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Teaching in Korea? Tips for Motivating Students

Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 @ 11:37 AM

To give candy or not give candy?

To give candy or not give candy??As an English teacher in Korea, I admit that I often feel bad for some of my students. The Korean education system is so stringent and demanding that I cannot help but sympathize with them. When class energy is low or some students are struggling to pay attention, I rack my brain on ways to liven up the class atmosphere. While it can be difficult at times to motivate certain students, once you build a rapport with the class, you will know what does or does not motivate them. Here are some tips that I have used before that have worked with varying degrees of success.

  1. Games, games, and more games. Take advantage of the students’ competitive side and make everything into a game. I have turned memorization exercises into games by awarding points for each memorized sentence or had students race to find the main idea of a paragraph. I usually break students up into teams and award teams points for correct answers. This works really well with younger kids and especially for classes with lots of boys, as they seem to be a bit more competitive than the girls. Also remember that any game with boys versus girls will usually raise class participation as no one wants to lose to the opposite sex.
  2. Award prizes during class. Be careful with this one though as it is often a slippery slope. When I first started teaching, I began handing out small pieces of candy if a student did something exceptional. However, as time went on, I began handing out more and more candy and my students began to demand it. After this went on a while, I made up my mind to stop handing out candy and because of this I half expected some of my students to revolt because they were so angry. I learned my lesson the hard way. If you do want to hand out something, I have found this to be a much better system. Hand out stickers when students do something really great. Have students collect stickers and when they reach an established number, say 25, then you reward them with some candy. This is an easy system to manage and much easier on your wallet. But don’t try the stickers with the teenagers as they will probably laugh in your face.
  3. Get creative with ways to motivate. Let students who are doing really well have the responsibility of choosing groups for the end of class project (CTP). Or for a class of younger kids, let the best student of the day be the teacher’s helper by erasing the board, passing out papers, or lead the class in an activity. I also will let my students with the highest test score choose which song or video to watch on Youtube during break time. Or one of my personal favs is to have mini rock-scissors-paper tourneys in class because all students, no matter their age, love this game.
  4. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Not surprisingly, this will wake up students and get them to work. Here is a good example: I have gone out of my way to learn some lyrics of the most popular K-Pop songs. If some students are not working, I will approach their desks and start belting out a song in a falsetto voice. Of course, the students hate this and demand that I stop. I only stop on one condition…when they start working again. This trick always seems to work.

Please feel free to comment on what works for your students or other general tips on how to get your students to work harder!

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Adam Montgomery is a 25-year old teacher at the Chungdahm Branch on Jeju.  He has been teaching in Korea for under a year.  When he is not teaching, he enjoys exploring the wonders of Jeju and Korea.

Tags: Students, teaching in Korea, motivating students

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