TESOL | ūüé≤ Roll and Tell

Since the new school year began this week, I thought I’d post an ice breaker for new groups, large and small.

First, students write down 6 facts about themselves. If they know enough English already, they can choose what they’d like to share. Alternatively, the teacher can give them questions to answer or sentences to complete. With my high school students, I like to include a sentence that I always hope proves enlightening: I think English is [easy / hard].

Dice are a great classroom tool!

The reason for 6 is that students will roll a die to determine how many facts they must share with the class. The teacher can demonstrate the process, once students have finished writing.

The chance factor adds a little excitement to the activity, and if students roll a 6, it’s not the teacher’s fault! This may put some shy students at ease. On the other hand,¬†if an especially confident student wants to share all of their facts, a low number shouldn’t stop them.

See what your students come up with when they roll and tell.


Fits and starts

IMG_3368The new school year started with a pop yesterday. Lined up at attention on the basketball court, the new 10th graders were welcomed with an opening ceremony. By my count, only one student fainted and needed to be carried off to recover.

fullsizeoutput_3aa4After a speech by the principal, a big bunch of balloons was sent skyward. Amusingly, the balloons got caught on one of the tall trees in the courtyard, and proceeded to pop in succession during the group prayer. I just pretended it was an artillery salute.

Of course we didn’t want to leave out the veteran students. Their ceremony took place a little later in the morning and was followed by halalbihalal, a ritual during which participants line up, shake hands and, in the spirit of Ramadan, ask for forgiveness for any misdeeds or sins they may have committed.

During the faculty and family halalbihalal a week ago, the most important people in the room‚ÄĒthe principal and his guests‚ÄĒlined up first. Everyone else formed a separate line, which moved and passed by the principal. As each person reached the end of the principal’s line, they joined it themselves. This continued until every single person had greeted every other person in the room.

Yesterday’s teacher / student halalbihalal differed in several ways. First, to save time, female teachers only greeted female students and male teachers only greeted male students. I say greeted, because ‘shook hands’ wouldn’t be quite accurate.

A quick aside

Students are typically expected to salim¬†teachers (and anyone older than them). Young people take their elder’s hand and raise it to their own face, typically either the nose, cheek or forehead. I usually avoid saliming my students, instead going for a fist bump, but I didn’t want to confuse anyone or break the rhythm, so this time, I played along.

The salim is something that has grown on me over time.¬†When I meet new children for the first time, I let them salim me. Parents encourage it essentially from day one. Adults even go through the motion with infants. As soon as older babies understand the word, even before they can really speak, they’re expected to do it when prompted. They don’t stop saliming when they turn 18 either. They continue to salim their parents and other older family members, and potentially even family friends and former teachers. I’ve even seen a 50-year-old salim an 80-year-old.

Back to school

While this was going on, several male students and teachers sang an Islamic verse in Arabic. When everyone had finished, upperclassmen went back to leading the orientation for the 10th graders and teachers went about their business.

Today was much quieter. For the 10th and 12th graders, it involved marching practice. The 11th graders stayed home, but it’s their turn tomorrow. Classes are scheduled to begin on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to finally meeting the new students and implementing a few new ideas with my colleagues. By then, I should have gotten feedback from all of them about my schedule. Fits and starts, but starts all the same.


I recently took a trip to Bali and Flores with my dad. We had a nice two weeks, a good mix of being active and relaxing. We saw a ton and met many interesting people. For me it was particularly fascinating to see new parts of Indonesia. I won’t write about the whole trip here, but I’ve posted a selection of photos to the album below. Enjoy!

liburan juni 2017


Many motivational quotes focus on regret. They threaten with lifelong disappointment if you don’t do… whatever it is you’re thinking about doing. Those maxims are based on the idea that regret is inescapable and enduring, but I disagree with that premise.


In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

Yes, regret is a part of life‚ÄĒthere will always be missed opportunities‚ÄĒbut I see no reason to dwell on them. At some point, time spent regretting is time that might be better spent moving on.

Life is filled with options, and one isn’t always better than the other. It doesn’t have to be fulfillment vs. emptiness. Any number of choices can be equally rewarding if we decide for ourselves that they are. If I can enjoy¬†this, why should I dwell on not having chosen¬†that?

When it comes to taking action, there’s something to be said for pushing oneself and letting oneself be pushed to try new things and leave one’s comfort zone, but not under the assumption that the alternative is inherently worse. Over the course of a lifetime, we can do a lot‚ÄĒperhaps we can even do more as a rule‚ÄĒbut we can’t do everything, and that’s fine.¬†Non-participation is not necessarily the same as missing out. Choosing not to take part in an ostensibly fun activity does not automatically condemn me to boredom.

I don’t appreciate so-called motivational posters that come with seeds of doubt or threats of regret. I believe true motivation sparks confidence that we’re doing it right; it inspires us to be happy with our choices and gives us the courage to deal with our mistakes. Words like¬†shoulda, coulda and¬†woulda have their place‚ÄĒwe can learn from them‚ÄĒbut they are not words to live by, and they are definitely not the coal in my furnace wind in my turbine.

My life is not a checklist with ticked and unticked boxes. That’s not to say I don’t have goals. If we absolutely need a metaphor, my life is a canvas covered in splotches of paint, and it has been from day one. I wasn’t born to fill emptiness; I was born to add layers.

TESOL | Numbers

I find that numbers are always something worth reviewing and practicing, and they can be practiced alongside many other topics. This post will include several very different activities.


Javanese numerals

Meaningful Numbers

This activity can be used as an icebreaker, but it also works with groups¬†that¬†are already well acquainted. Students¬†choose three numbers that¬†are significant to them (e.g. age, height, birthdate, number of siblings, number of pets, etc.). In small groups, they take turns trying¬†to guess¬†the meaning behind each number by asking, “Is it your height? Is it¬†how many siblings you have?” etc. Once the groups are finished guessing, the teacher can ask¬†for volunteers to challenge the whole class with their¬†meaningful numbers.

My students get very creative, both with their questions and their answers. They also get a little sassy, making guesses that are obviously wrong, but usually very funny. This activity is about a lot more than numbers, because the students are thinking about all kinds of vocabulary the whole time.

Counting Together

This exercise does practice numbers, but it’s probably more useful¬†as a gauge of the group dynamic. Students try to count to a certain number (or as high as they can), which may sound easy enough, but believe me,¬†it’s not.

Everyone¬†stands in a circle and either closes their eyes or looks at the floor. One person begins the counting with ‘one’. The tricky part is that any student can continue, but no two students may say the same number at the same time. Numbers can be called out in quick succession or with long pauses in between, but only one student may say a given number. The first time I did this activity was with 42 students (and 2 teachers), and we got as high as 16.

Perhaps not the best activity if you want to practice higher numbers, but you can alternatively have the students count in intervals, i.e. by fives, tens, etc.

Classroom Inventory

If the topic du jour is classroom vocabulary or school supplies, why not throw in some numbers as well? Have students take an inventory of objects in the classroom. They can work together in small groups or individually. Have them compare their results at the end, the perfect time to practice ‘there is / are‘. If it’s feasible, the teacher¬†can assign different groups to different parts of the school, e.g. the library, front office or cafeteria. If you’re short on time, limit the number of objects to be inventoried; perhaps¬†let each group choose a certain number of items from a list.¬†If you have time to kill, let the students go wild.


Lastly, make your students do math! Whether young, old or somewhere in between, everyone can benefit from a little extra math practice, be it basic arithmetic or everyday problems using basic measurements, prices¬†or time. For large numbers, look at populations, area measurements or numbers of language speakers. Compare different countries to one another to practice geography while you’re at it.

As always, have fun and let me know how it goes!

One year

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to acknowledge¬†passing the one-year mark in Indonesia‚ÄĒjust¬†over a year in country and just under¬†a year at site‚ÄĒbut¬†I’ve had trouble¬†figuring¬†out how. I started writing a blog post about¬†first experiences and personal records during my service, but a list of moments‚ÄĒthough I treasure them‚ÄĒsomehow¬†seemed inadequate. I’m still here, still looking forward to tomorrow, and I’ve decided that that is acknowledgment enough.


Indonesia has stretched¬†and squeezed me, pushed and pulled me, awakened intellectual muscles in me I didn’t know I possessed. The best tribute to this description defying experience that I can think of is to continue. I have one more year to teach and learn, make and do,¬†shrink and grow.

Every day,¬†I feel smaller in this big¬†world, but every day, I also grow more rooted in my¬†community. I’ve had to relearn things I thought I knew about myself and about how the world works, but I’ve had many willing¬†teachers. Aspects of life in East Java that¬†I haven’t adopted, I’ve learned to tolerate; the few¬†that¬†I¬†cannot tolerate, I’ve learned to handle.

I came to Indonesia with few expectations, knowing that in time, I’d be reimagining the handful of¬†goals I did have. Over the past year, I’ve continually reflected on those¬†original goals, scrapping some¬†and¬†adjusting others,¬†aligning them with those of my colleagues¬†and students, and I’ve made many new ones.¬†Thinking about them now, I know I have a lot to look forward to, as well as a lot left to learn. So¬†let my salute to Year One be an amazing¬†Year Two.


TESOL | Five Things

This is one¬†of my favorite warm-up activities. It‚Äôs quick, easy, versatile and usually elicits a wide variety of results. It‚Äôs good for reviewing old vocabulary as well as setting the stage for new material. Asking for ‘five things’¬†can also help determine what the students already know about a given topic.

The Concept:

The teacher writes a category on the board. The students must write down five words that fit the category. For example:

Five things that are GREEN

– grass
– leaf
– bamboo
– apple
– pear

Adjectives are a great conceptual link (cold / round / sweet), but verbs are just as good.

Five things that can FLY

– bird
– airplane
– helicopter
– bee
– dragonfly

If you‚Äôre about to review one of the ‚Äėperfects‚Äô, warm up with five irregular past participles* (eaten / gone / made / seen / written). Ideally, you‚Äôll get a lot of responses, which you can use in your lesson.

Categories can be virtually anything: plants, animals, places, even words that start with the same letter, if you’re focusing on spelling or pronunciation. They can also be individual: five things you cannot do / may not do.

When it comes to some words, I set limits. Yes, notebooks can be green, but are they typically green? Is coffee always sweet? (Actually, in East Java, it usually is; I might let that one slide, at least while I’m here.)

There is so much to choose from and play with. Try to keep track of the categories you give your students, especially if you use this activity on a regular basis. That way, your examples will stay fresh.

Give it a try!

*In Germany, my students called¬†past participles the ‚Äėthird form‚Äô and in Indonesia, they say¬†‚Äėverb 3‚Äô.¬†EFL dictionaries often include¬†a table of irregular verbs, the third column of which lists past participles, e.g.¬†go / went / gone.

TESOL | I’m a marker looking for some ink

Some activities are so versatile that they demand to be adjusted and tweaked again and again. This is one of those. I’m going to describe the simplest version first, before I add a few possible adaptations.

Regardless of the variation, the teacher needs to prepare one slip of paper for each student. For a simple vocab activity, the teacher writes two words on each slip:

a teacher > a marker

a marker > ink

ink > a bottle

a bottle > a shelf

The words can be related or unrelated. The first word indicates what the student is during the activity and the second indicates what they are looking for. The slips of paper can also include the phrases the student will need:

I’m a teacher. Are you a marker?

Otherwise those phrases can be written on the board and explained to the class as a whole. You can practice any number of phrases, but you’ll want to be consistent.

I am a marker. Are you ink? Who is ink?

I have a marker. Do you have ink? Who has ink?

Once a student has found what they were looking for, they should ask what the next student is looking for and follow suit, keeping track of the chain in a list.

teacher, marker, ink, bottle, shelf

The first person to complete the list is the winner.

Instead of finding single vocab words, the task could be to complete a story.

to the store. > They didn’t

They didn’t > have what

have what > she was

The first person to find the complete the story (and correctly identify the beginning and the end!) is the winner.

A story could be replaced with instructions or any other sort of written text.

Large classes could be split up to save time or make the activity more manageable. Students could complete the task in pairs, taking turns to ask for and give information. Another option would be to split the class into two larger groups, each with a separate puzzle. For example, students in one group could gather the ingredients of a recipe, while the others compile the instructions.


Simplify preparation for this activity by compiling a list with enough words, or finding a text that can be broken into enough pieces, before you make the cards. Remember that the first word or phrase will also be the last.

Keep in mind:

This activity gives everyone something to do.¬†It requires individual as well as group work. However, I was forced to remind my students several times that their task was not to copy¬†their friends’ work, but¬†rather to complete the task (the list, story, etc.) on their own, the only help from their friends being the next clue.

Give it a try, and let me know how it works for you!


Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, I’ve had to move from one great host family to another great host family. In the end, it just means I have two!

Moving in the middle of my service has had its pros and cons. On the one hand, I’m much better equipped to communicate with my new host family than I was during training or at the beginning of my service. On the other hand, I haven’t stopped being a foreigner that needs to be babied and worried over. In fact, that process has started all over again: reminders every five minutes that I should eat and reminders that I should help myself. The only trouble is, with being reminded to eat and even being handed snacks around the clock, I barely have an opportunity to help myself. Recently, I (gently) reminded my new bapak that it’s guests he should be pressing to take food, not his “family”. He laughed and admitted I was right.

Another pro has been getting to know my new family and their neighbors. My ‘host aunt’ and ‘uncle’ live next door with their two sons. The other night, I pulled out my ukulele and sat on their porch with them. I sang a few songs in English as well as the one I’ve learned in Javanese, all the while being reminded to eat finish the plate of fried bananas next to me.


After six weeks, I’m feeling pretty settled. I’m used to the way things work around the house, and my family is used to my inherent strangeness. I’ve started teaching the neighborhood kids English after school. I’m where I need to be for the year that I have left!

Can I have your shorts?

I went for a long walk today. Not sure how long, but really long. As per usual, I had very little idea of where I was headed, which baffles Indonesians. One woman said, “But how does that even work?” when I told her I didn’t have a destination in mind. I told her I was following my nose; if my nose turned left, I turned left; if my nose turned right, I turned right. “All alone?” is another comment I always get. “Yes,” I admitted, “but actually not really. There are people everywhere!”

Everyone asks if I get lost, wandering around like that. Even if I didn’t have an interactive world map in my pocket, it would be pretty difficult to get lost. And even if I didn’t have¬†a smartphone, there are literally hundreds of people who would be more than happy to tell me where I am¬†and how to get where I’m going.

I tend not to use my phone¬†or ask for directions unless I’m¬†going somewhere by¬†bike, i.e. going somewhere farther away. I¬†do like to ask people the names of the villages I pass through though. Google doesn’t always know¬†those, and my bapak and ibu always want to know¬†where I ended¬†up.


But that’s not even what I wanted to write about. My walk was not¬†uneventful.¬†I had barely left my own house this morning before I was whisked inside someone else’s. After a hello and a handshake, a¬†smiling older neighbor grabbed my arm and steered me straight toward¬†his home.¬†My great-grandmother would have have said parlor for the sitting room where Indonesians receive their guests. That’s where we sat for a few minutes, while he fired off questions. Then a customer came looking for a haircut. It turned out my host was a barber.

I continued my walk down¬†my old street* at the end of which I was rerouted by a young guy with a cigarette in his mouth. We sat¬†on his stoop for a¬†few minutes, while he fired off questions, one of which was,¬†“Can I have your shorts?”¬†Now, I’m quite attached to my shorts, so I had to disappoint him, but he didn’t give up¬†that easily. He asked instead about my faded, old¬†T-shirt. I tried to convince him that he didn’t really want it, but he did, and since I was far less attached to¬†my worn-out¬†T-shirt than I am to my shorts, I didn’t mind trading it for a bright red¬†soccer jersey. I definitely think I got the¬†better deal, especially since it’s an Arema jersey,¬†my area’s favorite team.

After the trade, I set off again. I walked along the route of my last long run and chatted with a family for 10 minutes in front of their house. I enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery my site has to offer. Then I entered uncharted territory. I took a new road that might as well have led back in time. Village is almost the wrong word to describe the houses I found scattered throughout the woods and rice paddies. People there were a bit more suspicious of me, too, but I know the Javanese magic word, so I was allowed passage.

Finally,¬†I left the woods and began¬†to see denser collections of houses as well as stores again. Along the way, a man on a motorcycle looked at me and put his cupped hand to his lips, the universal sign for drinking. This was an invitation to have a cup of coffee at his house, which wasn’t far away. The woman on the back of the motorcycle jumped off and led me there on foot. A sip and a half into my coffee, I was told it was time to eat. I was handed a plate and told to help myself. I took some rice (but not enough, apparently), some cooked young jackfruit, a fried egg and some spicy green chili sauce. A visiting nephew joined me in my meal, for which I was grateful. I don’t especially like when offers of food turn into bule feeding (and watching) time at Mr. Liam’s Traveling Circus.

After¬†about a dozen¬†invitations to take¬†seconds and a dozen assurances that I was already full, I returned to the parlor. More family members had sprouted out of nowhere. We had a good chat about why people, who live and work in one place for two years, aren’t¬†really tourists, even if their skin is white. We talked about what¬†we do and don’t have in the US, a favorite topic of Indonesians. They¬†always try to stump me with different fruits, vegetables and snacks. “Do you have snake fruit in the US? Cassava chips? Corn?” I tell them that a lot of things like snake fruit¬†aren’t grown in the US, but that they can be found. I tell them that the US is a country of immigrants, who often¬†bring their favorite kinds of food with them. After the interview and after a few photos, I took my leave.

I love my long walks,¬†even if most Indonesians don’t understand why. I might not know where I am or where I’m going, but I’ve rarely felt less lost.


*I know…I still have to write about my move.