Tag Archives: Elementary School

Just A Minute

Welcome to Just A Minute

A recording of “Just a Minute” by Diamond Geyser on Flickr

Those of you not from the UK may be unaware of BBC Radio 4. It’s a wonderful mix of news, debate, documentary and especially comedy. It’s where many British comedies (including Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen) got their first, pre-TV airings. I think it’s the jewel in England’s public service broadcasting crown and probably justifies the cost of the license fee alone.

One of the longest running shows on BBC Radio 4 is called Just a Minute. The rules are simple, four contestants play, and one is given a subject to speak on for one minute without hesitating, repeating themselves or deviating from the subject. If they do, the other players can challenge, and if successful, gain a point and steal the topic and the rest of the time. The player speaking when the minute is up is awarded a point. If you speak for the entire minute without a successful challenge you also get a point.

This game has been in my mind almost as long as I’ve been teaching English. About three weeks into my career I think I tried a listening class based on a show, followed by an attempt to play the game with a class of intermediate students. It was pretty much a disaster. The language, which is always playful and laced with cultural references shot straight over my bewildered students heads, and they found playing the game with the original rules almost impossible. Not surprising really, it’s difficult for a native speaker and even the pros very rarely get through the whole minute. With a little adjustment though, the basic concept can be used in any kind of classroom, and the point of today’s post is to share two things that have worked very well for me in the past.

The first is really useful where you want students to memorize something, which for better or worse happens often in Korea. I found it particularly useful as a substitute or addition to the listen and repeat with the dialogues in the elementary textbooks. You can apply it anywhere though, including trying to recall text in a kind of spoken dictogloss, role plays or imitating speeches or even just pronunciation. Here are the steps:

  1. Pre-teach the terms “hesitation” and “deviation / mistake/ error” (whatever you choose to call them).
  2. Group the students into however many speakers the text has (eg if you’re doing a dialogue, put the students in pairs). Now match these groups up with 3 or 4 other groups, so you have several larger groups.
  3. Give the first pair a prize. I use candy. Tell them they cannot eat it yet, and other pairs in the group can steal it.
  4. Tell all the participants you will play/read/show a text/recording. They have to memorize as much as they can.
  5. The first pair then has the first chance to try to repeat the text exactly. The other pairs listen. If they hear a hesitation or deviation, they can challenge and steal the prize and attempt to recreate it themselves.
  6. The teacher can replay any or all of the text at any given time.
  7. The pair that completes the text unchallenged gets to eat the candy.

This activity has great benefits for listening for linguistic detail, and noticing the differences between expert production and the students’ own. It also makes sure that the non-speaking students are really focused on their peers’ output, and not just using the time to take a break.

The second thing I’d like to share is my version of the game for a Korean classroom. I did this with my lowish level high school students and they managed it OK, and had great fun. I’ve played a little fast and loose with the rules here, and devised a much more motivating scoring system (the beauty of the original game is that competing comes a distant second to being witty, but that doesn’t work so well with teenagers). I also took out repetition and replaced it with a “language” challenge for if the student makes a mistake. Here’s the Powerpoint:

Just a Minute.ppt (Original PPT to download)

What I found whilst playing the game is that carefully selected topics can be great for eliciting points of grammar and lexis that you have previously worked on, and for having the teams listen for them with specific challenges.

Of course, the game does rather focus on errors, so it may be worth explaining to your students that it is just a game, and that the mistakes don’t matter so much outside of it. I think it also has a lot of potential to build fluency, so be careful to select topics that students are already well familiar with. In this way, it will hopefully build, rather than destroy their confidence 🙂

However you use it, I hope you have fun.




Describing people – Is vs. Has

She is blue eyes.”

My grade 5 elementary learners are doing descriptions of people at the moment. Most of the vocabulary gets picked up quite quickly: tall, short, thin, fat, long hair, big eyes etc. are no problem until it comes to using them in sentences, when suddenly constructions like “She is big eyes” or “I have tall” start to appear. This is a fairly common problem for Korean learners, as ways of describing people are very different in their L1. For example you literally say “height big” in Korean, as there is no copula with adjectives, and no concept of “tall” expressed in a single word.

It’s difficult to explain quite why and how you choose whether you need “has” or “is” for something like “long hair”, without using an awful lot of complex language which is of course way above the students’ level. In general I find it’s just better just to drill them until they produce the forms without thinking, but to help them in forming new expressions I came up with an easy and fun way to differentiate the two. The rule is:

If you can draw it separate from the body or face, use “has”. If you can’t, use “is”.

It also makes for a nice reminder for students when they make an error like “She is blue eyes” and you can draw something like the picture at the head of this post. Actually, that’s more creepy than anything else, but it seemed to work in my class.

As with everything in language learning, there’s an exception. I’ll leave you to guess what that is from this picture. Answers and other exceptions in the comments below.


Yes, I failed my perspective drawing class.


Toodle pip.


Lesson plan: six-word stories

New pens

New pens by Churl on Flickr (well worth reading the comments on this photo!)

I went back to thieving / borrowing / appropriating (delete as appropriate) from the blogosphere this week, combining a couple of lesson ideas into a lesson that ended up being one of my better ones this year for engaging students. My sources this time were the six word stories activity I read about on Teaching Village, combined with an idea i took from the (now sadly defunct) Kalinago English. My lesson plan was very simple. Give them a photo to write a six word story for, allow the class to vote for their favourites (and award points), then ask the class to correct any errors they see. The twist is that if you correct an error in a team’s sentence you can steal a point from them for your team. The team with the most points at the end of the lesson wins a piece of candy each.

This is a really easy lesson to do if you have a computer in your classroom connected to some kind of viewing device (as almost every classroom does in Korea.) All that is required are some interesting photos from Flickr put into a Powerpoint with a text field embedded beneath them. If you’re not sure how to do this, just modify the presentation below. I should note that I forgot to credit the photo owners in my presentation. My sincere apologies for this – get in touch if they’re yours and I’ll attribute them to you.

Lesson plan to download

Edit: I’ve since made a further Powerpoint based on this activity. You can read the post and download it here.

This lesson is wonderful for tidying up student grammar on a sentence level. It doesn’t really help much on a wider level, but my students still make a lot of very basic errors, so this is really helpful for them. The level of interest in almost all of the classes I tried this with was excellent. Most surprising was my second year vocational group, who I usually struggle to find anything to do with, suddenly becoming desperate to score points from each other, and fiercely debating points of grammar, meaning and punctuation. I really wish I could do this lesson every week with them, as they produced some of the best work of any of my classes. As important as the micro-grammar that this practices is the room to check that the meaning of sentences is entirely accurate. In one class we had a long discussion as to whether a dog was biting a face or a neck, and then realising that it was in fact “will” bite. I think that subtleties like this are almost more important than the grammar work done in this lesson.

For the most part I think that students really get a lot out of correcting each others errors. It makes them think of the grammar they know in detail, and it’s also a great chance to get one over on their friends. It’s also pleasing to see how quickly they improve when they get to the second and third stories – everything is nicely written and perfectly punctuated. I do have a slight worry that perhaps students opt for the simple to avoid errors, but I would hope that a good idea would inspire them to try some more difficult language. There was also the problem of one class who seemed less willing to point out their friends’ errors, though the other ten classes I tried this with were much keener.

I’m going to leave the final words to my students, with some of the best contributions for each picture. If some are more than 6 words, it’s because they are post-correction.

“ Your face is my frisbee ma’am!”
The flying dog will bite her face.
“That is my very favourite prey.”
“Oh here is very big pork.”
The dog really hates her owner.
Pretty dog fights dirty grandmother.
In fact, dog’s related to Dracula.
She carefully inspects the dog’s mouth.

He looks like he has crossed eyes.
“Are you looking at my teeth?”
“Help me find my nose please.”
“I will destroy the beautiful earth.”
The snot gets out in my mouth.
I can not smell without nostrils.
He is Voldemort’s brother. Wow.
I am a baby bird, okay?
He is very, very, very sick.
Ugly boy is exposed to radiation.
He has such a big yawn.
The man is evolving to a bird.
This is a funny candy ad.

He watches a very hot movie. .
My eyes shine when she’s close. .
Hello! I am handsome guy Tae-gwang. .
I was so scared of you.

“Wow! Amazing! I am a lazerman!” .

And that is all for now I think. If anyone wants tobuy any of my students’ lines for inclusion in a  book or film, please make your offers in the comments section below.


A more interactive quiz

A popular way of reviewing in Korean public schools is to use Powerpoint games. Just a quick scan through waygook.org will find you many an example of games where you can input questions about the material just learnt. These games work really well, the kids love them and it makes for a very easy lesson. The one problem I had with them, is that often only one student is working at a time answering the question, the rest are just sitting passively. It’s also a real pain thinking up 40 questions each time that you want to do a quiz. I wanted to come up with something a little better.

I’ve read a lot recently about communicative and unplugged teaching, and moving the focus away from the teacher, and teaching “materials light”. It’s an important thing for me as I have little time to plan, so I’ve been thinking of more ways to shift some of the burden onto my learners (all in the name of learning, of course). All this led me to come up with the quiz below, where the learners are guided into setting the questions for other teams. The way I’ve set it up here, there are 5 types of question: pictionary (draw an animal for your team to guess), charades (act an action for your team), question (ask a question), spelling (spell a word) and sentence (write a sentence). Take a look.

Make Your Own Questions Game

The first times I ran this game it didn’t go that well, as teams took aaaaaages to think of questions, and so the game had no flow whatsoever. What worked better was asking teams to write one item for each question type from every member of their team before the game started. The answering team could choose the team to receive a question from, and that team could choose which of their questions to ask. This worked much better, and made the game much more exciting as the “lucky wheel”* was spinning very regularly.

Obviously the question types can be changed to suit the kind of reviewing you want to do. Mine is only a very rough idea, and I’m sure someone out here could refine this very nicely to fit alongside the elementary textbook. It’s a useful thing to have on your USB drive anyway; anyone familiar with the somewhat unpredictable nature of Korean education will appreciate the need to have a few instant, no-prep activities up their sleeve.

* The “Lucky Wheel” template is not my own work. I downloaded it from waygook.org. I’d love to credit whoever did come up with it, but there’s no information in the Powerpoint file. If you did do it, and you want credit here, please shoot me an email.

Online Mapping Services

As part of my MA course, I had to write a review of a textbook I was familiar with. The only one I use regularly is with my elementary school classes, as provided by the government here. I wasn’t particularly kind, accusing it of not providing any kind of genuine communicative activities, and at times harking back to the audio-lingual method.  Writing the review reminded me that as much as possible I needed to come up with my own activities.

My elementary students were struggling a little to get to grips with the directions unit, and the book only provides a few dry, top down maps to practice with. They are contrived, yet still don’t make it very easy to apply the language. My students were not really connecting with what they were being asked to do. I wanted an activity which was a little more communicative, and was based more in the real world than the book’s world. Fortunately, living in a small town in Korea meant that I had a ready-made and real location that all of my students were familiar with.

I made a kind of treasure hunt (PPT here: Shopping Trip to Jinbu *) using some of the places vocabulary from the unit, and then using Daum.net’s wonderful mapping service we ‘walked’ around the town on “road-view” with the students giving each other directions to the places they knew. All of a sudden there was a real desire in my students to use the language and get to the place to uncover the next clue (sadly I didn’t find a way to embed the clues on the map). They also, almost without realising it, spent the entire lesson communicating with me, and each other in English. They looked almost surprised when I told them this at the end.

I only used the first person view for my exercise, as I wanted the students to get used to using the language in real time, but if you wanted to test planning skills you could try planning routes top down and then have students ‘walk’ them through on road-view. The detail on the pictures is also good enough to read the text on shop widows, so you could plan a real treasure hunt around your area. Of course, Daum only really works if you teach in Korea, but there’s also Google Maps. I used their “street-view” towards the end of last semester to give some students a guided tour of the village in the UK where I grew up. This also really captured the students’ imaginations, and we ended up also taking a tour of Baker St. as one had just read Sherlock Holmes.

Online maps are a great way to have fun, explore the world and bring some reality and authenticity into your classroom. I’m sure there are many other ways that they could be used. If you have any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments section.


*Once again, I think you’ll need the font for this. It’s called Fh-nicole and available here.

Collaborative Writing Class

The Raw Materials

There can’t be that many people who take a winter break in the UK, and with good reason. Landing at Heathrow in the 4pm twilight and light drizzle almost made me pine for Korea straight away. OK, it may have been about -20C when I left, but at least it was sunny. It was sunny when I arrived back in Korea too, to the news that I’d had an extra school added to my schedule. Better yet it was a middle school, meaning that I would now teach every single school grade in Korea, from 1 to 12. With 25 hours of classes, about two thirds of which have no coursebook, and an MA to do, it was clear I’d have to find some way of cutting down on my planning time.

I really enjoy doing writing with my younger learners. Their creativity has yet to be buried by a slew of exam preparation so creative, narrative based activities work well with them. I have been keen to do some story writing with groups this term. Writing also helps them to see patterns within English written down in front of them, so it helps with their grammar. Also errors can be spotted, analysed and corrected in a more relaxed fashion than in spoken text, and errors specific to an individual are easy to spot and work on.

I’m also increasingly developing a belief (and I’m not alone in this) is that reading is a far more useful activity when it is interactive, and the listener has some say in the direction of what they are reading. I remember reading adventure books when I was younger which gave you a choice of destiny at the end of each section you read. If you wanted to explore the cave, you turned to page 42; if you wanted to continue climbing the mountain you turned to page 60. I wondered if it was possible to do something similar even with my elementary school pupils, whose reading levels are extremely low and for whom there simply aren’t printed materials like this (as far as I’m aware).

Sat at my desk with some of this running through my head, I started with the problem of providing level appropriate reading materials for my kids. I didn’t have time to write them, and I couldn’t find any on the web. How could I get hold of some quickly and easily? Suddenly it was obvious. All that needed to happen was for other kids to write the material. Any Korean elementary student is going to understand what another student writes. From there the idea for my class took shape. All I needed to do was buy a set of notebooks, and carry them with me when I go to my elementary schools. In our 40 minute after school class at one school, my students and I would write part of a story. Then at the other school the students would add to it. Gradually, over the course of a semester, the students would collaborate to read and write a story.

So far, I’m a week and a half into the project. For the first week I set some fairly tight guidelines. This is to stop them racing ahead with the story and finishing it within two weeks – this has to last me a large part of the semester. I’m making sure we do some careful scene setting and character development. All one group had to do was to write 6 sentences describing their character using the pattern “He/She is…”; the other group had the same template but had to create an animal sidekick for the character. It was interesting to see what they did within the guidelines. Some wrote a simple list of adjectives, others delved into the present progressive. Anything was fine as long as it started “He/She is” (I actually let one or two groups break this stipulation if they had something they really wanted to say. One of the things I did encourage was the use of dictionaries to introduce new vocabulary, which I hope will be recycled over the course of the story.

The second week is all about the characters’ likes. To try to give it a communicative feel, I’m asking students to write about the other school’s character’s likes. These have to be connected in some way to the description written the previous week. For example, the “furry fish” character created liked styling his hair. In this way students have to understand what was written previously and use it to build their own contribution.

I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure where this project is going yet. I want to do some scene setting and I was inspired by this post to do some work with the five senses. I’ll have one group describe (and draw) the scene, and then the following group describe it for each sense. After that, who knows? If anyone out there has done anything like this before I’d be thrilled to hear any ideas that you have.

I’ll write about this again soon, as I’m excited to see where it goes. One huge positive is that it has already de-stressed my after school classes. I’m no longer spending hours planning stuff, the students are doing more work, communicating with children they don’t even know, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Updates and perhaps a peek at some of their work to come.