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.

    53. Halloween 2019

    With Christmas just around the corner, it’s rather a strange time of year to be writing about Halloween… but I’ve been wanting to share something with you since October.

    Like most English schools in Japan I guess, the pre-school I teach at has a Halloween Week every year. The kids swing through the emotions of fear and fun dressed as skeletons, vampires, princesses, game characters and more in an orange and black decorated classroom with ghosts, spiders and jack-o-lanterns adorning the walls.

    As an English teacher, I often struggle with ideas for Halloween lessons because the English for this festival is quite vocabulary-based and there’s only so much you can do.

    This year I decided to introduce my Ss to the concept of “overcoming fear”.

    First of all Ss and I brainstormed all the things you that scare us. We came up with a fairly long list:

    I searched for pictures of each item on the list and prepared one for each S. I also prepared matching English using APRICOT Flashcard Maker Checksheets.

    Then on a white sheet of paper, I had Ss draw a large circle.

    Then came a discussion on times that we feel happy, and colors that represent Ss when they feel happy.
    Inside the circle on their paper I had Ss draw themselves “inside their happy color”.

    Once this was done, I had Ss color the space around their “happy color circle” in black.
    From the scary pictures, I had Ss select their Top 8, and their corresponding English. These pictures and the English were glued in the black space around their “happy color circle”.

    I then had Ss practice the English “I am scared of….” with the vocabulary they had chosen.

    Then finally I told Ss “Whenever you feel scared of anything, just picture yourself inside your “happy color”. This idea comes from a personal belief of “extending your aura” at times of fear. I had prepared a slip of paper with the English: “In my happy color, I am not scared. I am totally fine” and had Ss glue it to their picture, after which they practiced for individual presentation.

    Halloween is over, but by all means feel free to try this idea next year.


    52. READY Workbook Pg. 17

    It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last time that I post an entry about the LEARNING WORLD Workbooks. I think they are SO valuable, especially if you have Ss work with them during class, and not for homework.
    The READY Workbook page 17 is a great page. This page requires Ss to look at the pictures, decide each picture’s first letter, then color them accordingly. To make this activity more communicative I decided to present the material in class in a different way.
    In preparation, I copied page 17, one for each S. I cut out all the pictures and put them in a basket.Then in class I gave each S a blank sheet of paper and a glue stick.
    I had Ss fold their paper into 4 boxes.
    Ss watched as I took one picture out of the basket and told them:
    “Please get the same picture”.
    Of course, the picture was small so Ss couldn’t know what picture I had taken. They needed to ask:
    “What did you take?”
    Once Ss had this picture (“cow”) I told them:
    “Please glue the picture in the box”.
    Of course, Ss weren’t to know which box, so they needed to ask:
    “Which box?”
    I answered:
    “Box 3”
    This activity continued for several more pictures, with Ss asking “What did you take?” and “Which box?”
    After a while, pictures beginning with the letter A were in Box 1, B were in Box 2, C Box 3, D Box 4. But the Ss hadn’t noticed this yet. There were still many pictures in the basket, so I began asking Ss which box they thought each new picture was to go in. To answer, Ss needed:
    “I think it goes in Box number ~”.In the end, Ss understood the pattern, and the activity was over.

    The activity used the same concept as was intended on page 17, but this alternative presentation introduced Ss to several new expressions for them to use communicatively.
    By all means, take a look at the video.



    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!

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