Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 5)

I have tutored almost every day this last week! The shifts have been short, but rewarding. A few times, I wound up with four students at once, instead of the maximum three. The students are of varying ages and grade levels, each with their own lesson plan, so four of them at a time requires serious juggling. In the flurry of helping with reading assignments, writing assignments, and quizzes, I regretfully did not get as much one-on-one time to chat (I mean, “practice conversational skills”) with the kids as I like.

Somehow, I still managed to hear about one young student’s weekend plans to go catch crabs at the beach with his family! He described how the last time he and his family went crab hunting, they didn’t go very far out into the water. This weekend, they plan to go much deeper into the water. He stressed how important it is to not kick up the sand in the water when you’re looking for crabs, otherwise you can’t see them. He said to catch the crabs, they wear the kind of gloves that are worn for feeding eagles. He might have been thinking of falcons, since falconry is huge here, but then again, this kid is one smart cookie and I know nothing about crab hunting.

A different boy, probably around 8 years old and very soft spoken, was working on rhyming patterns. For example, in the word “dust,” the rhyming pattern is “ust.” Words that rhyme with “dust” will also have “ust”: trust, just, must, bust, rust. In this instance, I even let students make nonsense rhyming words like pust, gust, wust, zust, just as long as they “get” it. This little guy had to find a rhyme for “duck.” We identified the rhyming pattern as “uck.” I’m sure you see where this is going. I knew there was a small chance it would end explicitly, but figured with TWENTY SIX LETTERS IN THE ENGLISH ALPHABET, SURELY THE KID WOULD NOT PICK THE LETTER F TO MAKE A WORD THAT RHYMES WITH DUCK.

With his big, brown eyes looking right into mine, he innocently, and oh-so-articulately said,


I mentally cursed whoever made that stupid workbook before telling him that yes, that rhymes, but let’s think of a different one!

Another boy I worked with has a passion for sharks. When he is instructed to write sentences incorporating new vocabulary words, he writes sentences about sharks. When he is supposed to be reading, he draws sharks. I think it’s great that he is so interested in marine life and art. Good for you, kid! However, his parents would probably not be thrilled to discover the pretty pennies they are paying toward his after school English lessons are funding Shark Sketching 101. He and I made a deal: if he would stay on task with his assignments, the last 5 minutes could be spent on drawing sharks. When the hour was over, he gave me his masterpiece!


A different hour, one bubbly student mentioned how much he loves to sing. Sadly, he thinks his choir teacher hates him. He says that when he sings, she yells at him, and when he’s not singing, she yells at him. He doesn’t like to sing at school any more.

One of my favorite local students, a young boy wearing the traditional white thobe with the white scarf (“ghutra“) on his head, struggled to read one of his assignments. A confident, witty kid with a great sense of humor, he’s actually a decent reader. This particular day, however, he was not interested in his assignments, so he wasn’t really trying. He made some comment about not wanting or needing to read, so I asked him what he planned to do when he’s 25 years old and needs to read something.

His reply: “I will pay you!”


There’s never a dull moment with these kids!

Now, it’s Friday, and with J in India, I’ve had the whole day to myself. At the moment, the sunset (“maghrib“) call to prayer (“adhan“) is resonating from the nearby mosque.


Men gathered at the mosque down the street – Sunset, Nov. 4

It’s good to have a day to recharge. I’ll be back to the books tomorrow!


Will Tutor For Tofu

I have been pretty intimidated by the thought of private tutoring. Recently, however, I started meeting with a Korean grandmother who is so friendly. How friendly?



We had just ended our lesson for the day, when she motioned for me to follow her into her kitchen. The last time I was in her kitchen, she showed me cabbage (I think) kimchi and a very VERRRRRY potent shrimp sauce. Today, she removed a small, plastic container of minced garlic and chopped scallions from her fridge. I wasn’t too sure what was happening at this point, but then she started cutting up tofu and heating up a frying pan. To the container of garlic and scallions, she added soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and chili powder, eyeballing all of the measurements.

The four tofu slices were quickly browned on each side, after which she artistically arranged them on a small plate and topped each one with the sauce mixture.

I wasn’t sure if the whole experience was just me watching her prepare her lunch, or if I was supposed to sit down and finish off the whole plate myself. When she offered the plate and a fork to me, I was more than happy to try a piece of the quickly prepared entree! In the past, I haven’t liked soft tofu, but it was a nice consistency and the simple sauce made it quite flavorful.

She even sent me home with a small jar of the sauce and a block of tofu!


I was so excited about the whole experience (I’ve never had a tofu “cooking lesson” before!), I replicated the recipe as soon as I got home. It is a simple recipe – the best kind, in my opinion!



Here is the quick and easy recipe, replicated to the best of my ability, based on the method of and ingredients used by my Korean student:

A+ Tofu

Ingredients: organic soft tofu, 2+ T Canola oil, 1/2 C soy sauce, 1 T sesame oil, 1/4 C chopped scallions, 1 T minced garlic, 1 T sesame seeds, chili powder to taste

Directions: In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, minced garlic, sesame seeds, and chili powder. Mix and set aside. Cut tofu into rectangles or squares; remove water by pressing tofu pieces between paper towels. In a frying pan, heat canola oil on high/med-high heat. Add tofu. Brown front and back sides of tofu. Serve tofu topped with sauce mixture. Enjoy!

Just when I thought nothing could be better than hearing this sweet Korean grandmother reading The House on Mango Street, I hit the vegetarian jackpot with a free tofu cooking demo. It’s a good, good day!