Navigating Korean Workplace Culture in Educational Settings

Background Info

There are some difficulties in living and working in any foreign country. South Korea is not the exception. Not being able to identify and then manage these difficulties can be frustrating and exhausting at times. Trying to figure out Korean workplace culture is an added stress on top of the one you get from teaching the students at your organization.

As an English Program Coordinator at Gyeonggi-do Institute for Global Education, I have the unique perspective of experiencing Korean workplace culture as a Korean and as a non-Korean. As a non-Korean worker, my team of teacher trainers and I have to brainstorm, design and teach educational content to teach to the trainees who are elementary and secondary teachers of Gyeonggi Province. As a Korean worker, I not only have to perform administrative duties but also mentor my team on how to run programs and meet the demands of our organization. In my job, I have to work with both teacher trainers who are non-Korean and supervisors who are Korean. Both groups with different perspectives in mind. However, this is not just something that happens in GIGE, but in most organizations in Korea that have Korean and non-Korean staff members: two groups with different perspectives in mind. In the following sections, I have written down some observations on what I think are the main sources of frustrations for non-Korean workers and possibly along with tips and techniques to resolve them.


Throughout my experiences working in Korea, there are times when workplace culture is discussed. One common theme I hear a majority of the time is the lack of communication. I hear comments like:

“I wish they (admin, co-teacher, etc.) told me about that earlier. If I would have known, I would have done something about it.”

“I came to school today and nobody was here. It was a day off. Nobody told me about today.”

“I was told that (something) needs to be done by today. I wish I would have been given more time.”

While there are a myriad of situations and reasons why non-Korean people feel this way, I want to present a few suggestions on how to open up communication lines so the lack of communication can happen less often.

  1. Initiate communication between you and the Korean staff – While there are Korean staff who do not relay information to you at all, there are also Korean staff members who do a mental calculation of what you need to know. When considering what you need to know, the Korean staff member might be thinking about how to tell you in English, whether it is relevant for your job, whether you will be overwhelmed by all the information that you are being told, how you would react to the information, etc. While doing this cost/benefit analysis of telling you certain information, the Korean staff might guess wrong and might omit something that you actually need. If you think this might be your case, then you need to open the lines of communication and relieve your Korean staff member of these thoughts by just asking for all the information. If translating Korean to English is a concern, just ask for the information in Korean and use Chat GPT, Google Translate, and/or Papago to decipher the information yourselves. In this way, it lowers the barrier of communication. The Korean staff member does not have to stress being a messenger, he or she can just be the messenger.
  2. When you ask, ask politely – I am going to go out on a limb and assume that people act professionally at their workplace and are courteous to fellow co-workers. But I think as non-Koreans, we assume we can ask people to do their job descriptions. For example, if I have computer problems, I can ask the IT person in my organization to come and fix my problem immediately. Or if I need an income report document, the school administration staff can handle it. While it may be a part of a staff member’s duty, still ask politely and thank them afterwards. Korea still operates under a hierarchical system in the workplace. Unless work comes from a position of authority, Koreans don’t like to be told what to do, even if it is in their job description.
  3. Have patience – There are two things to consider here: time and language. Most schools or organizations have a yearly plan of events, meetings, etc. But if you have been in Korea long enough, you know not everything goes according to plan. In addition, the changes of these plans may happen suddenly. So when you get information about sudden changes, there might be a possibility that the Korean staff member might have received the information suddenly, too. I feel giving Korean staff members the benefit of the doubt is important here when opening the lines of communication. It’s likely the Korean staff member might also not like to receive sudden news. It can be doubly stressful for that person because now they might have to tell you about these changes. When it comes time to hear this news, I feel we need to have this understanding of the Korean staff members. The second thing to consider is language ability. When news is being told to you in English, there needs to be room for error. If your Korean staff member has near-fluent proficiency, then there might not be a problem, but more often than not, that kind of language ability is rare. This means when a Korean staff member speaks to you in English, they are trying to communicate with what they know, and hoping it is understood. A strategy to manage this can be to say what you understood and confirm the information. Another strategy can be to ask follow up questions to elicit more information so you can come to your own conclusions.
  4. Understand what the Korean teachers and staff do – There are certain things that you might need assistance with. This assistance can be professional, i.e. visa processes, school administration, classroom management, lesson planning, getting to know your student population, obtaining class resources, etc. This assistance can be outside of the workplace, i.e. finding an apartment, interpreting Korean social cues that you have experience but cannot quite understand, using Korean websites to buy products, etc. I think when it comes with any kind of assistance, it should not be taken for granted. Korean teachers and staff, along with you, have to manage their duties while also dealing with unexpected events. Some have families of their own to take care of. Some might have other personal issues they need to attend to. We never really know what a person has to deal with in their lives. While living and working in a foreign country is difficult, living and working in your own country can also be difficult (just a different kind of difficult). When we have this understanding in mind, there might be some challenging things that we can struggle with. Of course, when it is absolutely necessary, ask for help. But we need to use the call for help sparingly.

Showing Effort

Effort and/or the perception of it is not an aspect of workplace culture that is discussed. It almost seems too obvious to talk about. When you are at your job, just do your duties stated in the contract. Do that really well and your contract will get renewed. Most of the time, working hard at your job helps you continue doing your job.

While working hard is important, what is also important is to show how hard you work. There is a performance aspect to a Korean workplace. In other words, making a perceivable attempt at effort is just as important as the effort itself. Later, I will give some examples of how to do this. But first, I would like to present some caveats about showing effort. First, showing effort does not mean reporting to people every single thing you did at work. There is no need for that and it might quite possibly be viewed negatively. Second, showing effort does not mean faking your duties. You still need to do your job. Faking it might not get noticed temporarily, but I don’t feel it is a good long term Korean workplace survival strategy.

Then, what is showing effort? I want to contrast showing effort with making effort. Here is a sample list of actions under each category below:

Making Effort

  1. Research lessons
  2. Write lesson plans
  3. Teach classes
  4. Set up the classroom
  5. Attend professional development seminars, workshops, and conferences
  6. Publish articles and/or research
  7. Attend and participate in meetings
  8. Do administrative duties

Showing Effort

  1. Dress nicely
  2. Design visually appealing materials and/or presentations
  3. Volunteer assistance
  4. Get to know staff, school, students
  5. Actively participate in meetings, school events, etc.
  6. Use Korean
  7. Present in workshops, seminars, and conferences
  8. Do action research

Making an effort is doing the assumed duties to the best of your ability. For example when preparing to teach a class, a teacher has to brainstorm lesson ideas, create a teaching strategy, make materials, and research content. While a teacher might devote a lot of time and energy doing this work, it mostly goes unnoticed and is taken for granted even if you might teach some creative lessons.

Now let’s take a look at the previous example from the perspective of showing effort. This same teacher above could spend less time and energy on researching lesson ideas and teaching materials. Instead, this teacher could spend some time dressing nicely, designing visually appealing and understandable worksheets, and teaching the class energetically. Showing effort means you are making your work visible and tangible.

You might ask, “Why do I have to show effort?” My answer would be, “You don’t have to, but it does give you an advantage.” Your job performance not only has objective measures, but also subjective measures. Showing effort enhances your job performance subjectively. People need to know the wonderful things that you are doing. You cannot assume people know.

Two things from the “Showing Effort” list I want to stress are volunteer assistance and using Korean. Regarding volunteering assistance, I am not saying to disregard what you have to do in order to help others. What I mean is to offer assistance when you have some down time at work or if you see someone who needs help. For example, if you have an empty class period and are just sitting in front of your computer watching Youtube videos while your co-worker is busy making decorations for a school event, then offer to help. The co-worker might not accept your offer, but the fact that you offered it showed that you are considerate towards his or her needs. Sometimes, volunteering assistance can be unprompted. For example, when it is midterm exam time, you can offer to review and edit test questions.

With reference to using Korean, you do not have to have a high proficiency level to speak to your Korean staff members. By using Korean whenever you can, you are showing that you are interested in the language and culture. In addition, it shows that you are trying to understand Korean people. That image of you trying to understand Korean language and culture goes a long way on being favorably viewed in Korean workplace culture.


Most non-Koreans want to maximize their life socially and professionally in Korea. My hope is that with better lines of communication with the Korean staff and a focus on showing effort at work that your work life can be a little bit easier and less frustrating.

This is not the first time a GIGE teacher trainer has written about Korean workplace culture. To read about it from a different perspective, click on the article written by Eric Flynn called “Tips for Being a Successful Native English Teacher in Korea.”

Teacher Terminology: a (hopefully) Useful List of Definitions

When I was preparing for my interview at GIFLE, I suddenly realized that I had to pretend to actually know something about teaching if I wanted to land the job. This meant familiarizing myself with various forms of educational jargon. So I spent some time combing over the internet for any sort of teacher-y sounding words I could find. And it must have worked, since I got the job! But, once I actually started doing the job, I realized there were still tons of words I didn’t know. Thankfully, I found that my co-workers were understanding enough that they didn’t judge me for asking questions, and in the long run, I learned a whole wealth of words and terms I had never learned at my previous job. I hope that other teachers in a similar situation as mine can benefit from my experience. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of various terms and words I’ve learned that have been helpful for my work. Let’s get right into it.

Backwards Design: A method of curriculum and lesson design where the teacher thinks of the end goals of the lesson first, then creates the curriculum and activities around those goals. Also known as “UBD” (see below).

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A means of classifying different thinking skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy is often shown as a pyramid, with more simple thinking skills (like memorizing) at the bottom, and more complex ones (like evaluating or creating) at the top.

CBL: “Content-based Learning.” Teaching a subject like science, social studies, etc., in a foreign language.

CLIL: “Content and Language Integrated Learning.” A method of curriculum design that involves using 2 or more subjects, plus a foreign language, when designing a lesson or course. It was designed as an upgrade to CBL (see above). 

Critical Thinking: The act of engaging in higher-order thinking skills (see “Bloom’s Taxonomy” above) in order to come up with creative solutions to problems, or evaluate information.


  • CCQs: “Content-checking questions.”  Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they understood the information they just learned. Example: A teacher finishes teaching the class about the climate of Paraguay, then asks, “Does it snow a lot in Paraguay?” 
  • ICQs: “Instruction-checking questions.” Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do. Example: A teacher tells students to bring their worksheets to him/her when they’re finished. After giving them this instruction, the teacher asks the class, “Should you bring your worksheets to me or keep them?” 


  • Decoding: figuring out meaning from text or sound, i.e., reading and listening.
  • Encoding: creating one’s own words to convey meaning, i.e., writing or speaking.

Differentiation: Creating various versions of lesson materials to be usable by various levels of students. For example, when writing a speech, a low-level student might be given a fill-in-the-blanks template, while higher-level students might be encouraged to write it from scratch.

Essential Questions (EQs): Thought-provoking questions (often with no right or wrong answer) that guide lesson/curriculum development. They encapsulate what the teacher wants students to be able to answer at the end of the lesson. Created to be used with the UBD teaching framework (see below), but also used elsewhere.

Flipped Classroom: A method of teaching where the students learn the background information of the class at home (through a video, etc.) in order to prepare them for activities in a following class. This is opposed to a typical classroom, where students learn the material in class, then do homework at home.

GCE: “Global Citizenship Education.” A teaching philosophy promoted by UNESCO, which aims to make students better global citizens by teaching about diversity, conflict resolution, and more.

Kinesthetic Learning: A means of learning that involves the student handling and manipulating objects, e.g., moving magnetic letters to spell a word.

L1/L2: L1 is a person’s native language, L2 is the language they study. For example, a Korean citizen’s L1 is Korean, with their L2  English (or Chinese, or whatever else they’re studying.)

Lexile Level: A measure of how difficult something is to read, especially in regards to a student’s grade.

Metacognitive Thinking: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Typically seen in adult students when evaluating the effectiveness of their study methods and courses.

Project-based Assessment (PBA): A means of “testing” students by grading projects as opposed to a written test. 

*Note, PBA is different from PBL (below). While they are often used together, they are not necessarily done so. An analogy is to think of the martial of Kendo, and a sword. Kendo is the system, the sword is the tool. And while a sword is used in Kendo, it can be used in other styles (like Kung-fu) as well.

Project-based Learning (PBL):  A teaching method where students produce projects as a means of learning.

Realia: Objects from the culture of the language being studied. Examples: newspapers, souvenirs, snacks, etc.

Scaffolding: A very general term that essentially means building on what the students already know in order to teach them more. This description basically encompasses all teaching. Often in an ESL/EFL context, however, scaffolding refers to using templates or frames to guide students’ English. Below are two examples of a question that might appear on a worksheet, one scaffolded and one not.

  • Scaffolding: What is your name? My name is _______.
  • No scaffolding: What is your name? _______________.

Segmenting/blending: Phonics skills.

  • Segmenting: separating a word into constituent phonics. 
  • Blending: putting phonemes together to sound out a word.

Sight Words: In basic reading/phonics, words that are memorized, as opposed to being phonetically blended.

Station Learning/Station Rotation: A method of teaching that involves the teacher setting up different “stations” around the classroom, with a different activity (watching a video, doing a worksheet, group work, etc.) at each one. After a certain amount of time, students move to a different station.

Task-based Learning: Teaching students English by having them simulate real-world tasks. Examples of task-based learning are having students do a customer/clerk role play, having them follow directions on a map, etc.

TPR: “Total physical response.” A method of teaching that involves students both saying words and performing an action, e.g., saying “eat” as they pantomime eating. 

UBD: “Understanding by Design.” A form of curriculum design that our instructor, Autumn, wrote a whole post about – you can read it here.

Zone of Proximal Development: Regarding books and literature, the zone of proximal development is an ideal difficulty level that is neither too difficult nor too easy for the student, but rather just difficult enough to foster reading improvement. 

That’s all for now! While this is by no means a complete list, it should be enough to get you ready for that next teaching interview, or to save you some embarrassment of asking “What’s that mean?” the next time you go to a teaching conference. Are there any other terms I forgot that you’d like to add? Or did I make a mistake about something, and you want to tell me that I’m only slightly smarter than a chrysanthemum? Write it in the comments below!

Classroom English

Classroom English is language that is frequently used in the classroom, and it characterized by its usefulness and practical application. It can be found in the beginning of textbook chapters, and also encompasses basic English expressions that the teacher uses daily in the classroom.

Classroom English, while seemingly simple and straightforward, is an essential part of the language setting. The functions are varied:

  • Gain an understanding of the English Language
  • Enable students to feel comfortable hearing and responding to English instruction
  • Promote unconscious comprehension of simple commands in English
  • React to English instruction and thus gain confidence in their overall ability to function in English

Here are some examples of certain classroom phrases used throughout the class:

Start of the class

“Sit down”

“be quiet please”

“Let’s review…”

“Let’s begin”

During the class

“Repeat after me”

“Read aloud”


“try again”

“Do you understand”

After the class

“Any questions”

“The homework is…”

“Tomorrow, we’ll…”

“Goodbye, have a nice day”

Photo by Yan Krukov on

Classroom English exists in a strange paradigm. Its very nature means the usage is more than other types of English, but often it isn’t taught specifically or focused on during classes. This creates a problem for language teachers as often it requires a different teaching method compared to specific chapter focused English.

Classroom English is predominantly spoken and so the teacher uses this medium to communicate with classroom English, however oral techniques are only a component of teaching classroom English.

Strategies for teaching Classroom English:

Use visuals to reinforce the target language. This is an essential part of the learning and reinforcement process. Students need to be able to see the Classroom English phrases easily and they need access to it at all times.

Use the first part of the first lesson to talk about Classroom English with students. This is an important step to establishing what phrases the students need to listen out for.

For older students, methods for learning Classroom English tend to have a passive rather than active aspect. Student exposure to Classroom English will take place throughout the class, and practical methodology includes repetition and drills.

With younger students, alongside the repetition, more active tasks can be useful, especially games. Before and after the class, games can be a great way to teach Classroom English.  

Facilitating in Active Learning

“Active learning requires students to think, discuss, challenge, and analyze information.  Passive learning requires learners to absorb, assimilate, consider, and translate information. Active learning encourages conversation and debate, while passive learning encourages active listening and paying attention to detail.”

–  Khristina Russell

Be a Facilitator
In passive learning (reading and listening) the students are responsible for taking in and comprehending everything that is given to them.  

Sometimes the teacher needs to take a step back from “giving” the students all the information.   Students are not simply computers waiting for commands to be input.

Help students discover answers and improve their skills by being a facilitator and subtly guide activities through tasks that generate active participation and critical thinking skills rather than lecture.  

Active VS Passive Learning (Bath & Bourke, 2010: 25, International Journal of Languages’ Education and Teaching. 6. 163-170)

Active Learning activities can include:

  • projects
  • perspective role-playing
  • game based learning
  • role-playing with character cards (Mystery – Murder Mystery games)
  • survey tasks (disguising them as games helps)
  • real world problem solving

One of the best ways to improve Language Acquisition is to do things that involve talking to people in a more relaxed environment.    Getting students talking while focusing less on their language skills and more on communication and conveying their ideas is a great foundation.   To improve language acquisition use activities that get students out of their comfort zone (silence) and actively speaking.  Make speaking their new comfort zone by encouraging them to communicate and not worry about speaking perfectly.

Some Other Ideas for Adapting Boring Book Exercises into Active Learning are:

  • Turn gap fill exercises into a treasure hunt
  • Turn surveys into a bingo game
  • Turn vocabulary study into a number of activities
  • Do group projects where they need to communicate
  • Projects
  • Team Project Example: Create Which way adventure/ Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story
  • Station Rotation
  • Get your students moving
  • Perspective role-playing
  • Role-playing with character cards (Mystery – Murder Mystery games)
  • Survey tasks (disguising them as games helps)
  • Real world problem solving
  • Game based learning

Example Activity

Perspective role-playing: look at the topic/situation from the perspective of a
character, who will affect or be affected by the topic.
(Example: the hamster’s view vs. the elephant’s point of view in a situation)

Reflection: Active Speaking in My Classroom

  • Are there follow-up questions in your speaking activity?
  • Are there  prompts to keep the conversation going and for
    students to give detailed answers?
  • Are learners actively doing something?
    Students like something active to do rather than just following the book.  
    Even in ‘Read – Aloud’ activities!
  • Does one task lead into the next creating a smooth flow?

Russell, K. (2021, June 2). Active vs. passive learning: What’s the difference? Graduate Programs for Educators. Retrieved from,and%20paying%20attention%20to%20detail.

Active VS Passive Learning (Bath & Bourke, 2010: 25, International Journal of Languages’ Education and Teaching. 6. 163-170)’s_Motivation_in_English_Teaching_Learning_Process

Critical Multicultural Education: an overview

What is Multicultural Education

According to the leading Multicultural Education expert, James Banks (2021), Multicultural Education is  “an idea or concept, an educational reform movement, and a process” (pp.44) in which schools and teachers are tasked with creating opportunities for all students to learn and succeed in and out of the classroom. He goes on to explain that there are five dimensions to modern Multicultural Education;

What is the difference between Critical Multicultural Education and Multicultural Education?

Traditional Multicultural Education has long celebrated diversity and helped students to become aware of diversity in the classroom to promote student success and social empowerment. Critical Multicultural Education takes a step further to promote prejudice and privilege education, curriculum integration, identity formation, and opportunities for authentic partnerships and experiences.

Teachers and Critical Multicultural Education

Teacher identity and teacher reflection are an important part of Critical Multicultural Education

A teacher who engages with Critical Multicultural Education:

  • Recognizes students’ cultural knowledge, values, and ways of being as strengths
  • Is aware of their own privilege and bias
  • Has an open mindset and is constantly looking for ways in which to highlight alternative point-of-views outside of the dominant Korea-centric or West-centric worldview
  • Is sensitive to issues and topics that might be uncomfortable for students from more diverse backgrounds
  • Is knowledgeable about the unique cultural background of their students and works to understand the various diverse cultures that might be represented in the classroom

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

The pedagogical framework often cited alongside Critical Multicultural Education is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy acknowledges and engages diverse learning and their experiences, cultural backgrounds, and communities.

In South Korea, this means that “teachers are integrating the cultures and identities of immigrant students, multicultural students, and North Korean refugee students into their instruction.” (Kim, 2020, pp. 88)

A culturally responsive teacher:

  1. Learns about students’ previous experiences and cultural background
  2. Uses this knowledge in the curriculum and in the building of a caring and diverse classroom that also challenges students to success
  3. Empowers students, especially ethnically diverse students, through academic success and cultural connections in the classroom via content and classroom culture

In essence, Multicultural Education should NOT be taught in a textbook only, but instead developed by each educator based on a particular student group. Teachers should encourage students to be proud of their heritage, create assignments that celebrate diverse backgrounds, incorporate Multicultural Education Approaches into their curriculum whenever possible and work towards being an introspective teacher who examines their own values, beliefs, and biases.

As Howard (2021) states,

“The mere understanding of culture cannot translate to effective teaching strategies”

(pp. 145)

Challenges in Critical Multicultural Education

Be careful to avoid…

Cultural Stereotyping

Making general assumptions or generalizations about a cultural group.

  • Example: “All American eat hamburgers”

Educators who seek to create cultural connections can do more damage than assistance.

  • Example: “You like hamburgers? So do Americans! All Americans eat hamburgers!”

“Single Story”

This is when only one “story” of a people group is portrayed, forgetting that most cultures have many sides and stories to tell. This is how stereotypes and prejudice start at the early stages of life, and get reinforced as students go through school.

  • Example: Showing students videos from YouTube about the poor students in Nigeria and how they cannot go to school easily. Without showing the major cities like Lagos where there are globally-accredited Universities and institutions like the Google AI research center.


Language is powerful, and it can be a way in which students and teachers ostracize multicultural students, consciously or unconsciously. Avoid referring to students as ‘Other’ or ‘Foreign’, because this only reinforces the “Us versus Them” mentality. In Korea, students who are dubbed “multicultural” are often pushed to the outside of society as the non-Korean ‘Other’.

  • Example: In some schools, teachers were seen calling on multicultural students using derogatory words (J.H. Kim, 2018), ‘damhwa’, or even just the students’ home country (I.e “China” or “Vietnam”) (Park & Park, 2018)


Banks, J. A. (2021). Multicultural Education: History and Dimensions. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy and Practice (pp. 42–52). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Howard, T. C. (2021). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy & Practice (pp. 137–163). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Kim, H. A. (2020). Understanding “koreanness”: racial stratification and colorism in Korea and implications for Korean Multicultural Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 22(1), 76–97.

Kim,  J.  H.  (2018,  July  29).  “Ya  damunhwa”…Damimsaemeun  nae  chingureul iruhkae  bulluyo [Hey,  damunhwa…my  homeroom  teacher  calls  my  friend this]. Seoul    Shinmun.    Retrieved    from

Park,  S.  E.,  &  Park,  H.  Y.  (2018,  March  5). Umma, seonsengnimi  nareul ‘damunhwa’ra bulreuyo [Mom, the teacher calls me ‘damunhwa’]. Yonhap News. Retrieved from

Fun Fun Vocabulary Building

If you’ve learned a language yourself, you know what a struggle learning vocabulary is. Although it makes up the core of a language, it can take hours upon hours of using flashcard apps like Anki or Memrise to feel like you’re making the tiniest bit of progress. These apps have a second problem, too – they’re largely for disciplined, older learners and definitely aren’t what kids think of as fun or engaging.

When it comes to vocabulary acquisition though, explicitly teaching words like this isn’t the only way or even the best way. In this post, we’ll go over some other (fun!) ways to really plant new words deep into the brain.

1. Wide reading

Photo by Leah Kelley on

It’s no surprise, but reading – and reading a lot – is one of the best ways to encounter new words. In fact, by simply reading a language learner can encounter way more vocabulary words than they could hope for by receiving explicit instruction in a class. Through reading, the learner can also reinforce that vocabulary by seeing it over and over, and reading it in different contexts. Reading is also a lot more fun than trying to do flashcards – there’s nothing to lose!

2. Read Out Louds, Audiobooks, etc

Photo by jonas mohamadi on

This is a great choice for learners who aren’t strong at reading, or, well, just don’t like actually sitting down to read much. As long as the language used is high-quality (meaning, it contains more high-leveled vocabulary and grammar structures than just conversational English), students have the opportunity to acquire lots of new vocabulary words. Personally, I like listening to podcasts with really meaningful topics – even in English (which is my native language) I find that I can still learn tons of scientific vocabulary.

3. Word Learning/Recognition Strategies

If you had to do any sort of standardized test or test prep, you’ll know the usefulness of learning things like word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In the same way, learning such parts of speech can help students acquire and easily recognize new vocabulary.

4. Build Consciousness to Words

Photo by Keira Burton on

Hey, do you know how old an onion is? Five (오년)

What happened to the three cats that crossed the river? Un, deux, trois cats sank.

What is turtles favorite food? Cherry pie (черепахи)

Super lame puns like these are one of my favorite things to both learn and teach languages. They’re easy to remember and develop an interest in words. Of course, you don’t have to only use dad jokes to build word consciousness! Think about incorporating things such as riddles, poems, and anagrams into your vocabulary building as well.

Those are some of our favorite ways to learn, teach, and most importantly, retain vocabulary both in and outside of a classroom setting. Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Using Gamification in the EFL Environment

Outside of the learning environment, gamification is nothing new. Industries and businesses have been using this strategy to incorporate gaming aspects into their businesses for several years with varying degrees of success.

More recently, language learning environments have been tentatively incorporating gamification into their classes, and this trend is increasing yearly.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of aspects of gaming and game design techniques in traditionally non-gaming environments, such as finance, marketing, and education.

Why Use Gamification?

Gaming is a popular global pasttime that makes a lot of people happy, transcends age, gender, nationality and language. It also encourages motivation, has easily achievable “goals” and promotes a relaxed environment. All of which are seen by educators as desirable qualities in the classroom.

How to Use Gamification in an Educational Environment

‘But we’ve been using games in the classroom for years. This is nothing new,’ some educators may proclaim.

And indeed this is the case. But it’s important to preface at this point that gamification is not the use of games, it’s the use of gaming techniques and aspects of gaming. 

So how can you use Gamification to enhance your class?

Gamification, as mentioned before, has clear goals, measurable progress, and just as important, requires participation. As any experienced teacher in Korea can attest to, getting students to participate in activities can be a labor of misery, especially as many Korean students don’t like to make mistakes in front of their peers, and so avoiding the activity entirely seems a better choice than trying and failing.

So with a combination of gamification techniques such as badges, leveling up, quest-lines, you not only encourage students to participate in activities, you also create a social element as they can join a group, compete against friends and experience both teamwork and solo.

With the development of technology used in EFL classrooms, gamification can naturally evolve alongside the technology. There are numerous examples of educational gamification being entirely technology-based; Duolingo being a prime example. While the EFL instructor can take advantage of wide-ranging technology advancements, gamification isn’t all about the technology.

If the teacher finds themselves in a technology-barren space, gamification techniques can still be applied. Paper-based points systems, achievement stamps for younger students, all work well in the classroom without the use of technology.


Gamification is a widely used and versatile technique that can enhance any classroom environment. The core components of participation and achievable goals make it a must for any classroom, and the overall style can be adapted for any age group or ability level.  

Using TPR to Encourage Speaking

TPR or Total Physical Response: matches vocabulary/phrases with actions.  It utilizes kinesthetic learning used in combination with visual and/or auditory learning, thus producing multi-sensory learning.  TPR activities are great for language acquisition and for getting the wiggles out (when students start fidgeting in their seats in class or when online at home) of students of any age.  I have used this for my students in classes from elementary to university and adults.

How to use TPR

  • Prepare: Plan the vocabulary you want to focus on and the matching movements.
  • Teacher Modelling: The teacher does an action, both demonstrating and saying it (ex: “I’m washing my face”).  Be prepared to exaggerate, use gestures, facial expressions, and props if you have them.  For example, use a pen as a prop when you do the action and say “Write your name.”
  • Student Participation: Get your students involved!  Have all the students repeat the action and say the word or phrase together.  This is when you can see if everyone understands.  It also helps reduce part of the insecurity your students may feel speaking English.
  • Optional: Write the verb/phrase on the board or screen AFTER modeling and getting the students to do the actions with the words.  

    Not writing or having the words up earlier helps students focus on the sounds of the words and your actions, rather than the spelling of it.  Writing it down for them after helps students connect the sound and action with a written word/phrase.
  • Repeat: Repeat this for additional vocabulary.  After you have introduced all the new vocabulary or phrases be sure to review all the new words and movements with the class.

    Return to these words and phrases regularly throughout the school year to reinforce memory assisted by the TPR mnemonic device.

Read more here:

TPR and C.A.R.E.

C.A.R.E. is a mnemonic device (in this case an acronym) to help you remember the 4 main types of memory activities for English Language Learning.  

  • TPR often incorporates these 4 main types of memory activities:
    • Creating a mental linkage (connecting action to words)
    • Applying images or sounds (students hear/speak to match TPR)
    • Reviewing well (repeating TPR activities works as a mnemonic device)
    • Employing an action (this is TPR)

Read more here:

TPR: Total Physical Response activities

Simon Says

This is a great game because your students probably already know it as it has probably been used in the students’ L1.  This is a very useful activity for reviewing vocabulary from previous lessons or at the end of a complicated lesson. Simon Says is great example of an action and speaking activity tool which reinforces the language acquisition through kinesthetic learning.

“Simon says” to do something, and you do it.

If the leader doesn’t say “Simon says” first, you don’t do it.

Traditionally teachers in large classrooms typically have all of the students stand up to start.  Then throughout the game, teachers usually have students sit down if they miss a question or answer incorrectly.   However, some students will deliberately make a mistake quickly in the game so they can sit down and not have participate.  Instead of having students sit down when they get caught making a mistake divide the class into teams and when someone on one team makes a mistake award a point to the other team instead of having the student sit down.

Simon Says as a Speaking and Action Activity

For example, you’ve just taught a lesson on meeting new people (unit 1 of almost every ESL book).  You can use these phrases with actions for Simon Says.

  • Simon Says “greet your neighbor” (turn and say hello)
  • Simon Says “ask your partner about their family” (make a circle w/ hands)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s job” (I’m a student)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s pet“ (actions matching dog/cat)
  • “Introduce yourself” doesn’t have Simon Says in front, so speaking here is incorrect and loses a point for their team.

Group Singing

A great example of group singing with total physical response is the grade school classic, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”.  This song is not only fun for students to sing but incorporates movements that students can remember even if they can’t quite get all the words.  

Songs work as an audio, visual and physical mnemonic device.  They help students remember the words more accurately as practice or repetition combined with the tune reinforces the meaning of the words/phrases.

You can add actions use this TPR with popular songs as well.   There are often actions you can add to every line of a song that reflects the meaning of the lyrics.  Popular songs are usually catchy, repetitive, and encourage movement.  It is one reason they become popular.

Some fun songs that can be easily made into TPR songs are:

TPR can also be done in a call and response chant or song. Call & response chants are usually short and are used to get students’ attention or to reinforce and give positive stimulus.  The TPR actions can all be modified easily for online zoom classrooms.

Here are some fun examples:

Call & response chant examples

Ss = Students
T = Teacher

Teacher says:Students respond with
words and actions:

“Listen Up!”
T: Put hands facing front on both sides of your face
“Listen Up!”     
Ss: put hands facing front on both sides of their face
“Hocus Pocus!”
T: Wiggle hands as if making magic
“Everybody focus!”
Ss: wiggle hands, too, then point to the teacher
“Macaroni and Cheese!” 
T: Wave hands in the air
“Everybody Freeze!” 
Ss: put hands in the air
“If you’re happy and you know it…”
T: One hand cupping ear
“Clap your hands!” 
Ss: clap hands
“One, two, three, eyes on me!”
T: Use fingers to count, point to your eyes
and then point to yourself
“One, two, eyes on you!”
Ss: use fingers to count, point to their eyes and
then point to the teacher
“A better you!”
T: Hands out the students palms up.
“A greater us!”
Ss: make a big circle with their arms
T: One hand pointing or in a fist up high
Ss: two hands up
“Stay focused because?”
T: One hand cupping ear
“There’s great work to do!”
Ss: two hands up in power fists
“We are the movement”
T: Marching on the spot
“We are the voice!”
Ss: cup hands around mouth
T: Hands out
“Lives here!”
Ss: point down

Literature-Based Learning and Instruction: The Basics

The concept of using literature in education is perhaps one of the oldest pedagogical frameworks, but the resurgence of literature-based instruction in the classroom, especially in the language classroom, has brought new life to the age-old approach. Literature-based instruction in the language classroom focuses more on the communicative needs of language learners and moves away from the more “literary” aspects of literature study such as critical lenses and stylistic analysis. Let’s look at the who, what, why, and how of integrating this “new” form of literature-based learning into the language classroom.

Who is LBL for?

            Because of the necessity for discussion and a deeper understanding of the text, literature-based learning works best in secondary classrooms.  Learners with lower proficiency may also find the activities related to literature-based learning frustrating as they may not have the vocabulary or grammatical knowledge to accurately express their opinion and personal connections to the material in L2.

What is LBL?

Literature-based learning, in essence, is when an educator uses literature as the basis for instruction. The core content for the entirety of the curriculum comes from the reading material, however additional texts may be used to complement the literature.

The types of activities used in literature-based instruction are what is natural do to after reading. After reading, one often discusses the plot or shares their personal connection or opinions to the themes represented in the material. However, a 10 question comprehension quiz is not an activity naturally done after reading, outside of the classroom.

In Literature-based instruction, learners choose their own high-interest piece for extensive reading. There should be a variety of options for students to choose from in varying reading levels. Many educators choose to incorporate themes into their LBL curriculum, thus offering book choices to students that all fall under that central theme (Khatib & Nourzadeh, 2011).

Students are given the opportunity to then discuss the reading with peers and complete tasks related to the reading material (Sidhu, Chan, and Kaur, 2010).

Why use LBL?

Using LBI promotes learner’s….

  • Vocabulary Knowledge (Frantzen, 2002)
  • Grammatical Knowledge (Tayebipour, 2009)
  • Knowledge of L2 lexical phrases and fixed expressions (MacKenzie, 1999)
  • Language Awareness (Chan, 1999)
  • Sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences (McKay, 2001)

Using authentic literature texts (unaltered and unabridged) provides opportunities for learners to interact with original expressions and natural vocabulary (Puspitasari, 2016).

Literature also helps learners to develop affective skills (Violetta-Irene, 2015), and cultural knowledge.

Studies have proven that learners tend to enjoy learning through literature-based instruction, especially when given a choice of reading material (Piscayanti, 2010; Darmawati et al., 2020). Learners have also been proven to achieve better language acquisition results when learning through literature-based instruction (Piscayanti, 2010).

How to implement LBL?

As stated, learners should be given a choice of literature text at an appropriate reading level and (if applicable) within the central theme of the unit.

The teacher can then engage with the students in several ways including pre-reading activities, during reading literature circles and discussion groups, and after-reading deliverables such as cooperative tasks and projects.

The central focus should be on language acquisition and personifying the general themes present in the literature. Students should be given ample opportunities to share their opinions and engage with the text in creative ways.

For a full list of references on this post, click here.