Matthew's Classroom

I have been teaching English to kids in Japan for more than 20 years: public elementary schools in Tokyo for 11 years, and Hello Kids Komazawa for the last 9. For 3 years I have been teaching weekly lessons to students at Tsutsujigaoka Kindergarten. As I tend to stay at the same workplace for a long time, I've been able to see the long-term results of my work. Being able to really see children's English communication ability grow has been very rewarding. I mainly use APRICOT materials in my classroom. They best suit my goal of having students use as much English as possible while developing confidence and self-esteem. I enjoy teaching development, and I love discussing English education with other teachers!
  • 45. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #4


    This post will look at #4:


    4. Evaluate your lesson on how successful each student feels.


    It is important that students feel “I said what I wanted to say in English!”, and this should be the basis of your lesson. Kids tend to speak when placed in a situation that requires them to do so. As you review your lessons, ask yourself “Was I able to provide enough opportunities for the students to speak?”


    Whoa, now this is a big one. This point asks teachers to really ask themselves “Why am I teaching English? What do I want my students to achieve by taking my lessons?” In most countries around the world where English is taught as a foreign language, teachers (and students) are very clear on what they want lessons to result in: the ability to speak English. In Japan however, our English education is not geared towards this aim at all.


    As you may know, I teach in a small English conversation school for kids in Setagaya, Tokyo. I have a class on Mondays with 5 junior high students. Three of them enjoy speaking out and the seize on every opportunity I provide to do so. The fourth student isn’t really as expressive as her classmates, but will answer any questions addressed to her directly. The other student is fairly new to this class, he is the only boy in the class, and isn’t yet comfortable with speaking out.


    Last week, during an activity that required the students to share information in order for the activity to move forward and be completed, the young boy was not cooperating at all, and this was becoming frustrating for the girls because they really needed the information that he had!
    Suddenly, the student sitting closest to him leaned over to him and whispered in Japanese: “Hey! Come on! Speak please! This is not school here!”


    This comment, I felt, very adequately summed up Japan’s junior high English education: English is not studied as a language for the purpose of speaking it, rather its grammar rules and vocabulary are memorized only for examinations.


    My student’s comment to her classmate also confirmed that my lessons were indeed providing an alternative to her school education, and that is what I believe all of us outside the public school system should provide. As Kawahara-Sensei points out, this should be the basis of our lessons – whether we are using LEARNING WORLD with our students or not.


    For those teachers who are not used to providing speaking opportunities, who are not sure how to do it, but recognize that their students need it, Kawahara-Sensei gives a big hint:


    “Kids tend to speak when placed in a situation that requires them to do so.”


    This is exactly right. Kids on the whole will speak when they need to. So creating that need by way of situations in the classroom, is a major responsibility of their teacher.


    Try asking students to open their textbooks, but don’t tell them the page number. This situation will elicit “What page?” from the students.
    Try standing directly in front of the whiteboard as students are copying information from it into their notebooks. This situation will elicit “Excuse me” from the students.


    There are countless situations to create for students in the classroom. Each situation needs to be created for the specific purpose of students’ output. If your students don’t know the English expression for the English you are trying to elicit, then give the expression to them at that time, then try to elicit it from the students in the same situation a short while later.


    Eventually the amount of English your students can use will grow, and so will their feeling of success with English.

    44. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #3

    In the coming days I’ll be posting my thoughts on each of the excellent 10 pieces of advice for Learning World teachers on


    This post will look at #3:


    3. Don’t skip over the self-expression activities


    To be an effective communicator in a foreign language, you need much more than just knowledge of the target language. You need to have communication strategies AND you need to have a positive attitude towards expressing yourself. The culture of Japan is unique and beautiful, and much of it stems from the discouragement of public individual expression. Communication strategies within the Japanese language too are so unlike any other cultures, bordering almost on telepathy. However, the Japanese need to put these beauties to one side if they want to use English as a tool for communication because English, in both language and culture, is not like Japanese at all.


    With Japanese English education being so exam-oriented and not focused on communication, it’s no surprise that it gives no thought to strategy and self-expression. But even in many English conversation schools where communication ability is an educational goal, students’ strategy and attitude development is largely ignored.


    The self-expression activities in LEARNING WORLD require our students to express an idea that’s unique for each student, and students are then required to present their work to the class. This experience is very valuable for students in at least two very important ways.


    Firstly, by having students express an idea that’s unique to each, we as educators are sending them the message that their ideas/thoughts/opinions matter.


    Secondly, by having students present their work to the class, we as educators are sending them the message that their ideas/thoughts/opinions have value.


    Giving students these beliefs is vital for the development of effective communication because by its very nature communication is the sharing of ideas/thoughts/opinions. Furthermore, in a society that relies on creative talent to solve its problems, it’s imperative that individuals have a positive attitude towards self-expression.


    Please don’t skip over the self-expression activities in LEARNING WORLD. They are vital “attitude-development exercises”. Over time you may find that students who have experience with these activities tend in class to speak out more than those students with little experience.



    43. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #2

    In my last post I wrote about the necessity of reminding ourselves as teachers of what’s important when teaching Learning World, and the “10 pieces of advice for Learning World teachers” on the APRICOT homepage – – is really good for this. Over the coming days I’ll be posting my thoughts on each piece of advice.


    My last post gave recognition to #1:
    1. Focus on your own vision!


    This post will look at #2:
    2. Communication activities are a must!


    “Communication activities are a must”? Yes. Absolutely.
    It should be pointed out that just because teachers and students are speaking English in the classroom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that communication is happening. In a good many classrooms around Japan – in both the public and the private sectors – there is a lot of English being practiced but very little English being used. Communicating in English means using English. And if there is any expectation that our students need to be able to communicate in the future, then they need communication experience within their English education NOW!


    The communication activities published by APRICOT (“Kara-Kyogu” and “Activity Sheets”) are mostly in a game-like format and therefore the communication is more structured and not as genuine as real-life situational communication, nevertheless they offer highly valuable English experiences for our students. APRICOT can most certainly be excused; after all, how does one go about publishing actual real-life situational communication, anyway?!




    Yes, I agree totally with this second piece of advice for Learning World teachers.
    Bring communication activities for your students now, and then again the next lesson, and then every lesson again thereafter!!

    42. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #1

    Not a lot happens in the classroom during Summer Vacation… so it’s a good time of year to for to remind ourselves of Learning World’s important things – things that we can sometimes forget when during the year’s busy months. And there is a new page on the APRICOT web site that can help us do just that:

    On this page Kawahara Hiromi-Sensei has put together 10 useful pieces of advice for teaching with Learning World.
    1. Focus on your own vision!
    2. Communication activities are a must!
    3. Don’t skip over the self-expression activities.
    4. Evaluate your lesson on how successful each student feels.
    5. A Textbook is not everything!
    6. Importance of reviewing
    7. Make students use English
    8. Respect individuality!
    9. Do not fear to show your weaknesses!
    10. I’m right – and you’re right too.

    To my mind “Useful Advice” is a major understatement. These points express the very core of Learning World education. Over the coming days I’m going to post my thoughts on each one, starting with the first one:
    1. Focus on your own vision!
    Kawahara-Sensei explains “Language education with kids is long-term. Never forget WHY you are teaching English to children.”
    Yes. I’ve found that many teachers go through the motions of teaching English without a clear vision of the long-term objective. They attend workshops and seminars for hints and tips on “HOW” but not knowing “WHAT FOR”.
    As a teacher once you have a clear goal of what you want to achieve for your students, you begin to question the purpose of all your actions in the classroom. For teachers this is an extremely healthy process that gives incredible growth and maturity to your teaching.
    In my case, once I realized the difference between when my students “used” English as opposed to when they “practiced” English, my long-term vision became clear. With this new vision, I dramatically reduced the amount of “repeat after me” time in the classroom, and as a result the students immediately began to produce more English!
    Yes, I agree totally with this first piece of advice. Know your vision for the future, and focus on it!

    40. SPORTS DAY!

    Last weekend was my eldest daughter’s Sports Day. She attends our local public elementary school and is in first grade, so this was her first big event with her new school. You can imagine how excited she was!
    A question mark had hung over the weather all week, and we had canceled our Sunday plans, totally expecting Saturday rain to postpone the day. But come Saturday morning, the clouds stayed away and a hot sun blazed down. Thankfully a light breeze offered some relief from the early summer heat.
    Among the several things my daughter and I have in common is the fact that this Sports Day was a first for both of us! For 24 years the students in my classes had talked about their Sports Days, but I had never been given an opportunity to actually attend one myself.
    I must say, I was very impressed with the drama and the fanfare of the Opening Ceremony. The two teams (The Red Team and The White Team) were introduced with passionate drum-beating and almost warrior-like chanting. The rivalry between them appeared serious, but with courtesy and mutual respect.
    The support and encouragement given to the participants of each race and event as the day progressed was outstanding. It was the ultimate display of true sportsmanship. As we watched, my family and I got nicely caught up in it all, and I barely noticed the sunburn slowly creeping on my neck!
    I cheered my daughter on during her race, and watched with pride as she finished 3rd place out of four runners (that’s another similarity between us! In my day, that was always my result too!)
    And in between her race and class dance performance, there was plenty for me to cheer because in fact many of my weekly students also attend this school! It was great seeing a different side to so many familiar faces! Students who are usually quiet in class, now appeared on the race-track sidelines cheering their team-mates on with fervor and amazing voice-volume! And those students who are usually noisy in class were now also noisy outside of class! One of my boys was in fact the head of the Red Team Supporters (Ouen-Dancho)! He led the chanting and Red Team encouragement with a voice that I swear could be heard across the whole neighborhood!
    Something else struck me about my students throughout the day. I noticed that just about all of them were extraordinarily friendly and comfortable communicating to a large number of different people; adults of all ages and other kids of all grades. My students displayed great social skills and appeared very willing to exchange words and a smile with anybody at all. Of course, their language on this day was Japanese, not English, still I was amazed at how they made themselves so popular and likeable. I felt myself feeling as much pride for them as for my own daughter!
    On my way out of the school after the Closing Ceremony, I bumped into the mother of the Ouen-Dancho. I congratulated her on her son’s terrific performance. He was the perfect Dancho, I told her.
    Her reply surprised me:
    “Thanks to your lessons, my son has totally changed. He used to be shy and had no confidence speaking in front of a group. Now he is Dancho! Thank you so much for developing his confidence!”
    Her words rounded off a perfect day, and the bath and beer I had when I got home (ice cream for my daughters) were fantastic.
    It would be nice to take all the credit for my students’ progress. But much credit must go to LEARNING WORLD. No other textbook comes close in terms of giving students activities that involve communication and interaction, encourage acceptance and respect for others and at the same time build self-esteem!

    Page Top