#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Every year hundreds of people fly to the “Land of Smiles” to teach English. The list of benefits this choice offers is so large that instead of focusing on them, I have compiled a list of reasons it may not be the best option for everyone. You may want to reconsider if…

You Want to Make A Lot of Money

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the teaching salary in Thailand isn’t the best. In comparison to the cost of living, you can live very well—but when it comes to making those international bank transfers every month, it can be a bit painful. That said, jobs at international schools tend to offer more money and there is no shortage of private tutoring opportunities throughout the country. Many teachers, myself included, survive from their tutoring money and transfer their salaries home each month. You can save, but it definitely takes commitment.

You Want to Party 24/7

The Full Moon Party, Khaosan Road – YES, Thailand is a fun place to party. Alcohol is cheap and there is never a shortage of events to attend. However, if this is your primary reason for visiting Thailand, I think backpacking or a holiday would be a better option. Don’t get me wrong, over the course of my 18 months there I had an endless amount of raging weekends all over the country, but the focus during the week should be the job.

You Aren’t Willing to Embrace a New Culture

This is similar to the previous. Many people assume life in Thailand is like the travel brochures and the backpacking blogs. Of course, it can be, but the reality is that the majority of schools are positioned away from the ‘tourist hot spots’ of the country and in my opinion allow for a more authentic cultural experience. I think it’s important to note that in many locations you could be the only English speaker for miles and find it impossible to buy those branded goods you love so much back home. Personally, I see this one as a positive, a chance to challenge myself and grow—but many are not prepared for the cultural shift and start to feel isolated.

You Don’t Like Kids/Want to Teach

The heading of this may make you think ‘OBVIOUSLY DUR’ but unfortunately there are a few too many teachers in Thailand who not only hate teaching but dislike children. I understand a lot of people choose to teach in Thailand to see the country or for a gap year etc., but I think a little interest in teaching and not a dislike of the age group you’re going to teach should be a minimal requirement. You’re going to be in the classroom the majority of the week—taking a job you don’t care about just so you can party and see the sites will only make the kids miserable and the workweek seem like a chore. Care about what you do.

You Don’t Like Spicy Food

Ok, this one is a bit of a joke. Of course, you don’t need to like spicy food to teach in Thailand, but be warned – it’s everywhere. The words ‘mai pet’ (Thai for not spicy) can save your life!

This list is basically a compilation of the various complaints I would hear from fellow teachers around the country. Maybe if people knew what they were getting themselves in for before going, there would be a lot less critical and negative stuff written about teaching in Thailand online. Do your research, and try to find a place that is not only suited to your interests and strengths, but also consider your weaknesses.

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

Troubles Abroad: Life Without Peanut Butter

Ants on a Log. Fluffernutters. Classic PB&J. And who didn’t make a pinecone-peanut butter bird feeder as a kid?

We put it on bananas, slather it on french toast and of course eat it straight off the spoon.

No matter what country I’m headed to, you can be certain I’m tossing a couple jars of skippy in my rucksack. Whether it’s for a familiar snack, a quick spoonful of energy, or to tide me over til I figure out the grocery situation, peanut butter exists for me in the gray area between “luxury” and “necessity” when backpacking.

It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you miss until you wake up with a craving for a nice PB&J. All of the sudden the idea of collecting all THREE ingredients at the same time seems an unbeatable obstacle. Decent peanut butter, fresh sandwich bread, and a jar of grape jelly just never seem to exist in the same place at the same time once you cross the ocean. If a simple sandwich is such a challenge, you can forget about chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in the summer heat or that big bag of Reese’s cups come Halloween.

Getting peanut butter while living abroad can be a challenge—you can try to make that jar from home last as long as possible, but soon you’re scraping the bottom and praying someone will pay international shipping on a care package full of Jif. Still, sometimes it’s not as far away as you think, so long as you know where to look.

Below is a bite-sized guide to finding Peanut Butter abroad, compiled from both my own PB-hunting adventures and those of my fellow expats:

North America:

Canada & United States: In US & Canadian supermarkets it’s hard to miss—peanut butter is spotted taking up a good chunk of the aisle, with various brands, sizes, and flavors.

Mexico: While not as popular as in the rest of North America, PB is still fairly easy to find in Mexico, especially in big-box stores like Walmart, where Peter Pan and Great Value can be found at a decent price.

Asia:

China: IF a store has it, it’s often found in the sauce aisle near the mayonnaise. Since neither mayo nor PB are popular, they can be hard to spot—and smaller stores don’t care it at all. It’s hard to find western brands, but Chinese peanut butter is decent (if a bit dry).

Indonesia: This one’s tough, guys—despite boasting world-famous peanut sauces and peanut soups, I’ve yet to actually locate a jar of PB in Indonesia. If they’re out there, they’re hard to find.

Japan: Right where it should be, near the breads and jellies. You can even get the giant tubs at Costco in Japan!

Korea: Often found near the bread in the bakery section, surrounded by nutella & banana spreads. Korean peanut butter is actually pretty good and comes in both crunchy and creamy.

Laos: While difficult to find in the store, PB is a surprisingly common topping for roti pancakes (one of the best street desserts you’ll find in SE Asia). You’re best bet at finding it in the stores is near the nutella or by the actual peanuts.

Malaysia: Finally, another country that appreciates PB! Malaysia is one of few SE Asian countries that actually offers variety, often located near the sauces and seasonings.

Philippines: Boasting world-famous peanut spreads that rival American brands, the Philippines are a Peanut-Butter Oasis. Thinner than what North Americans are accustomed to, Filipino PB is a bit grainy and just as sweet.

Thailand: Perhaps one of the easiest countries to find PB in, Thai stores carry multiple US brands including Jif and Skippy, conveniently found near the Jams & Jellies.

Vietnam: Vietnam carries store-brand and local peanut butters which will often be found near the soups & seasonings, and while delicious they are often quite oily and runny.

Central & South America:

Argentina: So far, no one I know who has travelled through Argentina has been able to locate PB.

Brazil: Similar to Argentina, PB seems to be a near-impossible find.

Chile: Walmarts in Chile have Great Value (store) brand PB.

Costa Rica: Peanut Butter is often found in the “imported foods” section of the grocery, with many familiar brands.

Peru: While there are rumors that some expats have been lucky enough to find a jar of Peter Pan, American-style peanut butter is almost non-existent in Peru, and unfortunately I’ve never heard the local style described in a manner even close to edible. Your best bet is to look near the condiments.

It’s always exciting delving into foreign cuisine, but sometimes you just need those familiar tastes of home.

-Ashley

Top 5 Struggles of Long-Term Backpacking (and how to beat them!)

5 Struggles of Long-Term Backpacking (and how to beat them!)

Any backpacker will tell you that their life isn’t just one never-ending vacation. Yeah, you’ll have some amazing experiences, meet fascinating people, and gain a deeper understanding of foreign cultures one could never garner from books and movies. But backpacking isn’t easy—it takes dedication, flexibility, and resilience. However, knowing what struggles to expect and understanding that every traveler has highs and lows can be a great way to prepare yourself when hard times crop up.

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When traveling solo, loneliness can be a real struggle. There will be times when you’re completely alone, sometimes for a day or sometimes for a week. The people you do meet come in & out of your life rapid-fire and these friendships, no matter how short-lived, can be very intense. You spend a week hitchhiking with someone and doing everything together, and suddenly you know everything about one another—the quirks and habits only a roommate would ever pick up on, the vulnerabilities you may drunkenly spew at 4am, and all while sharing an experience full of “you-had-to-be-there” moments no one else will ever really relate to. Then a day later they’re gone and chances are you’ll never hear from them again.

how to beat it:

You’ll eventually get used to all the hello’s and goodbye’s, but these realizations often hit rookie backpackers pretty hard. Many think they’ve made friends for life only to find that they’re feeling forgotten only a few weeks later. Enjoy your time with the people you meet and make the best memories you can. Don’t let missing people deter you from getting to know others. You’ll learn so much from the great discussions you’re bound to have and these fleeting relationships will be full of eye-opening experiences.

And if someone is important to you, make the effort—believe me, some travelers make great pen pals because we’re used to communication taking a little elbow grease.

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I’m hesitant to use the word “jaded”, but there definitely comes a time when your experience begins to work against you on the road. When you first start out, everything is new; you want to see everything and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. But down the road, you’ll find thoughts rife with apathy beginning to creep into your mind: “Another temple? I barely remember the last 30 anyway…” “There’s a waterfall? Eh, I’ve seen bigger.”

how to beat it:

This can be hard to overcome, but it’s all about living in the moment (clichĂ©, I know). Think about it this way: Just because one time you had really fantastic pizza, does that mean you’ll never eat pizza again ’cause no other pie could compare? Hell no—pizza’s still awesome.

Treat each experience as its own and do your best not to compare. Why deprive yourself on the assumption that yesterday was better than the possibilities of today?

Any traveler knows that some of the best memories and experiences are the ones that were complete surprises—areas stumbled upon after a wrong turn or last minute excursions taken on a whim. You never know what’s around the corner, so don’t assume you do.

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Being on top of a mountain overlooking the valleys below or drifting down a river at sunset is one thing—getting there is another. It amazes me how often I hear people complain of the conditions they find themselves in, as they clearly didn’t expect their journey to be anything other than smooth-sailing.

There will be 18-hour bus rides with no pit-stops. You may travel in cramped quarters with both humans and livestock. You will stay in hostels with bedbugs. You may occasionally find yourself sleeping on the street. Air-conditioning is often a luxury you can’t afford and carrying that 60-liter rucksack will take its toll from time to time.

how to beat it:

Time for some tough love, kids: Get over it. This isn’t luxury travel and backpacking isn’t a glamorous lifestyle. While discomfort may range from slightly annoying to genuinely painful, these journeys will reward you in so many ways. You’ll find yourself growing in terms of patience, understanding, courage, independence, & trust, among others. The experiences you’ll have and the things you’ll see will make it all worth it.

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Homesickness hits different people different ways…for some it grows and builds over time, while for others it suddenly hits them at all once like a semi coming head-on. Some miss creature comforts while others long for their loved ones or for the familiarity of their old stomping grounds. There are times when you’ll fixate on what you’re missing out on—you’ll hear of old friends getting married, having kids, getting houses or accepting promotions and wind up thinking, “Whoa, am I falling behind somehow?”

how to beat it:

Remember that you can’t have it both ways: you may be missing out on things back home, but those back home are missing the journey you’re on. You need to figure out what’s important to you. If you settled into the 9-to-5, would you resent it down the line? Or are you yearning for the contentment that comes with setting down roots? Determine what your goals truly are and set your path toward what you want to achieve. For some that path will lead them home again while for others it will just keep going.

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There’s definitely a myth out there that backpackers are lazy. Many short-term travelers will note how they’ve seen so many backpackers just sleep all day, rarely leave the hostel, or seem to have a perpetual hangover. But ya know what? Traveling is exhausting. You get tired…like, really really tired. Between stressing over the logistics of getting from point A to point B, constantly adapting to new cultures & climates, and trying to fit in as many new experiences as possible on a non-existent budget there are times when it can become overwhelming. Some days the idea of getting out of bed and dragging your rucksack onto another 18-hour bus seems like a gargantuan task that you physically and mentally just can’t handle.

how to beat it:

This may seriously be a “no duh” solution, but honestly: just take a break. Whether that means spending 5 straight days wallowing in your bunk at the hostel in a nest of soda bottles & Pringles cans, or it means taking a month off back home, it’s important to recharge both mentally and physically.

Remember that every journey has it’s highs & lows, so try not to let the hard times defeat your adventurous side!

-Ashley

TEFL TIPS #10 – THE ALMIGHTY FLASHCARD (2)

For this TEFL Tip, I’m going to write another post on flashcard activities.

You can find my first post here

Activity – Run to the ______ (Listening)

Age – Pre-K, K, Primary

Level – Beginner

This activity mainly focuses on listening and is one of the most simple but effective listening games you can play.

You start by teaching new vocabulary to your class using a selection of flashcards. Spend some time making sure the children understand what exactly the pictures are and ensure they pronounce the words correctly.

Then, check how much they have learned!

Scatter the flashcards throughout the classroom, stick them to walls, chairs, or if you’re a giant goofball like me, even your forehead.

SHOUT a word and the students need to listen and run to the flashcard of that word. Kids love it!

As time goes on, use more flashcards to ensure some of the children aren’t just having lucky guesses.  Also, giving a few students the chance to play one by one, maybe even against the clock to see how many they can get in time helps strengthen each child individually. And why only run? You could ask the class to skip, hop, crawl, etc. each time.

Give it a go &have fun!

-Liam

3 Myths About Niagara Falls

So I recently took a trip out to Niagara Falls, something I’ve been wanting to see for years. When I mentioned my plan to friends, the general reaction was always, “Why?”. Their opinions ranged from indifferent to overly negative whether they’d been there before or not. Undeterred, I hopped a 7-hour bus from Chinatown up to Niagara to see for myself. So did any of those negative insights hold true? Let’s see…

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“You’re gunna get soaked!”

The highlight of any trip to the falls is a boat ride out into the mist. These boats run from both the Canadian and American sides, with the American Maid of the Mist boats beginning operation in 1846 and Hornblower Cruises operating the boat tours from the Canadian side since 2012. Now, it’s true that it’s cold, windy, and wet…but this is why they provide you with the biggest ponchos I’ve ever seen in my life. Americans get blue while Canadians get red and believe me, they’re gigantic. Definitely longer than I am tall, with long sleeves and drawstring hoods. You can barely tell there are people on the boats rather than giant walking garbage bags. You’d have to put in serious effort to get yourself soaked.

“Eck…it’s SO commercialized…”

Niagara Falls are arguably some of the most famous waterfalls in the world, and definitely the most famous in North America. Yeah, it’s true that the name and image is plastered on everything from t-shirts to shot glasses, but ya know what? So is Angkor Wat. So is Mt. Everest. So are the pyramids at Giza.

Passing by souvenir shops or paying admission doesn’t mean the falls have lost any of their power or presence.

“It’s boring…once you’ve seen it you just turn around and go home.”

This was the most common complaint I heard and I’m convinced that people who believe this never took a whole 2 seconds to look around. While it’s true that the Niagara, New York is a somewhat empty town, it does boast historical Fort Niagara, a remnant of New France built in 1726. For those with an interest in history, architecture, or photography, it’s an incredible must-see. Beyond that, Niagara, Canada has casinos, museums, waterparks, arcades…it’s seriously like a tiny Vegas.

This was one of those trips that revived my conviction to always make my own opinions. Don’t let naysayers discourage you from getting out there and experiencing new things…it’s all about perspective. Yeah, sometimes you’ll be disappointed, but more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

-Ashley

5 Weirdest Superstitions Encountered Abroad

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So you’re bumming around Cambodia and happen to piss off the wrong person—word gets around that a hail of bullets may be in your future. Do you:

Call the cops? Nope.

Invest in a Kevlar wardrobe? Nah.

Make a beeline for the nearest tattoo parlor? Bingo!

Traditional tattooing in Cambodia is commonly believed to hold mystical powers, with their “Yantra” tattoos being able to bring both good luck and protection. If someone feels their life and health are at risk the may seek out magic tattoo artists, a practice especially popular among both soldiers and kickboxers.

While snagging yourself some magic ink may sound appealing, just remember that each one generally comes with a set of rules which, if broken, can decrease or eliminate its power. Common rules include abstaining from alcohol, avoiding bridges, and of course promising not to use its power for evil.

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After narrowly escaping Cambodia you stop over in Thailand, where you sit around on oxen sipping Ovaltine with your friends Bank, Letter, Ping Pong, and Apple. As your colleagues Fork and Spoon approach, you turn to them wondering if it’s all just a fever dream—only to finally learn those aren’t their real names at all (no way!).

It was once a frequently held belief in Thai-Buddhist culture that calling a child by their given name made them an easy target for evil spirits. While these spirits could be powerful they apparently held the IQ of a potato, because not knowing a kid’s real name was enough to utterly confuse them while kids with boring or unflattering names were simply overlooked.

While most Thai people still use nicknames, they are often more playful or creative in the younger generations. Still, don’t be surprised if Thai locals insist on giving you a new name “for your own protection”.

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Laos people aren’t all that concerned about personal space—it isn’t uncommon for someone you’ve just met to pet your arms or shoulders, while complete strangers see no reason not to lean up against you at the market or on the bus. Yet, strange as it seems, they do indeed have a personal bubble—it just only encompasses their feet. While the head is outright holy, the feet are considered dirty. No matter how often you scrub your tootsies, they will always be seen as offensive to the point that so much as pointing at someone with your feet—let alone touching them—is incredibly rude. However, keeping track of your feet is also practiced for your own protection—if you happen to step over the legs of someone older than you, you’ll be cursed with bad luck for the foreseeable future.

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Superstitions are generally beliefs held-over from a time when faith in the supernatural was commonplace, with many dating back thousands of years. Superstitions in Korea are no exception, with their most common conjecture dating all the way back to the 1920’s.

Wait, what? How could the same decade that blessed us with both penicillin and PEZ also have let loose a new and dangerous mystical power into the world? Indeed, a demon was unleashed: The Electric Fan.

“Fan Death” is considered a true threat in South Korea, as locals believe sleeping with your fan or AC on can lead to sudden and inexplicable asphyxiation. Most fans are equipped with a timed, automatic shut-off in case you doze off with your death machine running. Korean adrenaline-junkies know no greater rush than sleeping at a comfortable temperature on a hot night, cheating the Reaper even in their sleep.

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Okay, so you’ve dismantled your air conditioner, invested in a full-body tattoo, changed your name, and aced your exam on foot etiquette, but you’re still feeling unlucky; fear not, my friend. A quick trip to your local Thai food market can offer a quick solution.

Oftentimes you’ll find buckets of turtles tucked away in the fish markets, which many horrified travelers assume will be eaten. If your hippie-heart is aching to rescue one of those cuties and grant him glorious freedom at the nearest riverbank, then consider your bad-luck woes a thing of the past!

It turns out the Thai people aren’t heartless turtle-murderers at all—caring for a turtle and setting it free is said to bring good luck and longevity. By collecting those unintentionally caught in fishing nets merchants can basically sell luck to their customers—but with so many strange and unexpected superstitions out there, it may be worth the price!

– Ashley

Late to the airbnb party..

Established in 2008, Airbnb has been around for a fair amount of time. However, it wasn’t until mid-2015 that I first used it.

It was a brilliant choice!

To anyone that doesn’t know what Airbnb is, it is a service that allows people to list and rent a huge range of properties all over the world. Accommodation can range from a tent on a rooftop to a Buddhist temple, slick apartments to high-end villas.  The Airbnb website and app are easy to use and make searching simple. You can filter dates, prices, location and guest quantity. It also allows you to connect to Facebook, which saves the hassle of registering and can potentially get you discounts.

My first Airbnb experience was during the summer of 2015. I stayed with a Japanese man called Yuki in Osaka, Japan. His house was stereotypically Japanese and located in a residential area away from the swarms of tourists. He was a great host—he picked us up from the train station, provided us with food and beverages and offered loads of help. This experience made a great trip even better. It enabled me to have a more authentic experience by living like a local, with a local.

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Apart from a different style of accommodation, Airbnb can also be the cheapest way to sleep while you travel. Many Airbnb prices even beat the travellers’ all-time favorite—the hostel.

Since my first Airbnb experience only a few months ago, I always open my Airbnb app before the Hostelworld one when booking accommodation. That said, I can see that overusing Airbnb would make me crave the social atmosphere of hostels.

But for now, I love it, why didn’t I do it sooner?

-Liam

TEFL TIPS #5 – Asking the right questions.

An important goal of TEFL teaching is to keep students talking, getting them to practice new words and reinforce those they’ve learned. A simple tactic for doing this is asking questions about what they have, whether it be a drawing, a book, or a toy. However many teachers, myself included, often fall into a rut of asking the same questions over and over long after their kids have outgrown them merely because it often seems there are only so many ways for a kid to describe something. Chief among such questions are “What color is it?” “How many are there?” “Is it big or little?”

As teachers, we have to move away from this routine. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, and it doesn’t challenge the kids to think creatively or use their English in new ways. It is important to remember that asking questions isn’t only intended to test their vocabulary, but also to help them think outside the box. Here are some more challenging description methods you can try with your students:

Give it personality: What is its name?
This can easily be asked of toys and drawings, and of everyday objects as well. Oftentimes when I start using this question they’ll simply tell me what something is (“Me draw bunny!”). But simply telling me that a drawing of a bunny is a bunny isn’t enough—by getting them to name that bunny, it often sparks a whole new conversation (“Bunny name is Zombie. Zombie is silly monster; Zombie eats shoes”). Names are associated with personalities and individuality—a concept not lost on children.

Break it down: What shapes is it made of?
Asking what shape something is can be very simple, but asking what shapes something is made of can become very complex and can also be a great way to discover new words. For example, try asking a kid what shapes a teddy bear is made of. They’ll definitely start with the most simple (“Nose is triangle; foot is circle.”) but will soon rise to the challenge of breaking down more complicated portions (“Ear is BIG circle and little circle; tummy is loooooong circle.”). Here the teacher also learns what shapes the kids don’t know and can introduce words like oval or oblong.

Opposites & Abstract: What is it not?
A great way to encourage abstract thinking is to ask the students for the exact opposite of the information they have. Basically, instead of asking “What is it?” try asking “What is it not?”. This challenges them to rack their brain for relevant words and phrases rather than simply identifying what they see in front of them, and then decide whether those words apply to the situation. Further, it helps them practice more varied sentence structure other than “It is _____.” For example, if you’ve asked your students what the weather is, try asking them what the weather isn’t today. Rather than the repetitive “It is sunny,” you’ll be able to elicit a greater range of responses (It’s not rainy! It isn’t stormy. No tornado today!”).

Give these a try.  See how they work in your classroom!

-Ashley