Winter Camp

The public school year schedule in Korea is the opposite of the United States. The school year begins in March. The first semester runs its course, and they take a short summer break at the end of July and into August. This is akin to the winter break in the United States, though it’s a few weeks longer. The second semester begins in late August and finishes up in late December. The long winter break, a few weeks shorter than an American summer break, ends in March when the cycle starts again.

“But, Jeremy,” you say, “ if school ended in late December, this means you’ve been on break for almost a month now! And the peasants rejoice!”

Not so fast.

Almost every NSET (native-speaking English teacher) at a public school has to teach a winter English camp. I am no exception. In my case, my English camp ran for the first 3 weeks of January. The last day was this past Friday, the 21st.

So, what does a “winter English camp” consist of? To begin with, students sign-up for it voluntarily. I had 12 students sign up for my 1st grade English camp and 20 students sign up for my 2nd grade English camp. This means the class size was significantly lower than during the school year (30-35 students), which is a good thing. I also saw the students every day, as opposed to once every 2 weeks during the school year, which meant I actually got to know these students! The biggest difference, however, was that there was no co-teacher in the classroom with me. The main implication of this was that if the students didn’t understand me, I had to bust out my charade skills.

BUT – the best, most glorious, effulgent, sublime part of winter camp was I could teach anything I wanted! No textbook to follow. No cookie-cutter “key phrases” to follow. A chance for some major creativity in the classroom. The teacher in charge of organizing the camps knew something was up when I asked if I could have some construction paper, colored pencils, and white butcher paper for my camp. This is literally what she said to me: “This is a middle school. We don’t have those things here.” But, after some gentle haranguing, my wish was granted and they ordered the supplies for me.

My plan was to split each day into a theme, and all the activities each day could be centered around said theme. This process produced some of the most fun and creative moments I’ve had in the classroom in Korea, and most importantly, I got most of the students to let their guard down and start speaking in English. The biggest problem I see in my school is the students are all terrified of making a mistake, and I know that if you’re not prepared to be wrong and make mistakes, you won’t learn a thing. So, based on that fact alone, I consider my English camp a success.

But, just for the heck of it, here are some of the activities I did.

On the first day of camp, I had all the students pick an English name so I didn’t have to call them, “Hey you with the face.” They enjoyed this, and when they had all picked a name, we made acrostic poems with them. For each letter of their name, they had to choose a word that describes them or something that is important to them.

On the movie themed day, I had them all pick an actor or actress and draw them on a piece of paper. On the back, they had to list some movies the actor has been in and describe them in a few short sentences. Then, I taught the students some descriptive vocabulary, and we played a giant game of “Guess Who” with our “Wall of Fame.” I went last and frustrated them by picking a kid in the class. After 5 minutes of not guessing who it was, I told them what I did. There’s the box. Think outside of it.

Can you name all of the actors/actresses above? Before you get too frustrated, you should know about half of them are Korean actors. Also, can you pick out the two that I drew and name them?

On the family themed day, we all created a family tree after learning how to describe our families in English. I then hung up all the family trees around the room and gave them a speed quiz using questions about their families. I would ask a question (Ex. ‘How many cousins does Billy have?’ or ‘Who is Mary’s step-daughter?’) and they would have to run around the room and find the answers. It might seem easy, but it was tough for them. They did very well, though.

On the poem themed day, we created a few different types of poems and I taught a lesson on rhyming. The students’ favorite poem was the riddle haiku. I taught them what a haiku is (a 3 line poem with 17 syllables, the 1st has 5, the 2nd has 7, the 3rd has 5) and we created ‘riddle’ haikus. Can you figure out these student written riddles:

Big and has red eyes.
Eats carrots and cucumbers.
Has big and long ears.

Twin brothers of steel,
Come apart, come together.
Cut one into two.

It is very big.
It is green and red inside.
A heavy oval.

I live in water.
I grow up and go to land.
I look very cute.

These were a good way for the students to play with the language, like adding a syllable by changing “it’s” to “it is.”

Let’s not forget the food themed day. They all created menus with a dish from each of 6 different countries. They had to write a short description of the food, too. Then, we had a fun time role playing the parts of customers, waiters, and hosts at “Restaurant De Jeremy.”

We did more fun stuff, and I wish I could talk about it all, but this is getting long and I am getting tired. Winter camp was a great change of pace and really allowed me to teach the way I want to, unrestricted by curriculum requirements, co-teachers, and tests.

Now, though, winter camp if OVAH! The new school year doesn’t start until March, and I am officially on vacation. I have plenty of plans to get out and see the city and to do some traveling. More on those adventures in the weeks to come.

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11 Responses to Winter Camp

  1. Brems says:

    The actor in the middle with the sunglasses glasses is obviously Robert Davi.

  2. Dani says:

    I guess that you drew Julia Roberts!

  3. mom says:

    can’t wait to hear about your vacation plans. winter camp sounds like it was FUN!!

  4. Niki says:

    I’m not even done reading but i’ m guessing you drew Neo, aka Keanu Reeves, from the Matrix!

  5. Niki says:

    What a creative teacher you are! Your lesson plans are so fun. It is interesting to see the English names they picked. I didn’t know Cora was an English name. Did your students get that from Iron Chef. They totally hit the nail on the head with American food–fried chicken and pizza, nice.

    • jdwack says:

      I actually just printed out a giant list of English names from one of those baby naming sites. Most of them picked them from there. And yeah – when I ask them about American food, they always say fast food, pizza, and chicken.

  6. Brian says:

    So did you get any feedback from the other teachers about your lessons? Did it turn into a Dead Poets Society confrontation where they lecture you about your unorthodox teaching methods?

    “Pictures of movie stars and food, Mr. Wackerlin? Don’t give in to the stereotype of the Lazy Star-Fucking American Educator. We have standards here.”


    High Expectations Asian Educator

    • jdwack says:

      I’m glad you brought this up – because the only reason I was bold enough to do these creative things is because for winter camp, I had no co-teacher watching me. I’m pretty sure they would say that EXACT thing to me if I tried these activities during the actual school year.

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