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!
  • 4. What did you do in your summer vacation?

    Every year at this time I’m always frustrated by my inability to create an interesting ”What-did-you-do-in-your-summer-vacation” lesson. The difficulty with these types of post-vacation lessons is that the content depends entirely on the students, and no two vacation experiences are exactly the same.

    It’s not easy to have beginner students speak in English about their summer vacation in a meaningful way because they lack a lot of the vocabulary and expressions that they need in order to do so.

    Perhaps “I went to ~” is a nice and simple expression to build a lesson around, because most students went somewhere – often to interesting, faraway places. But then what do you do with those students who are convinced that they absolutely didn’t go anywhere? A lesson involving “I went to ~” lesson requires all the students to have gone somewhere in order for the lesson to work, so we as the teacher simply decide for some unlucky and understandably unenthusiastic students that they have to say “I went to the park” or “I went to the supermarket” just so that the lesson can proceed as smoothly as possible…

    And within such a lesson, even when students have announced “I went to Guam”, the more interesting information about what they saw, ate, and did there isn’t forth-coming.


    Again this year, I’ve been confronting these frustrations – and to my surprise, I’ve been getting a fair amount of positive results with this year’s lesson idea. So it might be worth sharing with you here.

    I realize of course that by the time you read this, your “summer vacation” lessons are probably finished, and you’re well back into your textbook. However, winter is not far off. The same idea can very well be applied to winter vacation.


    This idea involves: drawing, speaking, simple one-word reading, simple one-word writing (i.e copying), gluing and individual presentation to the class; it’s suitable I believe for your elementary school students, and younger students with experience.


    ●STEP 1: On A4 paper, have students draw a picture/pictures of their summer vacation.

    summvacpic-1     summvacpic2

    Allow a good amount of class time for this – perhaps 10~20 minutes. The more time you allow, the more ideas students can express.


    ●STEP 2: Some students will finish before others. Take students who have completed their drawings aside on an individual basis – a couple of minutes each – and get information from them about what they drew. Make notes for your reference. 


    These notes were made during each brief conversation I had with each student. You can see the students’ names and their answers to such questions as “What did you draw?” “What’s this?” “Where is this?” “Who is this?” “Is this ~?” Get as much information from each picture as possible.


    It’s important that your conversation with each student is done away from other students because:

    – you don’t want other students to get too many details on their classmates’ vacation just yet.

    – some students may express less information if they know other students are listening to their conversation with you.


    ●STEP 3: Once all students have completed their pictures and have spoken to you in private about their drawing, have them present their drawing to the class.


    The conversation they had with you in private should be enough practice for students to present the content of their summer vacation to the class. Encourage other students to ask questions – the same questions you did: “What’s this?” “Who’s this?” etc.


    ●STEP 4: Write all of your notes of your earlier conversations with students onto 4-line paper – with a free line for students to copy your handwriting.


    Depending on the size of your class, you may need to complete this step during your preparation for the next lesson. That’s OK. This activity idea can be spread over two lessons.


    ●STEP 5: Scatter the paper on the floor. Students need to find their papers, and bring each one to you for confirmation with the English “Is this my paper?”

    sumvacscatterfind  sumvactable1

    The written English is English that the students produced for you during your conversation. Students with even the most basic phonics experience should be able to find their papers without the need for help.


    ●STEP 6: Students copy the English on their papers, cut away your English with scissors, then glue their English onto their pictures.



    sumvactable3 sumvactable2


    ●STEP 7: Students present their summer vacation pictures to the class one more time, this time reading the English that they wrote and glued.



    I found this activity positive because:

    • it can cater for all the students, regardless of their experience.
    • it can cater to a variety of vacations. Students don’t necessarily need have “gone” somewhere.
    • it involves a variety of skills.
    • it involves student-to-class presentation.

    By all means, give it a try after the winter break!

    3. Ah… Summer!

    ladybug1 ladybug3 ladybug2

    Here are ladybugs made of felt. They are very nicely completed.

    As a teacher, would you accept a child’s work if:

    -the legs were placed on the opposite sides?

    -the dots were not symmetrical?

    -the eyes were lower?


    Ah, summer…! Not my least favorite season. While for me the best food options are during the Japanese winter, nothing quite beats the excitement of this country’s summer! The festivals, the fireworks…!

    For our students too, summer holds a special magic unlike any other season. Do you remember the feeling of youth and summer? I do, with crystal clarity. 6th grade. A vacation to an aunty’s house by the beach. A neighbor girl the same age. My first love… totally unreturned!! I returned home devastated, but a little wiser. Kids tend to do a bit of growing up over the summer.


    The school I work at has a 14-day summer program. Regular classes are on hold, and students instead can come any day or all days for several hours of games, arts & craft, water fun in the park, and a school-made snack. The teachers are paired up for the duration of the program, and together we maintain the all-English environment. Students are encouraged to bring friends as it’s a good way for the school to obtain new students. I like the program. It’s interesting to see my students outside the formality of a 50 or 80 minute weekly lesson. It’s fun to see them enjoy activities that we don’t usually do in our lessons. And at the school’s request we teachers are able to put away our “English-teacher” hats, and put on our “simply-relax-and-have-fun” hats. After all, the summer program itself has little to do with “English education”, and is geared mainly towards giving the students a fun-filled day.


    The crafts are always quite interesting, and are entirely the ideas of the Japanese staff at the school. One of the crafts
    involved sticking pre-cut felt pieces onto a canvas bag. Put together the pieces formed simple, pictures of summer: a watermelon, a whale, morning glories, and a beetle. Now, the beetle’s felt pieces were a little complex, particularly the legs which if care was not taken could easily end up stuck on backwards/back-to-front/upside-down. And for many of the kids, that’s exactly what happened…

    The child-like charm of the slightly ‘deformed beetle’, and the resulting unique expression of each one, for me easily overcame any temptation to “fix” the picture. But not all teachers see the same things. “Charming” to one teacher might be “messy” for another. “Unique” to one teacher might be “incorrect” to another. “Expressive” to one teacher might be “noisy” to another. When the craft was finished, and the students all went to wash their hands, my partner-teacher to my dismay went from bag to bag fixing all the beetles so that they were presented on the bags uniformly.


    In the classroom, it’s not just what a teacher sees that’s important, but how a teacher sees it that determines their course of action. If teachers who work together don’t see the same things in the same way, they will inevitably feel disagreement about each other’s actions. If teachers team up together in the classroom on a regular basis, they should spend a good amount of their teacher development time on learning how their partner sees things in order to understand each other’s actions. This is what I learned by this experience.


    “I returned home devastated, but a little wiser…” It’s not just the kids that tend to do a bit of growing up over the summer!



     Of all the experiences our students go through in the English language classroom, this is arguably the MOST important: Student-to-class presentation. Allow me to explain why – but not now. The “why” will become self-evident after discussion of other issues of student presentation.

    Firstly, what is student-to-class presentation? In short, this is where one student in class briefly becomes the focal point of every student in class.

    That one student gives a short oral presentation, which may typically be accompanied by something visual like a picture.
    150727 150727-1



    1. ALL students at some point must have their moment “up the front”.

    2. While the content of students’ presentations should relate directly to recently studied English, they must also contain in some way the result of students’ own creativity. Put another way, the English that students study in class should eventually be presented by them in a way that has them input additional, original ideas.

    3. Students don’t need to memorize what they say in their presentation. They can say what they are showing, and they can show what they are saying.


    4. Students should prepare well for their presentation, both the oral and visual content. Students should be prepared to speak in a voice that’s loud enough to be heard by everyone else in the room. Most importantly, they should be prepared to present themselves as a valuable individual with original ideas worthy of their classmates’ attention. They should be given the opportunity to practice – either alone or in pairs (not in front of the whole class). Students should practice what they’re going to say and they should practice holding their visual work in a way that guarantees everyone will be able to see.

    5. All students should know that courtesy, respect and support for the presenter is expected from the classmates listening.

    6. After each presentation, we as teachers should find as many aspects of the presentation as possible to praise.


    Now with that said, has the “why” behind student-to-class presentations become apparent?

    The objective behind having students present to the class is to foster something that I believe is very much lacking in regular Japanese education: self-esteem.


    Self-esteem is vital to effective English communication. Even if a student has many years of English study behind them, if he/she lacks self-esteem, there will be communication difficulties. A major part of the development of self-esteem is self-recognition of the value of one’s original ideas and the value of presenting them to others. It’s very much my belief that in class, if students are given an opportunity to present their original idea within a frame of recently studied English, are well-prepared, are well-practiced, and there’s an environment of support from classmates and teachers, the experience may help cultivate self-esteem, and ultimately assist in students’ English communication.

    Nakamoto-sensei too when creating LEARNING WORLD placed huge emphasis on individual presentation to the class for the same reason, and opportunities for this are right through each text, appearing on nearly every right-hand page!


    I strongly encourage all of you who are reading this to put opportunities for student-to-class presentations into your lessons!

    1. Hello, everyone!

    Good days, not so good days. Rewarding moments, awful moments.
    Successful classroom activities, disastrous classroom activities.
    We have experienced all of them, and will no doubt experience many more.
    On reflection however, in my case it would seem that the positivity of this work far outweighs the negativity. If it didn’t, it’s unlikely that I would still be here 20 years after I gave my very first English lesson still doing and enjoying what I do.

    And here’s another first: my very first entry in my very first blog.
    It was quite recently suggested to me that I start a blog, the reason being that my classroom experiences, both positive and negative, may be helpful to other teachers. The workshops and seminars I have conducted in the past have all been based on my classroom experiences, and have apparently been useful to other teachers, so a blog can serve a similar purpose: teacher-development – that’s ongoing.
    I decided to name the blog “Please get what you need” because I use this English with my students most lessons. Hopefully you too can “get what you need” from reading my blog entries.


    It’s a new challenge for me, and one that I am committed to continuing.
    Being entirely new to this, I wasn’t aware that readers’ comments can’t be left on blog entries! What a shame! I would love occasional feedback and questions! Please feel welcome however to reach me through the APRICOT e-mail address.
    Classroom, here I come!


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