Category Archives: Lessons/Activities

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!

Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 2 (Teething Problems & Solutions)

The project has now been underway for a couple of weeks, however due to the nature of public schools we have only managed one session with each school. Despite this lack of time with the students, there have been a number of teething problems we have had to deal with that I hope others trying to do similar projects can learn from.

1. Choosing a Platform
There were a number of features we wanted from the platform:
– Ease of use as we want students to have a leading role in the project.
– Ability to easily share the project with others.
– Free or very cheap.
– Able to handle a number of media formats including written work, sounds files and video files.

We decided to use a web based platform called Weebly. Weebly is a free service that allows you to easily and quickly build a website. It utilizes a drag and drop system so students from all the classrooms can easily upload their files to the website, have a role in designing it and easily communicate with each other via it. So far this is the site we have put together. By the way, Weebly will also provide a free url.

2. Organisation
The fact we have three schools communicating with each other has made the organisation that bit harder. We basically decided to split our students into four groups, each group would communicate with one other group either in Japan, Korea or Brazil. We hope that then, at the end of the project, each group will be able to do a short presentation about what they learnt from about that country.

To provide an example, if group 1 in Korea is communicating with group 1 in Brazil and group 3 in Korea is communicating with group 4 in Japan, the groups will present to each other what they have learnt from Brazil and Japan respectively. It might be clearer if you look at the interview section of the website here (under construction).

3. Time Management
Obviously we all have completely different schedules so syncing everything up is basically impossible. Our solution to this has been to share our schedules and do our best to help each other out as much as possible. However, the fact we are not just doing interviews, but videos and articles, gives us some leeway. If we don’t have interviews ready, the students can simply work on videos or articles. I wouldn’t recommend doing such a project with only interviews to work with for this reason.

4. Work Load
We seriously under-estimated the amount of work involved for our students in listening to, transcribing and responding to questions. We have had to limit our students to asking only 2 questions (or 3 maximum).

5. Difficulty
Another serious under-estimation! The point of the project is for our students to experience and learn from communicating with other non-native speakers. This is something they have hardly any experience at and so are unlikely to have developed strategies to help them with this mountain of a task. We found that our students found it extremely difficult to understand some parts of what was being said. To deal with this we have created a ‘cheat sheet’! We are using a google doc that we can all edit and add to share the questions that out students have made, our students, of course, do not know about or get access to the cheat sheet, but it helps us prepare for problems the students are likely to encounter.

6. Privacy Issues
Uploading videos of our students opens us up to legal issues. Basically, we are going with the premise that if the students make the choice to upload a video of themselves to the website then that is great and there is no issue, however we wanted a space where the students could feel free to express themselves knowing only the participants in this project could see it. We chose to add a private password section to the website in order to create this space.

Well that’s about it for now, we have also had a number of very real and very awesome successes which I’m looking forward to sharing very soon!

Don’t forget you can keep updated via twitter or facebook.

Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

This week has been a very exciting one for both myself and my students. We have been presented with a fantastic opportunity to link our classroom with Kevin Stein’s high school classroom in Japan and Rose Bard’s high school classroom in Brazil.

This is a really incredible opportunity for my students (and me) that we are all very excited about. If you would like to know more about the importance of, and benefits in, creating linked classrooms, I suggest checking out an article I wrote an lingua and cultura franca here, an article from John Pfordresher on a similar topic here or some research I conducted on a linked classroom here.

As long as the project is running I plan on blogging about how we go about organising the project, problems we face, how we overcome them and some of the students’ reactions to the project as well as anything else that seems relevant!

A little bit of background in case you are new to my blog. I teach at a high school in Seoul, South Korea. I teach an after school class that consists of 16 students who are all pretty high level. The after school class runs for 8 x 1.5 hours over the course of 12 weeks, so this is the time I will be using for this project. The after school class is completely voluntary.

So without further ado, I shall get blogging about the project!

Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

I was a little bit nervous about introducing the project to my students as I was worried that, with it having nothing to do with their University Entrance Exams, they might not be interested due to the time and effort required. I also didn’t want to force the students into doing the project as that would not make for a great experience for the classrooms we will be linked with. So, I decided to outline the basis of the project, then disappear for five minutes and give them the time to discuss it as a class.

To my relief, the class decided, unanimously, that they wanted to take part in the project, with the proviso that it would all be done in class as they didn’t feel they have time to add to their schedule out of school. I think one of the main motivations was the opportunity to question the Japanese students about Dokdo and the East Sea of Japan, these are two very hot topics in Korea.

I went into a few more details with the students about the type of activities Kevin and I had thought would be realistic for our students to achieve. Our plan was to encourage communication on three fronts:

1) A delayed interview exchange via recording of questions and answers.
2) Written articles on anything they would like to share with the linked classroom. These would be shared via a website.
3) Videos, again on any subject they would like to share and uploaded to the website.

My students decided they would be most interested in videos and interviews, but that written articles would be a good opportunity to practice their writing skills. We were go on all three fronts!

In order to make the project manageable we split the class into four groups of four. The next task was for the students to brainstorm topics they would like to cover for interviews, articles and videos. They then shared their ideas (see picture below).

The students were then left (albeit with a little bit of guidance from the teacher) to decide which group would get each topic. Of course, in true Korean fashion, it came down to rock, scissors, paper!

It was then left to the students to make four interview questions they will record and send to the linked classroom and plan an outline of the first article they will write (see picture below).

And that was the end of the first lesson of the linked classroom project. Unfortunately due to exams and school trips I don’t our second lesson will be for a number of weeks, but if you would like to keep up to date with the project you can follow me on twitter here or follow AlienTeachers on facebook here.

Also, if you are interested in creating your own linked classroom I recommend checking out this facebook group.


10/04/2013 20:08

This concept is on my list for things to try next semester. I look forward to following your progress. When you say “they will record and send to the linked classroom” – will you be doing this whole thing with just a website? If you wind up trying out any other tech, I’d be interested to know what worked and what didn’t… Great stuff!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:32

Hi Tom,

I’ve considered a couple of options, the simplest is probably to record and email, next simplest is a shared file sharing service such a dropbox, the least simple is uploading to a website. At the moment I plan on going for the latter option, the reason being that, with my students permission, I would like other people to use the recording for their classes as a means of exposure to other ESL speakers output.

I will definitely keep you updated with how it goes. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

11/04/2013 00:06

Hi, I just came across your post and it is exactly what I am looking for. I tried to set up a linked classroom with a Japanese university, but it fell through. I work at a uni in Malaysia, and I teach students who will eventually go into the main foundation or degree course. They are from various countries and I would like to set up a linked classroom with them. Any advice? or could we possibly be included with your group? Thanks!!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:36

Hi Simon,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment? Want caused your linked project to fall through? Perhaps we can learn from it in this project!

At the moment I think university level might not suit my students, I’m worried it would make them a bit nervous with more mature students, however I highly recommend joining the following facebook groups and asking around to see if any university teachers could link their classroom with you.

Let me know if you need any more help at all,

All the best,


Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:39

BTW I just had a quick look at your blog, you have some awesome ideas on there. Mind if I link it in my sidebar?

11/04/2013 04:05

Hi Simon. Mine are frosh uni students. Would love to link up. If you’re interested, please email me at Oh – I’m a mate of Alex’s in Seoul. Terrific blog, but I didn’t notice a way to connect, so here I am. Maybe I missed it. Cheers.

12/04/2013 03:56

When I see my 9th graders (14 year-old Ss) engaging in the creation of the video and taking all the steps to it by reflecting on the questions they had received, working on the video script and trying to do their best to present it, I feel even more comfortable in linking up with other classrooms. There are so much possibilities there in how to. I feel so blessed for being connected to such a wonderful community of educators.

14/04/2013 06:17

I’ve been seeing tweets and facebook updates all week and wondering what you were all up to. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this and find out the details. 🙂 As always, your dedication at creating an authentic space for communication is inspiring.

Are you accepting additions to the linked classroom or will you try to finish the cycle created between the three of you?

Alexander Walsh
19/04/2013 01:08

Hi Josette!

Sorry for late reply, been of of those weeks! I think for now three is the logistical limit due to time constraints etc. However next semester I will be looking to replicate the project with a boys after school class so if you know of any interested parties that would be awesome!

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!