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!
  • 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”.


    45. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #4


    This post will look at #4:


    4. Evaluate your lesson on how successful each student feels.


    It is important that students feel “I said what I wanted to say in English!”, and this should be the basis of your lesson. Kids tend to speak when placed in a situation that requires them to do so. As you review your lessons, ask yourself “Was I able to provide enough opportunities for the students to speak?”


    Whoa, now this is a big one. This point asks teachers to really ask themselves “Why am I teaching English? What do I want my students to achieve by taking my lessons?” In most countries around the world where English is taught as a foreign language, teachers (and students) are very clear on what they want lessons to result in: the ability to speak English. In Japan however, our English education is not geared towards this aim at all.


    As you may know, I teach in a small English conversation school for kids in Setagaya, Tokyo. I have a class on Mondays with 5 junior high students. Three of them enjoy speaking out and the seize on every opportunity I provide to do so. The fourth student isn’t really as expressive as her classmates, but will answer any questions addressed to her directly. The other student is fairly new to this class, he is the only boy in the class, and isn’t yet comfortable with speaking out.


    Last week, during an activity that required the students to share information in order for the activity to move forward and be completed, the young boy was not cooperating at all, and this was becoming frustrating for the girls because they really needed the information that he had!
    Suddenly, the student sitting closest to him leaned over to him and whispered in Japanese: “Hey! Come on! Speak please! This is not school here!”


    This comment, I felt, very adequately summed up Japan’s junior high English education: English is not studied as a language for the purpose of speaking it, rather its grammar rules and vocabulary are memorized only for examinations.


    My student’s comment to her classmate also confirmed that my lessons were indeed providing an alternative to her school education, and that is what I believe all of us outside the public school system should provide. As Kawahara-Sensei points out, this should be the basis of our lessons – whether we are using LEARNING WORLD with our students or not.


    For those teachers who are not used to providing speaking opportunities, who are not sure how to do it, but recognize that their students need it, Kawahara-Sensei gives a big hint:


    “Kids tend to speak when placed in a situation that requires them to do so.”


    This is exactly right. Kids on the whole will speak when they need to. So creating that need by way of situations in the classroom, is a major responsibility of their teacher.


    Try asking students to open their textbooks, but don’t tell them the page number. This situation will elicit “What page?” from the students.
    Try standing directly in front of the whiteboard as students are copying information from it into their notebooks. This situation will elicit “Excuse me” from the students.


    There are countless situations to create for students in the classroom. Each situation needs to be created for the specific purpose of students’ output. If your students don’t know the English expression for the English you are trying to elicit, then give the expression to them at that time, then try to elicit it from the students in the same situation a short while later.


    Eventually the amount of English your students can use will grow, and so will their feeling of success with English.

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