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Pokemon Points!

I’ve talked about classroom management and how important it is to keep kids interested in what’s going on. Over the past few Saturdays, my grade 6 class has been helping me develop a points system based on Pokemon battling! Two fellow teachers helped me work out the mathematics last week and I spent a few days this week making up the card template and a few samples. I’m finally ready to share this with everyone!

Let me start by showing you the template and samples:

Pokemon Points


Students are divided into teams. Each team gets to choose one basic pokemon from a bag (bag should contain 1-2 of each type).

Levels: One student from each team rolls a die to determine what the base Pokemon’s 1rst stage evolution level will be:

1 = 26       2 = 28       3 = 30       4 = 32       5 = 34       6 = 36

2nd and 3rd stage evolutions double from original. Example: A student rolls 2. Pichu evolves into Pikachu at 28 exp points, and into Raichu at 56 exp points.

Hit Points: A student from each team then rolls for HP.

1 = 40       2 = 45       3 = 50       4 = 55       5 = 60       6 = 65

On the board:

Pokemon (HP)  (EVS1) (EVS2) (EVS3 if applicable)  EXP:


Pichu (55HP)    (Stage 1 Pikachu=28)        (Stage 2 Raichu=56)  EXP:


Everything a team does in class earns attack points, same as a normal points system. Winning games, doing homework, great answers, helping others, finishing work first etc. These points go towards attacks. Every pokemon has the same attack stats, for simplicity’s sake:





Attack Points










Quick Attack




Attack names change based on the Pokemon but the stats stay the same, even through evolutions.

Damage – is how many points you take away from your opponents pokemon HP.

Cost – how many points you need to have to use this attack AND how many points you lose.

EXP – how many pnts you get toward evolution.

Ss can keep track of their own points (in large classes). Teachers only need to keep track of HP and EXP on the board.

Stengths and weaknesses: All Pokemon are 1 type only. If a pokemon is Strong against its opponent they flip a coin. Heads – normal damage plus 10. Tails – normal damage. If they are Weak against an opponent, they flip a coin again. Heads = half damage. Tails = normal damage.

Download samples and the template!

pokemon card template



pichu pikachu raichu stats page

Have fun with this! And please, if you have any ideas on how to improve or modify the game, please let me know!

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Posted by on May 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Just like a bobble-head.

I have a question for you. It’s not one I ever asked myself, to be honest. It was asked of me by a former colleague of mine who asked it to every teacher he came across.

What is your goal, as a teacher?

Some teachers would automatically blurt out something noble, like helping the next generation, or helping their students’ blossom into a sane, functioning and contributing member of society. It was with great relish that my colleague – I’ll call him Seamus – cut the teacher off in their tracks and said with a great sense of finality, “No.”

For myself, I had assumed that my job was to teach them English. To my surprise, Seamus told me I was wrong as well. “Okay,” I said, still smarting a tad from being told with such conviction that I was wrong, dead wrong. “So what am I supposed to be doing?”

“You are supposed to give them the tools needed to use English,” came the calm reply.

I looked back at my colleague–slash–mentor and murmured in awe, “Oh.” Pause. “So what does that mean?” I was completely clueless.

In my last post I mentioned a Chinese English teacher insisting on short form answers and how it was wrong. Not really, actually – I didn’t make that entirely clear. It’s completely wrong for us to do. Watching them make what we perceive as a mistake just grates on us and we as native speakers then squirm in our chairs and think how we could do it better.

No, we can’t. And what the Chinese teacher is doing isn’t wrong, full-stop – it’s just different. And it’s something we can’t copy, because then we’d be neglecting our duty – which is to give them the tools they need to speak English.

What is the goal of the Chinese teacher? A Chinese English teacher will give out lists of vocabulary words, and insist that the students memorize page after page of sentence structures. She will ask them to recite from memory entire passages out of books, and drill them in repeating grammar exercises over and over again.

Foreign teachers will look at that and think, ‘wow, that lady is doing it wrong.’ Actually, no she’s not. She’s not teaching for ability, she’s teaching for knowledge. She’s prepping them to pass one of the many tests Chinese students must take and pass if they want to get ahead in life. Her class is about memorization because the tests are all written tests, and it’s all based on memory.

As a foreign English teacher, your goal should be to get them to use what they already know. Chinese students have an amazing vocabulary locked away in those brilliant heads of theirs – they just don’t always know how to use it. Same for reading – they can read passages, sound out words fairly easily and with the aid of their little dictionaries, they can get through unfamiliar passages with ease. But once you ask them to speak out loud using those words, now you get silence – and some teachers are quick to dub these students as being unwilling or unable to learn English.

What we should all be doing is teaching for ability – giving them what they need to respond in English. And we start by stopping the use of knowledge-based questions. For example, please answer the question below:

Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?

I know some of you are looking at that question and thinking, ‘what the heck? How should I know if her sister’s middle name is Taylor? I can’t answer that question! I have to guess!

Yup. But guess what? Non-English speakers – unless you get a batch of really animated and advanced kids – aren’t going to try and guess. Their first, last and only answer is going to be ‘I don’t know’, which doesn’t get them to practice anything. This is an example of a knowledge-based question. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t answer the question.

So the first thing we have to do is change that knowledge-based question into an ability-based question, and we do it in two steps.

1.       We turn it into a yes or no question:

–> Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?

2.       We either nod or shake our heads, depending on what the answer is.

Some things in life are universal. Nodding your head means ‘Yes’ or positive in North American. Shaking it from side to side means ‘No’ or negative. The same rules apply in China. So by asking a yes or no based question while nodding or shaking our heads – in this case, I’m shaking my head to indicate ‘no’ – we give the student the tools to answer the question.

Student: “No.”

Teacher: “No, what?”

Student: “No, you sister middle name not Taylor.

Teacher: *verbal correct* “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Student: “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Teacher: “Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?”

Class: “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Ah-hah – see what I did there? A verbal correct AND I got the whole class to take advantage of that great, full-sentence, 5-point answer.  A simple shake of the head – like Mojito, the bobble-headed dog from The Losers – and the student magically has the confidence to answer the question.

Give it a shot!

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Uncategorized


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High Value vs Low Value

Low Value

I want to relate a teaching story I heard from a coworker. Actually, I’ve heard it many times, as he used to tell this story to our new recruits during every orientation session. My ORI partner and I still use it but it’s been modified as we don’t have his flair for it because it still serves a useful purpose.

I had the opportunity to go and view a local Chinese teacher’s English class. The students were well-behaved, they sat up straight and they eagerly participated in the lesson. The teacher was giving a lesson on fruits and vegetables, and she asked one student, ‘do you like apples?’  The student sat up straight and proudly answered,  ‘Yes!’

The teacher smiled, nodded and praised him. Then she asked another student a similar question – ‘Do you like strawberries?’

The student shook her head and said, ‘No, I don’t.’

The teacher clapped her hands, everyone oohed and ahhed and they all smiled because they were learning English! And it was complete and utter bull****.

A little harsh, but the sentiment is essentially correct. And just before I explain why (unless you’ve already guessed), I’ll follow that up with another of his stories he also used to illustrate the problem:

I was watching one of our foreign teachers in her classroom. There was a page in the text book that had pictures of magical items – a crystal ball, a magic wand, a wizards hat, etc. They were numbered, and below them were blank spaces in which to write the names from the word bank. The teacher gave them some time to fill it in, and then asked one of her students, ‘Which one is the wizards hat?’ The student paused, and looked at his book in confusion, so she prompted him, putting her hands on her head to help him out. “Wizards hat? Which one is the wizards hat?’

The student chewed his lip and finally uttered, ‘…three?’

The teacher cheered and clapped and exclaimed, ‘Yes! Number three is the wizards hat! Great job!’

Did any of you out there following along at home figure out what was wrong with these sentences?

To understand, let me explain something about Chinese classrooms. Chinese English lessons are full of vocabulary lists that need to be memorized, sentences patterns parroted, and grammar points to be translated. The teachers are not teaching their students to use the language – that is not their priority. Their job is to prepare their students for tests, and the tests they must pass are all based on memorization.

Chinese students are not pushed very hard, despite what you might think. The teachers are constantly answer-feeding – that is, they ask a question and then immediately follow up with the answer before anyone has time to begin to formulate a guess. They are pushed to remember,  NOT to use.

Let’s refer back to the first story. The reason my former colleague called it bull**** was because they were accepting the lowest possible value in an answer. Yes or No. It’s not rocket science, no thought is involved, and you have a 50% chance of getting the right answer. Except in this case, it’s 100% because the teacher was asking an opinion question – ‘Do you like…’. The student may have no idea what this odd word ‘strawberry is’, but they’ve memorized that the correct answer to a ‘Do you like’ question is either an yes or a no. Their personal preferences mean nothing to them – only getting the smile from the teacher that says yes, they’ve answered correctly.

Your typical low-value answers are:

Yes / No.

Yes I do / No I don’t.

Yes I like / No I don’t like.

Yes I can / No I can’t.

Yes I do / No I don’t.

These have literally no value whatsoever. The student may not have any clue about the vocabulary but they are trained to listen for those key words and formulate a canned response consisting of as few words as humanly possible.

High Value

High value answers are answers that show the student’s comprehension. Full and complete sentences are what you’re going for if you want to teach for ability, which should be the goal of every ESL/EFL teacher (I will expand on that in more detail later). We don’t care about knowledge. They can get knowledge from anywhere – books, the internet. What we need to do is give them the tools to USE the language, and we start by not accepting crap answers in the form of 3 words or less.

Let’s try the above question from that local teacher again, only this time, we’ll substitute a high-value answer.

Teacher: “Do you like strawberries?”

Student: “No, I don’t like strawberries.”

They get one point for the yes/no. They get 1 point for reversing ‘I’ for ‘you’. They one point for using a contraction. They get one point for using the vocabulary word (strawberries). They get one point for a grammatically correct sentence (words in proper sentence structure).  A 5 point answer, versus the 1 point they’d get for simply answering ‘yes’.

Let’s try another one:

Teacher: “Can dogs fly?”

Student 1: “No.”  <– 1 point.

Student 2: “No, dogs can’t fly.”

Point for ‘no’. Point for using the vocab word ‘dogs’. Point for negative (can’t) AND point for the contraction. Point for the other vocab word ‘fly’. Nice full sentence – yup, another point. A beautiful 6 point answer.

Now to address the other story… do me a favor. Go back up, re-read that second story, and count how many times the teacher said the vocab word ‘wizard hat’. Go on – I’ll wait.

Back already? I’ll give you a hint: the teacher said the vocab word 4 times. Four.  How many times did the student say the vocab words?


In teaching, we have this thing called the 80×20 rule. This is where the students speak 80% of the time, and the teacher speaks 20%. In the above example, we have this completely reversed. There are full sentences involved, but the only one saying them is the teacher.  The teacher asked a question and yes, the student did show comprehension by correctly identifying number three as the word in question, but the sum total of his verbal efforts was to say the word ‘three’.

I have news for you – he didn’t need practice saying the word ‘three’. Numbers are one of the first things every child learns here in Shanghai – either in kindergarten or in grade 1. This was a grade 3 class – I guarantee you he already knew his numbers.

The proper thing to do here would be to prompt the student for that full sentence, high-value answer:

The wizards hat is number 3.

Immediately followed by some macro-micro responses – but that would be the subject of a future post. 😀

So when you’re teaching your students, remember that those short sentences do no one any good. Get those full sentences, insist on those full sentences – and if you don’t know how to do that?

Check back for my next post. ^__^

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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


Can you name the name?

One of the perks of teaching abroad – particularly if you’re teaching young children – is the naming process. Every Chinese pupil wants an English name so he and she can be just like the teacher.

Not only do the kids want them, but naming the children was something I was told I would have to do. Miss Fan, my classroom assistant,  told me that some of the kids already had English names – Norman, Winston, Thomas, Tommy, Tony and Charley did, for example – but many of the others didn’t. Miss Fan told me I should hand out names like prizes, rewards for proper classroom behaviour. I thought about it, and then decided to just give them out and not drag it on.

My main reasoning for this was the fact that at the time, I was four days into teaching and other then the five or six students that had English names already, I was referring to everyone else as  “You there!” or “Hey!”*snapsnap* “Ýou!” and this was not a good thing. At the very least, I wanted to be able to yell something when they were causing trouble, and there was no way I could pronounce their Chinese names. Not that I knew them to begin with.

So for one entire class, that’s what I did. I had blank stickers and a black marker and I went around one by one and asked them what their Chinese name was. I tried to find an English equivalent in order to make it easier for them to remember, but this didn’t always work out. That’s when I began delving into my list of friends and family, and subsequently, my family has quite a few namesakes roaming about the streets of Shanghai today.

Miss Fan wanted an English name from me too, and this would turn into a running gag for the next two years. Naming children was one thing, but I didn’t want to be responsible for naming an adult.

My creative mind could only think of one thing to call her.

Me: “We have an English name that’s very close to your own. ‘Fawn’.”

Fan: “What does it mean?”

Me: “Fawn means ‘a baby deer’.”

Fan: “I like that name!”

Me: “Fawn?”

Fan: “Deer!”

…thankfully she later accepted my sister’s middle name – Erin – as her own. But to this day, she still laments over how she could have had the beautiful name ‘Deer’.

–       excerpt from my journal, 2005

Names are kind of important you know? We all have one, we all need one, and most of us are kinda proud of them. One of the things I hate most is hearing about a teacher bragging that he gave his kids joke names – sure it makes for a funny story at the bar. Go you, big man. But these kids look up to their teachers, they love and – in most cases – respect them, and so they don’t know any better. All they know is Teacher gave them a name, and they don’t care too much about the meaning.  Some are cute. Some are funny. One of the smartest little boys I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching was named Potato (though to be fair, he wanted that name because the Chinese word for Potato – ‘tudou’ was in his actual Chinese name, and he understood we don’t typically name Western kids after vegetables), and during my first year here, I had the pleasure of teaching an entire fruit basket – Apple, Peach, Pear, Cherry and Mango.

….on that note, I did have a little girl in that same class named Marina. I loved that name, I thought it was beautiful and I told her so. Still, she wasn’t happy because she didn’t blend in well enough, so one day she came to me with a smile on her face:

Marina: “I have a new name, okay?”

Mandy: “Oh, but I loved your name. What’s your new one?”

Marina: *proudly*  “Banana!”

And of course, there’s a common complaint about naming kids, boy or girl, Happy. I mentioned to one teacher I had a Happy in my class, and he complained about that being such a stupid and yet so common a name to give the kids. In my defense, Happy had chosen her name because her Chinese name was ‘Gaoxing’ which literally means ‘happy’. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that the day she was born, her parents were so happy, they decided to name her as such. And it suits her personality so well. The only other name I can think of that would fit better would be ‘Sarcastic’ or ‘Smart Mouth’ but then I’d be breaking my own rules. 😀

Anyway, I went off on a tangent again. Names. Need some thought. Never mind that there is a very good chance this kids is gonna keep that name you gave them for the rest of their life; they are going to use that name if they try to go abroad and fill out paperwork, or try to get a job with a foreign company. How many ‘Killer’s’, ‘Ray Gun’s’, ‘Sparkly’s’ and ‘Nintendo’s’ have you hired recently?

So yeah, I ask that teachers put a little bit of thought into it before they make the child a joke for life in the English-speaking world.

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Old Blogger, New Tricks

*looks around curiously* Wow. ^^  I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, journeying to a brand new and strange place. I hope you’ll bear with me while I adjust!

I’m no stranger to blogging, actually. I’ve maintained a blog on livejournal for almost ten years now, detailing everything from life in China, to fandom participation, to my volunteer work, to sheer mindless ranting. I’ve resisted getting a wordpress account for a while now because I didn’t want to keep track of more than one online blog. However, I’ve changed my mind about that.

You see, most of my LJ is now blocked to everyone except myself. The reason for that is mainly because I didn’t adjust well to Shanghai life when I first arrived. I was naive, inexperienced in everything from teaching to living away from home, and I vented quite a bit in my journal. In hindsight, looking back on those earlier entries, I was actually quite narrow-minded, and yes, even racist in some of them, though I honestly didn’t see it until I’d grown up a fair bit.

I adore Shanghai. I have for a few years now. But my LJ will always be tainted by those first 3 to 4 years of running commentary, and I never feel comfortable pointing people to it because of my earlier idiocy. I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh start. While I will keep my old LJ for fandom purposes and fun, here is where I will post most of my ideas and advice for new teachers in China, in the hopes that it will prevent others from making the same mistakes and assumptions about this beautiful country and its welcoming people that I did.

So welcome to my new blog! I hope you take away some interesting facts and tidbits that will help you decide whether or not China is the right fit for you as an ESL/EFL teacher, and what to do in certain situations. I think that’s enough of an intro for now though – see you soon!

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized