Young Teens: deeply, madly, truly.

21st February 2019

Yes, it’s adverb time. This class was introduced to them last week, while I was happily sipping a beer in Thailand, a remarkably beautiful country which, despite being quite close to Vietnam, has a significantly different culture, atmosphere, vibe.

Tonight’s class focuses on speaking, so I’m hoping for a lively session with all students enthusiastically participating.

To begin with, there are several types of adverb:

I use a mnemonic device to help me remember the five main types: DF MPT (degree, frequency, manner, place, time).

I shall look at the adverbs they learnt last week and make a ‘run & write’ game. Class will be split into two teams; I’ll board or say a word (careful, fast, angry etc) and one person from each team will have to write it as an adverb.

To reinforce, I’ll select one of the more outgoing students to act out various scenarios, for example the student can walk carefully, speak quietly, eat quickly. Thus the students will have both written and spoken some basic adverbs.

Next, I shall try a new game, introduced by a song from The Who ‘Who are you ?‘ (which people may know as the theme from CSI:Vegas): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_3ks7-OjGc    

I’ll just use the opening bars (some versions have lyrics which are inappropriate for the classroom !)

In this game, I will put the students into small groups, and give one pupil a paper with some basic information on it:

Four People

NAME: Alan NAME: Jane

FROM: Cambridge FROM: Manchester

WEATHER: Mild and sunny WEATHER: Wet, grey, rainy

JOB: Student JOB: Lawyer

LIKES: Reading books LIKES: Shopping online

Rowing Films Badminton Cats

WHY IN VN: Exchange study WHY IN VN: Work for UK company

BEST: Lots of museums BEST: Good wifi, interesting history

WORST: Traffic & pollution WORST: Scams, noise, traffic

OPINION: Great place but too noisy

OPINION: Fascinating but walk carefully

NAME: Peter NAME: Anna

FROM: Birmingham FROM: New York

WEATHER: Grey, cold WEATHER: Very cold, very hot in summer

JOB: Journalist JOB: Electrician

LIKES: Making models LIKES: Sudoku

Travelling Football Piano Meeting friends

WHY IN VN: Writing a story WHY IN VN: Travelling around Asia

BEST: Meeting Vietnamese people BEST: Cheaper prices. Good food

WORST: Too hot. Food too spicy WORST: Extremely hot and sticky

OPINION: Incredibly noisy and humid OPINION: Amazingly fun place.

This is an exercise to help students form questions. A great way to start a speaking exercise is simply to model it first, eliciting as much information from the students. For example, I could board answers and ask the students what questions could they ask to get these answers. To broaden their vocabulary, I will demonstrate various approaches;

To enquire about my job:

What do you do for a living ?

What do you do ?

What is your occupation ?

How do you make a living ?

For my likes:

What do you like doing in your free time ?

What are your hobbies ?

What kinds of things are you into ?

The students ask the chosen student questions, then report back to the class. To make sure all the class are paying attention, I’ll ask questions and award points. It is common situation that students who are NOT presenting have very limited interest in other students who are speaking.

Depending on time, I will add a quick game where I board a basic sentence and the students have to elaborate by adding adjectives and, now, adverbs.

The student is good – The intelligent student works extremely well.

The food is nice / The weather is hot / The homework was hard / My cat is lazy.

And onto the bookwork. Today’s book mentions Cambridge (which they read about before with reference to the boat race), Buckingham Palace in London (which most of the students know is the home of the Queen) and Bristol in west England, which, I am sure, will be unknown to the students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khM7tjui86Q

This is quite a good video, as it is just visual (thus giving the students a little break, as well as introducing them to a new city), and it can be followed up by asking what people can do there ? What kind of buildings did they see ? Would they like to go there ? What did they think about it ? Interesting or boring … and then use adverbs to make their answers more interesting.

Also, I like to let the students hear different accents because in the real world, they probably will not be listening to English teachers speaking slowly, carefully and in Standard English, but to people from all over the English-speaking world or, more likely, non-native speakers. Locals from Bristol have a different accent to mine (east London but with Standard for work), so here is a short clip illustrating the difference, and it has subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qKBRnyWleU

The students can try to copy the sounds and also learn everyday fixed expressions. All in all, I’m hoping it’ll be an exciting and active class.

In keeping with the emphasis on speaking, in the reading section, one section of the class can read one paragraph, then close their books while the other students ask them questions, so here we have reading with speaking and listening skills being practised.

Adult Class Level 1: Computer World

20th February 2019

Today’s lesson is about the internet, what it’s used for, what vocabulary is associated with it and how men and women spend their time online. The main topic is ‘do men and women use the internet in different ways ?’

As a quick warm-up, the students can shout out different websites that are famous, and how they would be categorised (social media, news, commercial, blog etc).

No doubt ‘YouTube’ will be mentioned and here is a short video which ties in with the theme of a previous lesson (‘What do you want to do with your life?’). Here, 100 children are asked what they want to be. The students have to write down as many jobs as they hear, so they practice listening skills. Additionally, the children are from USA, so their accents differ from mine, exposing the class to a variety of Englishes. Some speak very clearly, other mumble so turning this into a game could be fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUup841pZrs

Statistics are widely available to show internet usage by region and by gender. One good example may be found here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/491387/gender-distribution-of-internet-users-region/

The chart can be used as an exercise in data reading and use of comparatives for example, where are the highest users of the internet and, conversely, the lowest ? Do more men or women go online ? Then adverbs can be employed to stress the difference.

We can see that, with the exception of the Americas, men use the internet slightly more than woman in their geographic area. Regarding the Americas, the amount of women compared to men is not significantly higher. Over 80% of European men access the net, but less than 20% of African women do so. Asia is often seen as being in the forefront of technology (think of Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong) yet has a surprisingly low percentage of users, less than 40% of women compared to nearly 80% of women in Europe. What could be the reasons for this ?

High-tech Asia, yet less than 40% of Asian Pacific women actually use the internet.

However, this is a level 1 class so we don’t want to delve too deeply into the reasons, we want to get the students up and talking, and one of the best ways is make them conduct a quick survey among their classmates.

Internet Survey 

Question Name Answer

How often do you go online ?







Do you use the internet for work and/or study ? How ?







What social media sites do you use regularly ? How often ?







Have you ever bought or sold anything online ?







What is good about the internet ? What is the worst ?







This is an adult class, so I’m sure someone may refer to dating sites. this will lead us into the next activity, ‘Lonely Hearts’. Here, I’ll show three men and three women, each with a brief biography, stating their likes and what they are looking for in a partner. The class, in small teams or pairs, have to match each man to a woman, then predict what will happen on the date.

This allows the students to be creative, while encouraging the use of opinion phrases and building sentences by giving reasons to support their ideas.

PETER. Age 46. Lawyer. Likes cooking, travelling, wine, driving, tennis. Divorced, 2 children. Looks for quiet lady with no children, to look after the house and him.

JAMES. Age 26. IT worker. Likes music, dancing, going to clubs, beach holidays. Single. Looks for young lady who is loud and fun, likes to party.

David. Age 22. Model. Likes fashion, clothes, cocktail bars, smoking cigars. Looks for a women who is a model so we can look great together. Must be very beautiful and wear expensive clothes.

Jane. Age 22. Likes fashion, clubbing, kittens, holidays in the sun. Looks for a man with a steady job and ‘down-to-earth’. Non-smoker only.

Lisa 28. Banker. Likes quiet restaurants, badminton, travelling. Looks for a mature man with good income for long term relationship. No boys, please !

Emily. 20. Likes dancing, fashion, going out with my friends. Movies. Wants a young, cute boy-friend so we can go to parties together. No boring old men, please !

This exercise can be used to elicit adjectives as well; the students can describe the physical appearances, and what they think the people are really like.

All the time, I’d like to encourage the students to talk more in English, reduce the teacher- student dynamic, have more open-class discussions. One way to facilitate that is to maybe repeat something controversial and see how the class react to the comment. For example, a man may say that women only use the internet for social media and gossip, men use it for important things.

Obviously, my job is to encourage students to speak with each other, to take a back seat or, as we put it, to cut down on ‘teacher-talking time.’ I’m certainly not here to foster my views or disagree with the class. However, if I feel a conversation is in danger of becoming contentious, I can point out that in Europe, USA, Australia (called ‘the west’ for convenience) such views would be unacceptable on the grounds of sexism or racism. We don’t just teach the English language; we introduce students to western culture and norms.

IELTS: Travel follow-up

19th February 2019

Last night’s class threw up several new words, fixed expressions, idioms, cultural notes and even a reference to Thai ladyboys … you had to be there !

Being exposed to new vocabulary is one of the reasons to attend a class, but language is organic; it needs to be nurtured, developed, practised and used.

To wit, here is a list of words that arose last night:

VOCABULARY

accommodate – make space for.

alternate / alternative – one of two choices / a different way of doing something.

car share – people who work or live near each other can give each other a ride, so only one car is used.

congestion / congested – blocked up, unable to move e.g. traffic jam

commuter – a person who travels to and from work.

composite – made from different things.

dozen – a set of twelve (also from French, via Latin).

flexitime – from flexible & time. A method of working where staff can arrive at different times.

fuselage – the main body of an airplane. Word is of French origin. Notice how English borrows many words from other languages.

implement – to use, to plan and then do something.

independent – free, not under anyone’s control or rule.

institute – an organisation usually academic or scientific.

reiterate – to say again, to repeat (see how the ‘re’ often means again – repeat, re-sit, re-do, redesign, re-watch)

The BBC comedy series ‘Car Share

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7uQ4F64Ew8

This show is about two co-workers who ride to and from work every day. It is set (the location) in the north-west of England, around Manchester so the accent may be harder to understand.

Idioms

not my cup of tea – a polite way of saying that you don’t like something

piece of cake – if something is very easy, or if something is not a problem.

Actually, the idiom is ‘like taking candy from a baby.’

I checked at a previous IELTS centre about the use of idioms in the course. The verdict was that one or two are totally acceptable, as it shows a deeper knowledge of English. However, they should be used appropriately, and are more suited to speaking, as opposed to writing.

Fixed expressions / phrases

according to – when you give a fact or information that someone else says.

brand new – totally new, un-used, still in the box or wrapping.

for this / that reason – because of this / that

hard to reach – difficult to get to.

mouth-watering – food that is so delicious, it makes the mouth produce saliva by smelling it or even just talking about it.

off-peak – a quiet time, either for driving and commuting, or for holidays.

off-season – a quiet time for hotels, flights and holidays.

second hand – an item that has been previously used.

turn a blind eye – to see something wrong but pretend not to notice.

Adverbs

remarkably / significantly – strong adverbs of degree, showing a high change.

quite / somewhat – mild adverbs of degree

Exercises

Use the new vocabulary in this conversation.

Peter: Sorry I’m late; the roads are so ——– (very busy). Sally: There was an accident ———-the radio (the radio said). You look ill. Peter: Well, I had —- (12) beers last night ! I’m glad we’re on ——- (not fixed time). Hey, is that a new phone ? It looks ———- (just bought). Sally: No, I got it ———– (previously used). I know an ———–(different) way to get to work. It’s on the back streets so ————– (because of) it’s empty. Peter: Less ———- (people going to work) ! ——————– (no problem !)

IELTS Talking

The student should be prepared to talk for up to two minutes. Having said that, there is one minute allowed for preparation.

The speaking can be planned in a similar way to writing; a short introduction; one idea or subject at a time; mention both something good, then bad; a short conclusion.

Avoid repetition, hesitating and speaking about something not directly related to the question. One way to ‘buy time’ to think is to use one of the following:

How can I put it ?

What’s the word ?

That’s an interesting question

Well, I hadn’t thought about that before

The examiner will also be looking for politeness and eye contact, as well as listening for intonation and pronunciation. Grammar is naturally important, but one or two minor mistakes are acceptable.

Last night we practised talking about holidays, so for practice, talk about a holiday you went on. Try to use some of the new vocabulary from above.

If you need some ideas, use these pictures for assistance:

When did you go there ?
With whom did you go ?
How did you travel there … and why ?
What did you see and do
What were the good points
Was there anything bad about the trip ?


Some extra revision can be found on this website:

http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-speaking-part-2-topics/

IELTS: Have Love, Will Travel.

10th February 2019

Lesson Notes for Monday 18th February

The theme this week is travel, and students will be expected to give an IELTS response to a question given by the examiner. To warm up (and allowing for the ‘rubber-band’ punctuality of Vietnamese), a quick exercise. Three groups of people arrive at Tan Song Nhat airport and want to get to their hotels in District 1. Maybe they have had a long journey, feel tired and disorientated, not knowing where to go.

What advice would you give them ?

What should they look out for ? What are the dos and don’ts ?

How to get from the airport to District 1

Taxis

The cost to District 1 ranges from 150,000 to 170,000 dong. Do not use USD as it is an opportunity to get ripped off. Use only the two most reliable taxi companies, Mai Linh and Vinasun.Make sure you get a metered taxi.

The cheapest way is to take public city Bus # 152.

It takes you downtown to the Bus Station on the opposite side of Ben Thanh market. The fare is 5,000 dong per person and per piece of big luggage. It runs every 20 minutes from 6 am until 6 pm.

Or you can chose the new Bus 109

Bright yellow, to the City Centre. It runs through the main streets of HCM and the final stop is at Pham Ngu Lao. They run every 15-20 minutes between 5:30 am and 1:30 am. Cost for one-way trip is 20,000 dong and the entire journey takes approximately 45 minutes.

What would you recommend for these people:

Australian business men. Arrive at 10.00 am. Have no Viet currency, only $. Very hot and tired, just want a shower and sleep.

Canadian medical students. Arrive at 14.30. Have local currency. Want to save money but be safe.

French backpackers. Arrive 02.00 am. Very little money.

For IELTS, the students should aim to speak for one – two minutes, without repeating, hesitating or going off-topic (not answering the question). Today’s exercise is to describe a journey that the student has been on. They should mention:

Types of transport used and why

With whom they travelled

Good points / bad points

Why the trip was memorable

The exercise needs to be properly introduced, points arranged logically and wrapped up with a neat concluding sentence or two. Coincidently, I’m going to Bangkok tomorrow, so we could use my experience as a model.

My old friend was visiting Bangkok and, as Thailand is close to Vietnam, I decided to take a short holiday and meet up with him.

I flew with ….

Then took the BTS Skytrain

Then a …

To my hotel. I travelled alone, however I planned to meet up with …

The highlights of the trip undoubtedly:

Not forgetting the …

And Thailand is famous for the friendliness of its people…

The only black cloud was how short the break was, and having to …

All good things must end. It was an amazing trip and the fact that I could meet an old friend made it even more memorable. I hope we can repeat the experience, sooner rather than later.

The students must flesh out the notes, using adjectives, discourse markers adverbs and interesting expressions. Along with this, the voice must depict excitement or disappointment, indicate what is factual and what is an opinion.

And, to link with the title, an appropriate travel song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20S_kwNb4rg

The Sonics ‘Have Love, Will Travel’.

Getting students talking can be a problem, so a simple ‘word bomb’ exercise could be a way of breaking the ice. I shall board the work ‘airport’ and try to elicit as much information or ideas as possible. However, one has to be sensitive to the background of the students. Many are young and would not have had the opportunities to travel that many western people take for granted.

The latter part of the lesson is dedicated to reading. To make this more interesting, I will recommend that the students work in pairs, take turns reading a paragraph, then report to their partner. This is repeated with the partner now reading and reporting to the original speaker.

Winding down, I’ve found some blogs written by non-native speakers which are positively riddled with mistakes. The students can then correct and improve the text, then read it to each other, or the class if they are feeling brave, for pronunciation exercise.

To end, we can look at some funny holiday clips from YouTube and ask if any of the students have had interesting travel experiences, all the time encouraging them to speak in longer and better composed sentences. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XyXZL9nRvo

Listen for: “You pay good money,” ‘You look forward to …” “seduced by glossy brochure,” “I mentioned it,” “pneumatic drill,” “It didn’t turn out like that.”

Adult Mechanics: Olympics – going for gold.

10th February 2019

This is a lesson plan for an adult class I teach comprised mainly of professional engineers and mechanics. The level is mixed, as is natural with all classes, but I would place most students at Intermediate level. In order to boost them to the next stage, I will introduce more expressions, higher vocabulary and more student talking time.

I’ll be trying to implement a CELTA-style plan: ‘Present, Practice, Produce’ (PPP) which basically means I demonstrate some new language, allow the students to practice and then use the language on their own, checking for pronunciation, intonation and context. The key word is PRACTICE; whatever your field, whatever natural talent you may possess, you have to be disciplined and work, train … which brings us (neatly, I thought) to our subject – the Olympics.

Aside – the themes aren’t really that important, they are merely a starting point for learning. Having said that, they have to hold some measure of interest for the student. Allow me to quote the C15th monk John Lydgate, “You can’t please all the people, all of the time.” Even if some of the students aren’t big sports fans, they will at least be aware of the Games, and should find the videos interesting and beneficial.

I’ll begin with a video about the Olympics. It’s aimed at young native speakers, which is helpful for English – learners as the language will be easier to follow. Additionally, it will introduce some European history to my Vietnamese learners, and afford them the chance to listen to native speakers at a natural pace. And now, without further ado, the video:

Video: Listening practice

Try to watch before the lesson, and make a note of any new vocabulary.

listen for: gather together/ for the length of the games/ common ground/ truce

in honour of/ originally/ ancient/ off and on/ alternating / interlocking/ myth/

Questions – Ask each other Speaking practice

When were the first Games ? When were the final (ancient) games held ?

Who was Zeus ?

How many events were there at first ? What events were later added ?

What were winners given ? 

Where and when were the first modern games staged ?

What are the Paralympics ?

What are gold medals made of ?

Why were the five colours of the rings chosen ?

What is the goal of the Olympics ?

“The most important thing is not to win but to take part.” Do you agree ?

Video:

What do you think of the video ? Give positive and negative reactions.

Try to use some of the following expressions:

specular / impressive / co-ordinated / visually stunning / you get what you pay for

a waste of money / a drain on natural resources / spectacle but no substance

Team work speaking practice

The Olympics are going to be held in Vietnam. Is this good or bad ?

Divide the class into two teams, one ‘for’, the other ‘against’.

Points to consider:

The cost – how will it be financed ?

How can it generate revenue for Vietnam ?

Impact on the environment 

Does Vietnam have the infrastructure to cope ?

Is south-east Asia a good choice in terms of climate ?

Is Vietnam a good choice ? 

Does it have big cities ? 

Does it have space for an Olympic village ?

What about crime and petty theft ? 

Are the police able to deal with the influx of crowds ?

Do the Vietnamese people care enough about sports ?

Is Vietnam enthusiastic about sports ?

Politics – people from all different countries and political beliefs will arrive. Could that be an issue ?

The legacy – what will happen after the Games are over ?

Raising awareness of Vietnam on the world stage. 

What do people think when they hear ‘Vietnam’ ?

Encourage overseas investors

Is the cost worth it ?https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/oct/23/london-2012-olympics-cost-total

This is from a ‘high-brow’ newspaper and quotes a figure of £8.921 billion. Can Vietnam afford this kind of money ? In China, a lot of money went on infrastructure such as improving airports, subways and roads, and it has been claimed that a profit of $146 was generated. However, Montreal took over 30 years to pay off debts incurred by hosting the Olympics.

Part of the London Olympic complex with the athletes village and, in the distance, the Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham football club.
Sir Paul McCartney at the Olympic opening ceremony in London 2012

What could Vietnam organise for an opening ceremony ?

Make a plan for the next lesson. Think about celebrating the country’s traditions, nature, economy, history, beauty. What would attract people to Vietnam ?

Welcome to Vietnam – the image
Welcome to Vietnam – the reality

TAs: they can be heaven, they can be hell. First school 2015 – 2016.

8th February 2019

One motivation for starting this blog page was to depict, as honestly and objectively as possible, what it’s really like teaching in Vietnam. Today I’ll focus on the teaching assistants, TAs, I’ve worked with. Some were excellent, far better teachers than I could ever be, others who were, as we say in the UK, a ‘waste of space.’

So first, what is the role of the TA. Here, I’ll quote my friend and former TA ‘Kelly’ or Ms Nguyen:

‘Kelly’, my TA for Kindergarten Class 2016. We worked for a modest, low-tech private centre, that was part of a larger international group.

Kelly, pictured above in Tet Holiday attire (absolutely gorgeous, n’est-ce pa ?), says that her duties included:

supporting foreign teachers in class,

translate instructions in case students didn’t understand,

write grade reports each term and

mark workbooks.

The last two are independent of the teacher’s work, while the second listed is self-explanatory. It’s the vagueness of the first stipulation that caused an issue or two.

In our class, Kelly worked alongside another TA and they helped me arrange the class lay-out, put up pictures or flash cards, encouraged the students to do activities as well as the more prosaic duties such as wiping noses, drying tears, washing hands and cleaning up substances of one description or another. I feel it was a good relationship though it was my first time as a teacher and I had A LOT to learn, most of which I did by making mistakes.

The first part of the class was mainly games and activities, then after break we began bookwork. The class could have up to 18 students and there was no way I could check each of their work. the TAs therefore were vital in helping me, keeping so many young learners in their seats and occupied, and correcting work. It was a joy working with them (and as you see, I’m still in contact with Kelly).

Then we come to the morning’s second lesson; young teenagers. My first TA was a reasonably nice young chap, somewhat rotund, a Dickensian whiff about him. He was in control of the marking, homework and spelling tests. Unfortunately, he had a habit of taking my class folder which I found rather irritating as I needed it as well. But then I noticed a strange phenomenon; a male student, who was by far the weakest and laziest in the class, was routinely getting top marks. Then, the plot (such as there is a plot) thickened – every time I would ask him a question, I would hear the TA ‘whisper’ or feed the answer to him.

Asking questions is essential, not to victimise a student, but simply to make sure that they understand a concept, and are able to process and form a suitable response, as well as checking for pronunciation and intonation. The students seem to think that the teacher just wants to hear ‘the answer’ and will be happy. And the Vietnamese, bless them are not the quietest nation on earth. A prompted answer can usually be heard in the next room.

It transpired that the TA was in the employ of said student’s parents, to give private lessons (and boy, did he need them). Now, let’s not be cynical. It’s possible that the lad was able to do homework by himself, referring to books. Likewise, a spelling test is just a memory test (and is zero indication of how well someone knows a language). However … a student who was, statically top of the class in homework and spelling, yet was unable to answer even the most basic of questions was highly suspicious.

Soon, both TA and student left (TA to get a ‘proper’ job, the student because his parents were furious that I didn’t approve of his progress. The mother apparently stormed into the office and let rip at the desk staff, no doubt a cause of my unpopularity at the school … but that is for another blog), and so … a new TA and, not to mince my words, as much use as a chocolate teapot (Deliberate over-use of metaphor for my non-native speaking audience … if I have one).

The TA in question was very young, quiet and shy, and appeared to have no idea of what she had to do. Marking books, fine, assisting teacher … not so much. An example, or two, will suffice.

As mentioned, this was a young teens class, so they are mostly polite but they are becoming teenagers and starting to rebel. One day, one of the top students became obsessed with the phrase ‘big bottom’, which she began saying with increased frequency and volume. A real TA would have stepped on that immediately and threatened to call her parents. Instead … nothing. It was left to me to respond and control the situation, and sometimes … well, joking aside, teachers are only human; some things get to us.

Another time, she brought some craft items into the lesson, for break time. Brilliant ! The students continued playing with the bits of this and this instead of doing the book work, thereby giving me a lot more work in class management. I was later assigned a new class and told the lackadaisical TA we would part waves. Her smile was the only emotion I ever saw her display.

My final gripe is perhaps the worst. I was not popular at this school; I couldn’t wait for my contract to end, and a lot of staff couldn’t wait to see the back of me. A lot of pettiness ensured; constant complaints about me not following rules, all of it so juvenile it really isn’t worth writing about, but there was one incident which has to be noted. I still don’t know if information was being deliberately withheld from me. What happened was this: I had the Kindergarten class (with the beautiful Kelly) then a 15-minute break before a pre-Kindergarten class. I used that time to prepare the room, put up posters and pictures, organise the books and CDs.

After putting pictures all around the room, for games and activities, one young chap ran around, knocking all the pictures flying then looked at me with a beaming smile, as if expecting a treat or a round of applause.

This type of behaviour was repeated, but my TA and I were barely on speaking terms and there was no interaction between us. She did her work, I did mine and never the twain met. Until she informed me that the aforementioned whippersnapper was ‘unwell’; he had a learning or behavioural disability. I shall address this is a separate blog, but obviously it altered everything. He wasn’t an obnoxious naughty child; he was a poor boy unable to control his actions. I suspect that she had been told this from day one (I could be wrong, so I make no accusations) but this is vital information for a teacher. It affects the whole class dynamic and approach. If she felt she was hurting me, the TA was wrong. It was the student and students that suffered.

But let’s not end on a downbeat. I had two other wonderful TAs whom I, as the saying goes, love to bits. I shall not name them as I don’t have their permission, but they know who they are. They got me through my afternoon and evening classes, organised and suggested games, assisted my (idiosyncratic) teaching or what passed for teaching, and controlled the hoi polloi, the trouble makers, the big mouths, the lazy, the unfocused, the irritating, those who are committed to driving a teacher crazy. And Vietnam has those people in spades. To Ms T and Ms A …. all my thanks 🙂

2019 – The Year of the Pig

7th February 2019

Lunar New Year in Vietnam, the country’s biggest holiday. Shops will be closed all week, if not longer, schools closed (hooray !) and roads can be relatively empty though not necessarily safer.

For the significance of the pig in Asian astrology, this link will provide some information:

https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/pig/

The New Year started on Tuesday and I was lucky enough to be invited to a typical family celebration with four generations of Vietnamese. In a garden on the outskirts of HCM, I was introduced to a grand-uncle, his children and nieces & nephews, their children and grandchildren. Outside we had this spread:

The traditional banh Tet is in the centre (Tet cake made from sticky rice and beans, sometimes with meat, sometimes sweet with banana).

The family very considerately made me eggs as I’m vegetarian. After the food, I took a nap in a hammock then headed back to town.

Yesterday, I went to Nguyen Hue walking street. Every year, people go there, admire the flower displays, take photos, people watch, dress up, see and be seen. It gets busier as the sun goes down and can start to feel uncomfortably overcrowded … and just try getting a taxi home.

This photo is from 2016 (Year of the Monkey) but it is so beautiful, I thought it was worth posting. Yes – I asked permission before taking the photo.

However, it is not all wine and roses; there is a downside to Tet. That the shops are closed all week is a minor inconvenience. It is a time of partying, of drinking and some people think nothing of getting on their motorbike and driving afterwards. Crossing the road is daunting anyway, but at Tet it can be suicidal. My first experience was in 2016. I was crossing a street in District 3, a busy, one-way street. Normally, pedestrians walk slowly and the bikes swerve behind or in front of them. Not this time. One driver swerved deliberately to hit me and I had to jump to avoid being struck. That same week, a friend of mine was knocked down by a drunken rider and left with severe bruising on her leg, and was unable to walk properly for weeks.

Then we have the noise. My area is a nightmarish aural atrocity city, wedding parties and open – air karaoke prevalent seemingly all the time.

My Tet began last Saturday – no school, no need to get up at 05.50 BUT … at 06.45 the loud speakers on the street started blaring out a Vietnamese folk song which merged into the monotonous metallic muffled mumblings of the news filtered through loud-speakers and I do mean ‘loud’.

And then the karaoke began, the jolly old karaoke.

Some people in my area seem to think they are responsible for entertaining everyone by cranking up their wretched, impossibly loud, sound system, not to a ‘Spinal Tap’ 11 but to a stadium-filling 111. The … ‘singing’ then begins. Imagine the most obnoxious person you know, the big mouth, the narcissistic know-all. Imagine said person drunk and then given a microphone … welcome to my life. Karaoke isn’t a sprint … it’s a marathon, an all-dayer. One would think that after some hours the novelty would wear off, or at least the vocal chords would give out. Not a chance. The screaming and screeching continues ad nauseam.

I appreciate it’s a holiday and a chance for music and celebration but having to listen to moronic moaning is excruciating. One can forget watching a quiet film or reading a book. Studying Wittgenstein ? Good luck … it ain’t gonna happen.

Crime also rises during this period. I’ve been informed that because many leave to city (to return to their family home) swarms of undesirables come to the city and commit petty theft. Nguyen Hue is a major attraction and therefore a major pick-pocket hotspot. And some of the thieves are terrible – I had a young lady put her hand in my pocket with all the grace and delicacy of a raging hippo. I told a policeman or security guard and he merely nodded. Maybe they were under surveillance … maybe.

Like a lot of holidays, it does tend to drag on too long. However, next week, I’m off to Bangkok to meet up with an old friend, eat some scorching curries and to enjoy a week of traffic lights and road safety. And NO karaoke.

Young Teens: Unesco Sites.

31st January 2019

Lesson Plan

What happens next: Show four clips and ask students to guess what will happen next. Introduce the word ‘predict’, model, then encourage the use in sentences (I predict the man will ….).

Following the clips and slides about fortune telling, the students can interview each other:





What are you going to do for Tet Holiday ?
Do you believe in fortune telling ? Why ?
Have you had your fortune told ? Why not ?
Do you have any superstitions ?
Do you think you are going to pass your English test ?
What special things are you going to do at Tet ?

The students must ask two classmates the same question and then record the response. If needed, prompt with questions about special Tet customs.

With the video clips, what better way to start than with former President G.W. Bush: The clip I want starts at 7:14

Next one is the elephant clip at 1:54 

The following should please my students as it involves some fighting). 

Finally, this clip can start at 0:05

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPyFzLeRYpg 

On the board I’ll write some collocations – reading palms, telling fortunes, predicting the future.

Role-playing: the students can pretend to tell their partner’s fortune. The subjects, more appropriate to this age, can be: school, future job, university, holiday, a surprise, travel, making a new friend.

Before the book work, featuring World Heritage Sites, a short video. Students must try to remember as much information as possible https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tpA11u2jdQ

Real-world examples are a great way to introduce new vocabulary and phrases. In this clip, I can focus on: former / iconic / sparking interest / pass up the opportunity.

On slips of paper, I’ll write the ten sites, while on the board, I’ll write ten countries. The students, in pairs and as a race, will have to find the site associated with the country and stick it on the board. A chance to burn off some energy before the book work. If the class is too rowdy after a fun game (which can happen, a victim of its own success), I’ll do a quick Hangman game using vocabulary from a previous lesson (sonnet, conscious, reporter, lawyer, suddenly, meanwhile …)

After the bookwork, I can do some more run ‘n’ write games. I’ll write an incorrect sentence on the board and a student from each team must rewrite. First one to finish, including punctuation, wins.

I’m not expecting a lot of motivation so close to a major holiday, so we can end with a video of their choice. As long as it’s in English … teaching without teaching, and letting them leave with a smile … hopefully.



Recycling lessons: “Reissue, repackage, repackage …”

31st January 2019

One of the less interesting aspects of teaching is lesson planning; I can easily spend an hour or more trying to make activities or find suitable video clips for a class. It can be worthwhile if said activity is a success, but quite often the reverse occurs leaving one with a sense of futility. All that time wasted …and for what ?

To counter this we can, with the necessary tweaking, use and reuse parts of previous lessons for different classes and thereby justify the time spent on creating slides that may only have been employed for a few minutes (having taken considerably longer to create).

It’s early afternoon, I have two more classes at my centre this week, one for young teens the other for actual teens, and I’m not entirely enamoured of either class. Still, needs must … so I open the student book, and see the subject is UNESCO (which should be interesting) but then I see the vocabulary; words such as ‘heritage’. I see the general knowledge section, mentioning places such as Pompeii, then referencing the Tower of Hercules. My students are Vietnamese and most, if not all, attend public schools. At age ten, eleven, twelve, it is highly unlikely they will know these places. It is also highly unlikely they will want to know these places.

There’s going to have to be some pre-teaching before the main book work and, as it’s Tet Holiday next week, I’m think I’m justified in making the lesson more game or activity based. Tet is also a time of tradition and superstition, which was the subject of last night’s adult class, so I will be able to re-use some slides, video clips and class work. The adults were at level 1, so their language skills are about the same, if not less, then these young teens. Furthermore, I will adapt and recycle for tomorrow’s class thus making the effort totally viable in terms temporal (“I never knew you wrote such bloody awful poetry,”).

As in cinema, my centre favours a ‘show don’t tell approach.’ Therefore, I’ll show a short YouTube clip about Unesco. There will be ten sites, and I’ll write the countries on the board. On paper, I’ll write the names of the sites and I’ll stick them around the room, making sure that they remain there and not torn down, eaten or generally mutilated in some way. Telling students (at least in Vietnam) NOT to do something is an sure-fire invitation for them to do exactly what they have been admonished NOT to do and I kid you NOT. In my first centre, which was modest and low-tech, the rooms had old, cantankerous CD players. Students were told not to touch them. I walked into class one day and found one boy sitting with the plug in his mouth, sucking happily away. He wasn’t a Kindergarten child … he was in his early teens.

Back to the use of video clips; I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for appropriate clips. So many videos take forever to start, with opening credits and endless introductions that are merely exercises in tautology. If one can find a clip that “does what it says on the tin,” bookmark it – It’s gold.

I can also reuse slides showing various aspects of Tet Holiday and ask the students what they mean – what is ‘lucky money’ ? What special food is eaten, what clothes are worn … and why ? At this age, some role-playing could be fun … the students can act out for me the procedure for giving and receiving lucky money.

Another useful teaching ‘trick’ is to reverse the class dynamics, and have the students teach me Vietnamese, correct my pronunciation and grade my performance. They learn different English skills here, to instruct as opposed to being instructed, and as it’s fun and they are in control, it doesn’t seem like a lesson … but it is. We teachers can be a pretty sneaky bunch … we have to be … however the only object is to make sure the students leave the class having learnt new words and been given the chance to practise using them. The ends justify the means.

Adult Class Level 1. Cross my palm with silver …

30th January 2019

The theme of tonight’s class ?

It doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict tonight’s lesson is about … fortune telling, predictions and the use of the future tense phrase ‘going to.’ Firstly, I will make some predictions about tonight’s class:

  1. Most students will be late
  2. I shall ask students to work together and speak English; they shall speak in Vietnamese
  3. At least one student will fall asleep
  4. During the reading and listening section, there will be sighs, yawns and clicking of pens
  5. I shall encourage students to get up, move around, speak with different partners; nobody will move.

And now, without further ado, the lesson plan

I’ll show a slide of the above five images and elicit feedback. This will lead into the first speaking activity, where I want to combine the theme with practising ‘going to’, as well as getting the students up and talking. To this end, I’ll prepare a questionnaire. The students have to interview each other.

What are you going to do for Tet Holiday ?




Do you believe in fortune telling ? Why ?




Have you had your fortune told ? Why not ?




Do you have any superstitions ?




Do you think you are going to pass your English test ?




What special things are you going to do at Tet ?




The students must ask two classmates the same question and then record the response. If they need some prompting about special Tet customs, I can show the following webpage and ask them if they agree:

https://www.victoriahotels.asia/blog/10-things-to-know-about-lunar-new-year/

As it’s Tet next week, and this is the last lesson of the short teaching block, I want to make the lesson more entertaining. Tying in with the theme of predicting future actions, I’ll show some funny clips. I’m sure you can guess the task; the students watch a normal situation, then have to predict what happens. What better way to start than with former President G.W. Bush: The clip I want starts at 7:14

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhmdEq3JhoY

Next one is the elephant clip at 1:54

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUVuaja6u0E

The following should please my students as it involves some Chinese (the Vietnamese have certain views on the Chinese, but this is not an appropriate forum to discuss that).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H4gLEOmWrY

Finally, this clip can start at 0:05

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPyFzLeRYpg

And so … to books. My classes generally focus on the passive activities of reading and listening, hence my desire to promote as much speaking as possible. After the books, there will be some role-playing games where the students will be given some cards (depicting money, travel, luck etc) and they have to ‘read’ their partners fortune. We could see who can make the most outlandish predictions. New vocabulary can be generated by a ‘word bomb’ game, using the word ‘luck’, for example how to form the adjective from the noun and vice versa (success and successful), as well as encouraging the use of adverbs; he will be tremendously successful, she will be incredibly famous, they will marry and be unbelievably happy.

If time allows, I can do an exercise where students practise opinion phrases. I can play some English-language music, maybe three excerpts from three different genres, and ask what they think of them; which are their favourites and why.

After Tet, the students have some English tests. I will offer to help, ask the students if they want to revise any subject, if they want me to go over any grammar. I think we can all predict the answer to that one.