Teaching Abroad – Two fun games

Hello everyone!

This past month has been such a super busy month working with many volunteers! Hopefully one day YOU will join us also! (check out our Wat Doi Saket project) We had volunteers from Australia, England, Canada, Germany, Lithuania and USA. They all taught at different locations, and they all wanted to know about games for the classroom. So, I am sharing a few that were super fun here with Thai students.


This game is great for practicing Yes/No questions with the verb ‘to be’ in present simple.

Think of a category: fruits, places, countries, people….

  • Pick one student to stand facing the classroom with his/her back to the board.
  • Write a word from the chosen category, for example: banana.
  • He is now a ‘banana’, but he does not know.
  • The student standing in front of the class has to ask at least 10 questions to guess what he is.
  • Questions have to be yes/no questions only. Am I big? Am I red? Am I gooey? etc.
  • The class can only reply with YES or NO.
  • The student gets 3 opportunities to guess what he is by asking: Am I a watermelon?

You can make variations to the game, like giving certain amount of minutes to make as many questions as possible or choosing from a vocabulary list that you have been working with in class. You can even make teams and keep score.


This game is super fun to play as a warm up to get the students to feel comfortable speaking in English. It is also a good way to practice asking the correct format for asking yes/no questions. (You can use simple present, past or future, if the class is a beginning level I suggest you keep it in simple present unless using the game to practice a particular tense)

  • Pick one student to sit on a chair in front of the class.
  • The class gets to ask any questions they want, but must be in a YES/NO format, funny questions: Such as: Do you like to eat potato chips with your feet? Do you pick your nose with a fork? Do you eat worms?
  • The student in front of the class cannot say anything but BANANAS!
  • The object of the game is to make the student laugh! If he laughs, then the student who made the question gets to go in front of the class and try to go as long as possible without laughing.

This game sounds simple but trust me when I say: students laugh much sooner than you would anticipate.

Here are a few shots of our volunteers using these fun games in the classroom. I hope you get to try them one day and share your experiences.

josh teaching peter teach

If you have any suggestions or questions about anything relating to ESL, leave me a message and I will happily respond!

Chok Dee Kah! (good luck in Thai)

Be well!

Marcia Somellera, ESL coordinator




Photography Corner: One year in Thailand

Katherine Devine was an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA from August 2012 – 2013. Below are photos from her year in Northern Thailand!




Photography by: Katherine Devine



A cold rainy summer in Pa Pae

Summer has passed half way and these past 2 weeks, I’ve taken some time to visit my family back in Vietnam. Last week as I accompanied two friends – Tony and his sister Lily – back to Pa Pae village, it felt like coming back to my hometown. People recognized and smiled at me. And I became the host for my friends, taking them around, showing them places and introducing them to others.

The children that I met and the time I spent with them was definitely what I’ve missed the most. A group of fourth-grade students welcomed me back with words like “Teacher, we’ve missed you” or “Teacher, do you bring us gifts from you country?” During weekends they would knock on the door and drag my lazy bump out so that we could begin our adventure around the village. It is incredible to see how eager these children are. All of them are sweet, nice and do have very polite, respectful attitude which provides a comfortable environment for teaching and living.


Village kids in traditional Lawa costumes

I remember at first, the idea of watching little children worried me a little bit, just because I’ve had very minimal experience taking care of kids. The children would start fighting, and playing in class, over and over again. Yet, as time went on, they noticed that there was a much older person in the room, a person that could guide them and help them. Some kids began to calm down and pay more attention to what I said. Some even tried to make conversation with me. As they began to look for me more often, I decided to instigate some activities that the kids and I could participate in together. Over the weekends, we ventured out onto the temple or playground and talked in mixed language – Thai, English and hand gestures. The boys are more shy standing next to me or making conversation than the girls. But they do have their own way of expressing their eagerness, by climbing up the trees and picking down the fruits for everyone to share.


Teachers and students carry the candle up to the temple

With their tremendous help and presence this time, we took our friends to all the popular spots and shot some good footage for a marketing video for Atma Seva. The weather has gotten even cooler and rice fields have all grown to full extent in beautiful green color. We were back in time for another festival – the Buddhist Lent Day or “Khao Phansa Day”, which could be translated as “the entering of the rainy season”. It marks the beginning of three lunar months when monks are required to remain in one particular place or temple. This tradition originates from old times when Buddha stayed in temples during the rainy season to avoid killing insects or harming the growing seeds. It is a period for study, meditation and teaching of new monks. The monks are allowed to go out during the day but they must sleep in the same temple every night during these three months.


Khao Phansa Day ceremony at the temple

Upon preparation for this day, the kids helped teachers decorate a large yellow candle with flowers on a big bamboo draft, which would later be presented to the monks. This candle is big enough to last for 3 months! Around 8:30 in the morning, everyone gathered in the schoolyard for the flag ceremony. Instead of traditional Lawa costumes, kids showed up all in white shirts for this special Friday. Everyone made small donations in an envelope and put it next to the candle. They then proceeded to stand in lines, following the teachers and older kids who carried the candle and we all marched up to the temple. Here we sat in the big bright hall, listening to the monks’ teachings and paid our respects with kowtow gestures. Although I didn’t understand any words, seeing others’ faces made it clear how important this event was for them. They all wish for a prosperous rainy season so they could have enough rice and food for another year.


Female teachers and volunteers after the ceremony

As the ceremony came to an end, we also said goodbye to Tony and Lily. They have finished their short but fully exciting trip and hopefully through the images they brought back to share with others, we could look forward to having more and more people knowing about Pa Pae and coming to help while experiencing the warmth and beauty of this mountain village.

Trang Nguyen, on-site intern



Teaching Abroad: Back to Back English Camps

Recently, the ATMA SEVA team and our volunteers conducted a series of three English camps in five days at three of our partner schools. Each camp was centered around a different theme, following topics the students have been focusing on with each volunteer. The camps are a great way for the students to practice their English conversation in a fun and dynamic way and a chance to speak with many different English speakers. It was also a great chance for us to try out new games, learn more about the students at each school and have a better presence at each location.

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Packing list game!

Our first camp was held at Bapong School in Doi Saket district. We decided to teach about different English speaking countries around the world with a theme we called, “Passport to English”. We focused on seven different English-speaking countries, including countries that our volunteers and interns are originally from. The students were broken into groups by country, created their own passports with their country with the national flag, information about themselves, and had blank pages for the “visas” from other countries. From there the students rotated between country stations to play a game or activity at each station. The Station games included: song word grab in America, matching animals in Australia, pizza making in Italy, matching sentences in England, teaching a song in France, scavenger hunt in India and a navigation game in a “fake city” in the Netherlands.  The group leaders asked for the passports at each station and wrote a phrase or drew a picture as the “visa stamp” for each country. The students enjoyed going on the tour around the world and were excited to show their passports at every station! For the second day, we created activities around a packing list of 27 items that could easily be found at home. (Ex: t-shirt, toothbrush, wallet, batteries, etc.) First we introduced all the items as a group, demonstrating their use and had the students repeat the words out loud. Next we broke back up into our country groups and each group leader took a few items with them to review using the phrase “What is this?” “It’s a ….” The group leaders then rotated to each station with their items so that each team had practice repeating all the objects using the sentences. To review all the items, we played a racing packing game. We collected all the passports from the students to call out random names, and had 2 students come up the front. There we had a table with all 27 items laid out and 2 shopping bags for them to fill. One person wrote 2 lists of 5 items on the whiteboard, while another volunteer kept the lists covered until the race began. When we said go, the students had to look at their “Packing List”, grab the 5 items and pack their bags as fast as they can. The students enjoyed the competition and were excited to help their friends by calling out the items and pointing to them on the table. This game is recommended for a large group to review vocabulary. After lunch in the afternoon we played a series of group competition games with a game called Who’s the Best (see Wiang Hang) and relay races.

EN 5

Birds in the nest game

EN 4

Group work

For our second camp we went to Pagnew School, another partner school in Doi Saket district. For a one-day camp, we decided to focus on “Body Parts” and played games and activities relating to naming parts of the body.  After an opening group game of Birds in the Nest, we reviewed parts of the body using Antoine as a human prop and having the students place labeled post it notes with the correct words on it on him! It was a bit windy that day so some of the post it notes fell off but it was a good way to place words and body parts together with a silly game and visuals. From there we split the kids up into groups by picking different body parts out a hat; the student had to find their match and get into groups. Each group went over the body parts by drawing their own people and labeling the body. This was also a good chance to go over numbers and colors with the kids. In the afternoon, we broke the students up into two groups and played a round of Simon Says and sang “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and the “Hokey Pokey”! Even though they are simple games, the classics are still a great way to learn! After, we did a few rounds of “Body English” spelling body parts with their bodies! Then we had Relay races with a twist: the kids run to us and we point to a body part and they say the word before running back to their teams. Run, jump on one foot, dance, run like a monkey, were all fun relays. We ended the day with a big group game of freeze tag just for fun!

En 3

Students with their certificates

EN 2

Reviewing vocab and new sentences

To finish out the week of camps, we headed up north to Wiang Haeng, where on-site intern Maria has been living and teaching for the last three months. There we had two days of activities and fun games to play with the students, however this camp was not focused on one particular theme, instead we played games to practice and drill vocabulary that the novices knew already but needed to practice. Since we had a large group of English speakers with us, we began by introducing ourselves, go over names and have the students repeat. Then to practice speaking, we split the students up into two teams, lined up next to each other and the volunteers stand in a semicircle across from the two lines. The first students in line run to a volunteer at each end of the semicircle and have to run to each in the circle and say their names correctly before the other student on the other team. After names, each volunteer had a vocabulary card that we went over related to questions in basic conversation, such as “birthday”, “sport” and “favorite”. The students enjoyed the competition aspect of the game and practicing the vocabulary in a fast paced game. After the game, we split the students up into small groups to practice conversation questions one on one with the volunteers. The students practiced basic questions like “What is your favorite sport?” and harder questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What DON’T you like?”. The small groups were a good chance for the students to hear the volunteers ask the questions multiple times and to practice asking and answering questions in conversation. The next day we only had a short time in the morning before making the drive back to Chiang Mai, so we played another few rounds of Who’s the Best, and the same relay races we played with the last school.

EN 1

Group work

Thank you to all the schools and volunteers who helped to put on a great series of camps! If you have any specific questions about games and activities or more tips for putting on your own camp, leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine



Wat Doi Saket project – Eat, Pray, Love, Give

I found ATMA SEVA by chance online, and now I’m in Chiang Mai for 2 months, helping to teach English to young novice monks at Wat Pranon Bagatee in Saraphi.

I arrived on a Wednesday morning, and had my first lesson the next day! I was excited with thousands of butterflies in my stomach at the same time, but with the forwardness, constant smiles and support from everyone I was slowly but surely beginning to feel at ease.

The novice monks were eager to meet the new teacher from London as I was to meet them all, and there are some great characters! It feels like the lessons are full of smiles with a bubbly atmosphere, especially when games are involved!

I had my first lunch with all the students, the monks and other teachers, as well as the few dogs and cats around! But before lunch there’s always a chanting of thanks, which completely moved me to my very soul the first time I heard it. It was all overwhelmingly beautiful, the temple, the kindness, the peace and serenity of it all, I shall never forget those first feelings.

20130712_08061120130712_100101Aside from the teaching, there’s all the exploring of Chiang Mai, with the incredible history and the fact that there are more than 300 wats in this region, as well as hill tribes, mountainous national parks, hot springs, caves and plenty of markets with unlimited food stalls everywhere. It is almost impossible to go hungry!

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One of the things I personally adore is the fact that you can smile at a stranger, and in return get a great smile! This is afterall, the land of smiles, and what a great place to be!

I have now almost been in Saraphi for a week, and it already feels like I have been here longer. Everyone from the other volunteers, the teachers, and the novice monks have made me feel so welcomed and part of the team, the sense of community and togetherness is wonderfully gracious and humbling. I’m eager for each and every day, with so much to do, see and feel, it makes me think these next two months will go by too quickly for my liking!

Getting to know the students and helping them in lessons is very interesting, even just walking around the temple between lessons I will hear “hello teacher” followed by a big beaming cheeky smile!

I found it hard to imagine what it would be like here in Chiang Mai, and now that I’m here, I understand why I couldn’t imagine much, nothing could have prepared me for the genuine kindness and care from everybody here, not just for me, but for each other, everybody helps everybody. 


Victoria Castro



First experience with English camps!

The past five days, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some English camps as part of my trip to Chiang Mai this summer. I am a seventeen year old senior at Phoenix Country Day School in Phoenix, Arizona. So far in my high school career, I haven’t had formal teaching experience. However in India, over the summer, I taught a group of about fifteen children of migrant construction workers who were impoverished basic English and Math. But now in Thailand, I participated (and occasionally even led) in three different English camps in five days. Three of the days were spent at two different government schools just outside of Chiang Mai. The other two days we traveled to a Dhamma center, in Wiang Haeng, with all the other ATMA SEVA volunteers.

Raghav teaching 1

This is me teaching about body parts

As I had mentioned before, I’ve never been a part of an English camp or any thing similar. Initially, because of this, it was hard to visualize what it would be like. The other volunteers and I were pretty well prepared for our first one with a theme and a game plan for the whole day. I wasn’t too nervous because of this but by the time we got there, it started to kick in that we would be teaching a pretty large group of kids. I haven’t been too good with speaking in front of large audiences so it was intimidating to be in front of a group of almost fifty kids that would be participating. At first, even introducing myself was scary in front of so many watching eyes (having a name that’s a bit hard to pronounce didn’t help). After some initial introductions, we broke into small groups. This was really awesome because I had a smaller group to get to know and do some activities with. From these, I realized that the kids were just happy about getting an opportunity to learn, and they didn’t care too much about how well we did it or whether we made a few mistakes or not. After rotating groups and spending time with the kids, I got a lot more comfortable with the bigger group because I knew everybody, and all of the students had learned my name. Now, I was even able to lead the group for some activities. The following camps went a lot smoother for me after the first experience because I could picture what the camp would be like and all the kids and teachers of the schools we went to were extremely friendly and excited to learn and get to know the volunteers.

Raghav teaching 2

Simon says!

Raghav teaching 3

Small group work with the monks

If I could make suggestions for other people going to their first English camp I would first and foremost say that one should remember that even if you don’t feel completely ready or nervous that these kids are super excited to learn and to practice speaking English with you. Its natural to feel a little nervous but just remember that the kids are probably more nervous talking to you, and once they open up it’s really a blast to spend time with them. Finally, the best part is the satisfaction of when you see the improvement in the time they were with you and to see how excited they are to have learned from you.

Wiang Haeng English camp

Group shot after our final English camp in Wiang Haeng!

If you have the opportunity to participate in any kind of English camp, I would definitely do it. This was my first experience, and I had a blast teaching the kids and participating in various activities. You may feel a bit nervous or intimidated at first, but, by the end of it, you’ll wish you could do it every day!

Click here to read my first blog entry about the golden triangle and don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook

written by: Raghav Agarwal



Teaching Abroad – Pronunciation

Pronunciation. It’s one of the biggest challenges for any English learner, and it is a difficult area to teach. Here we have put together some ideas to help English teachers take on these challenges (or at least start to chip away at them).

Here is one exercise that helps you practice differentiating sounds in English by using minimal pairs (for example the difference between /r/ and /l/ in “rice” and “lice”). This activity has been adapted to reflect sounds that Thai-speakers often struggle with, but feel free to adjust the exercises to reflect the nationalities of your students and/or words they have been struggling with pronouncing correctly. This exercise does a nice job of including the “target sound” at the beginning, middle, and end of words to make sure they get plenty of exposure and practice.

One of the keys to learning to accurately pronounce any language is to watch the speaker’s mouth. It can be a bit awkward to do this at times, however, it can make a world of difference. As an English teacher, it is also important for us to be aware of how you shape your lips and tongue in order to accurately explain to your students how to replicate your pronunciation. Prior to class, take note of these subtle differences of how your tongue curves, where it rests in your mouth, and how your breath flows over it.

For example, the difference between the /sh/ and /ch/ (also denoted as / ʃ /and /t ʃ / ) is particularly challenging for students. It is helpful to start by teaching students the classic librarian “Shhhhhh!” motion and asking them to repeat after you. You then introduce the /ch/ sound by having them repeat “Atchooo!” (sneezing sound) or “Choo, choo!” (train sound). You may also think of other words they may have in their language (i.e., in Thai, they use cho, chang” for elephant, which makes a “ch” sound).

In order to make the /sh/ or / ʃ / sound you must pucker your lips and curl the tip of your tongue slightly, without touching the roof of your mouth like this:


In order to make the /ch/ or / / sound, however, you let your lips relax. Then you touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth as if you are going to make a /t/ sound. You quickly move the tip of your tongue forward like this:


If you were to hold your hand close to your mouth, you can also feel how the air coming out of your mouth hits different parts of your hand:

The /ch/ will feel like a short burst of air hitting the upper-middle part of your palm whereas the /sh/ will feel like a sweeping breath moving down your palm.

Pronunciation - hand

Here we’ve put together some other resources to help you in the classroom:

American English pronunciation. Videos do a great job of explaining how you should move your lips, tongue and breath, as well as intonation and word stress.
Website includes audio and video.

British and American English pronunciation. Various resources, videos, games, worksheets and other resources to practice pronunciation.
Website includes audio and video.

British English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced and hear how to accurately pronounce it.
Website includes audio.

British and American English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced (also includes the definition). You can switch between American and English pronunciations to hear the differences.
Website includes audio.

American English pronunciation. Type in the word you would like to hear pronounced (also includes translation and audio for other languages).
Website includes audio.

Includes games to interactively practice pronunciation.
Website includes audio.

List of additional minimal pairs to practice pronunciation, including vowels and consonants. Website includes audio.

Great website for children’s classes. This website allows you to create your own flashcards, bingo games, and worksheets depending on the sounds you would like your students to practice and the vocabulary you would like to cover. Practice long and short vowels, consonant pairs, first, middle and last sounds, as well as blending. Also great for letter recognition for elementary level students.

We hope these resources have been helpful. Check back here for other ideas and resources as we will continue posting other resources and classroom ideas in the Teaching Abroad section of our blog.

The ATMA SEVA team