Teaching Abroad Advice

Kalinago English has a post up collecting advice on teaching abroad and how to avoid problems.

I made the following comment:

I would add that it’s a good idea to talk to teachers and sit in on a class or two.

Issues I have had in Kazakhstan include not being paid my promised wage (and a friend of mine who came here directly from the UK was promised a stipend for apt that never materialized), being overburdened (60 hours a week, including nights, weekends, and early morn) because everyone wants the native speaker, schools that take any student regardless of level so your “intermediate” class includes students who can’t put together a complete sentence in English, and uncaring staff who don’t fix any of those problems or even let you know if a class is cancelled or the time changed or whatever.

Now that stuff happens everywhere, in every industry of course. But I do wish I had chatted with some of the current teachers before I worked with certain companies.

If you have any good advice for people who want to teach English abroad but don’t want any horror stories, it would be good to compile all your suggestions on that post, and make it a nice resource for future EFL teachers.

Resources for Black History Month

from Behance.net by Dee Adams
I posted last week, asking for help finding lesson plans for my English Club on Black History Month. The limitations I faced were: in Kazakhstan people don’t know a lot about famous African Americans, we don’t have Internet access so research based lessons are impossible, and the lesson should be discussion-oriented, meaning that I don’t want to lecture at them too much.

Here are some resources I dug up:

One friend suggested Stevie Wonder’s “Black Man” and this YouTube video which shows the names and pictures of the people mentioned in the song is pretty good. It also shows some other famous African Americans. Of course, the song also focuses on Native Americans and Asian Americans and even Jewish and European Americans so it isn’t ideal.

These discussion questions aren’t too bad, although a little advanced for my group and they do stray into controversial areas.

This lesson plan analyzing the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King is excellent although not discussion-focused so I will probably only use part of it. But for a writing or literature based lesson, it’s really excellent.

And here’s another good one on I Have a Dream that also focuses on literary devices like allusions, metaphors and similes. Of course my students aren’t conversant in the Bible, the Declaration of Independence or American patriotic songs so the allusions would go over their heads.

I do like the idea behind this list of famous African American inventions but it’s a bit disingenuous. A did a bit of research and while all these inventors did patent or invent versions of these items, they were not the first nor are their versions the ones we use commonly. On the other hand, many scientists and inventors were African-American and they did contribute to American innovation. And the first heart surgery was done by a black man, Charles Richard Drew, who also did a lot to help create blood banks.

The Environment and Slow Cities

by JoiseyshowaaA discussion lesson plan on the topic of the environment which ended up bringing in the Slow City movement as well.


Warm Up

Start out with the Odd Man Out Environmental Vocabulary game from Ted Power (The site has some great questions and vocab activities by theme as well as short readings and listenings). A simple idea for teaching and reviewing vocab, where students get a list of words and have to decide which word is not like the others. Multiple answers are possible but as kids think about it, they have to deeply think about the meanings of these words. Opening a discussion lesson with a little vocab work and controlled practice does help kids to warm up and also gives even the shyer students a chance to speak.

Discussion on the Environment

Discuss the following questions as a class, or have students discuss them in small groups. Obviously you can pick and choose the order of these questions or which ones you use. Generally, in a discussion lesson, I try to guide them but not keep too much control over the topics and sometimes students anticipate later questions. So I step in with a new question only when the conversation dies down. I do try to order questions by topic and also go from simpler, more controlled answers to freer and more profound or controversial questions.

  • Is it important to protect the environment?
  • Why?
  • What can we do as individuals to protect the environment?
  • What can the government do?
  • What can international organizations do?
  • Why do we destroy the environment?
  • Is protecting the environment harmful to business and the economy?
  • Do you think we can ever destroy the Earth?
  • Do you believe in global warming?
  • Would you give up cars, computers, mass-produced goods, etc… if it meant saving the environment?

Reading/Discussion on Cittaslow

Now looked at the Cittaslow (Slow City) movement. Ask if students have heard of it and what they know. If they don’t know anything about it, explain that it is a relatively new movement that started in Italy. Cities can become slow cities if they promote a lifestyle that is healthy, environmentally friendly and preserves traditions and relaxation over too much progress and a stressful way of life.

Now hand out the Cittaslow reading which includes an excerpt from the Charter and also what one city has done to become a slow city as well as its future plans.

Go over any vocabulary or comprehension issues and discuss the Charter. What do they think of this movement? What is the point? Is it a good idea or not? Would they like to live in a slow city? Do they think their city or town could be a slow city?

Now look at the section on Perth. Ask them which idea they liked best, which they liked worst, which they think would be best for their city, and which could never work here.

To finish up, or as homework have them think of other project ideas that could make their city a better place to live along the principles of Cittaslow. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each project.

My First ELTChat

Participated in my first ELTchat yesterday. It was extremely interesting and definitely worthwhile. Especially for those of us who teach in foreign countries that don’t have a lot of contact with other experienced and qualified English teachers, it’s a great way to hear what others have to say, put forward questions and get to know some teachers on the Net whose ideas interest you.

Because I didn’t really get how it worked, and I saw a few other people enter the chat who also didn’t quite get it, I thought I’d throw up a quick 101 guide. Basically every Wednesday at 12:00GMT and 21:00GMT, English teachers from around the world get on Twitter simultaneously to discuss a set topic. It’s open to anyone so you don’t need to register or be invited. I should also note that there was no attitude or cliquishness either; it was my first time and I jumped right in without any feeling that I should wait my turn or that only certain people were talking to certain people. I actually got some great answers to my question of how to keep students from speaking in their native language when they work in small groups.

To “listen in” , just search for “ELTChat” on Twitter. And to join in, make sure to include “#ELTChat” in your tweets. That’s it. One issue is that the conversation updates very fast, so some people recommend using a website like Tweet Chat to read the conversation, but I didn’t like that option because you can’t enter your own Tweets from there. I ended up using my normal Twitter client, Tweet Deck, and that worked fine. Updated fast and I’m used to the controls.

The ELTChat website puts up summaries of the conversation and transcripts of the chat (very useful because yesterday a lot of great ideas got thrown around on increasing student talking time in class, and making teacher talking time count. I was so busy contributing that I didn’t get a chance to read a lot of the other ideas going up. That site also puts up polls every week so you can vote on what the topic will be.

Also a quick tip for ESL bloggers: If you have a plugin like Twitter tools that turns your tweets into posts, you probably want to shut that off for the duration of the ELTChat. Otherwise you get posts that make no sense out of context!

Best Discussion Club Ever

The other day I had one of the best discussion club sessions ever. From my point of view, the point of English Club is to get people talking. There aren’t that many opportunities for English language students here to actually use the English language in a non-classroom setting. So I try to create an environment where people can speak freely. I don’t like to do lessons or have overly controlled exercises and activities. The best sessions are where students talk about whatever they want to, and try to express their opinions or tell stories.

And we achieved that last Monday. A group of about 7 women showed up, a few regulars and a few new faces. Most were university students. And they really just chatted. I had planned to discuss tort law and frivolous law suits, but I opened by asking if they had seen the Opening Ceremony of the Asian Winter Games. We talked about what they liked in the ceremony, and that led to talking about winter sports. One girl talked about a hockey match she had watched on TV. Then we got into sport in general. At this point, I wasn’t even talking. They were chatting away with each other. Somehow the conversation turned to jobs and their future professions, which led to one girl talking about how she uses English in her work at a hotel. And suddenly it was 8pm. I think all I said through the whole hour and a half was: “Did you watch the Ceremonies? What was your favorite part? What is your favorite winter sport?” Great chance to use English for authentic communication in a fairly natural setting!

By the way, it occurs to me that I have never given the details of my English Club here. So if you are in Astana and want some practice speaking English in an informal setting, we have English Club at the ACCELS office:

Beibitshilik 18 (Fabrika Manshuk Mametovoi) Office 409. Monday 6:30-8pm. Free of charge. No need to sign up, just come and participate.

Black History Month

from Behance.net by Dee Adams
The local Education USA/ACCELS center has asked me to do next week’s discussion club on Black History Month. The problems are 1) there aren’t a lot of black people in Kazakhstan and very little, if any, contributions to their history (except Pushkin), 2) they really don’t know US history well in general, and 3) there are a lot of stereotypes here that are rampant. Some are quite offensive and nasty (“All black people smell bad”) and some are less vile but still need to be dealt with (“Black people are only good at sports and music”).

So how do I design a discussion lesson plan for 90 minutes that promotes positive aspects of black history in a way that is relevant to a foreign country and allows stereotypes to be deflated without having to listen to a bunch of very offensive speech?

By the way, it is interesting how being abroad affects your sense of other. Perhaps in America, I do feel that in some ways, African Americans are other. But here in Kazakhstan, they are my country mates and therefore part of “us”! In any case, I really don’t want to end up in a back-and-forth on some ignorant but firmly held opinion about how all black people are X, Y or Z.

I’d be grateful for any advice or resources.