ESL Lesson Plan: Relative Pronouns (no preparation)

This is an activity I like to use when teaching relative pronouns. It can be adapted to any age group or level just by changing the difficulty of the examples and expectations of the students. The best part is it requires NO materials or preparation and is great when you need to come up with a lesson quickly.

TARGET LANGUAGE: WHO, WHERE, WHICH, THAT

Warmer:

I usually start this lesson by walking into the classroom looking confused. I say to the students, “I FORGOT!” then, “What’s that woman called who teaches math and has three daughters and is really nice?” at which time they’ll name the teacher. Then I’ll shout again, “I FORGOT!” What’s that place called where you can quickly go inside and buy snacks or drinks but it’s not a supermarket?” (mini mart) … again, “I FORGOT!” by the third time they should be shouting “I FORGOT” with you and laughing along at your silliness. Use as many examples as you’d like to get the students excited about the lesson.

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Responding to the “You’re so lucky!” comments

When I tell people I am teaching English in a foreign country many people respond with, “Wow, you’re so lucky!” They are right, but for the wrong reason. They assume that somehow I luckily happened upon a lottery in which the winner gets to travel the world and live anywhere they want. Well, no… that part just took a little hard work and determination. Both attributes everyone can have and does not require chance.

Lake Toba Young Learners

I'm lucky to be a native English speaker!

The luck came in 1980 when I was born in one of a few countries where English is the native language. The world population was about 4.4 billion in August of 1980. The population of all the native English speaking countries was roughly a combined 330,000,000. That left me with a 7.4% change of being born into one of those countries. That’s luck. That’s chance. And a day does not go by that I don’t thank the universe for the opportunity to be able live the dream.

So, if you’re sitting at home reading this and you are also a native English speaker, don’t call me lucky. Stop making excuses and get off your ass and join me! Your lucky chance came the day you were born.

A look back on 2011 and ahead to 2012

The last couple of years have been some of the best of my life so far. 2010 saw the completion of my BA from University, my 30th birthday and the breaking free of a job I didn’t like but kept at for the entire decade. I managed to complete my degree in the amount of time I planned once I decided to go back in 2007.

2011 was even better but for different reasons. I set off in January around the world on an adventurous trip through the Horn of Africa and a Middle East journey that fell short due to the Arab revolutions early in the year. I got my TEFL certification in Thailand and did some volunteer work before settling down in Sumatra. I wrote a post back in 2010 trying to predict where I’d end up living this year and Medan, Indonesia wasn’t even a place I knew anything about other than it was a port city in Sumatra. Now here I am finishing my first full year abroad and just getting going!

Here is a look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished and planned to accomplish but fell short as well as an outlook for 2012. Enjoy!

Things I set out to do in 2011…and did

Learn to iron
Learn to tie a tie
Learn another language (in progress)
Learn to play the guitar (in progress)
Live abroad
Drive a motorbike
Get TEFL certified
Become a teacher
Travel to Somalia (Somaliland)
Travel to the Middle East (Lebanon)

Things I didn’t specifically set out to do but happy I did
Live somewhere that I can see mountains from my house
Have an article written about me by ABC News
Volunteer in a small village
Cut back immensely on drinking alcohol
Lost 35 lbs (15 kg)
Have a proper party week in Thailand with old friends
Motorbike road trip through Northern Sumatra

Things I wanted to do but didn’t do
Learn to cook
Live completely alone

Goals for 2012
Have a close friend or family member visit me
Learn to cook
Return to the U.S. at the end of 2012
Survive the end of the world
Get to see one of my best friends get married
Travel to a nearby country
Visit Java, Komodo or Flores

Some of my favorite photos of 2011

INDONESIA

Banda Aceh

Grand Mosque at Banda Aceh

Bukit Lawang

Orangutan in Bukit Lawang

Samosir Island

Batak children on Samosir in Lake Toba

THAILAND

TEFL Course

Getting into it during teacher practice at TEFL International

Royal Temple Bangkok

Royal Temple, Bangkok

LEBANON

Baalbek

Baalbek

MALAYSIA

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

SOMALILAND

Somaliland

Somaliland

Somaliland

Tank leftover from the Somalian civil war

Berber

Camels grazing on the beach along the Gulf of Aden

ETHIOPIA

Harar

Hand and mouth feeding of hyenas outside of Harar

ESL Game: Scattergories

This is one of my favorite games from back home. If it is fun for 20 and 30 somethings to do on a Friday night it’s sure to hold the interest of ESL students. I’m still trying to find ways to make a variant of the game myself but the version I play in the classroom is pretty much the same as the Milton Bradly game of the same name.

I’ve started out with 10 very simple categories.

1. Colors
2. Fruits
3. Drinks
4. Vegetables
5. Sports/Hobbies
6. Past tense verbs
7. Adjectives
8. Countries
9. Cities
10. Subjects in school

I have students call out a page number from the text book and use the first letter on that page as the letter for each round. So for example, the first letter is T then the students have 3 minutes to fill out the list 1-10 using words that start with the letter T. The object is to score points by using a word that no other team uses. For example: The categories is countries so team 1 writes Thailand, team 2 writes Turkmenistan and team 3 writes Thailand. Team 2 gets one point for writing Turkmenistan a word no one else used while the other 2 teams get no points. (This example just happened in class and I was impressed the students knew Turkmenistan)

Scattegories as an ESL game

Made for adults but fun for students

The good thing about this game is that it encourages students to think of uncommon vocabulary rather than the easy stuff. I usually play 3 rounds with 3 different letters and then the team with the most points wins. It’s a good go to game if you need to fill time at the end of a lesson after going through the material. The first few classes I played this with really to enjoyed it. It seems to work best with the older students and they have a fun time trying to figure out the tougher ones. The best part about the game is that with one list of categories you can play many times and not have the same letter so it doesn’t get boring.

Eventually I’ll make up lists with more complicated categories and will probably steal from the board game itself. Other examples include:

Intermediate
Things found in the classroom
Things at a picnic
Things found at the beach
Things that use a motor
Past continuous verbs- ex: “was reading” for “R”

Even more difficult
Prepositions
Names of athletes
Capital cities
Bodies of water
Western musicians

Halloween activity for ESL classrooms

The Horror: Scary Movie Night
Halloween is my first major holiday as an ESL teacher. The student’s knowledge of the holiday is limited as Indonesia doesn’t celebrate it and only English language schools hold any sort of activity for the holiday. My school did a horror movie night for the students. I was quite surprised at the choice in movies. It was a Thai movie rated PG-13 and we had some students that were quite young. My more conservative, U.S. raised self kept thinking how stupid it was to show the kids this movie but then when I looked around the room at the young children closing their eyes and then bursting out in laughter when they get spooked, I thought to myself, no this is what Halloween is about… getting scared. If they watch some corny children’s Halloween movie that isn’t going to leave any lasting impression. Some my most vivid memories from childhood are from watching scary movies that were meant for people much older. The only bad part about this movie was that the subtitles were translated from Thai into Indonesian and then into English. This made for terrible grammar at the bottom of the screen. Even my students recognized how bad it was, which is a good sign that they have a pretty good grasp of grammar and the arrangement of the words to make coherent sentences.

Scary Horror Movie ESL Activity

Said scary movie. The Thai writing makes it even that much scarier.

Halloween Crossword
On to my quick ESL activity. This doesn’t have to be for Halloween but you can use a theme anytime you want. At my school there are guidelines to follow for lessons that must be completed by the end of the term. Depending on how far along I was in the class dictated whether or not I did some of the regular lesson or not. Some of my classes have very little to do by the middle of December so I was free to take up the entire class time with fun stuff. This isn’t a very complicated activity as it was my first attempt at putting something together for a holiday. For my younger students I printed out a pretty simple Halloween crossword puzzle to take up about 10 minutes of time and then we went through it together and I elicited the answers and explained some of them in more detail. They understood most of it but words like, “tombstone” and “mummy” needed more explanation.

Halloween Crossword ESL

We talked a bit about trick or treating and some of the students already knew what it was and a few were in shock as another student explained the wonder that is dressing up in a costume and going door to door collecting candy. I really feel bad telling them about Halloween and seeing how disappointed they feel when they can’t enjoy the same thing here.

Halloween Word Find Game
While the students were doing their crossword I was busy setting up the whiteboard for the Word Find game. I drew a few Halloween pictures on the board, including a jack-o-lantern. Then I wrote some of the rules to the game on the board.

We’ve all played the Word Find game at some point in our childhood but this is my variation. You write a word on the board like, “FRANKENSTEIN.” The students then have 2 minutes to write as many words as they can make out of that word. The students get a point for each word with 3 or more letters. If they find a word that is 5 letters or more long then they get 2 points. 2 letter words are not worth any points. This works best in groups of 2-3 students. I have each team get out one sheet of paper and pen and have them share the list and add to it as they go along. I then go around and check the lists for points and leave a check mark next to the ones worth 2 points. I leave it up to the honor system for students to keep track of their points from round to round and report after each round how many points they’ve earned.

After about 2 rounds I then add an extra element to the game called, Joe’s Secret Word. I pick out a word that is at least 4-5 letters long that if they find it they get bonus points ranging from 5-10 points. This is a good way to even up the scores if one team is way ahead. It’s up to you if you want to be an honest teacher and think of the secret word before and not change it or pretend a word on the losing team’s sheet is the secret word. This works OK for the younger students as it keeps things close if one team is too dominant. The older students may catch on to your scheme. You don’t want to get caught cheating!

These are some of the words I used for the game.

FRANKENSTEIN
JACK-O-LANTERN
DRACULA (very difficult, only about 2 easy words: card, card)
MONSTER MASH! (secret word: MOTHER)
WITCH’S BREW (secret word: PINE)
HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Indonesian usage of “yang”

One of my many goals living abroad is to finally learn another language. I don’t just mean to pick up some useful phrases just to get by either. I want to become fluent to the point that I don’t have to think about what I’m going to say or translate in my head while someone is speaking. I’ve already noticed the basic to intermediate stuff sinking into my subconscious and my response time is more natural. Indonesian is a pretty easy language to pick up the basics and a lot of fun to practice with people.

Language Dictionary

I should be looking at this daily, but unfortunately it stays right there on the table.

I’ll give updates along the way as to how I’m progressing. Right now my biggest hurdle is the vocabulary. I’m learning fewer new words every day and I feel like I’m hitting a wall.

Another really difficult thing about many South East Asian languages is that there are words that don’t have any direct translation to English. One in Indonesian being, “yang.” I have been trying to master it’s usage for awhile now and I finally came across a website that does a pretty good explanation of how it can be used. Like I said previously, I don’t want to just pick up a few phrases. I really want to master the language so that I can speak it confidently and sound like a local. I feel like I have a pretty good ear for the accent and the slang so it’s important that I figure out how to use the non-translatable correctly.

Here is an excerpt: Click Here for the full article

There are several words in Indonesian that don’t have any equivalent in English and “yang” is one of those. “Yang” can mean “that is”, “who is” or “which is” and it can be used in several ways. Let’s have a look at “yang” a bit more closely.

The first use we’ll see is when “yang” emphasises a description of a noun. You’re probaby aware that you need to add the adjective (description word) after the noun in Indonesian. For example, to say “new car” you’d use “mobil baru” – literally “car new”.

You can use “yang” to emphasise the description of the car by saying “mobil yang baru” or “car that is new”. This phrase is very slightly different from “new car” because it emphasises that the car is new.

There are many other words in Indonesian that are untranslatable but I’m going to start with mastering “yang.” I have to really stay focused on vocabulary as it’s easy to become lazy. I think part of the reason I’ve slowed down on the learning process is that I’ve been working for 2 months and I have to use English while at the school. Also, the more busy I am with teaching and planning the less likely I’m out with Indonesians practicing.

ESL Introduction Activity for New Teachers

This is an activity I found online and just tweaked it for my own liking. It’s generally called “10 Things.” On your first day of classes when you are the new teacher or you have new students coming in who don’t know you yet this is a good way to start things off.

10 Things About Me
Depending on the age of the students I may have a little fun drawing a silly stick figure version of me. The younger students really get a laugh when I draw my stick figure and then do the same pose myself. I think it’s important for the students to know it’s OK to have a laugh in class and that their teacher isn’t going to bore them. In a few of my classes I drew the stick figure, introduced the stick figure as their real teacher and pretended to walk out of class. It lightens the mood right from the beginning and gets rid of a lot of the anxiety the new students or the teacher may feel.

New Teacher

Good morning students, this is your teacher.

Then I write 10 things about myself that are answers to a question that I want the students to ask me. I usally start with drawing the American flag and then a few easy ones like pizza, blue, and 31. Where are you from? What is your favorite food and color? And, how old are you? Then I try to throw in a few tricky ones like my last name which gives me a chance to explain to the students how Americans say “last name” but “surname” and “family name” are also acceptable. I write a few cryptic ones like just the words “No” and “Not yet!” Do you have a girlfriend? (No!) Are you married? (Not yet) The students here get a kick out of it when I write “ayam bakar.” What is your favorite food in Indonesia?

This is a great way to start out the class because it’s a way to introduce yourself without standing there in front of them doing a monologue about your life.

When they ask you a question and you answer just cross it off. When you’re finished the activity can either end there or you can give the students a turn. What I did was ask each student to take a sheet of paper out and write 5 things about themselves in the same fashion. I ask them to do a few simple ones and maybe 1-2 tricky answers. Then I randomly pick a few out and write their words on the board. Now I get the students to start asking each other.

It’s a lot of fun but make sure you give students other ideas for things they can put down. They get bored with asking their classmates what their favorite color is so really put an emphasis on a few tricky ones to get the class involved in trying to figure it out.

If it’s a large class I just do a few but if it’s 5 or less I’ll try and get through all of them. So far all the classes seemed to like it and by the end they got to know me. When I saw one of my classes for the second time and walked in a few of the students yelled “AYAM BAKAR!!!”

Live Now, Make Now the Most Precious Time

One of my favorite quotes is from an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called the Inner Light. Captain Picard was knocked unconscious by a probe sent by a long extinct alien civilization with the purpose of downloading an entire lifetime of memories into his mind that he would experience in a mere 20 minutes so that the civilization could live on and not be forgotten. He spoke these words to his daughter:

“Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

They’re words that I have tried to live by even before watching the episode. I know that there will be a time when I’m older and looking back on life wishing I had done more even though I’m accomplishing much of what I’ve always wanted to do. Life is obviously short. I’m in my early 30’s and as quick as it seems to be moving along I know it will only get quicker.

Why am I discussing all of this right now? Well, it’s just a big giant excuse for me not updating my blog much lately. I’m living. I’ve been having some great experiences with my job starting here in Medan. At different times since 2010 I have reached milestones and achieved small goals that I set out for. I knew that once I graduated in August of last year it was going to be a roller coaster ride. First with turning 30, then quitting my debt collections job, then leaving home, then traveling off the beaten path in Somaliland, then getting my TEFL certification in Thailand, then volunteering in Bukit Lawang and then finally settling down in Medan to teach English in Indonesia. The journey is far from over but I can say with confidence I’ve landed and I’m ready to see where this takes me.

I’m a Teacher Now

While I was in Bukit Lawang and doing volunteer teaching I couldn’t help but feel like I hadn’t quite become a teacher yet. It was a great learning experience for me but there was something missing. Now that I’ve been at my current job for three weeks, I’ve finally felt that the career shift is over. When I left my last job I kept thinking that going back to collections was always a safety net. It’s a skill I now have after 10 years in the industry and if things don’t work out as a teacher I have plenty of job opportunities. I’m happy to report however, that it will be a cold day in Bangkok before I go back to any job that requires me to wear a headset and have my production controlled and monitored by a machine.

Over the years people kept telling me that I would make a good teacher but I never really knew for myself if it was something I could pull off. My TEFL trainer said we would know after our first day in the classroom. I know now. I’m a teacher.

So Where Have I been?
I returned from Aceh with the idea of hanging out for a few days and then heading to Lake Toba later in the week. On the Monday of that week I arranged to observe some classes at school. I went in and after a couple of hours I was asked if I could start work immediately the following day rather than a week later. I took a deep breathe and accepted. Ultimately this way was much better. It was like ripping off a band-aid rather than pulling it off slowly. I would have spent the rest of the week and the weekend thinking about my first day and instead I was thrust into it.

There are three schools that I need to be available to teach at on any given day however my home school is literally next door to where I live. I teach four days a week there and then one day at the flagship school. The good thing about starting early was that I was doing substituting for local teachers. This allowed me to learn the ropes a bit and get used to it without having my normal classes. The real reason I’m here is because another native English teacher finished his 12 month contract and is heading back to Canada. As of September 16th I took over his classes and will now have the same students throughout the semester.

Jln. Jemadi House in Medan, Indonesia

From the balcony of my room.

Home Sweet Home
I’m finally settled into the house I’ll be living in for the long term. It’s a huge four story condo with big bedrooms with AC, balconies, a roof top, a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. I couldn’t ask for better roommates. We seem to be on the same page so far. My bedroom has some work to be done. There was a leak in the ceiling that is supposedly fixed. The AC isn’t too strong but there is a leak in it and I’m waiting on the mechanic to come fix that. The door to the balcony is an absolute mess and it looks like a giant rat has been trying to chew its way through. I’ve moved in a couch and coffee table from the living room, bought a rug for the floor and moved some things around so it’s starting to come together. Most importantly I switched the dreadful white light to a softer yellow which makes such a big difference.

The Expats
The ex-patriot community (westerners living and working in Medan) seems quite nice. There are probably only about 100 or so of us here which is part of the reason i wanted to live in Medan. Westerners are rare so we get a unique experience. As opposed to Bangkok where there are tons of foreigners and you just blend in as another face in the crowd. There is a core group of guys that occasionally meet up for drinks and only a few western women. As far as I know there are only three Americans living Medan. I’m sure there are more but I’ve only met the two others and one just arrived as an art teacher from Texas.

This is it for now. I’ll try and make sure I update more about the classroom. I absolutely love

So this is home…

This is somewhat anticlimactic for my readers in that I sort of left things hanging as to what my final decision was going to be on teaching. After a rather disappointing interview with the school in Medan I was left hanging for about a week waiting for an answer. I had already made provisions to go to Jakarta. I sent a follow up email and the job I wanted, I got.

Fast forward a few weeks of hanging out in Bangkok, I’m now in Medan, Indonesia where I will call home for the next year. My contract doesn’t begin until Sept 12 and ends Sept 30th of next year. It’s been a rough first week here as the accommodation they placed me in is rather uncomfortable. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about myself it’s that I have one absolute non-negotiable when it comes to any housing going forward. There must be A/C. I’m miserable in this room with just a fan. It doesn’t cut it.

I had heard some unpleasant things about the other house so I was afraid that I wouldn’t be happy with it but I decided to check for myself right away so I could make a final decision on whether or not I could stay here. The other house is absolutely amazing. There have been reviews online about the conditions there, with leaks and rats and break-ins, but I addressed those issues with the teachers living there now and have assured me those things have been resolved. Although, rats are a part of life here, I see them everywhere.

The house I’m in now is big but the one I’ll be moving into is just massive. It has 4 levels, several bedrooms, a big garage. The roommates there seem like they will be easy to get along with. Having fellow beer drinkers is always important. The girls I’m staying with now are really nice but they pretty much keep to themselves. Which is good but at the same time occasionally letting loose will be nice, which just won’t happen where I’m at. The new house has WiFi, a big bed, a washing machine and a balcony. My room will be very big.

Observations
I observed a class today and it gave me some real incite into how things are going to be. It’s really structured with a specific curriculum, however it’s not so strict that you can’t add your own personality and flavor. In fact, anytime I want to deviate from a lesson plan, I’m allowed as long as the subject matter they want covered, is covered.

Most of the students at the school are Chinese-Indonesian. They seem a bit more shy than the Indonesian students I had in Bukit Lawang but I think it will be a fun challenge. I’ll be teaching every age group from around 5 up till adults. Classes seem to range from about 10-15 students with the occasional one-on-one tutoring. This is not a public school, it’s a language center so this is not their primary education.

Back to Bukit Lawang
I have over a month before I start so there is no sense in sitting around waiting. Tomorrow I’m going to take a bus to Bukit Lawang to go visit. I was going to wait until I bought a bike but I’m not prepared to make that trip just yet. I want to get some city driving under my belt. I’m excited to see all the friends I made during my volunteer stint. My first stop will be the clinic and then make my way towards the river saying hello to anyone I can. I’ll stay through the weekend probably and maybe even longer. A week long public holiday for the end of Ramadan starts at the end of August. I have to make sure I get wherever I’m going to be, before the holiday and then leave after. There will be no buses running before and after. My plan is to head to Lake Toba and stay a week on Samosir Island. The island is predominantly Catholic so it would eliminate any risk of being stuck somewhere, unable to find food due to the fasting periods of Islam. Plus, it’s really nice on the lake and I can cool off for a little bit.

I’ll be back in Medan for good right after September 1st. That’s when I’ll shop for a motorbike and start learning my away around the city. Unfortunately, the guy I’m replacing doesn’t leave till after I start so there will be a 10 day overlap before I move into his room. It would have been nice to settle in the room before but what can I do?

That’s about it for the update. I’m just going to be touring around a bit and relaxing so I don’t expect much updating.

Waiting game…

The waiting game is about to be over. I’m still here in Ban Phe, Thailand. I decided to stay for the weekend and not move around too much because it’s easier to not spend much money that way. If I was in a bigger city the baht flow a lot faster. I have a beautiful room at Christie’s with A/C, hot water, TV and a great WiFi connection. I spend most of the days inside trying not to spend any money. The job in Medan is what I’m holding out for and I was told I would hear an answer a week from last Tuesday. If I do get the job I have to decide if I want to wait till the end of August to start. It is a tough decision because I really want the job but going that much longer with out a salary isn’t the best idea.

If I do decide to wait it out I’ll probably stick around Ban Phe longer and rent out this guest house for a month along with a motorbike for a discounted price. The interview itself didn’t go really well last week so I’m not expecting much with that job.

Could be worse places to wait around for employment

That leaves Jakarta, my eternal safety net of a job as my probable final destination. This is by no means a consolation prize as Jakarta is sure to be a great city for me. A lot of people don’t like it because it is a crowded mega-city but I can find the good in most places. If this is the plan then instead of flying the expensive $200 route from Bangkok to Jakarta, I’ll instead take a train south through the Malay peninsula to Singapore and then do a short hop on to Jakarta for much cheaper.

Either way, by Tuesday my future should be clear. Either I’m going to live in Medan or Jakarta for at least the next 12 months.