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Installing new language-learning clubs at Phang Heng Secondary School: “ABC Club” and “English Games Club”

Before we came to Laos we – Laura Jakob and Tanja Wintrich – had already discussed with our predecessors David and Anika from Team III what activities were offered for the pupils at Phang Heng Secondary School and how we could improve them, as David and Anika’s focus had been on installing a new “Didactics Room” for the teachers. We decided that we wanted to introduce two more “Activities” or “Clubs” to the Conversation Club already in existence. The English Conversation Club (ECC) is for pupils who already speak in English and want to improve this skill.

We added a new ABC Club (“ABCC”) for weaker pupils, in which we wanted to keep the level as simple as possible and to (re-)introduce the Latin alphabet as a few students are actually illiterate in the Latin alphabet and some even in Lao. Or they still struggle when they write the Latin alphabet. Often they would add some pretty Lao twirls to the letters or write in a very – what seemed to us – complicated manner as they tried to use the same manner of writing as they would in Lao.

We also added a new English Games Club (“EGC”), which is meant for all (but mostly intermediate pupils), in which we focused on playful learning of the English language, similar to the Conversation Club but made easier by the pre-formulated structure of games. When we first started our new “Activities” – these are voluntary activities pupils can attend from 3-4 before school ends – we had a bit of a struggle to get the pupils we wanted to come to actually come.  It was hard for us to get our point across because the students couldn’t read our ABC Club poster, for example. (Case in point!) History teacher Saysamone, who can communicate well in English, then helped us out by making an announcement and explaining the point of the new clubs in Lao to the pupils. From then on we mostly had the students that we wanted in the right clubs.

In the ABC Club we focused on the correct writing of the Latin letters and introduced words starting with those letters to them. Afterwards the pupils had to pronounce and repeat the words so they would get familiar with the right pronunciation. At the end we always included little games to make the learning process more fun – we created our own “ABC-Memory,” for instance, and showed them how to play it as it was a totally new game for them. When all cards lie face down, it is one player’s turn to start the game: He/She turns over one card and tries to find the matching one. In the original version of the game, this would be an identical picture. In our adaptation for English language-learning purposes, one card shows the picture and the other one the written English word to match. To find the matching card, the player flips over another card. If the pupil was successful at making a match, he or she says “I’ve got a pair, this is a [xyz]” and can put the matching pair into his or her stack of pairs. Then they he/she can go one more time (“my turn again”). If not, the player pronounces the two different words (“this is not a pair: I have a [xyz] and a [xyz]”) and both cards are turned back over face-down – but now the attentive players know for the next round what is on those two cards! When all the cards have been collected the pupils get to count all their pairs (aloud and in English). The one who has the biggest pile of pairs is the winner (“I’ve got 10 pairs!”). This game requires observation, concentration, and a good visual memory. Therefore, pre-school or primary school children normally beat the adults at this game.

For the advanced children in the ECC we tried to include more difficult tasks, for example when we prepared a lesson about giving directions. We built up a parcour in the classroom with obstacles they had to pass while one of them would be blindfolded. Another person would have to give them correct instructions so they would not bump into things.

Later we noticed that Lao people are exceptionally unreliable when it comes to giving directions or finding their own way to a new place – even tuktuk drivers. We often were taken or sent to the wrong places whilst people swore blind they knew exactly where you wanted to be. The average person did not need to go anywhere unknown for centuries here – this is not a nation of explorers or travellers (yet)!

In the EGC we once organized a scavenger hunt, which they liked very much. The game is usually played outdoors, but as we did not want to attract a huge group of pupils we organized it indoors in one of the classrooms. In this game the pupils play as a team and have to find and collect a number of miscellaneous objects by following (English) directions correctly – in our case they had to find little cards with pictures and the correct English word on it. We also use this game for children’s birthday parties at home where the aim is quite the same. It allows children to be creative, communicative, and interactive whilst solving a mysterious “problem”. There a several ways to play this game, for instance one can hide a little treasure for the children at the last “station”. To get there, they have to use the written notes with hints, which are to be discovered one after the other, and also their imagination. Our Lao pupils always had lots of fun with such stimulating activities. It also helped us to get more involved with the children and learn about their interests. They had so much fun in the end that they kept looking for the little cards for weeks to come! 

Another highlight for them was the card game UNO. It is an American game which is very popular among families in Germany and of course in other countries of the world. The point of the game is quite the opposite of Memory – to win, you need to get rid of all your cards by matching them with the first one on the central stack.

We had to split up the class into two groups at this point as this Club was becoming quite popular – and therefore crowded. The children learn the English words for colors and numbers as they have to match their cards by either one of them. They also learn to use phrases like “it’s your turn”, “I would like the color [xyz]” and “I changed the direction”. When the children have only one card left in their hand they have to shout out “UNO” so the other players know that this person is about to win. The one who is first completely out of cards wins the game. This four-colored card game is simple to learn, but strategizing and thinking ahead is a big part of being successful. We had lots of fun introducing this game to them as we saw how much they liked playing it, and as conversing in English about the game was a necessity it developed quite naturally.

We appreciated that we were given the opportunity to decide so freely on how we would like to structure our Activity time with the children. They enjoyed this time with us in the afternoon tremendously and were very grateful to us for being with them and teaching them about new games and most importantly the English language in a playful and fun way. Apart from this being quite a treat for any teacher, this is probably a double-treat for a German secondary school teacher, who is not normally used to appreciation in such enormous, generous quantities.

Text by Laura Jakob & Tanja Wintrich

Photos and video by Laura Jakob & Isabel Martin

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