On good girls and bad boys

September 9, 2010

We are continuing our cult of personality in class this week.   I gave my students a long list of personality adjectives, and I even translated them into Korean (with help from my most awesome co-teacher) and had them do a worksheet where they decided which traits were good and which traits were bad.  I then gave them a worksheet where they chose the 5 best traits for a friend, a father, a mother, a teacher and a boyfriend.

I always make the students give a presentation after they fill in the worksheets; I do let them work in groups, and I try to get them to use the time to speak English,  but as soon as I’m out of sight, they start speaking in Korean, this happens even in my best classes, so to make sure they speak a little bit of English, I make them stand up and present their worksheets.

I was shocked at how many students said “mean” and “cold-hearted” are good traits for a boyfriend.  I asked, and they all said, ” bad boys, mmmm good” or some variation. As a teacher who both loves her students and is not immune to bad boy charm, I was in a bit of  a pickle. I do understand, but when I think of a bad boy, I don’t think of mean, or cold-hearted.  I think of a guy with a motorcycle and more than one girlfriend. Fun while it lasts, but something you usually outgrow eventually. The problem was explaining this without scandalizing some of my co-teachers ( I have 5 this semester).  1/2 of my co-teachers would be sympathetic, but some … hmm I’m not so sure about.  So I settled on – A bad boy will take you for a ride, and a bad man (cold-hearted and mean) will take everything you have.  I think that is a good explanation.

In my advanced class, I also have them do a dialog using the new vocabulary words. I was not surprised that the students who liked bad boys would come up with this exchange:

A: “I am sad. I got into a fight with my boyfriend”

B: ” It is obviously his fault”

Because if he is a bad boy, his fault is obvious. Obviously.

I was also a bit surprised but not shocked that students in the advanced and high intermediate classes liked a bossy and strict teacher, but students in the low intermediate and beginner classes liked an easy-going teacher.

Sometimes I have way too much fun in my class, but then I’m very easily amused.


An easy going person always smiles.

September 2, 2010

So this is the second week of the semester.  The first week back I thought my students had used all of their summer break forgetting everything I taught them last semester. But this week they were back in the swing of things.

I have one student I quite like, even though she is a bit prickly and stubborn.  She has made it clear, I am not a good teacher. The story:  Last semester we had a speaking test. It really wasn’t a speaking test, more like a test for memorization.  The students were given 5 dialogs to memorize, and were graded on a point system 1-10, with 10  a perfect score.   This is the only test I actually administer.  This student did pretty good on the test. I gave her a 9.  I wanted to give her the 10 she asked for, but she made several mistakes in the beginning.  I let her start over, and she did excellent, hence the 9. I couldn’t give her a 10 because that is the perfect score, and she did have to restart the test.  ( She is one of the lower level students, and although I don’t like grading on a curve, I am a bit more lenient for the lower level students than I am for the upper level students).  Anyway, I digress. She was most unhappy with the result.  She did make a valiant attempt to sway me, but I was unconvinced. I was then informed that I was a very bad teacher. She wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the semester (she did do all the classwork I asked for).  This semester, she decided to forgive me. Until today.

This week we are discussing personality adjectives.  The worksheet has two parts: The first part is a finish the sentence exercise, and the second part is opposites.  The first one is: Kind is the opposite of__________.  I let her group use “unkind”.  10 minutes later I hear “Teacher, finishee”  I know, I am trying to get them to pronounce the final d, but I think it is a losing battle.  Anyway, I digress. I  thought it was rather quick, especially since the lab (upper level) students took much longer.  Well, they used the rule “un” = not, but I had to break it to them that unstingy, unhonest, unrude, unlazy, and unshy were not real words, and they couldn’t use them.  She was most upset.  I am back to being a bad teacher.  I met her in the halls between classes and she turned her face away from me so hard she almost hit the wall.  I am a bad teacher, I did laugh. She tried really hard to not laugh then decided to be angry with my laughter.  I don’t think she is going to talk to me the rest of the new semester.

I do love the way my students use the language though. Sometimes even though it isn’t “correct” it is still pretty cool.  I usually put them in groups and have them struggle with the words and their meanings, or the sentence structures. I want them to own the language, not just get the right answer.  In English, there is more than one way to express something, and I want them to have that power.

So some of the sentences my students have come up with:

A stingy person has a selfish mind.

A lazy person doesn’t like to wake up in the morning/ doesn’t like to endeavor.

An honest person  speaks only truths and does good things

An impatient person tells everyone to hurry up

An ambitious person only wants passion for work, not to be happy. ( I like this explanation, even if it would never show up in the dictionary)

An arrogant person is not modest

A shy person doesn’t like dangerous things. (maybe not, but it is close enough)

An easy-going person is a cool guy /doesn’t like to be upset.

My favorite opposites are:

Kind is the opposite of bad

Stingy is the opposite of shopping/ helping people.

Honest is the opposite of tricky/ illegal action/ hypocrisy

Rude is the opposite of courtesy/decorum

Lazy is the opposite of industry/liveliness/ diligent


Shy is the opposite of friendly/stately

I know they are using their dictionaries so some of them don’t really understand the nuances of their word choice. I also know “that’s very creative” is high praise in my upper level classes, so I am getting through to some of them.  My goal is to make English something they can use to express themselves, and of course, have fun. Plus it makes me smile when I grade their papers.

the king in Korea

August 17, 2010

As you know, I’ve been using murder, mystery and crime as my theme for my summer English camp.  So far it has been a lot of fun, and I think the students had a good time and learned something as well.  At least I hope so.

One of the things I wanted to do was have some music as part of my class.  My justification was that music is a fun and interesting way to learn vocabulary in use.  The real reason, is it is summer, and the students should be out having fun. Instead they are in a classroom. I think the reason there are so many private academies and  after school programs, and summer and winter camps, is that they want to make sure the kids don’t have enough free time or energy to get into any trouble.  That is my theory.

So anyway, the students are not at the beach, not at the park, not getting in trouble, not just hanging out in the heat.  They are in my class.  To make life a bit more bearable, I’ve been playing mystery themed games, been murdered more times than is healthy, and introduced some good music.  I could have stuck with pop songs, but a) I wanted the mystery theme to extend even to the music section, and b) I wanted to introduce my students to some music they may not have heard before.

I’ve done songs from the musical Chicago, the theme from the Sopranos TV show, and some blues and country music.  I also went into the past and found Elvis Presley’s Jail House Rock.   I thought it would be kind of fun, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got.

Lots of High School girls bopping along, their feet tapping, they were smiling and laughing.  When I looked at them, they got all serious, paying attention to the lyrics, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see them starting to re-bop and they just couldn’t keep their feet still.  It made me happy.  Some of my “experiments” don’t always work. I’ve had some serious class room fail. But it is alway nice when it does work well.

you can read some other of my writings at http://lifeinkorea.kr/

Friday, class fail.

July 24, 2010

I usually like to write about classes that go well. Part of it is my disgusting optimism.  Part of it, I don’t really like to admit when I suck as a teacher.

But. Friday’s summer camp lesson was a total failure.

I have 7 students. 9 students signed up for the camp, but 1 was way out of her league and she un-enrolled.  1 I haven’t seen yet.  I don’t know why she signed up, but since she never came I don’t feel too bad about her not being in class now.

So we have 7 students, and they have been awesome.  They have participated enthusiastically, and when I put up the mistakes on the mistakes were made board, I noticed that some of the more common mistakes were absent.  Yeah, I think they are pretty cool.

So Friday.  I wanted a special super fun awesome class.

I failed.

We started with a minute mystery. When I got to the solution, instead of the Ah, and laughter I usually get, I got Uh? and blank faces. I knew I was off my game.

The theme for the day was BANK ROBBERS!!! – I found a game online that had you plan and execute a bank heist.  So I took a bunch of elements from the game, and made our own heist elements that the students should put together.

To warm them up, I had the song, “Don’t nobody move, this is a heist” by Tony Powers.  I explained heist, but they really didn’t get the song or the video.

So we moved on.

I showed some clips and previews of movies like Heat, Ocean’s twelve, and Point Break.  They hadn’t seen those movies or any of the other movies I mentioned.

I moved on.

I gave them a blue print of the bank, and some characters they could be.  I gave them cards for the equipment they would need.  And put them together to plan their heist.

They didn’t get it.  I tried to help them, and they tried to do it.  But.  It was a failure.

I moved on.

At the end of every  class, we are watching “Castle” – I downloaded the show and I’ve been transcribing the dialog for the students, and we go over the vocabulary and then watch a short clip.

This was no problem, but when the short clip was finished I still had 15 minutes of class.  With not much prepared, and a downhearted and bored class.

They wanted to watch 10 more minutes of the show, and usually I wouldn’t just watch tv or movies, but I made an exception for this class.

The last 5 minutes I apologized, and promised a good class on Monday.

They did forgive me.  And I want to make it very clear, these are really hard-working students. Their level is low intermediate, but they are motivated and in general awesome.  Monday through Thursday we had a lot of fun, and they worked hard at all the tasks I’ve given them so far.  They love the game Clue, and they are really good at speaking up in class.  The failure on Friday was all mine.

On the plus side, a friend had her birthday party, and despite getting lost twice to her house,  we had an awesome time playing Apples to Apples.  It cheered me up.

So happy birthday Julia!

It was a dark and stormy night….

July 19, 2010

Suddenly there was a werewolf. I was feared.

I love the way my students think.  I don’t want to correct “I was feared” – doesn’t that sound awesome.  It makes a certain kind of sense.  Of course on the “Mistakes were made” board, I will have to put it up, but I just love some of the “bad” English my students come up with.

It’s our first day of summer camp, and the theme is mystery.  I named my camp “Summer Camp: It’s murder”.  One of the tasks is a write around.  I gave the students a prompt (It was a dark and stormy night – even if they don’t get the joke, I sometimes amuse myself with lesson plans) They had 5 minutes to write, then they had to pass along the story they started and finish the story someone else started. We went around 3 times.  I wanted to go more times around, but we had a new student.  I have 9 students in the class now, and 8 of them are intermediate. They are also very keen to learn English. Two of them came up to me and asked for extra writing practice because they were “weak at writing”.

The new girl wasn’t someone I have had before, and she is very basic.  I watched her as the other students were writing, trying to find a place to set her eyes.  She couldn’t do many of the basic things we were doing in class. She couldn’t ask a single yes/no question for the 5 minute mystery, she couldn’t answer any of my questions.   My heart broke a little.  I could imagine how it must feel, everyone knowing what to do, how to do it, where to go… it hurts.  I can’t simplify the class too much for her, because she is only one student, and I’ve already promised a tough yet interesting and fun camp to the other students.

So I did what I thought was best, I took her to the Korean teacher.  I really felt bad, when I suggested we go together she almost started crying.  I had one of the other students translate, I wasn’t angry, I just needed the Korean teacher to translate for me.  All three of us agreed she didn’t belong in the class, but it still felt bad.  The good news is that the other students did awesome.  I think the camp is going to be a lot of fun.

Saturday was a dark and stormy day.  I had plans to go to Nami Island. http://www.namisum.com/ It is a day trip from Seoul, and I was going to meet a good friend. But. It rained. It rained Friday night, and Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night.  It was depressing.   Then Sunday morning, the sun came out.  My bicycle called my name.  I took it out to the river and had a leisurely ride. The flowers were fantastic. Hibiscus blooms as big as my hand, a flock of butterflies lighted and fluttered around a patch of lavender, black-eyed susans bobbed in the breeze, cosmos, daisies and a few flowers I don’t know the names of were all showing off.  There were even a couple of irises that were tenaciously holding on to their beauty despite the heat and a recent raindrop beat-down.

I didn’t see any werewolves though. At least not that I know of.

This, that, and another thing

July 8, 2010

So I decided to try the skit kits out in my classes ( even though it is far along in the workbook I’m working on).  I was a bit nervous, because although the students have had dialog worksheets, they haven’t done a full dialog themselves with all their own language. I gave them an envelope that had 5 words in it, then had them use the words in their dialog.  The only rule was that they had to use all the words at least once.   I wanted them to tell a story, have the whole thing be one skit, but some of the groups decided to use the words in several different skits.  It worked surprisingly well.

As a teacher I’m constantly trying to keep a balance between control and freedom.  I need a certain amount of control in the classroom, mostly because 30 + high school girls are not going to spontaneously start speaking English without some guidelines.  At the same time, I know the Korean teachers are working hard to give them lessons in grammar and vocabulary.  I don’t really see myself as the grammar and vocabulary teacher.  What I want from my students is for them to produce their own language.  I want them to communicate with me and with each other in English.  I know my low-level students are not going to be able to do much (although I was very happy with them today, some of the groups came up with some very clever skits) but I want them to work together and I want them to feel my class is where their attempts at English are respected even if it isn’t the most correct.   I need to find tasks that are interesting, and allow them to speak, and keep them on task, but at the same time I want them to have enough freedom to feel confident.  I only hope I succeed more than I fail

I’ve studied Korean before, but not in a class. This is the first time I’ve taken a language class since university.  I hope that not only will I be able to communicate with some of my co-workers better but also understand more of what works and doesn’t work in the class room.  I like the teacher a lot.  She doesn’t speak much English, but she manages to help a bunch of people with various levels of pathetic Korean understand what she wants us to do.  So far so good (although I only did so-so on the first quiz) I have a newfound sympathy for my students.

And in other news, it is official. I’ve signed on for one more year.   At least  I signed the contract.  I’m looking forward to a continuation of the adventure.

Balance pt.2 (or prep vs play)

June 7, 2010

One of my young friends spent the entire weekend preparing for one class.  I asked her “Why?” She said she didn’t want to just get stuff off the internet.  Now if she was the kind of teacher that took a worksheet just off the internet and made photo copies and said “that’s it, I prepped my class”- she would not be my friend.  At the same time, spending all your free time preparing for a class is a quick ticket to burnout.

I don’t want her to burnout. I think she has a lot to offer her students. So I promised to write this post to tell her how I do it.  I refuse to work on the weekends (although I have on occasion done just that in an emergency) I also understand that sometimes in the teacher’s lounge it is hard to concentrate enough to do a proper lesson plan. That said, there are ways to get things done, and still have enough free time to enjoy your evenings and your weekends.

One thing- the internet is your friend. Google is awesome. True, just taking something off an ESL website is lazy.  But there are a lot of ideas there, and with some modifications, you can make a plan for most of your classes.

I will give you next weeks lesson as an example.  This week we are having a speaking test, and in two weeks we will have the final exams. I kept this in mind while I started my prep.  I went to several ESL websites and browsed around.  I found several worksheets for scrambled words. Now, I don’t want to use those worksheets in my class just the way they are; one was for owls, another was for a book my students hadn’t read, and another was for the solar system.  These, although fun, wouldn’t be appropriate for any of my students.

However, the idea is a good one.  So I got the vocabulary that my students will be tested on. I made my own worksheet by scrambling the vocabulary words that they are supposed to be studying for their test. That is a good start.  Then, since I’m still working with vocabulary, I decided that they should also work on the definitions.

I will make a worksheet that has the definitions, with a blank for the words.  I will then have the students use the words they un-scrambled to fill in the blanks for the new worksheet. This will work for my intermediate (both high and low) classes. For the low intermediate classes I will put them in groups for both the activities.  For the high intermediate classes I will have them do the word scramble individually or maybe with partners (I haven’t decided yet) then put them in groups to finish the second worksheet.  But, I also have advanced classes and basic classes.

For my advanced classes, I will add a story worksheet that will use the vocabulary they are working with. The worksheet will start with a story beginning, and I will have them do a write-around to make up stories. The only rule is that they have to use all the vocabulary from the worksheet. Then they can do a presentation of their stories. I will put them in groups for the write-around ( or maybe I will have them do all the worksheets as a group, I haven’t decided yet).

For my basic class, I will do several scrambles as a class, and then put them in groups to finish the scramble worksheet. Then when they are all finished, I will hand out the definitions worksheet and have them do 1/2 of them as a class, and the other 1/2 in their groups.  10 minutes before the bell rings I will have the groups make a presentation of their answers.  (for the basic and low intermediate class, they can use their books to help find the answers– for the high intermediate and advanced classes, I probably won’t, but if the students really are struggling and won’t finish in time, I will revise my classroom rules)

I can put everything up on the computer through Power-point or Prezi, and I can add cool graphics on to the worksheets if I want. But the basic plan for next week is done.  I still have to finish the worksheets, and make sure they are photocopied.  But even without a computer or power-point, I can still have a decent class that will help my students do well on the test.

I have 4 levels of students in my 1st year classes.  I have a total of 20 classes a week. I could make every single class different. Use totally different materials for each and every one.  And spend every weekend and every evening in front of the computer. And wake up a few months from now hating my job, hating my school and hating my students.  And how is that going to help anyone?- I think that taking one idea for all the classes, and modifying that idea so it is challenging for the advanced students and doable for the basic students is a better idea.

I think taking an hour to surf the internet for ideas is about right– and a willingness to use and change whatever you think might be interesting.  ( one of my best ideas- the one for the 1/2 a proverb worksheet that I do and my students love; I got from a humor article from a cheesy magazine that I have since unfortunately forgotten the title of. The point is that it wasn’t a teaching website. It was a kids say the darndest things humor magazine. But it gave me the idea and that is the important thing)

Then take another hour to transform the ideas into  worksheets or guides.   Another hour to modify the class plans to make sure there is enough to do, but not so much the students can’t finish.  You have your basic prep for the week.

I do believe a successful class is a combination of inspiration, perspiration and preparation.  But the inspiration can come from anywhere, and you are not a bad teacher if you use ideas from other teachers, if you find a cool website or cool worksheet that you think your kids will like and use that, or if you think of something totally random.  If someone says all their ideas are totally and completely original; they lie.  Even the greatest scientific and creative minds work from the past and from the work of others.

In other words, if you find a good worksheet on the web, for goodness sake – use it!! If one of your friends or colleagues has a great game or idea, for goodness sake – use it!!! If you find a book that has great material, for goodness sake – use it!!   If it is a great idea or you think it would be fun, but it wouldn’t work for your class as is, change it around a bit, but you can still use it.

You still have to do the perspiration of  working to make sure all the vocabulary and grammar points are appropriate and understandable, and you probably will want to change a few things around and make the material yours. You will also probably want to add some other things you think your students will like. Just getting ideas and modifying them is only the beginning.

Teaching is hard work. And a good teacher knows most of what makes a good class isn’t what happens in the classroom, it is the preparation and perspiration before the class even begins.  It is hard work. But that doesn’t mean you have to struggle alone  make it harder than it has to be.  One of the perks of teaching is that you can be creative in the class can have some fun.  You can’t enjoy that perk if you are frazzled and burned out.