It’s a rare opportunity to share what other English teachers around the globe do in their classrooms to instill the love of language and literature that many of us have. Do we have similar challenges? Successes? Joys? Frustrations? Are our classes really that different?
Recently, Alexa Griffey, a hometown girl from Parkersburg, returned to her alma mater for a brief visit from South Korea, where she teaches high school English. Alexa joined my class as students prepared for a Socratic Seminar on all topics, the American Dream. During her observation, I wanted to model engagement strategies as well as a student-focused lesson.
Alexa has so many fantastic experiences to share about teaching English in Korea! Check out her YouTube channel: Alexa Abroad
I am fortunate enough to be teaching English to 10th and 11th graders in South Korea. As the native English teacher, it is my job to provide the students with opportunities to apply and practice the skills and information they learn in their Korean-English classes in more natural and real-world applicable ways. In any foreign language learning class, hearing the native accent and natural dialogue is a vital way to become more fluent. To achieve these goals, free discussions, group work, active games and interactive activities are implemented in almost every lesson.
The standard lesson plan structure is Warm Up (like a grammar bell ringer), Introduction/ Presentation (usually free discussion between the students and myself), Practice (the game or activity), and Production (typically a group presentation of what they created or completed). I was able to see some parallels in my class and teaching structure and Mrs. Stahle’s class. Free discussions, probing for more thoughtful answers, videos and discussions, partner and peer feedback worksheets are all techniques I observed and also implement in my own classes. While some of the teaching techniques and approaches may be different for those teaching English in an American classroom versus in a foreign language classroom, we share the same end goal: to create confident and independent students with an understanding and proficiency of the English language with the desire and ability to continue learning and exploring the world around them.
As my students are preparing for the SAT, we begin each class with some sort of grammar related bell ringer. This week we are correcting fragments. Going old school, the kiddos are working on a worksheet and correcting 2 sentences each day. They have the option of collaborating with a peer or going solo. At the end of the week, the worksheet will be collected, corrected and returned.
The high school English classes in Korea tend to focus on grammar, rules, and techniques that allow them to have a solid understanding of the language, mainly for the college entrance exam, similar to the SAT/ACT. I am lucky that I am the Native teacher because my class tends to focus more on real world application and practice, as well as becoming more accustomed to native accents, dialogue, and tone. To achieve these goals I implement group and class activities that involve a lot of interaction, movement, physical productions. When they have to get up and move they tend to be more involved and retain more information than sitting and working alone. Because let’s face it… not every student is thrilled to be there! While I also do grammar practice with set plans like Mrs. Stahle’s bell ringers, every activity and game is grammar and vocabulary practice, constantly building upon and practicing.
My goal for this particular class was to help students build a working definition of the American Dream. I wanted them to consider their own as well as other’s thinking plus read and incorporate different perspectives. Using the tried and true, pass the paper, my students started the class by creating and responding to personal definitions of the American Dream. Before a word was uttered, students gleaned a second perspective on the American Dream besides their own allowing for instant conversation. Students owned the discussion by reading, responding and discussing their definitions. This conversation led to them selecting from a menu of five articles of varying reading levels and points of view to consider as they used my focus questions to develop talking points for the seminar. Prep work serves such an important role to a successful Socratic Seminar.
As mentioned earlier, some aspects that I observed in Mrs. Stahle’s class are very comparable to what I use in my own. Warm up and free discussion at the beginning of class is a great way to get students involved. I use this time to introduce the topic and gauge the overall level of the class. I check the vocabulary and phrases they know, what I may have to review or introduce, and assess which students will end up taking the lead in each group. I’ve found videos are always loved by students and provide another opportunity for my students to hear the native pronunciation, tempo, and tone. One difference I’ve seen between my class and American English classes is my use of the whiteboard. My co-teacher and I fill the board while we are talking and discussing. We write what we are saying, vocabulary used, pictures and diagrams, and so on. This allows for the learners of all levels and learning styles to follow along, as well as help with the note taking process for those who do so.
My classes are usually 20-25 students in 4-6 groups. During the practice stage of the lessons they will either be completing something in their groups, moving, arranging, correcting, using whiteboards and paddles, doing worksheets, or creating something like posters, ads, plays, or short stories. My co-teacher and I walk around, answer questions, assess the groups and explain or correct mistakes we see. This also allows for more natural and impromptu dialogue with the students. At the end of each class we try to do some kind of presentation or discussion. Typically, I ask the groups to go to the front to present and explain what they created or completed, asking that each student speak at least one time. This allows them to practice what they were using throughout the class.
Being the Native English teacher also means teaching about culture. A lot of the English language is influenced by culture. Most of my classes involve little tidbits and explanations about American culture. We teacher tone, situational words and phrases, slang, and so on. I get to introduce and explain about our holidays and traditions both in the class and during free periods. During Halloween and Christmas, my co-teacher and I found crafts for the students to make for themselves and their friends and family.
I am very thankful for the opportunity to observe Mrs. Stahle’s class while I am in the country. The atmosphere of her classroom was so positive and exciting. The students all seemed truly interested and comfortable in her class. I plan to take a lot of the things I observed back with me to implement in my own classroom!
This past semester I entered into a video contest where I showed what my daily life looks like both in and out of school. This consisted of videoing different parts of my classes: My 11th graders were practicing pronunciation with a class vs class tongue twister competition. My 10th graders were creating posters and sales pitches for traits of success. I also captured our Halloween Culture activity and craft table during lunch! If you’re interested in understanding and seeing more about these things, feel free to watch the video linked below!