These questions have come from actual emails from readers. If you have a question about communication stuff that doesn’t appear on this page, please contact me.
How did you start doing communication classes at your school?
It was my 3rd year on JET and I just came back from a conference where I saw a seminar about teaching in only the primary language. This seminar showed me that language is incredibly powerful and that communication activities are more fun than random games. It being the end of the year, I approached one of the JTEs I was closest with and told him about what I saw. We agreed that if the 3rd year students did nothing but test preparation 4 days a week, they would die of boredom, so my JTE asked me to write up some ideas for how we could do a communication class. I presented the ideas and we came up with a lesson plan for the first class. The class was wildly successful and popular with students and slowly the idea of doing communication classes and communication activities spread to the other JTEs. Now, we do communication activities and classes with all grades at my junior high school.
Do you teach your communication classes alone?
No, and I would’t have it any other way. Both JTEs and ALTs bring a unique set of teaching skills and experiences to the table that are essential for an effective communication class to take place. JTEs have tons of years of teaching experience, near-encyclopedic knowledge of English grammar, deep understandings of Japanese culture and how to explain things well to Japanese students, and more. ALTs are masters of communication, know a bunch about foreign countries and come to the table with unique ideas for teaching and presenting materials. I think the combination of these talents and skills is the best kind of team-teaching we can offer students.
How can I get my JTE on board with this project?
You will have to develop your own strategy for this because I don’t know what your specific teaching circumstances are. Generally speaking, however, the success of your proposals will depend on the relationship you have with your JTE and how receptive he or she is to your ideas. So building your reputation and relationships with colleagues goes a long way. Another strategy is to start small by proposing short communication activities to be used in the regular classroom. Doing so will pave the way for full communication classes if you can prove those activities are successful. For more information on this topic, check out the tips on the “getting started page” and the page about “approaching your JTE about communication classes.”
What if my JTE says “No”?
It’s easy: figure out a strategy that will allow you to turn “No” into “Yes”. For example:
- Go to another JTE with your idea
- Keep on proposing ideas until you find one that works
- Start with smaller communication activities first and build on your success
- Wait for new JTEs to come and ask them
- Ask at the end of the term or the end of the year when JTEs are looking for materials
I found that persistence and a little strategizing go a long way. Before you make any suggestions, prepare a brief explanation, including example materials and estimates of how long the activity should take. Moreover, if you can show how the activity fits into the larger goals of motivating students and reinforcing material from the text, your ideas will become much more appealing to JTEs.
What if a communication activity or class fails?
Failure is okay as long as you are learning and don’t let it get you down. Communication classes can fail for a number of reasons. You can experiment with several things:
- How structured (or unstructured) are the activities? Students may need more (or less) structure depending on their English level.
- What are the relationships of the students like? Classrooms that are more tight-knit tend to communicate more easily. Also, sometimes things don’t flow because girls and boys are scared of talking to each other. While ideally boys and girls will eventually overcome their irrational fears of each other, try experimenting with the way you make pairs (boys with boys; girls with girls; free pairs; etc.) and you might get a different outcome
- How easy (or difficult) are the expressions you use in the activity? Play around with what English you use in the communication activity and you may get a better result.
- How many times have you done communication stuff with the class? Often, communication is a totally foreign concept to students. With practice and a little repetition, communication activities can grow on students just like any other activity in the class. Don’t give up just because it isn’t a hit from the start.
In addition to this there are tons of other factors to examine. Failing is a good chance to reflect on your procedure and teaching approach. So take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow.
Can communication be taught to all grade levels?
I have the most experience teaching communication stuff to junior high school students and especially 3rd grade high school students, and I have found it is possible. Higher level communication skills obviously require higher level English, but in general it is possible to make activities for grade level that are incredibly useful to students. Right now, the communication activities page gives examples that are applicable to all grades. The communication classes section is designed for 3rd graders.
Do communication activities work for lower level classes?
In my experience and from what I have heard from other ALTs, yes. If you tailor the communication topics and goals to the level of students, it is totally possible to introduce them to the wonders of communicating in a foreign language. A good place to start with lower level classes is Eikaiwa Cards. Check out my Eikaiwa Cards post for more information.
What’s the difference between communication activities and communication classes?
Communication activities are short, targeted activities that serve as a warm-up to the regular class or which are used to practice specific expressions in a regular lesson. Communication classes are full, 50-minute classes where students try to improve their communication skills through practice and advice from teachers.