Archive for the ‘ESL’ Category

Looking for news about English clubs or cafes at universities in Korea

December 16, 2014

I am the programs manager at the English Cafe on campus.  The programs have struggled and thrived and stumbled and are about to go through some big changes.  I’d like to know what people at other universities do to create extra-curricular content, fun content, voluntary content, at their universities.  I will post this link on the Facebook pages of KOTESOL and Gyeongsang branch – KOTESOL and a few other places.  I am desperate for some ideas and suggestions.

First, I should share what we did during the semester just finishing now.

The Cafe was independently run, so far as food, drink, and management were concerned.  Part of the Cafe manager’s contract was that we could run programs in there and she was wonderfully willing to help out.

1) There were daily games hours.  Each day, at an appointed time, students could play a board game with the teacher (or shut the teacher out and play among themselves).  We have English games like Scrabble and Boggle but also chess, Clue, Othello and others, ranging down in difficulty to Uno.  The winner of each day’s game a won 5,000won gift certificate for food and drinks at the Cafe.

2) In previous semesters, we had a daily Simpsons screening.  Students could watch, then answer questions with one student a week winning another 5,000won gift certificate for the Cafe.  Upper management found The Simpsons too low-brow and we were told to switch to documentaries this year and they didn’t go so well.  There were also some technical difficulties – the idea seemed a little boring but each doc should have generated some interest.

3) Once a semester, we ran a Scavenger Hunt.  There were four prizes: 20,000, 15,000, 10,000 and 5,000 won in Cultural gift certificates – these certificates are recognized at bookstores and, I think, movie theaters around the country.

4) Posters: Every two weeks, there was a new series of five posters, all on a theme and each with a question.  At the end of two weeks, the answers were judged and a student would win a 10,000 won Cultural gift certificate.

In previous semesters, teachers could count student attendance at Cafe events as part of their participation grade.  This year, that was no longer allowed and student participation dried up.  Really.  A few students did very well for themselves as there were few others to compete for the prizes.

Next year, the Cafe will run perhaps two events a semester and we may assist an English Club if one forms.  I want to know if your university has an English club, what the students do and what foreign staff are asked to do.  I will post further details at this blog and provide links to the Facebook pages mentioned above and summarize the responses I get.

Hope to hear your details!


Best Teachers and tests

March 16, 2014

I read a post by one Wangjangnim at KoreaBridge and raced off a quick comment. Briefly, Wangjangnim appears to be a hagwon owner and his post attacked teachers for two things – claiming to be skilled, to be the Best Teacher and for making and using tests that aren’t appropriate.

How do teachers measure their effectiveness, and here you will slowly realize why I am against how they do it.  Scores.  Teachers effectiveness are measured by the students scores, but there is a problem.  These tests are created by the teacher.  The lesson are prepped by same teacher.  The lessons are given by same teacher.  The test is given by same teacher.  The test is corrected by same teacher.  Anyone with half a brain immediately understands the problem.  Anyone with a smidgen of understanding of HR practices and ethics revolving around test taking knows that this is simply ineffective.

Tests cannot be objective under those circumstances.  OOOO you say, but that is why we have SAT tests and the like.  Generalized tests that are the same for all students and not dependent on the teacher.  Really?  Those tests are made by teachers.  At least, as far as I understand the Education Industry, tests are manufactured by those mostly occupied with the profession of teaching.  Nothing wrong with that.  Everything wrong with that.

My response there (very slightly edited to remove the silly typos):

There is a real problem with judging how effective a teacher is and I don’t think there is any good method to judge all teachers.  Well, there is no easy method.  If you want to judge a teacher, first test his/her students when they arrive, inform the teacher precisely what you want from him(skipping the ‘/her’ for the rest of my comment) and then test the student again after some time has passed.  Also, do this to more than one teacher so you can see if one is doing better than the other.  Then, make sure you understand, and use, statistics to properly decide if improvement has been made

You will soon find that making and administering a good test takes a whole lot of work.  As you appear to want communication skills instead of grammar and vocab, I suggest asking students oral questions or long answer written questions.  Then you will need to read every essay or listen to every single answer.

I don’t know any teacher that wants to teach TOEIC.  My students are required to take a TOEIC test and that affects their grade but we have never seen the test nor know when our students take it.  Administrators seem to like because it is the opposite of what I described above: it is easy to administer and easy to grade.  If you make a better test of English communication that is relatively easy to administer and grade, you will make a lot of teachers very happy.

I haven’t read your posts before, Wangjangnim, and I don’t know you or your place of business.  Your writing shows you have better English than most of the Hagwon owners I have known.  I am not attacking you personally, but your claim that:

“General Tests are scams.  Huge scams with children, an parents, as victims”

is probably true but, only in the same way, “Hagwon owners are scammers.  Huge scammers with children and parents as victims.” is.  Teachers teach to the test because parents and hagwon owners (and some university Deans) require them to.

I just feel you are attacking a group – teachers – that is not a free agent on the issue.  If you can make a better test, I really want to see it.

Now, there are parts to his post that I like and suggest I may have been too hasty in attacking it.  for example, how to do well in a job interview:

If you truly love your profession, a better strategy would be to show me your passion for teaching and to give indication to things you helped master in- and outside of the classroom.

And he includes some kernel of an idea of how to fix the problem:

We will only know who is truly a great teacher, once teachers stop evaluating themselves, and start being evaluated by the results they achieved with their students through proper assessment tools.  Until then, the ESL mess we are in will remain unchanged.

Teachers are indeed somewhat at fault with poorly learning outcomes in their students.  At the same time, many teachers are often given close instruction in how and what they are to teach.  I am mostly grateful for that as I could really get sidetracked into teaching zombie epidemic survival skills and anti-religious rants, neither of which have much value outside of Youtube comment threads.

On the other hand, I have been told to teach TOEIC skills from a TOIEC book and many teachers here are expected to do the same.  I have taught at a hagwon where the owner required me to be the parrot for movie lines.  We spent months watching Avatar, repeating each line “three to five times”.

I don’t know this Wangjangnim but I would sincerely love to hear if he has a test that can accurately test student’s abilities even when teachers do not ‘teach to the test’. One valid test I can think of would be to parachute students who have finished classes into central Canada and see how quickly they get out.   Ah, maybe a more urban area would be appropriate – we are testing English not wilderness survival skills.  I guess we could test for student’s motivations and their strengths to see how much immersion they can handle but then we run into the Hagwon problem – the owner has two clients: the child and the parent and the latter seems to want TOIEC.


I want to be fair to Wangjangnim and I really want to hear what a fairly articulate hagwon owner really thinks.  I hope that my attacks on his post are not fueled by the standard hagwon teacher/ hagwon owner tension and will be following his blog for a bit.

Wangjangnim’s original post.

Except on this blog.

January 2, 2014

Funny that I enjoy these tests now that they mean nothing.  Also funny, how they do not represent my actual use of grammar on this, or other, blogs.

I embedded the second image from the site.  If it does not have a working link, try this.

grammar guru

Click image to open interactive version (via

Why can’t I earn this kind of money?

March 22, 2013

Aside from the illegality, I mean.

From the Korea times:

A Korean private tutor was caught earning more than 150 million won ($130,000) a month, without paying tax, from illegally teaching students in an apartment in the affluent southern Seoul.

He allegedly taught a group of students in a 337 square-meter (102 pyeong) apartment, charging about 10 million won per student per year. This is the first time that a tutor who has taken such a large amount of tutoring fees has been caught.

Let’s see. A hundred and fifty million won a month.  That’s one point eight billion per year.  One hundred and eighty students per month.  How do I compare?

I have 7 classes at about 20 students.  140 students.

Call for articles: Kotesol International Conference reviews

October 24, 2012

To my dozen(s?) of readers, I will soon be reviewing the sessions I attended at the conference and want to know about other sessions.  I review somewhat critically but try to keep focused on the topic.  If you think you have what it takes to write Surprisesaplenty-quality material, let me know.


If you think you have what it takes to write Surprisesaplenty-quality material, let me know, please.

Serious issues spoiled by incoherent ranting style

July 17, 2012

Child Abuse camp as advertised on the Democratic United Party blog and protected by corrupt police soon to be exposed

By [name redacted] and translated by Surprisesaplenty

My ‘translated by’ claim above is snarky, but I am starting from the man’s Facebook claims and following other links.  His writing is … challenging.

A sample from various locations (1,2) on Facebook (these are from large groups on Facebook so I don’t think they are private utterances.  The latter link is to “Every Expat inKorea” which sounds like it should be considered a public space):

“Korean Conman with no degree is touted as professor on the Korean Democratic United party blog, that also names his business that prior to that time had been in the papers (Korean Herald) for human smuggling US citizens with fake visas to work for free in his illegal unlicensed English camps the Jeju City Office of Education yet again has filed more changes against this week.

The full truth is not in the 1000s of newspaper report about this illegal business 제주국제영어마을 – that it includes pedophile activity and stupid foreigners who profit from job ads saying they get bonus money for working their kids, which should have been a know brainier that that is against the law.”

A “know brainier” indeed.  These 100+ words  in two sentences were separated in the ellipses by a citation.  Oh, alright, here it is: As seen On KBS News and 제주가 보인다 2012.2.1.

Still, [redacted] is passionate about his claims; so much so that I had to dig in and try to understand them.

Okay, I’ve looked into the claims and they are too hot – criminally hot – for me!

At 3 Wise Monkeys is a good description of the problem.  Giving real names and identifying businesses , even if the claims made are true, is considered libel.

The Korea Herald has reported as much as it dares here.  Dare I say it, the reporting is as well done as it could be without risking exposure to libel.

A second problem with discussing [redacted]‘s problems are their variety.  3WM and the Herald discuss (1)immigration and contractual issues, but [redacted] also claims (2) sexual abuse of the students, corruption among the (3) police (The Herald article looks at this) and (4) a political party and (5) death threats he has received*.  They might all be true but if too many claims are stacked like this, why not add one more: “(6)And he cancelled Christmas!”

I feel there is something wrong here and that [redacted] has been mistreated, possibly criminally, but I am honestly afraid to write further.  Korea’s libel laws are clear.

This is a serious issue and I feel for [redacted] but at the same time I must retreat into snark again and say that if his writing is a good example of his English communication skills, I would not much want to hire him either.

* Search for information from 3WM… You can find this claim if you wish.

Encouraging creativity in your students

May 31, 2012

I recently gave a talk at the 2012 KOTESOL National Conference entitled “Creativity in the classroom”.  My presentation slides are here and Jeff leBow at Koreabridge recorded the talk.

I think I gave an excellent 80 minute speech: it is a shame I gave it in 50 minutes.  Indeed, my voice is high-pitched enough you might think I just spoke that much faster.


KOTESOL National Conference 2012!

May 14, 2012

The conference is here in Busan on the 26th!

KOTESOL national Conference website.

Koreabridge link to the event.

The goshdarn website is down again, but if you can, register on or before the 18th to get the re-reg discount.

Conference Timetable
9:15-10:00       REGISTRATION
10:00-10:20       Opening Ceremony
10:30-11:20       PLENARY SESSION: Tim Murphey (link to Abstract/Bio)
11:30-12:20       Featured/Invited Sessions & Pecha Kucha
12:30-1:20         LUNCH
1:30-2:20          Concurrent Presentations (50 mins)
2:30-4:00         Training Workshops (90mins)
4:00-4:50         Concurrent Presentations (50 mins)
5:00-5:50         PLENARY SESSION: Marc Helgesen (link to Abstract/Bio)
5:50-6:00         Raffle Draw
6:00-6:15         Closing
6:30                 Reception Dinner  (off-site, all invited, pay your own way)


Plenary Speakers

  • Tim Murphey (Kanda University of International Studies in Tokyo)
  • Marc Helgesen (Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University, Sendai, Japan)

Dr. Tim Murphey’s plenary talk is titled: “Drive: Putting Students at the Wheel with Agency, Identity, and Altruism.”
“Once there was a country where there were almost no cars and the people in this country realized that for their growing economy it would be good to have a more mobile population with bus drivers, taxi drivers, and even individual car owners who could get around by themselves. The people in power reasoned  . . .” Come to Tim’s talk to find out where we are driving.

Prof. Marc Helgesen’s plenary is titled: “Happiness 2.0: New Ideas from the Science of Well-Being.
“Happy students learn more, work harder on tasks, and approach those tasks with enthusiasm – all keys to creating and focusing learner drive. Positive Psychology explores happiness, positive emotion, and those things that allow us to flourish.”

Featured Speakers

  • Dr. Hyesun Cho from the University of Kansas
  • George Scholz from RELO at the US Embassy
  • Special panel on English Education in Korea

Also on the program:
A broad array of presentations by local and national level speakers on a wide variety of topics focusing on the needs of Korea’s classroom English teachers. Including: Brian Dean, Lindsay Mack [the link is to ‘a’ Lindsay Mack involved in ESL.  I presume it is the same one.], Mizuka Tsukamoto, Amelie Kelly, April Abate, Phillipa Arthur, Alex Grevett, Thomas Baldwin, Scott Miles, Leonie Overbeek, Kenneth Moore, Tory Thorkelson, Steve Garrigues, Colin Walker, James Underwood, Rocky Nelson, Ksan Rubadeau, James Garner, Nico Lorenzutti, Alonzo Williams, Joseph Vitta, Ju A Hwang, Andee Pollard, Nate Kent, Martin Tuttle, Peadar Callaghan, and Roger Fusselman.



A slide this scary, it should be shown on hallowe’en!

March 19, 2012

At the recent Busan-Kyeongnam KOTESOL meeting, branch president Brad Serl gave a presentation on the new NEAT test.  Umm, I may have written ‘test’ twice.  I think the test is the “New English Aptitude Test” and it is intended to replace the current English test used in the University Entrance Exam.

There were two stated reasons for changing the test; one reasonable and achievable and the other…not so much.

The test -still three years away from actually being used – requires more English production from the takers and looks to be a better test to prepare for. If you do well on this test, you will likely also do well speaking English.  This is good and achievable part.

The second reason for changing the test is to reduce private education expenditures – money to cramming schools or hagwons for English.  In discussing this, we -(the people at the meeting consisted of  20+ people, including three Korean teachers of ESL, four to seven university instructors and ten or more middle and high school native English Speaker Teachers) did not think this goal would be achieved.  Cynically, the group consensus was that private spending for ESL would likely increase.

How much is spent on private education now?  The numbers on the presentation slide below are for private education for children in general so math, Korean language and other languages are included in the totals.

If you are a parent, you will want to be sitting down.  If you have a heart condition, go and get your medicine and put it where you can reach it quickly if need be.

If parents paid one million won a month (around $900 US or Canadian) for private education, their child would have an 11% likelihood of  qualifying for a Tier one university (Seoul National, KAIST, Yeonsei, maybe one or two others).  For even odds of attending a Tier one university, parents need to spend two million won a month…

Sorry, I needed to lie down and engage in some calming visualizations there for a moment.  Okay, the palpitations have eased.

As I see it, I can either educate my son to the level that he could attend a tier one university or I could save enough money to actually pay for him to attend one.  I am not sure that I could do both.


The main suggestions we came up with for teaching students so they can do well on the test were 1) Organize extensive reading programs and 2) teach writing (more).  A common complaint at the meeting was that students did not appear to understand how to write more than a sentence at a time in Korean or in English.  Teachers will need to work on organizing ideas then on paragraph and essay formation.

As Serl noted, these are good suggestions for teaching ESL regardless of what kind of test there is.  To paraphrase, “Teachers complain about ‘teaching to the test’.  This isn’t always a bad idea.  If the test is a good one, then teaching students how to do well on it improves both the test scores and absolute English proficiency.”

personalization can be too personal: ESL experiences

February 15, 2012

In almost every unit of almost every ESL textbook, there is a part where students use the grammar or vocabulary to describe themselves or their experiences.  Even without a textbook, teachers quite properly, try to elicit personal statements from their students.  Usually, this is a good idea.

On his blog, “An A-Z of ELT, Thornbury discusses where these discussions could take you:

In his novel, The Folding Star, Alan Hollinghurst (1994) recounts how the protagonist, a young Englishman recently arrived in a Belgian town, sets himself up as a private English tutor. One of his pupils suffers from asthma, and our hero idly asks him if he knows how he got it.

“I didn’t quite make the story out at first, I was chivvying him and making him repeat words without knowing I was taking him back, like some kinder and wiser analyst, to the scene of a childhood tragedy” (p. 20)


Most of the most personal things I have learned from my students have come from Exam questions and particularly from speaking exams.  At least this is more private for the student.

However it works out, it is often information I don’t really want to know.

“Surprises [no, my students don’t really call me that], my girlfriend and I learned everything about each other’s body that it is possible to know.”

“My boyfriend and I have an intimate relationship.”

“I play Maple Story after school.”

“One goal is to make fantastic love.”

“I like Super Junior.”

Granted, some of these points are not as titillating as others, but none of them do I want to know – and some I disapprove of – fandom of Super Junior, especially!


Back to Thornbury:

When I first encountered personalization it was of the type: “Write 5 or more true sentences about yourself, friends or relations, using the word ago“.

This is taken verbatim from Kernel Lessons (O’Neill et al. 1971), one of the first coursebooks I taught from. The fact that the sentences had to be ‘true’ was regularly ignored or overlooked by both teacher and students. The point was not to be ‘truthful’ but creative. Creative and accurate.

This little personalization task invariably came at the tail end of a sequence of activities whose rationale was the learning and practice of a pre-selected item of grammar. The personalization was really just a pretext for a little bit of creative practice, as well as serving as a first, tentative step towards translating the language of the classroom into the language of ‘real life’.

It’s hard to explain to a student that the truth is not required, only that English production is.  And even when that may be understood, sometimes the english is a little off, so you need to ask questions to clear up the meaning of words and phrases.  Now, I am requiring the student to continue and complicate their possibly made up story.  Is this english or interrogation class?

Thornbury makes only a limited conclusion and finishes with a question:

…Arguably, by foregrounding ‘what really matters to a person’, personalization both motivates and scaffolds these adaptive processes.

So, how do we accommodate the need for personalization into our classes? And – more importantly – how do we deal with learner resistance to it?

Perhaps we need to encourage and explain the option of creating a story.  Instead of, “What does your home look like?”, we should ask the student to “Describe a home that you would like to live in.” or ask students in the dorms -which we already have some knowledge of – to describe them.



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