Tuesday, July 16, 2013

5 Ways to Have FUN in the Classroom at CDI

This blog entry was originally published on the Aclipse Blog, which is produced by current Chungdahm Learning teachers in Korea. The blog features entries on current events around Korea, advice for incoming teachers, and the best spots sightseeing, shopping, and eating. The original entry can be viewed here. It has been edited slightly for content. For more information about Aclipse and Chungdahm Learning, click here

The Korean education system doesn't always lend itself to fun times. I mean, that's largely true of most schools in the world, to varying degrees, but it's on a whole different level here. My students are constantly telling me horror stories of their public school classes: class is so boring, the teachers are like robots, the teachers always yell at them, etc. So how can you, their English academy teacher, make it a little bit better? It's actually pretty simple...

Unfortunately, the hours spent in their regular schools each day means the prospect of coming to their English academy for an additional three hours of studying isn't exactly... appealing. Some students will still be wonderful -- they just have a naturally cheery outlook and will be angels in your classroom. But largely, even your best students would still rather be playing outside or on a computer than sitting in class. More homework and studying? No thank you, they say.

This is where you, as the teacher, can really ease their pain by finding ways to make the classroom more fun. Here are my five tried and true ways to bring a little more life and laughter into the classroom.

**Note: When it comes to rules and regulations at CDI, here's my disclaimer: I work for a strict branch, and yet these things are allowed. Each location is able to set its own tone, so there will be variations in what is and is not allowed. If you feel like any of the following are pushing the boundaries of what's kosher at your branch, speak to your Head Instructor or Branch Manager before implementing it in the classroom. Better safe than sorry, ya know?**

1. Supplement a lesson with photos and videos. 

So, so many of our lessons can be supplemented by an outside resource that's easily found on the Internet. The most simple of these options? Photos. A picture to accompany the topic is always great, and sometimes it's necessary to explain a vocabulary word that the students may not know. Learning about the tsingy formations in Madagascar? Frida Kahlo's paintings? Not exactly easy to explain or draw on the board. Show the kids some high-res photos -- it'll really help their understanding.

I, for one, didn't know what a tsingy was before teaching this lesson. (Photo credit.)

When you need more than just a photo, videos are super handy. A lesson about superhero physics, mentioning Sue Storm and Cyclops? The latest movies featuring these characters are over ten years old, meaning most of our students have no clue who they are -- so what better way to acquaint them than by showing some short movie clips from YouTube.

Other topics, such as ones that focus on scientific topics, can possibly be supplemented with a short documentary video. Some of our uppermost levels already have a DVD clip to supplement the listening classes, and I feel like it really does enhance their understanding of and interest in the topic.

If you're having trouble finding a good video clips on YouTube, especially on scientific or academic topics, check out TED Talks. Tons of different topics are covered in their videos, you can sort your search options by length, AND you can add subtitles -- English or Korean. 

Obviously, pre-screen the video before showing it to the class -- you always want to make sure there isn't any bad language or super violent gore! These videos are meant to help, not traumatize.

2. Add personal anecdotes -- yours OR theirs! 

Creating an engaging atmosphere is entirely on you, the teacher. Luckily, CDI's curriculum gives you some golden opportunities to be a comedian. From the stories in EC and Memory to the topical lessons in Bridge through Albatross+, you can definitely ham it up and get the kids engaged.

A recent lesson, all about pranks and hoaxes, is one of my favorites, simply because I can give the kids a dramatic retelling of the ridiculous pranks I've pulled in my life -- complete with over the top pantomime and slapstick humor. Then I turned it over to them -- after hearing my crazy stories, they were excited to share and nearly every hand was in the air. Finding ways to relate the topic to their lives definitely gets their attention and their interest. Plus it's a fun way to get to know your class! By getting them all laughing, they feel more comfortable with you. 

Various class discussions have even led to inside jokes, some of which have persisted well beyond when I actually had the students in my class. Sharing stories with each other can really help foster good relationships with your students, which in turn greatly impacts their attitude towards your class.

Also, it's worth noting that in listening to my stories and relating their own, they're greatly improving their speaking skills. A strong class discussion is so vital to giving them an opportunity to speak in an unprepared, unscripted way, which is definitely one of the hardest aspects of becoming fluent in a foreign language.

3. Modify CTP to include something creative. 

The Critical Thinking Project at the end of most classes is a great time for the kids to let loose a little. The topic of the CTP is important because it's related to their online homework, so don't stray too far from what's assigned in the book. However, many CTPs can be supplemented with a little somethin' extra.

The lesson had included a story about time travel, so I made this flyer for the CTP so the class had something to color and fill in.
When a CTP is particularly dry, I encourage students to also draw some kind of illustration or turn their final report into a skit once they've completed the bookwork. This allows them to show off some of their creativity, and also gives the rest of the class something interesting to look at or watch when the group is presenting. Sometimes, I've drawn up a template for them to fill and color in, other times, I've left them to their creativity.

She was playing the role of a "wise grandfather" for their skit, and needed a beard.

4. Encourage the use of props.

Quite a few of the CTPs already include a skit or a news report, so this is a great opportunity to encourage your students to use props. An easy, obvious way to make this happen is to provide the props yourself -- from a simple drawing of a sword that you've cut out or a cheap plastic microphone toy from the dollar store. Set a precedent by making these props available to the students and they'll become more and more comfortable with the idea of incorporating them.

One of my students keeps this prop in her bag -- she taped a photo of a microphone to a plastic tube and it gets used in almost every CTP.
If you cultivate a prop-friendly CTP environment, you'll be surprised with how creative the kids get. In some classes, you'll probably have to help them quite a bit, simply because this will be a new challenging element of the project, but once they get into the swing of it, the results are fantastic. The entire class becomes more interested when a group is presenting, the group itself is having more fun, and you feel good as the teacher for creating a great environment.

Paper, identity-protecting "mosaics," for a CTP that involved anonymous advice column letters. (These children, of course, are oblivious to any resemblance to an infamously racist organization... They were so proud of their idea that I kept my mouth shut.)

5. Create teamwork games. 

CDI's curriculum is pretty jam-packed with activities. In all levels, the students work on reading and listening comprehension, as these are important skills for English proficiency exams like the TOEFL. Often, these exercises come as a workbook page, including short-answer questions that require paraphrasing and answer justification. Sometimes, these pages serve as the daily quiz, but other times, it works well to let the students work in teams. 

To keep the classroom atmosphere at a level of contained chaos, I usually keep my teams to no more than two students. If it's a particularly well-behaved class, I'll let them work in a group of three or four, but usually, it's easiest (and best) to just do partner work. I explain the exercise, remind them of the requirements for their answers to receive full points, set a time limit, and let them get to work. When time is up, I check one book from each team, the stipulation being that all books must be filled in with the same answers. If there are seven questions, they can receive a maximum of 700 points. If one answer is wrong, they have the chance to correct it for half (50) points.

Classroom groupwork action shot, courtesy of a student who agreed to snap some photos on my phone for me. (Gotta love the two boys posing for the photo...)
I stand behind this strategy of teamwork games because it's absolutely fair. Every team gets the same chance for full points, so there won't be any cries of "You always call on the other team for an answer! This isn't fair!" What's even better is it challenges them to come up with the best possible answers, as those are the only ones considered correct -- and let me tell you, these kids love competition. They also love coming up with ridiculous team names so points can be tracked on the side of the board.

As further motivation, I'll sometimes, with their agreement, use their in-class quiz scores to add to their team's points. I'll average the score for the team -- add up what each member got and then divide it by the number of kids on the team. Knowing their quiz score will affect their team's points, the studens are often way more interested in actually trying on their quiz instead of just picking answers. 

When it comes to prizes, check and see what's allowed at your branch. Mine discourages from actually giving physical prizes, so we're encouraged to cut a page of their homework. All levels have a puzzle in their homework book, either a crossword or a word search, and it's always an excellent page to cut. Most students don't seem to like it much, anyway, so it's a win-win. 


Teaching at CDI is a great opportunity, and with the right attitude (from both you and the students), you can make a rigorously academic environment become one that the kids genuinely enjoy. Feel free to swipe any of my tips -- I hope they'll be as useful for you as they have been for me! 

Do you have any other ideas for bringing fun into the classroom? Do you use any of the above methods already? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and advice! 

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