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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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.

Offers Coming in…

After spending the entire month of April in Ban Phe staring across the gulf at Ko Samet, I finally took the 45 minute ferry ride to the island. I have been vigorously applying for jobs since getting to Thailand. I even started sending out my resume to schools I don’t really have any intention on working for in locations that are not my top choices just so I can gauge my worth and perhaps take the chance to get an interview under my belt with the intentions of declining any offer.

Just before hopping over to the island I got a job offer for an international school in Khon Kaen which is a small city in the North East of Thailand in a province called Isan. Isan is the poorest area of Thailand and has always been a possibility as a landing spot for me. It’s often less Thai and starts blending into Lao and Cambodian culture the further north east you get. It is interesting to me and the job offer itself is pretty sweet. It’s only for about 3 months till October but the pay is good for the location. The best part is that they want me teach more than just English. I would get experience teaching mathematics, science and arts to students around 9 years old. This would be really valuable experience.

Ko Samet

Drinking a coffee shake on the beach in Ko Samet

However, once I arrived to the island I got a reply back from my top choice school in Medan. They like my resume and want to hear more through a phone interview. I’m kind of in limbo right now. I don’t really want to be far from a fast WiFi connection and phone lines so I have stayed in Ko Samet town away from the beaches. It’s OK because I’m spending less money by not going out and eating at a fancy resort. I’m hoping that by Monday I have the interview and a possible offer so that I can make my final decision. If Medan wants me, I take it. If they don’t want me I will go to Khon Kaen and do 3 months in Thailand.

For now though I’m just going to hang around Ko Samet town and maybe hit one of the beaches tomorrow. It would be nice if the school would give me an exact time they will call me so that I can go off and play but it’s worth it to wait around. The school in Thailand has laid out the offer officially so if I want it, it’s mine.

These are very good predicaments to be in. There was a time where I thought the only job I’d ever be able to get was in a cubicle with a headset. This is exciting! Time to get beat up with a Thai massage.

Sumatra, I’ll be back. Inshallah.

I’ve committed blogger sin and in the heart of my first teaching gig I went off the grid. I want to apologize for the lack of updates. I spent the second month of my volunteer contract in Sumatra just experiencing it. Sometimes it’s best to be that way. I didn’t put too much thought into writing. The contract is finished and due to strict immigration laws I was forced to make my way out of Indonesia. If I had it my way I would still be in Sumatra spending my money there but instead I am in Thailand now and will vacation for a couple of weeks in here before heading back to Indonesia.

Everything finished up smoothly in Bukit Lawang. I eventually got the hang of lesson planning and execution. I started to get really comfortable with myself and with the students. It started to become fun. Life in the village was good and the last week I spent by the river at a guest house with some great friends that I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with.

Bukit Lawang

Hands in the air for Mr. Joe!!

Next Step
I’m faced with a tough decision right now. For the last three months everything has been set up for me. I was doing my TEFL certification in April and immediately jumped into the volunteering in Sumatra. I haven’t had to make any decisions on what I’m doing as it’s been laid out in front of me. Now, what though?

For years my final teaching destination was always going to be Thailand. Specifically, Chiang Mai. Indonesia was also in the mix but I never really thought it would appeal to me as much as Thailand. The tables have turned dramatically now after having experienced the warmth of Northern Sumatra. I find myself missing the language and the people the most. I came back to Thailand with multiple motives. One was obviously to just have some fun for a couple of weeks and hang out by the water. The other was to see how I would feel after 2 months in Indonesia and whether or not Thailand would still appeal to me. I’ve confirmed Thailand as a holiday destination and not a place for me to live. The language is too difficult and I don’t want to live somewhere that I can’t pick up the language. One of my goals in living abroad was to acquire fluency in another language and Bahasa Indonesia is easy enough for that to happen. In 2 months I’ve become quite comfortable with holding pretty solid conversations with people. The population is far more eager to teach and there is less English overall so the necessity is there.

Now that I’ve narrowed it down to Indonesia with out any doubt, there comes the question of where? I’ve had a connection in Jakarta for some years now that has offered me a position if I’m willing to come take it. However, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Sumatra. I love a lot of things about it and I can see myself living in Medan, taking a job teaching English for a 12 month contract and really becoming fluent in Bahasa Indonesia by the end of it. I have friends that I have made already and places within the island I haven’t yet visited so plenty of new opportunities to explore.

Medan is a short flight away from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok which could all make for long weekend getaways. I plan to purchase a motorcycle if I live in Medan so that I can travel myself outside of the city back to Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba on the weekends. Public buses take way too long and the tourist buses are really expensive. I sent out my resume and cover letter to a school in Medan that posted a job 2 days ago. I feel good about my chances if they take a look at my email, however I can’t tell how many people are trying to get jobs in Medan. I did include that I am currently in Thailand and my availability to start is immediately. This means that the school wouldn’t have to prepare a flight from the west and could save money by hiring me. That being said, there could be candidates showing up at the school in Medan in person who would be a better choice. I really have no idea what to expect but I’m hoping one way or another I hear something back shortly so that I can decide on what I’m going to do.

Flights from Bangkok to Jakarta at the end of next week are around $200 where as a flight to Medan is only about $80 and another $100 to Jakarta. So my thinking is that I will go back to Medan next week, purchase a tie and some slacks and go door-to-door with my resume and see what happens. If I don’t have any luck finding something then I will know I did my best and can head to Jakarta and take the position at EF that is available.

I kind of feel like I belong in Sumatra. Jakarta would be really fun and I’m certain there is a lot more to do as an ex-pat, but Sumatra is just where I need to be.

I got my first teaching gig!

I’m 3/4 of the way through my TEFL certification course and I’ve secured my first teaching position. It started back in February when I was in Sumatra in the tourist town of Bukit Lawang, Indonesia. I did the 2 day jungle trek and really enjoyed the time spent along the river and near the jungle. It was peaceful, quiet and I could fall asleep to the low roar of the Bohorok River. Mosquitos are not a big issue and the slightly elevated and hilly location means there is always a cool breeze in the evenings to make sleep comfortable. The people were friendly and welcoming and I left some people behind with the promise that I would return someday. A few days later while in Lake Toba, about 8 hours away, I started looking for teaching jobs online. The first hit I got was an English school that is looking for British teachers to come in on 2 month contracts. I emailed them and got a response within a few days. I filled out my application, told them I have no teaching experience, answered their questions about my ability to adapt to different cultures and waited for a response.

I got a very positive response from their offices in the UK saying they’d like to do a Skype interview. I set that up a few days ago and during the interview was offered the position. My prior travels to Sumatra and other conservative Muslim parts of the world was what set me apart. It was a nice feeling because it was one of the justifications I’ve always had for doing heavy travel to parts of the world that are off the beaten path. They sent me a teachers packet and gave me a couple of days to confirm.

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

The packet was a bit daunting. It went through their expectations of the teachers, some welcoming information and a bit of the schedule. The village I’ll be teaching in is about 10 minutes away from Bukit Lawang itself. My first duty is to introduce myself to the head of the village and register my arrival within the first 2 days. Accommodation will be very basic. I’m still working out the details of my schedule. I know for a fact I’ll be working Mon-Thurs but I’m confused on what times my classes will be. I know I’ll be teaching 9-11 yr olds in one session and then adults at university level in the evenings. I’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to myself. For the young ones, their English is very basic so I’ll have my work cut out for me. Going to have to figure out some fun activities to keep their interest going. They said they want me to incorporate ecology and the geography of their part of the world in it so I’m going to have to do some research on Sumatra and orangutan preservation. With the adults it’ll basically be about finding ways to come up with conversation topics. Their English is intermediate to advanced and just need someone to speak native English with.

The contract begins May 1st but there is no way I can get there by then. My course ends next Friday and the earliest I can fly out is Tuesday the 3rd. I’ll arrive in Medan in the evening and then the following morning take the 4 hour bus ride to the village.

It’s on! What happens after the 2 months is over is still up in there air.

TEFL Certification Day 14 & 15: Practice Practice Practice

I had my second and third days of teaching practice this week. Tuesday was better than my first day and I’ve gotten some nice praise from the trainers. This morning I was a bit off my game but apparently it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Internally I was more nervous. I made a slight mistake at the beginning in a structured lesson and then it threw me off. I regained myself and finished the lesson well. The students are so much fun to interact with. We’re struggling though, because it’s school break right now so they are having a hard time finding students to volunteer to come in. Some of the ones that do come in are really young and a just bodies in the seat. They are too young for the lessons and then become distractions. The ones that the lessons are age appropriate for really seem to enjoy it. It drags pretty hard towards the end of the 4 hours.

I had the unfortunate or fortunate task to go on in the fourth hour yesterday after some of the students just heard the same exact lesson. It was up to me to try to find a way to engage them. I did the best I could with gesturing since my chalk board skills are pretty bad. It’s one thing I really need to work on. Although, most schools will probably have white boards anyway. If you go on fourth you get all the trainers watching, all of your classmates and both classes combined. I found it better this way as having more students feels natural. I’m not afraid of the trainers because they both give really good feedback and I’d rather get truth from them than not know what I’m doing.

I’m really beat and just realized that I feel like I’m not putting a very good blog post together here so I’m going to go to bed. I have super exciting news but I want to wait till tomorrow to share it.