Caveat: Grammar!

I have a little game that I invented, that I use sometimes in class when the kids are behaving well and I've run out of curriculum. It doesn't have a name, but I call it the "grammar game" just to be able to refer to it. I don't necessarily view grammar as being that central or focal for good English instruction, but I nevertheless am intrigued at how bad Korean students do at it despite English grammar being considered so focal to how Koreans are instructed in EFL.

The game is very simple. A bunch of cards with mostly random English words on them: "car" "dog" "sleeps" "sleep" "the" etc. Make a sentence in the right order using the right card, so you get "the dog sleeps" but they love to think "dog sleep" is just as acceptable. There are clear rules of grammar that say that's not the case, but they are difficult rules for Korean learners because Korean has no "the" and no verb endings to indicate subject number i.e. "-s" on "sleeps."

The game is much more "educational" than hangman, which seems to be an old standby of ill-prepared EFL teachers in Korea, such that no student has NOT heard of hangman. So I use it. And sometimes, the kids even like it. But it was nevertheless disconcerting when, running out of something to do in class today, the kids started chanting "grammar! grammar!" I mean really? Grammar? It was the game, of course. Or… the alligator bucks awarded to the eventual champion.

In other kid news, I was chatting with a 5th grade student who goes by Robin. I asked her, "Are you going over to the Tuesday class?" This fact had been in some doubt, whether she would stay in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cohort, where she didn't fit in very well because of her strong ability, or switch to the Tuesday-Thursday cohort, where she fit in better. So I was just checking.

"Yes," she assented.

I was pleased. "That's good. That will be a great class," I added. "All the kids in there are very smart." I was paying her a sideways compliment, because she's a very smart student, indeed.

She was so smart, she recognized this compliment, and smiled. "Thank you," she said, not at all shyly.

There was another student in the classroom at that moment – a Monday cohort kid. He grinned at the two of us and our conversation, somewhat oafishly. He's not exactly the brightest bulb. He'd had no idea what we'd just been talking about. "Whaaat?" he said. It was as if he was demonstrating the implied point about the current, Monday cohort class being not-so-smart.

Robin and I exchanged a knowing glance, and we both burst out laughing. Good for her, I thought. She's going to move on to a better class.