The Test Won’t Change, But You Can

The textbook is a byproduct of the examination system and so are ALTs. It’s the reason we are turned into tape recorders and reading comprehension teachers and vocabulary drillers. We become support tools for a broken textbook based on a broken exam. 

We all know that the textbook won’t change until the exam does. But we ALTs can change whenever we want. We have so much flexibility in our job descriptions that we can make our job virtually anything we want it to be. We change it with the materials we bring to the table and the attitude we bring to class.

Why wait for the system to correct itself — if it ever does? We can change things for students today by becoming the communication teachers students really want and need.

Illustrating the Differences Between “Fun”, “Exciting” & “Enjoy”

Today one of my co-workers asked me about the differences between these words because students often confuse them when trying to translate the word “tanoshii” from Japanese. I made this “learn by example” sheet, which uses simple example sentences to illustrate common ways we use these words.

preview of the pdf

the “w/out elliott” version below leaves blanks for you to fill in your own name and draw your own face in the third bubble.

Download the PDF for free (with Elliott)

Download the PDF for free (w/out Elliott)

If you like this material please tell your friends about it.

Make Speaking to your Students Easier with Eikaiwa Cards

Eikaiwa cards logo

Communication skills are needed now more than ever. Help your students build them with these easy to use cards.

I carry a pack of these eikaiwa cards with me everywhere. They are perfect for striking up conversations with students and getting them to learn communication skills.

On each card there are 5 questions related to a theme, like “comics,” “sports,” and so on. I have a student select a card and then I proceed to ask them the questions on the list, making variations as needed for skill level or coherence. When I’m finished, I can either give the card to the student as a collector’s item, or let the student ask me some questions.

There are three question packs with about 36 cards. Please download them today and start using them with your students.

Question Pack 1 (PDF)

Question Packs 2 (PDF)

Question Packs 3 (PDF)

Logo and Description (PDF) – Fixed

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Using these cards gives students a chance to learn more English and practice speaking in more natural ways.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

The quick description on this card, lets students know what Eikwaiwa Cards are all about and what to do when they don’t understand a question.

Make Games and Programs for your Students with iSpring

I wanted to introduce you to a fantastic piece of software I have been using over the past year. The software is called, iSpring. It allows you to create presentations in PowerPoint and then convert those presentations into flash and HTML animations, which can be used in class — or uploaded online for students at home.  It is my goal to deliver greater chances for students to interact with English and learn better communication skills. I belive language-learning software can successfully accomplish this. Normally creating software on this level would take years of schooling in computer programming and game development. But with this software, I am able to bring my ideas to life and directly to my students.

Here are two examples of the kind of games and software I have been able to create, using iSpring.

 1) Talk More! English: language software for students 


click on the image to try a demo

This software uses high-quality audio, pictures and animations which are brought to life with iSpring. I am able to take whatever target sentences I want and transform them into living conversations for students to access and review at home.

2) Zombie Ping-Pong

zombie English
click on the image to try a demo

This game uses ping-pong as a metaphor for communication, giving questions the power to drive the ball back and forth. Incorrect responses are signified by “dropping the ball” in the game.

The benefits of this software and these games to my students have been incredible. My students go home and practice English at home and come to me the next day telling me they used my software to teach their younger brother or sister English — or that they finally learned how to say something that just didn’t register for them with the textbook. The link between the work I do and the impact on students has been quite immediate. Using this software has given me the opportunity to make a difference with students and their exposure to English in ways never before imagined.

iSpring is really great for a lot of reasons but the top three reasons for me are as follows.

1)      High-quality audio and image conversions. The same crystal-clear integrity of audio and images I create in PowerPoint is preserved in the flash animations iSpring creates.

2)      Ease of use. The button for converting a presentation is streamlined into Microsoft PowerPoint so I can easily create flash whenever I’m ready. Once the file is finished converting, I can immediately upload it on a website or use it on my computer for class.

3)      Simplification and access to powerful tools. In the past, it would take hundreds of hours of studying computer programming and game design to create the kind of software I’m able to build in PowerPoint. This software opens the world of computer programming to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

I hope that seeing this post will give you some inspiration for creating some software of your own. If you have any questions or you would like to contribute to this project please post your comments below.

Creative Ways to Use Paper Fortune Tellers

I remember my sister making these paper fortune tellers for us on a boring car rides or lazy days at home. They were always really fun to play with, especially if someone wrote some crazy things on the inside. That’s why it occurred to me that these paper fortune tellers could be used to help students practice English.


There are many ways to go about it. One is to go the traditional route and write simple fortunes like “You’re lucky!” or “You will be rich” on the inside flaps and go nuts with it in the hallways or after school.


The second approach is to write some easy English questions on the inside and use them to start conversations with students.

Now, let me tell you about where I’ve used these.

1. Before Class

Is it just me or is it always incredibly awkward to go up to shy students and try to spark a conversation that’s never meant to be? Now, if I bring one of these along I can easily approach students, using the strange origami things in my hands as an ice breaker.

2. During Class

I made 15 of these with questions inside the flap that all focused on the same sentence, “What’s your favorite~?” We taught the students how to use them and then let them walk around using the fortune teller as an interviewing device. We found that it was more fun if students handed off the fortune teller after each conversation, so that everyone got a chance to use it.

3. After school and during lunch break

Same as before class, it’s a lot easier to talk with students when students are distracted by this origami thing in your hands from all the pressure and anxiety of speaking English. I also found that the strange appearance of the fortune teller evoked was only matched by the strange curiosity students had for what it was.

Well, that’s it for this idea. If you want to know how to make one of these, please search “paper fortune tellers.” Using these fortune tellers students can brush up on English in more ways than one. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to find out how many of your students need to review the names of numbers and colors. Luckily, the intro of this game requires them to use them.

Help Improve Your Students’ Grammar (Free Download)

tip stubs

What better way to help your students improve their English than to give them a friendly reminder?  These raffle-ticket-sized stubs come in 3 colors and give students a quick reference for how to answer “Do you~”, “Are you~” and “Can you~” type of questions.

The intricate font and light colors were specially chosen to make these stubs collectible and amiable — because the only thing worse than making a mistake is being harshly corrected for it.

Hand them out in your classes when covering these grammar points. Or use them in the hallway when you encounter a student who is struggling with their do’s am’s and can’s.

Download Now in PDF or Word!

PDF download

WORD download

Got an idea for how to use these “Tip For You” stubs? Post your comment now!

Unexpected Letters

I often see “English Post” activities advertised on teaching websites, which are designed to invite students to write letters to their ALTs. It’s an activity that can work wonders for students and ALTs. But I’ve discovered that we ALTs don’t have to wait for students to initiate the correspondence. We ourselves can sidestep all the start-up costs of setting up the display and waiting for students to respond by writing directly to students and asking them to write back.

Have you ever received an unexpected card from a friend? Do you remember how that made you feel? A deep sense of connection and happiness, perhaps? I think all language learners are looking for connection, and in the same way it had an impact on you, it can create a connection that students were afraid of making themselves.

I think projects like “English Post” are of course good; but please remember that we ALTs can initiate all sorts of interactions. And sometimes the unexpected ones are the most meaningful.