In the ESL Classroom- “Any volunteers?”

If you’re an ESL teacher at a public school, like me, then you’ve probably been in this situation.

The textbook has dialogues that the students are supposed to practice speaking.  And we all know how much they hate speaking.  I’ve found, though, that they are much more willing to speak in unison as a class than individually.  Makes sense.

But, as most co-teachers like the idea of “role-playing,” it’s inevitable that from time to time I should call upon 2 students to read a dialogue in front of the class.  I always say, “Any volunteers?”  with a corny smile on my face that knows no one will actually raise their hand.  “Any volunteers?”  I repeat.  “…. I’ll give you candy.”  (sometimes) I bait with candy.  Occasionally I’ll get a few hands, but more often I just get blank stares.

Last year I got sick of dealing with this situation.  And I got tired of spending my own money on candy.  So, I came up with 2 solutions.

1.  Get one of these:

Each student already has their own class number, so you don’t have to assign numbers.  If they don’t have preset numbers then just have the students count off.  When you need 2 volunteers, simply crank the handle twice and out come 2 lovely numbers, 2 lovely students.  Easy as that.

Why does this work so well?  First of all, the kids LOVE this machine.  It just looks fun and they’re all eager to get their grubby little hands all over it.  At first sight of it, they’ll likely all scream “WOW!  LOTTO!!”  And their eyes light up.  So this at the very least brings excited attention.  Second of all, the students love the anticipation of “Who’s next?  Who’s next?!”  As I crank the handle and pick up the ball, they all have this nervous look on their faces.  It’s even better when you call out the number (let’s say the number was 28) and you say “Number Twenty…………… eight.”  That long pause gets them every time.  Undoubtedly students 20-29 are freaking out for those 2 seconds.  It’s fun to watch.  And last of all, it works because, for some reason, the students feel like that just HAVE to obey the lotto machine.  I don’t know why but they just do, no matter how reluctant the student is.

**I purchased mine at a little store near Insadong… I forget the name but I’m sure you can find them at any little store that sells cute, fun toys and stationery.  As I remember, it was 15,000 won.

2.  Use parts of their name:

For example:  If I need several students to speak, I’ll randomly pick one syllable of a Korean name.  If you’re not familiar with Korean names and/or reading Korean, then you can easily just say “If your last name is Kim, stand up!”  “If your last name is Lee, stand up!”  Etc.  However, I like to choose random syllables like:  준, 영, 은, 미, 석 etc… “If your name has 석 in it, stand up!”  You’ll get a few students, if not, try another syllable.  And if you’re not good at pronouncing Korean, then just write it on the board.

Why does this work so well?  First of all, they all wear name tags so it’s easy to see what Korean syllables/names are there.  Second of all, students know the names of other students and they’re MORE than willing to call out their friend’s name when said friend tries hiding their name tag from me.  They like playing their own police.  Third of all, the students will be surprised and find it cool if you speak even just a syllable of Korean.  My students will all freak out in excitement  if they see me writing hangeul on the board.  It’s something familiar to them and sometimes personal.

Both of these ways have been really effective for me and don’t require me to bribe with candy.  (I hate doing that!)  If you’re ever in this situation, I hope you can try these out.

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