About Mark Armstrong

You guessed it, I'm an English teacher! I have been teaching kids of all ages in South Korea for more than a decade and absolutely love what I do. At ESL Review I want to help point people in the direction of the great songs, books, worksheets, activities, and other ESL tidbits that are out there to use in their classes.

A Growing Collection of English Novel Studies for Young Learners from Spanish Countries

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“Mommmmmmmmmmmmmm! Do we have any pancakes?”

Done! These days I’ve been busy uploading novel studies from the Nate the Great series to my Teachers Pay Teachers store (fifteen so far). They are meant to be used with children learning English whose first language is Spanish. (Click on any of the images below to check them out). If you’ve ever visited my blog or store before you’ll know that I’ve had similar products in KoreanJapanese, and Arabic for a while now. The time seemed right to add a Spanish selection, which has probably got you wondering…

¿Hablas español?


Alas, no. Growing up in Canada I spent my school years in French immersion schools, also learning a touch of now forgotten German, and of course fifteen years acquiring Korean. The only Spanish I’ve ever known were the bits and pieces I occasionally picked up from watching Sesame Street and The Three Amigos as a child. Which is why it was so interesting to work on a translation project with two fellow foreign residents originally hailing from Venezuela and Columbia respectfully, also raising families here in South Korea. Spanish is awesome to listen to.

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Anyway, the booklets are very simple to use and are pretty moderately priced considering their usefulness and longevity. As for their contents, while reading a novel what are you going to want? Well, most teachers are going to need comprehension questions, probably some writing prompts related to the story, some quizzes, and maybe some projects, right? Ok, so these booklets will have you covered there, and then some. They also come with lists of key vocabulary words and their translations, which are also incorporated into the quizzes and final test. (Click here to check out my whole catalog of English novel studies for Spanish speakers.)

Whoa! Is including the students’ L1 really a good use of class time? Shouldn’t the children interpret the meaning of the text on their own? In my opinion, the answer to that question is a qualified yes and no. Obviously, we don’t want the students translating every word of the text. What would be the point of reading in English? But, in my experience, a few select translations can make the difference between a student understanding maybe 50% of the text and having a firm grasp of about 90% of it. It has worked for me. I bet it will help your students as well.

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Another reason I insist on providing translations is that some of my cleverest students will look up words at home whether I want them to or not – or maybe their parents will – with mixed results. Confronted with eight possible meanings, they more often than not choose the wrong one, confusing themselves in the process. At least this way I can ensure everyone is on the same page and don’t think duck means pato when it’s actually supposed to mean esquivar.

I’ll be adding new titles every month so come back often and check to see what’s available, or better yet click the green star at my store and get updates by email. I’m also looking for suggestions of new books to read. And if you do try something out and like it, please don’t forget to write a comment or two and earn yourself some TpT credits.

Remember, the first chapter of all my novel studies are available for free. I always want customers to know exactly what they’re getting. No surprises or catches. Anyway, that’s all for now.

Adiós

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A Quick Review of Maple Leaf Learning Library 

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Maple Leaf Learning has always been one of my goto YouTube channels for teaching young learners, as I have written about here, here, here, and here. To date, I’ve always just considered them a maker of cute videos. Recently though they’ve really stepped up their game with a colossal new site called Maple Leaf Learning Library, positively filled to the brim with worksheets, booklets, and songs ideal for teaching English to young learners. The site has a free and a paid section, and I’ve had a chance to play around with both.

In the free section you’ll get access to their extensive collection of flashcards, as well as various activities, crafts, and worksheets. There’s a fairly comprehensives list of topics to choose from like animals, colors, body parts, counting – comprehensive for young learners, that is. There are some really cute and colorful activities to choose from which would complement most lessons. All in all it’s definitely something you’ll want to have in your bookmarks.

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Now, if you’re willing to cough up their annual fee of 50 USD then you’ll also get to try out their complete collection of music albums, as well as whole textbooks, craft books, and piles of games. There are some pretty great phonics books in here that I plan to make use of as extra work for my young learners. But if you’re looking for a way to do away with course books from the big publishers altogether, then this could be your ticket. What’s really cool are the five music albums that you can now download as part of your subscription. There are a lot of musical gems in here that I’ve unfairly neglected in favor of Super Simple Songs or Genki English.

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All in all, the site is pretty new and obviously has lots of room to grow in the years to come, but you should definitely check it out sooner rather than later.

Hundreds of Pages of Worksheets to help You Teach Let’s Go 3 Better!

LG3 Worksheets Bundle (Sample)

I’ve been using Let’s Go 3 to teach English here in South Korea since it was in its second edition (it’s now in its 4th) and have never really had any complaints except that there just weren’t enough ready made materials to use in my lessons. Don’t get me wrong, when inspired I could be pretty creative in my activity planning and come up with lesson plans that were both entertaining and productive. But sometimes I just needed simple practice games and worksheets – stuff that OUP didn’t have enough of.

Well, this month I completed my 2017 update to my Let’s Go 3 worksheet bundle and it is now available at my TpT store. At more than 1200 pages of worksheets, games, and teaching tips – it’s a valuable teacher’s toolbox that will save you loads of time with piles of no-prep activities.

There are piles of vocabulary practice sheets:

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Writing worksheets of various types:

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And lots of games you can print out whenever you’re short on time:

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Slide60It’s also growing. I’m steadily adding more teaching tips and videos to populate the dark corners of the coursebook with more interesting things to do. This particular bundle has more than doubled in size since I first started selling it because as I teach it I’m always figuring out other useful things to add to it. And the updates are always free.

Check it out.

Teaching Kids to Draw Better, and Improving their English Too!

One of my favorite shows to watch growing up was called The Secret City staring Commander Mark, basically a Bob Ross for children with a sci-fi theme. Every week I would tune into PBS, which we were fortunate enough to pick up in Canada, and learn how to draw shapes, spaceships, and cityscapes in 3D. The show starred Mark Kistler, an American artist whom I was aghast to learn was not a real commander, but who was awarded a well-deserved Emmy in 2010 for his work teaching children to draw better.

Then along comes Super Simple TV last year with this amazing new series that also teaches children to draw. They’re all things kids are likely to draw: animals, flowered, trains, and of course dinosaurs. What I really like about these videos for the purposes of teaching English is that they use a wide variety of language as they describe how to do the actual drawing. It’s super listening practice and I’ve got my students doing this whenever they have a few spare minutes.

The animation is beautiful and the pacing is perfect, although some of my students took issue with the T-Rex episode, insisting that it looked more like a dragon or Godzilla. I’m no Alan Grant but I found myself convinced by their somewhat emotional arguments.

“It’s definitely Godzilla.”

Here are a few lessons to see for yourself:

The best part about the series is (and I imagine the powers that be in Seattle have already considered this) but there really is no reason they have to end it. There is an endless number of things to teach children how to draw which could potentially make this the premier art channel for young children, if it isn’t already.

Good stuff, keep it up.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, an English Novel Study for Korean, Japanese, or Spanish Speakers

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Who would have thought that a children’s novel could generate such controversy as Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, but the world is what it is. I’ve read the comments of some teachers who insist that Junie B. (NEVER forget the B!) is a poor role model for children, what with her penchant for casual violence and all, and should thus be banished from the classroom. Her adventures would, I admit, inspire horror in the hearts of the average primary school teacher – but is that any reason to write her off completely? 

I don’t think so. You see I enjoy using the book as a cautionary tale. Most of the children I teach all know somebody like Junie B. whom they avoid as much as possible; we have quite active discussions actually.

So, if you’re like me and enjoy a little rough housing in your children’s literature then please check out one of the novel studies below at my TpT store. They’ve been designed for teaching to EFL students who share the same mother tongue: Korean, Japanese, or Spanish (other languages are in the works).

Just click on one of the images below:

Junie B. Jones (Korean)Junie B. Jones (Japanese) 

Hunger Makes a Thief of any Man, or Cheap Excuses for Lousy Teaching

At a private English school I once worked at years ago in South Korea I was so desperately hungry that I quickly popped into the teachers room, grabbed my third rate sandwich from the nearby 7-11, and while carefully hiding it between pages 22 and 23 of SuperKids 1, I slipped back into the classroom. After telling the children to do some pair work I carefully munched away…
It was definitely a low point in my years of teaching but it taught me the importance of proper planning. It also taught me to hate all these people who say they can go all day without eating.

The Game Gal – A Virtually Untapped Treasure Trove of Classroom Activities

Without naming names, the trouble with ELT game sites is that they often feel like ELT game sites. Too much focus is placed on reviewing a certain grammatical concept and too little on making the activity fun for children. It may be just my own personal hang-up, but I think a classroom game needs to be really fun or what’s the point?

The Game Gal is just the opposite of ‘those’ kinds of sites by the virtue of the fact that it really isn’t intended for teaching English at all. Just a steady stream of wholesome family fun with tons of crossover appeal in the ELT world. I’m constantly mining its archives for new gems.

Here are a few examples:

  • Pictionary – There are almost a dozen free word lists organized by theme that you can download for free. You don’t even need a board to play, just check out one of my older posts.
  • Charades – Instructions and word lists of various difficulty levels of this classic game are available for free. Check out Picturades while you’re at it.
  • Speed Scrabble – Try this new take on my favorite board game.
  • Categories – A classic game I’ve been playing for years with my youngest learners but which I’ve sadly neglected with my older kids. Check out the list of categories. It’s good stuff!
  • This or That – A quick and easy ice breaker that will get your kids talking.

There’s so much else to sort through. Do yourself a favor and just check it out.

Nate the Great and the Mushy Valentine, an ELT Study for Arabic, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish Speaking Young Learners

It’s Valentines Day. You discover that your pet dog has a secret admirer. You start to freak out.

“Hey this is MY dog. Why should I have to compete for his affection? That’s why he’s MY dog in the first place. So I can have someone’s unconditional affection!”

That is the situation that super-sleuth Nate the Great finds himself in one morning in this short novel, perfect for celebrating that holiday dreaded by singles, couples, and married folk across the globe – Nate the Great and the Mushy Valentine. 

A novel study for this book is now available for young learners whose mother tongue is one of four languages: Arabic, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish.

For more focused and useful lessons, it divides the novel into three easy to teach sections:

  • Section 1: p.7-21
  • Section 2: p.22-33
  • Section 3: p.34-44

Each section includes:

  • comprehension questions about the story with space for students to answer in full sentences;
  • a creative writing assignment where students can express their opinions about topics related to the text;
  • a vocabulary list with Korean translations of key words to save on dictionary time and reduce confusion about meaning;
  • a word search puzzle for students to enjoy some quiet time to familiarize themselves with the vocabulary;
  • a sequencing worksheet where students can identify the different components of the story; and
  • a chapter quiz so you can assess your students’ comprehension of the text and vocabulary.

There is also:

  • a crossword puzzle;
  • a clue log;
  • a make-your-own word search puzzle worksheet;
  • a make-your-own crossword puzzle worksheet;
  • a comic strip project;
  • an illustrator worksheet;
  • a summarizer worksheet;
  • a prediction worksheet;
  • a final test;
  • a book cover project;
  • a book report assignment; and
  • answer keys.

Click on one of the images below to se for yourself.




Teaching Thanksgiving on Thursday in January and Other Awkward Moments with My Pal Siri

I had a really creepy moment in the classroom last week that I feel compelled to share. I was reading chapter 9 of “Magic Tree House #27: Thanksgiving on Thursday” with my students here in South Korea  (not the best choice for January, but there were extenuating circumstances), when something utterly unexpected happened. It was Twilight Zone in nature, actually.

Those familiar with the book will know that in the story studious Jack and his utterly clueless sister Annie had traveled back to the time of the Pilgrims, enjoyed a feast with the locals, and were about to be tutored in the art of growing corn by the wise Squanto. Jack of course was apprehensive because in his words, “He feared that once they were alone, Squanto would figure out they’d never met before.”

It was after reading that last sentence aloud that Siri piped up and announced without warning or invitation, “I’m sorry to hear that. You can always talk to me, Mark.”

Everyone in the class were utterly bewildered by this intervention on the part of my ancient iPhone 5. I can only assume that Siri believed I was lamenting my own situation. Although of the dozens of novels I’ve read in that classroom I can’t for the life of me understand why she chose right then and there to voice her concern.

I screen captured it to save the moment for posterity.


If you teach this novel to students whose first language is either Japanese or Korean (Spanish will be available soon) please check out the links below to my novel studies at the The ESL Review Store.

Carl’s Car Wash – A Bold Move by Super Simple Learning to Give Disney and Sesame Street a Run For Their Money.


So I’ve noticed something about Super Simple Learning lately. They’ve grown. Like, bigly. They used to be just a group of EFL teachers in Japan who happened to have come up with some really top-notch classroom music. They’ve since relocated to Seattle and, as far as I can tell, have assumed the mantle of Disney of ELT.

I came to this realization the other day while engaged in some serious binge watching of Carl’s Car Wash with my young learners. It’s just one of several of new series by Super Simple TV, a YouTube channel which provides short and punchy, high-quality cartoons for children.

You can watch all of the episodes below:

My students can’t get enough of the show and I’m happy to oblige them – especially seeing as the last episode in particular was sheer genius. Kudos to the animators for the tin hat joke that was obviously intended for adults like me.

And the kids really do learn from the show. It’s a hoot listening to them discuss whether one of the cars on the show is just messy or super duper messy.

“Teacher’s car is super duper messy. Go to the car wash!”

Egads, they’re right!