Experiential Learning : The Human Knot

One of the classes that I’m teaching right now is entitled “Communication Skills” but the primary objective is to help learners develop public speaking skills. It’s more of a lecture-style class (much to my chagrin) . There are chapters from a book to be covered and assignments are designed for learners to present their speeches / presentations in the class. This is my first experience of this sort, as I’ve always taught language proficiency courses. Initially, the idea of so much TTT was causing a lot of unease inside me. It’s energy AND time consuming plus the whole idea of going ön and on was not-at-all appealing.

But of course, being a part of a tertiary institution with set educational standards (which I really give my hats to) and systems of conventions that have functioned successfully, I was, in no means, intending to rock the boat. So what I did was infuse communicative and self-learning tasks whenever and wherever possible AND tried engaging learners in discussions during my presentation sessions.

(Which reminds me that I need to get a powerpoint remote control to become mobile!)

Well, anyway, I noticed that learners really enjoyed these sort of lessons the most and were quite oblivious to the fact that learning actually took place!

Very much in contrary to how they behave during presentations (can you share your thoughts with your partners? –>> whiff of voices here and there, some on whatsapp ticking away and I still am figuring out how can I get EVERYONE to focus in class) – eventually I had to resort to calling out names.

Now, coming back to the topic. I’ve always loved to have classes that encourage autonomous and experiential learning. When I say autonomous learning, I’m talking about having learners to work together and teach themselves to figure things out. The thought processes that take place at this point of time greatly contributes to understanding and learning.

Experiential learning is something else altogether as well. In my previous post, I spoke about an educator who inspired me with a similar technique. I’m sure you’d have summed up that experiential learning means learning from experience. If you’re interested, the following websites have some useful information on experiential learning:

Defining Experiential Learning – Wikipedia

What is Experiential Learning? – James W. Gentry

So what did I do then? I played the Human Knot Game. I honestly think it’s an amazing game that can be used for different learning objectives. Very adaptable, fun, interesting, and engaging. You can read up more on this game and how to go about it at the following websites:

The Human Knot – Holden Leadership Center

How to play the Human Knot

The human Knot – Youtube

a) The areas that were supposed to be covered during class were –> definition of communication, types, effects, effective communication and the communication process.

b) All tables were moved to the corners and sides of the classroom to have an empty, working space.

c) Learners were then briefed and guided step by step to get into the Human Knot Game. This is how it looked during the most challenging part of the game (picture below). In fact, I tried to lure them into giving up, but they stood their ground!!


d) Eventually, they gave up ( due to fatigue) but with a heavy heart, for sure!

e) It was then time for reflection. Learners got into groups of 4, and discussed the following post activity questions:

  • Describe your experience of being a part of the human knot. How did your team communicate with one another and what challenges did you face?
  • How would you define communication?
  • What are the types of communication that took place in your ‘knot’?
  • Who were the senders and receivers in your group? What kind of qualities did they have?
  •  What kind of noise / interference did you experience in the process of untangling the human knot?
  •  Based on your experience, what are the strategies for effective communication to take place?
  •  Describe lessons that you’ve learned during this activity that can be used in your daily lives.


f) Learners then had to present their discussion to the classroom, where further discussion and feedback ensued between everyone.


There are several observations that I made from this activity:

– Unintentionally, my lesson was actually based on David A. Kolb’s experiential learning theory (as illustrated below). I didn’t manage to get step 4 done though, due to time constraint.


– The Human Knot Game can be used as an activity for different language targets. Among them:

a) Application of verb tenses (past tense)

b) Practicing giving instructions (low level learners)

c) Post-reading activity (For reading materials from “communication”themes)

d) Be aware of cultural differences when playing this game, as learners would have  to be in very close proximity with one another. Do keep that in mind.

– there were times when the learners were so intensely weaved into a know that they almost gave up. As a teacher, I asked “possibility questions” just to get them thinking on other possible alternatives to un-weave themselves.


So there you go. Any comments or insights?


Experiential Learning – Memoirs from the Past

Sometimes in life, you meet individuals with such profound greatness that they leave a mark so deep within yourself.

When I started writing this post, my initial intention was to dive straight into the experiential-learning lesson that I conducted a couple weeks back. But then I saw the need to introduce you to THAT profound person who inspired this lesson : the late Professor Emeritus Hyacinth Marie Gaudart.

You see, Prof.  Hyacinth (as we lovingly called her) is truly one of a kind. She was a legendary Malaysian educationist who left a deep impact in both my postgraduate education and my heart. And I’m sure EVERY one who’s worked with her will nod their heads in agreement.

For one, she was , and still is remembered for playing one of the key roles in establishing the Bachelor of Education (TESL) programme in the University of Malaya, founding  the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA), as well as initiating and spearheading the Rural Outreach Program for English (ROPE) project here in Malaysia in the 1990s. And these are only the cream on the cake. Prof Hyacinth’s contributions to the ELT industry are actually immeasurable.

Also being known for her creativity, brilliance, passion ,dedication and warmth, Prof. Hyacinth was someone who could laugh with us with that a twinkle in her eyes or bark thunderously at us for the lack of quality in our academic work.

Uh-oh, when it came to work, she was a no-nonsense person. Her lectures were remarkable; In a 4 hour class, she took a couple of minutes to give us an overview of the day’s lesson and we then had to dive head-on into the task, struggling and swimming our way across the ocean, literally. But she was always there behind us, subtly noosing and goading us as to not go off course. Oh yea, sometimes she gleefully let us drown and just at the moment where life seemed to slip off our fingers, she’d yank us out again. Such was the kind of experiential learning that I experienced with her in my postgraduate classes.

And one last thing. She loved food. It was a way she bonded even more closely with us. The last 30 minutes of class was always time for merriment; Each week, learners’ of different nationalities brought a range of scrumptious fare to the class. We ate, laughed and became almost like a family. Such was the magic of Hyacinth Gaudart.

When I close my eyes and let memories of her wash over me, I only feel rays of light, intellect, dedication and intense love. And the tears of sadness and tightness in throat when I heard of her demise last year.

Note : This post is dedicated to the late Professor Hyacinth Gaudart, who, in all honestly, I hope, is training future teachers in the inner worlds right now. May her physical body rest in peace.

Hyacinth Bdayprofessor gaudart

Reflecting on the 6th iELT Conference 2013 – The True Story

Funny how one can feel rather disconnected at an international conference. Perhaps it was my fault to have set high expectations on the outcome of the event. Or, the fact that this was my first time at the iELT Conference which was rather small-scaled (having always attended the MELTA and ASIA TEFL conferences previously,  also the awesome KOTESOL Conference in 2012 where I met loads of wonderful, wonderful teachers (Alex GrevettAnne Hendler,  Josette Le BlancMike Griffin,  John Pfordresher, Gemma Lunn and many more, whom I immediately connected to!).

Hmmm……and to think of it, iELT Conference 2013 was something I PHYSICALLY attended. It wasn’t the virtual world. After all, I had the chance to interact with people face to face!

Yet I felt the “vacuum” in a lot of these interactions. It was almost like people reciprocated because they “had to”, or “for the formality of it”. No additional questions to build that professional relationship. Or maybe I had to be a plenary speaker for that, eh?

Absolutely ironic that I feel a great sense of belonging to a wonderful group of teachers whom I’ve never met, but have been providing such amazing support as we walk hand in hand in our own individual teaching worlds (my warm hugs and shoutout shoutout goes to Chuck Sandy, Barb Sakamoto, Icha, Kevin Stein, Rose Bard, Ann Loseva, Vladka, James Taylor, Barry Jameson and a whole lot of other lovely educators).

Oh, no no, don’t get me wrong here. Now, I DID meet a number of remarkably committed, passionate and intelligent individuals but the number was small. Wish I had met more!

So, thinking back (sorry for plagiarizing the word, Mike!) –> I came back with mixed feelings….

For these reasons (which are EXTREMELY judgmental and entirely mine):

  •  The most interesting workshops were the ones with the simplest, most workable ideas (Anthony Newman’s “Discovering your voice as a writer”, Woo Yee Saik’s “The voice of influence : Be a Trim Tab”, Moses Samuel’s “Inter-textuality in the classroom”, Derek Straat’s “Verb Tenses Live”,  to name a few). Simplicity DOES count.
  • The plenary speakers are well-read and very experienced in the ELT field, but whose speeches were B.O.R.I.N.G.  Nothing new, nothing enlightening. Good topic (professionalism and networking), but mostly very very theoretical (eg : what are the types of professional dev? DUH!). To my utter dismay, one of them just “read it out” completely from the notes. TEACHERS WANT OPTIONS FOR DEVELOPING. not theory. grrrrrrrrrrr. MOVE FORWARD, FOLKS. Learn a thing or two from the delightful Scott Thornbury or Ken Wilson.
  • I believe I missed an interesting plenary talk by Anthony Newman on “The 12 features of highly Effective Teachers”  ; my workshop was right after it!
  • Some interesting workshops were held during the same session, forcing me to regrettably chose one over the other.
  • Some teacher trainers (appointed by the Ministry of Education) were not as warm as I thought they’d be, rather arrogant and all puffed up (imposing their ideas in groupwork during workshops, walking in and out as they liked, not wanting to “listen”). Hmmm, makes me wonder how they work with teachers in school? Knowing Malaysian school teachers who can sometimes feel rather intimidated and small when working with “white people” (sorry for the rather racist comment but it’s really true!). Amusingly, their professional profiles weren’t that impressive. I ABSOLUTELY agree with Mike Griffin about avoiding to sit beside white guys above 40!
  • The international plenary speakers were very friendly. The local ones didn’t smile back when you did. They looked through you.
  • No one tweeted about anything.
  • Nothing much on tech-savvy teaching.

MY CONCLUSION : We need to move forward and keep up with the current ELT trends in Malaysia. The overall conference gave me the feeling that I “stepped back in time” in the world of ELT.

P/S : I had some great time during group discussions.


Oh, and not to mention that the after conference street food exploration was explosively delightful! :)))))


Cool things that happened today….and is probably going to double tomorrow…

I’ve not particularly been keeping the promise I made to myself for the past two months – to blog on a weekly basis. Somehow the whole process of getting back to homeland has gotten a hold over me; reconnecting ties, delving into the new teaching role, redecorating the home (and more to come I’m sure) have seemed to have taken the front row where priorities are concerned.

Hence, it was by chance that I stumbled upon Mike Griffin‘s blog challenge while hogging onto the-oh-so-sinful- facebook (yes, guilthy as charged, your honour).  Ann Loseva had reposted Kevin Stein‘s blog post, where he took up Mike’s challenge to list down cool things that happened for the day, in his life. And I thought, hey, I probably should do it myself (speak about non-original idea, tsk tsk tsk) because today, has definitely been a pretty exhilaratingly exciting day for me. Ultra coolness grooving around me with a total turn of events that caught me off guard, probably leading to something bigger. May spell trouble for me, may not. But hey, I did what I had to do and it was totally worth it! You know what they say about fighting til the last breath escapes your very being. 


(courtesy of http://sajabla.files.wordpress.com)

So here goes to all the cool things that happened for the day:

a) A letter of frustration that I wrote to a friend about my utter dissatisfaction about the Malaysian Government’s actions with regards to the ELT industry got published in the opinion column of a renowned, well-read online Malaysian tabloid. You can find the link  here. Now, some of my friends may stop becoming my friends right here because of the obvious mentions of nationality / nations, but whatever I said was true and yes, things that’ve been bugging me, and yes, things that N.E.E.D to be changed in my country. Awake! Arise!

b) The letter’s gone (and still going) viral in the Malaysian social media. Last I checked (and this happened within the last 12-24hours), this is the number of tweets, reposts, emails, and sharing USING forms of social media that’s taken place:


I think that’s an amazing, amazing number of reposts. Malaysians ARE concerned about our ELT education. I’ve probably raised some very pressing issues here judging from the number of comments and reposts.

c) Now comes the even juicier part. As a result (I think), the Deputy Chief Editor has requested me to write up a detailed article on the directions that can lead towards change. Exactly what I’ve been wanting to do since I got back. Now I get to write about what every Malaysian English language teacher should be doing to becoming global – professional development. I’m going to draw from my AND my wonderful, dynamic PLN’s experience as well. The best part of it is, it’s going to be read by the entire nation (well, literally) and it’s going to spread like wildfire in the Malaysian social media. It’s showtime, baby!

d) I met up a wonderful friend for lunch, and had loads of fun laughing together. We both parted with such a warm, light heart. 

e) As I reached home, I got a postal package from the same friend – my bridesmaid’s outfit that she bought me, for her wedding. Is it coincidence that I meet her today, and get the package later ON THE SAME DAY? You tell me.

f) I got a call that my timetable for the upcoming semester has been rescheduled, where I have the same teaching hours, but only need to go in thrice a week (as opposed to 4 times a week before). It means I save another day of travelling time, traffic jam, petrol, toll, and most of all, TIME! –> to do thing that I want to do.

g) My carpet arrived today. And it’s totally transformed the way my home looks – so yummilicious! I just rolled around on the carpet with bliss all over my face,as long as I can remember as my husband watched me with a smile.

h) A group of my old students sent me a facebook message about how they told a “bunch of new friends that they’d “never be able to meet the best teacher we”ve ever had because she doesn’t work here anymore”. I sat in front of the computer with a goofy smile on my face for a long time.

i) The group of students also told me that they wanted to meet up for a game of bowling and dinner at any time that I’m free. They will come anywhere that I suggest on any day.

And that’s it. Full of ultra cool goodness for the day. Surely there’s more to come tomorrow. But for now, I’ll bask in the glory of the current ones.

Thanks so much Mike, Kevin, and Anna for inspiring me to getting this done. I feel good all over. Like totally. How cool is that now?

Of Observing and being Observed …….

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned”....

This is a confession post. I’m a coward. I really  am. For this post is a rant AND  a reflection about someone I observed but didn’t have the guts to give feedback to (because it’s someone of a senior position and not to risk losing my job). My only hope is that the person mentioned reads this and takes it all in the stride of teaching life. I’d like to reassert that my intentions here are NOT to criticize, but to sincerely give feedback and in fact, suggestions on how improvement can take place. On a personal note, though, I quite like this person; jovial, helpful and kind towards me. It’s the TEACHING that took me by surprise.

Let’s name the person as The Observee. And the situation goes like this. I was requested to observe a senior teacher who’s “highly expertised, having vast experience in the industry and published teaching material to gauge whether you’re comfortable teaching this class”. Naturally, my expectations were high. Can I be blamed then?

So I entered the class equipped with a notebook and a paper. I think THAT came as a shock to the observee (perhaps I wasn’t expected to bring it notebooks?). I took my place at the corner fo the classroom. Let me paint a background potrait of the classroom:

Number of learners :

16 (class duration 2 hours)

Learners age             :

19-26 years old

Country of origin     :

South Korea (and I couldn’t help smiling to myself)

Classroom arrangement             :

Traditional style


And below are a list of what I observed, and a short elaboration of my thoughts:

Objectives were clearly stated

It’s always important to write down the objectives on either side of the whiteboard. It gives the teacher and the learner a sense of focus and direction, and helps keep teachers “on track”. I was glad that she wrote it down on t whiteboard, right at the beginning of the class.

Used color-coding techniques

 She used different colors to highlight differences that learners needed to notice. I am a strong believer of using different coloured marker pens to highlight similiarities or differences in a language point. Colors lend a visual component to learners, suiting different learning styles.

Good rapport between teacher and learners

We’ve got to agree that no matter how skilled a teacher is in teaching, building a good rapport with learners play an important role in the teaching and learning environment. Rapport is based on trust and possible similarities (or even indifferences) between teachers and learners interests. When a learner trusts the teacher, there’s usually less opposition from them when requested to complete a task. There are many ways a teacher can help build rapport with his/her learners : – teachers exuding a positive, passionate and emphatetic nature; body language; sense of humor among others. Good rapport builds a strong bond, and a strong bond greatly aids in classroom management. I believe the observee has built a pretty good rapport with her learners.


Having said the above, now we come to the part that’s difficult to digest, at least for me. I’m going to start treading on dangerous grounds here, but am going to do my best to be as diplomatic as possible.

Booming voice projection and EXTREMELY high Teacher Talking Time (TTT) (nearly 90%)

Having lived in South Korea for a bit, I’ve inferred that Koreans, generally dislike booming voices, people talking loudly, sudden loud guffaws in a quiet environment (I’m stating from my observation). I nearly jumped out of skin when her voice boomed from time to time, something that the observee really needs to look into. When teachers project their voices loudly, it engenders a sense of authority and enforces the teacher-student hierarchy. This can sometimes be a barrier in reaching out to learners. There are two possible results from this; learners’ affective filters might be raised so high up that they cringe into their protective shells OR the learner might storm out of the classroom. And both affects learning negatively and disrupts the class.

Also, the learners were hardly given a chance to speak at all. Most of the time, the entire classtime seemed like a “lecture” more than an “English teaching” class. It was made even worse with the observee authoritatively kept reminding learners – “don’t speak Korean”. Well, to be fair to the learners, they weren’t given a chance to speak in English at all! I strongly suggest that the observee takes a second look at her lesson plan, and make changes to her design to infuse activities that encourage learners to communicate  (pairwork, group work, in threes) and express their ideas to one another.  These kind of little tasks are the ones that help to consistently build learners confidence in using the language.

Unacceptable Grammar Mistakes in Spoken language

Or rather, speaking Manglish (Malaysian English) in the classroom. To be honest, I’m quite proud of Malaysian English. It helps me feel a sense of connectedness with fellow Malaysians; it makes us laugh together and understand each other even better. But I believe as teachers, we have different roles to play in different places. Although I regrettably say this, Manglish is perfectly fine during non-ELT related social gatherings. However, it is of crucial importance for the teacher to speak fluently, clearly and as accurately as much as possible in the context of the ELT world (classroom, conferences, workshops, online disucssions).

The thing is, we all make mistakes. Sometimes even as a teacher, in some situations  I do get nervous and accidentally utter structures that are grammatically incorrect. But I almost immediately notice it and apologize to my learners, and these occasions of uttering grammatically wrong sentences, are very very rare. As a teacher, I have trained myself to unconciously watch every word that I say in the classroom. It doesn’t mean that I speak slowly; it just means that I’m mindful in my utterances.

Well, the mistakes she made were one too many to be considered as unintentional tongue slips. And these are her exact words:

“I’m stand like this…”

“She laughed heartedly..”

“This important for your spelling…”

“Please look what I’m doing…”

“It is not the heart very big sized…”

I was quite apalled at hearing her speak in this manner. I confess that I wanted to save my job and not sound “over the board” by pointing out her mistakes and voicing out my observations of the class.  I looked helplessly as she taught them “laugh heartedly” is correct; I couldn’t help wondering if she had noticed the disinterested and blank looks on the learners’ faces.

Never mind that.

This post is a way of me repenting for not speaking up to the observee. But I hope she reads this and thinks about what I’ve said. I’m learning. You’re learning. We’re all learning. To err is human but to err, realize, repent and grow is divine…

So here I stand, in front of you, sincerely apologizing for not doing what I should’ve done as the observer…

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned”....


(courtesy of http://www.themashupradio.com

2012 – The Year of Giving….

My guru says that the importance of life is to give before we expect, for when we give, our hearts open and then, we receive so much more back and THIS truly, truly makes us a happier person.


(picture courtesy of http://modernmom.com)

And his words made me smile. For this post is dedicated to all who have given to me wholeheartedly throughout 2012; who’ve shared a part of them with me just to see me grow and who’ve been there when I most needed them. 2012’s been filled with giving, giving and more giving that I’m not really sure if I’d ever be able to repay them in any way.

What a scintillating year it’s been. So much learning, so much growth, so much reflecting and this overpowering sense of belonging. I feel inspired. I feel the need to explore my potentials as a person. 

So here I am, inspired by Scott Thornbury’s “A-Z of ELT” – my own list of of “A-Z of gratitude”. Just a simple post from my heart; no big words, no fancy language, no impressions.  Just warm moments expressing my sincerest warmest gratitude for opening your hearts to me. THANK YOU SO MUCH…..


Anne Hendler : for taking the trouble to spend time with me (which I really enjoyed!) AND reminding me never to be judgemental and always keep an open mind **thank u gal!**. I’ve got so much to learn from you, really. And I know I can always be myself around you and not blabber something “just to impress”……:)))))))

(and special thanks to AMMA and APPA for without you, I’d never have done it to this very day)

Ann Loseva : for her lovely blog and for so making my day today and featuring me on her blog. Ann, you’ve got no idea how much that meant to me!


Barbara Sakamoto : for the opportunity to write a guest post on Teaching Village.

Bodhinatha : for your wonderful teachings and spiritual guidance.


Chuck Sandy : for connecting me to so many wonderful friends here in Korea, helping me rediscover what I can do and believing in myself. Thank you Chuck for your doors of opportunities!

Calvyn Wong : for the time you took to write me a testimonial. 


Danaraj : for being my man of steel, giving uncontended support to think differently and most of all, always remind me to “not attach passion to monetary value but do it because you love it’ll eventually sum up”.


Emma : for her wonderful smile and always laughing together with me


Friends : All my friends in Korea, especially to Piya and Sasya who’ve made my laugh til I my eyes watered. Those moments we spent together would be etched forever in my heart.


Grant Duncan : for being the best ELT boss that I’ve ever had! You’ve been such a source of inspiration and support until this very day!

Gemma Lunn : for reading and saying such kind words to motivate me to continue doing what I do. I’m really wishing that we meet again sometime, someday.


Hema : my wonderful sister who always happily agrees to help me test out with technology. And for being so loving and kind-hearted.


Indra Sasasivam : for being one of the most selfless friends I’ve ever had. Til this day I wonder how can someone be so giving and selflessly helpful as you are. We’ve gone such a long way together, and I hope we go a long way too.

Isha Nanthini : for our inspiring skype sessions; I always feel rejuvenated after talking to you.


James Taylor : For your powerful thoughts and the inspiration for me to do things I’ve never done before and to “say yes”.

Josette Le Blanc : for always touching my heart with the emails that you send me. Each word that you say goes really deep down into me, and sits there for a long time. If someone’s got the magic with words, I believe you’re one of those people.

John Pfordresher : for being the most helpful classmate in John Fanselow’s ‘Breaking the Rules” Class. You really helped me reorganize myself on days that I was absent. And your blog is something else. It’s so humbling to see your honesty in accepting your shortcomings as a teacher and most of all, on how much you strive to continue improving yourself. There’s so much to learn from you.

Jeyanthi akka : for unendingly supporting me by reading and reposting everything I write on my blog. Thanks so much for being such a nice and supportive person in my life.


Kevin Stein : for making me feel that I’m not the only one who faces challenges in class. I’ve never met you in person, but in more than a single occasion, I found myself typing or thinking the same exact thing that you said or thought (either in you blog, comments or during our online classes). I feel myself seeing through your eyes in the classroom, and sometimes I feel that I’m there with you as well.

Ken Morrison : for your powerful insight on how I need to write an abstract for a presentation. Very informative words, thank you very much Ken.

Kanthan : for being the best brother one could have. You’ve got a brilliant mind, and big heart and the best sense of intelligent humor I’ve seen on a person!


Lindsay Whithworth : For giving me the most priceless advice before I came to Korea, for the most unique resume sample and for being such a wonderful person. I wish we met again sometime! I really do!

Lim Eng Seong : for all the academic questions that you asked me which were the reasons I questioned myself and my research and completed it. You’re one of a kind. Thanks so much for your time to listen to me in during the toughest time of my postgraduate years.


Mike Griffin : for that mischevious twinkle in your eyes and smile, and for posts that are so conceptually astounding that I gape in awe on how someone could so brilliantly write a post that’s both funny and informative! 

Minie Ramasamy : for your warmth, healing energies and making me feel at home here in Ulsan. I loved each moment I spent with you. Thanks so much!

Meghan : You’d probably never read this post, but I can’t thank you enough for being the most selflessly helpful person during my stay here in Korea. You’re such a fine Korean woman, and I hope you continue having fun learning English.

Mexi : for being so kind as to let me us your home for my classes and even picking students up from their homes, preparing after class meals for them. You’re amazing, really you are.


Nish Suvarna : for the laughters me and Dana had when we’re out with you. Come to Malaysia sometime!


Ozge : for a blog filled with technological tools it keeps reminding me that I have a lot of homework to do.


Piyali Ghosh : for being such a loyal, supportive friend and confidante here in Ulsan.

Parames Perumal : For bringing a smile onto my face each time I thought about the amount of laughing we used to do together.!




Rohini : for being so beautiful and yet so humble and kind-hearted. A gentle reminder to me from my dear sister.


Sasya : for laughing together with me like no one’s watching and for teaching me what generosity is about. You’re one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.Truly.

Subha : for being so helpful and understanding, and gently nudging me to look at things from a different angle.


Tim Thompson : for telling me firmly to “first get a name card it’ll work wonders for you”. definitely something I’ve got to do!

Tom Higgs : for always being the grandpa figure with his kind, thoughtful, encouraging words.


UPM gang : Sham, sangee, dhat, janu,basky,sri. The amount of things we’ve done and shared can never ever be expressed in words. Thank you so much for every year from the time we met until 2012. I’m so glad that we’ve been in touch despite all these years and dearest sham….I have changed, I think we all have 😉


Vladka : for inspiring me with such a talented voice in writing. It’s always so fulfilling to read hat you’ve got to say; Your writing’s got such depth it just spells you in every word. I’d so love to meet you sometime in the future!

Vahid Javadi : you may never ever read this but a single chance of observing your class changed my life forever. I still think you’re one of the most creative teachers that I’ve ever met in my life. Wherever you are, I hope you shine as you always did. Thanks so much for the revelation.






Yitzha Sarwono : I sometimes wonder how someone could be as positive and bright as you are. And such a hardworking and passionate teacher. Reading between the lines of your blog shows me how much you’ve achieved and yet you remain humble and keep saying “I’m just a kindergarden teacher”. You always remind me that humility I need to always keep in mind.


And there it is. I’m so excited to step into 2013 because I know I’m going to continue growing, continue connecting with fantastic teachers and continue giving more and more. If I’ve not mentioned your name, please forgive me; for deep in my mind, I always remember the kindness people show me. I may have forgotten here but you’re surely and always in my heart.

I’d love to sign of with a huge warm “namaste” which isn’t just a gesture, but a symbolic greeting that elevates one’s conciousness, drawing us inward for a moment, and softening the interface between us. It’s the most honorable yet humbling way of saying thank you, from my soul to yours.

Have a light and laughter filled 2013 with lots of “sugar and spice and all that’s nice”.




Think Out Of the Box – Infusing Critical Thinking in the EFL Classroom

“Teaching students to think in English teaches them to live in English” affirms my friend, Anthony Vaughan in his blog several weeks back. 

And this struck a bell in my mind and got ME thinking. Now, how often do we plan lessons that primarily aim in getting learners to don their thinking hats? More often than not, the precision and details that go into EFL lesson planning is largely intended to hone a multititude of language skills. Fair enough for a language class. But what about those crucial soft skills that learners would so need once they go out into the world of reality ? Think about it.

The truth is (as Anthony puts it) we’re probably a really lucky bunch of ELT teachers  if we’ve been blessed with learners who hail from educational systems that place focus on nurturing thinking skills. But this is usually not the case now, is it? For I honestly believe that in a large number of countries, a huge share of the educational-cake is given to assessments and examinations of some sort. In fact, it can pretty much get into a rat-race of learners trying their best to outdo one another where exam results are concerned. But how can we use exams as a basis in determining a learners’ intelligence level? You do get what I mean now, don’t you?


(image courtesy of short-quote-jokes.com)

Well, I may not have my facts in black and white, but I think I can regretfully and sadly say that this is the case in many countries. However, I’m not going to get into the details of this because it’s not the purpose of my post for today.

Which bring me back to this post. See,  I believe that as ELT teachers, we actually play a very influential role in helping these learners transcend from the exam-base educational system to a lifelong-based learning system. And how do we do this, exactly? By designing lessons that aim in developing BOTH language AND soft-skills of learners, which was what I attempted at doing in this following lesson. I particularly focussed on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills this time around. It was overwhelmingly fulfilling to watch my learners argue, discuss, negotiate and plan fervently in their groups. AND EVERY BIT OF IT WAS IN ENGLISH…..:))))))

You might have seen a similar lesson plan elsewhere, but this one’s definitely as original as it can get, and no, it wasn’t inspired by the series “Lost”. 🙂


Lesson Plan                    : A month of survival on an island

Proficiency Level      : Elementary and above

Activity Type               : Collaborative task (Group Discussion and class presentation)

Learners’ Age               : Teenagers, young adults and adults

Skills focussed             : Language skills (speaking, reading, listening with a bit of writing)

Time                                   : Depending on class size 

Materials                          : Task sheets, Manila paper (1 per group), colored permanent markers and papers.   

The Plan

1. Divide learners into groups of 3. 

2. Get learners to select a team leader.

3. Distribute the task sheet to each team.  Give them around 5-10 minutes to :

      a) read the task              

     b) underline the keyw    

     c) discuss what they’ve understood from   the task

     d) write down questions arising in their minds 

4. Discuss the tasksheet together as a class.

5. Distribute the materials for the group presentation (blank manila cardboards, markers).   

6. Presentation to the class.


Important Notes:

1. I used this lesson for purposes of teaching them presentation skills, soft skills, as well as practice the target language of the day. This can be the 1st conditional, or even the 2nd conditional. You can customize this lesson to fit your aim in any way you want.

2. If you look at the task sheets, there are some blanks in the instructional rubrics. I deliberately did that for you to be able to personalize this task according to wherever you teach in the world. I find that learners get truly engaged if the task is personalized to their needs. Personalization actually enables learners to truly imagine themselves in the  situation highlighted in the task.

3. You can expand this lesson to include the introduction of presentation skills and language to your learners. This could be done between steps (5) and (6) in the lesson plan above.


 And How did the lesson go?

 I guess the photos below could help answer the question…


 They pretty much loved it, I must say:))) Totally engaged and truly believing that they were stranded on an island! 

Please do try this in your classroom. You’d surely enjoy it as much as I did. Perhaps you could even improvise it and leave a comment here on how you did so. I’d jolly love to hear what you’ve got to say!

In case we don’t meet again, happy happy new year, friends….


(image courtesy of http://momentsofharmony.com)

Our very own Amazing Race 2012 – A lesson plan you must try!…


Change is the only constant says Diogenes Laertius.Yes, I feel you nodding and smiling. And as professionals in the ELT industry, we’re very well-aware of the changes that are taking place in our teaching world. Changes that I feel are happening at such whirlwind speed, I sometimes see the need to race against time to be on par!


(image courtesy of http://livesmart360news.com)

I love using the phrase “our teaching world”. Why is that so, you may ask? Well, it makes me have sense of belonging, of sharing, and of connecting with like-minded individuals. Isn’t the teaching world all about connecting and sharing these days?                                                          

  And these days…                                                                                                                                              

Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, teaching blogs, communities of practice and the list just goes on.It’s more of we as the individual helping the group and the group, in return, helps us as the individual. We grow together for the betterment of our teaching community.

And then there are those changes in methodologies and strategies concerning the nuances of teaching itself.

Mushrooming in abundance are theoretical terms such as ‘Dogme‘, ‘Task-based Language Teaching‘ and ‘Content-based Teaching‘ which have taken centerstage these days; and where practice is concerned, ELT educators around the world are striving to bring chockful of creativity, fun and dynamism into their classrooms as they become increasingly concious on the need to do so. You can count me into that group as well!


You see, I used to teach at a school with learners of diverse nationalities. It was a truly enriching experience. But a challenge of it’s own. Differing nationalities would mean different cultural and socioeconomic background, learner needs and beliefs about life itself. It was rare to have a task that satisfied the entire class in one go. On a positive note, though, if a task was crafted with much thought and planning, learning could take place exponentially! And a rocking approach that often worked for me was to design tasks based on the competitive team-based learning (CTBL) method.

It’s amusing how academicians take a pendulum approach when it comes to using the competitive approach in class. Some vouch by it, others consider it to be a complete no-no. And me? Neither, really. It’s one of the many approaches. But hey, who doesn’t love games, healthy competition and most of all, rewards?

The works of it…

This outdoor lesson was fueled by my very own passion for treasure hunts and races that I used to participate back home. So, what’s so intriguing about these hunts, you may ask. Well, I found them to be so much fun, engaging and mind-simulating, all in one! Most importantly, these hunts helped tremendously in developing my soft skills, among them being :

a) the ability to harmoniously collaborate with team members     

 b)  critical thinking skills                                                                                                                            

c) the ability to think out of the box, on my feet and under intense pressure 

 d) interpersonal communication                                                                                                          

e) self-efficacy and self-confidence                                                                                                

f) creative problem-solving skills

As a teacher, I’ve always made an effort to design ELT lessons with underlying aims of developing my learners soft skills, which I believe is of utmost importance especially when my learners are eventually going into the  “the big world out there” upon completing their tertiary education.

So, with the help of a wonderful group of co-teachers whom I’ve worked with, I tried and tested this activity twice, both times being very successful and learners immensely enjoying themselves. So here goes :


Lesson Plan                          : Amazing Race

Proficiency Level            : Pre-Intermediate and Above

Activity Type                     : Collaborative Task

Learner Age                        : Teenagers, Young Adults and Adults

Skills Focused                   : 4 language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking)                                                                             

                                                       Soft skills (as mentioned above)

Time                                         : 2 – 4 hours (depending on how you set the task)

Number of Learners     : 3 – 4 learners per team

Materials                               : a) Cluemaster’s Briefing sheet     b) Participant’s Briefing sheet

                                                         c)   5 location clues                          d) 5 treasure clues  

                                                         e)   Task Completion Sheets         f)  5 ELT tasks                            



1. Selecting Locations

 Select 5 famous locations around OR within your university / school that are well spread out and possibly, in circuit-like route. However, you can make it more challenging by choosing locations that aren’t in a circuit route. I used the following circuit-shaped route to be able to easily monitor the game:


2. Selecting ClueMasters 

ClueMasters are teachers who’ve volunteered to be stationed at each location. One ClueMaster per location would suffice. However, for a larger group of teams, it’s best to have 2 ClueMasters stationed at each location. To make the race more interesting, ClueMasters should not stand out in the crowd; they should blend in with everyone else in that particular location. The role of the ClueMaster is to:

  – assign a language task to the teams arriving at that location

 – monitor the teams as they perform the tasks

 – verify the completion of the tasks by signing on the Task Completion Sheet of each team.

 – handing the next Location Clue and Treasure Clue to the teams.

3. Designing Location Clues 

Each location clue is designed to lead teams to their next location. Hence:

  Location Clue 1 –> leads to Location Clue 2

 Location Clue 2 –> leads to Location Clue 3

Location Clue 3 –> leads to Location Clue 4

Location Clue 4 –> leads to Location Clue 5

Location Clues can be designed as a 2 or 4-line riddle. An example of a Location Clue that I designed was: 

  “The morning awakes you, bright and shiny,

 But there you stand, tired and sleepy,

 And then you think of a drink at the place that flies,

 A place where you go for cakes and pies.”

 (well, you know the answer don’t you ? :))

4. Designing Treasure Clues

 There are two kinds Treasure Clues to be designed : –>                                                        

 Treasure Photo Clue and Treasure Item Clue.

 a) Treasure Photo Clue – Riddles designed where the answer would be photos taken at           a specific location. An example of a Treasure Photo Clue would be:

  “Oh dear, Oh dear, the sky is dark,

 The clouds are dark with lightning sparks;

And here you stand, with no clothes to wear,

But who can help you clean them up?”

(and the answer is………..the photo below 🙂  )


(courtesy of limkokwing.net)

b) Treasure Item Clue – Riddles designed where the answer would be items that teams need to buy. These riddles are similar to the ones I’ve written above.

5. Designing Task Completion Sheets                                                                                                   

Task Completion Sheets are signed off by the ClueMaster at each location upon the completion of the team’s ELT tasks.  Task Completion Sheets would look like this.

6. Designing ELT Tasks                                                                                                                                 

 These were designed by the teachers that I worked with and is completely within their discretion. Tasks could range from storyboard writing, memorizing tongue twisters, making a short movie, presenting a speaking topic, solving a language puzzle, or in fact, tasks that are intended to revise what’s been taught in the entire semester. Get creative with what you’d like them to do, rather than copying worksheets from books. 🙂

7. Preparing Debriefing Sheets                                                                                                                   

Write up a short, clear outline to brief both the participants and the ClueMasters on what they need to do during the race. The participant briefing sample outline can be found here and the ClueMaster briefing sample outline can be found here.



Pre-Race (A day before):

1. Assign 3 – 4 participants to each team. I find 3 to be an ideal number.

2. Get teams to select a team name, and a team leader.

3. Brief teams about the race that’s going to be held. Encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand what you’re saying.

4. Assign the ClueMasters to their locations. Brief the ClueMasters on their roles during the race.

On The Day of the Race:

1. Send the ClueMasters to their locations.

2. Gather all participants at the starting point, and give them their 1st Location Clues, and Task Completion Sheets.

Very Important Note : If possible, do not send all teams to the same location at one go. Each team should go to different locations the first time; a maximum of two team at each location. Assign Location Clues carefully and accordingly at the start of the race. The teams would then follow their race route automatically. I hope the photo below explains what I’m trying to say:


3. Remind teams on things that they need to have with them (back packs, pens, etc as mentioned during the briefing).

4. It’s now time –> READY, GET SET GO!!


And Lastly…

I was amazed at the amount of fun that they had during the race! It was definitely a tough one to design and plan, but well worth every bit of our time and effort. The race was so much fun and the learners loved every moment of it. 

And me? I went back home with a dreamy smile on my face ~~ a time to remember!

Oh, and of course, if you’ve got any questions at all and are interested in getting this done at your school / university, please do get it touch with me here : ratnavathy@gmail.com

**and I’m signing off here with some pictures of the amazing race at my school**



The Lil’ Goodies of Delight That Matter…..

There’s a new bakery that’s just opened at the corner of my street. It’s almost impossible for one not to notice the quaintness and warmth of this little place that is tucked away cozily between two well-known eateries of this town.

Each time I walked pass it to get to the gym, I could never help feasting my eyes on the pastries that’ve all been stacked up so close together that they almost give me the feeling that they’re cheekily huddling in merriment against the cold autumny season.

Oh, and have I mentioned the oh-so-delightful scent of freshly baked bread that wafts around you as you walk by?

(Image courtesy of InfoMoto on flickr)So, one fine day I decide to walked into the place. The enticement was way too strong, you see.I was met by a petite, cheerful Korean lady with a very bright “Anyeonghaseyo!!” for a greeting. She stood at the cashier; I presumed she was the owner of the joint. As I strolled around the place, checking goodies out, she watched me with great interest.

I finally decided upon a loaf of multigrain bread. I took it her, paid for it, and she handed it back to me, all packed up nicely. She had a certain twinkle in her eye and smile. Or was it just my imagination? I wondered.

As I walked back home, I couldn’t help thinking about that twinkle. Absorbed in my own thoughts, I absentmindedly put my hands into the package. And lo and behold, guess what I found? She had slipped a piece of muffin into my bag! Aha, so that was the cause of the twinkle! I quickly scanned through my receipt, and no, she hadn’t charged me for it. I thanked my lucky stars, and indulged into this lil treat the minute I got back home.

What did I do, then, in the next couple of days?I went to the bakery again of course!

Oh no, not because of the treat, but because of the gratitude I felt towards her for her act of kindness. This time, I bought a lovely, sticky cinnamon bun. And she did it again. Slipped another lil treat for me into my bag. Same smile, same twinkle, right in front of my eyes this time! My oh my!

AND it’s been happening each time around, until I found myself thinking that perhaps it was some sort of a promotional strategy (can I be blamed for that?).

So, the next time I went, I played Ms. Smarty Pants. I observed her actions eyefully while standing in the line to pay for my fare. To my utter astonishment, no one else got anything!

But when it came to my turn, she did it AGAIN! And this time, it was a piece of chocolate cake.


(Image courtesy of Brett Jordan on flickr)

The Lil Delights that Matter….

I’ve been thinking so much about this humbling, yet touching gesture of the wonderful bakery owner.

How did she make me feel ? — Very special indeed.

Were the lil delights costly ? — Not at all, really.

Did it matter at all that they weren’t costly ? — Absolutely not, isn’t the thought what matters the most?

And how has this thoughtful gesture affected me? — In ways that cannot be described by words.  And I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

Taking The Goodies of Delight into the language Classroom…

You’ve got to admit this. Each one of us, no matter how old we are, LOVES to receive goodies. May it be a piece of cake, or a complimentary gift, anything at all. A goodie is a goodie, isn’t it? But how do we take this concept into a language classroom?

See, it all depends on what you term “goodie” to be. Some teachers may call it rewards, some may call it gifts, and others may call it prizes. There are loads of past research that have provided contradicting evidence on ‘rewarding’ learners. Some say it’s a source of motivation for learners, but others say that learner motivation might dissipate once the reward’s been revoked (Schimdt, R., Boraie, D., and Kassagby, O. 1996).

Well, I don’t intend to divulge into this argument. My only intention is to look at this beyond what research is concerned, more from a humanistic perspective; something coming from my heart; something I’ve done in my classroom and been duely ‘rewarded’ with contentment and satisfaction. And when I talk about Goodies of Delight, I don’t attach a monetary value to it, because I totally understand that not every teacher receives a hefty salary!

So, what are the lil’ Goodies of Delight? Oh, there are loads of it, we just gotta get a bit creative and be that source of inspiration and drive within our learners minds!

a) Inspirational Note slips : Write short, power-packed inspirational notes on colored stick-on papers, stick them as a form of feedback on leaner’s assignments.

b) Quote books : Small, hand carry quote books are very cheap and can be purchased almost anywhere – bookshops, newsstands, used bookshops. Observe learners, lookout for those who’re having the toughest moments in life. Hold them back after classroom, look them in the eye, and give it to them as a gift. Of course, make sure that the language is understandable to     the learner! And add a personal touch with a short, inspiring note and your signature.

c) Smiley face stickers : These are really cheap and can be bought in many places. Use them when responding to learners work. The number of stickers can determine how satisfied you are    with their work!

d) Sweets : Well, I see some of you in doubt there. Trust me, even the least costliest piece of sweet would catch any learner by surprise. However, I wouldn’t advocate using sweets as rewards for young learners, they might throw a tantrum if they don’t get one!

e) handmade cards : You don’t even have to be very creative or spend too much time on this. It can be on colored papers, with a very personalized note from you to the earner. Pictures can be printed from the internet. Make it funny; make it inspirational; make it thought-provoking.        And you could sign off with a funny photo of yourself, re-sized and stuck at the end.

f) personalized messages on fb or other social media : I’m sure you know where to draw the line when personalization is concerned. Be emphathetic, not symphathetic. Relate to them, connect with them. Express your concern genuinely. They’ll know and feel it when you do.

g) Minute Soft toys : soft toys can be given to both males and females. If you look around, you’d surely find some really cool soft-toys that relate to each individual  learners. Again, stick    a note to it with some positive words from you.

h) Hand-written letter : no matter how advanced we’ve gotten into the digital world, the old-fashioned way never fails to capture the magic of connection. At the end of the term, reflect on each student and write a personalized, short letter to each one of them. End the teaching term with a bang by leaving a huge imprint of yourself in their minds and hearts.

i) Postcards : The key here is how to metaphorically relate the picture in the postcard to how you want the learner to be inspired. Make connections between the picture and your words. It WILL, mark my words, WILL make a difference. Then, give it to them.

The Goodies of Delight have tremendous effects on our learners. It ‘wakes’ them, ‘enlightens’, inspires, motivates, drives, and most of all, gives them a sense of belonging within the classroom. I’ve seen this increase classroom dynamics, rapport, respect, and understanding. It is a great tool especially among learners who’re unable to express themselves outwardly as much as they want to. Most of all, it takes them to great heights and makes them believe in themselves. As a teacher, you actually have a great impact in our learners’ lives. Make each learner feel special. Create that bond with them. You’ll see how it really pays off at the end!

My ideas above might not be new; You’ve probably encountered them at some points in ur life. But if you do have anything newer and funkier, please please do share it with me! I’d love to hear about it…

And, now I wonder…

Do YOU have any Goodies of Delights for me? Surely you know I love surprises, don’t you…..


(Image courtesy of anacik on flickr )

The Beginning of a Journey….or should I say the continuation?……

Is teaching a career?

I wouldn’t say so. To me, teaching is a journey. It’s a path of self-discovery. It helps you explore your innate nature; who you were, who you are, and who you’ll be. It leads you to try things you’ve never thought of trying, to challenge yourself, to bypass personalities and peer into an individual’s very being.

I’m an English language teacher. I love every minute detail about teaching. Every class is an adventure that leads you to new discoveries. I had a wonderful teaching career back in Malaysia; multinational learners, opportunities to conduct trainings, and trying out new methodologies in the classroom.

And then…one fine day my husband got a job in Korea. I quit my job, packed my bags and followed suite. And nothing has ever been the same again, truly. Why do I say this?

Well, the honest truth is, I’m a non-native teacher. It means I come from a country which does not belong in the “native speakers” category. Which means that it doesn’t matter that I’ve got postgraduate qualification in teaching English. Or a TESOL certification. Or experience with learners from literally around the world (Korea included). Or that I have a native speaker like ability (or almost). Or the very fact that I love and am absolutely passionate about what I do. It doesn’t. Period.

And this truth really affected me deep down to my core. Here I am, being able to contribute towards educating the people of Korea, and yet, I’m turned down for not being a “native-speaker”. What can I say?

Well, I have to do SOMETHING, right? Can’t just be hovering over the “Oh-I’m-feeling-dejected” mode. So, I started making friends. I started learning Korean. I started speaking to people at the park that I go to, in broken Korean, amidst the fit of laughter that I get. And this eventually led me to meeting a local Korean teacher. She observed me teach a group of middle-aged ladies at a local cultural center, and things have never really been the same again!

And why have I forgotten the fact that when, one door closes, another opens? And this one being a giant fairytale of sorts. A remarkable person named Chuck Sandy gave me an opportunity to do a writeup on the International Teacher Development Institute’s (ITDI) blog. He opened doors for me to meet English language teachers around Korea. He introduced me to the concept of “community of practice”, and he was the doorkeeper of the huge fairytale door I was telling you about. And what a sight it was on other side of the door!

So, am I happy in Korea? Yes, I am.

Am I regretting not having a full-time job? Well, not really.

Am I successful? It depends on what you define as being successful. If success means having the opportunity to connect with like-minded teachers from around the world, then yes, I am successful.

And lastly, do I regret leaving my job in Malaysia? Not in a single day. That was the best decision I made this year.

As I said, when one door closes, another opens. Perhaps more to come!

They can’t be wrong when they say “An end is usually a beginning”, can they?