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!
  • 43. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #2

    In my last post I wrote about the necessity of reminding ourselves as teachers of what’s important when teaching Learning World, and the “10 pieces of advice for Learning World teachers” on the APRICOT homepage – – is really good for this. Over the coming days I’ll be posting my thoughts on each piece of advice.


    My last post gave recognition to #1:
    1. Focus on your own vision!


    This post will look at #2:
    2. Communication activities are a must!


    “Communication activities are a must”? Yes. Absolutely.
    It should be pointed out that just because teachers and students are speaking English in the classroom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that communication is happening. In a good many classrooms around Japan – in both the public and the private sectors – there is a lot of English being practiced but very little English being used. Communicating in English means using English. And if there is any expectation that our students need to be able to communicate in the future, then they need communication experience within their English education NOW!


    The communication activities published by APRICOT (“Kara-Kyogu” and “Activity Sheets”) are mostly in a game-like format and therefore the communication is more structured and not as genuine as real-life situational communication, nevertheless they offer highly valuable English experiences for our students. APRICOT can most certainly be excused; after all, how does one go about publishing actual real-life situational communication, anyway?!




    Yes, I agree totally with this second piece of advice for Learning World teachers.
    Bring communication activities for your students now, and then again the next lesson, and then every lesson again thereafter!!

    42. 10 Useful Pieces of Advice for Teaching with LEARNING WORLD #1

    Not a lot happens in the classroom during Summer Vacation… so it’s a good time of year to for to remind ourselves of Learning World’s important things – things that we can sometimes forget when during the year’s busy months. And there is a new page on the APRICOT web site that can help us do just that:

    On this page Kawahara Hiromi-Sensei has put together 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.

    To my mind “Useful Advice” is a major understatement. These points express the very core of Learning World education. Over the coming days I’m going to post my thoughts on each one, starting with the first one:
    1. Focus on your own vision!
    Kawahara-Sensei explains “Language education with kids is long-term. Never forget WHY you are teaching English to children.”
    Yes. I’ve found that many teachers go through the motions of teaching English without a clear vision of the long-term objective. They attend workshops and seminars for hints and tips on “HOW” but not knowing “WHAT FOR”.
    As a teacher once you have a clear goal of what you want to achieve for your students, you begin to question the purpose of all your actions in the classroom. For teachers this is an extremely healthy process that gives incredible growth and maturity to your teaching.
    In my case, once I realized the difference between when my students “used” English as opposed to when they “practiced” English, my long-term vision became clear. With this new vision, I dramatically reduced the amount of “repeat after me” time in the classroom, and as a result the students immediately began to produce more English!
    Yes, I agree totally with this first piece of advice. Know your vision for the future, and focus on it!

    41. Escargots

    There was discussion in our classroom yesterday about snails. My team-teacher colleague turned to the class and said “You know in France, people eat snails”. One of the students gasped audibly and asked “What?? Only snails??”
    It took me a good minute to stop laughing. Children often show comical brilliance that professional comedians would die for.
    But actually even before that student’s reaction, I was already feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my colleague’s remark.
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    He was clearly referring to the dish “Escargots” and understandably using the main ingredient (snails) for simplicity, but it was the “In France, people…” part that bothered me.
    I immediately thought of my wife who is an ardent fan of Escargots and will tend to order it whenever she finds it on a restaurant menu – which she does, and not always at French restaurants either. Now my wife lives very comfortably with me here in Japan, not France, so my colleague’s education to the class discounted her – as well as the countless other lovers of the dish in this country, of whom I assume there are many. After all, if there weren’t many, Escargots wouldn’t appear on menus here at all, right?
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    After thinking about my wife, my thoughts turned to people in France. My colleague’s declaration strongly implies that in France all people eat snails. I can’t claim to know all the people in France, so I can’t with certainty dispute my colleague’s claim. But I do know many people in Japan on a personal level who don’t eat sushi, so the comparatible “In Japan, people eat raw fish” would be inaccurate.
    Am I perhaps thinking too deeply about this? Wasn’t my colleague simply trying to make an interesting yet innocent point of cultural difference to the class? Yes, I’m sure he was. But if we don’t think about the implications of what we say regarding cultural differences to our students, our education most certainly contributes to unhelpful, misleading and inaccurate stereotyping.
    So let’s consider improving the accuracy of my colleague’s wording.
    How about “In France, some people eat snails.” This is more accurate, but it still ignores the millions of people all over the world that enjoy the dish.
    So we’re left with:
    “Some people eat snails”.
    For many teachers the lesson inside the line “Some people eat snails” would not be a lesson on International Understanding because it omits the country name. I would argue that it’s a perfect lesson on International Understanding precisely because it omits a country name.
    International Understanding has little to with country names, and has everything to do with understanding the people with whom our students share this planet.
    So much of Japan’s International Understanding education is accompanied with lines like “People in this country do this, people in that country do that…” But to understand people on an international level is to understand the similarities and differences of people totally regardless of where they are or where they are from.
    I strongly believe that teachers should make a conscious decision to omit country names when teaching cultural differences of people. The simple phrase “Some people…” is fine. In this way our students can get more accurate information and avoid unuseful stereotyping.
    I’m getting hungry… Escargots, anyone?

    40. SPORTS DAY!

    Last weekend was my eldest daughter’s Sports Day. She attends our local public elementary school and is in first grade, so this was her first big event with her new school. You can imagine how excited she was!
    A question mark had hung over the weather all week, and we had canceled our Sunday plans, totally expecting Saturday rain to postpone the day. But come Saturday morning, the clouds stayed away and a hot sun blazed down. Thankfully a light breeze offered some relief from the early summer heat.
    Among the several things my daughter and I have in common is the fact that this Sports Day was a first for both of us! For 24 years the students in my classes had talked about their Sports Days, but I had never been given an opportunity to actually attend one myself.
    I must say, I was very impressed with the drama and the fanfare of the Opening Ceremony. The two teams (The Red Team and The White Team) were introduced with passionate drum-beating and almost warrior-like chanting. The rivalry between them appeared serious, but with courtesy and mutual respect.
    The support and encouragement given to the participants of each race and event as the day progressed was outstanding. It was the ultimate display of true sportsmanship. As we watched, my family and I got nicely caught up in it all, and I barely noticed the sunburn slowly creeping on my neck!
    I cheered my daughter on during her race, and watched with pride as she finished 3rd place out of four runners (that’s another similarity between us! In my day, that was always my result too!)
    And in between her race and class dance performance, there was plenty for me to cheer because in fact many of my weekly students also attend this school! It was great seeing a different side to so many familiar faces! Students who are usually quiet in class, now appeared on the race-track sidelines cheering their team-mates on with fervor and amazing voice-volume! And those students who are usually noisy in class were now also noisy outside of class! One of my boys was in fact the head of the Red Team Supporters (Ouen-Dancho)! He led the chanting and Red Team encouragement with a voice that I swear could be heard across the whole neighborhood!
    Something else struck me about my students throughout the day. I noticed that just about all of them were extraordinarily friendly and comfortable communicating to a large number of different people; adults of all ages and other kids of all grades. My students displayed great social skills and appeared very willing to exchange words and a smile with anybody at all. Of course, their language on this day was Japanese, not English, still I was amazed at how they made themselves so popular and likeable. I felt myself feeling as much pride for them as for my own daughter!
    On my way out of the school after the Closing Ceremony, I bumped into the mother of the Ouen-Dancho. I congratulated her on her son’s terrific performance. He was the perfect Dancho, I told her.
    Her reply surprised me:
    “Thanks to your lessons, my son has totally changed. He used to be shy and had no confidence speaking in front of a group. Now he is Dancho! Thank you so much for developing his confidence!”
    Her words rounded off a perfect day, and the bath and beer I had when I got home (ice cream for my daughters) were fantastic.
    It would be nice to take all the credit for my students’ progress. But much credit must go to LEARNING WORLD. No other textbook comes close in terms of giving students activities that involve communication and interaction, encourage acceptance and respect for others and at the same time build self-esteem!


    I love the timing of Golden Week. It comes exactly one month into the new school year.
    Every first month of every new school year requires new adjustments, new assessments and new stresses. By the time Golden Week comes we have more or less accustomed ourselves to these and we can briefly relax before getting into the year ahead in earnest.
    By and large I have settled nicely into my new preschool responsibilities and am enjoying it very much. There is much hard work ahead!


    Away from the classroom, the APRICOT Mates Meeting is less than a month away!
    This meeting will celebrate the organization’s 5th anniversary, and I’m looking forward to it very much.
    The program this time includes more activities for participants than ever before.
    Of these, one I feel has particular value is the “Speech Time” activity.
    Here participants share their current situation and past experiences.
    I’m personally very interested in hearing what teachers are concerned about regarding their teaching; the areas of teaching that teachers feel they want more insight on.
    I’m keen to hear this because up to now, the basis of all my presentations for APRICOT has been MY own experiences, and not those of other teachers.

    So if you are a qualified APRICOT Mate and are attending this meeting, please give thought to this segment because it will have an impact on future APRICOT seminars!

    Let’s all have a great first term!





    *The APRICOT Mate Meeting is only open to those who have completed Mikiko Nakamoto’s Children’s English Teacher Training Course, are Learning World certified schools, and have applied to and been accepted as APRICOT Mates.

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