The State of American Education

You know that a country’s education budget is ridiculously low when teachers have to start selling advertising space on their quizzes and tests to help pay for the cost of printing them.  I’m sure that some of you have seen the old bumpersticker phrase “I look forward to the day when our schools get all the money they need and the army has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”, and, well, while it was meant as a joke and an exaggerated circumstance…it seems to me that we’re getting to the point where the reverse is true:  our military has seeming carte blanche with out budget, and now schools are starting to have to sell advertisements to be able to afford to print out their curriculum.


Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Public Service Announcement

At the request of a few folks, I have created a new blog, hosted on my own server, which integrates posts from a few of my blogs, and this is one of them.

Basically, I have several separate wordpress blogs because many people are only interested in one aspect of my life (teachers read my teaching blog for lesson plans, other Korean expats read my Korea blog, and various people read my personal blog, etc, etc).  It makes it easy for folks who don’t want to have to scroll past a post about my own life, etc.

However, some people *are* interested in all aspects, or at least more than one, and so I have made a new blog on which I post my entries from the most relevant/popular of my other blogs.  The default view is to see everything, but if you want, the categories at the top sift the blog into only posts from a particular wordpress blog.

You are welcome to continue reading this blog, but if you are also interested in getting a broader picture of my life, I would recommend checking out the new one instead, as it will contain not only my posts from here, but from a few other of my blogs as well.

The new blog is HERE.

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  


Sorry I’ve been so silent recently.  Things have been somewhat weird, and I won’t go into detail, but I will post some of my lesson plans soon.

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Animal Idioms and “as ____ as a ____” Phrases

So, I have been working with my students on idioms, because I have realized just how many I use in my everyday speech that they ask me about.  It’s a good subject to teach, because it helps with fluency and although it is definitely a more “academic” set of lessons than, say, vocabulary, the kids find them funny and so it doesn’t feel as “serious” to them as, say, a discussion of gerunds.

I chose to focus on animal-based idioms, since I work with mostly 5th and 6th graders, with some 7th or 8th graders on rare occasion.  It appeals more to their sensibilities, and since they cover animals several times in their textbooks, I know that they have a good enough vocabulary in that lesson for it to work without me having to teach the vocab that goes along with it.


As for the lesson itself, here’s how I do it:

  • First I introduce the concept of idioms.  To make it funny, I try to come up with a sentence beforehand that I can say that is as chock-full of idioms as I can.  I explain that while to them it may sound like gibberish, to a native speaker, it is completely understandable.  I explain their importance in the language, and why they should learn some.
  • I go over some animal-based idioms, such as “raining cats and dogs”, “like a bull in a china shop”, “smell a rat”, etc.  Don’t do this for too long, or you will lose their attention.  I try to do a lot of eliciting at this point, to keep their attention and to give them some agency in what they’re learning, and to show them that they know more than they think they do.
  • After that, I write “As _______ as a _____.” up on the board.  I go over some common idioms that use this structure.  “As stubborn as a mule.”, “As strong as an ox.”, “As fierce as a tiger.”, etc.  Give them enough to get the idea, but few enough that again, you don’t lose them or take away too much material from the next step.
  • After giving those examples, I write a list of animals on the board.  I tell the students to think about the traits of the animals, and come up with their own idioms that use that structure.
  • I give them about 10 minutes for this, and encourage them to use their dictionaries (so that there is variety).  When they are finished, I say the name of one of the animals in the list, and ask the students what they wrote down, and ask them to use it as a whole phrase.
  • If there is time left over, I do the reverse, but verbally, so the students can be more relaxed than they are when I ask them to write.  I say the names of traits (fast, wise, spotted, etc) and then ask them to think of animals that could work for the first half of the idiom.


Below the cut are some of the idioms you might use as examples for the “as ___ as a ___” samples, as well as a list of animals that work well for the creative parts of the lesson, and some links to lists of idioms:


Spelling Game

So, this is a game I have played with my classes recently that can easily be adapted to all different levels.  My student range from barely being able to form a coherent sentence to being able to write short paragraphs, so I have found that this is a good way to allow all the different levels (class-to-class levels vary heavily, as well as within classes) to participate without anyone feeling too embarrassed.

So, come up with categories, first.  These can vary based on the ability level of your students, but there should be some variety in difficulty as well, to allow for different student skill levels within a given class.  I will list some categories I use at the end of the post, with notes about difficulty.

Once you have written the categories on the board, write the numbers 1-5, with space to provide an answer.  The task of the students is to come to the board, pick a category, and write 3 or 5 correctly spelled words from that category.  I give my students 2 tries to spell a word correctly, 3 if the class is particularly low level.  If the students can write three words, they get one reward (sticker, candy, whatever you prefer to use), if they can write 5, they get 2.  If they pick from one of the hard categories or one of the affixes, the reward doubles, so if they write 3, they get 2, if they write 5, they get 4.

For my students, I usually use candy because I see the students so rarely, but if I had only one or two schools, I would work out some sort of reward system with stars that could be redeemed for a better reward later, or something.  That part is up to you.

I do let students go to the board multiple times, but I try to choose students who have not gone, before returning to students who have gone to the board already, and I generally put a cap on participation – usually 3-4 times, depending on the size of the class.  I also encourage them to volunteer early on in the game, because by going early, there is less of a chance that someone else will get to the words that they were going to write, first.  I also generally let them look at their dictionaries/books for the first 5-10 minutes of class, and then have them put them away.  If I don’t let them look at all, they tend to clam up, as they’re too intimidated by the task.  Letting them look at their book makes them realize that they do know a lot more words than they had thought.

I have now done this lesson 12 times, and it has gone over phenomenally well in all but a couple classes, and even in those it went over moderately well.

The Categories
Easy Categories:
  • Food
  • Animals
  • Clothes
  • Sports
  • Countries
  • Colors

Moderate Categories:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Mammals
  • Reptiles
  • Insects
  • Furniture
  • Jobs
  • Plants

Hard Categories:

  • Cities
  • Languages
  • Emotions
  • Tools
  • Musical Instruments

Affix Categories:

  • un-
  • re-
  • pre-
  • -ing
  • -ize
  • -ise
  • de-
  • ex-
  • in-
Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 5:47 am  Comments (1)  
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Lesson Planning and an Animals/Countries Lesson

So, since my schedule is on a bi-weekly rotation, except for Mondays and Fridays, I have found myself really having to keep close track of when it’s time to make a new lesson plan, and I’ve been writing in my planner which schools I have used which lessons at, so that I make sure not to repeat something. It doesn’t sound that hard, but trust me, it is. When you throw in school holidays, etc, it’s even more difficult, as I may have done the lesson with all but one school, and I won’t get back to it for another two weeks, if I miss a day at that school. So, if schools 1-6 have done lesson A and are now on lesson B, but I didn’t go to school 7 one week, for the next two weeks I will be teaching lesson B, but then for one day in the second of the two weeks, I will be teaching lesson A again. It’s really quite confusing.

Tomorrow I’m doing a lesson with my Jindo students (it may be my last with them, actually!) on animals and countries. My students can name both countries and animals until they turn blue, but if you ask them to point to said country on a map, they are totally lost. Same thing with placing animals in a given country. I did a variation on this lesson way back at the beginning of the year, and at one point one student pointed at Canada when I asked them to point to France (and I said “Well, not anymore…” to myself under my breath ;)), and another, when asked where kangaroos lived, pointed at Russia. So, here’s my basic lesson write-up:

Animal/Country Matching

  • Discuss animals with students. Use pictures.
  • Discuss some basic countries with students. Use map, preferably on the computer/tv/overhead so they can more easily see, but it’s not completely necessary.
  • Name animals and ask students to name what countries the animals are found in.
  • Name countries and ask students to name some animals that are or might be found in that country.
  • This lesson is easiest if the list of animals is mostly made up of distinctive animals like penguins, kangaroos, lions, giraffes, etc. Other animals like sheep, wolves, and tigers, which aren’t found everywhere but are found in a few countries, are good to have, as it allows the students to be a little more general, and causes them to think about the environments that those countries have as well, but it can also be too vague, and in my experience, the students tend to prefer questions with one right answer, rather than several.

    I stole the basic idea of this lesson (animals/countries) from one of the other teachers here on the island, but have changed it a bit, since it was originally conceived for elementary students.

    Is it just me or is everyone here angry?

    I have noticed what seems to be an inordinate amount of violence at the 7 middle schools I teach at, given the age group and the location (rural Korea).  Almost every week, a window is broken, a fight started, or a teacher yelled at, at one or another of my schools.

    Maybe I was just sheltered at my private school in middle school, but to me, this seems very odd, and something I would associate more with city schools, if any middle schools at all.

    Is this normal?

    Ah, public school…

    Yesterday I had to isolate (separate from the class) a student for the first time.  He later was so pissed that he broke a window.

    Story later.

    Published in: on August 30, 2008 at 3:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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    First Week is Done!

    Today ended the first week of the new semester.  Here in Korea, the school year begins in March, not September, so I have the same kids as before.  They don’t seem to have as much trouble with re-integrating back into school as American kids do, because they all attend summer school, school camps, etc, and have homework assigned over the break.  Definitely sucks for them.  Makes my job easier though.

    I could get away with using the same lesson plan next week, but I think I’ll do something new.  I see each class of kids only once every two weeks (except for one school), and so if I wanted to, I could teach the same lesson for two weeks straight.  However, in reality, after a week, I’m pretty tired of teaching that lesson.  So, I put it into a binder (after teaching it 18+ times, it’s pretty perfected, and I add it to my repertoire), and if necessary, I can use it later with the kids who didn’t get it the first time around.

    My initial version of this week’s plan crashed and burned in the first 5 minutes.  That happens quite a bit.  I am still learning what it is that the kids like in terms of classroom activities, and it is rarely logical.  Thus, most of my lessons are of a “phoenix from the ashes” type, generally a remixed-on-the-fly version of whatever it was I was originally going to do.  Korea has really taught me to think on my feet, as if the kids don’t like my lesson, they just don’t speak.  English is required here, but it is not counted into their final grade, so they have little to no motivation to do well, or participate, so if they don’t like the activity, they just won’t do it.  It makes my job here very, very difficult at times, especially when I try to teach something that is very important, but also very boring (to them, anyway).

    Anyway.  I got two books last time I was in Seoul that seem good.  One is activities that teach through stories, and one is about teaching idioms.  I looooove idioms, and they can be silly and fun, so hopefully I will be able to adequately convey that to the kids.

    Published in: on August 29, 2008 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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    Are any of you readers on twitter?  If so, let me know and I’ll add you.  I’m over there as driftingfocus.

    Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 2:37 am  Leave a Comment