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!
  • 9. Hiromi Kawahara-sensei’s “Use of Teaching Materials” Seminar

    OK, so hands up all those who went to Hiromi Kawahara-sensei’s (Tokyo) Seminar on Sunday? Well, my hands are certainly raised high above my head right now! What a day!!


    matthewblog-2    hiromi-1


    It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Hiromi Kawahara. She’s one of my “Big Four” most influential teachers (Ron Martin, John Fanselow, Mikiko Nakamoto, Hiromi Kawahara). And on Sunday I felt that she presented the bestest of ALL her best presentations. If you are reading this and you haven’t yet been to any of her workshops, you really should go! And here’s why:


    • Her ideas make sense – so they’re easy to understand.
    • Everything she says strikes a chord with you, so as she talks you’ll find yourself nodding. Then as you look around, you see so many others in the room involved in the same synchronized nodding movement. She talks about all the things you’ve felt as a teacher but could never quite put your finger on. She describes everything you’ve always wanted to describe about teaching but could never find the words to do so.
    • She offers good, very simple classroom ideas – and then expands them further for another few good, very simple classroom ideas. You’re left feeling “Yeah, I think I could do that…” or “I think my students would like that….” or “That’s interesting! What material is that again?”
    • She really seems to understand the challenges teachers face, and her advice is practical.
    • First appearances are deceiving; she doesn’t fit my “image” of an educator: elderly, soft-spoken with eyes squinted to half-closed during moments of profound depth. She instead rather looks like a fun friend to have a few drinks with. Her deep, deep understanding of children’s English education however, one that she shares a little at a time with you as the presentation progresses, will perhaps surprise you.
    • She has total command of all of APRICOT’S materials and readily shares ideas on how to apply them in the classroom.


    I chose a couple of scribbles from the notes I made on Sunday to serve as my “best presentation moments”:

      • ”For students to produce original ideas and opinions in class, teachers need to present lessons that don’t require merely one answer.” I agree. This thought significantly sets English teachers apart from teachers of other subjects. Until English teachers themselves understand this point, their efforts in the classroom will never produce students capable of worthy English communication.


    • ”When teaching with LEARNING WORLD textbooks, in class you open the textbooks last!” This point reminded me of teachers I worked with many years ago who at the start of each lesson would have students open their textbooks at the page where the previous lesson had ended, and resume from there, planning the lesson as they did it. LEARNING WORLD is not a textbook designed for that style of teaching.


    I can’t stress enough the value of APRICOT workshops. The insight to be gained there from the experiences of the teachers presenting, as well of course those of the teachers attending, can ultimately make important differences to the experiences of your own students.


    Kawahara sensei, Otsukaresama deshita for Sunday! I’m looking forward to seeing you and everyone at next year’s workshops!


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    ●the next events information ⇒⇒ Click here!

    8. Dinosaurs!

    I have a fairly new student in one of my upper elementary classes. He is quite shy, and is rarely the first to speak out in class, which is understandable given that his two classmates have four years English experience. Under this condition, opportunities to have him feel success with English are few and far between…


    This week, we had the AJ Picture Dictionary open to page 40 & 41 – the dinosaur museum page.

    M-1 M-AJ2M-3



    After some general interaction with the students on the contents of these pages, I had the students listen to the vocabulary CD and indicate with their finger on the page the vocabulary they heard: “teeth”, “fins”, “a fossil” etc.


    I then gave the students a blank A4 paper and asked them to fold it into 8 boxes. On their shared desk I placed a dinosaur picture book:


    *We happen to have this book in our classroom. Googling “dinosaur” and clicking “image” on a class PC or Tablet would be equally effective.


    With this book I gave the students a written instruction:Draw a dinosaur with a long neck. The students read the task together then searched for a dinosaur with a long neck and drew it on their paper in Box 1. Other instructions followed:


    Of course, difficult vocabulary was referred back to AJ, pages 40 and 41.

    In the end, the students had drawn 8 dinosaurs on their paper. Below is one student’s drawings:

    M-6←Click to enlarge

    Pretty good, aren’t they? Certainly much better than my drawing!


    Now, below is the new student’s drawings:

    M-7←Click to enlarge

    Wow, right?! None of us knew that he was so artistically talented! He looked very happy with our outpouring of surprise and admiration.

    The lesson may still not necessarily have added confidence to his use of English, but it did add to his feeling of self-esteem…!


    I usually don’t like to put my daughters into Daycare on the weekend, however I do if there is something very valuable for me to attend. For teachers like me who are interested in furthering the development of their teaching, APRICOT MATES Meetings are indeed very valuable.

    There were two last week: one in Osaka and one in Tokyo. I ran my girls up to the Daycare, and then jumped on the short train ride to Nihonbashi to attend the Tokyo meeting.

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    The venue at Nihonbashi was a comfortable and welcome alternative to the usual Kyorin Building in Nakanosakaue. Checking the map at Nihonbashi station brought a moment of nostalgia as I noted that Sakamoto and Tokiwa Elementary Schools (two Chuo-ku schools in which I taught for many years) were nearby.


    It was great catching up with quite a few teachers whom I hadn’t seen for a while – but I was also quite surprised at the rather large number of new faces! So good to see!

    In total, 38 teachers including me.

    IMG_3862     matthew-----


    Now, the program for the afternoon had Nakamoto-sensei and Kawahara-sensei giving training at the same time in adjacent rooms… This was slightly problematic for me because, while I have a number of extraordinary and amazing talents, splitting myself in two in order to be in two different rooms at once is not among them!


    BOTH Nakamoto-sensei and Kawahara-sensei give excellent and very inspiring presentations!!

    Dilemma, dilemma… who do I choose?


    I decided to study with Nakamoto-sensei because well, it’s not every day that she comes to Tokyo. (Reports from teachers who attended Kawahara-sensei’s workshop suggest that it was as fantastic – as usual.)


    Nakamoto-sensei opened her presentation by confessing that she had recently shocked some teachers at seminars because she had chosen to talk about the business aspect of teaching. Those teachers had apparently expected Nakamoto-sensei to be not interested in money, and were disappointed that this wasn’t the case. As I listened, I wondered if I actually knew anybody who was not interested in money…


    In case I am ever in the future criticised for the same reason, let me state here clearly that I am personally very happy with money coming my way, particularly if it’s a lot. And as such, I was very happy that Nakamoto-sensei in her presentation shared with us the business side of her career in English education.

    Look, Nakamoto-sensei did not give a training session on “how to make money”. Her training was about how to improve professionalism and how to improve the quality of your school so that you can sustain it in order to continue making a positive difference in our students’ lives. Her message reminded me of the words of my favorite philosopher Jim Rohn: “Your income is always a direct reflection of your value to society. If you want more income, you must deliver more value to society”. Nakamoto-sensei’s presentation gave lots of principles to do just that.


    After the training there was a small party with food and drinks provided. I should have perhaps made more of an effort to meet new faces, but found myself with old faces, picking up conversations exactly where we’d left them at the last APRICOT event.

    I was very happy to learn at this meeting that some teachers even read this blog!! This is good to know because it corrects a mistaken assumption of mine that “probably nobody was” (!).If you are reading this, by all means, send me your comments, questions or topics that you want me to discuss here via the APRICOT e-mail address, OK?


    By good fortune and a lucky train connection I managed to be at the Daycare perfectly on time to pick up my girls. They’d had a great day – and hadn’t missed me in the slightest.

    6. A dog! Look! More than one… DOGS!

    Page 7 of Learning World Book 3 reminds students of the plural “s” for animal names, as well as introduce new plural forms for animal names that are an exception to the rule: “mouse… mice”, “goose… geese” and “sheep… sheep”.

    matthew--1   bk3 text


    For a long time I hadn’t really thought about when in English we actually use the plural form for animals aside from as vocabulary for “I like …” However recently the SPRINGBOARD Level 5 book “Kangaroos” gave me some inspiration.


    The story inside the book gives some basic facts about kangaroos:

    “Kangaroos have a pouch.”

    “Kangaroos have a strong tail.”

    “Kangaroos can hop.”

    “Kangaroos eat grass.”

    matthew--2    matthew--3


    Using this book as a base, I wondered if my class of 5th graders (minimum of 3 years experience and currently on LW Bk3) would enjoy brainstorming and writing some basic facts about the animals on page 7.

    In class, after reading “Kangaroos” together, they decided that:


    “Dogs can run”, “Dogs can jump”, “Dogs like balls” and “Dogs like running”.


    With class time coming to a close, I asked them to complete “Cats”, “Pigs”, “Mice” and “Geese” for homework. When they presented me with their completed homework the following week, I was very surprised at their ideas:

    matthew--4←Click to enlarge


    “Cats eat nori” is this student’s personal observation of his family pet.

    His idea “Sheep don’t like dogs” is inspired by another SPRINGBOARD story “Pet Dogs and Working Dogs” (Level 6).

    The source of his idea “Mice eat grass” is unknown, but it’s an idea he insists is factual.


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    This student’s English has in this photo not yet been corrected, but her idea “Geese have teeth” is based on a search on the Internet. I wasn’t aware that geese had teeth!

    Expanding a textbook idea to the point where students’ originality can surprise you is actually quite nice, isn’t it?


    A couple of questions for you regarding the development of students’ reading ability:

    ・What’s your strategy for improving your students’ reading?

    ・At what point do you engage your students in a reading activity for the very first time?

    ・What’s the nature of this activity?

    ・Do you bring reading activities to your classes on a regular basis?

    ・How much time do you spend on reading activities each lesson?

    ・What’s the nature of these activities?


    As a general rule, I try to conduct reading activities in all classes – regardless of age – once the students have shown me an understanding of what I believe are the basic fundamentals of verbal communication in English:

    • Students are able to focus their eyes and ears on the teacher in the course of interaction
    • Students are able to know when a response is required in the course of interaction

    In other words, I don’t want to start students’ reading development if they are as yet unable to participate in face to face communication. When the above conditions are met, I feel comfortable with bringing students’ attention down to a page and to the written script of the English language.



    Firstly, I familiarize students who have no reading experience with the sounds of the alphabet using APRICOT’S Click-on-Phonics flashcards.

    matthew-1ABCDchants   4899910665


    Sounds are then put together into three-letter-words, again using the flashcards from Click-on-Phonics. Throughout this process, I regularly read storybooks to them, with the aim of delivering the message that letters put together in words actually carry meaning.



    Usually by the time students can read Click-on-Phonics’ 3-letter-words, they’ve attended my classes long enough to be familiar with most of the vocabulary found in each book of Level 1 of the SPRINGBOARD series of books.


    So, in all classes longer than 50 minutes (I teach 50 minute, 80 minute & 180 minute lessons) I have implemented a formal reading program using SPRINGBOARD.




    • There are 16 levels with Level 1 being the easiest.
    • The challenge level increases with each level.
    • There are 8 books in each level.
    • The challenge level is the same in each book within a level.
    • Each book in the early levels has 8 pages, with 1 ~ 3 simple sentences on each.


       ⇒⇒⇒SPRINGBOARD information






    • All students receive a personal “Reading Card”.

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    With it students know what level they are currently on and which books they have read within that level.

    • All students start at Level 1. Even those new students to the class who perhaps have had experience with English at another school start at Level 1. Put simply, everyone starts at Level 1.
    • Students read every book within each level. My signature on their Reading Card lets students know which books they have completed. After they have read each book in the level, they receive a new paper for their Reading Card and progress to the next level.
    • Between 20 ~ 30 minutes is spent each lesson on the program.
    • Occasionally at the end of the session there is a Sticker Challenge. Students can get a sticker on their Reading Card if they choose to read a book to the whole class. The book they select must be one that I have signed on their Card.




    1. Each student gets their Reading Card, then students select a book from the SPRINGBOARD collection within their current level.

    2. They begin individually reading. If they come across a word that they cannot read, they ask a classmate for help:

         “What does this say?” “What’s this?” or “Help me, please”.

    If no classmate can help, students ask me. I am in the meantime observing and offering help and support.

    3. When a student feels comfortable that they can read their current book, they come to me:

         “Matthew, I’m ready”.

    We sit together and the student reads his/her book to me. Through questioning and

    other interaction I check the student’s comprehension of the text throughout the reading

    or at the end of the reading.

    4. I give an evaluation on the student’s reading. If I’m satisfied that they were able to read

    every word, I sign my name on their reading card and they move onto another book in

    their level. If the student struggled somewhat during the reading, I’ll sign “half” my name

    on their card, give help on the problem areas and have the student spend more time on

    that book. To confirm the student’s ability to read each word, I may randomly write words

    from the book on the whiteboard for the students to read to me.


    Here’s a short video of the program in action in class. The students have only recently begun the program and so are on Levels 1 and 2. The girl reading to me is 7 years old.

    ■VIDEO :”SPRINGBOARD” ーHow it works in class


    The girl reading in this video is 9 years old. She has nearly 3 years of English experience. She began the SPRINGBOARD Program 2 years ago. She is on Level 5.



    I like the SPRINGBOARD Series because:

    • it’s well structured.
    • the text and pictures are not on the same page.
    • students like the stories.
    • students feel success reading the stories.

    Read on!

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