Clever Use of the 1-Minute Break

The other day a 2nd grade JHS class got off to a rocky start. The students sat at their desks with confused looks or staring into oblivion as we teachers struggled to get even the slightest response to our questions.

Then suddenly my JTE said to the students, “Okay let’s restart the class. I’ll give you a one minute break. Talk with your friends, stretch — do whatever.  But in one minute we will start the class again and I want you to answer our questions.”

It was like a miracle. The students had their break, and with the tension now gone from the room we were able to have a successful lesson.

I highly recommend this clever technique.

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?

Simple is Good

It is easy to forget. But this is great advice to students.

Sometimes students want to come up with the most complicated sentence in the world when all they really need is something simple and easy.

After all, most of our daily conversations are simple. They start off that way at least.

What did you do last weekend?

Was it fun?

What did you eat?

Rarely, if ever, do we ask something like, “If it were the first time you ever visited this place and you had a lot of time, and you could speak with dolphins, what would you ask the Dolphin King?”

It’s nonsense and it’s just too long.

For students just starting to learn the fundamentals of communication, it is easy to forget. But simple is good.

Expanding Review

Get Back to the Basics and Show your Students How to Actually Use English (Graphic via:

Long time no post. Today I want to talk about expanding the length of review as a means of reinforcing important language. Let me write today about my theory and examples, and later in the week I will tell you about a fun game to use.

In my special needs class, I am lucky to have a small class of 5 capable and interested students. In this class I have been experimenting with this technique and have gotten some pretty remarkable results.

It started when I realized the phrase “here you are”/”thank you”/”you’re welcome” (when handing something to someone) was underutilized and underestimated by students and teachers.

So, in my special needs class I have taken the last 5 or 6 lessons to give a short 5-10 minute preview of the many and various situations this phrase can be used in, and had the students practice them. For example: handing someone a piece of paper, handing someone a gift, giving out candy (during Halloween), offering someone some coffee, etc.)

In the regular class, this phrase is used almost exclusively when handing things to and from the teachers. Understandably, it becomes dead and tiresome language.

Seen in this expanded review, however, students can come to appreciate the variety of situations it is necessary for, and, consequentially, the phrase becomes a meaningful and useful part of the students’ vocabulary. The phrase suddenly makes sense and students are motivated to use it!

This approach of slowing down, focusing and refocusing on important phrases, showing a variety of situations they are used in provides the structure for understanding and using English in a natural context. It is what I am terming “Expanded Review” (even though, in my opinion, it might just as well be a feature of the regular cirriculum). It has me using more English in class and getting more real communication with students (i.e. back and forth conversation) than I could have ever imagined in any kind of class.

The downside of the regular class, of course, is that students miss opportunities like this to focus and re-focus on a phrase. In the breadth of everything that teachers cover in one year, phrases lose their meaning and are thus easily forgotten. Language becomes forced and arbitrary.

Now, I am using the special needs class as a testing ground for ideas like this. My hope is that showing how it works effectively in this classroom, I can start conversations with JTEs at my school and tell them how important an expanded review of small structural language like this are to students’ understanding of and success in English.

Connecting with JHS Students through “English Kyushoku”

Kyushoku. Photo cred: Andrea McGovern 2011

Submitted by Ed Fec, Sakata City

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The first line of “A Tale of Two Cities” is pretty much what comes to mind when I think about having school lunch at JHS. As a JHS/ES ALT, I almost always eat with students and sometimes it’s great fun, while other times it’s like being in a library. Occasionally it’s simply frustrating. Still, I’m glad I do it since it gives me a chance to talk to students more outside of class.

I’m now in my 8th year as an ALT and no longer on JET, of course. When I first came here, students pretty much had to speak to me in English as my Japanese wasn’t very good. Now, however, they all know that I can speak Japanese and it’s much harder to get them to talk to me in English.

Whether I should speak to them in English or Japanese during school lunch is a moot point because personally I think that as long as we are communicating, the language used isn’t as important. What I’ve noticed, though, is that in many classes there are usually at least 1 or 2 students who want to practice their English, but don’t get the chance to — either because I don’t sit with their group when I do go to their class, or because they are too shy to speak in English in front of other students.

To remedy this problem I have recently been doing “English Kyushoku” at some of my schools (I have 4 junior high schools). Instead of eating in the classroom with the whole class every day, I eat my lunch in a separate room (a spare classroom or meeting room) with volunteers from the class who want to speak with me in English. I limit the number of students to 6 and I get the JTE to organise it in advance so that both the homeroom teacher and I know how many students will come.

So far the results have been positive. I’ve had some great conversations and spoken to some students whom I’d never really spoken to before.

So, if anyone else at JHS is suffering from “silent kyushoku syndrome” or any other similarly debilitating lurgies, feel free to try this remedy!

Ed Fec, (Sakata City)