Painful happiness (and K-pop)

Today was a brief emotional respite in the sense that I didn’t have to say goodbye to my Friday classes. Due to some schedule rearranging, I have an extra class with them next week, so today was a sort of “anything goes” lesson. (Literally, my co-teacher said “Anything is okay.”)

I took her at her word and went searching for fun lesson ideas. I came across the idea of a song guessing game, which is of course always a huge hit with students – but with a twist: the songs are in 8-bit format. Meaning they sound like Super Mario / old school video game music. The kids listen to 30-60 seconds of the song, then write down the singer and song name. (I did 2 points for English names, 1 point for Korean.)

I used some of the songs suggested by the ESL teacher who came up with the idea and added some more of my own – both Western pop and K-pop. I had no idea there was such a wide array of 8-bit-version pop songs available on YouTube.

Here’s a sampling of what I used, if you’re curious (these are the songs that got the best/most excited response from my kids):


  • “Good Boy” – G-Dragon & Taeyang
  • “Ice Cream Cake” – Red Velvet
  • “I Am the Best” – 2NE1
  • “I Got a Boy” – Girls Generation
  • “Mr. Chu” – Apink
  • “Nobody” – Wonder Girls
  • “Sorry Sorry” – Super Junior
  • “Growl” – EXO
  • “Fiction” – BEAST

American/British pop

  • “Baby” – Justin Bieber
  • “Let It Be” – The Beatles
  • “Problem” – Ariana Grande
  • “Let It Go” – Idina Menzel (I accepted “Elsa” as the singer name though ^^)
  • “Sugar” – Maroon 5
  • “Lemon Tree” – Fools Garden
  • “This Too Shall Pass” – OK Go (the only reason I used it is because I played it for them a few weeks back – otherwise there’s no way they would’ve known this one)

Actually, I was nervous going in because guessing games aren’t that fun if you don’t know any of the answers, and I didn’t know how many songs my kids would know, especially for the Western ones.

But as it turns out, it was a huge hit with them. The fact that it was in 8-bit format made it more challenging, but not impossible. They knew probably 90-95% of the songs. I think the songs that stumped the most students were “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.

I can’t tell you how fun it was to watch their faces as they sat there listening intently – the song would reach the familiar hook and their eyes would light up with recognition and a chorus of “Aaaah!”s would reverberate around the room. Sometimes a bunch of them would start singing or dancing. Sometimes they would catch my eye and mouth a tentative answer at me, and I would nod and give them a thumbs up.

Their pure delight when they knew the song, their animated faces and excited chatter and laughter, their cries of “Teacher, hint! Teacher, next! Teacher, pass!”… the way some of the more confident ones congratulated themselves on knowing the song… the way each class collectively realized the OK Go “This Too Shall Pass” song was like an inside joke and laughed, crying “Paint song!” and miming a Rube Goldberg machine… the way one of my boys (who tends to tell/ask me things in Korean all the time, and I tend to answer him in English ^^) stood up and started doing the dance to PSY’s “Gentleman”…

So much happiness, but painful happiness. The kind of joy that’s sharply reined in by the reminder that it won’t last much longer. Laughter on the verge of tears. Delight on the precipice of sorrow. Light with darkness seeping in around the edges.

That’s my mental and emotional state as I close out the week. Goodness knows what a mess I’ll be by the end of next week. Sigh.

Anyway, if you’re an ESL teacher, or even a regular teacher, I highly recommend trying out this game for the post-exams, kids-are-brain-dead-from-studying-and-lack-of-sleep time of year. It’s crazy fun, especially with Korean students.


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