My first semester back in South Korea after a three-year hiatus is coming to an end, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on a very special project I embarked on the second time around.
In addition to teaching at two elementary schools in the Jungri-dong area of Daegu, I also signed up to teach a special after-school class at the all girls’ high school near my house. The school picked 12 students from the first grade class (grade 10 back home) to be in my class, which runs for two hours on a Wednesday.
The aim of the class is to encourage conversation and creativity, and I decided to put my university degree to work.
I graduated from Rhodes University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Journalism and Media Studies Degree. So, I felt I have a lot to share with my students in terms of writing, editing, creative writing, free writing, interviewing and blogging.
The aim of the class is to produce an online magazine. On the first day we brainstormed a name for their blog, and together we came up with “Sparking Ladies”:
We then came up with categories for the blog, things that interest the students, and each week we’ve been doing various activities around these themes. By far the most popular was the food category, where students worked together in groups to come up with listicles of their favourite eateries in Daegu.
Another really popular theme was music, which I started off by having the students listen to “Shake it off” by Taylor Swift (with the TV screen turned off) and draw what they were feeling while listening. This is what some of them came up with:
This week, my students will be writing their mid-term exam, so last week the school gave them what they called a “Fun Day”. All students could go home except mine, who still had to attend my class, so we compromised. We ordered their favourite food – chicken – and watched Star Trek. To keep it educational, I made a worksheet, and next week we will use the worksheet to begin our discussion on movies in general.
What do you think of my worksheet skills? Pretty neat, right?
I’ve really enjoyed this approach to teaching, for various reasons. First, the students produce something every period, either for the blog or in preparation for an article for the blog. This makes the class student-centred, making my role more that of a facilitator than a teacher.
Second, Korean students are quite shy to speak off the cuff, so the many writing activities give them the confidence to organise their thoughts before being called on to speak. Speaking is a big part of it, but the trick is not to put to much emphasis on the fact that they are speaking. I’ve definitely noticed a marked improvement in their level of confidence and speaking ability. I find it very important to focus on fluency above accuracy. I do teach some grammar but I choose when and how to correct their errors. It’s important not to interrupt their flow when they’re busy working something out for themselves.
Third, the students really get a kick out of seeing their work online. They put in a lot of effort and I appreciate all the work they do for my class. It’s fun but also demanding and I hope they will see the benefits thereof.
I’ve also learned more about myself as a teacher. I always thought I preferred teaching little ones but I find teaching older kids more challenging but also more rewarding. Now that I’m older I fear I’m not as energetic as I was at 22, and sometimes it’s nice to have an adult conversation.
All in all, it has been an enriching experience and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I would encourage current or future EPIK teachers to use their majors in the classrooms. You might have knowledge about business, history, science, geography or art that you can share with your students, and that is what makes the EFL classroom unique and rewarding.