* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps, Videos

Amazing Free Digital Resources for Teaching Phonics

Amazing Free Resource for Teaching Phonics | Best Youtube Phonics Videos

As a Youth Literacy Advisor tutoring struggling readers in rural Jamaica, I started out with no curriculum, limited resources, and no formal teaching experience to lean on. Fortunately, thanks to the opportunity to shadow another Peace Corps Volunteer, I learned about an invaluable resource at my disposal.

Over my two years of service in the school, this one tool saved me much-needed energy and increased the effectiveness of my teaching. It kept my students’ attention better than any game I could conjure, and it clearly helped concepts stick better in their memory.

I’m talking about youtube videos.


My Own Jamaican Letter Sound Video!

Be the first to watch!

I’ve been using all the videos below for two years now, but not one of them was made specifically for Jamaican students. The accents in the shows are either American or British, and they refer to things like yachts and violins (which have little meaning to the kids).

Because phonics is such an important skill that is often missing from Jamaican students’ repertoire, I used the videos I had, and it was effective. But all along, I was looking for something truly Jamaican. I didn’t find anything, so I finally ended up making my own video.

I drew the pictures based on phonics materials I found in Jamaican schools. Then I trained a bunch of my students to do the chant and featured their voices in the audio. Resources were limited, and I wish the quality was better. I hope that some day, someone else will take it to the next level. Regardless, my dream is that this video can be used as a resource across the island- by Peace Corps Volunteers and Jamaican teachers alike.

Please help me share it!


How to Use Videos Offline

kids watching show

In Peace Corps, internet access is not always guaranteed. Fortunately, you don’t actually need the internet at school to use youtube videos in your lessons!

Using sites like SaveVid, you can actually download them in formats like .wmv, mp4, .mov, etc. When I was starting out, I basically went to the internet cafe and searched youtube for the concepts I needed to reinforce with my students (i.e. letter sound song, short vowel sounds). I then copy and pasted the youtube URL into SaveVid, saved the files to a thumb drive, and transferred them onto an iPad or laptop for later use.


Best Free Videos for Teaching Phonics

Continue reading “Amazing Free Digital Resources for Teaching Phonics”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Peace Corps, Videos

Our Favorite Concert in Jamaica

This past Sunday Michelle and I were invited to a high school concert in a different parish to support my supervisor’s daughter. We didn’t think too much about it, just another opportunity to see a different part of the country and experience a high school concert.

After a beautiful- if hurried- drive through picturesque farmland and then hairpin turns overlooking the island during “golden time,” we reached the historic all-girls high school. It sat like a chateau at the peak of a humble mountain.

We had just enough time before the show to greet my supervisor’s daughter, a “senior” in the steel pan band. We also discovered that one of my summer camp volunteers would be in the choir, as well as the daughter of one of our favorite bus drivers.

The concert featured steel pan (steel drum) bands, dramatic and entertaining choir performances, and short solos by several piano students. We were pleasantly surprised at the girls’ talent and have never enjoyed a high school show so much. The choir pieces were performed like musical numbers, many of which were cleverly written in Jamaican patois by the music teacher herself. Hopefully the short video clips we put together will give you a sense of the entertainment value and the energy in the room that night!

We had no idea what we were in for, but we both agreed it was an unforgettable, truly enjoyable night.

– J + M

* Jedd Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Life Lessons from Jamaican Sayings

Jamaican Life Lessons
Earlier this month Michelle and I had the honor and privilege of welcoming the newest group of Peace Corps volunteers (group #85; we are 83) to the island. It was a strange feeling as we were at the Peace Corps Office working on paperwork and medical stuff to prepare for the completion of our service while surrounded by excited and nervous faces beginning their adventure.

It was infectious.

I was reminded that just two years ago I was exactly like them. Everything was new. It was painfully hot. I was completely exhausted. I wanted to start doing everything. I remember meeting current volunteers and feeling in awe of how experienced and calm they were. They seemed to know everything. I had so many questions then. So many unknowns and- in true Peace Corps fashion- never enough information to satisfy my curiosity and need to know everything or to be in control. I had arrived in a strange new world.

I wish we had more time to get to know these volunteers. It felt like we knew many of them because of Facebook. Peace Corps is a great opportunity to meet new volunteers, make new friends, and fellowship in this adventure. Truly, no one really know what you are going through more than your fellow volunteers, especially those that you serve alongside in the same country.

So I wanted to give this new group some valuable lessons I’ve learned in Jamaica from Jamaicans that helped me during my time here.  These lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life. None of these things might make sense to this group now, but hopefully they will when they meet new volunteer groups that come to Jamaica, when they become the veterans, when they are preparing to go back home.

“Tek Time” & “Soon Come”

When I first got to Jamaica, I really struggled with the pace of life here. Everything was slower. I had no control. I was so used to getting to my destination when I planned to. I was used to everything else being on a predictable schedule. More importantly, being in control of my own schedule meant being in control of my life. In Jamaica, I felt so dependent upon everyone else. Dependent on an unscheduled transport system, never knowing when I would get a ride anywhere.  Dependent upon the affects of daily thunderstorms. Dependent on other people’s time tables.

In Jamaica, “Tek Time” translates to “take time” or “slow down.” Don’t rush. You may want things to Continue reading “Life Lessons from Jamaican Sayings”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

How to Catch a Bus in 13 Not-So-Easy Steps

Entrance to the bus park (empty on Sunday afternoon)
Entrance to the bus park (mostly empty on Sunday afternoon)

Living on the West end of Jamaica, we avoid trips across the island to the capital (Kingston) as much as possible. At best, it’s a three and a half hour drive, not including the wait time in the bus park. If you were able to leave at a time of your choosing, or to sit in a seat all to yourself, it would be more manageable. As with any public transit trip in Jamaica, you just never know what you’re going to get.

But the other day, a mandatory appointment in Kingston led us to an unexpected turn of events. Continue reading “How to Catch a Bus in 13 Not-So-Easy Steps”

* Peace Corps

Where to Find Sweet Jobs After Peace Corps

Sweet RPCV jobs | Simply Intentional

UPDATE: A new, revised and more complete list is now available on our travel site! FIND IT HERE

Even though Jedd and I are not planning to return to the typical world of work until 2015 (and even then, we hope to be doing something more adventurous like teaching English in Japan, staffing the Semester At Sea ship, or starting our own online company), I’ve collected a valuable set of resources for job seekers nonetheless.

I know many current Volunteers as well as RPCVs (Returned Volunteers) are anxious about finding a job. Even more so, Peace Corps Volunteers tend to want work that is meaningful and a good use of their skills. Whether it’s in government, a non-profit, or a random gig on the other side of the world, these are the best sites I know of to get your job search started.

Continue reading “Where to Find Sweet Jobs After Peace Corps”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Books That Kept Me Page-Turning in Peace Corps

Peace Corps service is known for coming with a strong helping of free time. Nowadays, we do have things to keep us occupied, like computers, movies, and- in some cases- decent internet. Fortunately for me, I also had a spouse to keep me entertained with thoughtful conversations, crazy schemes, and silly antics.

The traditional way for PCVs to stave off boredom, however, is hitting the books! I’ve seen some impressive reading lists (like Matt in Zambia or Sarah in Indonesia), which put mine to shame. But here’s what I’ve been reading, including my top recommendations. If you have recommendations for me, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section (below this post).

Click on the images above to learn more.


Top Book Recommendations Continue reading “Books That Kept Me Page-Turning in Peace Corps”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Life Updates, * Peace Corps

2 years. 24 months. 730 days.

Peace Corps Jamaica Day 1
Our very first picture when we arrived 2 years ago

Today marks a huge milestone for Michelle and I (and the rest of our volunteer group), our 2 year anniversary of living and serving in Jamaica. It’s hard to believe.

We often say “the days go by slowly, but the months go by fast.” It’s been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Challenges and joys. Laughter and tears. Yes tears, but lots of laughter. Some days we’ve had to really question why we are here and other days we couldn’t be more thankful. We’ve come across an amazing group of characters. Strangers that have become friends. Friends that have become family. A strange new country that has felt at times, home.

When we get back to the states next month, people will ask us to try and sum up these 2 years. What do we say? All I know is that whatever happened….happened. Our lives have forever been changed from this experience and in the end, we are still thankful for it all.

Some of my favorite memories, thoughts, and photos from these past 2 years (in chronological order):

– After 2 years I still can’t eat/handle spicy food (I was hoping I would be able to by now).

– I’ll miss the sights and sounds of Jamaica (video) Continue reading “2 years. 24 months. 730 days.”

* Life Updates, * Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Leaving is a Process, Too

Finally checked off the bucket list: hiking through farms in the hills of Westmoreland
Finally checked off the bucket list: hiking through farms in the hills of Westmoreland

There is quite a lot involved to join the Peace Corps. Months of paperwork, packing, saying goodbye, the multitude of tasks involved in putting your life “on hold…” With our two year mark approaching this week, we are now learning that there is almost as much effort necessary to leave the Peace Corps as well.

After much anticipation, we recently learned that Continue reading “Leaving is a Process, Too”

* Peace Corps

Peace Corps Third Goal Blogging: An Unofficial Guide

PC Third Goal Blogging

Back in August 2013, we were thrilled to be able to participate in Peace Corps’ Third Goal Summit in D.C. with the other winners of the Blog It Home contest. We gained a renewed motivation to use our blog for PC’s Third Goal: to promote a better understanding back home of this new country and culture we’re experiencing.

Peace Corps HQ: Blog It Home
Peace Corps HQ: Blog It Home

The Summit also sparked a whole lot of great ideas for Third Goal blogging and allowed us to collaborate with the other blog winners from Thailand, Ethiopia, and Mexico as well as the Office of Third Goal. 

We were learning so much from each other, we decided it would be worthwhile to put all our thoughts together and create a practical resource for Volunteers who want to use their blogs for the Third Goal. 

Blogging Guide

This guide, created by volunteers, for volunteers, has already helped us become better bloggers and better Third Goal ambassadors. It is meant to be an ongoing and collaborative effort, so additional suggestions and contributions are encouraged. We hope Volunteers around the world will find it useful.

Even bloggers outside of Peace Corps will find this guide useful for sharing about cross-cultural experiences, service or mission trips, and travel.


To access the guide, start with the links below. You can also find the pages in our tabs above, under Peace Corps Info.

Blogging About Third Goal

> Includes: Why you should consider blogging about Third Goal topics, and serves as a homepage for the other resources

Resources in the guide are:

Principles for Third Goal Bloggers 

> Includes: Simple steps to improve the quality of your blog writing so that you can become a more effective ambassador of your host country’s culture and increase your readership

How To: The Nuts and Bolts

> Includes: Practical tips and tricks from blog settings to getting ideas for content, great for beginners and those wanting to up their game

Blog Post Idea Bank

> Includes: An extensive list of ideas for Third Goal-related blog posts, with examples from recent PCV blogs, so you can keep your content fresh and interesting


Again, we’d love to include tips, ideas, and examples from other Volunteer bloggers around the world, so if that’s you, don’t hesitate to provide suggestions using the comment form at the bottom of each of those resource pages.


* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

What makes a great Peace Corps host family

  • They become family, including you in family gatherings and outings, like Christmas parties, weddings, father’s day dinner…
  • They give you enough space and privacy while always being available when you need them.
  • When they notice that the rain is starting to fall and your laundry is hanging out on the line, they tell you before it’s too late– or, if you’re not home, they save your clothes from the downpour for you.laundry to dry in JA
  • They sit with you when the power goes out during tropical storms, sharing stories of storms gone by as you watch gusts torment the trees in the yard.
  • They fix up the TV antenna just in time to watch their team dominate the Olympics with you.
  • They stay up until 11pm with you watching a fellow Jamaican win a popular U.S. singing show.
  • When you cook a favorite meal from home, they politely oblige you in tasting your strange dishes. (And in the case of brownies, they surprise themselves asking for more.)
  • Occasionally they even carry home goodies to share- like fresh crab or lobster!
  • They let you enjoy the bounty of their yard: mangoes, avocados, limes, guavas, breadfruit, and more…
  • They volunteer alongside you at community events.
  • Impossible to forget, they will be in your heart and memories and stories for the rest of your life.host parents under umbrella