This week, we have the opportunity to read a guest post from a friend of mine, Chris C., who teaches at a middle school in Andong, South Korea. He has taught in Korea for three years now, and he wrote an article about teaching English camps.
Having recently written about the joys of my teaching life in Korea, I was only too pleased to take up the offer of this guest spot. I immediately decided to wax lyrical about an aspect of teaching that’s a major factor in that aforementioned enjoyment – additional English ‘camps’.
These extra classes do not normally call for a tent; instead, they are a chance for students to take themselves out of the everyday classroom environment, have some fun in a more relaxed setting and with any luck build a bit more of a rapport with their foreign English teacher. Oh and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way!
I, for one, teach at a very big mixed middle school with 36 in each class and so it’s all too easy, nay, inevitable that even some of the more keen learners will get lost in the mix. As any good teacher ought to know, being keen doesn’t always mean you have to be a loudmouth. Not long after I began my ESL adventure in Andong, way back in August 2011, I was informed that I would be required to plan and facilitate a few days of first and second grade camps in the winter vacation. Because of the above reasons about class size (my one and only nagging gripe about my school) I was not a little excited when I found out that just a small fraction would attend – not necessarily the cream of the English-speaking crop (that would be boring) but ones who were enthusiastic about the chance to develop their knowledge in a less impersonal fashion. Having the same students for three days at a time gave me a chance to create some lessons and activities about the world, popular culture and sport and then have them make posters about one of the subjects and present them for a prize. I’d only been teaching a few months but because there were only a few in each camp, I was teaching alone in a classroom for the first time (and thus the sole poster judge – feel the power).
It went so well, considering, that when it came to hosting my next ones (this time with a co-teacher as each camp was about three times the size), the following summer, I decided to reuse many of the ideas. Still very much a teaching novice, I hadn’t considered that the materials for the more intimate camps of six a time would not work so smoothly with a large number (and I admit to cutting a corner or two after a long semester). As a result, the first one was more or less a disaster, only saved by the fact that we made ice cream sundaes after lunch. An evening spent back at the drawing board and my next one (the next day) was a success, in part thanks to one or two excellent ideas I found online which I adapted and have popped up here and there in subsequent camps. I won’t pretend that the ice creams were not probably still the students’ favourite part, however. Having rescued myself from what was possibly my worst day of teaching thus far set me up very nicely for my second year.
Since then – and I like most I wouldn’t be in this game if it wasn’t a learning curve, – I’ve made sure that no matter how exhausted I might be, I size up each new camp and see if any ideas need a freshen. One of the things I love most about this job is that whilst you are afforded the opportunity (well I am, anyway) to shake things up a bit from class to class (ideas, that is, not students) at the same time you can’t possibly be in control of how the day will go as you don’t know what kind of mood students are going to be in.
The best part is, of course, when you’re onto a winner and no matter how understandably lethargic those in front of you might be, there’s something in your materials that should spark at least half of them into life at least half of the time. Also, like all, I’d be lying if I were to say that I don’t start to long for some classes where I can guarantee enthusiasm. That is again where camps come into play since, although some are there at the behest of their parents, many are there because they want to be – something that probably can’t be said for about 75 per cent of the rest of the time.
For the past two years my first grade camps have taken place near the start and not after the end of the summer semester. I’ve no confirmation as to whether this is as a result of my car crash of an opening summer camp (I’m being harsh, it wasn’t that bad) in 2012 but the official line is that they think the students will be more willing and able, then – and I’ll admit this teacher certainly is and not just as it’s on Saturdays and I get paid extra. Again, I’ve chopped and changed as required although some consistency has remained. Teaching about the world (for there is a lot of mileage) has proven fruitful and allows for some satisfactory ‘edutainment’ all round which is of course the whole point. Then after some other activities involving music and the like (and I’ve long since learned to incorporate some current K-pop into the fun and games and not just Iron Maiden for a laugh) the whole thing climaxes with a scavenger hunt with a twist or two and allows for some extra prizes. This has proven a hit (in particular with the ones who get to take home pictures of Exo); however, it has left me having to then do a scavenger hunt of my own and in a very short space of time (as I’m usually told, usually incorrectly, that the school will be locked about a minute after the camp is meant to finish). Granted this has gotten easier, once I remembered to actually keep track of where I’ve left everything. Not like we’re not used to running around half the time anyway.
Probably the most rewarding camp I’ve undertaken was in January this year when I was only required to teach the same ten or so, soon to be third graders, for five days – again alone. This allowed for a whole raft of various linguistic shenanigans from ‘sentence auctions’ to making their own inter-team competitions to creating some fairly outlandish stories and it went so well that I shall keep the materials and possibly reuse them again at some point. I’ve just completed the third of this year’s summer semester first grade camps. Shortened a little from last year, I should have dropped one of the activities; however I chose to persevere and unfortunately whilst not quite the embarrassment of two years ago, I don’t count the final three hours as a great success. My biggest criticism of myself is that I’m quite stubborn and try to do too much sometimes. Hey, ho.
Camps are not meant to be so intensive, especially for first graders and new ones at that. Not saying I don’t think my stuff’s fun, hopefully at least for most, but there’s no point trying to cram too much in – particularly when having to do a scavenger hunt in less time, need I say more. If anyone can have fun in a normal class then so much the better, but the emphasis has to be on fun first, during camps – learning will take care of itself. It is indeed always a learning curve for student and teacher and whilst I continue on this path then I shall look forward to the next one!