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.

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

Image result for junie b jones

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!

ELT Research Bites, an Intellectual Blog for Non-intellectuals Like Me

To my discredit, I’m all about the practical when it comes to teaching English. I tend to value my own experiences above those of other teachers, which I in turn value more than theoretical tracts written by Rapunzel-like figures in ivory towers. 

If you’re familiar with the work of the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, you’ll know he half-disparagingly, half-humorously describes theoretical economics as “Greek letter economics.” That pretty much sums up my opinion about reading academic work on teaching. It just does not feel relevant to me in my day to day work in South Korea.

Admittedly, that probably means I’m just lazy.

In light of this deplorable tendency of mine, I was delighted to come across the excellent blog ELT Research Bites by Anthony Schmidt, Clare Fielder, and several other ELT professionals. Together they comb through the professional literature and summarize interesting pieces into very readable blog entries. It could easily have been titled ELT Research for Dummies.

Some of their most recent works include: 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.

Christmas in Camelot, an ESL/EFL Novel Study for Korean Students

Jack and Annie find themselves in Camelot for Christmas where they are sent on an important quest to save the kingdom. Will they succeed? Read Christmas in Camelot with your young learners to find out!

I know. It was getting onto Christmas time and you thought a Christmas chapter book from the Magic Tree House would be a great idea. That, or you were ordered to teach it from on high. You crack open the book and realize what you should have known before. At 16 chapters it’s longer than you expected, and the vocabulary is a bit more difficult than previous books in the series. You suddenly feel that you’re in trouble, big trouble. How on earth will you cope?

Never fear, The ESL Review is here with a novel study designed for use in the EFL classroom.  It comes with all the basic worksheets, handouts, vocabulary lists, and tests that you will need to teach the book effectively in your class. It will also free up your time so that you can work on the really special parts of your lesson that you know best.

Check it out.

A Growing Collection of ESL/EFL Nate the Great Novel Studies for Japanese Students

If you’re not in the know, Nate The Great is a pancake-loving, child super sleuth in the business of retrieving everyday items that have gone missing from his neighborhood. Supported by his pet dog and assistant Sludge, Nate and his motley crew of friends are entertaining for both children and adults.

I’ve recently combined my entire collection of Nate the Great novel studies into a single file that can be downloaded in one go. That’s fifteen out of a total of twenty-six novels, with more than one thousand pages of teaching supplements. At the price I’m charging it’s the equivalent of paying for ten books and getting five for free (as well as each of the remaining books that I’ll be adding over the next year).

You can see which titles are available below. Some are missing, but if you leave a message at my store or in the comments section below I’ll get to work on the book you need right away.

The novel studies below have been designed for use with students whose first language is Japanese, but this same bundle is available for Arabic, Korean, and Spanish speaking students. Click on any of the images below to check it out.