Sighs of relief (+ ESL speaking games)

You know when something’s been hanging over your head, and you don’t even realize it was burdening you until it’s over and the burden is suddenly not there anymore?

As the first semester wound down for all my coworkers, it heated up for me with back-to-back events from coaching high school book-writing clubs to summer camp to, currently, a week of extra classes, 2 hours every morning, Monday (today) to Friday.


But as it turns out, at least in the case of this extra class, it wasn’t worth all the extra stress. (isn’t it always worse in your head, though?)

There are only 9 students in this class; about half of them are A level, and half are C level. Thankfully, the activities I picked today were all able to strike a balance where everyone could participate.

I’d also forgotten how nice it is to teach alone. Last year at my previous school, I had several classes which were just “mine,” not co-taught, and it was a really nice environment to form better relationships with the kids and boost their confidence. This is the first opportunity I’ve had this year to teach my “very own” class. I find that not only do the kids focus more on what I say, but I also feel more confident. Maybe it’s because I instinctively… not exactly seek approval, but look for a positive reaction from my co-teachers if they’re in the room with me. And if I don’t perceive a positive reaction (if they look spaced out, bored, bemused, whatever), it immediately impacts my own confidence and therefore my teaching efficacy. It shouldn’t, but it does. I’m working on it.

Anyway, the students actually seemed to have a lot of fun considering it’s 9:00 a.m. on a blistering hot Monday morning during what’s supposed to be summer vacation. We played speaking games that I wouldn’t normally be able to play with my full classes – the kinds of activities I learned in my ESL courses that are meant for exactly this class size, around 10 students.

Since I usually just write goofy ramblings and complaints on this blog, I figure I’ll post something useful for a change and explain what we actually did in my class. Not that any of these are original ideas; like I said, they’re typical ESL activities, and you can find variations of them all over the internet.

“I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing…”

The memory game where everyone picks a word in alphabetical order – apple, baseball, cat, drumstick, etc. – and each person has to remember all the previous words and then add one more word to the chain. It worked for all levels because (A) even the high level kids picked pretty basic vocabulary words, so the low level kids could understand and remember, and (B) they all seemed to enjoy the challenge of rattling off the list when it was their turn.

“Word Chain” Relay Race

I put them into two teams and wrote a word on the board (“tree”). The first person from each team runs to the board and writes a word starting with the last letter of my word (“e”). They keep rotating through their team members. I give them about 1 minute, and then we count which team has more total letters (not words). I let the high level kids on each team help the low level ones who struggled to think of or spell words.

Tongue Twister Challenge

I showed them some Korean tongue twisters first to get them going (they loved that, and were very good at them). Then I showed them an easy English one (Unique New York) and explained the challenge setup: 2 teams, 5 minutes to practice the English tongue twister. Then Team 1 stands up and each member has to recite the tongue twister correctly in order. I time them with my phone. Team 2 does the same. Any mistakes or stumbles, they start over. I record their times. We’re going to have this challenge every day this week, with a different tt every time, and at the end of the week I’ll total up the times and give a prize to the team with the faster overall time.

They really got into this one. At first they all started mumbling, “Unique New York, Unique New York,” but I said hold up there, kiddos, that’s too easy. That was just an example. So today’s tt challenge was “Sally sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are surely seashells.” The point isn’t for them to necessarily understand the meaning (tongue twisters are usually half-nonsense anyway), but to work on the pronunciation. It’s especially hard for Koreans to differentiate “see” and “she” because there isn’t really a “see” sound in Korean.

Then we did a summer-themed cloze worksheet, which was fairly easy for the high level kids but a bit of a struggle for the low level ones. I helped them and translated as many words as I knew in Korean, and then had each of them take turns reading a sentence from the text out loud.

Because I was determined not to work myself to death in planning these lessons, I pulled five worksheets from various ESL sites (which I now have listed on a separate page on this blog, “ESL Resources“). We’ll do one per day.

We were running short on time at that point, so instead of doing the full final activity I’d planned (look at screenshots of a short video, try to guess and write what it will be about, then watch and discuss), we just watched the video and did a brief Q&A, and then I released them back into the wild, until tomorrow morning.

One final note, since I haven’t blogged for a while and have had this thought recently:

I’ve been eating lunch each weekday with whichever Korean teachers happen to be at school that day, including (sometimes) the principal and vice principal. As I sit there, eating quietly and letting the flow of Korean wash around me, I can’t help but feel sent back to childhood. Haven’t we all had the experience, when young, of sitting at the dinner table and listening to the grown-ups talk about things you can’t really understand, and you can’t participate in the conversation, so you just wait there until they say you can go?

At least the vice principal seems to take an… interest…? in me, as she keeps ordering the other teachers (in Korean) to ask me this or that (in English), like “Ask Maddy Teacher if she likes sushi. Ask!” “Is Maddy Teacher going to visit her family this summer? Ask her!” Before the flustered Korean teachers have to stress themselves out over asking me in English, I usually just answer the question in English, and they can all understand my simple answers. It’s amusing for everyone involved.

This may or may not be my last blog post until 2nd semester starts up in mid-August. We’ll see if anything hilarious happens during the rest of my classes this week.


2 thoughts on “Sighs of relief (+ ESL speaking games)

  1. Annemone says:

    Thanks for the awesome game ideas! I’m starting to pull together some ideas before I get to Korea next year, and these seem like great ideas to have as warm-ups or cool-downs for a class as well. I suck at doing tongue twisters myself, so the kids can have fun laughing at me too… 😉


    • Maddy says:

      Yep, definitely good as warm-up or filler activities! Especially when you can bring the competition aspect into it. The kids go crazy for competition! Glad it was helpful. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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