Korean Students Speak

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December 13, 2012 by travelinggrits

If you could say anything to the world, what would you say?

After their end-of-term tests for middle school, my third graders had several weeks before their province-wide entrance exam for high school. Many of their other classes were spent in intense review of all the material they learned over the past three years. It was difficult to keep them motivated without any real incentive to continue learning in my class.

So rather than teach them new topics, I wanted them to apply English as a means of reflection and expression as they prepared to move on to high school.

I started by having them create bucket lists, writing their plans for the future with “I hope to,” “I want to,” or “I plan to” statements. Responses varied from amusing (I hope to go a nightclub) to saddening (I plan to diet) to inspiring (I want to knuckle down and work hard).

This was a great warm-up activity for the following week, when my students took part in Korean Students Speak. This is an initiative started last year by a fellow Fulbrighter as a means for students to speak their minds about the Korean education system, politics, the future and the world around them. Students can choose to be photographed with a hand-written message for anonymous inclusion on the Korean Students Speak website. In a year’s time, the website has more than 10,000 followers, and middle and high school students across the nation are sharing their words of wisdom to the masses.

My lesson opened with a well-known quote from Ghandi: be the change you wish to see in the world. The students discussed how they could make a difference to solve problems from pollution to conflict between friends.

In light of the upcoming Korean presidential election, I told them: even though you can’t vote yet, you have a voice. And your voice is power. You can use it to send a message to the world. 

If you could say anything to the world, what would you say? 

I laid a blank sheet of paper and a thick marker before each student, and the magic began. Many sat for several minutes, intently studying the paper as if the words might rise from desk below. I got nervous. But it was just like waiting for a cake in the oven—it takes time for it to be ready, and you can’t rush the process. After some deliberation, my students carefully uncapped their pens and began to write.

I was amazed by their enthusiasm for the task. Not all wanted to be photographed, but I tried to encourage even the shyest ones by praising the content of their messages. Some students simply wrote Christmas greetings, but others wrote incredibly emphatic proclamations about everything from Japan’s overbearing influence to how to solve school violence. Others wrote encouraging directives to value one’s self-worth and keep one’s head held high despite life’s challenges. The spelling and grammar wasn’t always perfect, but that wasn’t the point. Several did seek perfection, asking for new sheets and second takes of their pictures.

The lesson was a great reminder to me that even if the depth of my conversation with my students is often limited by their English abilities, they still have ideas and feelings that are valuable below the surface.

If you could say anything to the world, what would you say?

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