Small victories

Sometimes our school schedule gets crazy. There are field trips and camping trips and violence prevention classes and fire drills and nationwide tests and unexpected miscellaneous stuff that can mess up the curriculum schedule. I’m not complaining, of course, because cancelled classes = more time to work on whatever I need, but it does do a number on my neatly-laid-out, semester-long master plan for all my classes.

So, sometimes I throw in random lessons for the classes that get too far ahead of the others.

Today was one such random day. All the other classes are still on Lesson 6, part 1, and I don’t want to start Lesson 6, part 2 with my Monday classes because later on it’ll mess up the pre-midterm-exam-review flow.

I crafted a personality lesson for my 2nd and 3rd years.

1. Vocab: Learn some personality traits (‘honest’, ‘brave’, ‘kind’, ‘shy’, ‘outgoing’, ‘helpful’…). I tried to mostly stick to positive ones so they don’t call each other bad things (I know my students all too well), but I did do ‘lazy’ and ‘mean’.

2. Apply the Vocab: Make a Venn diagram comparing your personality + your best friend’s personality and write a short paragraph about that friend using the words learned.

3. Personality Questionnaire*: Heavily modified version of one of those pop psych “personality quizzes” that we’ve all probably taken at one time or another. We’re not talking MBTI here, just a 10-question, multiple-choice, very simplified questionnaire about daily habits and preferences:


The answers themselves were on the PowerPoint (to prevent certain kids from blazing ahead while others were trying to figure out what the question meant)

4. Quiz Results: Based on point values of each A, B, C, or D answer. I assigned an animal to each 10-point score range, so for example, 21-30 points is “The Cat,” 31-40 points is “The Dolphin,” 41-50 “The Fox,” 51-60 “The Lion,” etc., with a brief description like “you’re confident and brave” or “you’re quiet and smart.” Again, I chose only desirable/cute/nice animals so no one would feel bad. Also I didn’t totally make up the results since higher scores are supposed to indicate a bolder/more confident style while lower scores come from quieter/more reserved answers.

Anyway, the small victories here are:

>> Every class enjoyed taking the quiz and finding out their results. I mean, who doesn’t like answering questions about themselves? Even in a language that you (potentially) despise learning.

>> Even better, one of the notorious troublemakers completed his entire worksheet and quiz, patiently asking for help/translations with the questions so he could answer accurately.

>> Best of all, there’s this one really really quiet/shy girl who has spent over a year totally shut down in my class, barely able to lift her eyes from her desk much less write or speak. But today she was quietly listening to/reading the personality questions and circling her answers, the whole time. SUCCESS.

*The quiz questions I used were compiled by another teacher who posted on this thread on, but modified by yours truly.


Today was a good day.

The best days are when you expected them to be the worst, and then they’re not. And then, even if they weren’t objectively the best, they still become the best.

Highlights include:

Special lunch today: jjajangbap (rice in a black bean sauce with small diced potato, veggies and pork), fried pork with a Korean version of sweet & sour sauce, cucumbers & unidentified other green vegetables, and an apple cider pouch.

One of my classes had to get chest x-rays (a normal thing here; this is how they test for TB and various other problems, from what I understand, and students and teachers get them yearly), so we basically had a 10-minute class in which I introduced the topic/key expression and let them do book work for 5 minutes before they peaced out.

Starting to feel a little more connected to the 1st graders. It always takes a couple months for them to get comfortable with me and for me to learn more about their personalities and ability levels.

Managed to be productive even though Wednesdays are one of my busiest days. In my break times and free class periods I polished up my lessons for the next few weeks and started putting together a pop song quiz for the last week of the semester. It’s become a mini tradition that we play a big “guess the pop song” game right before vacation time, and the kids look forward to it.

My after-school class with a dozen 15/16-yr-olds went surprisingly well today.

— We did a “board race” warmup: 2 teams make straight lines. I give them a category like “Food” or “Animals,” and the first member of each team writes a word on the board that fits the category, then hands the marker to the next team member. We continue for 2 minutes and then count up and see which team got more words. I thought they wouldn’t want to get up and move when I introduced this, but they were into it.

— Then I showed them the oldie but goodie “Where (the hell) is Matt?” from 2008. They hadn’t seen it before, and it was really sweet/amusing to hear & watch them “ooh” and “aah” over the locations and imitate his goofy dance (no, my 16-year-olds are not too cool for that). The follow-up worksheet asked them to list some of the countries and cities he visited, and then I showed them screenshots from the video and they had to guess which country it was.

— Finally, we did a lyrics arranging activity that I learned in my TEFL course. The song was “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars (ideal for middle school ESL because it’s not too fast, only 3 min long, his pronunciation is reasonably clear, vocab is reasonably simple, and the kids know & like Bruno Mars). I’d printed out and cut all of the song lyrics into strips, one per team of 4 kids. While they listened, they tried to put all of the strips in order.

I was really impressed at how well they did, actually. After the initial listen, I played it one more time and they mostly just needed to check or add a line here or there that they’d missed.

This is an activity I tried with an after-school class in my first year and my students really struggled. My mistake that time was breaking up the lyrics into super small chunks. This time I used 1-2 full lines of the lyrics per strip and a bigger font for a total of 22 strips of paper to arrange, and that transformed this activity from semi-frustrating and discouraging to fun and engaging. Sometimes all it takes it just that little tweak.

Oh, and best of all? Two words: air conditioning. Amen.

It’s *that* time in the semester

…when the kids officially reach the peak of Mount Apathy.

The temperatures are rising, the classrooms are breezeless ovens (we’re not allowed to turn on the ceiling fans until they’re cleaned or something lest they shake dust and dirt all over everything… but I’d rather be sneezing and cool than fine in the rhinal region but oppressively hot), and final exams are just a little too far off to care about.

So it’s that time when I have to work VERY VERY HARD to remember the cute stuff my kids do from time to time. So that I won’t be tempted to start flipping desks and yelling “WAKE UP!”

Several weeks ago, I used a very basic game that lets students practice almost any key expression: put a bunch of words on the PPT, every team chooses a word and makes a sentence using the key expression, then random points are revealed. You can change the design or theme of the PPT to whatever the students are interested in (treasure chests, Mario boxes, K-pop idols’ faces, whatever).

In this case we were practicing “Do you know how to~ ?”, so the words were things like “paper airplane,” “microwave,” “cake,” “soccer.” The kids had to combine the correct verb with the treasure chest word, e.g. “Do you know how to play soccer / use a microwave / make a paper plane?”

One boy could not for the life of him remember the correct verbs, so time and again he would say things like “Do you know how to use ramen? Do you know how to make a guitar? Do you know how to play kimchi?” After about three or four rounds of him doing this completely innocently, I lost it and laughed with the rest of the class (and with him).

I’ve been having the 2nd graders play a version of “Taboo” or “Hot Seat” where a member of each team comes to the front and faces the class, and their team gives them hints about the secret word on the TV.

(They’re supposed to be practicing “Have you heard about (secret word)?” but usually they get too excited and just blurt out the answer without making a sentence.)

So one of the boys was trying to explain “weather” to his teammate:

“News, uh, 뭐지? Ah! Hot, sunny, weather

Then he clapped both hands over his mouth in classic dismay as he realized he’d just revealed the answer, and the class dissolved into laughter.

Today the 3rd graders were playing a “telepathy” game. I make a statement like “Ice cream is better than cake*: Agree or disagree?” Every team has to choose agree or disagree according to what they think my opinion would be. If they can “read my mind,” they get a point.

One of them was: “Fall is the best season: Agree or disagree?” As usual, the kids were trying to squeeze hints out of me by asking questions like “Teacher, do you like cold or hot? Do you like snow?”

But one team decided this was the all-important question that would allow them to read my mind:

Them: “Teacher, you meet boyfriend?”

Me: “Um, yes…?”

Them: “OKAY! We know, we know! DISAGREE!”

Welp, they were wrong since fall is my favorite season. It was especially funny because they were the only team in the class to get it wrong and they were so confident.

*I also find it hilarious (and also very, very sad) that 99% of my kids know immediately that I like ice cream better than cake (or better than basically anything else). Apparently I’ve really driven that point home in the last 2+ years.

Conclusion: my kids are still sometimes cute although mostly they appear to be brain-dead.

Thankfully the speaking test is coming up soon, which is my one chance per semester to have some impact on their school performance and thus perhaps motivate them to pay attention, dammit.


A little middle school humor

I gave my after-school class this comic template – it’s supposed to be based on the Disney animated short “Paperman,” which we had just watched. Two of my middle school boys decided to take the story into their own hands.



Man 1: Who are you?!

Man 2: I’m a boss

Man 1: [casually smoking a cigarette] Ah… I’m sorry…

Man 2: Not smoking in company… [throws paper plane directly into Man 1’s mouth]

Man 1: [clearly distressed] Ahk!

Woman: Are you crazy? Don’t eat paper airplane!

Yeah, duh guys. Don’t eat paper airplane.

My last class of the day on Fridays is a squirrelly, goofy bunch of 14-year-olds, with whom class feels much more like a rodeo than an educational environment. As is the case with all classes at this point in the semester (1 week away from midterms), their behavior has been on the decline.

Every Friday, the bell rings and I go into the classroom, and one (or more) of them has drawn a goofy cartoon character on the board saying “집가고싶다…”

But today, the cartoon character’s weekly lament had been written in English: “I want to go home.” I would consider that progress. Of a sort.

Korea Level 2: CLEARED

Or almost, anyway.

The school year is basically done. There’s a week in the beginning of February during which the 3rd graders will graduate to high school, and we may possibly have some random classes thrown in, but then we continue our winter vacation until the new school year starts on March 2nd.

We just finished up the English camp for Winter 2017.

After some teeth-pulling moments in last summer’s more academic-themed camp (I made the mistake of focusing too much on vocabulary and sedentary projects and not enough on energetic games and activities), I was determined to keep this one in the “fun with a dash of English” zone. The kids at my previous school would’ve been just fine with the sedentary stuff, but my current kids NEED ACTION AND THEY NEED IT NOW.

As always, although 21 students signed up, only 15-18 appeared at any given day or period. Flexibility is the key to teaching ESL in Korea. Or just… the key to life in Korea.

I put them into teams (with their friends, unlike in normal class when they can’t be with their friends because they’ll talk too much) and gave them a series of challenges. Winning or putting in great effort earned them stickers, and at the end of camp, the team with the most stickers earned small gift certificates (provided by my co-teacher).

Fewer English-focused games are nice for mixed level because even the lower level kids have a chance to win at something while there’s a bit of English practice/learning running in the background.

We did things like:

  • Flip Cup. Yes, the drinking game – but instead of drinking I put slips of paper in each cup with questions on them. The students had to read and answer the question before trying to flip their cup. Two teams competed at a time and then we had a final champion round.
  • Balloon Popping Race. Maybe some of us played this as kids at birthday parties. Normally you’d tie a balloon to each kid’s ankle and they try to stomp on each other’s balloons, but I wanted to avoid the possibility of someone getting kicked in the ankle or shin. Instead, we had the kids blow up all the balloons themselves and, before tying them, slip a piece of paper inside with an English word on it. Then we put all the balloons in the center and everyone tried to pop them with their feet. After collecting as many words as possible, they went back to their teams and tried to make the longest grammatically correct sentence they could using as many words as they could, at 1 point per balloon word (no points for filler words).
  • Running Dictations. The classic ESL game. You can find explanations and variations all over the internet, but essentially one student runs to the wall, where an English sentence or story is posted, then back to their teammate to dictate the sentence. Since we had teams of 4-5 kids, we rotated who was running and who was writing after each sentence. *My 1st graders, who also happened to be the lowest level, did have a harder time with this. So for low level students, I’d recommend very simple, short sentences. However, the high level 2nd graders had no problems and really loved it.
  • Paper Airplane Contest. Maybe it sounds too simple, but they had fun with it. I told them they could make their plane however they wanted (showing a step-by-step for the basic paper plane, in case they didn’t know how), then let them decorate it, and then we went out into the hall and took turns throwing them to see whose could fly the farthest.
  • Alphabet Hunt. Some of my kids have already done the ‘photo scavenger hunt’ from previous camps or after-school classes, so I decided to mix it up. I told them to find something beginning with each letter of the alphabet, take a picture of it and write the word down (such as “S”: Student, ” I had some very creative entries for the less common letters, such as “X”: “Xerox” copy machine, “X-Canvas” brand TV, and “xenophile” (one of the girls, unbeknownst to me, made a heart shape with her hands in the foreground with me, the foreigner, in the background inside the heart). (And no, they did not know the word “xenophile”; they looked up “X” words in the dictionary.)

We also did “cooking” for the last part of the last day – and I say “cooking” because we didn’t have access to the cafeteria or any actual cooking tools, so it was more “making snacks.”

We did dirt pudding cups and PB&J sushi rolls. I wanted to keep it simple for the purposes of: A) budget, B) ease of completion, and C) clean-up.

Thus, I chose the dirt pudding recipe that doesn’t involve Cool Whip, milk, powdered sugar, etc. but is literally just Oreo crumbs and pudding. However, to make it more interesting for the kids, we did it parfait style and included the options of layering in granola cereal, strawberries, and bananas with the pudding, then topping with crushed Oreos and gummy worms.

Meh, it’s no Top Chef material but the kids seemed to have fun creating their own combinations.

When it came to the PB&J rolls, the crucial element is, of course, the flattening of the bread via a rolling pin. My co-teacher was only able to procure one rolling pin, and logistically it is just not feasible to have one rolling pin among 18 kids who all need to flatten two pieces of bread… so we improvised. The kids put their bread in a Ziploc bag and smushed it with their hands. It kinda worked, especially for the more determined kids, but I definitely recommend rolling pins. (Or at least soda cans or something.)

At any rate, it was probably their first taste of PB&J as a combination (it’s just not a thing here), and they all seemed to like it, except for the few who don’t like peanut butter and opted for just strawberry jam.

Also, I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth saying again: Koreans just don’t have peanut allergies, so this wasn’t a concern. In fact it’s often quite surprising to them to think of someone having an allergy to nuts (especially a life-threatening one).

TL;DR: If you want your camp to be well-loved, plan lots of active games and always include food.