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

Photography Corner: Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is a small island in the gulf of Thailand, just beyond Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Nang on the western shores of the gulf. Also known as “turtle island”, Koh Tao is a tourist hot spot known for its amazing snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the island. The marine life and coral reefs are still surprisingly healthy despite the steady stream of people, and dive sites range from lush coral to looming rock formations and even a ship wreck. Whale sharks have even been known to make appearance around Sail Rock, a world class site for advanced divers. Although Koh Tao is close to the full moon parties on nearby Koh Samui, this island has a more relaxed vibe with people focused on outdoor sports like diving, hiking, rock climbing and biking. There are of course bars and good night life around Sairee beach, the largest stretch of beach and main hangout on the island, but the best parts of this island off of its shores.

Getting to Koh Tao is pretty easy but can be a lengthy trip depending on your budget. If you are short on time, there are flights into Ko Samui and Chumpon from Bangkok, which take only an hour but can cost considerably more. From there ferry services run to Koh Tao daily.  If your traveling on a budget like I was, I would recommend taking the bus from Bangkok down to Chumpon and then the ferry to the islands. I booked both my bus and ferry tickets in one package with Lomprayah, and the cost about evened out if I booked each separately. I would highly recommend them if you are looking for an easy reliable service! (

Once on the island there are dozens (if not hundreds!) of places to stay ranging from small hostels, to beach bungalows to 5-star resorts. I went to the island with no reservations and found a cheap little bungalows on the southern tip of the island for only 300 baht/ night. However if you are looking to travel during the high seasons I would definitely recommend booking ahead as little island paradise fills up fast. If you are looking to scuba dive, and you absolutely should be, there are dive shops all around the island where you can sign up for course for open water certification, advance your existing certification or just dive for fun in shallower waters with a guide. You can also just rent a snorkel and go out and explore for yourself!

Below are photos I took from my trip to Koh Tao in August. Unfortunately even with an underwater camera I wasn’t allowed to take the camera diving but I hope you can still get a sense of the beauty of the island. If you have any questions about traveling to Koh Tao please leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine

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.

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Birds in the nest game

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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!

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Students with their certificates

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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.

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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

Teaching Abroad: Thai Kindergarten

After nine months in Thailand volunteering and living on the cheap, I eventually found myself in need of some extra cash. So, like many other travelers and expats in Chiang Mai, I landed a part time teaching job at a language institute. But under one condition – I needed to be able to teach Kindergarten. Although I have had lots of experience with kids, from my elementary school experience in America and working with Atma Seva, teaching in a Thai Kindergarten has been quite an adventure! Controlling 30 four year olds is difficult enough, but with the added language and cultural barriers, and the schools focus on strict discipline, I had to learn pretty quickly to adjust to rules of the classroom. I am still learning every class but here are some tips I have picked up along the way!

Make lessons as visual as possible and use objects in the classroom. If you are teaching numbers, count crayons and toys in the room. Or better yet have the students count themselves. If you are teaching colors, make color cards and have the kids find objects and actually walk up to it and match the color card to the object. Even for days of the week, you can write out flash cards, hand them out to students and have them arrange themselves in order.  (*Hint! Only hand out cards to students sitting quietly- they will be excited to play and other students will pick up on the desired behavior.) Flashcards are helpful but be careful not to become reliant on them as the kids will be bored with them fast. Don’t worry so much about preparing too many materials or worksheets; the more you use objects they can see and touch, the more they understand how to incorporate language in everyday life.

Keep them busy and get them tired! If the kids are starting to get tired or zone out, get them up and moving. It might just need to be a stretch break, teaching body parts and classroom commands along the way (ex. stand up and stretch your arms up high!), or a teaching a dance that goes along with the vocabulary but the more they are active during class the more they are attentive and the more vocabulary they will retain. My kids can really only sit for about ten minutes tops before they are antsy and need to get up and move again, I try to plan for 5-10 minutes of instruction/ vocabulary/ flashcards followed by another 5-10 minutes of a group game. If you can teach the words with an action attached that is even better, so even when they are sitting they are still fully engaged.

Use media. Show a short video AFTER they are tired! You can repeat the video and have them sing along or stop the video to point out colors, numbers and vocabulary they might already know. If there is a dance or hand motions that go along with the video, teach the movements before hand, and then practice with the video 2 or 3 times. This is also something to be careful not be reliant on but mixed with other visuals, and games, songs and video are a great way to keep your students interested (and quiet!) and also to introduce new cultural references.

Recommended Video Sites:

Go slow and repeat, repeat, repeat. Begin each lesson using words they already know and build on previous lessons. If you are scheduled to teach days of the week and last class you did numbers, spend the first 5-10 minutes on the numbers review and then use the numbers to count the days of the week. Keep going back to repeat letters, numbers, colors and shapes, and point them out in books, videos, songs and throughout your next lessons.

Keep smiling! Like most of Thailand, when things go wrong it is so important to just keep smiling and stay positive the whole time. Especially for the young kids learning a new language, maintaining a positive attitude helps the students loosen up and feel more comfortable to speak English even when they are making mistakes. There always seems to be a “silent period” before the kids get to know you and start speaking, so the faster you can break them out of that the better.

Other helpful Websites for Kindergarten:

Katherine Devine 

Photography Corner – Wat Pa Pao

Wat Pa Pao is small Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, located just outside of the old city walls in the North West corner. Built in the late 19th century, the Wat is one of the main cultural and community centers for Shan people. Shan State is the largest state in Myanmar, located in the North East corner of the country, bordering Thailand. Also known as Tai Yai, there is a large population of Shan people living in Chiang Mai, many who have fled from civil war and human rights abuses. The temple shows remnants of Shan architecture, including level tiers above the pagoda instead of classic Thai points and Shan script written on the temple walls. To see another example of a Shan temple, check out our photography corner from Wat Ku Tao.

Wat Pa Pao got its name because it was built surrounded by a forest of “Pao trees”. “Pa” translates to “Forest” in Thai, and so it is the temple of the Pao Forest. The inside of the temple is only open to the public on Buddhist holidays and special ceremonies and festivals, including Poi Sanglong, where young Shan boys become ordained as novice monks in a extravagant event lasting a few days to one week.

The Wat Pa Pao Foundation to Support Education, Art and Culture was set up in collaboration with funding from the Japanese Embassy to create programs and run a school for Shan people and youth, including classes for novice monks. The school has over 180 students, and although the classes are conducted in Thai, the school supports Shan culture, history and language through a variety of other activities and events. The Foundation also works with the Thai Freedom House, a community learning center working with Burmese refugees. Through the “Hill Tribe Assistance Program” the Thai Freedom House places volunteers to teach language and skills classes at the Wat.

Katherine Devine, on-site intern

Gin Yut Yut! A Day at Thai Cooking School

Last week, we (on-site interns Katherine and Jamie) had the pleasure of attending a day-long Thai cooking class with The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School. For just 1000 B per person (roughly $30), we were picked up from just outside the ATMA SEVA office, taken to a market outside of the city to learn about the different ingredients we’d be using, and then shuttled over to a quaint farm well outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Chiang Mai.

The course was run by a very friendly, lively Thai woman named Pern (the r is mostly silent). She gave us a tour around the farm, showing us different fruit trees and herbs and letting us taste many of them. After our tour, the real fun began: making the food! Our adventures in cooking included five courses, with each consisting of three different options. Course #1 was a choice between green, red, or yellow curry. Given that their were three of us (one of Jamie’s friends from Canada came to visit for the weekend), we did our best to “divide and conquer,” each making a different option for each course. We learned to cook many Thai classics, like Tom Yum (the traditional hot and sour soup), chicken with basil, and everyone’s favorite, pad Thai!

The facilities were exceptionally clean, comfortable (well, as comfortable as you can be in 95 degree weather with fans… but the fans did help keep the air moving!) and spacious. Each student had his or her own cooking station. I’d have to say that the highlight of the day was when we got to enjoy the fruits of our labor… eating!

Our advice to anyone who opts for the Thai Farm Cooking School? Don’t forget they offer doggie bags to take your divine creations home- take advantage of these rather than stuffing yourself! We brought about half of the food we made back with us and had it later that evening for dinner. If you have any questions about our Thai cooking class experience, please leave us a comment below! Try not to get too hungry looking through our pictures 🙂

Katherine Devine and Jamie Shannon

Teaching Abroad – English Camp in Wiang Haeng!

Last weekend, the ATMA SEVA team took a trip up north to Wiang Hang to participate in a 3-day English camp for novice monks and set up our newest on-site intern Maria. The camp was held at Plekwiwek Dharma Center, a Buddhist center attached to Wat Kong Lom, that leads meditation retreats, hosts various camps and seminars, and teaches novice monks to grow and cook their own food, design and build houses and become leaders within their communities. The center is in a beautiful location with outstanding mountain views.

wiang haeng good view blog pic

View of Wiang Haeng from local temple.

The camp was organized and led by friends of ATMA SEVA, Yao and Lawrence, who had run a similar camp with the same students back in March. The theme of the English camp was “Community Helpers” and we played games, sang songs, and lead group activities all focused on people in the community and their job responsibilities. Here is quick overview of our schedule for the first 2 days:

  • 8:00 – 8:30 Orientation/ Breakfast (Choose names, make tags, name games and general introductions to camp. Second and third day made waffles!)
  • 8:30-10:15 Review of theme & new vocabulary (lots of singing and group games)
  • 10: 15 – 12:00 Cooking & lunch (Remember the monks cannot eat after 12!)
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Break
  • 12:30 – 2:30 Station Activities (Introduction to community helpers, job responsibilities and where they work, drawing, matching games and “salad bowl” -see games list below)
  • 2:30 – 3:00 Break                                                       
  • 3:00 – 4:00 Writing activities (Crossword puzzles, what do you want to be and why?)
  • 4:00 – 6:00 Free time & dinner for the teachers           
  • 6:00 – 8:00 Games! (Not all related to community helpers but fun and engaging games)

Since the camp stretched over a few days, versus one day or an afternoon, we had a variety of different activities to keep the novices engaged while still practicing the new vocabulary and keep with the community helpers theme.  Yao took classic nursery rhymes and kids songs but changed the lyrics to fit the theme, had flashcards with the helpers and their job responsibilities, and enforced the vocabulary with pictures and acting games. Even when some vocabulary and phrases felt repetitive, it was the best way for the novices to understand and retain the “curriculum” of the camp.

In addition to helping with the morning and afternoon activities, ATMA SEVA was in charge of planning two 2-hour blocks of games in the evening for the 40 novices. Below are some of our favorite games that worked well with the novices and can be played with larger groups of school kids as well.

Recommended Games/Activities:

novices cooking in wiang haeng

Novices preparing spaghetti sauce.

Cooking – Cooking is a great way to engage all your students, teach about food and foreign dishes, hear new vocabulary, and for the students to learn new skills. Make sure to plan menus well ahead of time to prepare shopping trips, and enough food for the whole time.  During our three days we made: waffles, scrambled eggs, toast, pork burgers, french fries, salad, fried chicken and spaghetti!

Salad Bowl  – Students sit in chairs in a circle, with one person standing in the middle. Make sure there is one chair less than the number of students, just like musical chairs. Each student has a slip of paper with their “group” name written on it that they don’t show others. For example, for community helpers the groups were : doctor, fireman, policeman, etc. The student in the middle calls out a group and everybody in the group has to get up and find a new seat before the person in the middle gets one first. The last student left standing is now it and shouts out a new “group” of his/her choice. Great way to practice vocabulary and we found the novices playing the game themselves well after camp was over!

salad bowl game

The salad bowl game in action!

Human Knot – Students stand in a circle and grab hands with someone across from them (but not their neighbors!) When all the students have joined hands, they must work together to untangle themselves and become a circle again without letting go of their hands! There is no too much English involved but the novices really enjoyed the challenge and cheered when they untwisted themselves!

Hokey Pokey – A classic but it works! The novices loved seeing the teachers be silly and getting a chance to be silly themselves. Plus it is a great way to review body parts. (Hint: We reviewed body parts before the song by using a human model and having the novices identify and stick labels to match “arm”,”leg”.. etc.)

Who’s the Best – Split the students up into even teams (and equal mixes of age and English ability) and let each team pick a name. The instructors create a list of “challenges” for the students to do, and each group chooses one person to come up and do the challenge and the “judges” award points to each team. We even added group challenges for teams to win points together. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Examples of challenges include: count backwards from 20 the fastest, most pushups, best animal noise, best whistler, and best Gangnam style! For team challenges we gave the teams a word scramble, and to list all the ASEAN countries. The novices had fun with the friendly competition and were excited to play against their friends.  You can incorporate any challenges to fit your theme and can have a mix between English related challenges as well as fun and goofy ones.

No Bananas in the Sky – This activity was added by an ATMA SEVA volunteer with experience teaching at summer camps and was a fun song to sing with the novices. We taught the lyrics: “There are no bananas in the sky, in the sky, there are no bananas in the sky. There’s a sun and a moon and coconut cream pie, but there are no bananas in the sky, in the sky.” Each word has an action attached to it and after teaching both the song and actions, you remove a word each time and just do the action until you are not singing and then add the words back in one at a time. The novices picked up the song right away and all the teachers joined in too! Definitely a great addition to the evening games.

no banana song

Teaching the song!

Advice for planning an English camp: 

  • Be sure to prepare materials ahead of time and bring extra pens, pencils and paper. Also bringing music is a good idea for games, sing-a-longs, and to play during down time or liven up an activity.
  • If cooking food with the students, prepare utensils and food stations ahead of time and let each teacher/volunteer know their roles. The novices are pretty self sufficient but still needed guidance and supervision.
  • Have a back up plan! If the power goes out, you run out of materials, or what you planned for 30 minutes only takes 10, be ready to have some simple backup games and/or group activities. Stick to your schedule as much as possible to stay organized but be flexible to adjust games, activities and timing based on students understanding of the games, content and/or unexpected challenges – especially in Thailand!
  • Remember to take lots of small breaks for the students to relax a bit and the teachers to regroup and go over activities for the day.
  • Tailor your games and activities to be appropriate for the age and ability of your students and keep rules in mind when working with novice monks (can’t eat after 12, no “touching”, games not too physical, etc.)

Overall we had a great experience and are excited to go back for another camp very soon! A big thank you to Yao and Lawrence for organizing the camp and to the monks and novices of Wiang Haeng!

Stay tuned for the photography corner about this camp and if you have any questions or comments about planning games, setting a schedule, or anything else just leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine