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!
  • 18. LW Bk 3 “What are you doing?”


    matthew-Bk3 0822-1


    “♪Busy, busy, busy. We are busy all day long. Mom is cooking all day long. Dad is shopping all day long…”

    The chant on pg.12 of Learning World Book 3 is a particular favorite with my students. They like the rhythm of it, the challenge level of the vocabulary is not too high, and the tempo is manageable. The increase in tempo the second and third time around adds surprise and excitement.



    Now, the additional vocabulary in the WORDS section is quite useful: “practicing the piano”, “driving a car” “listening to music”, “talking with friends” and “waiting for a bus”. I had always felt the need for an activity that uses this vocabulary. So I thought of one that I’d like to share with you here. If you have old, unused cell-phones at your disposal, they can come in handy now! (Incidentally, phone company stores and outlets sometimes have a basket of old phones that you are welcome to take).


    To set up, first arrange classroom chairs in pairs, back to back. There is one chair for each student in the class. Phone conversations will happen in these chairs.
    Next, anywhere in the room away from the paired chairs, have students open their textbooks to page 12 and a pencil ready. In time, students will circle the pictures in the WORDS section.

    matthew-Bk3 0822-7

    Next, give students a “cell-phone”.


    The activity starts with students sitting in the paired chairs and having the following phone conversation:

     matthew-Bk3 0822-2n


    “Hello, it’s (name). How are you?”

    “Hello (name)! I’m fine”.

    “What are you doing right now?”

    “I’m [cooking/shopping/washing/cleaning….any ONE of the vocabulary items from WORDS]. How about you? What are YOU doing?”

    “I’m [cooking/shopping/washing/cleaning….any ONE of the vocabulary items from WORDS].”

    “I see! Bye!”






    The opening and the closing of the conversation can be simplified or made more challenging, but the point is that students listen carefully to their friends’ answer to “What are you doing right now?” because when the conversation is finished, students return to their textbooks and circle the vocabulary item their friend used in their conversation.

    matthew-Bk3 0822-3  matthew-Bk3 0822-4


    Then, students go and have a new conversation on a different pair of chairs with a different friend and (importantly) using a different vocabulary item. In other words, students cannot simply answer “I’m shopping” or “I’m cooking” with every conversation. They must try and use all the vocabulary items over all the conversations.


    The activity is complete when students have circled every picture in the WORDS section.


    It’s possible of course that a friend will answer with a vocabulary item that’s already been circled. That’s unlucky. Students must continue having new phone conversations with different friends until every picture is circled(!)

    matthew-Bk3 0822-6n   matthew-Bk3 0822-5n



    17. JUNIOR HIGH STUDENTS (Part 2.)

    Please read Part 1 for the full details on the compromise I had to find with the students of my JH classes. Their need for my classes to contain ”more reading and writing activities” and ”more Japanese explanation of grammar rules” was I felt more of a perceived need rather than an actual need, but my school’s need to make sure students don’t quit is very real, so I found a comfortable compromise for all of us. And as part of that compromise I tried an interesting idea recently…


    Within the first 15 minutes of the lesson I had managed to generate the following English from the students:



    I’m fine.

    It was good.

    Where is who?

    I don’t know.

    We go to different schools.

    I didn’t get LINE from Yuka.

    In my bag

    What else?

    I’ll get it.

    Where do I sit?

    What do we do?

    What do we write?


    At the 15 minute mark I had the students sit together and brainstorm all the English they had used in the last 15 minutes, since entering the classroom. I wrote each expression on the whiteboard as the students recalled it – however as you can see from the photo, my writing was (deliberately) messy.



    I then had the students write all the expressions in their notebooks.


    Now, the scrawl on the whiteboard was clear enough to remind students what expressions to write, but it was too messy to provide details like spelling. As the students wrote each one in their notebooks they helped each other with spelling and there was discussion among themselves about grammar structures and rules. As they worked, more English expressions were generated:


    What does this say?

    Move please, Matthew. I can’t see the whiteboard.

    Which one?

    I wrote it.

    I didn’t say anything.



    All were added messily to the list on the whiteboard and subsequently to the list in the students’ notebooks.
    The lesson became truly representative of the compromise I had reached with the students. It involved writing, grammar discussion, and most importantly, real English communication.


    In your teaching schedule, do you have any JH classes? While teaching younger kids is my forte, this year I have more JH classes each week than at any other time in my teaching career!

    I quite like them. JH students have a complex mixture of attitudes towards English, school, their teachers, their families, their friends and themselves. I find myself preparing well for these lessons because unlike younger students, these kids fully know when I don’t! I’m fortunate that for the most part my students seem to enjoy my lessons. Most (but not all) of them have come through a Learning World experience, and we’ve built a good degree of mutual trust over a good number of years.


    However, I was surprised to learn recently that one of my students, JH 2nd grader, was considering leaving my class because she felt it wasn’t meeting her needs. She wanted a class that was “more focused on reading, writing, grammar and Japanese explanation”. With more focus on these areas, she felt she could do better at her school English, as her school lessons shared the same focus areas.


    For the record, my JH lessons are designed around grammar points taken directly from JH textbooks, and include activities that involve reading and writing. Every time. My student likely missed this fact because the communicative nature of the lessons may have hidden it.
    She was right though when she claimed that my lessons don’t contain any Japanese explanation. I don’t believe Japanese explanations are necessary. But I must acknowledge that my student believes they are. In fact she had voiced her concerns with me regarding this on a previous occasion as well; it was clear though that my reasons for not including Japanese explanations hadn’t convinced her.


    I definitely didn’t want her to quit, so I decided to compromise. In class the following week I announced that the lessons from now on would contain Japanese explanations of grammar rules and structure. These however would not come from me – they would come instead from the students themselves. I suggested that whenever anyone felt the need for a Japanese explanation, they were welcome to ask for it from their classmates, and classmates were welcome to give it. I would continue to use only English but I would not discourage Q&A about grammar conducted in Japanese.


    I’m happy to report that the student began to enjoy her class after we implemented the change – and in fact, the class atmosphere generally warmed. The students liked my insistence on only using English with them because they felt benefits to their listening ability. However they also enjoyed the opportunity to confirm areas of grammar among themselves in Japanese.


    *Part 2 coming soon!

    15. Yesterday’s seminar

    A Bridge to the Future!


    Who else made themselves available to attend the Tokyo English Education Innovation Seminar yesterday? Wasn’t it fantastic?!!

    Nakamoto-sensei’s presented the first glimpses inside two important new APRICOT releases due out in the Spring of next year: “Learning World Bk.4: BRIDGE” and “Learning World Bk.6: the FUTURE”.
    BRIDGE” will replace the current “CHANTS for Grammar” publication and become an official part of the Learning World Series.

    The FUTURE” will become the final book of the series, after a revised (and renamed) “Learning World Bk 5: Tomorrow”.

    The new additions to the Learning World line-up will complete a 10-year Learning World curriculum that has I believe the potential to completely shake up and wake up the education of English in this country.


    Again Nakamoto-sensei has demonstrated a profound insight to the very real needs of Japanese youth and their unproductive relationship with the English language and study of it.

    She has met these needs with astounding creativity. The examples and text excerpts shown at yesterday’s presentation were more than enough to have those of us in attendance feel that our students were in for some really exciting times ahead…! It was the kind of material that you couldn’t wait to get your hands on. It was the kind of material that you could imagine your students getting thoroughly involved in. It was the kind of material that you wished APRICOT would miraculously make available for ALL of us TODAY, RIGHT NOW because our classes TOTALLY need it NEXT WEEK!!!


    One new and very exciting feature of “The FUTURE” is the DVD. A total of 20 short videos are in the pipeline, and lessons are planned around them. The example video shown was very professionally put together – a mini-documentary with genuine authenticity but with easy application in the classroom too. It was not surprising to learn that Kawahara-sensei was behind its production because only she is able to manage that kind of balance.




    Look, if you weren’t able to get along to the Seminar yesterday, there will be more opportunities to attend in the coming weeks as it makes its way around the country.
    Please get to one! You’ll be really surprised, really inspired, and really wish next year was now!


    14. How to use a worksheet one line…

    The new year has well and truly started. I imagine we are all back teaching at page 1 of each of Learning World’s textbooks, right? I hope the Learning World Workshops in March proved valuable to you as you and your students begin the new year!

    Here is a very uninteresting-looking worksheet that I created just before the Spring break. It was designed for students on LW Book 3.


    Although uninteresting-looking, this worksheet in fact became quite effective for:

    1. inputting new vocabulary related to adjectives (hot → the hottest, small → the smallest, beautiful → the most beautiful etc.)
    2. having students create their own sentences based on this vocabulary.


    As the worksheet doesn’t appear to make much sense, it’s better to present it to students revealing one line at a time. Use construction paper. Present the top line first:


    Encourage students to generate possible answers.

    My students initially suggested “Christmas”.

    After I reminded them that there are 12 months in the year, they suggested “last”.

    Have students write “last”.


    Have students color “December”, “last”, “month” and “year” using 4 different colors.

    My students chose orange, blue, green and yellow:


    Have students reveal the next line:


    Have students color this word.

    After some discussion, my students agreed that if “last” was blue, then “first” was probably blue too.


    Have students read aloud “December is the last month of the year”. Students will soon produce “January is the first month of the year”.

    Have them write it:



    Have students color this English too.


    Have students to reveal the next line:


    There is understandable confusion when “c______” is revealed.

    Hint to your students that this word is blue.

    My students immediately guessed cold”, and straight away wrote “February is the cold month of the year”.

    With the students themselves suggesting “February”, inputting the concept of “coldest” becomes simple.


    Now it’s time to apply this concept to other adjectives…


    Have students reveal the next line:


    February is the coldest month of the year”, so your students will have understandable confusion about what to do with the word “mountain”.


    Ask your students to color it.

    A little thought and discussion among themselves will have them agree that the word mountain is not comfortable at the start of the sentence, so cannot be orange; nor is it good at the end, so cannot be yellow; nor is it an adjective, so cannot be blue. It can really only be green.

    With mountaingreen, your students will soon suggestMt. Fujias orange. With Mt. Fuji orange, they will soon suggest Japan as yellow. Now they need an adjective for blue English. Input “high” if needed, and have students apply “highest”.


    Once this English is colored, students can reveal the next line:


    With the words mountain and the world revealed, your students will soon produce Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world”.



    The next line reveals the word “river”.

    Now, before this point, each answer was largely decided. From here students can exercise more freedom of expression.


    My students chose “The Amazon River” as orange English, and as a result the blue English became “longest” and the yellow English became “the world”. However if the students choose “Japan” as the yellow English, then the orange English becomes “Shinanogawa”. Alternatively, a change to the blue English will create different orange and yellow English. Perhaps a quiz with your students can become a good reason to input new adjectives:


    “Ayasegawa (Tokyo)  is the _______________ river in Japan” (dirtiest)
    “Amedakegawa (Hokkaido) is the ____________ river in Japan” (cleanest/ most beautiful)



    “Tazawako is the ___________ lake in Japan” (deepest)



    For homework, I gave the following worksheet to my students:


    You can imagine how disappointed they were to discover that they weren’t able to choose any of the colored English for #3!! They quickly learned however that the word “not” goes very nicely after the word “is”!

    Page Top