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Working With the Text (2009 Essay Contest)
Working With the Text (2009 Essay Contest)
  Date: 2009-11-24 01:23     View: 2381  


Working With the Text 

- Lesson Planning for Elementary School as an EFL Teacher in Korea -

Sara Long

Kilju Elementary School(Gyeongbuk)

 When I came to Korea, I didn’t know how much I would have to plan, or how guided the curriculum might be. I found out that English class is structured around a single text that focuses on situational English; what one should say faced with a specific conversation moment. The text also comes paired with a CD-ROM for students to watch. My first response to these materials was that they were restrictive and impersonal. Yet because of testing and the curriculum, the language goals of each lesson can’t be dropped; they must be taught. Despite my initial struggle with this, I was forced to be creative. The text is not an enemy. What has worked for me is adding to (and occasionally changing) the text by teaching additional language through adding supplemental and self-created materials Adding to the text quickly became one of my favorite ways to put my own ideas into a lesson, especially through the use of PowerPoint. I don’t always want to change the text, just add a few things to supplement what is already there. When I was teaching the 4th grade about telling time in English, I noticed that the text didn’t explain how to say the first nine minutes in every hour, so I made a quick PowerPoint to add to the lesson. It started with the number "0," and I asked them what letter it looked like. When they guessed "O", I used that as my lead in to explain that when talking about time, we say the letter "O" for the first nine minutes (ex: "eight o five," or "ten o one"). After explaining, each new slide showed them a clock with similar times and they had to tell me what they were. They caught on pretty fast, and the whole thing was a great benefit that only added about three minutes. Another good use for PowerPoint I found was through quick games. In a 4th grade lesson about age, and a 6th grade lesson about money, I added a "higher or lower?" PowerPoint game. Each slide showed them a picture (for 4th grade a person, for 6than item to buy), and they had to guess the age/price. If it was too high, I said "lower," if too low, "higher." The students all want to be the one to guess the right number, so it gets exciting. Another good PowerPoint game is picture guessing, which works for any lesson. A picture is slowly revealed through removing boxes that are covering it, and they have to try and guess the picture. It’s a good way to introduce a new topic or start a lesson. I made one for a 6th grade lesson on Jobs, and a 5thgrade lesson on activities. After guessing the pictures (and I like to be tricky with how much I reveal to keep them guessing), I ended each slide with a phrase to say related to their lesson: "He is a doctor" or "Let’s go swimming!" This also became a good opportunity to add elements of Korean pop-culture into lessons to make them more relevant to my students. It is also a great easy wayto collaborate with my co-teachers, who are more expert on this subject. They help me in finding pictures or giving me names of famous Koreans to add to PowerPoints, because it’s much more exciting to see someone like Park Ji-Sung playing soccer than a stock photograph from an image search on soccer. Whole PowerPoint games can be found to fit this way too. One of my co-teachers, during the lesson "Whose Boat is This?"found a PowerPoint game where students would have to answer the question "Whose song is this?"after listening to short songs from popular KPOP groups to get points. I was also able to change it to fit the 4th grade lesson "Is This Your Cap?"because both dealt with ownership. Every class erupted into song, overjoyed that we were playing their favorite songs, and whole groups would shout "It’s ______’s song!" in unison, unprompted, instead of looking disinterested while one person of a higher English level in their group did all the answering. The difference in English levels among the students is another reason to add on to lessons, so I provide more challenging options when possible. If the text calls for students to practice writing letters, I’ll tell the more advanced students to write words starting with those letters. If the text wants them to write words, then I’ll ask them to write sentences using those words. If they are supposed to practice writing specific sentences, I’ll tell them they can re-write the sentences with new words. Given the opportunity, they can come up with some really great words and sentences. For example, my 5th graders had to write the words "cat," "cup," and "candy," but I told them to try writing sentences. What came out were things like "I have a blue cup," "I like candy," and "the cat is not delicious."  This same tactic of adding more challenging options can also be applied to some activities. Although competitive games are great ways to keep everyone interested, sometimes there are activities that need to be tailored to fit students at all levels. I had a 5th grade lesson, "I Get Up at Seven Every Day," where the final activity was for students to create a mini book for their schedules, using the phrases they learned ("I brush my teeth at ___," "I go to school at ___," "I go to bed at ___"). I added to this by making a second option: any schedule. I told the students they could also make a schedule of anything they wanted (and I prepared for the explanation by making my own example cards for a mouse’s schedule and a knight’s schedule). About 1/3 of the students took this route, and what they came up with was incredible. One did a shark schedule, where he ate fish for breakfast and scared people throughout the day. One did his mom’s schedule, which he finished after taking it home to work on by asking her questions. I found that the students who picked this option noticeably put a lot of time and effort into their completion, so it was very rewarding. Additions have become an integral part of nearly every lesson for me, but sometimes I feel that I need to make adjustments to parts of lessons as they are written. My first change was to do the talking when the text calls for a listen and repeat segment with the CD-ROM. I’ll first play the CD-ROM so they can hear different voices, but then I’ll say it again and make them repeat after me. This way I can easily adjust the talking speed or volume to help students better understand. Plus, if I’m the one speaking and making eye contact, I’ve found they are more likely to speak. Although the CD-ROM is good in that it adds extra media to keep students’ attention, sometimes it just needs to be cut. Occasionally, the voice won’t match up with the actors speaking, or maybe the kids in the video were nervous in front of a camera so they appear stiff and awkward speaking. There are also times with language or situations that wouldn't happen in real life, such as this from my 6th grade lesson on learning seasons:

Kevin: Hi, Ann. How's it going?Ann: Not bad. How about you?Kevin: FineAnn: See you later.Kevin: See you. Ann! Wait.

The clip shows Kevingoing to the grocery store, Ann eating ice cream, and Ann dropping a bushel of green onions as she leaves. They talk in monotone, and the clip freezes as Kevin takes a step forward and holds up the onions like an offering to the heavens. Taking out the obvious problem with the "Hello! OK, Goodbye!" style scenario that would never happen between two friends, the bigger issue is that the lesson is about learning the seasons. This clip is played right after having the kids repeat "it's hot in summer" "it's warm in spring" "it's cool in fall" "it's cold in winter." I’ve found that making up new dialogues or acting them out myself is a good way to resolve issue with some of them on the CD-ROM. If the dialogue is fine, but the acting or language delivery is off, I will act it out with my co-teacher. We also bought puppets, which the students find hilarious, to assist us with some of our acting. If I feel there should be a change in the dialogue, I will write a new, but similar, script and use the same method of acting it out. One example of a change I made was from lesson 7, "My Father is a Pilot":

(This was the original dialogue)

Ann: Look at the police officer. He is very nice.

Kevin: Yes, he is. My father is a police officer.

Ann: Police officer? It’s great. I want to be a police officer.

Kevin: What does your father do?

Ann: He’s a pilot

Kevin: Wow! I want to be a pilot.

(This is what I changed it to)

Ann: I want to be a police officer when I grow up.

Kevin: Really? My father is a police officer.

Ann: Wow!

Kevin: What does your father do?

Ann: He’s a pilot.

Kevin: Oh wow! I want to be a pilot!

 The whole thing doesn’t need changing; it just needs a few edits to make it more likely to happen in real-life conversation between two friends. I welcome the opportunity to make changes, because I like talking to my students as much as possible. It makes the experience more personal instead of just making the students stare at the screen. With acting, there’s also room for improvisation if the moment calls for it, as well as staying in character to ask or answer questions from the students ("What’s my father’s job?" may be more effective than "What’s Ann’s father’s job?" because it’s more direct). My favorite way to make changes and add a personal touch to the lessons is with the games, particularly to add variety with movement. Although the book has many games that the students have fun with, most of them are movement-restrictive. I like making them get up and move around for a little variety, even if it’s just briefly during the lesson. This may be a brief improvisation activity, or acting out the slides on a PowerPoint (as long as the class is able to handle it without wasting time calming them down afterward). Sitting in one place for too long often breeds boredom or leads to students’ attention drifting away from me so they can talk to their friends. When I introduced a lesson on directions to 5thgrade, I drew arrows on the board and said they were "dance steps." Everyone had to get up and do the steps, and call out the direction as they did them: left, right, back, straight.

Movement can also be as simple as group-forming. In a 6th grade lesson on seasons, I counted off students 1-4 and assigned them a season. They had to then find their season group by using the text-desired phrase "Do you like _____?" (If they were fall, they had to ask "do you like fall?" if winter, "do you like winter?"). They would then respond "yes, I like ____" or "no, I like ____" depending on whether or not their season matched. Once in groups, they had to work together and write down/draw on a piece of paper everything in their season that they could think of. For doing pair work, I sometimes choose a similar method where I distribute papers with words or phrases written on it; students then must walk around and find their matching pair. For example, in the 5th grade lesson "Do You Want Some More?"the papers had food names on them, and students had to walk around asking "Do you want some ______?" If the person they asked had the same food, they would say "Sure" but if not they would say "No thanks." Although it may be easier to just section them off, if there’s time I find it better to give them a change to walk around. Removed from their seat, I find students are much more likely to participate. Everyone moving around is not always the easiest solution, so I also like to use turn-based activities with focused attention. Occasionally this will take the form of splitting the class in half or into three parts and doing some sort of race (speaking, drawing, or hitting the correct word or picture with plastic mallet) between alternating people from each team. I may line them up for this, or give them an order in their seats so everyone gets a chance to participate at least once. This still allows students to get out of their seats, but it’s easier to control.

During the 5th grade "It’s Under the Table" lesson for learning prepositions (on/under/in/beside/etc), I replaced a seated role-play activity by creating an interactive poster. I normally like when students role play, but I thought this one was too confined because it was just a question and answer dialogue about the location of a book and a pencil. Instead, I drew a simple bedroom/kitchen on a big poster paper and labeled "bed" "desk" "refrigerator" "bookcase" etc. Then I made 15 little cards with items on it like "milk" "pillow" "trash" "chair" etc. I told them I needed help putting things in the house, so they had to come up (in groups of 5) and put things in the house and tell me where they are (with the class asking "where is the ___?" and then making them repeat the student's answer "the _____ is on/in/under/in front of the ____"). Most classes put things in logical places, but some students got really creative. The chair was on the desk, the trash on the bed, and the computer in the freezer. I let them stay there, and had the class repeat where everything was. I never said there was a right or wrong place for things! The changes and additions I make are always with thetext objectives in mind. If there are advanced students in my class, I want to make sure they are engaged and not bored, by giving them more challenging but creative ways to use their advanced English. I continually add short PowerPoints and games to keep attention, and I make changes when necessary. I’ve fallen into a certain working rhythm with the textbook. While most of it should be kept as a necessary part of curriculum, by changing some of the games and methods of teaching the text I can strike a balance between my own individual drive for planning, and what the book wants me to teach. I know that most of the text and curriculum was designed without including a native English speaker, so my being here makes substitutions necessary. I actually find the text encouraging, because it easily allows room to involve myself in the planning process. I love to add my own ideas, and my ultimate goal is to make learning English fun.

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