More Fun Teaching Moments (And a brief tangent about animals in my village)

For me, the best part of training has been the time spent learning how to teach English in a Ukrainian school. I like my students, and even enjoy lesson planning for the most part. The lack of resources is slightly frustrating, especially when I think of how much time printers save ; ) I think I might invest in one when I go to my permanent site—Merry Christmas to me! Haha, its either that or buy myself a pet, and I think I might have to do that to save my sanity.

I have made a four-legged friend in Kolychivka though, who answers to the name of Rufus. Well, at least he answers to it when we call him that! The name was Andrew’s idea, and it seems to fit him. Rufus is a stray dog that randomly escorts us to school, and sometimes we see him seeing outside of the school letting the little kids pet him. He looks like a German Shepherd mutt, and he has such a sweet temperament. If I had my own place, he would be adopted today : ) But here in Ukraine, dogs are not considered pets the same way as they are in the US… here, when dogs are pets they are tied to a 4 foot chain in the yard and serve as home alarms. Most dogs don’t even get that; most wander the streets as strays. I showed Anya (my host mother) pictures of Leo and Sophie sitting on the couch, and she gasped “They live in the house?!” I tried not to laugh, and I explained that they come and go as they please. I can’t imagine what she’d say if I told her that Leo loves air conditioning and the Sophie’s very favorite thing in the world is going for car rides. I don’t think dogs would ever be allowed to ride in a car in Ukraine. So I decided to keep the extent of my dogs’ spoiling a secret ; )

In my little village, animals are kept for their usefulness. So many people have chickens, rabbits, pigs, and cows. The cow population here is quite large, and the cows seem to have a lot of freedom. In the morning, their owners walk them to the fields across the street, where there is a collective pasture that any cow can graze in for the day. Then around five o’clock everyone stands in the “voolitzias” (roads), and somebody opens the gate to the pasture and all the cows cross the street and go to their homes. I have no idea how the cows know where they live, but they seem to find their way home just fine. Sometimes they stop and graze on the way, so it takes a while for them to all get out of the road. I think its funny to watch, because it can cause a backup in traffic while the cars wait for the cows to get out of the way. Instead of a “Deer Crossing” sign like we have in America, Kolychivka needs a “Cow Crossing” sign. It makes me jealous sometimes when I’m sitting in language class and we hear the cows wandering home but still have two hours of class left : P

Okay, I’m done with the animal tangent. Back to what I wanted to tell you about—the best parts of teaching English here : )

This week Andrew and I taught a lesson to the fifth grade about school vocabulary, with vocabulary words such as school subjects and school locations. The only problem is that the national curriculum in Ukraine teaches British English, which is completely foreign to me as an American. You may think I’m over exaggerating, but I swear that I have never heard of some of the words that I have to teach now. For example: canteen. When I think of this word, I think of a flask for water that you take camping or that soldiers use. In the textbook I’m teaching out of, a canteen refers to a cafeteria. If you asked an American student, “where’s the canteen” at school, I’m sure you’d get a puzzled look. Also different; British English calls “math” maths (yes, with an “s” on the end) and “gym class” PT lesson (meaning, physical training lesson). And I can’t just skip teaching these words, because my students need to know them in order to do the homework! So that’s mildly frustrating. But as I was making the vocabulary list of new words to teach in English and their Ukrainian counterparts, I realized that several of the words were cognates (meaning they sound the same in both languages). For example, Math in Ukrainian = математика (Matematika), and History = історія (istoria). So I knew these words would be easy for the students to learn, as they sound so similar.

Usually we begin our lesson with introducing new vocabulary words, and then do some kind of activity to reinforce the new words and help the students practice saying them. The night before our lesson I was making the vocabulary flash cards for class the next day, and I thought of the game “Memory” where students have to remember where the words are in order to make a match. So I planned on introducing the words in Ukrainian and English, and then taping the words to the board with the word facing the board so the students couldn’t see them. Then the students would have to come up to the board and flip two words over and read them out loud. If the words matched (meaning, if they had both the English and the Ukrainian form of the same word) they got to keep the pair. If not, the words had to be turned back over so they couldn’t be seen, and another kid got to come up and try. On the way to school, I ran the game past Andrew to see if he would mind deviating from our original lesson plan, and he thought it sounded fine. (Andrew’s really easy going, I got lucky having him assigned as my teaching partner!)

So the lesson started as usual, and we introduced the new words. The hardest words for Ukrainian students are the words with the “th” sound (like in the and with), because there is no corresponding sound in Ukrainian. So the word “Math” was tricky for them, and I had them practice putting their tongue between their teeth as they said it. They looked at me like I was crazy, but after the twentieth time trying it, it sounded more “math” and less like “maz.” Oh the little successes : ) After they said all the words correctly, I explained the Memory game and showed them how to do it by flipping over two vocabulary cards, saying both, and seeing if they matched. They got the hang of it very quickly, and soon they were volunteering to come up and try instead of looking scared when we called on them. As more matches were made and there were fewer words on the board, almost every kid had his (or her) hand raised and wanted to come up and try. One kid in the front row was almost falling out of his chair to be called on, and I think it was the most enthusiasm I had seen from so many of them at once! It was a huge success and I’m glad we incorporated it. I’ll definitely use it again seeing how well received it was : )

Another activity that Ukrainian kids love is called “Word Swattor.” Our language teacher Natalia used it with us in our Ukrainian language lessons, so I know it works with any age. Either that, or us Peace Corps trainees are just very young at heart and enjoy kid games to learn vocabulary! ; ) Here’s the gist: you take the vocabulary words and spread them face up on a desk and have all the students crowd around it. Then the teacher says a word, and all the students quickly try to grab the right word. Whoever grabs it first gets to keep it! And it’s good because you have to use your listening and reading skills at the same time to make the connection between the word and its written form. I observed a lesson by a fellow Peace Corps trainee (Tammela) who used “Word Swattor” with her eighth grade class, and it was a huge hit with them. So when Andrew and I were lesson planning for another lesson, he suggested using “Word Swattor” too and I agreed. We have 12 students in the fifth form (grade), so we made two sets of vocabulary cards, and we split the class up and he played with half and I played with the other half. The fifth graders were crazy about it, and the little boys got so excited that they had their hands up and hovering over the words while I tried to read them. Andrew had his group keep their hands on the edge of the desks until he said the word, which was smart. After the kids got the hang of it, I started saying the word in Ukrainian, and the students had to snatch the English equivalent. It made it more challenging, but this way they had to stop and think instead of just make mad grabs for whatever looked right. I love that I get to teach kids young enough to play games like this; it makes class so much more fun! Although I wouldn’t mind teaching some higher grades that can study more in-depth topics… maybe at my permanent site I’ll get to teach a variety of grades. I would love to be able to do English literature and country studies of different places that speak English (US, Great Britain, Australia, etc). I hope this is the case : )

That’s all for now, but I found out that I’m able to get mail during training! Just flat envelopes (as in letters or cards)—no packages. So if you’re feeling inspired, send me some snail mail! Here’s the address:

U.S. Peace Corps/Ukraine
PCV Kathryn Baus, Group 39
111A Saksahanskoho Street 01032


One thought on “More Fun Teaching Moments (And a brief tangent about animals in my village)

  1. Elaine says:

    I laughed out loud thinking how spoiled our big puppies are! I also love thinking about the cows going home.

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