All posts by Alex

ELT in South Korea. Been teaching for around four years, hold an MA TESOL and CELTA. Have special interests in reflective practice, TELL and ELF.

Into the mind of a Korean teenager – ask me anything!

One of the few traditions I keep is in the final class of every year to allow my students to ask me any question they like, with a guarantee of an honest answer. The students simply write their question on a slip of paper, fold it up and put it in a box. I then spend around 15 minutes answering the 30-40 questions. We always have a lot of fun and of course the students love it. Anyway, here are (almost) all the questions I have been asked so far this week!

Note: lots of questions were repeated, so I removed duplicate or similar questions.


Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities

This week was the penultimate week of classes for 2013 and, with all the material for the exam covered, I now have the flexibility to teach every group of students differently and thus experiment with my classes a bit more. Normally this is frowned upon in my school as the belief is that, if all students are taking the same exam, they should all do exactly (and I mean exactly) the same lesson. This is (supposedly) in order to prevent one group of students being given an unfair advantage (a subject for another blog another time).

Given this flexibility I decided to do some action research this week and chose to try and find out what the best way of facilitating free discussion and to encourage the sharing of opinions is for my Korean high school students. I did this by implementing four different methods for organising a discussion activity over the course of the week.

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How Not to Run a Language Course

I recently pulled my finger out and, after four years of living in Korea, signed up for Korean classes at a local academy. So far I have had five classes totaling 10 hours of tuition, and I can honestly say I have learnt nothing in that time. It’s certainly been an interesting experience for me, unfortunately it hasn’t been interesting as a language learner but as a language teacher. So now I am going to share what I have learnt about how not to  run a language course in the chronological order in which I learnt them.

Note: this turned out a bit more ranty than I planned, oh well, I guess I’m pretty annoyed about my Korean class!

1) Don’t locate your school down a dark, non-signposted and poorly lit alley where dogs ferociously bark and growl at your students, in a building where, due to lack of lighting, if you turn left after entering the front door you will fall down a flight of concrete stairs (that you can’t see due to there being no light).

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How I Teach New Language

One of the great things about my job has been the flexibility afforded to me that allows me to teach what I want and how I want. This has allowed me the space to experiment with different approaches, one of those being the teaching of vocabulary and expressions. So, now I’m coming to the end of my time teaching in public schools I thought it would be nice to share how I tackle introducing new vocabulary to students and, hopefully, getting it to stick. I figured the easiest way to do this would be to run through the activities I used in last week’s lesson.

This lesson was about ‘World Festivals’.

Stage 1: Choosing the Language

This stage might be easy, the language could be given to you in a textbook or pre-made syllabus. I have to select the language myself so I decided to scowl short videos on different festivals around the world that were:

  • Not too difficult
  • Contained language that would be useful for students to learn
  • Were interesting and gave the language a context
  • Provides enough context for low level students to understand, yet pushes the high level students.

It isn’t always possible to get all three but in this case I managed to videos that hit at least two of these goals.

Below is one of the videos I selected.

Stage 2: Introducing the Language in Context

The first thing I like to do is give my students the chance to either hear or see the language being used within a context. By doing this it helps students to link a mental image to the new language. In this case, it was easy for me as I had selected four videos the students could watch that contained the target language. I start off by doing some pronunciation drills with the new language so that students would know what to listen for in the next activity. Then, I created a simple listening for details activity that involved students matching sentences containing the key language (underlined) to the correct festival.

Stage 3: Confirming the Meaning of the Language

The students have now seen the language in the context of a sentence and heard the sentence being used in context along with a visual reference. If the materials were selected properly the students should already have a pretty good idea as to the meaning of the language. The next stage involves helping the students to confirm the meaning of the new language. There are a number of simple activities that can do this, in this case I went for a simple match the words to the meanings activity. If students weren’t sure, I referred them to the context or asked them to guess based on what they saw in the video. Almost very student was able to do this (I have 440 students).

Stage 4: Putting the Language into a New Context

I this stage I like to give the students an opportunity to put the language to use in their own context. In this case, I had the students

2013-11-29 08.44.20

work in groups of four to create their own festivals. Each group had to produce some supporting material (such as a poster, pamphlet, rule book, flyers etc.) which had to contain the new language items. This stage is key as it gives the students a chance to engage in peer led meaning negotiation and error correction without even knowing it. If, for example, a student uses some language incorrectly on the poster, their group members will instinctively correct it. The role of the teacher is to monitor for any mistakes that slip through. It is worth noting them down and coming back to them at the end of

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class or for a review next class.

Stage 5: Using the Language

The final stage gives the students chance to both use, and hear their peers use, the new language in context as many times as

possible. In this lesson, I created an activity whereby the students had to sell their festivals, and students decided how much they would pay to go. The group with most money wins. I organised this by splitting every group of four into two. Two students would stand around the outside of the room with their group’s poster. Their job was to sell the festival. The other two members from each group had to walk around the room, visit each festival and decide how much they would pay to go after talking to the students selling the festival. 2013-11-29 08.52.02The key rule is that the people selling must use all the new language items before they can get the money.

So, with eight groups, each student heard or used each new piece of new language seven times (they don’t visit their own group).2013-11-29 08.55.17

Stage 6: Error Correction

Finally, the last few minutes of class are spent correcting common errors that have been picked up over the course of the lesson.

Note: I have found repetition to be extremely important. Throughout this lesson the students encountered the new language once out of context, and a minimum of ten times in context.

Do you have any special techniques you have developed for teaching new language? If so, I’d love to hear them!

How I Use Technology to Enhance Student Learning

I was asked to write this short piece for a job application and thought people might find it interesting. Enjoy… (and please bear in mind I only had half an evening in which to write this)

With the rapid development of technology, and the increasing reliance of people around the world on technology, I believe it is an important, even necessary, tool to be harnessed by the English language teacher. Over the course of my teaching career I have used technology to improve my students’ learning experience in several ways. I will now briefly highlight those that I think have been the most important in developing my students’ English ability.

A primary objective of my current position is to prepare students for international communication. This objective was the catalyst for a technology based linked-classroom project I organized with high schools in Japan and Brazil. The aims of the project were for students to:

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Random Thought – Mortgage Adviser & EFL Teacher, same thing really.

As some people know, before I became a teacher I was a mortgage adviser for a very large bank. I hated the job, it was everything I didn’t want to be, but I was good at it, in fact, I was damn good at it. So, I did the job for a couple of years, banked a healthy return and got the hell out. So why was I so good at it? Well, in case you don’t know, being a mortgage adviser is all about sales, next time you get a mortgage try and get through the application without buying some insurance, seriously, good luck with that. But ye, I had an approach to my job that worked, and it was simple, make the customer feel at ease and relate to them. Depending on who my customer was, I adapted who I was in order to help me achieve this. High flying businessman buying a $5,000,000 dollar home? Guess what, I am hoping to become branch manager in the next year and I’m studying to move into business financial advising. Young guy buying your first house and go to the footy every weekend? Great, I have a season ticket at Leeds United and haven’t missed a match in four years. At the time, both of those things were, more or less, true.

Now I’m a teacher I find myself doing a very similar thing to help me connect and develop rapport with my students. This morning I had a group of 17 year old boys who can think of nothing but footy, League of Legends and, it seems, bikinis. So, to them I show myself as an active, football loving, LoL playing guy that is happy to talk about the fairer sex with them. This class gets kind of roudy, so I find myself being a bit stricter with the rules and speaking with a bit of a louder voice. After lunch time I had less confident, slightly lower level girls who are into all things cuddly, enjoy giggling when they see a picture of a handsome man and always let me know which celebrity’s birthday is coming up. To them, I’m a cute teacher, that speaks softly, has just bought his fiancee a kitten and is going to have a very romantic wedding that they are all invited too. I also seem to find myself doing kind of cute actions and that kind of stuff. Also, I find I don’t do so much error correction, just getting them to speak English in front of each other is a fine achievement. If you asked the two classes to describe their English teacher, I think they would give quite different descriptions. But again, everything my students know about me is true.

In neither situation did I lie about myself, but I did adapt myself to what I thought the other party needed in order to get us where we needed to go. So, as I thought to myself in my class after lunch, in many ways, being a mortgage adviser isn’t always that different to being a teacher really.

Disclaimer: I’m actually quite proud of this, but I never sold insurance to someone who didn’t need it. That might be a thought to follow up on tomorrow actually.

Random Thought #94@( – Mixing Up Classes

So here it is, the moment of genius I had while in bed last night. Conversation classes (actually at the time last night I thought all classes, but that now seems a tad ridiculous, that’s why this project will be fun!) should be mixed classes wherever possible. But I don’t just mean mixed ability, I mean mixed everything. Mixed ages, mixed levels, mixed sexes, mixed ethnicity, mixed goals, mixed hair styles, mixed occupations and anything else that can be mixed. I think this because the goal of a general conversation classroom is usually to learn how to converse, I think it is anyway. Not to learn how to converse with someone from the same place, who can speak at a similar level and has had similar life experiences. That person, you will probably just speak in your L1 with! yet this industry seems obsessed with categorising and streaming our students. What do you reckon, is it time to mix it up?

For more random thoughts they will all be posted here.

Edit: People complained my numbering system was too standard. I agree. I have a new numbering system, that isn’t random.



18/11/2013 02:16

This makes sense to me. As far as I can remember language teachers always used to make us pretend to do this when conversing anyway. Pretend to be talking to someone older, pretend to be talking to your boss, pretend to be talking to a parent, pretend to be talking to a waiter, pretend to be talking to a friend, etc etc. Why not just make them do it to as far an extent as is possible within a school? I think especially for younger children to talk to the older ones would work fantastically!

24/11/2013 16:45

Ye you’re exactly right Loz, I still make my students do this, which is pretty ridiculous. I think even if it wasn’t every lessons, but just one period a month or something to create so genuine conversation as opposed to faking it.

18/11/2013 03:38

idealistically, definitely good for authenticity, and preparing students for real life english use – I know how you love your ELF – but in terms of feasibility where are you going to get students with different L1s? You’re in one of the world’s most homogeneous countries.Mixed levels leads to the usual problems, and mixed genders… I can’t imagine that encouraging communicativeness in high school boys haha.

19/11/2013 17:44

Hi Billy, thanks for the comment. I agree, feasibility would definitely be an issue. But I do keep nagging my school to give me mixed genders, I figure they are asking me to teach them how to communicate with all people, not just half the people in the world and I genuinely think communicating with the opposite ex is a very different ball game to communicating with the same sex. It could be very interesting though!!! lol

19/11/2013 23:10

Love it. While teaching in Korea doesn’t always allow us to mix things up as much as perhaps we would like, in our role as facilitator, we should aim to do so as much as possible. I would say 80% of the learners I teach are university students, and the other 20% workers or housewives. I always try to pair up the workers with the students, and almost always the conversations that follow are much more interesting than the conversation between two freshman English lit students. Putting two similar people together, they can already guess how the other person feels or thinks about a topic, and then there is no real need for communication.

24/11/2013 16:41

Hi David! I really wish I had that opportunity, I get really frustrated by the fact I am absolutely locked in to having single sex, same age classes (even though I teach in a mixed school). I’ve tried explaining to the school that such a policy makes my job near in impssible but they won’t have it. As you say, the problem is, and I really believe it affects communication, they already know everything about each other. Everything we do in English class is just a repeat of what they already know, but in a different language.

Thanks for your read and comment, it’s very appreciated.