Language Barrier + Losing Temper = Disaster

January 23rd, 2009 Posted in Teaching | 1 Comment »

I learned a very important lesson this week. Losing my temper with a Japanese student is a complete and total waste of time. The more I lost my temper and my cool, the less I was able to speak slowly and clearly. And the less I was able to speak slowly and clearly, the less able the student was to understand why I was upset with him in the first place. As the process continued we just had a complete and total meltdown where we both walked away from the interaction totally frustrated with one another and not having learned anything.

It all started during a lesson where I am beginning to teach the students how to play one of my favorite games, Apples to Apples. Aaron and I chose to teach this game because there is a lot of communication and arguing that has to be done to play, which makes it a great way for students to practice and expand upon their communication skills. Anyways….

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December 5th, 2008 Posted in Teaching | 5 Comments »

This week I have been doing one of my favorite lessons with my students, it is all about giving advice to various problems and I always enjoy the creative ways that students use this lesson.

To start, each student is given a piece of paper with either a problem or a piece of advice written on it. Then, they must stand up and find another student in the classroom that has the correct advice for their problem. Once they think they have a match, they come up and ask the teacher if it is ok. The thing I like most about this activity is the way that it forces students to talk, in English, with many different people and they way they must mix with one another. I find that Japanese students spend a good portion of their day sitting, passively, in their desks, so getting them up and moving is really important to me.

Once they have their match they sit down to work with their new partner, pretending to be advice columnists. I rarely collect their work at the end of class because I like them to be able to use it and reference it again, but at the end of this class I always collect their work because it is just so damn hi-la-rious!

I thought I would share some of the advice that they came up with for this particular problem:

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Engrish Tuesday

July 15th, 2008 Posted in Engrish, Teaching | 4 Comments »

Thought I would share a few essays from my second year students for this weeks Engrish Tuesday feature. I have been working on essay writing for the past few weeks with these students and I, overall, have been really happy with how it has gone.

During the first lesson they gathered ideas for their essays, brainstormed locations they wanted to travel and reasons why they wanted to travel there. In the second lesson I taught them about introductions, transitions and conclusions. They worked with my sample essay to identify the parts and then they wrote their own essays. After they wrote the essays I collected and marked them. I do not correct their English, instead I underline problem areas and mark them with a code (1=Punctuation, 2=Capital, 3=Plural, 9=Strange, etc.). During the third lesson the students work with an essay that I wrote which is littered with mistakes they commonly make, they must find the mistakes and correct them with their partner. Then, they get their own essays back and must spend time fixing their own mistakes.

It is a good lesson series in part because it really makes them think. Typically Japanese teachers correct all the mistakes on student essays and rarely, if ever, do they have the opportunity to reread their work and check it themselves. I think this is a valuable skill for a writer to have whether it is in a native language or a foreign one.

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Can I Change His Mind?

June 18th, 2008 Posted in School Life, Teaching | No Comments »

Least Favorite

In all of my classes students have namecards. On the outside of the card is their name in BIG letters. These cards help me to get to know my students. During class I am able to call on them by name and I am even starting to learn some of their names by heart (with over 700 students this is definitely a bit rough).

The real magic in the namecards though, is on the inside. On the inside of each card is a space where students and I have a written dialogue with one another. They are free to ask me questions, make comments about class, or write anything they wish. I, in turn, answer their questions or ask questions of my own.

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May 25th, 2008 Posted in School Life, Teaching | No Comments »


As a continuation of Danielle’s post on japanese kids still being kids. I have this little number from one of my students. This year I have started using namecards for all of the students to place on their desks during my class. This way I am able to call on students by name and hopefully this year I can actually remember more than a handful of students names. Already a few have lodged themselves in my brain. One of the first was this student.

The first day of class I walked around to all of the students to introduce myself one on one with them and hear their names. His introduction went like this. “Hello! My name is Taiga, but call me Tiger!” As a point of note these two words sound identical when pronounced by a japanese. The second was accented by his pointing to his name card, which said in large letters “Tiger”.

I then later saw him working on this signature inside of his name card. And here is the thing. This student is a jock. Popular, on the baseball team, self assured, jock. Yet in japan, in our school, sitting and practicing his signature, punctuated by a little hearts at the end, and over the “i”, is not something I could have imagined a similar student in the US doing. Here it is perfectly fine, in fact “cool” to be doing something so cutesy. The borders here are different they they are in the US. And most of the time I think this is a good thing… right up until the cross dressing starts in preparation for the cultural festival.

Who Do You Admire?

May 14th, 2008 Posted in Teaching | 2 Comments »

At school this week we have started our first textbook lesson. This lesson is all about small talk, so I have been teaching my students the magic of small talk. This is a perfect skill for them to learn because it what we do most frequently in English – we talk about the weather, or what we are going to do on the weekend. It is rare when we delve into more difficult conversation, especially at school or during class.

One way that we have practiced doing small talk is by playing a game of Bingo. The students each have a bingo sheet with 25 different small talk type questions.

  • Who’s your favorite actor or actress?
  • What’s your hometown?
  • What’s your favorite food?
  • What time did you wake up?
  • How do you come to school?
  • Most of the questions are pretty easy for my students. I guess that is the point. I am trying to drill them on the easy stuff here at the beginning, helping to make English easy and automatic (we will get to trickier stuff later). I am trying to help them build confidence in their abilities and not to worry too much about what they don’t know (which is, obviously, a lot).

    Once they finish writing their short answers down on their bingo sheet we start to play. I pull one question out of the big hat and ask one student. When they give me their answer, any student with the same answer puts an “x” in the box. The first student to get bingo wins.

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    Nihongo de

    May 9th, 2008 Posted in Daily Living, Teaching | No Comments »

    Every Wednesday I go to my Japanese lesson with a lovely woman who volunteers to teach Japanese to foreigners. She doesn’t speak much English, but I actually like that. It forces me to use the Japanese I have and when we get stuck, we can always use a dictionary to help us out.

    My Japanese classes are held in a sort of community center area of Gifu station. It is a quiet space with a lot of tables and chairs. A lot of high school students use the space to study.

    This week, when I went to sit down next to my teacher, I noticed that one of my students (the one who made a movie with me in it) was sitting across from me. The fact that I speak Japanese at all is a little known secret. At school I actually try very hard to keep it under raps. I don’t really want my teachers or students to know that I have as much language skill as I do because it is not my job to speak in Japanese with them. It is my job to help them improve their English.

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    Oh no!

    April 28th, 2008 Posted in School Life, Teaching | 2 Comments »

    This is, perhaps, one of the phrases I use the most in my classroom. Somehow it just seems to come up a lot, and the students think it is really funny. Remember the video with the little Japanese girl? Well, my students are kind of like that….just bigger. They not only laugh when I say it, they have started using it themselves. It makes me proud, actually.

    Just a few days ago a student came up to me and asked if he could have a piece of chocolate. It is well known among the students that I often have chocolate with me to give to students if and when they talk to me. I am in no ways above bribery. When he asked, I didn’t happen to have any with me and I said, rather loudly, “Oh no!”

    He looked at me, thought for a second and then, in front of the whole class and with his absolute loudest voice he said, “Oh shit!”

    Just further proves that my students have a lot more english ability than they like to let on. Now I just have to figure out how to harness their abilities.

    High Stakes Testing

    March 14th, 2008 Posted in Rant, Teaching | 3 Comments »

    Right now I am sitting in the staff room at school entirely alone. I have been sitting in here all by myself for nearly two hours now. Only occasionally have I been visited by a teacher of staff person merely breezing through. It is going to be a long day.

    The reason that I am all alone, as I will be for nearly the entire day, is because the teachers are busily marking the high school entrance exams that junior high students took yesterday. As I think about them busily determing the fate and futures of nervous junior high students everywhere, I have also started thinking about how I feel about a system that places so much emphasis on exams and scores.

    This is probably going to be a thinky post, where I discuss my philosophies and experiences with high stakes testing. It is written as much for me, to help clarify my views, as for you. If you are inclined to enjoy such things, please continue. If not, don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

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    Which is Worse?

    March 10th, 2008 Posted in School Life, Teaching | 1 Comment »

    Most of the time my classes go without any snags. There are few discipline problems for either the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) or myself to deal with. However, one of my JTE’s is much more strict than the others. He insists that the female students wear their skirts at the proper length (they all roll them down before he enters the room), he makes sure that each and every student bows properly at the beginning of class, etc. Sometimes an issue occurs that I haven’t even noticed, when he starts scolding the student, very publicly and forcefully, it ends up making things rather uncomfortable for me and the other students.

    A few weeks ago in our class he all of a sudden made me stop explaining the directions and he went over to one of the students. He made the student stand up and he started scolding him quite loudly. A minute or two passed and the student was allowed to sit down and the JTE came back to the front of the room and told me that I could continue.

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