How do I teach English to a bunch of South Korean 4th graders?
July 30, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

In about a month I'm going to be teaching English to a bunch of 4th grade South Korean kids. Awesome. However, I've never taught anything, let alone a language. I'm looking for books, courses, tips, tricks, suggestions and anything else that might give me a little confidence.

I do have a BA in English, so I'm not stumbling around going, "Hey, what's a verb?", but I probably stop somewhere around diagramming a sentence. Reports from friends there vary from, "They gave me a book and told me to teach from it" to "I showed up and had to write an entire curriculum". So, better safe than sorry. I have a few weeks, so I'm looking to just get a sense of what would work for a bunch of 4th grade kids and give me a little peace of mind.

Books would be fine, videos of lessons might be better. Stuff online, stuff in the real world. I'll take a look at all of it!

Also, general advice on leading a classroom and being a teacher-figure is well appreciated!
posted by GilloD to Education (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know whether they've had any instruction in English before?
posted by HotPatatta at 1:00 PM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: At that point that should have. It's not like English 101. I think. Eeeeek.
posted by GilloD at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2009

The JET Programme in Japan has thousands of people in similar circumstances to you and they've built up a body of knowledge and resources over the past 20 years. I don't have the links but I do know this is available online now. I would hope the Korean system does too, but if not, that's certainly a go-to resource for you.

Coming out of college, I taught English Convo for 2 1/2 years to Japanese college kids & young professionals in Tokyo, so my experience isn't really that overlapping with yours but I will opine anyway.

I think it's a great transitional experience to come out of the freedom of college into the low-responsibility field of English monkey.

At the fourth grade level you will be modelling the language more than teaching it. Young kids both have an easier time with foreign languages, but teaching it on the technical level is hard since they don't yet have the native understanding of how their own language works.

You will need games, activities, flash cards, unless your school system already has developed these for you. Teaching 5-10 different classes simultaneously is better than teaching 1 class since you can recycle material.

Have fun!
posted by @troy at 1:23 PM on July 30, 2009

You're also going to have to bone up on classroom management skills.

- Always remember that every student has potential.

- Reward the behaviour you like, ignore the behaviour you don't (or at least don't focus on it. If a student is walking around, tell them to sit down).

- Model positive behaviour

- Students who appear bored or disruptive need to have their energies channeled in a *positive* way.

- Approach each student - even the naughty ones - compassionately.

- Try to figure out what motivates students.

- Create lessons that incorporate and cater to John Gardner's "multiple intelligences" or learning styles.

- Understand that Korean culture is different. Students may sleep in class, but it's no big deal. They may talk when you are talking, but it's no big deal.

Some things to remember:

- Plan 10 minute activities at this age. That means you will have *at least* six activities for a 60 minute class

- Give kids stickers to reward attendance. Give them prizes when they attend a certain number of classes (6-8 weeks - assuming you meet once a week - works well)

- Give kids points so they can compete for them

- Organize kids into teams, so they can collect points together

- Reward the team with the highest number of points at the end of each class

- Start each lesson with something concrete (a "test" or worksheet) that's easy to do; for students who finish quickly, give them points or a sticker, and a slightly harder worksheet to do while the others finish. You can actually use "mastery learning" here, if you give the brighter students a bigger project to do over the course of the term or whatever while the slower ones are doing basic activities to achieve their learning benchmarks

- Finish with a game or something fun

- Try not to put students on the spot, in order to avoid silent periods. For example, many ESL teachers start the class with a "warm-up" of Q/A, going around the classroom or the table. However, it can really disrupt the pace and can frustrate the faster/slower students
posted by KokuRyu at 1:29 PM on July 30, 2009 [6 favorites]

The person who runs the site Cake Wrecks got an email from an English teacher in Korea stating that she was USING Cake Wrecks as a teaching tool -- the teacher found several pictures of cakes with writing errors, gave copies of the pictures to the students, and asked them to "correct" the cakes. Apparently it worked a treat, and the students got a big kick out of it.

Maybe something like that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on July 30, 2009

Not to scare you, but teaching English to very young children is hard. Or at least it was for me. I also had no training. I had figured I could just get up in front of the kids and talk about bunnies and kitties, etc., and everything would kind of go from there. Not so.

One piece of advice: start out strict. You can always get nicer. But it is better to start off strict (and kind) than to start off to easy-going -- if you start out strict you can always ease up a bit, depending on the childrens' behavior. But if you start out too easy-going it can be hard to ever gain the kids' respect.

Trust me, I learned that the hard way.
posted by imalaowai at 1:41 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Routine, routine, routine. Incentives, incentives, incentives.
posted by mdonley at 2:16 PM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: I guess I feel lik incentives are wrong-ish somehow? Is there a theory to effective incentive-izing?
posted by GilloD at 2:33 PM on July 30, 2009

Why are incentives wrong? I assume they are paying you a salary as an incentive to teach. What works for you should also work for children.
posted by JackFlash at 3:47 PM on July 30, 2009

I've never taught officially, but due to being raised in a Korean-American background and being known as the "smart" kid as I was growing up, I've tutored quite a few kids in English. A few things I've noticed are:

- Articles (A, An, The) will confuse the heck out of most kids. Be ready with a clear explanation when a student asks you why "The president of the United States" is "more" correct than "A President of the United States" or "A President of a United States"

- From what I've seen, kids learn an incredible amount from watching English TV. Now, I'm not saying you should throw out your curriculum for a direct feed off the Disney Channel, but try and think of ways to incorporate it.

- In Korea, everyone uses incentives. I remember at the end of one school year in Korea, the two best students got $100 checks. It's fairly competitive and that competitiveness is encouraged. I'm not saying you have to match that, but that's just how it is over there, though things may have changed since the last time I was over.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 4:02 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the double post but this seemed somewhat significant...

There is a... erm... "joke" that korean kids will play on one another and may play on you known as 똥찜, which is basically this which will happen with mischievous little kids without warning...

To them, it's all fun and games, but it might be the kind of thing a foreigner might find unsettling. Just letting you know. :P
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 4:22 PM on July 30, 2009

It sounds like you're teaching at public school. If so, your friends are correct in that you should arrive ready to expect anything. You may be arriving hot on the heels of a departing teacher or you may be the first foreigner ever to grace their halls.

Do you know if you're going to have a co-teacher? (If you're in public school, I assume you are.) Figuring out a system with your co-teacher is really half the battle. Some teachers will shift down their role to act as back-up to you, others will only want to bring you up when they need your western diction. Hopefully the latter scenario does not apply to you (it's easy, but hella boring). Oh, and if you've got a co-teacher, get ready to see some corporal punishment used in class. It can be shocking or upsetting sometimes.

Whatever the case may be, I agree with imalaowai that you must learn how to control your class. I also learned this the hard way -- not fun!

If you're teaching grade 4, it won't be English 101 as formal English instruction starts in grade 3. Are you in a rural or urban area? If you're urban, you'll probably have a few kids who are already quite good at English. That's another thing you should prepare for: varying degrees of skill and ability.

Oh, what else. There's the stereotype that Asian students are super-disciplined and well-behaved. This is not true for Korean elementary school kids. Splitting the class into teams and having them compete against each other works well. And in grade 4 they will LOVE singing western pop songs. Even the cool kids will join in!

Good luck!
posted by Rora at 4:40 PM on July 30, 2009

There are a bunch of previous questions about ESL teaching (including elementary kids and in Korea) that might have good suggestions too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:44 PM on July 30, 2009

If you aren't able to take an ESL teacher training course before you go, I recommend you at least pick up a book such as Teaching English to Children or Teaching Language to Young Learners as a reference. They will provide you with some information about how children learn language, what to expect from children at various ages, and strategies for teaching them English.

This site has sample lesson plans, teaching ideas, games, and classroom management tips.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:04 PM on July 30, 2009

>I guess I feel lik incentives are wrong-ish somehow? Is there a theory to effective incentive-izing?

Well, "incentives" make classroom learning fun - these are *kids*, after all. It also introduces a bit of friendly competition into the classroom, which motivates students to learn and look forward (kind of) coming to class. Incentives also provide you with some social capital or currency which you, as a foreigner and not a real teacher (sorry, but it's the truth, and it has nothing to do with your experience) will be lacking initially.

But forget the theorizing and focus on fun and survival. If stickers will help you make it through three months of teaching without you losing your cool or getting demoralized (to say nothing of the students) you should use them.

Did I mention this: incentives are *fun*.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2009

I taught abroad for two years (Egypt and Japan) and was in a similar situation (i.e., no experience teaching ESL). It took me a long time to get oriented in the classroom and to figure out what would and wouldn't work with the students. On that note, try to be patient with yourself and don't get upset if things don't go as planned at first - you'll probably need at least a semester to really get the ball rolling.

In terms of materials, I always liked the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. They offer all kinds of activities - lots of them geared towards children. I also used the ESL Teacher's Book of Instant Word Games : For Grades 7-12 by Helene Hutchinson. This was really a book of worksheets covering a wide range of grammar concepts. FYI, there are TONS of websites with all kinds of activities for ESL teachers. I'd go through these to get yourself thinking about different ways of presenting grammar concepts, etc.
posted by anonymous78 at 8:03 PM on July 30, 2009

What imalaowai said. Be stern now and friendly later. I, too, learned the hard way. You need to show them right off the bat that you're in charge. I made the mistake of trying to befriend them and paid the price for the rest of the year. (It didn't help that I looked about 15. And on that note, dressing professionally helps.)
posted by anonymous78 at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2009

There are many wonderful children's picture books that teach grammar such as the series by Ruth Heller. If you are not sure if you will have access to a written curriculum, the state of Virginia publishes its English Language Arts standards here, the state of Texas here, and Florida here. You will notice in all three that the emphasis is on writing and reading instead of just learning the conventions of English. Have them read lots of picture books and use those for the basis of your grammar lessons. Just as we do here with ESL students, use pictures, label everything in the classroom, and provide the students with many opportunities to interact with each other in English and practice the new language.

I would also recommend that you take some training in ESL whether a college level course in person or online. Some states, like Texas, have a system of Education Service Centers that offer professional development in ESL that would provide some basic instructional strategies.
posted by tamitang at 9:20 PM on July 30, 2009

Some great advice upthread.

You're being asked to do a very tough job and there probably won't be adequate training or resources; welcome to your first irritation about teaching in Korea! On the upside, you want to be a good teacher and you're thinking about it in advance, so you're already doing better than many people in your position.

The experts in teaching Young Learners in my organisation use this book as the primary text when training new teachers. (We also use the books Hurdy Gurdy Girl mentions.)

There's also a lot of excellent advice on the TeachingEnglish website; here are some examples of pages related to teaching younger children: 1 2 3 4

Finally, be aware that some of the materials you may find might be aimed at teachers of English to native speakers or in a strict ESL context (students learning English in an English-speaking country). These materials might be useful, but might also be inappropriate for the Korean context, which is EFL teaching. (The failure of many Korean education policy-makers to recognise this is one of the reasons so many of their initiatives have failed.)

Good luck!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:59 PM on August 2, 2009

Be prepared for any situation ranging from one of the rare progressive public schools that actually puts some resources into their ESL program (it happens, but it's rare), to being the replacement for a diligent teacher who is leaving behind some good resources like flash-cards, posters, and games (it happens, but it's rare), to being totally thrown into the deep-end and expected to come up with your own syllabi (harder than actually teaching) and materials (near impossible).

That's the most frustrating thing about teaching in Korea -- you just won't know until you get here.

My own two pieces of advice -- 1) The perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning you should be setting up lesson plans based around the kids speaking, or trying to speak, as much as possible. Feel free to correct them as much as you want, but make sure the focus is on them using their English skills, no matter how limited. 2) Don't be afraid of repetition. I came from teaching college courses, where it was a mad dash to get through the syllabus. Language acquisition is a totally different beast. Repeating things is a necessity, whether it be the lesson you're teaching or the exercise where the kids get to put the new vocab./phrase/verb tense to use.

FWIW, I've heard very mixed things about the public school experience (I teach in a private school, but I've thought about getting a public school job) ranging from "It's awesome because I have total freedom to do whatever I want" to "It's horrible, I'm shunned by the Korean faculty, and nobody ever tells me what to do." Given your enthusiasm, you're probably better off taking the bull by the horns and showing initiative and striking out in the direction you think is best. Of course, this is assuming your principle doesn't really care about the English program and this might not be the case. Probably it will though.

Good luck!
posted by bardic at 1:57 AM on August 3, 2009

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