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!
  • 54. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #9 & 10

    I was reminded recently that I hadn’t finished my comments and observations on Hiromi Kawahara’s “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.


    So, here are my brief thoughts for the final two:


    9. Do not fear to show your weaknesses!

    If a teacher doesn’t say “I don’t know” occasionally, then the students won’t know that “I don’t know” is a possible and acceptable answer. Don’t be a know-it-all teacher.


    It goes without saying that of all the things teachers show their Ss, probably the most important is honesty. “I don’t know” is of course OK for teachers to say to Ss. Teachers shouldn’t need to feel that they have a responsibility to share “knowledge” with Ss anyway.

    In class, the teacher is not the teacher; the experiences that teachers provide for Ss are the teachers.


    10. I’m right – and you’re right too.

    Sometimes teachers have to deal with unexpected responses from students. However, students feel proud of themselves when their answers are accepted. And they can grow and develop from that feeling.

    “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” is a golden rule. Teachers need to learn about students and from students continuously.


    When you are as interested in student output as I am, then any idea from Ss is a good idea. We shouldn’t be overly concerned with our Ss’ “correct answers”. We should be interested in evidence of “good thinking” from them. Their daily life at school provides Ss with ample opportunities to give right answers. As their after-school teachers, we should focus on giving Ss opportunities to create and present original ideas. Original ideas don’t need to be assessed, they need to be accepted as such.


    55. “Happy New Year!” “I don’t say that.”

    I have a student in one of my classes. She is 9 years old, she uses English quite well, including reading and writing.
    In our first lesson after the winter vacation I called “Happy New Year!” to each student as they entered the classroom. Each replied with a call of “Happy New Year” – except this student. She smiled, but didn’t return the greeting. As she hung up her coat, I tried again: “Happy New Year, Rena!” Again she ignored me. The other students and I looked at each other. We were all a little uncomfortable. What was wrong with Rena? Then she spoke:“I don’t say that”.I remembered then, Rena is from a family whose religion forbids them from saying “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Halloween”, “Happy Birthday” etc. I didn’t know though that “Happy New Year” was also forbidden.I replied “Ah! Yes, OK. No problem. Come and sit down”.

    The other students understandably were a little confused. “Why doesn’t Rena say “Happy New Year?”
    I explained simply “Rena’s family doesn’t say it.”

    We all let the moment go. However I was still uncomfortable with having at first been ignored by Rena… I asked the students to get their notebooks and AJ Picture Dictionary books.

    I had Ss open AJ to Page 14 & 15.

    I then began a “Read-the-question, write-the-answer” session. I wrote each question on the whiteboard.
    I encouraged the Ss to support each other, and write one answer for the group, not individual answers.
    (These are Ss’ answers).

    1. If you were at this barbeque, what would you eat?
    (We would eat steaks.)
    2. What food can’t Rena eat?
    (Rena can’t eat umeboshi.)

    The question referred to Rena here because the other students like all the food on this page.

    3. Why can’t Rena eat umeboshi?
    (Because it’s sour.)
    4. If someone says to Rena “Here you are, have an umeboshi riceball”, is that person rude?
    (It’s not rude.)
    5. What should Rena say to that person?
    (“No, thank you”)
    6. Is “Thank you” important in “No, thank you”?
    7. Why?
    (Because it’s polite.)
    8. What’s a vegetarian?
    (I don’t know.)

    9. A vegetarian is someone who can’t eat meat. What should a vegetarian say if someone says “Here you are, have a steak”?
    (“No, thank you”)
    10. If the person says “Why not? Aren’t you hungry?” what should the vegetarian say?
    (I’m vegetarian.)
    At this point the Ss and I had a brief discussion about the questions and their answers.
    We confirmed that we should say “Thank you” to people who offer food that we don’t or can’t eat, as they are simply being kind.
    The questions then continued.
    11. Can you say “Thank you”?
    12. Can you say “I’m sorry”?
    13. Can you say “Good morning”?
    14. Can you say “Happy New Year”?
    (Yes.) (No.)
    Rena wrote “No”.15. Can you say “Merry Christmas”?
    (Yes.) (No.)
    16. Can you say “Happy Birthday”?
    (Yes.) (No.)

    Here we had another discussion.
    Some people can eat meat, other people can’t.
    Some people can say “Happy New Year”, other people can’t.
    People don’t always know what other people can or cannot eat or say.
    But we should say “Thank you” to kindness.
    The final question was:

    17. If someone says “Happy New Year” to me, I should say…
    (Happy New Year.) (Thank you, but I can’t say that.)

    I was happy with Rena’s answer. If she had answered my “Happy New Year” at the start of the lesson in this way, I would have understood and there would have been no discomfort.

    51. English-Uplift 1-Day Seminars

    You know, I thoroughly enjoy teacher workshops and seminars. I love attending them, and I love presenting at them. I’ve always felt that working WITH other teachers, analyzing our teaching together, discussing the “why” behind classroom activities, and sharing and developing ideas is healthy, inspiring, and good fun. I am forever grateful to APRICOT for giving me the opportunity to be a regular presenter at its workshops. I love and cherish the relationship I have with this company, and I am thrilled that they too continue to enjoy working with me!


    Of course though, everybody needs a break every now and then, and that’s me right now with the LW Workshop. It’s just a break, and it’s just temporary. This year, Kierryn-Sensei is taking the wheel. I think he’s going to be fantastic, and I can’t wait! Yes, I’m definitely going to attend, and I strongly recommend ALL teachers attend!!
    APRICOT and I both fully intend to maintain our support for each other because of our mutual interest in improving kids’ English education in Japan.


    My break from presenter responsibilities has given me time to create a Yosei-Koza together with Kawahara Hiromi-Sensei, and we are both very, very proud of the excellent results coming out of this Course from the teachers who have attended so far. The growth experienced by these teachers has been extraordinary. The changes that have taken place in their classrooms as a result of taking our Course has been amazing. Students’ parents have been astounded at the changes taking place in students. The happiness Hiromi-Sensei and I feel from this is indescribable.
    We are promoting this Course through a series of English-Uplift 1-day seminars in Tokyo and Osaka. Please come along! Attending does NOT in any way oblige you to sign up for the Course. We are simply offering teachers the chance to get a taste of what we are doing in the Course.


    The seminars will let teachers know:

    1. how to increase the amount of English students use in the classroom

    2. how to decrease the amount of Japanese students use in the classroom

    3. how to implement the 4C’s of education (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity) in the classroom


    All in all, whether you’re interested in our Yosei-Koza or not, these Seminars are going to be very informative, inspiring and incredibly fun. So please come! You will love it!
    For more information, please click here!

    次世代型こども英語講師養成講座 LINE学習プログラム【無料版】-type2


    APRICOT aren’t taking any enquiries regarding these Seminars because APRICOT is not directly involved. APRICOT has however, as usual, been supportive of our endeavors, and I’m always grateful for their kindness. We will be working together directly again at a workshop or perhaps even in a different format in the near future!

    Everybody, enjoy the rest of the summer, and we’ll see you either at an English-Uplift 1-Day Seminar or the LEARNING WORLD Workshop – or both!

    48. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #7
    This post will look at #7:
    7. Make students use English
    Students are the ones who need to use English, not just the teacher. Teachers need to create an atmosphere where kids can speak in English without hesitating to make mistakes. If they cannot use English in the classroom, neither will they use it outside the classroom.
    What a shame that something so obvious needs to be pointed out. And it needs very much to be pointed out because sadly, the majority of English teachers in Japan are not clear on what “using English” actually is.
    In classrooms all over this wonderful country, students of English are “saying” English in the form of textbook dialogues, chants, speeches, vocabulary lists and reading passages. Many students indeed, having successfully memorized it, can produce this English without looking at its written form. Their teachers are usually pleased with their students’ performance of this English, and the students score highly on the speaking component of their assessment.
    This however is not using English. In the classroom, students who say the English of their textbooks, or who repeat after their teacher are in a process of “practicing” English. This is totally different to the process of “using” English. People use language when they produce what they want to say, or what they need to say, or is in accordance with the situation they find themselves in and is relevant to the people they are talking with. Unfortunately, these conditions rarely exist for Japanese students in the language classroom.
    For too long Japan has used Japanese to teach students English they cannot use.
    Kawahara-sensei suggests that “Teachers need to create an atmosphere where kids can speak without hesitating to make mistakes”. This atmosphere can be created if:
    1. teachers use English.
    2. students are placed in situations that require them to speak.
    3. teachers accept and show appreciation of students’ ideas and efforts.
    4. teachers don’t over-correct students’ efforts.

    Below is a short video example of students using English during an arts & craft activity. The two students are upper elementary school students, and studying with LW Bk3. Most of the expressions they use in this video have been inputed throughout the year(s), during classroom situations that have specifically needed them.

    Your students, and my students, will not be in our classrooms forever. Eventually they will be required to use English outside the classroom. Having them use English NOW will go a long way to having them succeed with the language in the future.


    47. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #6

    This post will look at #6:

    6. Importance of Reviewing

    Even if students think that they remember what they have learned, it is natural to forget. Do not get stuck with ideas like “I taught this already!” or “I have done this before!”


    Yes, our students have a responsibility to try and remember the content of our lessons. But we should acknowledge that it’s probably not possible to remember everything. So we should review the important content regularly.

    It’s important during times of review that we don’t lose sight of the purpose of review. Always keep in mind that we are trying to establish how much of previous lesson content our students remember. So avoid reteaching the entire previous lesson, or giving away too much vital information. Vital information should be elicited from students, not actually given by us.

    Often, a small number of students will remember specific previous lesson content, while the rest of the class will have mostly forgotten. The students who do remember will quite likely have also remembered to complete previous week homework assignments, so credit these students accordingly and inform other students that they are more likely to remember previous lesson content if they complete homework!

    I often review content in different ways depending on the content.



    The Chants in Learning World are reviewed with the CD, playing the chant’s introduction drum beat only, stopping just before the chant starts. Students then need to continue alone, without the CD. This will tell me exactly how much they remember.


    Using the CD, I play the first line of a dialogue only, then pause the CD for the students to continue it. This is similar to the way I review Chants.


    Vocabulary items (in the “Words” section) are reviewed by playing the CD and carefully pausing it on each word’s very first sound! If students have done their homework, then having them recall vocab items in this way should be quite easy, but it’s not easy for those students who haven’t done their homework! So in this way you can very quickly know which students looked at this content during the week between lessons.


    Yes, we musn’t overlook review! Reviewing is important for students because remembering content can help build their confidence. Remembering content can remind students of a purpose to their studies.

    My next entry is coming soon, and it will look at #7:
    7. Make students use English

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