How to Interact More with Students

Write questions on post-it notes that you’d like students to ask you. Then, during break times you can stand in the hallway near areas where students congregate and hand them to curious students. Signal them to ask you the question. After they have initiated the conversation with the question, you can take it where ever you want to go.

Use sticky notes to initiate conversations with your students

As you’ve probably noticed, Japanese students tend to bunch up in groups when talking in the hallways. You can use this to your advantage in two ways. One, if they don’t know how to answer a question, usually their friend can give them advice. Two, after they have talked with you, they can ask each other.

What are your ideas for getting more communication in with your students?

How to Activate your Students’ Minds

The Sky at Night – The difference in electrical output between North and South Korea is like the difference between minds that are bored and those that are engaged.

A mentor of mine, Dr. Hiroshi Ota, head of the English department at Komazawa Women’s University, once said, “Telling students is not enough…” and it’s true, because “telling” facts and figures just does not elicit the same type of mental reaction that students crave and deserve.

Guessing and interaction are the opposite. Both require imagination, emotion, initiative, processing, and more. Both are meaningful. Both are active.

I think if we could take brain scans of students who were merely listening to a lecture and those who were engaged in an interactive exchange of guess-work, the images may look like the difference between North and South Korea of the sky at night.

One, a portrait of extreme poverty and suffocation — the other a model of activity and output.

Guessing activates the mind, which means emotion and logic are both involved.

If you’re still not convinced that the targeted use of guessing is the most important tool a teacher has in her toolbox, guessing also shifts the conversation from what’s factually true and untrue — to what can be. When students are guessing, there is no real right or wrong answer.

Why? Because when we are guessing, it is not about being right or wrong — but about the process of generating and sharing ideas.

So, how to activate your students’ minds? The first answer is getting them to “guess”. The second is “interaction.”

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Some “Guesswork” Activities

  • play a “guessing game” with your students at any time you want to introduce a key word or phrase. Give them hints to the word and ask them to guess what it could be (Japanese is okay if it is a difficult word). If you wanted to talk about “priority seats” you could give them hints like, “This is on a bus…”, “It is very nice and comfortable…”,  “We can sit on them…”, “Old people use them…”, and so on. It takes 1-5 minutes depending on time and enjoyment level.
  • Another guessing game is when doing flash card work. Sometimes words come up that all students definitely know. “Hamburger”, for instance. Instead of wasting the opportunity and just showing (read: “telling”) them the word, have them guess. Say, “Oh! I think you know this next word…It’s very delicious…It is famous in America…It has ketchup on it…” and so on. My students absolutely adore this 30 second game.
  • When doing any work with picture cards or powerpoint pictures show them a portion of the picture and have them guess what it could be. Or, alternatively, if it is a scene involving people, have them guess what the emotions of the people are. “How does he feel?” “Why?”, etc.

These are a few ideas. What ideas do you have?

“What do you like food?”

As language teachers we have to tread softly when it comes to students making mistakes. If we don’t point out errors, we run the risk of making them permanent. Over-correct and we can stamp out our students’ confidence in speaking.

So, when you hear common mistakes like these, what is your protocol? How and when do you chose to correct mistakes?

Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section.

“Don’t Speak until it’s Perfect”

Sometimes English class goes a little like this:

1) Here are some words, practice them.

2) Here is the grammar, understand it.

3) Here is the pattern, repeat it.

4) Here are more patterns, repeat them.

5) Here are some other options, repeat them.

6) Okay, now that we’ve spent 45 minutes repeating the pattern, you have 2 minutes to try to use it in a real conversation. Got it? Okay, go!

(and most depressing of all):

7) Tomorrow we are moving on to a new grammar point, which you will learn in the exact same way.

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Everywhere within this type of lesson plan is the hidden message, “Don’t speak until it’s perfect.”

It is an approach that avoids the uncomfortable process of listening to mistaken English being spoken. But in the process of avoiding this hard truth of learning (i.e. mistakes are natural and inevitable), I feel that we often avoid actually teaching.

In the pursuit of perfect reproduction of the grammar point, students lose the chance for discovery through mistake. It also inevitably destroys confidence because with 2 minutes of “talk-time” and 45 minutes of examples, most students will fail to reproduce the pattern. Moreover, students miss out on an opportunity to learn a crucial learning tool: trial and error.

So, what’s the alternative? 

Flip the process on its head.

-Accept mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

-Let students practice a pattern by talking to their partners

-Use communication as a vehicle for smoothing out errors

-Enjoy mistakes and use them as a jumping off point for emphasizing the correct pattern.

Think what would happen if we told babies who were babbling their first consonant sounds to be quiet.

They probably wouldn’t learn their native language correctly.

Mother nature knows it well: humans learn through their mistakes. Let’s give our students the chance to make them by designing lesson plans and activities that are centered around making them.