Fake Hamburgers

Do you want fries with that?

These are some fake hamburgers and apple pies we made for teaching the “ordering at a restaurant” lesson from the first year New Horizon book. We set up a counter and the supplies and had the students act out original scene with these props. They could order what they wanted and the cashier had to give the right order total in dollars.

Using props is, admittedly, something I don’t get to do as often as I like because not every lesson is suited for it. But to make the classroom into a stage of sorts where students can act out a drama and truly think and feel the situation the language is being used in, is really where the English classroom ought to always be. If only students could think of the English classroom like this more often — and we teachers could give them the tools and motivation to make it so — I bet people could learn English a lot faster.

Believe it or not, small props like these can revolutionize an otherwise dull and mindless English lesson. Because when we are acting, the production of English probably gets as real to daily life as it can in a classroom.

Conversation Flow

Start Teaching your Students about the Right Conversation Flow so they can be COOL too (photo via baubauhaus)

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I want to write about responsibility — not in the normal sense of the word, but when it comes to conversations. That is, who leads a conversation and the things we do to be polite.

As an English teacher, I am often frustrated by the inability of students to be responsible for conversations. This manifests itself in the way I often have to lead a one-way conversation (i.e. I ask the questions, the students answer) or the tendency of students to shy away, turn to friends, or actually run away before a conversation can ever take place.

These responses are of course natural because with limited exposure to English, it is hard to expect students to know how to lead a conversation, much less have the vocabulary to carry one on for more than a short time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to teach students about this or that we should give up speaking altogether. Rather, it is important to give them tools to begin learning how to be better conversationalists.

Thus I have started using the “And you?” Rule with many of my students and especially with my special needs class, which, as I explained yesterday, I have more leeway shaping the curriculum.

The “And you?” Rule boils down to this: if I ever ask a student a direct question, I tell them that they can carry on the conversation a little longer if they then ask, “And you?” after they have answered the question for themselves.

This is a small technique (and perhaps seemingly trivial), but it is important for several reasons. First, it teaches students that conversations are two-way, and can’t progress if one person is always talking. Second, it gives them an easy phrase that encourages real communication. Third, it shows students that they have responsibility in the a conversation to maintain the conversation by actively answering the question and asking the person they are talking to for more information. This is a start to teaching students how to have healthy conversations in English. With a shared responsibility for conversations, you’ll notice that communication with your students is not only more natural, but more polite and easier — because now you are sharing the conversation with students as opposed to always leading!

This small little phrase can turn a 30 second conversation into a 5 minute conversation because the more chances we have to talk, the more we learn about each other and the more things we can talk about. Teach it to some of your students and let the conversation flow.


Today I want to share an effective way of explaining complex directions to students that I picked up from a JTE who always has great ideas.

When it comes to explaining activities (especially writing activites with lots of rules and advice), there are two obvious routes to take. One is to forego English altogether, while the second is to attempt a simple explanation in English (and fall back on Japanese if that doesn’t work). In an ongoing effort to increase the English spoken in the classroom, a teacher I work with has been doing something unique. First he will write the explanation on the blackboard in Japanese while the students are occupied with something else. Then he will say something like, “Now I am going to explain the main activity. I wrote it here in Japanese, but I am going to tell you about it in English.” We will then proceed to lay out all the directions and expectations all in English (and with reference to the chalkboard), and if students don’t understand they can see the board.

Small changes like this can revolutionize the classroom and give students more confidence in listening to unbroken English. It is certainly refreshing for me to see.

Adjective Cheat Sheet

The Adjective Cheat Sheet

This is a card that I keep in my textbook to use with students on writing lesson days. It contains useful adjectives and how to conjugate them. With it, I can walk around the classroom and answer student questions about their essays without having to go through the hassle of flipping through the book to find the chart there. I can whip this card out instead.

This material actually comes from a table in the back of the New Horizon 2nd and 3rd year textbooks (JHS). The chart is very useful, so I like to see students using it when they are drafting original sentences.

I added a conjugation guide at the bottom there to prevent more hassle

To make the card, simply photocopy the page from the back of the book and attach it to some cardstock or construction paper. I added a conjugation guide to the card to make it more helpful. If possible, I think it would be great to find other charts like this to keep handy. If you have any ideas, let me know.

I got the table from the back of the textbook

A Smooth Class Greeting

This is a small tip I learned today from a JTE I work with. During the class greeting at the beginning and end of his classes, this JTE always allows  his students to remain sitting in their seats. Since this is a departure from how most other English classes are run, I asked him to tell me why he did it that way. These are his reasons:

“The first merit,” he said, “is that it saves time. In English classes, time is precious so even 30 seconds counts.” The second reason comes from an observation he made. “When I worked for 3 years at another school I noticed that students would only grudgingly get out of their seats for the beginning and ending greetings. I could tell by their faces that they felt like they were being forced to do something they didn’t necessarily want to do. So I decided to allow them to always remain sitting during these times.”

He believes that if the students feel annoyed about having to get out of their chairs, that this unpleasantness not only carries over into their greeting, but also through the rest of class. By allowing the students to stay seated, he thinks he can evoke a more natural (and usually friendlier) response from students. Then he is able to jump straight into the lesson without any interruption.

I think it is a great trick and I’ve seen it work wonders on classes. So please try it out if you can.

Use the Class Greeting to your Advantage

At the beginning of most classes I’ve seen in Japan, there is a class greeting, where students and teachers say “Good morning/Good afternoon!” and students sometimes answer a few questions.

In my case, the boilerplate questions are:

1) How’s the weather today?
2) What’s the date today?
3) What’s the day today?
4) What time is it now?

Although genuine in their attempt to reinforce some common questions students may encounter in daily life, it’s easy to imagine how they get boring beyond belief. That’s why I decide to mix them up a bit.

The way I do this is by using this greeting time to my advantage. I am typically given free-reign during this time to go down the litanty. Since it is the beginning of class and I have the students’ attention, I found it is a good time to introduce some new phrases.

The two phrases I’m working on in my classes are:

1) “Long time no see!” and
2) “Nice to see you!”

Considering how frequently Japanese people use the phrase “hisashiburi” (the Japanese equivalent of the first phrase), it is shocking many students will never learn how to say this in English if they stick by the New Horizon textbook (other textbooks may vary, though). Since I visit each class about 1 time a week (meaning one week passese before I see a class) I consider it appropriate to use this phrase and have the students echo it back to me during the class greeting.

A variation on this phrase is “Nice to see you!”. After I have “Long time no see” down pact with a class, I’ll move on to this next phrase. The idea came from my myriad experiences running into students downtown on my free days. I found myself always wanting to say “Nice to see you!”. But since students didn’t learn it in schools, they heard “See you!” and waved goodbye — a very funny misunderstanding, indeed.  So I use this phrase with the students to help them learn the distinction between, “Nice to see you”, “Nice to meet you” and “See you!”

Other ways to mix up the class greeting are to throw in simple yes no questions. For example, if I ask, “How’s the weather” and it is sunny, I will ask a follow up like, “Do you like the sun?” or “Are you happy it’s sunny?”

On Mondays, I will ask classes if they enjoyed their weekend. I’ve found that “Did you enjoy *fill in event here*” is always a good question to ask students.

On Fridays, I’ll ask 3rd grade classes what they will do during the weekend.

Of course, the flexibility one may have in tweeking this morning or afternoon ritual will depend on the level of the class and their general mood toward English on that day. That’s why I’ve found that consistancy and enthusiasm are key during this exercise.

Connecting with Students

photo credit: via Baubauhaus


Making an effort to bond with your student pays in dividends. It makes your job fun and easier because students who feel connected to you not only pay attention to your lessons, but enjoy them more.

Just think of how much more of an impact your classes would have if inside and outside the classroom you worked to cultivate relationships with your students. This is something that I think a lot of the sempai ALTs know very well. Here are the 3 tricks I’ve found. So if you’re a new ALT or you’re looking for some new ideas, why not try out some these for yourself or post your strategies in the comments below?

  1. Always say “Hello” to students and maybe even wave when you pass them in the hallway. I’ve found that a big and friendly greeting will be mirrored by students over time. Are you tired of saying “Hello” all the time? Try a different language: bonjour! Ni how ma! Konichiwa! Kalimara! are fun to throw into the mix and can help start a conversation (i.e. “Can you speak *fill in foreign language here*). Slang greetings are also brilliant (“What’s up?”) — especially if you can get individual students to share the original greeting with you. They all know “Hello, how are you?” So you can make more connections by establishing unique greetings with different groups of students.
  2. Help out with lunch clean-up. If your school is like mine, then after lunch large groups from each class will carry their lunch supplies back to the cafeteria. I found that this is a good opportunity for face time with the students. I like to stand at the entrance where all the lunch groups are streaming in. I can help out by checking the various boxes and trays of dishes, and make small talk with the students as they pass. Also I have something of a captive audience with those students that are helping out around me, so I really make an effort to talk with them, either to make them laugh, teach them something new or make up a handshake (which by the way is another fun idea).
  3. Attending end-of-the-day class meetings (i.e. owarinokai) — this is a trick I discovered on a visit to other schools. When it comes to making connections, face time is key. So if you can attend these meetings with different classes (on a rotating basis) you can not only feel more involved but the students will notice that you are taking an interest in them beyond the scope of what they have probably seen before. Plus, these meetings are fascinating. You can get a chance to see your students in a completely different light. And if you feel like giving a speech or some words of  encouragement to the students about studying, I find that the teachers will make time for me. Start by asking the teachers you are close with. If you like the experience, you can gradually expand your attendence to include all the classes.


Connecting with the students may seem hard at first. In fact, it is something I still struggle with. Sometimes I give the most cheerful greeting in the world to a student and get nothing but the cold shoulder. But that is natural. Building relationships takes time. In a school of 30 students it’s hard enough to build these relationships — let alone a school with 500, 600, or 700 students. I’d like to continue this subject in a later post because I’ve discovered it is a key part of our jobs here. For now, however, I’ ll leave you with these 3 ideas. If you’ve discovered a great trick for connecting with students, please explain it in the comments section below.