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!
  • 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.


    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

    46. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #5


    This post will look at #5:


    5. A Textbook is not everything!


    Textbooks are just tools. It’s all up to teachers to make or break. Teachers must adjust how to use the tools as the situation demands.


    The choices you make with textbooks for your students are important, but the textbook itself is indeed just “a tool”. As I have stressed many times at APRICOT workshops throughout the years, a textbook is “a tool to bring your policy into the classroom”.


    As teachers, we should all have some kind of policy in place for our students; your policy is what drives you and your students forward together, in the direction you wish to take them. If possible, we should form this policy before we choose a textbook for our students.


    As you probably know, no textbook is perfect. And LEARNING WORLD is no exception. Over the years I’ve heard many, many teachers complain about certain textbooks – including LEARNING WORLD. Complaining teachers are usually very short on specifics on why they have problems with certain textbooks, and when I ask them “What’s your policy?”, they are usually unable to answer.


    Sure, in class I occasionally make adjustments to the content and arrangement of LEARNING WORLD here and there to suit the needs of my students. But I don’t complain because the decision to adjust was entirely mine. Furthermore, I’m absolutely in no rush to shop around for a possible replacement textbook because LEARNING WORLD is for me the best textbook (or “tool”) for the policy I have in place for my students.


    If you are not sure on how to form your policy, try asking yourself these two questions:


    1. What kind of adults do you want your students to become?
    2. What kind of adults will tomorrow’s society need?


    Once you have the answers to these questions, then everything you do in the classroom should be under the assumption that your students have already become these adults. For example, if you want your students to become adults who can create new ideas, then give your students lots of opportunities to create new ideas NOW. Or if you want your students to become adults who can express themselves, then give your students lots of opportunities to express themselves NOW.


    With this principle in place in your classroom, then you are able to make better choices regarding textbooks, and you are better equipped to make adjustments within them where necessary.


    Remember, “a textbook is a tool to bring your policy into the classroom”.


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