While every classroom is unique here are a few survival tips for the South Korean elementary school classroom that will help steer you in the direction of boundless learning and unlimited fun:
1. Speak slowly and use actions wherever possible
This may seem trivial but remember that your kids are learning English as a second language so speaking slowly is extremely important and surprisingly easy to forget when you are in the classroom. Using body language and actions whenever you can is also important not only to reinforce the vocabulary and meaning but also to provide entertainment and keep interest. Many of my students are pretty low level when it comes to English so learning to speak slow and simple enough took some getting used to but with some practice it has now become second nature.
2. Encourage and praise your students
Again praising your students may sound trivial but it is easily overlooked. You will often find that your kids will be shy or nervous to speak in class for fear of embarrassment. Praising them whenever they do speak, even if it is not completely correct English, goes a long way in increasing their confidence to use the language and speak up in class. Creating reward charts for good behavior and good work encourages your kids to be more active and participate during class. Children love to please so responding positively to good work or behavior goes a long way in motivating your kids to improve as well as feel proud of what they have achieved.
3. Get your kids talking
Getting your kids to speak is probably the most challenging part of teaching English in South Korea. As mentioned above many of your students will be shy and nervous to speak in class so praising and encouraging them whenever they do is important in building their confidence in the classroom. Even if students respond with English that is not completely correct always offer praise before you gently correct or subtly repeat what they say using the correct language.
Make sure EVERY student has a chance to speak at some point during your lesson. Use group activities to get your kids talking rather than putting them on the spot in front of a whole classroom of students. Games can also be extremely helpful in creating a more relaxed environment for speaking by reducing pressure and making it a fun part of the lesson.
Engage with your students outside of the classroom and be approachable. Making an effort with your kids outside the classroom will help them feel more comfortable around you and therefore more likely to speak. A simple smile and wave in the school corridor or making them laugh in the school cafeteria at lunch encourages your students to interact with you and in time will hopefully lead to them talking to you in English. Leave your office or classroom door open and encourage kids to come in during break times or after school. This makes you more approachable and allows the kids to feel comfortable around you and therefore more likely to speak.
4. Learn some basic classroom Korean
Leaning Korean is not essential or required for teaching English in South Korea and it is often not encouraged to be used in the classroom. This is because our main role as Native English Teachers (NET’s) is to provide the students with an environment in which they can be completely immersed in the English language. However, learning some basic classroom Korean is especially useful if, like me, you will be teaching the younger students in your school (ie. Grades 1 and 2 or even Kindergarten). In these instances being able to give basic instructions such as “sit down”, “be quiet” and “no fighting” can be vital in a class of 24 kids who barely know the English alphabet.
In some instances you may be teaching without a Korean co-teacher or you may teach with ones who speak very little English. In these cases using some Korean when the older classes begin to get a bit out of hand can shock the kids into silence and may be met with wary surprise that the ( or foreign teacher can speak Korean. The most useful word I have learnt is () This roughly translates to Hey! and while this is considered a rude word to use for elders or even adults it can be a lifesaver in the classroom. Try it out when the kids get too loud and aren’t listening or responding to you, the response will amaze you.
5. Have FUN!
As a trained high school teacher letting go and simply having fun in the classroom was something I struggled to do. Don’t get too bogged down into making sure your students are working hard throughout the lesson. Allow some fun moments and “silly” time in the classroom. Try to relax and just enjoy interacting with the kids. You’ll find that when you are relaxed and enjoying yourself the kids will respond to that positive energy. Remember that no teacher or lesson is perfect so just learn from your mistakes and enjoy being in this most privileged and exciting position.