Surviving Seoul Part 1: Teaching Tips

Listeners, I’m not sure if you know this, but I haven’t always been an MC in Korea. Like many foreigners that come to Korea, my first job in Korea was working at a hagwon. I came to Korea totally naïve and I just thought to myself, “This is going to be easy; I’ll just think of it as playing with kids.” And like many I thought, “I can speak English, therefore I can teach English.”

Boy was I wrong.

Jennifer gave us many insights into teaching and I want to expound a bit more on teaching in Korea. Let’s start off with some tips.

Tip number 1: You are the teacher in the classroom. You are the boss. You are not a friend. Roles should be distinctly established in the classroom- especially when you are working with younger kids. If you go into a classroom and try to be too friendly or too fun, kids will not take the class seriously. If you are working at a hagwon, your boss has convinced the parents that you will teach their children.

Tip number 2: You need to be aware of the parent’s expectations. Parents expect students to have lots of homework and projects and they expect the teachers to check the homework. The red pen is your friend, the more you use the red pen the more the parents will be convinced that you are a good teacher. My students would always groan when they got their papers back. One of them even said, “Teacher my paper is bleeding. I told them it wasn’t bleeding; instead, it was a sign of my love for them. If the paper wasn’t marked, it would mean that I didn’t care and I didn’t want them to improve.

Tip number 3: Be aware of your student’s expectations. When students start your class they have very high goals that they would like to meet. If the students want to learn grammar, then teach them grammar. If they want to improve speaking, then focus on speaking. Give them many drills and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Tip number 4: Ask lots of questions. It keeps students on their toes and makes sure that they are paying attention.

Tip number 5: Learn your student’s names. It means a lot. Just think about when you were young. How would you feel if your teacher didn’t know your name? There are many memory tricks to do this. You should look at the student’s name and then visualize their face in your mind for 5 seconds. Each time you go through the list, you should try to recall that student’s face.

It might even help to take their picture.

Try to remember their face by a distinguishing characteristic. Maybe one of your students, Ji-young is missing a tooth. You should repeat the name, “Ji-young” and think of her smiling face sans tooth.

If Korean names are too difficult, then give your students English names. Oh, and if you have a student that refuses to adopt an English name, then tell them, “This is English Class and everyone has to have an English name.”

Also, you can write their names down on a cheat sheet and have it on you until you can remember all of your student’s names.

Tip number 6: Learn grammar. Seriously, it’s no joke. If you want to lose your credibility as a teacher then not knowing your grammar is the fastest way to do so. Many students here study grammar because it is more logical than idiomatic expressions and vocabulary. It won’t take you long to brush up on it. The book that most students have grown up on is Murphy’s English Grammar in Use. Read through the book, do the exercises and learn your grammar. Another really fun grammar book is: Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman. I also like the Little English Handbook by Edward Corbett and Sheryl Finkle. There are also many podcasts that you can download and listen to.

Now if someone gives you a grammar question that you can’t explain then tell them: “it’s an exception.” Or: “It’s grammatically correct but it’s not very colloquial.”

One more note about grammar: There are different grammar rules for British and American English. Be aware of them.

OK. Well there are some tips for you to start. Let’s take a break and when we come back, I’ll have more tips for you.


Surviving Seoul Part 2: Teaching Activities

So I just went over some tips on how you can be a better teacher. I’ll give you some more tips in the future. The tips I’ve given you so far have been: Be the teacher in the classroom, not a playmate; be aware of student’s and parent’s expectations; Ask your students questions; learn your student’s names; and learn your grammar.

Now I wanted to get into some fun activities that I’ve found have worked for students. These first activities are geared for 3rd to 5th grade students. One thing in my repertoire is my fuzzy dice. You can find these at many school supply stores. My fuzzy dice are square, 8cm by 8cm and filled with soft foam. The die is marked with numbers and it is very light. This die was the best thing ever because it is so versatile. When ever, I would ask a question, I would toss the die to a student. The student would then answer and then he can toss it to another student. The student would then have to ask a question and the student who received the die would have to answer. I know it sounds so simple and yet, all my students were always really excited about this game. You can even make the game like hot potato or like dodgeball.

You can also play a quiz game using questions from your book or from popular media. I would make a jeopardy board on the blackboard of about 25 questions. Give each square a point. I used to make quiz questions about Harry Potter, Spongebob Squarepants, things from the day’s lessons, grammar, books, anything at all. I would make two teams and then have them try to answer the questions and give each team points if they get it right and subtract it if they get them wrong.

Oh, a great website for trivia questions on books is You can find quizzes on books, cartoons, history, etc. It’s great.

Another fun thing I used to do was what I called word relays. I would divide up a class into teams of five and then have them line up in a row. I would write down letters from A-M on a sheet of paper for each team and then the first person in the line would have to write down a word using one of the first letters on the sheet of paper. Then they would pass it to the next person and then the next. After all the letters would be filled the winning team would bring me their word list to be checked. I would circle words that were misspelled and I would give extra points for words over 4 words.

And one last game. Instead of playing hangman, which I find a bit morbid. I would do different variations such as parachute man. With parachute man, you draw a stick figure with a parachute with 8 or 10 strings. Beneath the man, you draw a huge shark with razor sharp teeth waiting to eat the parachute man. Each time a student gives the wrong letter, erase a string.

Ok. Now onto adults.

Teaching adults is a very different beast then with kids. One thing that I have learned is that you shouldn’t go out drinking with your students. It tends to blur the relationship of teacher and student. Here are some things that I’ve found work with adult students.

You should first go by the book. Older students grew up in culture that focuses on the textbook. You shouldn’t skip portions of a book just because you think it is boring. If you don’t use the book that a student has bought, then the student will think that the teacher is not prepared. They might also think that they wasted their money.

Koreans don’t like to waste money.

Plus, when a student finishes a book there is usually a small party. And they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.

Another thing that I found works well with adult students is for you to write down what they say or take notes. This shows the student that the teacher is paying special attention. Korea is all about extra service. So, if a student feels that a teacher is working hard then they will try hard as well. With adult students, I’ve found it easy to actually type out what they are saying and then e-mail them. I’m not saying everything, just major details.

Give adult students homework. Most of them like it.

Also, correct their spoken mistakes.

If you are teaching business English, I find it best to seek out newspapers and other current information to discuss. The BBC has a great section on learning English. Also, I found a great book on business English called Intelligent Business by Tonya Trappe and Graham Tullis. I also like the Voice of America series that have been put out. The VOA book is in English and in Korean, plus it is in dialogue format, so the student can practice their speaking and reading.

And if you are having problems keeping a conversation going, it’s good to work on phonics and accent training. It’s a fun activity and many students want to learn this.

Ok. I think that’s it for teaching tips. If anyone has other suggestions, you know how to contact us. You can call us at 778-1013 or message us at Pound or Sharp 1013.

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