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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!
  • e-APRICOT
  • 33. Springboard again! Of course!!!

    My blog has been a little quiet of late… Every year after the summer vacation, preparation for the autumn workshop season starts. This involves important schedule negotiation with APRICOT, agenda-setting, videoing lessons and consolidating ideas. Very little is on my mind right now except workshop content… For sure I want to add thoughts and experiences to the blog, but in doing so I may unwittingly give workshop content away prematurely!!
     
    In October and November I will be presenting at two Nellies’ Workshops; one in Osaka (Oct.15th) and the other in Tokyo (Nov.5th). The topic is: helping students to develop reading skills with the SPRINGBOARD Readers. I’ve given several presentations on this topic over the years, and there is a blog entry here as well.
     
    http://www.apricot-plaza.co.jp/category/matthew/matthew-others?page=2
     
    And for good reason. I’m still convinced SPRINGBOARD is the best material to help kids get started with reading, remain motivated to read, and generally feel success with reading.
     
    The student in the video below is eight years old, and has been studying English for two years. Here she is reading “Molly Monster’s Party” from Level 4.

     
    She’s quite good, don’t you think?
     
    Now, what preparation did she do to get herself able to read this book?
     
    Well, first of all she has read all the books in the earlier levels. Earlier exposure to most of the vocabulary in this story of course helped her. During her initial challenge of the book however she mispronounced the words “some” and “made”. And she appeared to not understand their meanings.
     
    Look at the following photos for a visual understanding of how I helped her with “some”:

     

     

     

     

     
    Look at the following photos for a visual understanding of how I helped her with “made”:
     

     

     

     
    With past tense verbs, I always use the term “finished action”. When “make” is finished, we say “made”.
     
    With this simple preparation, together with her other experiences within a structured reading program, she was able to read the book.
     
    Hey, if you are in Osaka or Tokyo on those weekends, it would be great to see you there at the Nellie’s workshop!!

    32. READY: “My House” (page 33)

    On page 33 of READY, the textbook’s four characters introduce their house.

    At the bottom of the page, students have the opportunity to introduce their house.
     
    In my classes, I start this page with my students using my copy of the textbook. I show them the page, with the photos covered:

    Students’ curiosities can be aroused when you hide the photos. Wanting to know why the photos are covered, their attention is drawn to the written English, and their subsequent need to read it is charged.

     
    As a class, students read together Kaetlyn’s “This is my house. I live in Vancouver, Canada”. In most cases, students need help with “Vancouver”, but not with “Canada”. What’s important is that students understand independently that Kaetlyn’s house is in Canada. At this point, students’ eyes are glued to the paper hiding Kaetlyn’s house as it’s very slowly removed…

    Kaetlyn’s house is quite large compared to Japanese standards, and it may extract interesting comments from students.
     
    The process of reading and revealing each photo continues for all four characters. The reading of “Guadalajara” definitely requires our assistance, but at “Bangkok” and “Shanghai”, give students a little time to make an independent attempt. Many students have heard of these cities, and they can employ basic phonics rules to try and read them.
     
    Now, if you ask students to draw a house, they will likely offer a very simple sketch of a few walls, a roof, a door and some windows. And from experience, students tend to make very little effort on a drawing of their own actual house. To encourage students’ imagination for the bottom section of the page, I present a number of photos of a great variety of houses, all of which were the result of googling “Amazing houses”:

    Students are usually very amazed and inspired. Obviously, the moment can be savored by students choosing which houses they like and dislike. Then having students complete the bottom section of page 33 with the instruction that they don’t necessarily have to draw their real house, can open them up to some interesting ideas and overall good quality pictures…

     

     

     

     

     

    31. READY: “On the School Ground”

    This Unit introduces verbs in their simple form, and includes the expression “Let’s ~”. , In the illustration Kaetlyn is holding a soccer ball, which suggests that she is not yet playing it. While turning to Yuko she is running and pointing to an area of the playground where other kids are playing the sport. The whole illustration makes the meaning of “Let’s play soccer” very clear.
    Because the illustration makes for easy input of the target language, it’s tempting to have students simply open their textbooks and teach from there. Although we hear at APRICOT workshops that it’s beneficial to introduce the target language to students in a communication activity before they open their textbooks, it’s not always easy designing a meaningful activity on certain target expressions – and “Let’s ~” is a case in point!

     
    I recently gave a lesson on this page. To encourage student interaction and to give students more sight-reading experience, I cut out the faces of a photocopied version of page 28 and prepared hand-written English of the verbs. The verbs were written in the progressive form
    ( ~ing). As a class, students read each verb and matched them to a face. Throughout this process textbooks remained closed. Matching was done based entirely on imagination.

     
    The students had a fun time with this activity. They all worked together to read the word-cards. Certain expressions on the faces made certain verbs highly unlikely, but their combination made amusing imagery.

     
    In the end, textbooks were opened to check.

     
    Once the page was open, the transition from the progressive form (~ing) to the simple tense form with “Let’s ~” wasn’t problematic. The illustration of Kaetlyn and Yuko is clear enough.

     
    When the target language doesn’t lend itself easily to a communication activity, it may instead be a nice opportunity to give students a sight-reading experience during which meaningful communication may evolve.

     
    READY for Learning World

    30. DRAW & LABEL

    Once a week I have a 5 year old girl who has been coming to English lessons for 2 years. She joins a class of other students more or less the same age as her who then go home 1 hour before she does. So I have a weekly 1 hour one-on-one with her. We often spend this time working on her reading skills.
     
    Last week she was feeling tired and not very motivated (perhaps both of us?) so I simply gave her a large piece of paper to draw a picture – a picture of anything.
    Sitting and interacting with her as she drew, she showed me her artistic impressions of a recent sports festival. As she worked I wrote the vocabulary items of her pictures on small papers.
    Once her pictures were finished I handed her the papers and a glue stick: ”Please glue these papers onto your picture”.

     
    Now, for a young learner who had never seen the written English for much of the vocabulary in her picture, I had expected this task to be quite challenging. But to her credit she employed basic phonics knowledge and 3-letter word reading experience to make logical guesses on what each paper said.
    She was able to glue all the English papers onto her picture without my assistance.

     
    I believe she enjoyed the activity because she had the freedom to choose the content and she felt success in her ability to read all of the papers. Towards the end of the hour I checked her ability to read these individual words again on the whiteboard.

     

     

    Despite both of our lack of motivation at the start of the hour, we had together made our time quite productive!

    29. ACHIEVEMENT TARGETS


     
    It may seem strange to talk about Achievement Targets at this time of the year, but in fact that slightly unnerving opening page of every volume in the Learning World series (from Bk 1 up) has been on my mind since March when the students were in the finishing stages of their textbooks. Now to be entirely honest with you, for the last 11 years of being a Learning World user, I had largely ignored this page. As my students were quite satisfactorily progressing through the series from one text to the next, completing each page, each task, each chant, each dialogue, I had hardly felt the need to refer to the Achievement Targets. When I did on occasion glance at them, I had merely confirmed that I was doing with the students what had to be done, and everything was good. Despite much head-shaking, finger-waving and passionate pleas from a certain APRICOT staff member (Kawahara Hiromi-sensei) for me to understand the value of this page from the students’ perspective, I was just never overly motivated to.
     
    That changed in March.
     
    In one of my READY classes, I became seriously concerned about a number of students who I felt were going to have a hard time with BOOK 2 this coming year. Throughout the year, they hadn’t really applied themselves to the text as much as they should have, and as much as other students had. They had done very little CD listening at home, and as such they were not confident with READY content at all.
    So, for the first time, I brought the class’ attention to the ACHIEVEMENT TARGETS.
     
    The first thing we did was read the Japanese for each one as a class – much to the students’ amusement, as in class we never use Japanese! Interestingly, as we read them the students wanted to try achieving them immediately. (“Let me try! Let me try!”)
     


     
    I gave a sticker for each challenge that was completed. This further increased motivation. Even those students who I was worried about wanted to try. But it became evidently clear that they were unable to achieve as many targets as their classmates… For the remainder of the lesson, the students tried to get as many stickers on the page as possible. When it was time for the students to go home, I strongly suggested that they listen to their CD in order to be able to complete more Targets (and get more stickers) next week.
     
    The following week in class before the lesson had even started, all the students had their textbooks open and were practicing! Even those “shaky” students were ready and up for it! They had finally listened to their CD at home! Within the next 30 minutes most of the students had achieved a sticker on every challenge. Others needed one more week to practice at home to get the remaining stickers the following week.
     
    Bringing the students’ attention to the Achievement Targets helped them truly “complete” their textbooks, and become better prepared for the next volume. And because the strategy was such a success in my READY class, I decided to do the same in my Book 1, 2 and 3 classes too. I wasn’t really surprised to see similar results in all classes.
     
    The experience also made me realize the “ACHIEVEMENT TARGETS” are very appropriately named. As students complete each one, it seems they do indeed feel a sense of “achievement”. And with that, now at last I understand Kawahara-sensei’s belief in the value of this page from the students’ perspective. I’m sorry it took me so long to get it!
     
     

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