Today’s class: A report on the first class of the term

1,000+ words in I realized this is not exactly the blog post I wanted to write. Rather than simply scrap it I decided to make this “page” out of it and link to it in the post that I wanted to write, which is this one. 

I thought I’d share some things that I did in class today on the off chance that it might be helpful for another teacher. My class/context is quite specific but I also hope and think there are some ideas that could be taken for other classes and contexts.  I also hope it might be slightly interesting to get a picture of what some of my classes are like.

This was the first class of the term with this group.
Class was scheduled for 3 hours but in Korea in universities the first class tends to go much less than the allotted  [My aim was for around 2 hours].
There are 8 students registered for the class but only 7 could be there today.
I already know the students quite well after working with them in the spring and the students know each other very well after working together for 18 months.
The students are in a 2 year “Advanced Interpreting and Translation Course” which is an MA and includes a certificate in interpretation and translation which is kind of like a license.
The certificate is gained after passing each of an arduous series of tests, which are coming in December.
The test is quite obviously a big deal and focuses on all the areas that they have been studying for 2 years, which means there will be an English to Korean translation, a K–>E one and so on.


This happened in a room like this

In the class I wanted to start things off with a comfortable mood. I wanted to reconnect.  I wanted to hear about how their summers went and what they have been up to since I last talked to them in June.   I wanted to share some small changes in terms of how the class will run compared to the spring. I wanted to give them a chance to use English as well as to practice a bit of interpretation. I wanted to negotiate a few points with the class on things  like starting and ending times and what our roles will be and if eating is ok during class time. [They have class from 9 am to 3 pm basically in a row with very short breaks.] I didn’t want to talk too much or tell too much. I wanted to have a bit of fun. I wanted to make sure that it was worth their time, considering their busy schedules and the fact that I wasn’t going to take the whole class time.

As class began I gave everyone an index card and asked them to write 3-5 questions for me. I said the questions could be about anything but it might be useful to think about questions related to English, myself or this course. This took just around 5 minutes and then I collected the cards.

Next, I said that I wanted a report on their summer. The catch is that I wanted it to be delivered by a partner. This means that they’d have to find out from a partner what the other person did. I know, nothing too revolutionary or mind blowing here. The only small (?) wrinkle is that I asked them to have their initial conversations in Korean but to report to me about their classmate’s summer in English. I hoped this would add another layer of challenge and intrigue (not to mention a bit of interpretation practice). They shared about their classmates’ summers and I asked some follow up questions. I tried to ask real questions on things I was genuinely curious about. A few times, I also asked about some word choices and said how I might say something a bit differently.

While the initial round of conversations were happening in Korean I was preparing my speech. Yes, my speech. In order to welcome students back to class and to give another round of interpretation practice I used the questions on the cards to create a short speech. I tried to make a speech that was about 10 minutes long, roughly divided into three parts. The first part was a formal welcome in which I thanked them for coming and and made some general comments about the weather and time and how the seasons are always changing and crap like that. This is very common in Korean speeches so I wanted to give a bit of a model how that might sound in English. The second part of the speech was me sharing some details about my summer and what I got up to and the third part was some details about the course and some ideas I had and some small changes I hoped to make. As the speech was divided into three parts I was able to give students different roles for interpreting it. My classroom is equipped with 4 interpreting booths at the back. Today I spoke in English and the person in Room 1 interpreted this into Korean, while those in Rooms 2-4 interpreted Room 1’s Korean back into English. The students in the classroom listened to both my English and the English of their peers. After all the rounds were over we discussed any points of confusion and talked about what I’d actually said if there was something that had slipped by. The third part of the speech, the part about the course led quite nicely into a short discussion about roles, responsibilities, norms, expectations and logistics.

The other part of the class was actually my favorite part. Last year, after the graduation exam, I asked my then students to write a letter to their “junior,” to those who would be taking the course the year after them. I asked them to share their advice, thoughts and words of encouragement with their successors. They did and today was the day that I shared these letters of advice and support. (A more thorough treatment of these letters can be found here.) I got the sense that my students today were quite happy to receive the letters and also thought they felt supported. There were many positive comments about their predecessors and how much they seemed to care for those who were following in their paths. I simply laid out all the letters around the room and asked students to take their time reading the 15 or so letters I had. Their simple reading task was to collect 3 pieces of advice they found helpful or interesting. After reading the letters the students were tasked with sharing which advice they had collected with a partner and then we talked about the advice as a group. I was quite pleased with how things went.

Bonus round:
I actually used these letters in yesterday’s class as well (with a different section of the same class). Yesterday I gave one letter to each student and asked them to read it and translate it for their partner. Perhaps I should have noted around half the letters were written in Korean and half were written in English. Their job was to translate the letter from Korean to English or English to Korean for their partner. Their partner’s job was to share (in English only) the contents of the letter to the group.I thought this worked ok but it also meant that not all the letters were read. Worse, and far less comfortable it sometimes meant that someone had to say very complimentary things about me to the group if that is what the original letter had said. I decided that we could do without this stage today and changed it up as I mentioned above.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Letters of advice from former students | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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