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Teaching English in Korea: Activity Doodles

At my desk I always tried to have a few black pens, a pencil, ruler, eraser. In between or after getting through some book corrections before the kids arrived I created doodled away at some exercises, mostly to focus myself on what I wanted to cover and what students of some class should/could know.

Each doodle was for a particular class. Some students love to draw and colour, while older ones tended to like puzzles. After I had amassed a little stack, I randomly gave activities out to students who had finished book work.

Some doodles were reviews of material covered, while others targeted problem areas that I found cropping up repeatedly with the Korean students. There, they’re or there? I, me, my? Its or it’s? These are simple though compared to the minefields of English idioms and prepositions- especially prepositions combined with verbs. Jump in, jump around, jump on, jump off, jump at. I noticed students getting frustrated when they reached a certain level and starting to chip away at the endless ocean of the idiomatic or regional English phrases.
Pronunciation causes problems too. For starters, English is incredibly variable whereas Korean is far more predictable.

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?

In Hangul, the Korean alphabet, there is one character for R and L sounds, and no character for F or V. Also the sound of ‘SEA’ does not occur- it will be pronounced as ‘SHE’. I used tongue twisters like ‘She sells sea shells on the seashore”, or “Four fat frogs fought five fit fish on the first Friday of February”, or “Learn library rules really well” regularly to practice the sounds. I used two words from the last one, “library” and “learn”, to test new or advanced students to see what level they were at. “Learn” seems particularly difficult for Korean students.

Another note on pronunciation is that the younger students were often better at getting the sounds, while older ones (12+) were much harder to motivate into really making an effort and tended to stick with a heavy Korean accent. I think it was embarrassing at that age for already shy students to speak with a foreign accent. Those who had mastered them at a younger age were happy to oblige.

Towards the end of my time in this school I introduced songs and music. I was afraid that it would be too distracting, that students would go into party mode, and in the close connections from student to student to parent to Hakwon boss, I would soon be reprimanded. I had some great classes though, especially with songs like the Lion Sleeps Tonight2, where we wrote all of the words on the board and roared it out. While a couple of guys didn’t participate, the majority, including me, got caught up in a feelgood song about a lion-surrounded African village that was first recorded way back in 1939. Another great one is Fool’s Garden “The Lemon Tree”. Everyone knew the song so we learned a couple of verses- I tried to get students to tell me the words as we listened. I also made doodles where I wrote out most of a song’s lyrics and got students to fill in missing words by listening. Simple dictation, but I tried to pick songs that they liked, and even get them to pick the songs.

Doodling was a way of learning for me, for keeping my sanity and interest while machine-correcting books and homework, a way of coping with lulls in book activities in the classroom, and a kind of reward for students, as I tried to make them whimsical and fun and local (using local places, events, and people). Of course some went down like lead balloons and had to be abandoned, but others worked well.

  1. Richard Krogh []
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