Monday, June 29, 2009

Creativity in Teaching

Through most of my days, I am bound, at least partially, by the sloppy, confusing, and inadequate lessons of the Korean public school system's English language textbooks. The lessons are all titled things like "Can I have some water?" and "She is tall!" They offer little to no vocabulary, and hardly ever require the students to write or read, instead relying on choppy, poorly acted flash computer animations to have students repeat shallow and useless dialogue. By the end of the semester, the students will be lucky to remember more than half of these phrases, and even luckier if they can attach meaning to them.

The good news is, I work with a group of people who also notice the flaws in these books, and therefore have quite a bit of freedom OUTSIDE of the classroom. You see, Korean schoolchildren, for better or for worse, go to school for between 8 and 14 hours a day. This isn't an exaggeration. Last Friday, Sara and I saw an entire classroom of children leaving a private English academy in Okdong at 11:30 at night, and boarding a bus to go home. Some of the kids were as young as 8 or 9.

As for my part in this after school overload of education, I am required to teach 5 English camps, or after school English classes, per week. Two on Monday and Thursday each, and one on Friday. I also voluntarily teach one at Youngnam Elementary on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. During these times are when I get to wander away from textbooks and test material and get the kids interested in learning a foreign language. And in these times, I am free to teach whatever I want, however I want. The following are examples of some of the activities I use.

When I got here, the kids could look at a word they knew and never be able to figure out what it was. They know how to say it, and what it means, but give it to them in writing and it's a lost cause. To fix this problem, I now start many classes with Hangman to get them to spell things and work on their phonics. The kids can now sound out words, and sometimes even pronounce them correctly on the first try. They also love shouting out letters. (Who doesn't?)

Cafe Dongbu
During my first week here, given the opportunity to use the plastic food in my room, I created a game where students would have to order food in groups. Each group had a waiter or waitress, and I was the chef. I printed off menus of all the items available, and gave them to a "hostess" to seat the students. When the waiter or waitress for each group came to me with a food order, I would either tell them we're all out or give them their order. If we were all out, the server would have to come back and ask for something else. The winning team was the first group with one entree per person. This activity caused the students to interact with each other and me in English, but also to read off of menus and write down orders. They had to play the entire game in English. It was a bit hectic, and some food did break, but it was fun and they learned. And that's the key.

These kids LOVE it. Several very good Jeopardy templates are available online for PowerPoint. I download them and use them for review every 2 or 3 weeks to make sure the kids remember what they've learned. The categories usually include "Vocab" where they are given a picture of something and have to tell me what it is in English; "Say it" where they are given a Korean phrase and have to translate; and "Teacher Trivia" --a host of facts about me that they should remember such as my hometown and favorite baseball team. They play in two teams, and it is a blast.

My room is filled with small, round, brightly colored stools that the students sit on. One day, I decided to turn them into two large twister boards and have the students play boys v. girls. The boys liked it, the girls didn't. But it did make all of them improve their listening comprehension for body parts and colors.

Board Races
These games are versatile, fun, and appealing for everyone. I have two dry erase board in my classroom. I divide the kids into 2 groups and have them, one at a time, go to the board. I stand at the back of the room and say a vocab word (or phrase) from the day. The student who gets the word right first is the victor, and we go on until there is a clear winner. I've also used this with time, during which I drew two clocks on the board and had them write in the time as I said it. The students have a blast, and probably don't even realize how much better there listening comprehension and spelling have gotten since I've started doing it.

More games and activities another day, hopefully with some pictures/videos! Later tonight I will post a short blog/video about my latest creative acquisition! (Which some of you may already know about...)


  1. Scott, Very creative. The chef in Cafe Dongbu reminds me of the shop owner in the Monty Python "cheese shop" skit -- no matter what is ordered the shop is "out" for some reason. Well, I am sure Cafe Dongbu is more customer-friendly. It sounds as if your students are having fun and learning a lot! Take care! Tim

  2. Nothing beats creativity in the classroom. Teachers and students can have so much fun while learning when it is done right. Obviously, you already know that. How many American kids know what a vicar is?

  3. Okay, this is the second time for this. I really liked all of your game ideas. I have two suggestions...teach them You Don't Know Jack and have a really great burping contest just for laughs.

    Who else but AJ would suggest such things.

    Love you