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




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



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



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: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/group_games_and_activities.htm http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/alphablocks/ http://esl-kids.com

Katherine Devine


Teaching Abroad – Helpful websites & resources

As part of our Teaching Abroad section, we have compiled some helpful websites and resources for ESL/EFL teachers in Thailand and around the world. Below are some websites and resources that our staff, teachers, and volunteers have used to plan lessons, search for fun games and brainstorm activities for their classes. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions for us or have any other websites/resources that you would like to recommend for other teachers!

Online Quizzes, Games and Puzzles:

Online Forums, Articles and Reference Guides:

Teaching in Thailand – Challenges and Rewards

Welcome Antoine

The ATMA SEVA team picking me up at the airport

My name is Antoine, I am 23, born and raised in France. I am a new on-site intern with ATMA SEVA, and this is my first contribution to the ATMA SEVA blog. I have always been very interested in Asia and South East Asia, and a single ten day trip to Indonesia two years ago was enough to have me obsessed with this region. While teaching French language for a year in Australia, I often thought about Thailand and the surrounding countries. I knew that I would find a way to go there, live there, and feel at home in one of these wonderful places. But I had to wait a full year (completing my 4th year at my university) before I could finally move to Thailand for three months. Now, even though I have only been in Thailand for two weeks, I already feel at home at Bangew in Doi Saket, where I live in a temple with ten young monks and teach English in two government schools.  I am very grateful to ATMA SEVA for offering me the opportunity to turn Thailand into one of my homes, making my dream come true.

Living with monks is a truly unique experience. I used to know nothing about Buddhism, and I feel very lucky to be allowed to witness the day-to-day life of these monks, ages 18 to 27. The monks are very friendly with me, always inquiring about my well-being, coming to chat about many different topics, and involving me in all their activities when possible. Since I do not have a motorcycle yet and must still learn how to drive one, for the moment I depend on others for food. The monks are very generous and always offer to share their meals with me.

The schools’ staff are also amazingly kind. They are preparing a new room for me, I eat breakfast and lunch at the school, and they drive me to other school, Bai Mai Dang, for my afternoon classes. Teachers from Bai Mai Dang drive me back to Bangew in the evening. All the teachers are always smiling, caring and happy to help me whenever I have a question about the students and teaching.

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Me teaching at Ba Mai Dang school.

Being educated in France, where children are not always respectful and often difficult to deal with, one of the best surprises for me about teaching in Thailand is how wonderful children are. Whenever I enter a classroom, they all stand up and join their hands in front of them to say: “Gooood mooorning teaaacher, how are you today?”. Seeing their smiles when I answer back is the best thing a teacher could wish for. During the classes Thai kids are very lively, talking to each other and sometimes moving from their seats, but when I ask for their attention they have a good capacity to focus and they repeat loudly every word that I say in English. Their ability to repeat English sentences all together gives me the feeling that they are also learning as a group, not only as individuals. When doing exercises or playing games they are always keen to help each other out. I usually encourage this behavior because the helped and the helpers both benefit from this solidarity. In a nutshell, Thai children are just amazing!

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Some of my students at Bangew school.

Of course, some classes can also be challenging. At Bai Mai Dang the classes are bigger and the students are more self-confident. The older and younger kids are not always easy to manage. The boys who are around 15 years old are trying to “look cool” in front of their peers, that is why they somewhat challenged my authority at the beginning of the first class. However they are actually softer and better educated than most of the French teenagers I was used to dealing with, and I quite easily managed to earn their respect. Furthermore, by making them feel that I believed in their ability to speak good English I got them to study very seriously during this class, and their energy became my strongest support to push the rest of the class forward. They are so dynamic that I really look forward to having our next class together!

Nevertheless I know that with teenagers nothing is ever won forever, that is why I decided to keep up my efforts to have a strong presence and make them feel confident about their English.

I have three other challenging classes : the youngest students of Bai Mai Dang (ages 5 to 7 years old). On Mondays, I am helped by a very nice teacher who can maintain a good discipline in the class while I teach. However in the two other classes there are more students and other teachers are busy. My first class alone with  twenty-six six year olds was complete chaos, and during the second class I managed to get their attention for approximately thirty minutes. Even teaching together with Kim did not change much (Kim is also an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA). These kids are just too happy to run wild in the classroom and play, and even though I have a lot of fun watching them and trying to handle them, I need to find a way to teach them English even though I do not speak Thai. While observing the teacher who helped me with my Monday class I have learned a few songs and activities that have helped me get their attention a little longer. Now I have decided to use a trick that I have learned while working as a summer camp counselor : get them tired! That is why next week we will do gymnastics in English!


Gift from my students!

Teaching Thai children is highly gratifying. They are lovely and dynamic, and some of them even brought me presents, such as this beautiful watermelon from two sisters, both young but exemplary students. I was also lucky because there was a special event during my first week: teacher’s day. Children prepared beautiful bunches of flowers and candles and offered them to their teachers and me during a ceremony at the temple.

I am currently living a life-changing and highly positive experience, sharing my days between my classes with wonderful children and my evenings with friendly and caring Buddhist monks. I have also made a few friends in the village, who take me to local festivals and markets. I already know that I will always feel at home at Bangew and I plan to come back as often as possible to meet all my new friends. I will definitely recommend this experience to all my English speaking friends!

Don’t forget to ‘like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook to follow along for my adventures!

Antoine Gratian, on-site intern



Two Blissful Months in Thailand

It has been almost a month since I returned from my sojourn in Chiang Mai. I am finding it surprisingly difficult to talk about my time in Thailand as there was no one place, person or experience that seems to take center stage. Each person, place and experience was so memorable that I can recount every moment of it. My two months were full of life experiences that will always stay with me and all this is due to my chance encounter with the ATMA SEVA website and meeting Programs Director David Poppe via skype!


Arriving in Chiang Mai airport!

My first 3 days were spent at Wat Doi Ku and I could not have asked for a more welcoming place. Ajahn Sirichai is a young, dynamic abbot of a small temple about 36 km NE of Chiang Mai. I was invited to join Sirichai for alms, or the collection of food by the monks that occurs daily around dawn. Giving alms is one of the many ways in which Buddhists can make merit, along with living life according to religious precepts and praying. When Buddhist monks make their alms rounds, laypeople prepare food and water and wait for the monks to approach them with their alms bowl. Once food and water are placed inside the bowl, the monk will place the lid on top of his bowl and recite a prayer blessing to the donor after which the merit-making is considered complete. Phra Sirichai allowed me to make some merit by carrying the alms for him. He also gave me a Thai name, ‘Kaa ja-om’ which has brought many smiles on Thai faces. It refers to the person who helps the monks on their daily alms rounds. It was a delightful experience as I met many welcoming villagers.

Ajahn Sirichai also invited the villagers to come to the temple as he now had an English tutor. That afternoon, three very eager boys came to the temple and we set up class for them in the basement. No sooner had they left, a young woman came to pick up a quick lesson – she was in Real Estate in Chiang Mai and most eager to work with farangs (a Sanskrit word meaning foreigner). While I was in “session”, Sirichai was able to recruit a few members of the local Thai military who were stationed nearby and eager to pick up a few words!

I would have enjoyed staying in Doi Ku and getting to know the villagers, but not knowing how to ride a motorbike and being a bit out of the way, I knew that this temple would be logistically difficult to manage. David had already made arrangements for me to stay in Doi Saket, just 7 km SW and a little closer to Chiang Mai with songtaews (shared taxis) leaving for the city every 15-20 minutes (and costing just 20 Baht!)

Me at Wat Doi Saket testing to see if I have good karma!

Me at Wat Doi Saket testing to see if I have good karma!

My first stop in Doi Saket was a week teaching at a local Gov’t school. I had never taught English before but the ATMA SEVA team helped put together lesson plans for each class and it was just a matter of following the guide book. Before I came, I had found several online sites that gave valuable tips on how to teach English as a foreign language. It was challenging as I did not speak Thai – Ad, the English teacher at the school, was very gracious in joining me for the initial classes, which was an enormous help. The young students were adorable; many of them live here during the school year and go home to their villages during the summer. What touched me the most was to see how disciplined and gracious the children were as they stood in line for their bowl of rice, got their own water from a water tank and washed their cups and utensils when the lunch was over. That week in itself was worth the price of my airline ticket. The experience was also a reminder of how it is possible to instill in our children the value of responsibility at a very young age instead of inundating them with electronic gadgets for constant amusement.

I ate lunch daily with the teachers who were a jovial group; unfortunately, most of them spoke no English and all humor had to be translated by Ad. After the school was over, I would teach a class to the teachers. They too were an eager bunch – one must understand that many of the local English teachers do not speak enough English to be able to teach a conversational class. In one assignment, I had them give me directions on how to go from Doi Saket to Chiang Mai, a very real situation they might encounter with a farang. Before the class, they would just wave in the direction where they think the city lies!

Me with all the teachers after English class.

Me with all the teachers after English class.

After my week teaching at the government school, I spent a couple of weeks doing a meditation retreat at Wat Rampoeng, an experience I’d be glad to share if anyone is interested. (I did have another 10 days at a meditation center in Bangkok just before I returned home to Atlanta in April.)  In between, there were trips to a Lawa & Karen village, Mae Sariang, and more, some of which are well described by on-site intern Jamie Shannon here and volunteer Dan here.

My second teaching stint was at Wat Doi Saket where I lived in the volunteer room reserved for ATMA SEVA volunteers. It was another two blissful weeks and an incredible way to learn about life in a monastery where novice monks live and are schooled along with senior monks. The Principal, Phra maha Insorn, has managed the school and the teachers for many years and is very engaged in various community and NGO projects. Because the semester had ended, I did not have an opportunity to teach a regular class along with my friend Natch Tankarp, the Director of the English program at Wat Doi Saket. Instead, I tutored two monks, a layperson who would come from the village and a novice monk who was there from Laos. Michael, a graduate student doing his doctoral research, was the primary tutor and it was a very rewarding experience to work with such motivated students. Because these students speak English, I could teach them arithmetic, geography and other subjects in English that would allow them to utilize the language in daily tasks.

Stairs leading up to Wat Doi Saket!

Stairs leading up to Wat Doi Saket!

I would be amiss if I did not write a bit about daily life at Wat Doi Saket. Without having lived at the wat, I would not have had such a rich experience. Most of all, I would have probably never learned what it takes to go from a novice monk to an ordained monk and what it is like to live as a monk. I did not need an alarm clock as I was woken up each morning at 5am from the sounds of the monks praying and chanting in Pali. Most often, I would go to the mondop so I could feel the energy of the prayers. The wat is located on a hill and there are two ways to access it: via a winding road or by 304 steps straight up that I counted several times.  There was always someone making a trip up or down the hill, but I typically opted to take the steps as I knew I would not have the privilege of being forced into such a good fitness program once I was in suburban America driving my 2000 pound SUV to the grocery store ten minutes away to buy a gallon of milk.

Thailand is very warm in March and April. There is not much AC around and you learn to appreciate the fans that are all over the place.  Evenings are wonderful- things cool down a bit and people are out and about. It’s not uncommon to see a scooter with two adults, a child in the middle and a child in front holding the handle bar – it is uplifting to be in a Libertarian country at such times. There is only one bar in Doi Saket and it actually has the best food that I found in the village; the owner is also the chef and she wants to come to America to open up a Thai restaurant. Her bar has a pool table and a TV showing some soccer games at all times.

I quickly fell in love with Doi Saket village, which is quite small. There is a market where I got my daily fresh coconut drink and fresh fruit fix, along with several roadside cafes. For 30-40 Baht, one can have a very healthy Thai meal. The 7-11 is the 24-hour store and seems to be the center of all activity in the village – a little expensive but not too bad as they have to compete with the street vendors and local markets. There is a pharmacy and the pharmacist and I quickly became good friends, as I would stop there almost every day to have my blood pressure checked. Pharmacists pretty much replace physicians for all routine stuff out here.  Luxuries like a barbershop shave or an hour-long foot massage that are expensive back home can be found here for very reasonable prices.

Sunset on the main road in Doi Saket.

Sunset on the main road in Doi Saket.

I chose to share my experiences in the hopes of helping those who have never lived in Thailand to learn more about the day to day life here. Doi Saket is no different from other small towns and Doi Ku is not that different from other villages in Northern Thailand. On weekends, one can take a songtaew from the village to Chiang Mai and participate in festivals and the many activities that are there. Chiang Mai has some of the finest hospitals in the world should one need to go there and the local pharmacies there are well stocked. To save money, I even had a checkup done at a fraction of a cost of what it would have cost me at home and without a long wait or hassle that I am used to!

ATMA SEVA provided not only teaching opportunities, but also the chance to experience a new culture like a native despite not knowing the language. Other than David Poppe, I was very fortunate to make friends with Natch, the English teacher at Doi Saket. When Natch was in town, we would go out for dinner and I never felt alone. He also introduced me to his family and friends, and without his friendship, I may not have felt at home as much as I did. One has to visit and spend some time in Thailand to really know the Buddhist culture and feel the warm welcome that they seem to have for visitors. There is very little crime in small towns and villages and I never had the feeling that I was getting ripped off. This was my 4th trip to Thailand and 2nd to Chiang Mai and so it was not a surprise and I pray that it does not change despite the onslaught of westerners that now come to Chiang Mai. I am very appreciative to all who made this a very memorable trip and I am looking to make this my annual pilgrimage.

If anyone has any specific questions about my experiences, teaching, living abroad, meditation retreats or anything else discussed here, please leave a comment below!

Hunaid Qadir