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.


    50. READY Workbook – vocabulary copying activity

    The feeling of success students feel with English often depends on the challenge level of the material they are using. If material is “too easy”, students’ motivation may suffer. If material is “too hard”, students’ self-esteem may suffer. While it’s not always easy to find this balance, I have found that, as a teacher, raising the challenge level of easy material is easier than simplifying difficult material.

    Consider page 7 in the READY Workbook, which is a black&white version of the textbook, page 10:


    (↑READY for Learning World WORKBOOK)

    (↑READY for Learning World Student book)


    You’ll notice that in the workbook students need to copy the vocabulary list. Copying is an important process within “writing practice”, but simply copying for the sake of copying doesn’t involve a lot of thinking nor does it particularly stimulate motivation. I recently wanted my class of three fifth/sixth graders to be more challenged.

    So I prepared an extra reading activity; small slips of paper with English to read with missing words. The missing words were items on the list of vocabulary.

    For example, “I can see the American ________” and “Tian comes to school by _____”


    *These three papers are all made using Penmanship.



    With their textbooks and workbooks open, students picked a slip of paper, read it, and decided what vocabulary item was missing. Then they copied it onto the slip of paper. This gave students not just an increased challenge, but also an important reason to copy the English, and not just copy for the sake of copying.

    By all means check the video. The same activity format can be presented to all the vocabulary copying pages in READY’s workbook.


    49. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #8
    This post will look at #8:
    8. Respect individuality!
    Each student has a unique character. Appraising a student should be compared with the student’s effort the previous week, not with other students’ effort.

    Teachers often compare their students, and in a way it’s understandable. We ask ourselves “If this student can do this task, why can’t this student?” and “These students can handle the activity, so why can’t these students?”

    It’s impossible to expect our Ss to manage aspects of our lessons in the same way. Kawahara-Sensei makes reference to “students’ effort”. In the classroom I very often try to incorporate activities that have students be recognized for the effort they make, regardless of the outcome.

    The video below is an example. The activity is inspired by LW Bk3 pg24.


    The students had not yet seen this page; it was an introductory lesson to it. The page was photocopied (one for each student) and the English was cut up into individual sentences. The students needed to read each of the sentences and put them together to make two stories. The resulting stories were not necessarily the same as the textbook but each warranted merit because there was possibility within each one, and each was based on individual effort.

    After the completion of the activity, textbooks were opened and students compared their story to that of pg24.

    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.


    41. Escargots

    There was discussion in our classroom yesterday about snails. My team-teacher colleague turned to the class and said “You know in France, people eat snails”. One of the students gasped audibly and asked “What?? Only snails??”
    It took me a good minute to stop laughing. Children often show comical brilliance that professional comedians would die for.
    But actually even before that student’s reaction, I was already feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my colleague’s remark.
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    He was clearly referring to the dish “Escargots” and understandably using the main ingredient (snails) for simplicity, but it was the “In France, people…” part that bothered me.
    I immediately thought of my wife who is an ardent fan of Escargots and will tend to order it whenever she finds it on a restaurant menu – which she does, and not always at French restaurants either. Now my wife lives very comfortably with me here in Japan, not France, so my colleague’s education to the class discounted her – as well as the countless other lovers of the dish in this country, of whom I assume there are many. After all, if there weren’t many, Escargots wouldn’t appear on menus here at all, right?
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    After thinking about my wife, my thoughts turned to people in France. My colleague’s declaration strongly implies that in France all people eat snails. I can’t claim to know all the people in France, so I can’t with certainty dispute my colleague’s claim. But I do know many people in Japan on a personal level who don’t eat sushi, so the comparatible “In Japan, people eat raw fish” would be inaccurate.
    Am I perhaps thinking too deeply about this? Wasn’t my colleague simply trying to make an interesting yet innocent point of cultural difference to the class? Yes, I’m sure he was. But if we don’t think about the implications of what we say regarding cultural differences to our students, our education most certainly contributes to unhelpful, misleading and inaccurate stereotyping.
    So let’s consider improving the accuracy of my colleague’s wording.
    How about “In France, some people eat snails.” This is more accurate, but it still ignores the millions of people all over the world that enjoy the dish.
    So we’re left with:
    “Some people eat snails”.
    For many teachers the lesson inside the line “Some people eat snails” would not be a lesson on International Understanding because it omits the country name. I would argue that it’s a perfect lesson on International Understanding precisely because it omits a country name.
    International Understanding has little to with country names, and has everything to do with understanding the people with whom our students share this planet.
    So much of Japan’s International Understanding education is accompanied with lines like “People in this country do this, people in that country do that…” But to understand people on an international level is to understand the similarities and differences of people totally regardless of where they are or where they are from.
    I strongly believe that teachers should make a conscious decision to omit country names when teaching cultural differences of people. The simple phrase “Some people…” is fine. In this way our students can get more accurate information and avoid unuseful stereotyping.
    I’m getting hungry… Escargots, anyone?

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