February 11, 2015
Monday night I had a full class of Tet anxious youngsters who simply could not stay in their seats. Maddening. Tet is a holiday bigger than Christmas in The States, so it’s all they could think about. Two of them hadn’t even brought a pencil to class, so you know their minds were not on studying.
I tried to be sympathetic, but 90 minutes is a long time. I had lots of activities, but they could not focus for 2 minutes at a time. I got tired of telling them to quiet down, stop talking and to SIT DOWN. Finally kicked out the worst offender and told the rest that we would NOT be doing music since they wouldn’t behave. (I always write a list on the board of what we are going to do each class. Music is a bonus–if we have time and they are good.) I had them get out their workbooks and do the next pages. The fourth time I heard, “Teecha, homework feeenish.” I said, “I don’t care. Work on the next pages in the workbook or sit quietly. (we only had 5 minutes left) Next one to get up from their chairs will be kicked out.” Thirty seconds. THIRTY SECONDS! That’s all it took before someone got up! So I kicked the kid out.
The class got quiet, then. But I feel so icky after a class like that. I just want to drink a couple shots of whiskey and go to bed. Fortunately, I had no whiskey, but I did go to bed. Maybe I take it all to seriously, but I want them to learn.
But last night was great! Yes, they were excited about Tet, but they could at least focus for 5 minutes. I had a ton of activities since there was only ONE paltry page in the textbook to cover. That’s simply not enough for a 90 minute class. Still, I had to tell them constantly to get back in their seats. But it was better. And they had a great time, too! Rhyming and Tongue Twisters have been surprisingly fun and productive exercises. It forces pronunciation while they laugh their heads off. It’s especially crucial for Vietnamese because they are not used to pronouncing the last letter or two of a word. Making them rhyme words forces them to see and say the whole word. Surprising how many try to rhyme sounds in the middle of a word. And the tongue twisters do the same with even more laughter. Sorry it took me so long to figure out what a great exercise these two are. So simple, too. If I were staying, we’d next work on simple poetry or replacing the words to a song with their own lyrics. Could have been fun. But I’ll use it at the next school.
Simple really does work, too. Surprised at how often kids like to come up and write on the board. I often use this as a warm up exercise. “What’s your favorite activity?” (for a unit on sports or free time) or “What pet would you like to have” (for a unit on animals. It starts to get interesting when someone writes “dragon”). I have three different colors of dry-erase markers and let them pick their favorite color to write with, which delights them. And for kids that finish their text book exercises early, I’ve found going around the room, checking the answers and drawing a smiley face on correct papers, does wonders to keep them interested and gets others to finish their work! I try to make each face slightly different, too. I’m getting good at it. They are thrilled by this! Also, the word perfect usually isn’t in their vocabulary. So I teach them that perfect means VERY, Very, very, very, VERY, very, Very, very good. Which they find hilarious. And then all you have to do is write perfect on someone’s page. They beam.
I’ve developed/stolen/adjusted several activities recently for use in class (clearly, knowing I was leaving has been a productivity booster for me):
Bankrupt is a simple vocabulary review. You put all the flash cards on the board. Two teams. Each team, one at a time, sends a person to the board to pick a vocabulary word. They have to say the word, then they get what’s taped behind the card: Money ($100 to $5,000, a great way to reinforce numbers), Bankrupt (lose everything) or Donation (give your money to the other team). They typically don’t know the meaning of bankrupt or donation, so that’s two new vocabulary words, too.
Jump! Is a vocabulary game where I draw a line in the floor and write “true” on one side and “false” on the other. I tell everyone to stand up and walk to the line. Then I pull up a flash card and say either the real word or a false word. They have to jump to the correct side of the line. Ridiculously easy and they get to burn off some energy. These kids sit too much. But don’t we all?
Three Truths and a Lie: I give them four statements about me. I tell them three are true (then explain the word truth) and one is false (and explain the word lie). They vote on what statement is a lie. These are the sentences I use. Three truths: I lived on a farm as a child. (To them, anyone who was raised on a farm and is my age, did not go to school, so they always think this is false.); I had a pet lizard. (I usually have to show them pictures of lizards to make sure they know the word. This makes them squeal with delight.); and I like the color red. Then the lie: I don’t like strawberry ice cream. (Which I’ve learned to say in Vietnamese, so they think I need to use this phrase). They never guess correctly and it always gets some discussion. Then I have them do the same exercise and work with a partner to guess the lie. The exercise combines reading, writing, speaking and they often learn a new vocabulary word or two. Easy.
Red Hot/Ice Cold: The concept of “getting warmer” and “you’re cold” doesn’t mean the same thing to them. For them it’s just temperature. But most want to learn American English, so I teach them that when someone is getting close to an idea or a thing, they are “getting warmer” or if they are right beside the thing they are looking for they are “red hot.” It mystifies them, so I always model it—with a piece of candy. This helps. Then I ask for a volunteer to leave the room while I hide candy for them to find. It’s hard to get that first volunteer sometimes, so I usually have to pick the best English student and promise them they can keep the candy when they find it. It doesn’t take long before the whole class joins in, guiding the student to the hiding place, using the correct words and even understanding them. Also works with words like closer, beside, near, far away, over, on top of. My only problem now is how to choose the next student because everyone wants to volunteer!
I went to the market: Every class has a unit on food, so I use this with everyone, eventually. I start off with, “I went to the market and I bought…..apples.” The next student says, “I went to the market and I bought apples and oranges.” Each student has to remember the items, in order, and add a new one. Hilarious. Also good for teaching some, a few (countable and uncountable nouns) and plurals. Vietnamese are VERY good at memorization, so it’s surprising how long the list gets before someone messes up.
Restaurant: I saw a fellow teacher use this with a unit on food and I’m filing it away. She teaches them simple phrases. “Can I help you?” “I would like….” Then the vocabulary flash cards go up on the board. Two students are customers and one is the waiter. The customers “order” the food from the board and the waiter selects the right cards and brings it to them. You can add a cost to each item if they also need work on numbers. For older students, you make up a simple menu and practice ordering food. It’s practical. This would work with household items or electronics or maybe banking for money/numbers, too.
Directions: I used Excel to make a map. It has lots of streets, landmarks, a hospital, a pizza place, bus station, train station, parks, statue, pond—any vocabulary you want to reinforce. I pre-teach phrases like “turn left” “go three blocks” or “walk until you see…..” Then I pair them off and have them sit facing each other. I give them each a map and a starting location. One student gets the ending location and has to talk the other toward it.
Mr. Bean: Have you seen Rowan Atkinson do this character? Hysterical. Go to YouTube right now and search for Mr. Bean. It’s almost entirely pantomime, no language. Pair off the students and sit them in chairs facing each other so that one can see the screen and the other can’t. Then play a 3-5 minute short Mr. Bean video (which you downloaded off the internet for free). The student who can see, explains the action to the one who can’t see. Then switch.
I also do rhyming words and tongue twisters, which none of them seem to have been given before. And I do some of the standards, too, like Pictionary, Taboo, word scramble, and hangman (except I use a guy with a parachute hanging over the ocean with a shark. They love sharks.).
I’m convinced that games are better for reinforcing language than anything else. I simply have to learn more and find different ways to let them use language while having fun. When it works, it’s fun for everyone—especially the teecha.