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!
  • 13. Thank you for coming to the Learning World WORKSHOPS!

    It was really, really good seeing so many teachers at the recent Learning World Workshops in Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo.

    IMG_0963  Osaka 2/28


    IMG_1193  Nagoya 3/6


    IMG_1319  Tokyo 3/13


    As a presenter, it’s exciting to see new faces. I always hope that new teachers can relate to the issues we bring to our Workshops, and can take home perhaps a new angle of looking at their teaching. If it was your first time to attend an APRICOT Workshop, I say thank you for coming, I hope you found it worthwhile, and I hope to see you again!

    And as a presenter it’s of course also encouraging to see familiar faces. It tells me that teachers are indeed finding value at our Workshops, and are returning for more. If it was not your first time to attend an APRICOT Workshop, I say thank you for coming again, I hope you’re not tired of me presenting, and I definitely hope to see you again!

    Thank you especially if your attendance at one of the Workshops involved a lot of travel. I understand that more than twenty teachers used the bullet train, and a few even arrived by plane! Your commitment of time and money to study reflects your commitment to your students. I think your students should give YOU a sticker!!


    This year’s topic was a tough one – but a very important one, and one that has really been in want of discussion. The process of having our students attain the skill of reading can be frustrating for both teachers and students. However, if the teacher has a sound educational policy in place, if the students’ learning environment is stable, and if certain objectives are set and met with appropriate materials, students can find significant success with reading in a reasonable amount of time. My presentation at the Workshops attempted to show this.


    Thank you for your patience with the venue’s cramped conditions.

    Thank you for your patience with occasional technical difficulties.

    Thank you for your patience with my battle to stay properly time-managed!


    Thank you for your written feedback. It means a lot to me, and APRICOT too of course. It lets us know that if we are making a positive difference for you and your students or not. Essentially, that’s what we want the Workshops to do. That’s what the Workshops need to do. Please know that the Learning World Workshops are YOUR workshops. Not one single Workshop will always satisfy everybody’s needs, as everybody’s teaching situations can differ widely. But your input in the form of inquiries to APRICOT is useful and welcome! Your inquiries help APRICOT understand where your concerns are, and these form the basis for Workshops.


    If you weren’t able to join this year’s Learning World Workshops, please join us next year! Whether I’m presenting again or not next year, I hope to see everybody there!!

    Thank you again!


    Can I share with you this piece of writing by one of my students? 

    She is in junior high 2nd grade, and has been studying with me for 50 minutes a week since she was in 1st grade elementary school. Her first textbook was WELCOME to Learning World Blue. She has since completed every textbook in the LEARNING WORLD Series.


    Soon after the winter break I gave her a writing assignment for homework. This is what she produced:

    2015:   5/10

    I am not very satisfied with 2015 because I was injured many times. So I couldn’t practice basketball a lot.

    Furthermore I couldn’t study a lot. So I wasn’t satisfied my test score.

    However, I worked hard school committee activities. I proud myself about it.

    My goal for 2016 is to laugh a lot than last year because this year will be more busy than last year. So I think I have to laugh a lot to enjoy this year.

    Furthermore, I willn’t the absolute injury this year!


    Yes, it’s clear that her writing is not free of language errors. But to be honest I was quite happy with it, and surprised at its quality.

    The writing of a reflection on 2015 and goals for this year, together with the vocabulary “satisfied”, “furthermore” and “however” was my idea, but everything else was hers.


    ■Step 1: I input the meaning of “satisfied” together with the idea of a score:


    “I am totally satisfied“         → 10/10

    “I am very satisfied“         → 9/10

    “I am satisfied“         → 7/10

    “I am not very satisfied“     → 5/10

    “I am not satisfied“         → 4/10

    “I am not satisfied at all“     → 2/10


    ■Step 2: On a piece of paper I asked her to write “2015:” and then give it a score.


    ■Step 3: I gave her the following dictation:

    “I am not very satisfied with 2015 because………….




    My goal for 2016 is…….



    ■Step 4: On completion of the dictation I explained that “furthermore” means “and”. And I explained that “however” means “but”.


    ■Step 5: I asked her to complete it for homework.


    The combination of her junior high grammar knowledge with the structure provided by me helped put her ideas onto paper. By all means, please use this idea as an end-of-year activity, or even an end-of-term activity.


    Creative writing is definitely facilitated by experience in reading. These two areas of English education will be dealt with in depth at this year’s LEARNING WORLD Workshops, scheduled for Feb.28th (Osaka), Mar.6th (Nagoya) and Mar.13th (Tokyo).

    I really hope to see you there!

    matthew-20160129CreativeWriting←Click to enlarge


    ★★Learning World WORKSHOP INFORMATION⇒⇒Click here!

    11. “AJ Picture Dictionary: A little creative speaking and writing.”

    Did you have a relaxing New Year? I hope so!

    With “How was your Winter Vacation?” lessons well and truly finished, our heads and our students’ heads are back into their textbooks…


    As you know, I’m always keen to provide creative expression opportunities for students. AJ Picture Dictionary helps a lot with both creative speaking and creative writing.


    AJ表紙_001 MX-2700FG_20061013_225412_020

    Scene 18 “A School Play” is an interesting page, with musical instrument names and hairstyles commanding probably most of students’ focus.


    In a class of middle to upper elementary school students….

    1.Ss open their books to Scene 18.

    After some general discussion on the contents of the page, I ask some specific questions (based on the grammar at the bottom of the page):


    T: “Who’s that boy playing the tambourine?”     Ss: “[That’s] AJ.”

    T: “Who’s that girl playing ‘Tripitaka’?”      Ss: “I don’t know…. Oh, that’s Cindy.”

    T: “Who’s that woman holding the camera?” Ss: “That’s Bob’s mother.”

    T: “Who’s that boy playing the Monkey?”     Ss: “I don’t know…. Oh, that’s Jack.” (Bright Ss will find the answer at the bottom of the page!)

    T: “What’s his name?”             Ss: “I don’t know… Oh, that’s Jim.” (Again, bright Ss will find the answer at the bottom of the page!)


    T: “Who’s the boy playing the guitar?”     Ss: “I don’t know…”

    T: “That’s Masato!”

    Using students’ names in the same context will generate the English “I can’t play [the guitar]” etc.


    2. Using cut-up photocopied pictures of each orchestra player, Ss create “four groups” of pictures.

    matthew2016-1←Click to enlarge

    Students’ groupings are interesting: [very big/big/small/very small], [black/brown/gold/others] etc. Musically experienced students may group the instruments according to their classification: [brass/woodwind/percussion/string], though they very rarely know this English specifically. (Incidentally, the piano is outside classification as it’s neither a string instrument nor a percussion instrument. The synthesizer is classed as an Electronic instrument).


    3. Ss are given a white B4 sheet of paper and are instructed to fold it into eight boxes.

    matthew2016-2 matthew2016-3


    4. Ss are given strips of paper with English.

    Each strip is given one at a time!

    Each strip is glued into a box on the B4 paper, and Ss draw its picture.


    Strip #1: “a girl playing a trumpet”

    Strip #2: “a boy playing __ ___________” (Ss write an instrument of their choice).

    Strip #3. “a ______ playing ___ ________”

    Strip #4: “a ______ _____ ___ _________”

    Students are allowed more creative freedom with each strip of paper. The drawing of each picture takes time. The very first picture “a girl playing a trumpet” is completed in class. Depending on time, other pictures can be done for homework.


    matthew2016-4←Click to enlarge


    Next, Strip #5: “a girl with a braid”

    Students initially look for an instrument called “a braid”(!) Eventually this English is noticed amongst the hairstyles of the audience.

    Strip #6: “a man with a _________”

    Strip #7: “a woman with ________________”

    Strip #8: “a _____ with _________________”     


    Once completed, the B4 paper looks like this:

    matthew2016-5←Click to enlarge


    matthew2016-6←Click to enlarge


    I love AJ Picture Dictionary. Again and again, it offers students important creative writing experiences. Hopefully you can bring these experiences to your classroom too!


    It’s close to the end of the year, and at the school where I teach, each lessons’ regular textbook content has been replaced by Christmas content. The classroom too looks more colorful and magical than usual…


    I have tremendous admiration for the school staff. They always decorate the room beautifully AND they research and prepare materials for quite interesting Christmas arts & crafts for the students. In class-time the teachers hand out the pre-prepared materials to the students and give the instructions on how to make it.


    In your school, do you do arts & crafts often?

    It’s an area I personally don’t have strength in, for two reasons: I’m not overly artistic myself, and I always find it difficult during craft lessons to generate meaningful communication among the students. The teachers I work with often show their students the completed craft sample, then have the students ask for the materials one by one as they make it: “Eyes, please”, “A nose please” “Santa’s hat please” etc. I’m not overly inspired by this interaction because the students all do each step of the craft together and all use the same materials at the same time, so the English is too predictable.


    In order to avoid the predictability of English, this year in all my classes, regardless of age and experience, I decided to:

    1. not show a completed sample
    2. place all the materials on the students’ table at the start
    3. not explain how to make it.


    With all of the materials ready on their table, I said to the students: “Please start.”

    After a moment of uncertainty, they asked “What do we do?”

    “Make it, I answered.

    “Make what?” they asked.

    Scooting around the question and with my marker on the whiteboard I said “Try this…” :

    [ take ] ~
    [ put ] ~

    Using gestures I reminded the students the meanings of these two actions, and had them practice saying them.
    Using materials from the trays on the table, I then showed the difference between

    this and these and one of these.

    One enthusiastic student, understanding that I wasn’t going to answer the earlier ”Make what?” question, suddenly took the initiative; reaching for the largest piece on the table she asked:

    “Take this, yes?”


    I instructed students to say “Do we take this?”

    And it began…


    “Do we take this?”

    “Do we put this here?”

    “Do we take these?”

    “Do we put these here?”

    “Do we take one of these?”

    “How many do we take?

    “Is this OK?”

    I answered each question “yes” or “no” accordingly, and the craft slowly came together.

    By all means, check the video. I’m quite happy with the students. As their teacher, I feel their effort to use English is much more important than completing the craft.

    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!


    matthewblog-3  IMG_0286

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