Ken Can Kick Cats

Make it memorable. This is a truism I’ve learned to live and teach by recently. Do it with pictures. Do it with words. Do it with gestures and music. Find ways to make the words and sentences you are using memorable.

One way I like to do this is with wacky sentences.

“Can Ken Kick Cats?”

“Yeah, he can kick cats!”

“Spokemon spoke!” (pun with ‘Pokemon’)

“Remember November!”

Do you have some catchy phrases you like to use? Please share them in the comments below. How do you make your classes and points memorable?

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.

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.

GOAL! Measuring Success

“What was the point of that?”

I’m realizing more and more that this reaction has probably been common among some of my students for some time. Why? Because for the last 2 years of teaching, I have never really provided my students with clear goals or targets within classes — or even within units — to complete to be successful in English class.

It is partly a consequence of not designing many lesson procedures. Now that I have started doing more lesson planning, I have discovered the wonders of this approach.

What is it?

It’s simple. It is essentially telling the students at the beginning of the class, what the goal for the class is. “Hey! That’s a no-brainer, Elliott. You mean to say you don’t do that?”

Well, I have to admit that for the better part of 2 years, I haven’t really. But I invite you to consider your own lesson plans. Do you really provide this valuable signal to your students every time?

If, however, you’re thinking, “Why goals? Who needs goals?” I’ll give you several reasons why it has revolutionized my teaching.

1) With goals, students better understand expectations. When students understand these often  elusive things, they are better able to perform tasks and activites.

2) Goals set a standard that can be used to assess students and/or the lesson or procedure.

3) Goals set a standard so that people know when they are meeting and exceeding the targets of a class/unit/subject/etc.

Goals can be a simple as saying, “By the end of the lesson you will know the how to say these 5 words well” or “By the end of the lesson you will be able to ask someone’s age.”

Or they can be larger. For example, “Today’s goal is to talk for 1 minute in English with 5 people.” Or better yet “Today’s goal is to talk more”.

General overarching goals are good for a class or an entire program. (Right now we are devising the overarching goals of our “Talk More! English communication classes.) Those are good for showing students what they are working toward.

Small, targeted, micro-goals are good for individual classes where you want students to perform specific things.

I think anyone in their right mind can only do stuff without expectation for so long. If a teacher always came into my class and had me doing things that I didn’t enitrely follow and without clear guidlines for when I did something well or not, I know I would get pretty upset and discouraged. 

So try to put an end to confused students lacking motivation. Tell students what they are going to do and set expectations so everyone can measure success.

A good friend of mine once said, “Do you know the great thing about high expectations? A lot of times students will exceed them.” Everyone wins.

Say Hello to Sunshine

[Updated]

I have my bad days too, but asking students, “How’s the weather?”  in a dull, sunken voice is a common mistake I’ve been trying to avoid recently.

I walk to the window and invite the students to look outside.

I say, “Hey! It’s a beautiful day!!! Look! You can see snow, mountains, trees, the sunshine!”

Then I ask “How’s the weather?”

I love it when the curtains are drawn.

I like to say, “I wonder how the weather is…Is it SUNNY? Is it raining CATS and DOGS?…” *My troll grin appears*

I whip open the shade and invite the students to look with me.

It’s great when the the sun is bright in the sky and pours into the room

Then I say, “Wow! It’s bright outside! How’s the weather everyone?”

If I’m gonna ask, “How’s the weather?” everyday, the least I can do is say hello to a little sunshine.

What a Clock can Do

Wanna make students laugh, concentrate more, learn something  more about English?

During the morning greeting, when we ask the four proverbial questions, point to the clock and say *Big TROLL Grin* “How’s the weather??”

When the students scoff, play it off and say, “Oh, now you’re listening” or “Hey, my English isn’t so good…Give me a break.”

The point: create opportunities like this where you can speak more unscripted English. Hate your textbooks or the regime in the class? This is one of the best ways to introduce more language in real contexts that students can grab a hold of. It also gets their attention…

The words and phrases like these that native speakers easily produce are the glue that hold the language together. Students need more of it to catch the rich meaning and context of the language. They need you.

Introducing Vegemite at a Japanese School

Vegemite: Delicious or no: The debate rages on

An article by guest-writer, Kavita P, CIR, Kochi Prefecture

A contentious topic for Australians everywhere (surely) is whether Vegemite, our alleged favourite spread, is as delicious as people claim it to be. As a child, I myself was on the anti-Vegemite side, but I was won over in my teenage years, and, as I live in Japan, it provides me with a great deal of nostalgia for back home every morning for breakfast.

Introducing Vegemite to people in Japan is a particularly tricky thing to do, especially if you have trouble articulating the subtleties of the spread in Japanese. Nevertheless, it’s probably something that most Australians working with children in any capacity may feel inclined to do at some stage, even if only for lack of anything else to do in class.

I’ve introduced Vegemite to 4 groups of primary school children here in Kochi prefecture, and more recently to a group of retired folk. Before taking on these people, I tried to research how to approach the task. But most of what I read about from other people’s experiences with giving it to classes seemed overwhelmingly negative. The Japanese tasters couldn’t stand it in most cases. That made me sad.

So, I formulated a cunning plan to brainwash my students into liking Vegemite. And lo and behold, for the most part it seems to have worked. To that end, I’ve made a small list of things to do and not to do, which may help your own endeavours should you be that way inclined:

Don’t:

  • Give people Vegemite without priming them first

If you introduce Vegemite by saying “ha har, get a whiff of this!” you’re not going to do your students any favours. The victim’s reaction will undoubtedly be hilarious and make for a fun class. So if that’s what you’re going for, then go right ahead. But if you are trying to introduce a bit of Australian culture on a deeper level and attempt to cultivate some intercultural understanding in young minds, it is maybe wise to veer away from that line of thinking. Priming is really important!

  • Talk excessively about how ‘different’ Vegemite is from Japanese cuisine

This puts people in a mindset where the flavour is completely alien to them and the strong peer pressure in Japanese schools will almost guarantee that everyone in the class will spend more time saying ‘eewwww!’ together than they will actually trying the food they’ve been given.

  • Make a big deal about how most people hate Vegemite, especially foreigners

Again, this isn’t conducive to giving the food a fair go. I think it’s a good idea to mention the fact that many people from outside of Australia find it strange, but in the same way that Japanese natto(fermented soy beans) is considered to be a ‘Japanese pallet only’ food. I’ll talk about this in more detail next. 

Do:

  • Explain that Vegemite is like ‘Australia’s natto’

Natto is a fermented soy bean dish which is native to Japan and quite, quite foul to many people (including many Japanese locals). One of its main detractors is its strong smell. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s our Vegemite there. If you introduce Vegemite by pointing out this similarity, people will know to be prepared but at the same time be reassured by connecting it to a food in Japanese culture. Here’s a simple way you might be able to say this: 

Vegemiteはどちらかというと「オーストラリアのなっとう」です。なぜなら、地元の多くの人がよく好きですが、外国の方がよくきらいなのです。そして、ちょっとくさいです!

Vegemite wa dochiraka to iuto, “oosutoraria no nattou” desu. Nazenara, jimoto no ooku no hito ga yoku suki desu ga, gaikoku no kata ga yoku kirai nano desu. Soshite, chotto kusai desu!

If anything, Vegemite is “Australia’s natto”. This is because many locals enjoy it but many people from overseas hate it. It also smells a bit!

  • Explain that the flavour is very salty, and similar to salty miso soup

This will help people to know what to expect taste-wise. When I prime people like this, I find it gives them confirmation bias to a degree. I get a lot of feedback of “yeah, it really does taste like salty miso soup!” Here’s an example of how you might be able to express this in Japanese:

ちょっと塩辛い味がするし、赤味噌汁の味と似ていると思います。

Chotto shio-karai aji ga suru shi, aka miso shiru no aji to niteiru to omoimasu.

It’s a bit salty, and the flavour is similar to red (salty) miso soup.

  • Give everyone a chance to smell the Vegemite from the jar before serving it

Be sure to keep the jar held far enough away from each person that they won’t get a big whiff of it, just a light smell. From a distance it really does smell a little like strong miso soup, so hopefully this will help them to relax a little. Also, keep an ear out for which students recoil and which students seem interested; when you are serving, try to serve the calmer, less repulsed(!) students first because most kids will base their own reaction off the reaction of the first person. A little lesson in peer pressure there.

And there you have it. Thanks to some good priming/brainwashing beforehand, more than half of each group of kids found that even if they wouldn’t want to eat it every day, Vegemite didn’t really taste so bad after all. I had an even better reaction with the retired folk, who ended my session with them conspiring to travel to Australia for a holiday. I suspect they appreciate salty foods more than the children do.

Probably the most prejudice to come out of a Vegemite introduction session actually was from my perspective, unfortunately. After exposing a group of Grade 3/4 students to the joy of Vegemite, one of the kids approached me eagerly after class.

“Will you bring something else to class next time?” he grinned, clinging on to my arm (which I HATE but am too polite to react to).

“Yes, I’m sure I’ll bring something else at some point,” I replied.

“Ooh, I hope you bring sweets next time!” he gushed, looking up at me hopefully with pleading eyes.

This is something that I would expect all children to say. However, the little child in question was the most rotund of the class, and I couldn’t stop myself scoffing in the depths of my subconscious: “Well, of COURSE you would, wouldn’t you?”

If you have any more suggestions for how to serve Vegemite to students in any country, please write it in the comments section! 

Kavita P is currently a participant on the JET programme as a Co-Ordinator of International Relations (CIR or 国際交流員) in Shikoku, Japan. You can read more of her writing on the Kochi Ken AJET website.