The other day I wrote a post about 3 strategies for implementing a communication program at your school. This page gives you a concrete example of how you can get started on the first strategy of “introducing 3-5 minutes of back-and-forth communication in every class.” The first Mini-Revolution involves reclaiming the classroom greeting. It is incredibly important and an easy place to start. It has three goals:
1) Getting your students to take one small step in the direction of being more communicative.
2) Showing your JTEs that short, communicative exchanges are fast, easy and help reinforce important learning targets.
3) Showing your JTEs that you can be effective in teaching and motivating students to do daily classroom tasks and activities, which the JTE finds important.
Thinking back to what I wrote on in “Step I: Preparation”, you can see that this project is all about creating rapport with students and JTEs and creating credibility for you and your ideas.
“Gee, that sounds like a lot, Elliott — especially with all this talk about goals.” You may be thinking. But actually if you understand that this project really just about taking an existing activity — the classroom greeting — and making the most of it, you’ll see that this Mini-Revolution is quite simple.
What’s the big idea? This Mini-Revolution is all about taking the regular 3-5 minute classroom greeting and doing MORE, in the same amount of time — but with FOCUS, FORCE and PURPOSE.
In fact, this Mini-Revolution is so simple you can start tomorrow. From there, you can hone your skills and develop your own ideas.
So, now that you have a general idea of the goals of this project, let’s get started talking about how to reclaim the classroom greeting and why you need to do it.
Mini-Revolution pt. 1: Reclaiming the Classroom Greeting
First Question: Why?
Taking charge and reclaiming time during the classroom greeting is a golden opportunity to set expectations with students, get the class off to a good start, and introduce a bit of communication. This is especially important with 1st and 2nd grade students since laying this foundation now will pay off for the next 2 years.
Often the classroom greeting is a 3-5 minute window given exclusively to the ALT to ask the 4 target questions, “How’s the weather?”, “What time is it now?”, “What day is it today?” and “What’s the date today?”. Some teachers will gloss over this part of the class: they ask the same 4 questions every time, tell the students to sit, and then start the regular lesson. In Japanese they have a great word for this approach. They say, “Mottainai!!” or “What a waste!!”.
You see, in Japan greetings are incredibly important — and a superb classroom greeting can be a game changer for an entire lesson or an entire class. Plus, this is your time and you can do several things with it if you take some initiative. Just remember to start small, especially if you’re changing the pattern of what you usually demand from the students. Small is good. Small changes can have a profound impact, and they are easy to make. So start small!
Second Question: How?
I have used bullets to outline my key advice. What follows is an explanation of my thinking and examples of how to apply my advice. Remember: the class greeting still needs to be about 3-5 minutes long. Do it every day and do one thing from each bullet point and you should be fine.
- You can start by insisting that students answer your 4 questions correctly and swiftly. This is especially good if your class doesn’t necessarily have the best attitude toward English, since small changes like these can transform a class. Why? Because it sets standards and expectations and thus the mood of the class. (Remember: small is good! I can’t stress this point enough!). If you have slouchers, don’t be afraid to call them out. If students are answering too slowly, stop them and give them instructions on how to answer smoothly and clearly. Demonstrate for them that slow answers are not cool and take too much time. Tell them that answering quickly with good posture and good eye contact is actually cool where you come. The students don’t think about English this way, so these ideas can be absolutely transformative.
Note: Please don’t be afraid to set higher expectations like these. If you think about it, it really isn’t much and the whole class will benefit from a better attitude. In fact, Japanese teachers actually want students to do the classroom greeting properly and fluently. So, if you take the initiative to get the students doing this routine right, it is bonus points for you! Besides, like I’ve already said, setting standards and expectations like these will bring you a more responsive and active class to work with. That’s good, huh? This advice goes for reading time too.
- Throw in some extra conversation that the students may be able to understand through context, gestures or other cues. If it’s sunny, have a big reaction to it. Say, “Oh my god! It’s soooo sunny outside! I love the sunshine!” Then you can ask the students, “How’s the weather?” Having big reactions like this gives you a clever way to introduce more English into the classroom. Stay silent here and you condemn the students to silence and monotony.
- Throw in some other “Yes/No” questions into the mix of the 4 greeting questions. Again, if it’s sunny, ask the class, “Do you like the sun?” If it’s Friday, ask, “Are you happy? It’s Friday!!” Ask as a class and if you get no response, call on some nearby students. This can be fun and it introduces more back-and-forth communication in the class.
- Try to throw in some open-ended questions like, “What’s your favorite subject?”, “What time did you get up?”, “How did you come to school today?” It doesn’t always work to ask these kinds of questions to the entire class, since everyone has a unique answer. If you ask the whole class a question like this, you are going to get a garble of language. So, it is a good opportunity to ask individual students for their responses. A critical part of making this successful is having a reaction to what the students say. If they say, “I get up at 4:00 am”, you better say, “Oh my god! That is sooooo early!” Again, you are introducing more language into the classroom and your are better simulating what a real conversation looks like. Plus it is fun. Getting into the habit of asking these open-ended questions provides the foundation for follow-up questions and the chance for real back-and-forth communication. This last step is the big goal of reclaiming the classroom greeting.
Note: The example questions I gave in the last bullet point are very good. They are 1st grade JHS questions. So if your students can’t answer them it is a good chance to review the answers. If they repeatedly fail to answer these simple questions, it might be a good idea to dig into them a little bit. “This is an Ichi-nensei question! You can’t answer it?” Use your better judgment, but please know that shame is an important motivational tool in Japanese culture. Doing so might seem a little harsh at times, but it can have the added bonus of motivating that student to pick up the slack. No student wants to lose credibility among their peers, even if it is English class.
Well, that’s it for now about reclaiming the classroom greeting. If your experience is anything like mine, then your job duties as an ALT are not very clearly defined, and your role as a teacher in the classroom and at your school is probably dubious at best. This Mini Revolution is important precisely because it allows you to start defining those roles while developing rapport with students and teachers and introducing a bit of communication into the classroom.
Nothing changes overnight and neither do you. If you are going to launch a successful communication revolution at your school, you need to modify the way things are done, the way classes go, the way you teach, the way students react, the way you work with your JTE, and so on.
This is a checklist of sorts, but it is also an idea chamber. So, take from it what you will, but remember that the goals I mentioned above. If you can find other ways to accomplish the same goals, that is great. Otherwise, try out some of these ideas in your classes. These are points of entry for you to change the game. Please try to use them.
What do you think of what I wrote? Please tell me about your reactions in the comments below.