Adult Class, Level 3: If I make them learn, it’ll be a miracle !

22nd April 2019

Cutting it a bit fine, as this lesson begins in just over four hours. I’ve substituted this class before and, being diplomatic, they need a non-standard teaching method. Just going through the course book, expecting students to do the assigned work – to talk together in English, to practice and produce – is for the birds ! It ain’t gonna happen, brother !

What we have here is a class of teenagers … yeah … an adult class comprised solely of teenagers … to answer Bob Geldof, that is WHY I don’t like Mondays.

The answer … simply to be crazier than the students. It has the element of surprise.

Last time, after preparing thirty minutes of activities and getting no response, I sat next to the students and MADE them speak to me. I asked one boy (yes, he was still in school uniform) a question and it was a deer caught in the headlights – “He’s asking me a question … in English … and expects me to answer ?”

So, without further ado, tonight’s lesson plan which involves First conditional, future clauses, reading and speaking. On the surface, I’m dead in the water – however, I have some tricks up my sleeve ….

First activity will be something I learnt from my time with a theatre group (never more than five people but that constitutes a ‘group’). I’ll draw a red dot on the floor and get all the class to stand around it (yes, I know getting the class up from their chairs will probably take up most of the lesson). The exercise is to focus all of our energy at the spot. We start be pointing our right hand at it for eight seconds, then changing to our left hand, our right leg followed by our left. This is repeated for four seconds, two seconds and finally one second. I think it’s a fair bet that none of the students have started a lesson in that manner before.

Next, I shall invoke the help of my friend Dali. I shall make the students say his name, elongating it as long as possible, while twirling my (imaginary) moustache. Then I shall show them his photo and an example of his work:

I will try to elicit, to get feedback, from the class. Last week, I covered this class and I did a lesson about personality adjectives. How would they describe Dali, just from his picture, and what do they think about his art ? I will guide them towards the subject, the colours, the background. Hopefully, it will be inspiring to at least some of the students.

Now, grammar time, First Conditional.

If I have 10 million VND, I will buy a Honda motorbike.

Conditional + subject + verb …… (comma) sub + will + verb …

First conditional uses present tense ( have) and will do something. It is used when something is very possible. In Vietnam, 10 million VND is not an impossible amount for a basic motorbike.

HOWEVER, If I had 100 million VND (not so likely) I would buy ….

To test comprehension, I’ll board some incorrect sentences and see if the students can change them:

If you’ll learn English you are get a good job

My mum will hit me unless I does get good grades

She won’t going to bed until he came home

If you buy an Apple X, you would be happy

After you leave the class, you would be terribly sad.

Finally, in this rather short post, some pre-teaching for the reading section.

The words are:








took up


How could they apply them to the following pictures:

Both Mozart and Beethoven were incredibly gifted children. Mozart’s first composition was written when he was just five years old.

President Trump plans to build a wall between USA and Mexico. Not everyone thinks this a good idea, while some totally approve of it. It has made many people very angry.

Now, how about this sign I saw in Indonesia (Yes – this is genuine, hand on heart) ?

How would they describe this young lady:

And finally, what do they students understand by this picture ?

So, we shall see how my little rebels deal with the lesson. If all else fails, I can make then sit through some REAL music:

Now, that’s a chopper !

Teenage Class: The Truth is Out There.

Saturday 12th January 2019

The theme of the lesson is ‘trust and truth,’ and is split between reading and listening in the first half, followed by a speaking section in the second.

It’s also my first time with this class as their permanent teacher, so getting off to a good start is paramount. This means having fun and creating a conducive learning atmosphere but also stating class rules and stating the consequences for breaking said dictums.

I’ll start with a STB game. Students will probably be arriving up to fifteen minutes late, so they won’t miss any new work, while those who manage to arrive on time aren’t left waiting around. The game can be used to review recently-learnt vocabulary (in the last lesson I see they encountered such phrases as ‘off the beaten path’, ‘culture shock’ & ‘left to your own devices.’

We can then talk about different cultures. I’ll show a little of this YouTube clip (it has English subtitles which is great for my students, and the speaker is from USA so he has a different accent to mine).

Following this, I’ll show my Friends (men) sheet (I’ll put the link below). This will lead into the lesson, the theme of trust and trustworthiness. I’ll introduce the students to my ‘friends’ (yes, they are just five random photos from Google) and ask them which ones they would trust and why. They will also meet ‘Simon’ who will feature in the second part of the lesson.

We’ll then move onto the Truth or False game. Here, I board three things I have done, or achieved. Two are false but one is true. The students have to ask me questions to determine the correct answer. Tomorrow the three will be:

I worked for Apple in Sweden

I have riden an elephant in Thailand

I have fluent Vietnamese, but I speak with a Huế accent

I speak a little Swedish so that could convince them that the first is true. However, my knowledge of all things tech is pitiful, so they could easily see through that. Similarly, by asking me a basic question in Vietnamese, they will, within microseconds detect the fib. The answer, therefore is:

The students can then copy the activity in small groups, while I monitor that students are speaking English (which is the whole point of any speaking activity). I will them introduce them to the phrase ‘call my bluff‘, for example, if I claim to be fluent in Vietnamese but I can’t understand anything they say … they have called my bluff. This will segue into the next game, ‘Call My Bluff.’

For this game, I prepare some A4 sheets with a number of words on with three definitions. One team will read out the word and different people will read out a definition. The opposing side has to guess the correct meaning (and new words can be recycled next lesson in a warm up exercise). For example we have:

obnoxious 1) (adjective) a very unpleasant person 2) (noun) a gas that becomes liquid at 50 degrees C. 3) (noun) a small village without a church.

mindset 1) (noun) a tool designed by scientists to analyse personality 2) (noun) a system of rules to allow students to memorise lots of information 3) (noun) a set of attitudes held by someone or a group of people.

Other words can include demeanour, troglodyte (everyone loves that word), superfluous, salient, volatile, anomaly

After this, it will be time for book work, up to break. After the interval, it’ll be more speaking. I’ll show them the picture of Simon again and say he’s coming to HCM City next week and wants some advice: where to stay, what to do, where to shop, what to eat, how to get around, what to do at night etc. The students have to plan a day for him including breakfast, going to a tourist attraction, shopping, using local transport and a night time activity.

I will give them some information about Simon, for example, he loves trying local food, is interested in history, wants to buy typical souvenirs and enjoys a beer or two at night. However, he is on a limited budget which will affect where he stays, where he goes to eat and how he travels around the city.

Activities like this help students to think critically in a second language and leads into the main exercise in the text book.

In the last twenty to thirty minutes, we need to wind down and do more activities or games after the reading and book activities. In keeping with the theme of truth, I can show some slides and ask are they true or false, eliciting as much information as possible. They include:

Loch Ness Monster
Spring-heeled Jack from Victorian England.
Elvis once flew in his private jet to a different state just to get this peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Fairies at the bottom of a garden. Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed in this photo.

Another end game will be with collocations – showing a list of words and asking them which ones collocate, for example an email – you can send it / open it / redirect it / delete it etc. Or maybe just a simple general knowledge quiz or hangman or a B2B.

New Teen Class: Once bitten … twice bitten ?

Saturday 12th January

I vowed NEVER to teach teens again after my last experience(s) at this centre: I covered one class at a different centre and, apart from two or three students, it was a total nightmare, while my own class was a wonderful teen-spirit bitches brew of arrogance, attitude confrontation and contempt.

However, in the spirit of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or getting back on the horse that has just thrown (and kicked) you, I agreed to a new teenage class. I have already met this class; I substituted one night for them and I was dreading it. However, they were delightful, only one ‘difficult’ student and that person piped down after the first period. One of the students even came up to me afterwards and apologised for her class’s behaviour and disrespect … so sweet.

With the ‘Friends’ exercise (pictures of five men and students have to guess their personality and occupation), the subtext is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ This could be adapted or paraphrased as ‘don’t judge a class by its (text) book.’ At my old centre, I reviewed a book before my first lesson with a small class. The subject was 3-D printing, quite complicated … and then I met the class. Of the seven ‘students’, one was special needs (and that student was a darling, a pleasure to meet), two were quiet, one almost to the point of a personality disorder, and the remainder simply tried to out-do each other in stupidity and disruption to the class. I used to start each lesson with the imputation that having pen and paper to hand could be beneficial. They would learn new words and would remember them much easier if they wrote them down. At the end of one lesson, I checked. One student had produced this after two hours:

Notes … or note … taken by a former student from a two-hour lesson. One word: ‘hut.’

I desperately hope this class is better. There are eighteen students, ranging from twelve years old to fifteen years old. That three-year gap can be a chasm at this age.

Their book is quite high level and features many TED talks, which can be difficult to follow for English-learners due to the speed of delivery and range of vocabulary.

These classes are three-hour long, so I need to find many games, activities and opportunities for inter-action, as a balance to the book work which may be rather dry for some students.

I have two young classes in the morning, then this evening class. It makes the day very long, but at least I only have one class Sunday morning, and Tet Holiday is coming soon. On the way home, I may well stop off the Grabbike to pick up some beer. Will it be to celebrate a great lesson or to drown my sorrows ? Either way … beer will be consumed (and Manchester United take on Tottenham, their first real challenge under the new manager).

The lesson plan with activities will follow.

A week is a long time in politics … and evidently also in teaching.

Last week I was so impressed by my teenage class. This week, I want to quit, or do anything to find a replacement teacher.

Obviously, I won’t be naming and shaming, but the general pattern should be familiar to teaching of these wonderfully polite, respectful and hard-working students (yes, an example of irony).

The lessons are three hours (which is far too long, in my opinion). The teacher has a set book and must teach the assigned pages, but there is still time for activities, games, warm-ups, anything to break the boredom of sitting and ploughing through seemingly endless, seemingly pointless text.

This class has twenty students, most are willing to participate, but some are committed to seeing out the entire three-hour lesson without saying a word and some will speak… but not in English, just Vietnamese, and theirs is not the most euphonic of tongues. I find it akin to a dozen drunken cats having a fight in a karaoke bar … only worse.

As it was Christmas, I had more activities planned, and wanted to reduce the book work, to focus more on producing English speaking. The first game was a B2B – I’d prepared a number of slides and one student had to sit with her back to the board and ask questions while the other students offer clues; they are not allowed to sat exactly what they see. For example, if they see a cat playing piano, the could say, “An animal like a dog, a pet making music, but not a guitar.

Well, one of the smart-asses just began saying exactly what she saw. It was clear the game was dead in the water, so I moved onto book work.

One exercise was putting life stages in order; same student just shouted out the first thing on the list. Once someone starts destroying the plan, others join in, the pack mentality, the need to express their rebellion. The misnomer that Vietnamese respect teachers is greatly over-stated. As mentioned in other posts, they relish the chance to express their pathetic teenage angst. They will refuse to work, talk over the teacher and break every class rule as a challenge … and there is nothing they want more than to argue with the teacher.

Ultimately, it’s their parent’s money they’re wasting, but, as an old-hand informed me, they know they’ll get some (basically worthless) certificate that says they attended a class – after all, this is a business and got to keep the customer satisfied.

As expected, the rot spread. One student, not graced with fair of face, began eating in class, ostentatiously masticating while trying to out-stare me. Other students just stared at me when I tried to elicit a basic answer.

It was really a case of running down the clock

I’ve taught teenagers at several schools. It a mixed class, naturally, but I feel no hesitation using words like ‘obnoxious’, ‘disrespectful,’ and ‘futile.’

Let’s see if i can do some horse-trading – agree to another class IF I can drop this one. I no longer care about helping this motley collection. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

As a Christmas coda, or miracle if you will, I have subsequently been informed that I will not have to ‘teach’ this mob again – tiding of comfort and joy.

Terrible Teens – Bad Day at Black Rock

2nd December 

I’ve taught at some of the biggest private centres, and smaller modest schools, at university and public schools. I’ve taught pre-Kindergarten classes, pre-teens, late-teens, business people, professionals, children from modest background, children from privileged backgrounds, gifted students and those with clear learning disabilities. 

I’m happy to take on any challenge and attempt a Pygmalion-style transformation. I’m happy to turn screaming, crying nippers (young children) into model students who can speak the Queen’s English at the drop of a hat (that one takes a bit of time). But I’m not happy when I see I have a teen class … and this was one of the worst.

On the plus side, I was just substituting, so this was a one-off. I wouldn’t have to see any of these students again (they no doubt feel the same about me, but this is MY blog, so I don’t care what THEY feel).

This was similar to other horrendous teen classes; the students don’t want to be there, don’t want to learn and don’t want anyone else to learn. What they do want is to shout, scream, sleep, fight, eat, sleep (again) and show how rebellious and disrespectful they can be, the pack-mentality just reinforcing this behaviour. And there’s always someone who shouts out, “Boring !”.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been; one teacher at this centre told me he was once sworn at by a student. That teacher refused to continue the class and walked out.

What I noticed here was a total lack of interest from half the students, while the others were demonstrating how they wouldn’t listen to any instruction e.g. to keep eating when they were told not to, to continue talking, fighting, sleeping on their desks. And it was a large class. It resembled a public school class more than a private centre of high-repute.

I’ve been told that students are terrified of both their Vietnamese teachers, and of their parents. Physical punishment is still used at school and in the home. Being bad at school will not only bring a beating but also bring shame and disgrace. When students have a foreign teacher, it’s a chance to ‘fight back’. Teachers represent authority, and here’s a chance to be a ‘normal’ teen, to be arrogant, rude and obnoxious. Some of them take that chance.

Some methods for dealing with the terrible teens include what I term the ‘Full Metal Jacket’. This involves punishing the whole class for one person’s actions. For example, if student A says, “Boring,” again, you all get extra homework. Hopefully this peer pressure works.

A more productive way is to negotiate with them. If they do the assigned work, they can play games or do activities of their choice. 

Sometimes a teacher just has to pick their battles. No way can I outshout even one student (the Viet, bless their hearts, are not the quietest people on the planet), let alone twenty-five. Ultimately, we are here to help but if they refuse help there is no point wasting time or energy. Instead, identify the students who do want to learn, gather them together and teach them. Do not let the trouble-makers spoil it for the real students.

To end on a high note, this class is an anomaly. Other teachers have commented on how bad it is, how unteachable the students are. I’ve recently taught two other classes of teens and they have been darlings … but that is for another post.