Not Your Average Kindergarten
When I started teaching over a year ago, I didn’t know very much about the working culture and educational culture in Korea. When I first started at iGarten, I was really surprised by the amount of workbooks and worksheets kindergarten students had to complete every month.
Kindergarten in Korea is very different than my experience going to kindergarten in America. I remember having naptime, lots of toys and games in the classroom, and many days where we had extra recess time since it was nice outside. Educational culture is very different in Korea, from a young age there are high expectations. The school I teach at has no naps (we teach kids international age 3-8), no toys in the classroom, and has a very structured schedule with 7 classes a day – 90% of which are focused on books or worksheets.
There are pros and cons to any educational culture, but I’ve been really impressed with how quickly my students learn and how motivated they are to do well! That being said, there are some days when students are tired, don’t feel well, or just have a hard time focusing. It’s good to have reward systems in place that motivate the kids and build their self confidence! Instead of giving students candy as a reward or motivator, here are a couple classroom management strategies that have worked well for me and my students!
Green, Yellow, Red
This is a really simple system which is easy to make and use – kids understand it even if they don’t know much English. With my class, if a student isn’t listening well or isn’t following directions etc. I first give them a warning and a chance to stop what they are doing and focus. If this doesn’t work I’ll change them from green to yellow (I use velcro stickers on the back of the faces), if distracting/destructive behavior persists I’ll change them from yellow to red and give a final warning before the Korean coteacher will take them outside the classroom to discuss the issue. When they are on yellow or red I encourage them to do well for the rest of the class so I can change them back to green! This method works well for behavior management and I mostly used it the first few months I taught my class. Now they know what my expectations are and it’s very rare for someone to change from green to yellow or red!
(Pictured below – you can see examples of my green smiley faces and brag tags!)
My kids really love these! On one wall in my classroom I have a list of my students names, next to their name a Velcro sticker. I have brag tags for several different things – you can find lots of printables online! For my class I use 5 different brag tags: Best Handwriting, Super Speller, Super Reader, Kind to Others, and I’m Responsible. If theres a lesson where the kids are struggling to focus or listen I pull out the brag tags and draw attention to the students that are doing well. This motivates the whole class because everyone wants something positive next to their name! This has especially helped my kids improve their handwriting and listening skills!
Reward Boards & Sticker Charts
I know many teachers use sticker charts, and I used to but I found it to be time consuming handing out stickers to each individual kid, and usually it only motivated students that were already doing well. Sticker charts work well with some students but I prefer to use a reward board that represents the whole class – instead of each individual child. That way the kids help motivate each other and are accountable for each other. The kids in my class all have expressed how much they love ice cream, so I created a reward board with the end goal of an ice cream party! My kids have to earn 50 rainbow stars for us to have an ice cream party. There isn’t a limit on how many stars they can earn in a day, but the stars are given sparingly – only when they are on their best behavior. Stars are given when they all participate, listen well, and work well together! My kids constantly talk about how many stars we have and how many we need. It’s a great visual reminder for them that hard work pays off and something for them to look forward to!
(Pictured below – the chart is quite big so that it is easy for the kids to see and be reminded of.)
Another way I motivate my kids is by assigning classroom “jobs” each day. Jobs such as line up leader and paper passer (for worksheets) are coveted positions in my class. Sometimes if we play a game, the winner will get to pick their job for the next day. Sometimes, if we have a tricky vocab word (one time it was protruding – a pretty difficult word for 6 year olds!) whoever can read it/sound it out correctly gets to pick their job. Other times, I’ll assign the jobs based on who was ready for class first thing in the morning. I make sure each kid gets to participate every week and my kids enjoy any added responsibility that sets them apart from their classmates.
(See below – a couple of examples of classroom jobs.)
Countdown From Ten
The last thing I use, which may not work with every class, is writing the numbers 1-10 on the board. If my kids won’t calm down, or are wasting classtime, I’ll slowly start to erase numbers on the board. This works well to get their attention and the kids will usually say things like, “Oh no! Now we only have eight numbers!” To tell their friends to pay attention. There’s no reward if no numbers are erased and no consequence if all the numbers are erased… but for some reason my kids really respond to this method and it’s a point of pride for them – we’ve never had a day where all ten numbers were erased!
I hope these classroom management methods work for you and your students! It’s so important to have reward systems in place other than instant gratification like candy. From teaching, I’ve learned that kids thrive in structured environments where they know what to expect. It’s always good to have things handy to motivate your students and show them you appreciate their hard work!
Monica Russo graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelors in Psychology and is from St. Louis, Missouri. After spending a couple years in social work she decided to move abroad to learn more about other cultures and to challenge herself to live outside her comfort zone. Moving abroad hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been worth it and Monica loves living in Busan, South Korea. She loves new experiences, hiking, exploring other cities and helping others any way that she can. Her philosophy with her students is work hard, play hard!