I wrote this last week but I couldn't post it till now as I had to battle my phone, my computer's Bluetooth settings, and my own technological incompetence to get the pictures. It took place last Thursday at one of my small country schools.
Typical. The one time I actually get told about something in advance and I forget about it until my co-teacher brings it up the morning it's happening. The thing was English camp being run by my favourite school. Luckily they didn't need me to prepare anything for it. The word "camp" is thrown around a lot here, and it rarely means what you would expect (a lot like the word "story", which seems to mean everything from "shop" to "computer game", but that's another, uh. . . blog post). "English Camp" usually means a intensive course of English lessons run in the Summer or Winter holidays. It runs for anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days, but no-one stays overnight: the kids and teachers just come in each day. Usually only students, or those who do well in their English tests can take part.
This camp was a little different. The whole school (admittedly this is like, 50 people including the teachers) piled onto two buses and went to another school for some fun English learning. I wondered why we couldn't just do it at our school, and the reason turned out to be that the other school's English room was freaking awesome! It was three times the size of a normal classroom and had all these different areas set up to simulate real life situations, like a restaurant or a bank. There was a stage, a separate "broadcast room", and heaps of props. If you teach elementary school English in South Korea, you're unlikely to have to wait more than a few minutes to role play ordering food in a restaurant, but you probably won't have an actual restaurant with real tables, (plastic) food and a stove to help you act it out.
One of the sections was called "House", and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it was my favorite. It had a couch. An actual couch. If you're not in Korea and you now think I'm mental, you have to understand that couches here are like park benches with leather on them. No padding, bolt upright seating angle, hopelessly uncomfortable. I have not been comfortable since I changed planes in Sydney - the engines might fall off Qantas's planes but their seats are luxurious compared to Asiana's. This couch was something else. I'll spare you a long description because I understand that to you, it's just a couch. Suffice to say that I really seriously wondered if I could get away with a nap.
For the main activities the students were divided into six groups with a mixture of age levels in each one. The groups moved around six stations, each organised by a different teacher. There was a station for ordering in the restaurant, one set in a hospital, and one in a stationery shop. My station was a quiz that my co-teacher had organised. It was all true or false stuff, things like "The tiger can fly", or "My uncle's father is my cousin". I had to read each question twice, then on the count of three the students signaled their answer: "yes" by holding their hands in a halo above their heads, "no" arms crossed in the "no deal" style. The kids were really into it, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun coming up with questions. I had a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. So much better than trying to explain grammar to bored middle school students.
It was especially cool to get to work with the younger students. Normally I only teach fourth, fifth and sixth grade at both my elementary schools. Before today I thought I was just that big scary white guy to the younger grades. But it turned out they were really excited to meet me and they were crazy about the quiz, even if they only seemed to understand about half of it. They are so cute and so excited about learning, jumping up and down and chanting out "1,2,3" as I did before I told them the answer. I think the school system here really beats that enthusiasm out of them, especially at middle school where they are more or less expected to act like mini adults.
After lunch we had more singing, and then something that my co-teacher called "groupwork". This involved all the students dancing around in three big circles singing English songs until the music stopped. When it did the teacher would say "get into a group of three: two boy students and one girl student." Or something similar. Anyone not in a group got "punishment", which meant they stood up the front doing a kind of Simon-says routine with the teacher for a minute or so.
After handing out completion certificates to all the kids, all that was left to do was distribute energy drinks to a room full of over-stimulated children . . .
. . . and pile them back on the buses.
On the way back I had a frantic (but awesome) conversation with about ten third-graders, all asking me questions at once. I think I got asked my name (which they already knew) at least once by each student, but I was surprised at the level of conversation we were able to have. With a Korean teacher helping them they were able to talk about soccer (why they like it, what position they play), what they like and dislike at school, and their favorite computer games.
It was a great experience, and the kids were crazy excited about the whole thing. I hope it happens more often - it beats the Hell out of middle school grammar lessons!