A Day in the Life of a First Grade Class- Part I

All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Today, I visited a first grade class at an urban public school in central Seoul. It was an inspiring day that made me question some of the things that we do at the primary grade level in our schools.  I do not have the answers but there are different ways to educate young children and still be able to achieve proficiency and mastery of skills and knowledge when they get older.

As well as with the kindergarten entry, I wrote this post with friends and colleagues in mind. There is so much to tell that I will share the information in a couple of blog installments – too much to write and it gives people a chance to process, discuss, reflect and then ask questions.

The visit was courtesy of a wonderful and generous teacher, Choi Jeong Ah, a veteran in the classroom and in the school system. Thank you, Jeong Ah!


The instructional day started at 9:00 am with Music class. It is not a “special” like it is in our schools, it is taught by the classroom teacher in their classroom. Additionally, students get a traditional Korean music class taught by a music teacher who specializes in traditional music. He comes to the school every week for three days to teach each group one class a week.

The classroom teacher is also part of the Music class. She helps the students and the teacher, co-teaches if necessary, so she does not use that time to do lesson planning or any other work. This is how all “specials” work in grades 1 and 2. Teachers are with the students until they leave and then they have a few hours to do preparation and administrative work as well as PD.

Grade 1 and 2 schedule: students can come in any time after 8:30 am – instruction begins at 9:00 am – all students and teachers have lunch at school – morning snack is milk ,4 days – yogurt, 1 day – all food is provided by the government.

Monday- Wednesday – Friday: 9:00am -12:30pm – lunch and dismissal by 1:30pm

Tuesday and Thursday: 9:00am – 1:40pm.

Look at the amount of time the students are in school- teachers stay every day until 4:40pm.


Back to Music class – the teacher was amazing. He was kind, patient, fun, engaging and incredibly knowledgeable. The students loved every second of it and there was something for every learning style and every kind of behavior – no class management issues,they were all happy and engaged. Even one child who could not play the drums seemed content to watch his friends and listen to the music.

The lesson was a wonderful example of how interdisciplinary learning can take place in a music classroom. There was reading, math and movement. It showed how students benefit from singing, dancing, clapping,  moving, and following different sets of directions. It was also a lesson on establishing routines, on taking care of one’s things by  folding the sleeves neatly and putting them away, on learning the value of team-work.

Students went to get their instruments and placed them on the stage. Then they sat down in their seats at the auditorium. No directions were given, the students knew what to do.

First, the teacher asked them to sing the song they had been learning. They sang happily and with great enthusiasm.


Next, the students watched a video of the dance they were going to learn – a good way to model and build background knowledge The Hansam dance is a traditional Korean mask dance, or talchum, that includes masks, singing and dancing. In this case, they had one “prop”. They were given special sleeves that they used to sway from side to side as they danced imitating the dancers on the video.

They sang, they did movement, lots of movement following the teacher and the video. They were developing spatial, auditory and visual skills as well as learning to coordinate what they saw and listened to.prepping-with-sleelves

Then they read music notes – there are only 5 notes in Korean traditional music- from the score on the screen. Finally, they were ready to play the drums.


The teacher modeled how to hold the sticks and which part of the drum to play. How to move their heads according to the beats. They all chanted and followed the rhythm, counting, clapping. They were very focused, very disciplined – not wanting to miss a beat.


They practiced 5 or six times. Then the teacher asked students to volunteer to play individually. Many of them volunteered, made mistakes that he did not correct and he praised each one.

End of lesson – the students put everything away neatly and off they went.

Part II will be about academics and more playing… then lunch. Enjoy the music!


10 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a First Grade Class- Part I

  1. Thank you for sharing, Monica! It amazes me that these children walk into a room and just “know what to do”. How much time is spent at the beginning of the school year reviewing routines and procedures? I realize that this was grade 1, but you mentioned this during your kinder visit too! I am still reviewing rules & routines in November for some.

    On another note, it is busy, busy, busy here at CH & RS with report cards (new for K & 1) and conferences coming up next week. I come home very tired most nights. Looking forward to the upcoming holiday & spending time with family and friends. How will you spend Thanksgiving?
    Colleen 🙂


    1. Good question, Colleen. A lot of time is spent giving the children time to learn and practice the routines and to socialize and play – less time is given to the teaching of reading, writing and technology. At this grade level, there is less rigor here that is why kids do what they do.
      Thanks for asking about Thanksgiving. I will be at a school observing that day (no Thanksgiving here) then going to university to a class. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I think I will spend it with a group of Fulbright researchers at the Fulbright Commission – they are organizing a pot luck. I will miss it terribly and will be thinking of all of you and my family gathered around the turkey. It is also my daughter’s birthday so it will be a bit of a homesick day!


  2. Thanks for visiting my school! The day after you came, my students asked me,
    “Today, will Monica come, too?” 🙂
    It was a very impressive, special day to my students and me.


    1. I loved visiting your school and meeting your students. Maybe if there is time and it is allowed, I can come again! Thank you for sharing your day with me – it was one of the highlights of my trip!


  3. Thank you very much Monica! As always, I can think and learn a lot from your different perspectives. I can’t wait for your posting of the part 2 story. Thank you very much Mrs. Choi to let Monica spend a day in your class room. I really think Sunhoh is such a lucky student having both of you as his teachers.


  4. I am continually impressed by the behavior of the children, and love of learning I see in your posts. Like Colleen, I find I am still often reminding many in my class how we need to behave, and the rules of our classroom. This year is especially different as I have 11 boys who tend to be more immature, and very active.
    I loved the video! Your posts are amazing! I think you should consider putting them together, and publishing them!
    Can’t wait to see you via skype! I know it must have been hard for you on Thanksgiving! I thought of you often as we did our Thanksgiving unit…


    1. Thanks for thinking of me on Thanksgiving, Rosanne. I think we spend too much time on too many things that the kids must learn as opposed to fewer that they can master- just a thought from my experiences in Korea. See you on Skype on Friday – can’t wait!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s