As a teacher, it can be hard to get your students excited to learn at the beginning of a new lesson.
EPIK, the public school program in South Korea, uses a series of textbooks called Cheonjae, which typically fails to get my students engaged at the initial stages of a lesson.
Instead, I have found that using authentic material is an effective way of getting them motivated.
I find that my students are especially engaged when the material is tailored to my personal life.
This article will outline some different ways you can use personalized authentic material as a motivator in your lessons, specifically for EPIK teachers using the Cheonjae textbooks.
About the author: Karina Dirstein completed the online 250-hour TESOL Diploma online while teaching English with EPIK in South Korea.
Using Authentic Material to Teach Simple Past
Both the Grade 4 and 5 textbooks in the Cheonjae series have a lesson focusing on the simple past tense that falls right after a school vacation.
Lesson 14 for Grade 4, “I Had a Great Time” falls right after the winter break, and Lesson 8 for Grade 5, “How Was Your Vacation?” falls after the summer break.
They both focus on the theme of vacation, creating great opportunities for personalized authentic material.
For these lessons, I usually make a slide show with some pictures of what I actually did on my holidays.
I make sure to include lots of pictures, accompanied by simple sentences using the target language.
For example, I recently went on a family vacation to Mexico.
In my slideshow, I showed my students a photo of myself from that vacation as well as a map showing where Mexico is.
I included a short sentence saying, “I went to Mexico” at the bottom of the slide and read it to them.
Immediately, my students started asking me questions about why I went there, how long the flight was, and if it was actually me in the photo.
Students were engaged and, from their questions, I also knew that they were listening and understanding.
Your students love seeing their teacher in a more personable way and not only does it help build rapport with them, but it makes them more motivated to try to comprehend what you’re communicating to them.
For many students, especially if you are teaching this lesson to Grade 4, this is their first time seeing the simple past tense.
Using this type of motivational material will cement the target language in their minds as well as orient them around the theme of vacations for this lesson.
Teaching Vocabulary Related to Money
In both the Grade 4 and Grade 5 textbooks, Lesson 13 looks at money.
The Grade 4 chapter focuses on basic target language (such as “how much is the hat?”) and numbers while it is Grade 5 counterpart reinforces that same target language again, as well as practicing items in the plural (“how much are the pants?”).
A great motivator for this type of lesson is to show your students money from your home country or even other countries you’ve traveled to.
I brought my students’ money in various denominations from Canada.
At the very beginning of the lesson, I first made a slideshow showing pictures of money from different countries and had my students try to guess from which country the money was from.
They had a lot of fun trying to figure this out. After a few countries, I showed them a picture of Canadian money, and after having them guess the country I showed them a couple more pictures and explained how much different bills and coins are worth.
It’s at this point I revealed to them that I have brought real Canadian money for them to see.
My students always get very excited to see the money and reluctantly give it back to me when I tell them it’s time to move on.
The use of foreign currency is a great tool for use in a classroom abroad, as it is likely your students’ first time seeing money aside from their own country’s.
The textbook uses dollars, not Korean won, so seeing and holding real dollars helps authenticate the lesson and place it into a context they can relate to better.
Teaching Vocabulary Related to Time
Lesson 14 in the Grade 5 textbook takes a look at daily routines. I usually take this opportunity to give my students a look into “A Day in My Life”.
Not only is this an opportunity to build rapport and get your students to see you as a “person” instead of a teacher, but it is also an opportunity to expose them to the lesson’s target language for the first time in an authentic context.
I will usually start this class by asking my students what time it is, to review time vocabulary from previous lessons.
I next show them a picture of someone getting out of bed, and I ask them what time it is in this picture.
After hearing some guesses, I next show them a picture of my bedroom and I tell them that I get up at 7:30 am.
Next, I show a picture of breakfast, and again I ask them what time it is in this picture. After some guesses, I show them a picture of what I would usually eat for breakfast and tell them what time I usually eat breakfast.
I run through my day in this way in about five slides, so as not to lose interest, and at the end, I will ask my students what they think our new lesson is about.
This type of motivation will help your students attach the target language to a real-life example.
You can also alternatively find several “A Day in the Life” videos made by other English teacher expats living abroad, or days in the lives of various people in various occupations on websites like YouTube.
There are many ways to use personalized, authentic material as a motivator in your lesson plans as an ESL teacher.
As a visitor in another country, we have the advantage of bringing new and interesting material into our classrooms to catch and keep our students’ attention.
When we make that authentic material personal, it instantly makes our lessons feel more personal to our students as well.
I find that when I make the effort the include this type of material in my lessons, my students will make positive references to it when we move deeper into the lesson and are studying the new vocabulary and grammar, signaling to me that they are recalling and referencing previous knowledge.
I encourage you, too, to also insert your own motivational authentic material into your lessons and to help form a bridge between the classroom and the real world.