Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nai Yang Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Nai Yang beach is tucked away in the north west corner of Phuket only a stones throw from the airport. Around half of the beach is fringed by Sirinath National Park which also includes the reef at the north end of the beach. As a consequence there are no shops of any description giving the place a relaxed old fashioned feel. The beach is great for those who like a walk as its golden sands stretch for miles, but unfortunately it is not a place for swimming. The rip tides here are lethal. Sadly many people ignore the red warning flags and perish. Relax, have a beer and relax is my advice.

Here's where Nai Yang is on a map of Phuket:

Being the tail end of the monsoon here in Phuket today, the weather wasn't perfect; however, I took some shots to give you an idea what the place is like.

You can see a plane taking off from the airport, which is meters from the north end of the beach.

A pair of pants stretched over a coat-hanger and placed inside a tire. Why not, I say.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Using a Novel for Uncovering Emergent Language and Retaining it.

A technique I have been using a lot this semester.

•Read a chapter of a graded reader to your students while they close their eyes and listen.

•Hand out a copy of the chapter and allow children to read silently and underline unknown vocabulary.

•Students go into groups and talk about unknown vocabulary and phrases.

•Groups swap and students share information about unknown vocabulary.

•Once group have circulated, have class feedback on the board around a spider diagram.

•The teacher then elicits each new word’s part of speech and how the word is used in the chapter.

•Teacher then uses information given by students to write a coherent sentence beside the word on the spider diagram.

•Repeat this for all words.

•Drill the sentences concentrating on word stress.

•In pairs students translate sentences into L1.

•When completed, rub the board and allow groups to chat in L1 to modify their answers.

•Back in pairs, students recreate the sentences from L1 to L2.

•When completed, students see the original sentences again and self-correct.

•Drill sentences and vocabulary for the final time

•Follow up homework: students have to write a present tense summary of the chapter using all of the emergent vocabulary from the lesson.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Thailand's Vocational Students

For the last three decades, a whirlwind of violence has swept through Thailand’s vocational schools, colleges infamous for breeding teenage gangs who fight for the perceived honour of their institution. The indiscriminate nature of the teen savagery has been well documented in the Thai media; however, little has been done to prevent the escalation of the conflict. So what drives the youngsters to commit such heinous crimes? Who is to blame? And most importantly, what is being done to stop it? The truth is that no one really knows, and the authorities have been grappling with these issues for decades. In this blog, I am going to attempt to unravel some of these issues and shed some light on a cultural black spot that, up to this very day, shows no sign of reaching a peaceful resolution.

By the end of May this year, there had been 385 inter-school clashes on the street of Bangkok. Of these, 165 happened between 3pm and 6pm ( Statistics like this, severe as they are, are likely to cloak the true nature of the epidemic which is spiraling dangerously out of control, not only of the capital streets, but also in the provinces. I have personal experience of one such attack in Phuket, an island famed for its pearly white sands. On one particular evening, I witnessed a group of 10/15 teenagers being set upon by a student wielding a baseball bat. In the fracas, a member of the group pulled out a gun and attempted to shoot the attacker in the head. He missed and smashed a window only metres from where we were sitting. Incidents like these are commonplace on the streets of a country that is losing its grip on teen violence. In June, students opened fire on a public bus in Bangkok killing two innocent people ( Moreover, in July an armed motorcycle chase left three students dead and another three critically injured in Kalasin, causing a public outcry ( However, critically, there have been few policy initiatives to curb the culture of ultra-violence which threatens to boil over at the commencement of each school day. The authorities appear to be treading water on an issue that needs urgent attention.

In the fuzzy aftermath of any atrocity, there is always one question that has an unparalleled position of importance in the discourse – “why?” The media are always on the scene to present distraught mothers, hysterical fathers and deflated friends who all splutter the same words into the camera, perplexed as to the reasoning behind yet another senseless death. Adults remain baffled by the reasoning used to condone acts of extreme violence by students and their peers. Most often institutional honour is stated to be the causal factor behind the violence. This assertion is weak as the very idea of being proud in attending a vocational college is a cultural improbability. Thais, as a people, take hierarchy very seriously indeed, and it is measured, on the whole, by one determining factor: wealth. Of course there are some regional differences, but on the whole, this is how an individual’s position on the social ladder is brought about. Furthermore, this societal pecking order is far from fluid. If you are born poor, poor is what you are and will be. Notions of social mobility are not part of the Thai psyhe, and if they were, they would be swiftly blocked by those in positions of power, managers, politicians etc. Throughout the day people assert their authority with their social position firmly in mind. It is the determining factor in how Thais interact with those around them. Thus, in Thailand you have two distinct sets of youngsters: those with money, who attend university and get a theoretical education; and those who attend vocational college and learn a trade. The schism between these two worlds is deep. Adhering to the laws of hierarchy, the university students, and society at large, view the technical students with quiet distain. They are swept under the carpet, hidden away from the watchful eyes of the Thai media, where game shows and soap operas perpetuate a myth of university as the Promised Land; those who fail to adorn the famous black and white (university) uniforms are looked at with varying degrees of disrespect. This dividing up of the countries youth foreshadows their future. Those wearing dark blue (vocational) know their place within a society that has already branded them as failures. Obviously, in a county where face is of the utmost importance, this creates an explosive inferiority complex. Being told at the age of sixteen that you have to attend a vocational institution causes not only the individual, but also their nearest and dearest, a huge drop in status. As a result, it is contested that this cultural perception causes a bubbling resentment in the heart of technical students around the country; however, this seething anger is turned inwards upon the only section of society they can relate to: their vocational peer group. Why do they not fight the university students who belittle them in open conversation, you may ask? The reason for this is simple. Culture does not permit it. Thais inherent sense of their place within society is so deeply ingrained that they rarely, in my experience, transgress the rules of the game. Therefore, due to a complex set of rules and procedures dictated by culture, vocational college students turn on each other in ritualistic outpourings of frustration, causing death, social unrest and ironically, promoting themselves in exactly the same light as to solidify their lowly position within the social hierarchy.

In the past twelve months the Thai government has set up military style boot camps for the most violent vocational college students ( While at the boot camp, individuals undergo physical training and military discipline in an attempt to reform their character and show them the errors of their ways. This is a positive pro-active step in the right direction for a country that is on the whole reactive in nature; however, for it to become more than a media sound bite, long term governmental financial commitment is a must. This remains to be seen. Aside from this policy little else has been done to alleviate the chaos.

The above questions have never been answered and probably never will be, but in an attempt to highlight the issue, I have thrown in my views, however erroneous they may be, for the sake of pushing discourse forward in a country where opinions often fall on deaf ears. There is no doubt that something needs to change in Thailand. Violence of this ferocity can’t be allowed to perpetuate. But with government policy only scraping the surface, this is a thirty year conflict that is here to stay.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A Nice Lesson - Lies (pre-intermediate)

This activity worked well with my pre-Intermediate group yesterday.

I walked into class smiling a little more intensely than usual and made sure that I made eye contact with all students. I didn’t say anything but showed through facial expressions that something wonderful must have just happened to me. The one of the students asked questioned me.

“Why are you smiling?”

I wrote this verbatim on the board.

“I’ve just been given some good news”, I replied.

“What, teacher?” was the response.

I then put the students into groups and they had to think of 5 reasons why I was so happy.

We did feedback and lots of new language emerged. This was written around a “new vocabulary” spider diagram on the board and drilled with emphasis on stressed syllables and rhythm.

I then informed the students that they were not even close in their answers.

I revealed to them that I had just won the lottery and asked them if they believed me. None did. After this I elicited the word “lie”. Students were then put into group and labeled A & B. The A group had to think reasons why lying is wrong and B for a situation where it is permissible. After feedback and discussion of emergent language, students have 1 minute ‘power’ debates about lying, mingling around the room.

The next stage of the lesson saw students writing a lie of their own in their notebooks. These where then read aloud and ‘auctioned’ with each student betting with a fictitious $100.

I then discussed with the group which lie was the most imaginative. Once the groups decided on one lie one student was given the pen to write a dictated version of the lie on the board. Only L2 can be used at this stage, including students’ instructions and corrections.

I then elicited some error corrections, when through the lie and then rubbed it off the board.

Students then had to recreate the lie in L1 with a partner. Once this was done, groups had to work together to re-create the L2 lie on the board.

Students then checked their answer from a Word document on my computer.

Homework was to write a listing order paragraph about why lying is wrong.