New tools of the trade

Mabel Sieh
Mabel Sieh |

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Freddie Sum is taking a 'trendy' approach to make english lessons more interestng and interactive. Photos: Freddie Sum

An English teacher is using his own video clips and cartoons to raise students' interest in the language, writes Mabel Sieh

Freddie Sum, an English teacher at Ling Liang Church E Wun Secondary School, says he is in tune with his students' needs. He believes motivation is the key to learning a languageto get them more involved in his lessons. These include making video clips and creating Web-based comic strips.

The students were excited to see their teacher playing a customer during a lesson on how to order food.

Sum says the listening tapes the school owned lacked authenticity, so he made his own video clips for class. As a result, the students were much more eager to complete the task. The whole point, says Sum, was about motivation.

'They are more actively involved and concentrate more on the activity with my video clips,' the young teacher says.

For another topic, Sum created comic strips from a website ( in which US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden at a Michael Jackson concert.

'A lot of comics in the newspapers are based on a certain culture which may not interest my students,' says Sum, who has been in the job for less than two years. 'With a good Web tool, I can create my own comics [with topics and characters] that interest my students.'

Sum's school is one of 12 schools taking part in a project which aims to promote the use of current trends such as blogs, mobile technology, online mind maps and cartoons to teach English. 'Promoting New Literacies in Hong Kong Schools' was launched in 2008, and is supported by the Quality Education Fund and the faculty of education at the University of Hong Kong.

A survey of primary and secondary students carried out by HKU showed that many had access to a computer, and they used it daily to do their homework and keep in touch with their peers.

Secondary students also used a computer to send instant messages on MSN (68 per cent), play video games (60 per cent), search for information (57 per cent) and chat with friends on websites such as Facebook (41 per cent).

'A majority of them [73 per cent] also said they wanted their teachers to use more computer-related tools and popular culture topics in the classroom to make the lessons more interesting and interactive,' says Dr Jasmine Luk, assistant professor at the faculty of education who conducted the survey. 'However, they were concerned the teachers might not know what their interests were.'

The survey indicated that students wanted their teachers to pay more attention to current trends and include materials like songs, movies, artists and cartoons in their lessons.

However, Sum believes teachers face many challenges. 'Teachers may not have the time, ability or freedom to develop topics or materials to suit students' interests even if they want to,' he says.

Sum says he is lucky to have the support of his panel head. 'Irene Cheng has given me a lot of freedom in designing my tasks and activities. This has encouraged me to use unconventional tools to suit our students' needs,' he says.

Sum has lunch with his students three times a week. He has also set up a Facebook account so that he can share ideas on any topic with his students.

'We have to be open to listening [to students]. More importantly, we have to share with them our own interests and hobbies. This is not a one-way street,' Sum concludes.

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