Boring beginnings!

Conversation classes do not have to be boring, dull affairs where students repeat the same old lines ad infinitum. “My favorite food is pizza. How about you?” “I am 20 years old.  How about you?” “My hometown is Busan. How about you?” We should strive to not only improve our students’ English abilities, but their ability to hold and maintain interesting conversations. Here is a short, simple activity to really drive that message home.

Boring Beginnings

After practising follow-up questions, giving reactions and changing topics, I ask my students to write one sentence. I tell them that it is the easiest sentence they will ever write in my class. I ask them to write a boring sentence. Not just any boring sentence: the most boring sentence imaginable!

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Students’ responses tend to range from the ordinary, “I have a math class at 2pm” to the mundane, “I brushed my teeth” to the existential, “I’m a man.” The goal is for the students to start conversations with their boring conversation openers and make them interesting through the use of exemplary conversation skills. On the screen I display a countdown timer for each conversation starter and pairs have two minutes to make the conversation memorable.

“You have a math class? Cool.  Is it your favorite subject?” “You brushed your teeth? Very good habit. What are your bad habits?” “You’re a man? Me too. Do you think it’s easy being a man?” Students tend to have great fun changing ‘boring’ conversations into interesting ones. It really brings the class to life and makes their conversations that much more vibrant. Try it in your next class: I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! Or bored.


Three Ways to Sink Student Motivation

Your students hang on your every word; they’re early, they work hard and, what’s more, they seem to love your class. You feel like a teaching guru: I can turn water into wine, or any class into a great class. The semester is going swimmingly; your students are ready to jump through hoops like Flipper never could. At this point you’re walking on water, you’re the educational miracle worker and then, out from the proverbial blue yonder, splash. Your class is not a pool party any more, it’s a shipwreck! Here are three ways you wrecked your students’ motivation:
1) You jumped the shark. “My teacher works harder than I do!” Students expect great things from teachers. It’s not just a job to you: it’s a calling. There is nowhere you’d rather be than right here, right now with these students. So much passion bleeds from your veins that co-workers consider calling for an ambulance. You are literally dying to teach the class. The minute you casually show up late, phone it in, or otherwise show complete disregard for the students, it’s game over. The ship is going down with the teacher stapled to the mast.
2) You stacked the deck. “There’s no big fish in here!” Students are ready to commit time, effort and energy if they know hard work gets results. The minute they sense some students are treated like sharks, and others like prawns, is the moment they swim away. You must cast your net fairly and by the same rules at all times. You can like your students, you can ask them about their personal lives, you can even show your embarrassing vacation photos from the Thanksgiving holidays, but NEVER treat some better than others. It is a sure-fire way to pollute the water and destroy the atmosphere of the classroom forever.
3) You sailed before the wind. “My teacher thinks I’m Wonder Woman!” Students’ expectations match yours. You look at your students and you see great potential. He’s the next Steve Jobs, she’s the new Maya Angelou; all you see are endless possibilities. It is extraordinary to think what they can achieve in your class! You plan your lessons to push them to their very limits and, when they succeed, they believe they can raise the Titanic. Easy activities, assignments and games are for easy classes. You only expect hard work and great achievement.
Don’t fall into the abyss: once you’re in the depths of demotivation you’ll never get out! Work hard to show your students just how much you value their time, effort and energy. Never play favorites, never phone it in and never make it easy. Be that pearl students remember for the rest of their lives. The jewel at the bottom of the ocean they always look back to as a source of inspiration. “Remember that teacher we had? She would swim the world’s oceans if it meant we learned more!”
_Be that pearl students remember for the rest of their lives._

How to Network Like a Boss

The atmosphere is electric. Excitement is filling the air. You feel like you’re going to burst into song. Yes, you have just signed up for a huge conference like the KOTESOL International Conference on October 21 at Sookmyung Women’s University. The anticipation is killing you. This is your moment to shine, drink wine and build your network. But wait? I’m no Mulan! How am I going to network when I can’t even say hello to my own reflection? Here are some tips:

1) Let It Go. No, not like Elsa in Frozen. Although you might feel frozen, let it go: be yourself. Most likely you’re a stand-up person with a stand-up networking routine. That doesn’t mean you’re a laugh-a-minute gag-master, but nobody will be laughing at you when you walk over to strike up a conversation. A little ‘hello, my name is Elsa, nice to meet you’ won’t hurt unless you actually do call yourself Elsa.

2) Brave. If you’re a networking novice you’ll be quaking in your boots like a midnight cowboy. Accept it. Deal with it. The world doesn’t care if you’re shy; the world only cares if you speak. Say your name out loud, proud and glorious. Go in to the conference like Matt Damon on the set of Jason Bourne: all guns blazing, ready to make the next big blockbuster. Be strong. Be fearless. Be Bourne.

3) You’ve Got A Friend In Me. Networking is about building relationships. No, not those kind of relationships unless you’re setting up a Tinder account. How do you build relationships? You focus on the other person. You ask about their interests, their likes, their dreams. People love talking about themselves. People don’t really like hearing about you. Unless you have money. A lot of money. Money talks.

4) Beauty and the Business Card. You’re talking to your new conference buddy and then disaster strikes. ‘Here’s my business card.’ Oh no. You don’t have a business card. You didn’t even think to bring one. If you want to look like a beautiful beast you must be prepared. Prepared people have business cards. They’re always ready to do business. You could ask them for a business card in the shower and they’d magically present one from their shower cap.

5) Alice In Network Land. You’ve left the tea party. You’re out of the rabbit hole. You are heading home from the conference. Networking is done. All finished. Time to put the feet up. Wrong! To forge a strong connect you must follow up. Add your new contact to LinkedIn, send an e-mail, thumbs-up a vacation photo on Twitter: stay memorable. The serious networkers meet hundreds of people at conferences. Lead the pack. Be the networking Lion King.

Networking is no easy task. It requires guts and determination. It requires persistence. It requires a lifetime of dedication. Now you have these tips it’s time to wake up Sleeping Beauty and go into your next conference like the Seven Dwarves. Hi-ho hi-ho it’s off to work you go. Hakuna Matata! Go get the network that you’ve always wanted. Don’t be a WALL-E: that ship may never come without your passion to build it.

5 Reasons English Teaching is a Waste of Time

The life of an English Language teacher is not an action-packed educational adventure full of frolics on the beach, cocktails-on-tap and money flowing into your pockets. Contrary to popular opinion, the life of an English teacher means drudgery, office-dronery and deadlines. Put your suitcase back in the attic! Here are 5 reasons teaching English is a waste of time:

  1. It ain’t easy, mate. “Hey, I speak English, teaching should be easy, right?” Wrong! Teaching English is not something you can learn on the bus ride to the airport. It requires a ridiculous amount of study. At the least you’ll need a TEFL certificate. Guess how long that takes: 150 hours! If you’re riding on a bus for 150 hours you’re Keanu Reeves in Speed. If you want an easy job, become a Premier League footballer, a Hollywood actor or a Member of Parliament. Don’t waste time teaching English!
  2. Bloody hard work. “I’ll teach a few hours a day then go surfing.” What? English teaching is a full-time job. The only surfing you’ll be doing is on the internet in your break time. There’ll be no time for barbecues on the beach or Brazilian waxes in the evenings. Lesson preparation, grading and actual teaching is going to kill your free time. It’ll be a bloodbath! On weekends you’ll be so tired from your work that any party invitations will go straight into the paper shredder.
  3. Ordinary places. “I can’t decide between Rio, the Seychelles and Madagascar.” No problem. It’ll be an easy decision to make: most likely you’ll be offered none of them! Most English teachers are not in far-flung exotic locations riding camels to work or living in island beach huts. Most teachers are in regular high-rises in extremely-ordinary cities and towns, where the sound of waves is the sound of screaming neighbours. The only time you’ll hear Copacabana is when your local DJ digs out an old Barry Manilow track for Hawaiian Shirt Night.
  4. No money. “English teaching is easy money! I’ll be rolling it in.” You’ll be rolling in debt! Ask to see any English teacher’s smart phone and you’ll sound like Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!” Most English teachers make just enough to pay off their bills, buy a Scott Thornbury book and enjoy a few pints on the weekend. Editor’s note: Not the expensive stuff. By the time you can afford the new iPhone X Apple has released iPhone XX and you look like iRex: a technological dinosaur.
  5. Replaced by Google Translate. “I will have a job for life. I’m unfireable!” Are you sure about that? If a student types ‘내가 가장 좋아하는 음식은 피자입니다’ into Google Translate the result is ‘My favourite food is pizza’. Can an English teacher really do any better? Let’s try again: ‘나는 평생직장을 가질겁니다. 전 해고당할 수 없어요’ comes out as ‘I will have a lifetime job. I can not get fired’. Close enough! It won’t be long before English teachers are replaced with URLs. Cheaper, faster and they don’t listen to Barry Manilow on the weekends.

Still want to teach English? You must be out of your mind. Only the most daring, passionate and determined would even consider it. Don’t do it for the money. There is none! Don’t do it because it’s easy. It ain’t! Don’t do it to sip cocktails atop Mount Everest. You won’t! Do it because you have a passion for changing the lives of your students through the medium of language learning.


Wayne Finley is a passionate educator currently teaching at a university in South Korea. While he doesn’t enjoy any beach parties on Copacabana beach, he does gain great fulfilment from helping his students achieve their language learning goals. Even with the screaming neighbours.

3 Tips for First-Timers

The KOTESOL International Conference lights up the world of English Language Teaching on October 21 with its 2-day weekend extravaganza at Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul. As a frequent conference-goer, I have these three tips to make the most of your first conference experience:

Do your homework. Why are you going to the conference? If it’s to further perfect your craft then check out the conference schedule to decide your itinerary. Don’t make the mistake of reading the conference program on the way home and exclaiming: ‘I can’t believe I missed that one!’ If you want to network with like-minded individuals, or seek out new job opportunities, then work out your plan of action. Be Rambo! Be ready!

Don’t hold back. My first time at a large conference was a little scary. I was not only presenting, but I didn’t know anyone. The natural reaction is to run to the nearest corner and plant yourself there until it’s safe to come out. That’s a mistake. People at conferences are not only human, but they are usually very nice people. They are also there for the same reasons you are. Don’t be shy: put on your big-boy/girl pants and mingle (if you want to!).

Do more. After your first taste of a hustling-bustling conference you should be salivating at the prospect of attending more, with or without Pavlov’s bell. Now you’ve built some good connections, got some new ideas and mingled over wine and cheese, look for the next one. Attend it. Build more connections. Get more ideas. Drink more wine and eat more cheese. Be that ‘oh, you again!’ person.

If you’re interested in attending not only the International Conference, but other cool conferences in Korea, you can visit Choose the red pill! Pre-registration for the conference ends on October 1, but you can always get your dose by registering on the door.

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Student Motivation: Advice from teachers

How do you keep your students motivated? At the beginning of the school year, when you still don’t know your Dong Jins from Dong Wons, or Jun Hos from Jun Mins, life is easy. Students rush to their seats, eyes wide open, ready for education to be poured into their eager minds. You think to yourself, ‘wow, I have a fantastic group of students, here. I really lucked out.’ But then, after a few weeks, reality sets in. All is not rosy in the garden of Education.

It usually starts with KakaoTalk. Or rather, it always starts with KakaoTalk. One little glance here or there and then, boom, a cascade of KakaoTalk alerts ringing out one after another. A symphony. Make it stop. Make it stop! Now students are coming late, they’re sleeping…why do they need 45 minutes for a bathroom break? Where is everyone going? What should I do? ‘I really screwed up.’ ‘Help me, Obi-Won (anyone!), you’re my only hope!’

On May 28, 2016 in a city not so far, far away called Wonju, near the bright lights of Seoul, two knights in shining armor (suits) stood up to answer the call at the KOTESOL National Conference (Messrs. Wayne Finley and Tory Thorkelson). They talked about the four theories of student motivation (behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and social learning) and then they posed five intriguing questions to five groups of English teachers. Five questions to change the EFL universe. What follows is the result of that Q&A.

BEHAVE YOURSELF! Recommend behavioral management strategies for the different classes.



“For extrinsic motivation, reward Ss with candy (occasionally)”

“Simple, clear instructions”

“Physical presence”

“Simple classroom rules”

High School

“Don’t speak down to them”

“Use humor at appropriate times”


“Work with phones”

“Clear class rules and positive guidelines; be objective, firm and fair”

“Give regular feedback on performance”



“Randomize/change seating for pairs/groups, but not too much”


“Voting on ideas/rules or standards”

It was also recommended that teachers “respect the L1” for all the classes and that teachers could use a teaching arc of “fun-easy-difficult-easy-very easy” with bonding activities.


I’VE GOT THE POWER ♪  How can you give a voice to your students?


“Less teacher talk!”

“(Middle school) Controlled activities; give Ss time to formulate post-listening activity”

“(Students) Choose topics for assessments”

“Choosing how to learn a specific learning objective”

“Create a comfortable environment by errorless teaching scaffolding”

“Confirm/reassure what students know/can do”

“Ask opinions; Personalize questions; Direct questions; Talking stick”

“Choosing books (ER)”

“Physically get on their level”

“Creative activities/experimentation”

“Backchannels: Kakao, Twitter”


FOUR C-ING THE FUTURE: How do you bring critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication to your classroom?


Critical Thinking


“Word problems”

“Think aloud – model to students ‘how to’”

“Compare/contrast L1/L2”

“Making games e.g. a board game”

“Multiple perspectives”

Creative Thinking

“Don’t set narrow parameters for opinions”

“Storyboard activities, based on movie clips”

“Ask open-ended questions”

“Do things differently – write on the windows and the floor”


“Collaborate writing projects e.g. a research report”

“Multiple perspectives”

“Mingle activities i.e. opinion surveys”

“Everyone can be in charge”


“Write opinions first and then discuss”


“Multiple perspectives”


DOIN’ IT FOR’T ENVIRONMENT: How can we create classroom environments that our students want to study in?



“Use classroom space; create personal relationships”

“Try to understand student expectations”

“Be positive”

“Praise them”

“Be likeable”

“Be fair (as much as possible)”


“Handle classroom issues; control the environment (seating etc.)”

“Be available and approachable”

“Clear objectives”

“Good lessons”


“Show interest in students – their culture, language, lifestyle”

“Clear classroom rules/expectations”

“Periodically, ask students for course topic/content suggestions”

“Physical and emotional safety”

“Ask students to choose from a list of activities”


MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL… “Be the change you want to see in the classroom.” What can you do today to change your classroom tomorrow?


“Teacher needs to be motivated; show passion in your teaching and genuine interest in the students”

“Teacher as captain – take responsibility and actions to be proactive in class so students are proactive in their learning”

“Effective leadership; teacher should be accountable so students can be accountable”

“Praise them about something”

“Lead by example – show mistakes (use of Korean): it builds confidence”

“Create a lighter environment – humor in the classroom”

“Listen and respect opinions (but could we be manipulated?)”

“Maintain your energy! (or the semblance of energy)”

“Laugh at least once during each class”

“Tell them when you make mistakes!”

“Invite your students to demonstrate their skills”


I would like to thank the 16 teachers who took part in the discussions for their invaluable input. I really loved the novel idea of writing on the floor and windows! I’m not sure my employer would approve, but I sure would feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society! Carpe diem.

Lesson Plan 9 From Outer Space: Narrative Lesson Planning


Stories have captivated people’s hearts and minds for thousands of years. Long before Harry Potter entered the realm of fiction, people were telling tales about a sunken city called Atlantis or the super strength of a boy borne of Zeus. Times have not changed. People are eagerly awaiting to crown the victor of next year’s Batman vs. Superman clash and find out the fate of Rick and crew in The Walking Dead. How can we weave that narrative magic into the classroom?

Talk to teachers about storytelling and they will show you how to tell stories in the classroom. Use props! Costumes! Music! Yes, there are a variety of ways to tell a story in the classroom. Who doesn’t remember being asked to play a particular role in their elementary school’s big stage production? Oliver Twist, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and A Christmas Carol all bring back fond memories (Sidenote: I played the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the only non-speaking role!).

What about an immersive storytelling classroom experience? Students are not asked to act out stories, or tell stories, or watch stories, no. What if they are the story? Imagine the class starts like any other with the same tried-and-tested warm-up activity, but then, out of nowhere, to the shock of everyone, a gigantic spaceship parks outside the school gates? What then? What do they do? What is their reaction? Let’s take a look at some examples of narrative lesson planning based on four classes taught during Woosong University’s Fall 2015 semester.



Unit 4: Goodbye Videogames

Unit 3: Manners Maketh Man

Unit 2: A Voyage To The Stars

Unit 1: Back to the…Fashions