on Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Why is it that the best class that gives the least contributions in terms of language practice?

Is it difficult for them? No.

Is it beyond their comprehension? No.

What causes them to not want to participate in the drama that is in our literature component?

They are emotionally dry and so colourless.

That's right. Colourless. It is difficult to get students to participate if they are not willing to do it.

I can work with people who are willing to try but are not talented. I have and had many students who go all out to work hard to try the things I teach them. In fact, it is normally those that try their best no matter what their competency is that succeeds.

I do not wish to sound like a cold-hearted person that sounds as though he could care less about people who do not wish to help themselves. I just can't stop feeling that students at a more mature age should already decide for themselves what they should do in life that would benefit their existence on earth. You want to become someone who does not show any initiative at all?

I know my role as an educator is to be a motivator as well. When students feel down and out, it is up to me to bring back their spirits in learning and enjoying their subject. In fact, I am the first to vote that teachers are directly responsible to draw out the learning interest in his/her students. I am the motivator in the classroom. As much as I teach students to become competent, I must help encourage students who are low in competency to not give up and improve as much as they can.

So, how about students who are already competent but just do not want to do anything? Or students who are already competent but do not wish to say anything? What if the students are too comfortable giving output in writing only and shun the speaking part of English?

Inflexibility, shallowness, and complete complacency for mediocre performances.

Be my guest. I will not tolerate such insolence.

Vocabulary Power

on Monday, 29 March 2010
Recently, I've taught 2 form 4 classes the latest addition in our literature component - drama.

It is really an interesting comedy/romantic drama called Gulp and Gasp by John Townsend.

The first page has a brief introduction of the 4 characters in the drama, namely: Lord Septic, Crouch, Rose, and Percy.

Each of these characters are really interesting to discuss and describe. The dashing hero Percy has a really interesting description in the book.

He is squeaky clean... right down to his undies.


I was hoping to get at least a chuckle from my kids... but they just stared blankly at me and asked..

"Sir, what is undies?"

In the words of moderned kids...


My Suggestopedia

on Friday, 26 March 2010
There are so many variables involved when I give group work to students.

There are just too many things that you have to look out for. Of course, that doesn't mean that giving group work is arduous and burdensome. It is simply something that requires the teacher to be dynamic enough and spontaneous enough to ensure all the groups are attended to. All this becomes very worthwhile when I see the 2 results that I get from designating group work.

Being involved and being relaxed.

Being involved is important; but due to my style of teaching, I personally do not think that the involvement becomes more or frequent. It just becomes different. If you learn pedagogy, the line of communication shifts from teacher-student to student-student - fine by me.

Relaxed. Now, that is something more interesting to me.

I realised, for weaker students, coming up with their own solution or suggestion individually can be very daunting. Maybe their self-analysis becomes heightened and they become to conscious about their errors instead of their strengths. Immediately, affective factors are put up like The Great Bridge of Tanjung Malim and getting across that bridge will be difficult (trust me on this one).

I find it very difficult to get my weaker students to relax and just give things a shot. I don't think that they are passive all the time; just during English classes. Understandably, if we take away their comfort of communicating effectively in Malay, obviously students will become slightly more reserved. Being reserved isn't really that much of a problem but being mute is.

It is very difficult when I see students with perfect speech patterns, high confidence traits and good volume in their speeches suddenly become mini-kitties, start to stutter, slur, speak at probably 0.25Hz (which I heard is only audible to Bottlenose Dolphins) and suddenly look like a concubine kneeling to their masochistic King.

Putting them into groups however, seem to make students more relaxed. Giving group work makes students slightly more willing to come up with opinions and even going up front to do a presentation. Students who were previously hidden groundhogs willingly step forward in a small group and read out designated texts with little sign of fear that they've once showed before.

Even if they still show signs of indifference or passiveness, a little kick-start by me is all it takes to get the group members going. Of course, I never cease to play the role of the spark-plug and gear shift. They still need me to start things and change conditions to suit their needs. That is okay and sensible for weaker students to refer back to the teacher for a sense of stability and approval.

If I want my students to learn, I need them to enjoy and relax when learning something new.


Take a deep breath.

Inhale.... exhale.

Say it with me:

"I am the Greatest!"
-a man named Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay-

NST - Not Sending There

on Wednesday, 24 March 2010
KUIS helps 10 schools in English

English teachers urged to use NST

So were the headlines in New Straits Times Online.

Great! I think that's a really good idea. I used newspapers all the time when I was in Ipoh, doing my practicum. I think it's the cheapest and most reliable source of information that students can get hold of easily.

Time to get an NST at my nearest bookstore.
... I hate it when I get too sarcastic.

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are?
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are?

Just thought that I should share this nursery rhyme here in this blog.

It's just to ensure that everyone that I know has heard of this nursery rhyme before.

Don't laugh.

I will not be the English teacher that has students who do not know about Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Calvin and Hobbes

on Monday, 22 March 2010
I just love this strip. I think that Bill Waterson is really a genius in characterisation, representation of real-life persona and real-life messages, comic angles, and just art per se.

I have the complete E-Book of his comic from 1985-1995.

Here's one that sprang into mind when I was typing the previous blog entry. Enjoy.

*click for a larger image

"Nuff said,"
                -Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman-

Exam Orientation

Today, I took over a form 3 class during extra classes. Importantly, these extra classes are more than necessary for kids in my school because not only are they lagging behind in the syllabus (of course, the only real syllabus we have is the literature component) but they need the extra hour and a half to practice using the language.

Practice the language. Hmph... practice the language.

The focus of my English extra classes is not to practice the language and do like what I do in my usual classes. I feel that these classes are done to familiarise students with the format and the examination questions that will be their penultimate quest this year. Trust me, no matter how fun and exciting my games can be, in the end, kids will be wondering about their exam papers.

Whatever fun and games I could bring in my typical English class still does not supersede the importance of being able to answer PMR and SPM questions. For a student struggling 11 years in school, being able to get an 'A' in their subject is paramount above anything else.

Let us get real - exams are important. Not only are they important, they have been a very solid and empirical way to calculate a student's performance and ability. In fact, I would further iterate that exams have evolved on its own to cater to modern criterion of competency and capability. So, exams you see and experience today might not be even faintly close to that 50 years ago. Nevertheless, exams they still remain and will always remain in my opinion for another century to come.

As a teacher, I must never overlook this importance. Students might be getting their share of fun and practice of English in their classes which is jolly good for acquiring the language. In fact, many have argued (are still arguing and will continue to argue) that this is already quite enough because when one successfully acquires the language, answering our typical SPM exam paper should be a breeze.

In fact, if one is very already competent in the language, any question or text that our PMR exams could have really shouldn't impose difficulty to one's mental prowess. The focus of these exams is not to dig out content knowledge like how Physics or Kemahiran Hidup is designed for. Those exams require you to understand processes, read facts, and sometimes memorise formulas to be able to answer questions.

Our English paper is not tailored for that purpose... or at least not entirely so (dang the literature component). Besides novels and things that you might have to read and remember certain details, the English exams are all about the application of your current competency in the language. You can't read or memorise an English book. There is no point doing repetitive English Reading Comprehension texts to ensure that you've read each and every topic that could possibly appear in the exam. You could read a wide range of topics from The History of France all the way to Molecular Genetics and Gene Enhancement Therapy and yet the topic that appears is Gandhi.

This shows that you can't expect to score in the English paper just by going through all the topics and expect one of the topics to appear. Of course, if you go through a thousand topics, 1 topic is damned sure to appear but I'm pretty sure that by the time you've reached the 999th topic, you have already mastered the English language enough to not need read your thousandth topic.

In the extra classes, I emphasise a lot about being ready for the exam. I told the kids that its not so much about practicing questions like how we would practice Mathematics or memorise facts for History. We're practicing PMR exam questions so that you are familiar with the format of it. You will be familiar with the type of questions that will be asked. It's nice to know what are the type of questions that would be asked. Incidentally, they are:



It is important to pen out these sections and let students get a bird's eye view of the exam. It's like looking at the battle map before going for war. It's like looking at your blueprint before going to the construction site. It doesn't help in terms of practice or competency in the language. It's all about building confidence in approaching the exam. It's about ensuring that you are prepared and remove the element of surprise when you take the exam. This is absolutely important for all students of all competencies. I do not take for granted that even my competent students don't need to know. I assume they are all unaware of this top-down view of the exam and must allocate time to explain to them about it.

Before I throw them into the ring, I have to strap on their gloves, douse them with cold water, and let them bite their mouth-piece.

We can't drill kids who are weak with repetitive English PMR Exam Predictions till kingdom come. It is not about spotting the topic or questions. It's about what you have practiced all this while in your life when you use English. It's all about you practicing all the four prongs of language learning (listening, speaking, reading, writing) and throughout this process, hopefully you'd have used a lot of the language enough to be competent enough to answer the questions.

To take a different twist in explaining it, if you've never seen, read, heard, glanced, or even dreamed of the word antiestablishmentarianism (thanks to Will Smith in In the Actors Studio) and/or didaskaleinophobia (thanks to Shaz), you just don't know shmuck about it. 

Wow... it's been some time since I typed out the word shmuck. 

Somehow... there's just this thing about saying shmuck that I like...

Shmuck, Shmuck, Shmuck, Shmuck, Shmuck, Shmuck, Shmuck...

*snaps out of it.


This goes the same for syntactical forms.

For example, the sentence that you might have used is:

I love to play tennis.

A sentence simple enough to construct; and you probably know one or two situations where this sentence is applicable. However, there are so many possible variations to this sentence; some you probably haven't heard before and have no idea when or where to use. Here are the possibilities:

I loved playing tennis.
I really love to play tennis.
I really love playing tennis.
I have loved playing tennis.
I had to love playing tennis.
I am loving playing tennis.
I love playing tennis.
I love having played tennis.
I would love to play tennis.
I would have loved to play tennis.
I would have really loved to play tennis.
I might love to play tennis.
I might have loved to play tennis.
I might have loved playing tennis.
I might have really loved to play tennis.
I probably love playing tennis.
I probably love to play tennis.
I might have probably loved to play tennis.
I need to love to play tennis.
I need to love playing tennis.
I desperately need to completely love playing very serious tennis.

The list can go on and on... with the idea of loving to play tennis being the main idea of all these sentences. For a person who uses English all the time, I'm pretty sure that each sentence is not something strange and I'm also quite sure you know at least when to use each sentence even though you might lack the intrinsic knowledge of explaining why it is so linguistically. Our exams have a lot of these sentences and requires students to be familiar with almost all of the aforementioned sentences. They wouldn't ask you about the sentences, it would just appear in the exam assuming that you should be familiar with these sentences. You will have to choose to use these sentences appropriately when answering questions of various topics. You choose which is right.

Each sentence has its own special context and probably is required for one specific context in a conversation or in writing. If one has not used them or is not familiar with one of the structures because of lack of practice, then it is impossible to find out if that particular sentence is valid or not. It is also impossible to use it when needed especially if you do not know of the existence of such sentences. In other words, with the knowledge of the various sentences, you can explain things in different ways and using the different expressions more effectively and accurately. This definitely affects comprehensible exchanges especially in writing where the only input of the reader is your ink.

One thing is certain though, as a person's competency develops, the list above can almost certainly grow longer and become more complex in nature.

So the question here would be...

How long is your list?

En Route to Teaching English

Recently, I had a student from my current school inquiring about being an English teacher and the road he should take to become an English teacher.

It's really interesting how keen he is in becoming a future English teacher.

First of all, here is just a short message to my beloved student.

First things first, you cannot allow yourself to say that "My grammar is not so good," if you want to become an English teacher. I've mentioned this many times in my blog or in life; English teachers have to be good in English. It's like a doctor telling us "I'm sorry, but I'm not that good in diagnosing illness," which sounds absolutely absurd. Not only must you try your best to be confident in using English, you have to actually be good in English.

The interview or short written test is not to check your content knowledge. It's to check your utility and competency in the language. I personally do not think that they are all out to check if you know which minister does what and when the policy was amended. They want to see how you utilise the language while explaining certain contexts.  

You might not be convinced but here is my situation explained. So far, in all my interviews for university entrances and posting, there has never been any mind-boggling questions about policies or "Siapa Menteri Besar Kelantan?" or "Berikan 2 objective PPSMI," or stuff like that. The moment I start talking in the interview (be it in Malay or English), they immediately become chatty and talk about everyday things that any Tom, Dick, and Haffizul can answer. Nothing that we talk about in all the interviews have anything to do with me having to read articles or policies. In fact, due to the happy mood that the interviewee and interviewer has, topics talked about are: marriage, having children, and how amazing is it that there is a Chinese dude applying to go to Sabah to teach English.

Enter the interview room; stutter; head down; look guilty of some shit you haven't done yet and I can confirm that the interviewer is going to think, "Hmmm... macam ni, aku tanya dia pasal benda-benda susah baru dia tau!"

All that aside, the path of becoming an English teacher is pretty easy if you have the right foundation and attitude. Yeah, attitude. Personally, I feel that the reason I managed to go through the process of being an English teacher smoothly is largely based on my attitude. Of course, having proper competency in the language is a very important criteria but nothing helps me get away out of trouble better than the having the right attitude. Less I be misunderstood, I'll say it here first HAVING GOOD ENGLISH IS STILL VERY IMPORTANT if you want to become an English teacher (Somehow, I just tend to put out disclaimers like this).

It's all about charisma.

You need the spunk, you need the flow, you need the competency, you need the confidence and many other soft-skills to slither your way through to become an English teacher. Call it superficial but I just feel that it is one of the defining characters of being a good English teacher. You need the X-factor.

That's right. The X FACTOR. Ask me again what does it mean by X-factor?

I honestly don't know. I only know that it encompasses all those qualities that make a language teacher interesting. Even more impressive if you can be attractive. Not physically attractive but attention-grabbing the moment you start doing your thing. The minute you start explaining or start telling them a story, it has to engage students in such a way that even if you were speaking in Japanese, they'll listen attentively. It has to be that way. Sometimes, English is such a foreign language to students they need to feel attracted to the language first in order to want to learn the language. You, the English teacher have to provide that sort of attraction...

*wipes sweat.

Let's get back to the question: How?

I've not been in all the English programmes and therefore will not in what way whatsoever condemn or even criticise about the other courses. I'm sure that the courses are about the same in terms of lecture content and materials provided in their literature (again, not referring to the aesthetic literature but literature as in English materials in general - again, for those not familiar with the jargon). Let's take a look at the TESL course provided in Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).

From semester 1-3, you will be given a lot of introductory courses and basic English skill courses. Though it sounds elementary, I feel these courses provide necessary foundation for the future more pedagogical subjects. Some of the subjects you take in the first trimester will be:
                             1. Writing Skills
                             2. Listening and Speaking Skills.
                             3. Introduction to English Literature.
                             4. English Grammar
                             5. Reading Skills.
                             6. TESL Methodology

These subjects teach you about the skills and are also lectured as though it is required for you to use these skills as part of trying to get you to understand the theoretical concepts of these skills. Of course, this does not include the other subjects i.e. Educational Pedagogy, Psychology in Education, and others. Those courses are not part of the TESL programme but the university programmes.

Later on, the other subjects taught in the later semesters would be:
                            1. Teaching of English Literature.
                            2. Teaching of Grammar.
                            3. Teaching of Listening and Speaking.
                            4. Reflections.
                            5. Materials Development and Adaptation

These are examples of latter subjects being taught in your TESL course. They are more focused on techniques and plans on how to teach English. I would say that these courses are the most valuable throughout the 4 years as they not only provide us with example lessons but also discuss about the variables in a classroom. Materials are being created and discussed along with the contribution of ideas to prepare you for the many possible outcomes in a typical English classroom.

Finally, you get to do a 15 week practical teaching course called practicum. Basically, a trainee teacher if you're not familiar with the jargon. This is where you try to apply whatever you've learned in the 3 and a half years in UPSI. I would say that it's not really enough because it'll be good to get a year of this practicum course instead of 3-4 months only.

I definitely promote the TESL course in UPSI if you want to be an English teacher. I would even go as far as to say that you should apply for a TESL course in UPSI if you are aiming for flexibility in future careers, self-satisfaction, and lecture quality (with the last criteria being the most volatile one... hehehe.)

Go to to ask for more, to contact the dean of the language faculty, or the Head of Department (TESL) for further inquiries.

    Dr. Che Ton bt. Mahmud
The Head of the English Language Department
    Senior Lecturer
    Tel. No: 05-4505341/5342
    email : e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

    Dr. Hj. Abdul Ghani b. Hj. Abu

    Tel. No: 05-4505350/5413
     email : e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

*information gotten from

The White Man's Burden

on Sunday, 14 March 2010
I feel like Hugh Dancy in The Sleeping Dictionary... minus Jessica Alba of course...

You cannot imagine the dilemma of an English teacher in these places. We have to emphasise the practice of speaking the language and utilisation of the language in various occasions. There should always be a certain amount of usage among the students during official duties and when students just want to chat up with you.

I always feel obligated to not speak in Bahasa Melayu even though I can speak in the language. Having said that, some students automatically do not feel comfortable talking and having small talk with me because they know that they might not be able to carry out the conversation properly.

It's really difficult if I consider other obligations that I have that require me to be close to my students. Sometimes, students must meet up with me and have to divulge information that is required for some documentation. Tasks that are not syllabus based and other activities outside the classroom have to go on smoothly with students understanding the instructions clearly for swift execution.

Sometimes, it's just important to be close to your students. To be able to small talk with them and have them reciprocate confidently and calmly without worrying about syntactical problems.

Being the white man among others who seem to feel happy communicating and getting close with each other is honestly a bit frustrating. I can break the sacred code and speak in Bahasa Melayu..

.. then what will happen to the enforcement of speaking English?

I'm not speaking your language but I can still talk to you

on Saturday, 13 March 2010
Student: Sir, boleh saya berjumpa dengan Sir X?
Me: Excuse me?
Student: *shows shy signs by covering his face and scratching his head
Student: Anu... apa... nak jumpa sama Sir X...
Me: You want to meet up with?
Student: Mr. X.
Me: Oh, please say it properly...
Student: Em.. I want to.. jumpa sama Cikgu X.
Me: I want to meet....
Student: I want to meet Cikgu X.
Me: I want to meet with Mr....
Student: I want to meet with Mr. X.
Me: Good. Yes, you may meet with Mr. X.
Student: Thank you, sir.


Me: Students, please hand in your literature exercise book.
Student A: Ah?? Literature? Tapi, hari ini bukan essay ka?
Me: Yeah, but I told you in the previous class to bring it today, right?
Class: YES!!!
Student A: Ah... tapi, lupa bah sir..
Me: Forgot? Why? What is wrong with you?
Student: Takde sir... lupa ba...
Me: How then? Everyone brought their books. Only you haven't.
Student: Bolehka dihantar esok?
Me: Tomorrow? You want to give me tomorrow?
Student: Yes, tomorrow.
Me: Please put it on my table EARLY IN THE MORNING. BEFORE 8AM
Student: Yes sir.

Let the Music Play

on Thursday, 11 March 2010
I've always wondered how it was like to include songs into your lesson.

All the time when I studied in UPSI, the songs that we include into the lessons are either:

#1 A part of the lesson i.e. during the preparation stage or enrichment stage. Sometimes, just the induction set.

#2 A suggestopedic function. For those unfamiliar with this TESL jargon, it just means that it is something played in the background to make the learning environment soothing and conducive. For example, playing nice Mozart music while teaching. Of course, playing it softly in the background like how some high-end cafes play their background music.

Now I try to fit these 2 functions I've learned into my school environment.

#1 is going to be very difficult. If I were to introduce a song into the classroom, the song has to be very slow to begin with i.e. probably less than 60 words per minute. It would be slightly redundant to introduce a song that is already very popular among the students though I still think it's OK because most of the time, students only have heard of the song, knows the tune, but doesn't really know the lyrics to the song. Introducing lyrics and discussing about it's content would be very beneficial if students are very interested with a popular song but have no access to the lyrics.

I personally feel that it then demands a lot of time in the classroom. Sometimes, the song has to be played 3 times for students to fill in the missing words that I've blanked out in the lyrics sheet. Even when some of the words are common words, a common song would easily be more than 60 words per minute. Examples of popular songs that even my students will have heard are:

Black Eyed Peas - Where is the Love?
Jason Mraz - I'm Yours

These songs although very popular and students obviously know the chorus in and out, are very quick and rap-like in their verses. Students who have very poor English listening skills and vocabulary will find it extremely difficult to catch it in just 2 rounds. Even suggested words at the side do not really register when there is a sheet of lyrics with a lot of words. They just can't keep up with the speed. Their thought process would be broken down like this:

1) Catch the tune and lyrics word per word
2) See an empty slot, prepare to look at word suggestions
3) Listen to the missing word
4) Try to remember the sound of the word (sometimes, it's a completely new word)
5) Find the word from the suggestion box
6) Write it down
7) Listen to where the song is at right now (now that it has passed a little bit)
8) Try to catch the word being sung and try to match the words by sight in the lyrics.

This is obviously going to be very difficult if you play a song that is more than 60 words per minute and going at a steady pace i.e. Where is the Love?

To me, the song can also be thought in the classroom as a lesson by itself. Teaching them how to sing 1 verse, getting them to remember the chorus' jingle and getting them to sing in unison. It would be a real miracle if I can get them to remember 1 verse of I'm Yours and get them to sing 1 verse and 1 chorus in unison.

Therefore, in contrary to what I've learned from UPSI, the song doesn't become part of the lesson. Teaching the song is the lesson. It can be. Students love singing and when they love the song, they will memorise it as much as they can. It's in English. 1-0 to Mr. Adrian Tan.

Trust me. You may try, but teaching a song in an 80 minute classroom allocating just 15-20 minutes for it is just insane based on my experience. Judging by the students' level of course.

Let's look at #2 now.

Does song playing for suggestopedia purposes help in the classroom? Does it help make your students less stressed? Does it make your students more intuitive in learning or help them feel like learning becomes more enjoyable?

After 2 periods of Physical Education, 2 periods of Bahasa Melayu, 2 periods of Maths, 2 periods of Chemistry, and 1 period of Civics... Mozart really sounds like sleep therapy.

I'm not condemning song-playing as a tool for suggestopedia but I just have yet to find out the benefits of it's utilisation. Logically, if it were to indeed calm students down a lot, if it were to really make students happier when studying, why don't I see teachers using this brilliant idea? I've yet to use it for suggestopedia purposes personally but here's what you have to do to play some music in a typical classroom in my school.

1. Bring a radio to the classroom.
2. Oops, I mean, find a radio first, then bring it to the classroom.
3. Get a Mozart CD albeit burn it from your laptop. No way you'll find the CD The Greatest Composers - Mozart selling anywhere within an 80km radius of Kinabatangan... on second thought, make it a 100km radius.
4. Get the longest extension wire you can find from the school.
5. Bring it into the classroom and get the wires connected.
6. Answer all the bombardment of questions i.e. "Sir, why got radio??" "We listen music ka?" "Lagu apa sir?" "Lagu Bunkface? Lagu Bunkface la, sir, very good sir!"
7. Shut them up first. Tell them it's Mozart.
8. Explain that Mozart isn't something you can eat.
9. Tell them that the music will be played in the classroom while the lesson is going on.
10. Play the CD. Being tech-savvy, I'm not worried about technical problems at all (are you the same? Jump straight to step 14). If you're not tech-savvy, refer to step 11-13.
11. Stare at the small orange LCD display and find out why the information doesn't add up. Please remember to turn on the main switch and your Power toggle is turned ON, seriously.
12. Make sure the CD is in and in the right position. Make sure you actually got the right CD. Not some Slipknot CD you've been listening to at night before you sleep.
13. Depending on a case by case basis, control the level of strength when you tap or hit the radio to get it kick-started.
14. Begin the classroom.

All these just for a nice conducive environment.

Suggestopedia anyone?

He Had Such Quiet Eyes

on Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Boy, is this poem interesting.

This is one poem that I feel is most challenging to teach in places like mine albeit conservative, traditional, and a very Muslim setting. This is a place where they cling on to their Muslim teachings, their uber-traditional cultures and everything about sex, teenage relationships, and premarital-men-women-relationships are a HUGE taboo.

It's not a taboo in the sense that they do not know much about it; more of they feel that it is something left for the Imam and Ustaz to discuss about such things in their Islamic studies by referring to their Holy Koran.

So where does an English teacher step in when teaching this materials to this kind of society?

Driving the idea of this poem itself has to be dealt delicately. You must always mention that it is always the best way to follow their religious teachings while highlighting the context of the poem. A brief explanation about the poem by Bibsy Soenharjo (Oma Bibsy Soenharjo. Last name pronounced SO-NIA-JO.... I think?)

I know. I was wondering how to pronounce that last name as well.

The poem has an advising tone. It is the writer's effort to advise the girls to be careful about pleasure-seeking guys by highlighting the experience of a girl who is in shambles (hows and whys, last sentence of the second stanza) because she met and had some bad experiences with a person who had quiet eyes, which to the writer, resembles 2 pools of lies.

There isn't really much to talk about when it comes to the intrinsic literary elements. If you've read my previous blogs about teaching English literature in school (The River, I Wonder, and In The Midst of Hardship), you'll notice how I highlight the importance of teaching the little 'l' (L, not the #1). If you're wondering what 'little l' I'm talking about, feel free to read my previous blog or ask your nearest English teacher.

This poem has so many moral values, advice, and personal experiences to deal with. Form 4 kids are 16 years old. That age to me, is one of the most delicate and emotionally-unstable period of adolescence. Hormones are raging, emotions are running high, mood swings in a classroom filled with 35 girls can be very daunting if you're unprepared.

Tap into these emotions.

As a young teacher, I told them about how I remembered the time when I was at their age. How unstable I was; easily drifted by love and affection. I was blindly in love and rationality was thrown to accommodate emotional needs as well as physical changes in my body. It was not a dark moment in my life, it was the most interesting one. I could feel so happy and joyful that if I were to be hit by a car, I would only feel the pain after I've touched earth's ground. I could feel no joy when my heart was broken, not even when I was going through better days in my life. Everything I did was emotionally driven and therefore I was a state where I had to be...

... very careful.

Being careful was my message of the day. Telling them that love is not the problem and that we will never suppress their feelings of love to another person nor tell them that love is bad at all. Our actions however are completely different.

"No matter how much we love or care for another, we should always remain balanced in both emotion and rationality" I said. I went on to add that the only unconditional love we might have in our lives is for our parents, children, or siblings. Other than that, there must always be some form of rationality when we deal with others. Even to our closest of friends, there has to be some rationality involved.

Do not judge a book by its cover

That was another message driven today in the lesson. Importantly, in the poem, we know that the person described fell for quiet eyes and therefore did not care about anything else. I told them that it is of course not good to be superficial and make friends without taking into consideration many things. We should never be too much of a simpleton and neither be too prejudiced about people when befriending.

Therefore, I told them to write out their best friends information and tell me what they did to aid or help them when they were in need.  A friend that most probably they knew in and out which was way beyond what Bibsy Soenharjo described as a superficial acquaintance. During these part of the lesson, students were already explaining about the importance of remaining loyal to their friends. Which can become another brilliant message:

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

In fact, we were going on and on about these values and lessons, till we didn't realise...

We ran out of time.

Don't speak in English because I cannot speak in English.

on Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Don't speak in English because I cannot speak in English.

That is the exact sentence of at least 3 girls in my form 5 classroom in their journal. They were told to write about the things that they wish could happen in their English classroom to aid in their learning process.

Don't speak in English because I cannot speak in English.

I cannot believe there is such level of ignorance and complacence of their abilities that they can actually write down such words. I'm not saying that these kids should automatically feel great about speaking in 100% English and therefore are being forced to become native speakers of English. I'm not even trying to force them to score and A in their SPM examinations because I can understand how difficult it is for me to score an A in a Japanese Exam if there was one that I could take.

I cannot imagine writing an essay in Japanese nor understand a passage in Arabic. I am well aware that to some of these kids, English is a foreign language if not alien. What beguiles me is not their level of competency but their level of motivation and attitude towards learning.

At home = speak in Malay.
History class = speak in Malay.
Science classes = speak in Malay.
Talking to friends = speak in Malay.
Talking to other teachers = speak in Malay.
Talking to some English teachers = speak in Malay.
Talking to anyone else around their neighbourhood = speak in Malay.
Talking to their pet dog or pet cat at home = speak in Malay.
Scolding their siblings = speak in Malay.
Thinking about getting out of school early = thinking in Malay.

Malay Language classes = speak in Malay.
English Language classes = YOU ALSO WANT TO speak in Malay.

When do you want someone or something in your life that speaks in English?


on Sunday, 7 March 2010
As usual, after marking exam papers, it's always funny when I get hilarious answers from my students.. this one, particularly about the literature piece The Pearl. I can't believe they came up with these hilarious answers... How come they would get these answers wrong for such simple questions.

Anyway... here goes...


10. Who is Juana to Kino?
Answer: Kino is Juana's husband. (nice twist eh?)

9. What was Kino's occupation?
Answer: Doctor

8. What is the name of Kino's son?
Answer: Paulo

7. What is the name of Kino's son?
Answer: Juana

6. What stung the baby in the story?
Answer: Bird

5. Why did the doctor refuse to treat the baby?
Answer: The baby has no money.

4. What is the name of Kino's son?
Answer: Kino's baby

3. Who was Juana to Kino?
Answer: His baby.

2. Why did the doctor refuse to treat the baby?
Answer: Nothing

*drum rolls
What stung the baby in the story?
Answer: Juana

*insert big-band jazzy ending accompanied by a shower of confetti and pearls

Great links for great powerpoint games

on Friday, 5 March 2010
I've already posted these links in my facebook profile.

These are EXCELLENT games that you can play if you can display powerpoint slides in your classes.

Very easy click and download instructions.

Just click on the links below to view and download away!

Thanks to YSJ for the information!

Too short a foresight

on Wednesday, 3 March 2010
After I finished marking the exam papers, I'm just so glad to see the good ones doing well as they are expected to.

The ones who got poor results, remember, it is a step by step process to improve. Results are important but we must never fail to see the larger picture - effort.

I for one am very happy that almost all my students are always exuberant when doing my work and participating in my activities. I know some of you don't see it as beneficial because you want more exam drilling exercises. I am not saying that exam drills are not effective. It's just not the only way to do it. You have so many strategies in mastering a language. Don't make it a chore to make yourself proficient. You're just going to find it too stressful. Language is something that takes time to learn. If you are one that has 13% worth of English, the appropriate goal would be to set it at probably 20-30% in this short time; with 30% already pushing it.

I want all of my students to understand that learning does not come from feeding them with exam information. Learning is a process where we experience and take in the everyday talks/discussions/problem solving situations and try to make it applicable in our daily lives. If you don't see it now, I don't blame you because it is not an orthodox style I see in our teaching and learning styles.

You might not be used to it but that doesn't mean it is not going to work.

Do not reject something that you are not certain it is not the right way for you.

Being the teacher, I'm more aware of the mistakes and improvement that you are making.

Trust me, I won't jeopardize your language as it is. It can only get better. The thing that is the issue here is not if you can or cannot it in that way.

It is pace.

The River

So far, I'm only at the initial stages of introducing this poem to the kids.

It's important that you take your time to introduce literature to form 1 students. They are very familiar with poems and the stylistics in their native tongue. It's quite unnecessary to go on and on again about the literary terms and intrinsic literature elements in English. We English teachers call it the BIG L which means the old school-of-thought in teaching literature. This includes reiterating the concepts of things like personification, metaphors, and similes. In English, we're teaching them the little l. We're not concerned about their mastery in grasping those literary elements in poetry or in the story.

Draw from them personal experiences and opinions.

Therefore, when teaching The River by Valerie Bloom, I was interested to ask them if they also felt the same wonder and affection of the river nearby (Kinabatangan River) as how Valerie Bloom was. I told them how observant she was in detailing out the roles played by the river she is describing. Explain to them how Valerie Bloom was describing each role in the poem. I got the students to complete a ready-written poem I did to make their own The Kinabatangan River. This is something I did with a good class and they sort of felt tickled when they were describing their river.

Another way to teach the poem is to firstly split the poems into its individual stanzas.

You can essentially split the stanzas into:

Stanza 1 - The river as a wanderer
Stanza 2 - The river as a winding entity
Stanza 3 - The river as a hoarder/collector (for the weaker ones)
Stanza 4 - The river as a baby
Stanza 5 - The river as a singer
Stanza 6 - The river as a monster

If you look at the poem this way, there are just so many things that you could do to make their comprehension more concrete. According to a teacher, he told his kids to draw out one picture for each stanza that shows the river's roles. Therefore, the lesson would require each kid to write out the poem in separated blocks in their exercise books (even better if you give them art paper) and each block has the stanza and a background picture of the description. That's OK I guess. Weaker students who are more inclined to art can benefit from this exercise.

In fact, other options would also be just as good. For weak students, you could get them to all stand up and do a specific action when someone is reciting the poem. For example, in Stanza 1, the action would be putting your hand on your forehead (as though searching for something), Stanza 2 would be holding their hands together while making snake like movements with it, Stanza 3 would be doing collecting actions with their hands and so on... get a kid to recite the poem and students have to wait for his cue, when they hear the keywords in the poem, they know when to change for each action. This could be interesting if you take over and mix the stanzas to see if the students are paying attention to certain keywords i.e. hoarder, baby, etc.

Students really like these type of total physical response exercises. Form 1 kids just love it when they can stand up, do some form of dancing or moving about which is a nice break from their usual sitting down routine in class. You could even make a small contest to see who is the slowest to react to the action change and forfeit them when they get it wrong. It's really funny. I love these Simon Says-esque games anyway. I think form 1 kids can really do this well for whatever level of proficiency.

If you're worried that the students are not proficient and might not catch the keywords, allow them to refer to a book. Do tell them that referring might be a tad bit slower and they might lose out as well. It would keep them on their toes and they'll try to refer to it only at the very beginning. Kids will always be competitive and try to keep up with the rest of the class.

The Fine Line

on Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Creating a test is extremely difficult.

It's not difficult if you're not concerned about the level of students. It's not difficult seeing that you can find a lot of examples online and even in workbooks. It's not about the resources that is the most difficult.

It is the fact that you have 2 extremes in proficiencies amongst your school students.

At one end, you have students who are the creme ala creme in your English classes and the other is filled with students who think English is spelled Bahasa Inglesh.

How do you find something in between? How do you create an internal exam that really reflects the true competency of both extremes?

Hence, I try to find the right questions for the Form 4 formative assessment for March.

There isn't one definite way to do it. What I did was to find an article that I thought would really encourage both sides to read. Both sides should be extremely interested in the topic and the number of new or uncommon words are kept at a controlled level. In this case, the questions pertaining to the topic has to be relevant as well to the SPM format. There is indeed some difficulty in terms of the language concerned, which I try to rectify with a helpful glossary of definitions. If a student is competent enough, he can choose to ignore it whereas a weak student would find this most helpful.

However, I also found that it is important to not make the definitions complicated. Although simplifying the descriptions might not truly explain the true meaning of the word, it is more important that the student who is referring to it benefits from it for the sake of comprehending the text.

For example: the word congregate can be defined as to gather at one place. Though the definition seems simple, students who are weak might not know the word gather which then completely causes the glossary to be unhelpful. A more simplified version would be to group together in one place. Students are more familiar with the words group and together. This might not be simpler in terms of the number of words, but the description becomes clearer for a weaker student.

Next, structured questions should not require students to divulge too much content knowledge about the text. English is a subject where we try to encourage the usage of the language. Content knowledge is merely there to see if students can utilise it in their speaking or writing skills. Of course, good content knowledge should be awarded but it is not the fault of students to not know a lot about something specific i.e. cloning.

Therefore, good subjective questions to cater for both extremes are opinionated questions. Getting students to speak their mind is something that both extremes can do but at different levels. Good students will of course get a lot of facts and illustrate their minds very systematically and creatively. Weaker students would use their current vocabulary to try to access their native language thoughts. Due to it being opinionated in nature, it is at least relevant for students to relay certain things in their lives that they always explain in English. Even if it were something a little bit off their comfort zone, weaker students can always pass a general opinion. For example:

For the question,
In your opinion, is caning students helpful to discipline them?

Weaker students might answer with a simple,

Yes. This is because students are very naughty.
No. This is because students might get hurt.

This encourages them to write out basic sentences that express their opinions. Both weak and high proficiency students can benefit from questions like these.

Good luck to the Form 4 students. I tried my best.

correcting think students' your you in errors you having problems writing their are So,?

I pride myself of being an expert of the field that I am in. Not just try to be an expert, but I must be an expert in the field that I am in. It is a given that an English teacher has to be in the business of the language. I must know about the ins and outs of the language (and according to a humble editor [hehehe] even the ins and outs), the dos and the don'ts, and the ambiguity in between. If I don't, then I cannot claim myself to be a professional. At least, if it is not in my immediate disposal, I'm equipped to immediately rectify the problem that is about teaching English.

So, I stumble across these things everyday.

My parents, me, and agog Give me tHe best time in tHe moment we go as the Holiday intuitively.

Beside that thing, give he for become a good timing for me tomorrow form hugely momentous event.

Secondly, is for the most beatiful girl's I have the small intuition ifs to me is the adventeres.

From that time is wen her walk to my hous for message to exemplify me the time sir Andrian is giving.

So, how does one begin correcting each sentence?

It is the most important to first recognise the semantics. What is the message (if at all it's comprehensible) that is trying to be conveyed? Is it something that only requires minor adjustments or additional words (most of the time, missed articles and prepositions)? If the answers are all of the aforementioned, then we are in for some serious error analysis.

The best way to go at it is to change as little as possible from the original sentence. I try my best to use back the original sentence as much as possible to keep the original formation of syntax by the student. Even if I feel that a shorter sentence can be used, it is not the fault of a student to try to write it in a longer manner as long as it is correct and sound. Add or minus out a few words just to make it grammatically correct.

If an entire phrase is wrong, some suggested phrases are necessary. It is important to keep it as simple as possible because a complex suggestions isn't going to help. For example, for the phrase: Secondly, is for the most beautiful girl's you shouldn't try to add words that are too complicated i.e.

Secondly, in accordance to the most beautiful girl...

cause the introduction of the word 'accordance' could lead to some split ends in their grammatical prowess. Keep it to a minimal and do:

Secondly, about the most beautiful girl...

and continue on correcting the following phrase:

Secondly, about the most beautiful girl, I am feeling a little scared.

Of course, the sentence is grammatically sound now and that is all we're aiming for in this stage of error correction. I always try to rewrite certain phrases in big bolded words at the side if I see the same error repeated over and over. When I see it being repeated, I just circle it or underline it to indicate that it is a repeated error.

Moving on to a more difficult correction, is the first sentence:

My parents, me, and agog Give me tHe best time in tHe moment we go as the Holiday intuitively.

Not only does the sentence have some punctuation problems, there are multiple errors i.e. using the word me instead of I which is also missing and in between. On top of that, the meaning being conveyed is vague. I wouldn't know the message if I were to just read the sentence alone. I have to look back at the previous context or the following context to make any sense of the sentence. I always fall back to 2 choices:

1. Rewrite an assumption of what I think he is trying to say.
2. Just focus on correcting a few repetitive errors while neglecting other errors.

To justify the first option is to say that I'm trying my best to comprehend him. I want to guess to help him with a suggested answer but he will have to eventually use the form of my suggested syntax to fit in his own meaning in between. This cannot be done if you suggest something similarly long to his original sentence. Always suggest something short because these students have obvious problems in comprehending long sentences.

The second option is justified by focusing only on certain errors you wish for him to improve in. You can't change him into Ricky Gervais overnight. Be happy if he takes note of your corrected sentence and utilises the suggested selective corrections. He'll still make the previous errors that are left uncorrected but might change the ones you suggested.

correcting think students' your you in errors you having problems writing their are So,?

So, you think you are having problems correcting your students' errors in their writing?

Take a deep breath, hold your trusty red pen, and start colouring the books.

Story 1-2-3

I think this is an interesting game to play with weak students. Not only will this be an easy game, it will also automatically force students to come up to the board to try and solve the task.

Really easy game, just instruct them that each student will be given the marker to continue a story that has the beginning already written by the teacher. For example:

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who... 

This will then be continued on by the students one by one. Each student called comes up to fill out the story with just one word for the first student. The second student comes up to write down 2 words only. The third student 3 words only. This is then reset back to 1 word for the fourth student and so on and so forth.

Kids just love this game. They don't like it when a student takes too much time to think about the next word and automatically exclaim out ENGLISH suggestions to their friends to write on the board. Even the shiest students come up willingly to write down that one word they've been saving.

The only problem is, this game could be time consuming. I had to facilitate and hushed students who were obviously walking slowly and still dilly-dallying in front of the board. With the help of prompting students, you can ensure everyone will put down their contribution on the board to write out a story.

Interesting. After a while, I might play it again.

Recycling to cycle

on Monday, 1 March 2010
The thing about teaching students with low proficiencies is that you sometimes get students with the same darn problem no matter which form they are in.

Of course, maturity wise, they are vastly different. A form 5 would definitely tackle a problem differently compared to that of a form 1. However, that still doesn't mean that the thing you're presenting is less challenging. Sometimes, just a small twist in content, number of words, and even the topic discussed can generate a completely different learning experience for both forms.

I'll be teaching cloze texts to all forms even if I feel that sometimes these forms do not require such lessons. Closest in meaning is also one popular one which to me is essential in teaching students about comprehensive input. Although it is paramount in the lower forms, I don't put aside it when teaching the higher forms that are very weak. Probably, they missed out that part in their past, redoing this in their higher forms could prove useful to jump-start their comprehension.

For example, teaching them the uses of could, would, should, and must. I felt that all my forms have problems utilising these modifiers and therefore taught all of them the same functions of these grammar items. I felt that smarter classes would appreciate a more interesting text while learning about these items and therefore put up an article about Michael Jordan and Roger Federer. That really intrigued them to an extent... whereas lower proficiency classes were given very step by step tables to help them utilise the modifiers. For the lower form, I even did it twice to ensure that the level of comprehension was indeed there before I moved on to different topics.

This, by the way, can be found in the textbooks.

You just have to look real close.

Modify at your own risk.