I think students need a chance to communicate. Otherwise all we teach them is just wasted air and black and white words on a page. There’s no resonance without spoken practice. 

In trying to convert other teachers to this way of thinking, I am working on soundbites that resonate and get this message of “Let’s talk more with students” across quickly. So far, these are the ones that seem to work.

“I don’t want to play games, I want time to talk with students.”

“If we had 5 minutes to talk with students during this class it would be good practice.”

“The students love communicating when they have the chance.”

“All we need is 5 minutes for talking and exchange to help students understand this.”

“Students can understand this better if they can try saying it.”

This system of 5-10 minute a “talk time” in each class, where we walk around the class and have tiny conversations with students, is still new to all of us, so it continues to be a grand experiment. If you realize like me that what students need most is more chances to practice using what they learn, and you need to do some converting of your own, then these soundbites might come in handy.

Can you think of any more that might be effective??

A Year of New Ideas

January is the 1 year anniversary of ALT-JTE Connect. With the new year I wanted to spell out the goals and focus of this website. While staying true to the ideas that inspired this website in the first place, I also want to focus the attention of this website in two areas: 1) Sharing teaching advice and 2) talking about ways to get students talking more.

Teaching Advice

In other words, any tricks, secrets, tips, materials, etc. that make an English teacher in Japan more effective

Talk More

This is all about fulfilling the ideal of making English classes more conversational. And the opportunity is now. English classes have increased to 4 classes a week in junior high and once a week for 5th and 6th graders. The Ministry of Education recommends that classes be taught in mostly English. That means that it is our chance to step up to the plate and start producing ideas, curriculums, strategies and connections to make this vision a reality.

What’s in it for you?

-Get free teaching materials and ideas to spark your imagination

-Join the conversation and become a part of the movement for more communication in English classes.

I created this website to have these kinds of conversations and I’m so excited to see where it takes us. Here’s to what I hope will be a rewarding and thrilling year of discoveries and new ideas.

Repetition and Second Chances

It never ceases to amaze me how good repetition is in the classroom.

In its simplest form, it means stopping and repeating the directions I just gave in a slower, simpler way.

In the advanced form, it includes review, consistent use of classroom English, repeating a phrase 3 times to highlight intonation (when teaching reading or pronunciation), and so on.

I used to get embarrassed by the idea of having to repeat myself because I thought I should be smart enough to give the best explanation the first time.

But I’ve realized it’s not about that at all. It’s about giving the students a second chance to hear something they might not have caught at first.

Perhaps if I give them a second chance to understand, the students will give English a second chance, too.

Tiny Conversations

Making my JHS students conversational is my #1 priority this year. It is a big change but it is done in the smallest of ways — through tiny conversations.

Is it a revolution? Maybe. But as Malcolm Gladwell would say, these things start with the smallest changes.

And small changes is what I’m after.

I figure this change takes about 5 minutes per class.

Anything more is understandably hard to swallow for some teachers. But all I’m after is 5 minutes.

5 minutes of direct questions to students where everyone can see and hear — and with lots of feedback, advice, comparisons and exchange.

It looks sort of like this, but varies every time:

Me:“Hey, what did you eat for breakfast?”
Student:“It’s had kome.”
Me:“Everyone, what is ‘kome’ in English?
Me:“Oh, I see. So you had rice?”
Me:“Let’s practice, everyone. ‘I had rice.’”
Everyone:“I had rice.”
Me: (To a new student) “Hey, what did you have for breakfast…”

Instead of a game, I want to give students a conversation. The conversation itself IS the game.

And it is a gift – a gift based on feedback, where mistakes are opportunities for everyone to learn. A gift where lingering mistakes are finally revealed and exercised.

Every class presents a chance for free talk time if it only takes a few short minutes. If we start small with our tiny conversations we can show the students and ourselves that even the most profound changes begin with smallest of words.

The “Delicious” Apple*

It’s easy to forget our students often see us standing in the front of the class with nothing more than black or white cards with little real value to them.

The cards say “DELICIOUS” on one side, and the Japanese translation is on the reverse.

We smile wildly and say, “Repeat after me!”

“Say, ‘Delicious!'” We tell them.

“delicious…” the students respond with their head in their hands.

“No, with enthusiasm!” We counter. “Say, ‘It’s delIcious!'”

“It’s delicious…” they mumble.

“Okay, good!” We say, trying to disregard the lack of improvement with  brightness and cheer.

We flip over the next card. It says “Cute.” And we repeat the same process.

Even when there is a picture associated with a word we are teaching, we have to remember that, to the students, it is simply a thin piece of paper with some black and white characters on it. They will see 1,000 more of these same cards before they graduate JHS. “Problem?” You ask?

If it’s always just a piece of paper, students are rarely if ever able to attach an emotional or intellectual connection to the words on the front of the card.

Living in a country where we are studying the language we can experience tasting a delicious apple and learning the word for “delicious”. We see the gorgeous person walking down the street and our friend nudges us, “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” he says.

When we learn these words, we aren’t staring at a black and white piece of paper and learning the word for “Delicious”. We savor the succulent apple juice on our tongue as the cool liquid slides down our throat, satisfying our thirst and desire, and then we say “Oishii!” (if we’re learning Japanese).

Students don’t often have the luxury.

What does it mean?

It means 1) try to go easy on your kids if they aren’t remembering words or picking them up as fast as you. They don’t get the same sensory experiences as when you are studying Japanese.

2) Try to find ways to bring more sensory experiences into the class so that you can help students attach an emotional and intellectual experience to the vocabulary they are learning.

After all, you don’t know if the apple in front of you is really delicious until you taste it.

*This idea was inspired by a fellow JET ALT. His presentation at the Regional Seminar rocked! Thank you Mr. D. H.

What’s Really Cool?

For whatever reason, some students have a different idea about what it means to be cool in the English classroom. Is it a rebellion against the English classroom? If so, in some senses I entirely understand it.

But an attitude against English is counterproductive for English teachers.

So, we are trying to turn that paradigm on its head.

We’ve started giving our 3rd grade students tutorials on how to be cool in English.

“Good eye contact is cool.” We tell them.

“You’ve got to have a nice smile and good expression.” We say.

“Saying your words smoothly is cool…”We quietly remark.

This approach teaches them English etiquette and takes the wind out of the sails of students who try to do otherwise.

Suddenly, the student who tries hard to improve their pronunciation and speak fluently is a hero.

In the normal English classroom, some of that rebellious behavior may seem cool. In a real conversation, however, it turns out to be quite rude and difficult to understand.

For their benefit, then, we’ve got to shatter those illusions about cool English behavior and show them what’s really cool.