Another fine mess! Help!

So while discussing terms with a high school a while back our foolish stragbasher was asked casually “Could you do something like a scouting program?”

The answer was an equally casual “Oh yeah!” After all, we’ve all done tons of that stuff and how hard can it be? But being in a program, with books and whatnot to follow is a bit different from being handed a bunch of kids with no clear brief, no material, and not even a hard and fast budget.

The “let’s go out into the country and spend a weekend getting wet” idea was very well received, but half of the kids who turned up were not actually from the class I’m supposed to be teaching. Only about 1 in 3 of ‘my’ kids were able to go. Thanks to Freshtreks for making it a pretty good time all the same. We do plan to do it again soon.

But the problem is: what do I do in class time with a bunch of kids who mostly think that they are there to have fun? As the idea took shape with the school admin it was agreed that it would be a semi-military ‘team & character building’ thing for the smartest kids only. We wanted to teach public speaking, presentation skills etc., and turn them into ambassadors for their school who would inspire respect everywhere they went by being able to do anything and everything. (Well, you get the idea.)

Instead, I got a mixed bag of kids, with a wide range of abilities and interests, who have intentions of their own. And I have to create a syllabus for them by last week.

We can do a certain amount of prep for the next adventure weekend, but half of the kids won’t be going and the ones that are will be outnumbered by kids who aren’t in the class.

Give them a tent to put up and Billy Dufus will drive the poles as far into the dirt as his body weight will allow.

Teach them to tie knots and Billy’s mate will strangle someone. Turn your back on anyone to help individuals that want to learn and chaos prevails.

I don’t have this problem with my regular classes where they know what they’re there for. The problem stems from attitudes to a course that is seen as an opportunity to just fool around. I need something solid that will engage everyone’s interest, but right now I don’t have it.

We’re going to do a little military drill, leading into organised shouting and maybe some presentation skills, this week. But that won’t fill the whole period of 90 minutes. The best I can hope for is to impose some order for a while. Maybe some elementary ‘dead-reckoning’ navigation, compass bearings, how many paces in 100metres, etc. But I don’t have compasses, decent maps, or anything else.

Can anyone recommend some good books and/or activities? Education about nature and the outdoors is good, but it mustn’t be focused on any country other than Taiwan - I don’t need books telling you to watch out for rattlesnakes, how to survive in the desert, or which is the highest pub in Great Britain. (Not yet anyway!)

Thanks, in not-quite-desperation-yet. But not far off.

Tan Hill in Yorkshire at 528 metres, according to the Intarweb. The Ptarmigan on Cairngorm in Scotland at 1,100 metres, according to Sandman.

This sounds like babysitting to me. You learned your Chinese in the classroom and at home through repetition and hard work, not frolicking in the sunshine.

Still, you can take them to (insert place name here) and make them pick up trash and then discuss the merits of not littering.

Very good wolf. Strag have them hold a line (like in the military) while you comb an area. The have them shout out individually “I found a plastic bottle” etc etc

Then everyone “Littering is bad, bad, bad!!!”

Try some practical initiative tests - I’ve got a couple. They take about 20-30 minutes to run through - they use simple communication skills and invoke teamwork.

PM me if you are interetsted

Do a Hash House Harriers-type cross-country run. (But without the beer!) It’ll teach them some basic orienteering skills, and teamwork. It’ll also kill an afternoon easily.

How about a little treasure hunt (you scout ahead and hide a few things, then make a really generic map or give them clues in English. “Look under the big tree with a blue string wrapped around the trunk.”). Or maybe a game of capture the flag. Seems you could work in a lot of vocab work in one of those, plus giving directions, orders, etc (functions). And relatively little prep work. Plus it might be fun for everyone.

Not enough info Captain Stragbasher,

Will you be taking them to an area where the vegetation is protected or not?

Young blokes and wilderness usually means destruction: chopping things down, making fires, and mud-wrestling in Y-fronts.

How well do you know the local fauna and flora? Can you teach it?

How about some first-aid role-plays?

Campfires are surefire winners, from the making of the fire to the cooking of camp-food on said fires. It’s amazing how many Taiwanese have never made a fire.

If you are in a non-protected area where there are clumps of bamboo, it’s not that hard to build a shelter.

A treasure hunt is good fun, but requires a bit of work on your part. I’ve done this before and they love it. You send the little buggers off looking for clues which are in English e.g. Go 100 meters to the south-west, the clue is under a large rock, next to a large tree. And so on. After about ten clues the buggers arrive back at the camp to a prize of cold drinks.

Lasertag or paintball all the way. :slight_smile:

Wolfie, thanks for your very helpful comment but this is about learning something more, in english, it’s not about learning english. They’ve done the study, I’m doing the activation, but need to engage them first.

Everyone else, thanks too. These posts, and a night’s sleep, have helped me focus a bit better on what the real problem is.

The camping/wilderness stuff is easy. The possibilities there are endless, although I don’t think the girls will go for the mud-wrestling in Y-fronts bit. We’re using Freshtreks to manage the activities anyway, and to be honest we’re spoilt for choice - but that’s once a month and doesn’t necessarily involve all ‘my’ students anyway.

The difficult bit is what to do with the 90 minute class I have them for every week.

I have 18 kids in someone’s home room - ie it’s crammed full of desks and I can’t move them around easily. The kids are from two different classes and don’t like to mix (yet), plus they also polarise into boys vs girls. That problem is worsened by the fact that the boys are generally of much lower English ability, and shorter attention span, than the girls.

We can go outside, if it’s not raining, in fact we pretty much have the run of the school. There’s a lawn area, playing field, running track, baseball field, quite a few trees (which we can’t chop down), a courtyard, and I might be able to get a different classroom which is easier to mess up. But I need activities, and the activities need to have a point other than just practising English.

I think we need to have some theme or objective that the students will embrace, and then build the activities around that. I was in the Air Cadets as a teenager, we shared a common interest and esprit de corps that provided the direction and meaning for any activity we undertook. Instead of “oh no, not another treasure hunt” (last weekend, in the rain) I want “Wow, this is really useful and cool because it helps me towards my goal of …”

Originally the ‘school ambassador’ theme was the focus, and I foolishly assumed that the kids would want this honour enough to work for it. But I don’t have the kids I was told I was getting, and I can’t turn them into the sort of people I want them to be until I can engage everyone’s interest. The root problem is not really that I have bad students. The root problem is that the program I started out to build is not appropriate for the students I have, and I need to replace it sooooon with something else. I don’t have a lot of ideas, and the ideas I have may not be suitable anyway.

For instance, I have the crew training manual at home for a 19th Century full-rigged ship. Given the money/materials, we could build a mast with a yard and sail on it, and learn the whole process of bending on a sail, setting it, trimming it to different angles, bunting it up, furling, and securing everything for the next time. It would take months of weekly sessions to plan and build, provide a lasting monument, blah blah blah - but I don’t know if it’s something the kids would go for. Unlikely, probably, but then nobody here has ever read Joseph Conrad. (Imho, the cultural and linguistic impact of sea trade over many centuries has shaped the culture that these kids are trying to study and eventually compete with. Why is English the language of international business anyway?)

I have no idea what it would cost either.

Whatever focus we opt for in the long term, we don’t have a lot to do right now in our 90 minute weekly sessions. The stuff Dangermouse was talking about sounds about right. Mate?

Summary: I need short activities for spoilt 11-12yr olds of mixed ability with a character- or team-building flavour. Indoor and outdoor. Minimal resources in the first instance.

I also need ideas for a focus or theme for the course that gives the activities a point from the perspective of students who don’t necessarily want to be there.

Thanks again. I feel like Toe Save.

“Yes Captain…I’m freeeeeee!”

Put them in groups of 4 or 5, and make ‘your’ students the group leaders. Make it part of their task to pass on the skills you’ve prep’din class to those who are not in your class.


I used to teach a lot of card games to students of that age. If they can read you write out the rules and go over this with the class. Ask questions to make sure they got it and ask the students to paraphrase. Also go over card playing vocab like “deal, cards, shuffle, clockwise, spades, hearts, etc”. Then play a practise round or two and divide the class into groups. Make sure they use English. Quiz the kids afterwards about who won, how the won, what was their best hand and so on.

Maybe you can create a whole theme about how to survive on a desert island (which would tie in why they need to learn camping skills, cooking, knots, and how to entertain themselves). There are lots of stories on this theme. These could be used as supplementary materials.

Such a course could be taught to students who will never use the skills, and for those training to actually go out and camp.

You might try using advanced TPR techniques. Ask difficult questions that the students only need to answer by doing something or by answering yes or no.

Example: “You are in the forest and you hear a strange noise. Do you run and tell your teacher or march into the forest and see what is there?”

The benefit of such questions is it trains students to be able to listen at a very high level. They show they understand by their response. The teacher can sometimes write a narrative down of the best response and have the students copy it down. This then becomes a text the class can do soem regular language exercises with.

I found students that age love role-play like this as they think it is just fun. Since they feel no stress they don’t even realize they are practising English.