Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Exit Slips


One of the things I’m struggling with the most as a teacher is checking for comprehension. It is very difficult to know whether or not students understand what I’m teaching when only a few of them want to talk (and the vocal ones are not always the ones that know the most English). If I only pay attention to who is shouting things out in class I get a skewed idea of the students reading, writing, and even speaking levels.

My students are low level. So low level that they don’t understand the 5 finger rule (I say “show me your fingers:” if they understand everything they put up 5, if they understand nothing they don’t put up any fingers, if they understand some they put up 3, etc), and some of them don’t understand the question “do you understand?”. Those that do understand almost invariably say “yes.”

What I’ve been doing is checking for comprehension during class, as we go, by making individual students accountable for answering questions. I introduce the material then during the review I throw a soft ball at students and if they catch it they have to answer. Of course this means many students duck, and as my aim is pretty bad I can’t pull a Josh Brown and chuck it at their heads (though believe me, I really want to – I tried once and hit a different kid in the face… whoops), so what I’ve been doing is walking up to the students who refuse to catch it and lightly tossing it at them, making the ball fall in their lap. However many times the students either can’t or refuse to answer the questions still, even though I’ve introduced the material. Many times it’s because they’re not paying attention.  Thus I’m also trying to balance student accountability (i.e. the students expect to be called on so they pay attention) and the idea of “losing face” (a student is not able to answer so becomes incredibly embarrassed in front of his or her peers – the peer mentality is very strong here) and I still don’t know where to draw the line.

I would also really like to develop a system for checking comprehension at the end of the class. Many people have been doing “Exit Slips” i.e. having the students take 5 minutes at the end of class to answer a question or reflect on a topic, and then they collect this slip. I would love to do something like this, and it would definitely work for almost of of the members of 4 of my classes and maybe some of my other higher-level or more motivated students in the remaining 8 classes, but the rest are so low level that I don’t know if this would work. Many of them cannot write well (or at all) and at least 3 of my students can’t read. Doing an exit slip I feel might just continue to isolate the really low level kids. How then do I make the exit slip concept work in my classroom? Do I scrap the concept completely and try to come up with another method for checking comprehension at the end of the lesson? If anyone has any ideas or advice I would greatly appreciate it.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.