We're not all going on a summer holiday

A two-month teaching diary until May rolls around again

I'd like to begin by thanking another forum out there for bringing my musings to an even wider audience by cutting and pasting my February article into their pages. The critique given, while amusing, was off-kilter though because the piece was so obviously intended for new teachers or those looking for a fresh perspective.

So, school is out. If you're going on holiday either in or out of Thailand, lucky old you, I hope that you have a great time. The closest I'll get this half of the year will be the gentle Pi Mai festival in Laos to escape the onslaught of Songkran. Fortunately the two coincide. Six days this year? Then on the seventh I shall recross!

Here's my teaching diary until the new school year:

The first half of this is usually very quiet for me and I normally just mix the sweltering Isaan sunshine with the cheapest beer in the country. Both are off limits to me this year for health reasons and for once I'm not complaining!

However, I have been given the opportunity to help an adult prepare for an overseas trip. It'll be the students' first time out of the country and I'm always happy to help a local who finds themselves with what must be an exciting but daunting proposition.

I have several friends who have traveled throughout Central and South America and they say that you are absolutely stuck unless you can speak Spanish [or Portuguese in Brazil just to be picky]. All hail the picture dictionary!

Do you remember those crappy phrase books that your parents used to buy before a family holiday in a non-English speaking country?

Well, I'm going to be combining the intention of those with the directness of a picture dictionary, but I've only got 3 hours a week for 4 weeks to do it in.

Thankfully, the EFL section of about.com has come to my rescue. The site itself has been around for years [it was one of the first dot.coms to go public I believe, and it's STILL here!] and its EFL section is substantial.

Just like the games section of Dave's ESL Café, the site is not something that should be resorted to in a hurry.

It isn't very well ordered, search results bring back more things that you didn't ask for than what you did and quite often the same content is repeated under different link names.

But take your time and it's pretty much all there: handouts, dialogues, quizzes and audio, for both on- and offline use, in class and at home. But you'll need to go to Google Images for complementary pictures though.

This is where about 30% of my regular weekday students return for special summer classes. I teach two 1.5 hour classes a day both of which are always good fun.

Rather than decline these classes I embrace them because I normally have class sizes of 50+ students and special summer classes give me the chance to build an even better rapport with many of my best and favourite students.

I teach P1 to 4 and for me basic grammar is normally taboo until P4 because the majority of students are not particularly motivated by it. Would you be if you had a Ben 10 comic or a Little Princess dress ‘n' colour book burning away in your bag?

Local teaching support isn't available for these classes and I find that I don't need it.

I play an energy burning English game at the start of each class, for example Chair/Prepositions where I have students make a well spaced line with their chairs and then call out instructions, i.e. ‘stand on your chair', ‘put your head under your chair', etc. The last one to complete an instruction is out and the last player in wins.

Regardless of the smiles and laughs you may get the first time out, if students don't ask to play a particular game again, either immediately or sometime shortly there afterwards, then don't play it again. Take it as a cue. Yes, you scored on that one occasion but it was an own goal and luckily for you a semi-amusing one.

Once students are settled, I start to introduce basic grammar and the subsequent verbal, writing and quiz activities that follow it, i.e. What is a noun? I always write up a few examples on the board and then elicit further responses from students.

I then move on to the next column, i.e. verbs, adjectives, etc.

By the end of the summer program, students read texts and are able to identify grammar words by circling them in different colours, ie. red = noun, green = adjective, blue = verb, etc.

I always play background music as I find that this relaxes students even further and if they know the songs and can sing along with them while they're working, then even better. For some reason Robbie Williams' "She's The One" goes down an absolute storm with P2 to 4!

Now that the dust and talcum powder have caked firmly over the new year celebrations, I have the pleasure of teaching two M4, 5 or 6 classes a day.

I'm always very clear about one thing. Were this an English speaking or European country, this time would still be holiday time for these students, all of whom during term time have to study for six days a week and have to complete mountains of homework.

I make it so that I AM their summer holiday and I make my classes as fun and lively as possible.

As mentioned previously, I teach P1 to 4 and there is a massive leap between 3 and 4. In the latter, English suddenly starts to become a lot more complicated.

You can see this is in the textbooks. Photographs and more grown-up pictures start to replace cartoon-style drawings and much larger blocks of text and comprehension activities begin appearing everywhere. But it doesn't stop at P4; it goes on all the way to M6.

If you've suddenly raised an eyebrow then you've got my point.

Back to my M4, 5 or 6 summer classes. I always start and finish with team games and the rowdier the better. This prepares and rewards students for the interesting/engaging English activities that I give them.

NB these have to be trendy and teen focused otherwise you'll lose them.

I use Thai teen and TV gossip magazines and introduce and build up listening, speaking, reading and writing activities around the pictures and people in them.

With the help of students, I use the Internet and a projector to find Thai music and movie sites and do the same as above.

If there's a major sporting event on, this we have the World Cup of course, I always do activities around these. Girls are just as interested in football as boys but sometimes for slightly different reasons.

I always allocate students into workgroups of 5 or 6. It takes the pressure off of the weaker students and allows everybody to play at least a small part.

As a reward, I let students throw their own party on the last day, whereby they bring snacks, soft drinks and music, etc.

Not long ‘til May, eh?


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