Friday, May 5, 2017

Phú Quốc Island

My last week in Vietnam happened to fall during the holiday of Reunification Day, Victory Day or Liberation Day, which is the celebration of the end of the Vietnam War (as we know it in America). You might remember us celebrating it last year. So we had several days off for vacation.

Also because of the way our pay periods work here, I would not have been paid for my last five days of work, so I took the days off and had an extra long vacation. We decided to spend my last week in Vietnam on Phú Quốc Island.


Phú Quốc is a small island to the West of Vietnam (and actually closer to Cambodia). More than half of the island is a national park with mountains, dense forests, and animals. The island is surrounded with white sand beaches and clear water. It's most popular as a tourist destination and is filled with resorts, restaurants, bars, spas, and more.

It was a very nice, relaxing week with four of my roommates. Not much to say, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.



Puppies at our hotel. Dogs in Phu Quoc are very respected and loved, which is extremely different from Ho Chi Minh City.


Our first hotel (we stayed at two places)












At the northern point. The land in the distance is Cambodia.




Our second hotel.




(He's playing dead for protection. He's fine)












Friday, April 21, 2017

20 English games with (little to) no preparation

90% of my job consists of playing games. I mentioned in my last post that the Vietnamese teachers do the real teaching, and the foreign teacher's job is basically to talk to students and have fun. This is fine for me because, I love games. And I love making up games.

Variety is crazy important to teaching. I have games where everyone plays at once or where students play one at a time. Where we sit quietly or where we run around and make noise. Where we use the board or the tables or a stickyball. Generally I plan out my games and activities before class starts but I will suddenly switch it up mid-class if I realize the kids are antsy and need to move or if there's something they hate or something they love. Or you know, whatever. Also, all of the games I play are very specifically developed for/aimed at the lessons and vocabulary my school teaches.

Because I cannot plan ahead I have to have games that I can prepare in 5 minutes or less. I only bring a small bag with me to school so I have limited supplies but this is what I work with:
-At the school I have a white board and chairs with connected (but removable) tables that are made with white board material.
-I always bring a sticky ball, white board markers (preferably in 5+ colors), flashcards with vocabulary pictures, verbs, nouns, and adjectives (each set is homemade and specific to my school's lessons)


So here are 20 (I actually had to limit it down ha) of the games I've either learned from my schools or my roommates or that I've made up on my own.

1. Touch the board

Touch the board is the ultimate, simple game and can be used with any level. First, fill the board with either words or drawings and then divide students into two teams. Students stand in two lines, you yell a word, the front two students race to touch the picture or word, and whoever touches it first gets a point for their team.

There are tons of ways to adapt it. With low level students I use vocabulary words, letters, or numbers 1-10. For upper levels I'll sometimes use vocabulary words but generally that's too easy. I might use double-digit numbers. I might draw boys on one side and girls on one side when teaching "he is ______" or "she is ______." I might ask questions and they have to hit the word that answers. Etc.

Good for teaching: Listening and vocabulary.

2. Stickyball

Stickyball is on par with Touch the Board. Simple and can be used at any level. Fill the board with lots of drawings or words and write points on each one (I usually do 1-3 and put the 3s on words that are harder to pronounce). Have the kids (one at a time) throw the ball at the board, and they have to say whatever word it sticks to. That student (or team if you divide them) gets the number of points.

I use this primarily with vocabulary, but adapt it the same as I do with touch the board.

With higher level students can also be used with speaking. Write topics on the board and whatever they hit they have to talk about for 2-3 minutes.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and pronunciation


3. Stickyball Target

Again. Simple and can be used at any level. Draw a target on the board with any numbers (I usually do 1-5 for low levels and higher numbers for higher levels). Have each student say a word, read something, write something, answer a question, or really anything. Then he or she gets to throw the sticky ball at the target and that student (or team) gets those points. So easy it shouldn't be a game but kids seriously love throwing things at walls.

Good for teaching: Literally anything

4. Race to Desk

Draw a different vocabulary word on every desk in the classroom. Have two students stand up facing the board and say a word. When you say a word the students turn around and run to hit the desk which has that word drawn on it. The first student who touches it gets a point.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and listening

5. A Boy, A Girl, A Monkey

Same as duck, duck, gray duck (or duck, duck, goose if you're not from minnesota). Have students sit in a circle on the floor and have one student walk around the circle. As this student walks around they tap each student on the head and say "a boy" or "a girl" for each student (Or "you're a boy", "you're a girl" depending on level). At any point they can tap a student and instead say "a monkey". The student who is the monkey has to stand up and chase the first student around the circle, and the first student has to make it around the circle and sit down before getting caught.

Good for teaching: Speaking and pronounciation

6. Writing Race/Spelling Race

Divide students into two teams and have them stand in two lines in front of the board. Give markers to the students at the front of the line. Say a letter, number, or word and the first student to write it correctly gets a point for their team.

Good for teaching: Letters and numbers or writing and spelling.

7. Yes or No

This is another one that is very easy to adapt in a million ways. For any situation where I am teaching yes or no questions I will write "yes" in a box on one side of the board and "no" in a box on the other side (or "yes he/she is" or whatever depending on level). Usually I will fill the board in between with drawings to point at, sometimes I will use flashcards, sometimes I will just ask questions with no visual. Have one student at a time stand far from the board. Ask a question (i.e. "is he happy?" with a picture of a smiling face) and have he or she throw the ball at the answer. If it sticks in the box, that student or team gets a point.

I also sometimes play this like touch the board where the students stand in lines and have to be the first to touch yes or no. Or when teaching "Is he/she _____?" I will write "yes he is" "no he is not" "yes she is" and "no she is not" on desks in the four corners of the room and the first student to touch the correct answer gets the point.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and listening

8. Touch the Table

Draw or write a vocabulary word on each student's desk, usually stick with a theme like animals or fruits (or sometimes I just let them pick any word. It depends). I'll use animals as an example. One student stands in the middle of the room and I will say "cat". The student wants to touch the desk with a cat on it before the student sitting at that desk says "dog". If that student says "a dog", the standing student now runs to touch the desk with a dog and the student sitting there will say another animal and so on. If the standing student touches the desk before the sitting student says anything, they will switch places and the game continues.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and pronunciation


9. Jump

The students stand in front of the board (my schools have a little platform by the boards, but this could be done just as easily with a line or something). I pick a category (for example: animals) and I say any word I think of. If I say a word in the category (i.e. "a cow"), the students jump forward. If I say a word that isn't in the category (i.e. "a shoe") they jump backwards. If a student doesn't jump at the right time, or is too slow, they sit down. Keep going until one student is standing. Then they can say the next round of words if they'd like.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and listening

10. Teacher Says

This is exactly the same as Simon Says, but instead say "teacher says." If a student moves when you did not say "teacher says" they have to sit down. Or if they do the wrong thing. The last student standing gets to be the teacher.

I use this with a specific chapter where our book teaches body parts and "touch your arm/nose/head/etc". So I say things like "teacher says touch your arm" and if a student touches their leg, they're out. But I also use it with older students to teach verbs "teacher says jump/sing/dance/laugh/etc"

Good for teaching: Vocabulary, listening, and verbs.

11. Hangman

I'm fairly sure that every single person in the world knows hangman. They play a lot of variations at different schools with different names for it but I'm sure you know it so I won't write too much. My variation usually includes drawing a set of stairs with a stick person at the top and a monster at the bottom (or zombie or shark or bear or whatever the students want) and moving the person down a step for each incorrect letter until they reach the monster. I usually let the student who guesses the word pick the next one.

Good for teaching: Spelling

12. Change Chairs

This is my all time favorite game. Have one chair for every student, and one student standing. The student standing says something like "change chairs if you are a boy." then every boy has to stand up and run to change chairs. The student who is not fast enough to get in a chair has to be the next one to talk. With low level students I use it with "change chairs if you have _____" or "change chairs if you are _________" (they will usually say things like "change chairs if BOY" and then everyone runs so I really push for them to actually say the whole sentence). They cannot repeat anything another student has said, so they have to get creative. Playing with older students gets way more interesting because they will say things like "if you like to cook" or "if you have a brother" or "if you play piano". They'll also start to single each other out, such as "if you wear a dress" when only one student is wearing a dress.

It's the best game. They get to run around. They have to listen and speak. They get to use new vocabulary. and it's fun. I always join and play this one with my students and I have not ever gotten bored of it.

Good for teaching: Listening, speaking, vocabulary, grammar, everything.

13. Draw a _______

I mentioned in my last post that I draw everything when I'm teaching (also, my background is in teaching art so it's kind of my thing). I like to make my kids draw everything too. Most kids love to draw on the board. I make it a priority that my students learn the word "draw" pretty quickly.

I always use drawing for learning body parts. I draw a blank head with a torso (a shirt and shorts) and will give the marker to students and say "draw an eye" "draw an arm" "draw a leg" etc. They draw it, and either I or they will label it.

I also regularly use it for rooms for example as drawing a kitchen where I start with a table and a counter, and then have kids "draw a cup" "draw a bowl" "draw a spoon". I also use drawing to teach "on, in, under, next to, behind, in front of, near" with things such as "draw a dog under the table" "draw two apples on the table" "draw a chair next to the table" etc. You can also use their drawings to transition into touch the board, yes/no, or stickyball games.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and listening


14. Pyramid

Split the students into two teams and for each team draw a large triangle on the board. Along the side of the triangle write the numbers 3-6 or 7 or 8 depending on the student's level. Give the students a letter (for example "B") and the students have to write a word with the number of letters on the side of the pyramid (for example, "3. Bat 4. Bear 5. Bread 6. Basket") The first team to fill the pyramid (and every word is spelled correctly) gets one point. Then give a different letter and continue.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and spelling

15. Pictionary

This is pretty straight forward. Either I give the students a vocabulary word from the book or let them choose any word. They draw it on the board and the first student to guess what they are drawing gets to draw the next word.

This is my favorite to play with smaller, chill, older classes because they are creative and can pick really good words (I had one this week drawing "universe" and "haunted house" and other things that surprised me) and I get to play with them. It's a little harder with young students because they draw very small on the board, everyone yells answers at once so it's hard to hear who guesses the word first, and they're limited to vocabulary words but it's doable.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and pronunciation

16. Dominos

There a few different ways to use this same idea, but I play it like this: Split the students into two teams and have them stand in lines facing the board. Draw a big line down the middle of the board so each team has half. Say a letter (for example: B) and the first student writes a word that starts with that letter (example: Bear) then moves to the end of the line. The next student writes a word that starts with the last letter of the last word (example: Rabbit) and so on. So in this example could be, B: Bear rabbit teacher ring green....

I usually time them for 3-5 minutes so they really fill the board with a lot of words. Then I count them. They cannot repeat any words and they get 1 point for every word that is spelled correctly. Obviously, the team with the most points wins.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and spelling

17. Stop the Bus

Split students into as many teams as you want, and write 5 or more categories on the board. For example, "Job, Animal, Food, Sports, and Clothes" (or whatever depending on the level and what they're learning). Give them a letter, and the first team to write a word in each category that starts with that letter gets a point. For example, B. Baker, Bear, Bacon, Baseball, and Backpack. Continue, and most points at the end wins.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary and spelling

18. Guessing Game

Divide students into 2 teams, and put two chairs in front of the board (facing away from it). One student from each team sits down (they cannot look at the board) and the other students stand in front of them (looking at the board). Write a vocabulary word on the board and the students can either act it out (this is good with animals, jobs, verbs, etc.) or explain it in English (good with anything, but for example if the word is "soap" they can say "we use it to wash our hands"). The students facing away from the board have to guess what the word is, and the first one to guess gets a point for their team.

Good for teaching: Vocabulary, speaking, and listening

19. Verbs Board Game

This one takes a bit of work. I keep dice and a stack of flashcards with verbs written on them in my bag. I just wrote all the verbs from the books on pieces of paper, but you could also just say verbs out loud if you wanted to do it easily. I draw a board game on the board (a basic long skinny strip that loops around the board with spaces). In each space I write a different subject (I, you, me, he, she, they, we, Miss Tina, and all the students names in the class). I give each student a different colored marker and they draw dots on the starting space for their "game pieces".

They pull a card from the verb flashcards and have to make a sentence using that verb and the subject their piece is on. For example if they are on the "I" space and pull a "walk" card they can say "I walk to school". Then they can roll the dice and "move their piece" (draw a new dot) that number of spaces down. First student to get to the end of the board wins.

It's a bit of extra work but works really well with smaller, older classes. It's especially fun if all the students in the class are friends and they like to be silly. They come up with some really funny sentences, especially when they land on each other's names on the board.

Good for teaching: Speaking and verbs

20. Apples to Apples

This one takes a lot of work, but it is a blast with the right class and they never get tired of it. If you've played the game Apples to Apples it's that, just homemade. I have a set of cards with nouns on them (with red dots on the back). Mostly nouns from the book but some more personal ones like the names of students in certain classes (I only bust this out with a handful of classes), the name of the school, "Miss Tina," "this classroom," "Vietnam," "Ho Chi Minh City," etc. I also have a set of cards with adjectives from the book with green dots on the back.

Have all the students sit in a circle on the floor or move the desks into a circle. Give each student 5 noun cards, and put an adjective card in the middle. Each student puts one noun card that they think best fits the adjective into a pile and one student gets to judge which is the most accurate.

I'm listing this one last, because it is the most work. It took a while to make the cards, and it is a serious hassle to try and explain how to play. But once they catch on it is the most fun game. The kids love it and have so much fun using their own names and they will happily play the same game over and over for weeks. I only use it with a handful of classes, ones that are small enough that I can personalize it and keep track and students that are smart enough to understand when I explain the rules.

Good for teaching: nouns and adjectives. Also great for comparative adjectives (hotter, funnier, uglier, etc) because when judging you can model as you compare the different nouns (I.e. "hm. Advjective is ugly. We have Miss Tina and a cow? Is Miss Tina uglier than a cow?" it's hilarious and they love it).


Friday, April 14, 2017

Teaching English in Vietnam

*Disclaimer: I'm not an English teacher. I mean. Technically I am. I get paid to do it. But I do not have my TEFL and I have no previous experience teaching English. I have a degree in art education and experience teaching art. So all I can do is share my experience and what I've figured out this past year. If you want real knowledge or information about teaching English, go somewhere else.*

The question I get asked the most is, "How do you teach English if you don't speak Vietnamese?"

The answer is mostly, pretty easily. I've touched a little bit here and there on how my job works but I have to write more in depth to really explain. Bare with me, this is the most I've ever written on here.


Getting hired: The company I work for will hire anyone. I didn't need any background in teaching or in English. They just want natural speakers. (None of my roommates have a background in teaching and they all have the same job as me). I moved here, then after a couple weeks I went to the company and I filled out an application. They throw you into a demo class and have you teach 45 minutes with no preparation (This was scary. If I had never taught before I would have bombed, I don't know how my roommates did it. They're amazing.). That Thursday I had an interview and signed a contract. Friday I got a couple hours of mediocre training and Saturday I started my job.

So I went in knowing nothing about teaching English and had to figure it out. Thankfully I have a lot of roommates with a lot of experience in the same company who gave me all kinds of games and ideas to get me started.

Level 2
How our company schedules us: I've mentioned this before, but our school has many different campuses and they can send you to any school. I generally get placed at the same 2-4 schools every week. Luckily this gives me some consistency, and I know most of the students at the school where I am most often.

Obviously this is a challenge because you are working with different students every day. When you are at a school regularly it goes much more smoothly. They know you and respect you a little more and understand how you expect them to behave. Also you can actually learn some names.

When we arrive at our school we are given a sheet of paper with the classes we will teach, the times, the classroom, and the lesson number. We grab the lesson books we will need that day and plan our lessons. Most people just wing it. I am an extreme overly organized planner, but I really don't need to be at all.

Planning lessons. A level 7 book.
How our company teaches students: All of our students are split into levels 1-9 A, B, and C (so they start with level 1A, then 1B, then 1C then 2A.....). There are some other classes we teach, like speaking classes or tutoring, but generally we teach lessons from the books.

Level 1 lessons are generally 4 new words and a couple phrases (i.e. "how are you?" "thank you" "i'm sorry" etc). By level 9 they are learning intense grammar things that I had no idea about. Ages range from preschoolers to young teenagers.

Level 9C, the highest level
The schools have Vietnamese teachers and foreign teachers (hi that's me). The kids sit through each lesson 2 times. Once with a Vietnamese teacher and once with a foreign teacher. The Vietnamese teacher's job is to teach grammar, core concepts, and really explain things. They are at the same schools every day with the same students so they basically do the actual teaching. My job is to teach pronunciation, have conversations, and make things fun. Sometimes the Vietnamese teacher teaches first and then I teach, and sometimes I teach first. Some of my Vietnamese teachers are wonderful and will tell me what they've already done and I can skip or what the kids should be reviewing or focusing on. I have a couple teachers at my favorite school who will actually co-teach the lesson with me, translate what I'm saying, and play games with us. But more likely you will walk in and the Vietnamese teacher will say "they're your problem now, peace out" and leave. Or sit in the corner on their phone. Which actually is fine, since I can handle most classes on my own.

How I teach students: First off, organization and planning. For me, planning comes naturally. I keep a note book of all of my regular classes at different schools where I keep track of their names, what activities they've done, and other little notes (i.e. "likes drawing games", "talks a lot" "love colored markers" "trouble with he/she" etc). On my actual schedule I write down whatever activity they did the week before and plan what I want them to do this week. Because I teach the same lessons over and over and over, this takes me maybe 5 minutes a day and at least for me, makes a world of difference. Again, I don't have to do this at all.

Everything in my bag, including my planner of student information, my coveted marker collection, and some verb flash cards.
Secondly, time management. My classes are generally 45 minutes. Sometimes 30. I try to split my lessons into 15 minute increments. I only spend 15 minutes teaching the lesson (remember, the Vietnamese teacher does the real teaching), 15 minutes playing a game or doing an activity that I choose that directly relates to the lesson, and 15 minutes of another game. If they are level 1 or 2 I will choose another game (they barely understand me and know very few games), if they are higher generally I will let them choose any game they want.

My schedule at the end of a weekend
Third, variety. I try to switch things up as much as possible. I do every page differently. If we do one page together as a class, I might do the next one-on-one, then I might have kids raise their hands, then I might have them write on the board, etc. And with my games and activities, I have tons. I never repeat games more than once in two weeks.

Lastly, classroom management and the language barrier. There's no consistency so you can't have a regular cue to begin or settle down. And the kids don't understand what you're saying so you can't explain anything. Without getting too wordy (cause I haven't done that here yet, right?) in America we have tons of tips and tricks for classroom management and teaching good behavior. Vietnam...does not. Their management is based on demanded respect and consists of yelling and discipline (for example, making students stand for an entire lesson). In public schools, teachers can hit students. I cannot hit students (literally this is the only thing they tell you in interviews/training. "Just don't hit the kids.") not like I would anyway. Some of the students know that because we won't hurt them, they can act up in class (especially if no Vietnamese teacher is present). Hitting kids aside, I can understand that the discipline is just a cultural difference.

Level  8 or 9?
We can discipline them like this and many foreign teachers do, but I'm not comfortable doing it. Generally I'll tap the board loudly and glare at students who are misbehaving, usually this is all it takes. Rarely, I will have a class that will not stop talking/moving around/playing with toys when I am teaching and I will yell "quiet" in Vietnamese (or whatever I know they will understand) and look angry. I hate doing it, but that is part of their culture. Yelling and looking angry is what they are used to, if that's what it takes to show that it's time to get serious I can yell once in a while. Also because they know I am not a teacher who regularly yells, most kids know it's serious when I do raise my voice.

I will only yell one time. If it doesn't work, I will write rules on the board that I know they understand. Generally, "1. go to your desk. 2. sit down 3. be quiet 4. play game". I will stand quietly by the board looking angry and tap on step 1 until all students are at their desks, then tap on step 2 until they are all sitting down, etc. This works because a handful of students will understand, "oh if we are good we will get to the game". They will start yelling at each other and I can just stand and look angry. Eventually they all catch on. I will stand and tap on the board until every single student is sitting quietly in their seat. At the most, I've waited 15 minutes. Then I will have a Vietnamese teacher explain to them, "I want to play games and have fun and help you guys. But if you are misbehaving you lose game time." This is basically my "I give up" plan when a class is completely out of control and it works. It works a little bit faster and better each time I use it and they catch on.

Level 1 or 2
That's only when students are misbehaving. Generally they are good and I can control kids with body language and no talking. I can tap on a desk or say a student's name to readjust their attention. If I can playfully redirect them, I will do that first. I can pick up a kid and put him in his chair if he keeps running around the room. Sometimes I pretend to staple a kid to their chair and every time they move I "restaple" them. They love it. I have a few tricks like that, and as long as I am playful and constantly switching things up they generally keep busy enough not to have time for misbehaving.



Other language barrier tips: act out everything while you say it simply in English. If I want them to "sit" "be quiet" and "raise your hand",  I will do that. If I want them to "make a line" I will say it over and over and move them into a line. If I want them to "turn the page" I will say that and turn the page dramatically and loudly slap the next page (the little kids love to turn the page because they get to slap their desk). Then I write the next page number on the board. They catch on fast. With higher levels I act out verbs and things like that. It helps a lot to be animated and goofy.

I also draw everything. I always have lots of pictures on the board to point to. And I color code everything. I always use 3 different markers (and generally have more in my bag. If a class is good they get to use alllll the colors and they know that's a special treat that Teacher Tina has. I do things like use pink or red for women and blue for men when I'm teaching "he is" "she is" or "this is his" "this is hers" etc.
Color coded "this is his" "this is her" game. Level 3.
Ultimately, it's a very easy job. I don't get a lot of real connections with students and it's hard to really get to know them which is disappointing and makes the job not very fulfilling. But on the other hand I basically have complete freedom and the lessons are already, for the most part, planned for me. Teaching here for a year gave me a very basic understanding of what teaching English is like. It gave me a lot of freedom to explore management and come up with games and activities. I think it's a great starting point and if I continue to teach English I would be much more comfortable diving into a real class where I can do some serious lesson planning. I am super grateful for the experience.

If you read this whole post I will give you 5 dollars.