5 back-to-school tips for the new semester

September not only heralds in a newer, cooler season; it is also the start of the second semester in elementary schools in South Korea.

I’ve compiled a list of five things I’ve been doing to prepare myself for the next semester, to make sure I am refreshed and ready for when the bustling boys and girls return from their vacation.

Whether you spent your vacation on a sunny beach in Southeast Asia or opted for a staycation, we all need to feel like we’re turning a new leaf. Here are a few things to do in lieu of a new coat of paint:

    1. Pimp out your classroom

During the summer vacation I made a fun poster for the greeting part of each lesson. We always start our class with four questions: How are you? How’s the weather? What day is it? What’s the date?

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This diagram helps the students to answer these question.

During the vacation we had a lot of fun at our movie-themed English camp. The students made a few posters that my co-teachers and I will use to decorate the English Zone:

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It may seem strange to spend so much time on decorating your classroom, but in my experience it just makes the teachers and the students feel more at home in a space when they see their own work up on the walls. It also shows the students that we are proud of their work.

    2. Refresh your rules and rewards

I don’t know about you guys, but when I came into my classroom at the start of the year my co-teachers, seasoned veterans of the Korean education system, already had their rules and rewards systems in place. I started out with some rules of my own, but because the students only see me once a week, and since I’m not at the same school all the time, it was more difficult to enforce these rules.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the previous semester and discuss our progress with my co-teachers, I’ve been able to come up with my own rules and rewards system that I can use in the main class and in my after school classes.

My system was inspired by a conversation I had with my EPIK coordinator, and he gave me the idea that has now blossomed into what will hopefully be a very exciting semester.

It’s very simple. I made a sticker grid and a list of very achievable goals: Listen in class; Try your best; Be on Time, etc. When the students achieve these goals, they get a sticker, and when they get five stickers they get a Pokemon! (Get ready to laminate Pokemon characters till your hands bleed). It’s the English classroom version of Pokemon Go! and I’m very excited to try it out on my students.

    3. Plan a fun lesson for the first day

This being Dynamic Korea, you never know if you might have to teach a class on Thursday when school starts. Make sure you have an activity planned if this is the case.

It can be something simple, like “What did you do this summer vacation?” Elementary school textbooks are different but in general this would be the next chapter in some cases (or the previous chapter was “What will you do this summer vacation?”)

First, I will teach them some general expressions like “went to the beach”, “ate ice cream”, “visited my grandparents” etc. I like to do this using a PowerPoint with pictures of my vacation or family.

Second, students will draw a picture and write one or two sentences about their vacation (younger students draw a picture and write the words with the help of their peers and teachers).

Before we play the game, students practice the dialogue in their groups of four. Each student must get a chance to ask and answer the question: “What did you do this summer?”

For the final activity, students will walk around the classroom and ask do the dialogue again, but this time they have a survey worksheet. The students will write down their friends’ names and activity in a bingo-style sheet and the aim is to speak to as many students as possible in the allocated 10 minutes.

For the feedback session, I will ask questions, for example, “Minseok, what did Jiwon do this summer?”

For my after school lessons, I’m thinking of doing a whole host of ice breaker activities, where students can express themselves and their identity.

    4. Get started on those after school classes

Speaking of after school classes, last semester was really a struggle for me. It’s really difficult when you don’t have a textbook to come up with fun and exciting lessons week by week that are both stimulating and suitable for different levels. I have students from the first grade (they’re so small they don’t even know their OWN language yet!) to the sixth grade, and what’s good for the goose can be prima extrema “jemi obta” for the gander.

What was I saying? Oh yes. During the summer vacation, I started collecting resources and doing intense research to make sure I’m ready for the next batch of after school students.

The ideal after school student knows a little bit of English, at least enough to read words and follow a lesson without the presence of a Korean teacher, but that is not often the case. You either get students who don’t know anything or students who have been going to hagwon since their inception and nothing you give them is challenging enough.

Achieving a balance, one that doesn’t bore or leave a student disheartened, is not an easy task, so I suggest you get cracking on those lesson plans before the semester really begins.

    5. Let it go (“it” being the first semester)

Whatever happened in the first semester, let it go. Don’t forget about it, lest you should be doomed to make the same mistakes, but forgive.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes – reflect on your lessons in the first semester, make a list of the things that went wrong, and the things that went right! and move on. Learn from it and move on.

Forgive your environment – nothing is perfect, least of all you, and impossible standards and expectations just leave everyone disappointed.

Take a deep breath, buy a colouring book, take long walks in the park (now that the heat is finally over) and tell yourself it’s a new era.

Here’s to a smashing second semester, and an incredible new season.

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