarnish a reputation, it can never be the same again” required explanation. Stealing the idea from a description of a lesson on bullying that has been making the rounds, I pulled a piece of paper from my folder, crumpled it in my hand, and said, “your reputation is ruined!” Then I apologized to the paper and promised to make it right. I unfolded it and smoothed it out. And I asked the students if it was the same as before. They got the point. When we reviewed the lesson today, what they remembered is “gossip ruins lives.”

Gossip damage

Gossip damage

And I asked them to write a poem of their own for homework based on any of the topics in Issue 9.

These are the finished versions (after my edits) that they presented to the class today. I reproduce their poems here with their permission (actually they gave me permission to put them on Facebook, too. I think they like having an audience other than just me and each other).

2014-01-09 19.05.04 2014-01-09 19.03.12 2014-01-09 19.08.18 2014-01-09 19.06.33 2014-01-09 19.01.11 2014-01-09 18.56.43 2014-01-09 18.53.132014-01-09 19.02.492014-01-09 19.05.23

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