Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wouldn't Get Very Far in Life Not Being Able to Say the Word 'Is' - a New Teaching Experience

What an interesting experience I had this afternoon.

Late last week, one of my Thai teacher colleagues asked if I would consider teaching some after-school classes to a group of 7th graders whose parents want them to receive some extra training. I'd be paid for my time: 90 minutes (60 of which I'm already obligated to be on campus anyways) with a small group of students who are there somewhat voluntarily. Better yet, they're all from the smartest class I teach all week from my 8 different 7th grade classes. More often than not, teaching 7th graders is very challenging, but these kids had been much better behaved and receptive to learning.

Plus, a little extra money every week could come in handy. I said yes, and today was my first session with this 'bonus' class.

I had very little inkling what to expect. Sure, I know these kids, but I usually teach them the same dumb-downed dialog drills (this week: How much is the basketball? The basketball costs 800 Baht. Can you give me a better price? Okay, for you, 700 Baht) that I teach all the other 7th graders, for most of whom this is all they can handle. I was assured by my Thai colleague that all I had to do was show up and talk to them, so I really didn't plan anything.

Well, I planned one thing. I was going to teach them how to say the word 'is'. Sounds simple enough, but the 'z' phoneme at the end of 'is' is not part of their own language, and so it's really hard for them to pronounce. It's usually pronounced by the beginning student here as something closet to 'it' or sometimes 'ish'.

Wouldn't get very far in life not being able to say the word 'is'! - The Knights Who Say Ni

I figured as we were getting to know each other, we'd start with a conversation that included 'My name is ________.' That would be my launching point.

We used one of the school classrooms, and it was very nice to be able to sit in a small circle of just a dozen or so students and teach them on a more personal level. Not me up at the blackboard lecturing to all of them in the controlled chaos that is 40 twelve-year-old boys. I wasn't being Joko the teacher; I was Joko the tutor. I liked it.

Thing was though, after 15 minutes or so, I had finished teaching them the word 'is'. Pretty much all of them were saying is with the proper 'z' ending and not it, iss, ish or even id. Well, now what do I do?

It's funny how things just naturally progress sometimes, and I began to go over all the sounds an 's' can make. I used pen and paper instead of chalk and blackboard. I grouped words in the 'z' sound (is, his, wizard), the 'ss' sound (this, miss) and the 'sh' sound (fish, wish), What sentence could I come up with that we could practice that used all three of these sounds?


This is a fish!

And so I started sketching. Kids dig funny pictures.

A story started to come together...

On the next page, we introduced the “Miss”. The Wiz gave the fish his wish and made the Miss kiss the fish.

Looking forward to next week, but I have no idea what I'll do next. I can't just show up and talk to them, but without a textbook or curriculum, I have to essentially invent everything. I do think I'll stay focused on phonics however. I think that's not only very doable in this kind of smaller setting, but also is my strength as a native speaker. It's why they want me. I can speak English good!

At the end of the 90 minutes, the Thai teacher who was in the room with me (not one I'd met before), asked me if I could teach a second group of students on another afternoon. I think that is also doable.


  1. I never think about how I pronounce words like "is" so I can't imagine having to teach it to someone else. I am constantly amazed at how creative you are when you're working with these kids. No wonder they want you to take on a second class.

  2. Whenever I encounter an Asian Speaking English as a second language I think of you. Language is facinating. How the sounds have evolved to have meaning, and how different they can be.

    Working with small motivated groups is a joy for a teacher. I am glad you are being asked to do this.

  3. Since you've already used fish, you could show them the old one about "ghoti".
    gh as in cough
    o as in women
    ti as in motion

    Or would that discourage them too much about English?

  4. See, I knew you would be a great teacher.

  5. It soulds like you have found your calling.


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