Beginning Is Easy, Continuing Is Hard: Celebrate Your Small Language Successes!

When I first came to Japan, I felt overwhelmed by this new language all around me. I remember jealously watching my Japanese-speaking friends talk to each other and make new friends, while thinking to myself: “I’ll NEVER get the hang of this language!” I was feeling quite hopeless.

However, after a few nights out with friends without understanding anything, I turned a corner. I decided that I was going to try my best to communicate with people. My learning was slow, I’ll admit. I learned how to ask someone’s name first, then how to say hello properly and read hiragana. I know these seem like nothing, but to someone who came here with no prior knowledge of the language, these were all successes to me. And I celebrated them, just like I would have any other success. I told my friends about it, I shared my new sentences with my Japanese friends, and I did a little happy dance once I got home.

Today, I managed to help a new employee buy a bicycle and get signed up for pocket Wifi. I could ask simple questions and understand short responses. After everything was said and done, I took a moment to think back on when I first arrived here. I remembered that feeling of hopelessness and, in that moment, I realized just how far I had come. It felt so good that I did a literal dance in my car, while grinning ear to ear.

That’s not to say that my language skills are perfect. I know that I have a long way to go. But I’ve found, through my experiences here, that the best way to not get discouraged is to continue trying and take the time to really celebrate those small successes!

So pat yourself on the back when you are able to successfully order a meal at a restaurant. Do a happy dance when you manage to ask someone their name or their age. Pump your fist in the air and yell “HURRAY!” when you find yourself able to understand what that man behind the counter is telling you… Realize that learning a new language is hard, and even though there are a few stumbling blocks along the way, you’re already miles ahead of where you started. 🙂

Flashcards Can Be Boring (Part III): Use Rock, Scissors, Paper and Have More Fun!

Rock, Scissors, Paper seems to be a universal thing. In Japan, they call it junken. I used that to my advantage in the game below, incorporating what kids already know with what they don’t know (the vocabulary on those pesky flashcards that the children are trying to learn).

For this game, let’s assume that the target sentence is: “What are you wearing?” –> “I’m wearing____.” and the vocabulary is based on clothing.

What you’ll need: Several copies of the following document:rock, scissors, paper graphics, students, and the flashcards that the kids are using to learn new vocabulary.

Step 1: Do a little preparation. You’ll need to print out the document that was given above (this one: rock, scissors, paper graphics). You’ll need several copies of this document, because you’ll need to cut out each symbol (rock, scissors, and paper). Once these are all cut out, attach them with tape to the back of your flashcards. Each flashcard should have one of the rock, scissors, paper symbols on the back once you’ve finished.

Step 2: Now that your preparation is done, we’ll assume that you’re in class, ready to go. Preteach the vocabulary the students are learning (with your flashcards) and cement the sentence pattern they’re learning. You can do this many different ways, but I prefer the simple repetition method when you’re first introducing the words/flashcards to the kids.

Step 3: Show students what rock, scissors, paper is. Walk through the gestures (fist for rock, index and middle finger out for scissors, and a flat hand for paper). They’ll probably already know it from junken, but try to teach them the English equivalent for the Japanese they already know.

Step 4: Put all of your cards face up on the table (or on the board – if you’re doing this, you’ll need magnets). Point to a card and say: “I’m wearing (whatever is on that flashcard).” Then, pretend to be someone else. Point to a different card and say: “I’m wearing (whatever is on that card).” Do rock, scissors, paper with your (imaginary) opponent. Then flip the flashcards over. Whichever one has the strongest symbol on the back is the winner (remember that rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, and paper beats rock). If the 2 flashcards have the same symbol, you have to actually do rock, scissors, paper with your opponent. The winner gets both cards.

Step 5: Do a trial run demonstration with two of your stronger students. The winner keeps both cards. Slowly call other students up to try. Alternately, you can make 2 teams with players that take turns against each other.

Step 6: Give other students an opportunity to try. Either call them up one by one, have them volunteer, or choose a team approach. Students will definitely get into the activity, and they’ll be unconsciously reinforcing what they’re learning!

Getting Students to Talk to Each Other (Rather than Just the Teacher)

This game/activity has a little back story to it. As most of you know (I hope), I teach English to Japanese children. We do focus on reading and writing, but our main point of interest is conversation. The belief is that students can attain reading/writing skills later on (through books, the internet, and forms of popular Americanized media), but if they don’t start with a solid conversational base in English, they might not get the opportunity to learn that later on (since they don’t really have a chance to speak English a lot in Japan). In my larger classes, I was at a loss as to how to get students to speak not just to me, but to each other. That’s when I came up with this simple and easy game/activity.

What you’ll need: a small piece of paper for every student, maybe color pencils, a timer, and students (more than 4-5)

Step 1: Teach the vocabulary and sentence patterns your students are learning. This can be through a quick game, a review of flashcards, say and repeat activities, a gesture + vocabulary activity, or anything that works. For the sake of this example, let’s pretend students are learning vegetables, as well as the sentence pattern “I like____.” and “What fruit/vegetable do you like?”

Step 2: Once students know the sentence pattern(s) well enough and have some vocabulary to work with, distribute a small piece of paper to each student. If they can read/write, have them draw a vegetable, then write their vegetable’s name underneath. If they can’t read/write, just have them draw.

Step 3: Demonstrate the activity. Take an example card that you made and call one of your stronger and more confident students up (with their card). Show your card and say: “I like (whatever is on your card). What do you like?” The student must then respond with: “I like (whatever is on their card).” Then, switch cards. Seek out another stronger student and say: “I like (whatever is on your new card). What do you like?” They must respond with: “I like (whatever is on their card).” Then, switch cards again.

Step 4: By this point, students should more or less understand what they are to do. Just in case, though, have them practice with whoever is sitting next to them. Observe how the activity is going by circulating through the room. Help those who need it and encourage those who are doing good.

Step 5: Set your timer for 5 minutes (or however many minutes you feel you need) and tell students they have to ask as many different people as possible. Allow them to walk around the room freely. It will be fun to see them go. Once the timer goes off, they must return to their seats. Of course, make sure you are supervising the activity while it’s happening and helping those who need it.

Step 6: Ask students what vegetable they like once they are back at their desks (as a review of what was just done). They will have fun sharing what’s on their new card!

The Bomb Game: A Better Way to Play Hangman

I’m assuming we all know the popular classic “hangman,” where you think of a word, write a dash for each letter on the board, then have others guess letters in an attempt to guess the whole word. Whenever they get a letter wrong, we add to our little hangman until he is, well, completely hung.

It’s a great game to practice spelling/reading and review vocabulary, but in Japan IT’S ABSOLUTELY NOT OK TO PLAY THIS IN YOUR CLASSROOM! Honestly, never play this game with your Japanese students! Let me repeat that with much more emphasis: DON’T PLAY THIS GAME IN YOUR CLASSROOM!!!!! It’s culturally taboo because students who choose to commit suicide in Japan often do so by hanging. Hangman is therefore seen as encouraging that behavior, so steer clear.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still use the game and change the visual we use. I opt for a bomb instead of a hangman, and I call this game the bomb game. Here’s how to play…

What you’ll need: a board, a marker (or chalk), and students

Step 1: Choose a word that the students are familiar with, preferably one from your most recent lesson. Write one dash on the board for each letter of that word.

Step 2: Draw a giant bomb with a string attached to it over the word. Look at the picture below to see what I mean.

bomb game

Step 3: Have students guess the letters in the word. Every time they guess one correctly, write it where that letter’s dash was. If they get one wrong, write that letter on the board and erase a part of the string attached to your bomb. If the students don’t guess the word before the string of your bomb is gone, the bomb explodes and they lose. If they DO guess it, you lose! It’s super easy and fun to play and it’s even better if you make sound effects when erasing a part of the string or when the bomb explodes.

 

Super Mario as an English-Teaching Tool? Yes, Please!

Yes, you read that correctly. This game is all about those famous Super Mario Bros (and English). Here’s a little YouTube video to set the mood… 🙂

Super Mario is very well-known all over the world. Plus, in Japan some of the character names are the same as they are back home. So that makes this game a little easier to explain to the kids. With this game’s colorful characters, opportunity to work in teams, and competitive nature, your students are bound to get excited about sentence patterns! Try it out and you’ll see how fun it can be!

What youll need: a board (and markers to draw on it), magnets (at least 6-7), the color characters from this link: general Mario game on board (you will need to cut them out), and students

Step 1: Practice the sentence patterns or vocabulary that the students are working on in class. It’s important that they be able to produce answers to the questions you’ll ask them BEFORE they play this game. To drill the sentence patterns, you can use a game, basic repetition, or whatever works for you and your students.

Step 2: Once you’re satisfied with the level the students have reached, draw a course on the board (it can look like a basic road; there’s no need to get fancy). Draw a castle-like thing at the end of the road and write FINISH underneath it. Then add small dots along your road. For an example of what this could look like, see the image below.

super mario road

Step 3: Put your students into groups. There should be no more than 6-7 groups. Pull out your colorful characters to get the students excited. Assign one character to each group. If the students are calm and well-behaved enough to share popular characters, you can let them choose which Mario character they’ll be.

Step 4: Place all of the Mario characters at the beginning of the road that you drew on the board (this is where those magnets come in). Explain that when a group gets a correct answer, their character moves up to the next dot on the road. Proceed to ask questions that the students know the answer(s) to. The first group to put their hand up gets to answer. If they have the correct answer, their Mario character moves onto the next dot on the road. For example, if the class is working on fruit, you can ask: “What fruit do you like?” or “Do you like____?” If they’re working on flashcard vocabulary, you can hold up a flashcard and ask: “What’s this?” Really, this game can be used with any and all sentence patterns and vocabulary.

Step 5: Play a practice round to get the students into the game, then play it for real! It’s just amazing how a board, some markers, some magnets, and Mario character cut-outs can get students excited about English!

Jeopardy as a Review Game

For those of you who are currently working in Japan or have worked in Japan before (or maybe you’ve just done some serious internet-searching on working here?), you know that the school year comes to a close at the end of March. That leaves us with the question of how to review the content we’ve been teaching kids all year. I’ve found games to be an effective way to do this, in particular Jeopardy. The kids get to work collaboratively to play, they have fun, and (if they can read) they practice reading categories and questions.

Contrary to a lot of the games I’ve presented, this one does take some time to set up. Since you (and maybe your supervisor) are the only one who knows exactly what you’ve been covering in class, you have to design a jeopardy game that fits your kids. You can make your own game on this awesome website. Once you’ve made it, then you can continue onto the game itself. So, without further ado, here’s one of several ways you can use jeopardy in class to review:

What you’ll need: a board, a computer, an internet connection (and the URL of the jeopardy game you made), possibly a projector or large TV screen (so your students can see the game), students, and I like to use bells/buzzers (but you can easily ask them to put up their hands instead).

Step 1: Before the game starts, cycle through some of the sentence patterns and vocabulary that the students have seen over the past year. Ask questions to different students, pull out flashcards, and do what you need to do to get their brains warmed up and ready.

Step 2: If you have a lower number of students, you can make each students his/her own team. If you have a larger class, you can make groups of students. Try not to have more than 5-6 groups overall, or else things can get kind of messy. Give each group a number and write their group number on the board.

Step 3: Set up your jeopardy game and open it up. Show kids how to play (they must choose a category, then a number of points; the more points, the harder the question). A different student must answer each time (I make this rule so that the quieter students have a chance to shine too).

Step 4: Give students buzzers/bells and do a practice round so that they can understand better. The first group to ring the bell/buzzer gets to answer the question. Alternately, you can also just say that the first group with all of its members’ hands up gets to answer first. When they choose a question, read it to them (this helps them a lot if they can’t read).

Step 4: Play the game and keep track of points. The team with the most points at the end wins!

If you’re having trouble imagining what a jeopardy review game could look like, I invite you to check out this jeopardy game. I made it as a review for some of my more advanced students. They seem to enjoy it, and the pictures really help them follow along.

AHHHHHH: The Yelling Game

Before I dive into this game description, I have to apologize for being MIA for a while now. Things at work have been quite busy and I haven’t had the time (or energy) to continue to add to this growing list of resources. Sorry!

Anyway, about this game… It’s almost exactly what it sounds like: students yell the sentence patterns you’re working on in class. I find that this gets some of the jitters out of active students and wakes up those who are falling asleep. Plus, it gets all the students practicing the sentence patterns. You’ll notice that, because they’re in a group setting, even shyer students tend to get involved in this activity!

Before we start though, I have two little disclaimers: 1) It WILL get loud in your class, so don’t do this on a day that you’re fighting a headache; 2) Don’t do this activity for longer than 10 minutes or your students might lose their voices. With that in mind, here we go!

What you’ll need: students (preferably 4 or more) and a board (but you can do without the board, really).

Step 1: Drill whatever sentence pattern you’re working on. You can use a game for this or if your students prefer repetition, that works too.

Step 2: Once you’re satisfied with the students’ progress, separate them into 2 teams. If your group is especially creative, have them name their team (with an English name).

Step 3: Instruct both groups to say a sentence pattern. For example, if you’re working on “I can____.”, have group 1 say “I can walk.” and group 2 say “I can jump.” Tell them to use big voices and be as loud as they can. The group that is the loudest wins. At this point, to help students understand, I usually draw a mini bar graph on the board (one for team 1 and one for team 2). If one group is particularly loud, I draw lines into their bar graph. Once the bar graph reaches the top, it means that that team is the winner.

Step 4: Try switching up the sentence patterns each group is saying. If we follow the “I can____.” example, have them say they can do different actions (bounce a ball, jump rope, fly a kite, ride a bike, swim, run, etc.) then have them practice “I can’t____.” (the negative form).

Teaching Transportation: A Cool Craft Idea

I was teaching transportation to my students recently and I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could incorporate some sort of craft into my regular, everyday lessons?” Through some consultation with my coworkers and by adapting a few other crafts I’ve seen done, I was able to come up with the following idea: students use their hands and stamp pads to create different methods of transportation.

Before trying this lesson though, there are a few things you, as the teacher, need to make sure of. The first is whether or not your students are familiar with a handful of methods of transportation (like bike, bus, and rocket). If you need an idea as to how to teach them this, feel free to have a look at this lesson plan idea I made a while ago. Second, you need to have some craft supplies hanging around. You’ll need: blank papers students can use for their craft, newspaper to cover/protect tables (if you’re using tables), stamp pads of different colors, markers/crayons (usually the students have these, but it never hurts to have extras), aprons or garbage bags students can use to protect their clothes, and wet cloths or water stations where students can wash their hands. Third, there will be some preparation necessary to pull this off; it’s not a last-minute lesson plan. So ensure you have the materials and time necessary for it all.

OK. Now that we have gone through the necessary preamble, let’s dive into this activity! Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. If you’ve already taught transportation, do a short review with flashcards. Ask students to make sentence patterns, such as “I ride on/in a____” or “I go by____.”
  2. Play a game to reinforce the vocabulary. You can choose any of the games I’ve posted to do this. I particularly enjoy the hula hoop game with transportation, as it allows for kinesthetic learning. (You can skip this step if you only have a short lesson, as the craft will take a while to do.)
  3. Now, have students sit down at their desks (or on the floor if you prefer). It’s time to demonstrate what they will be doing. Show them a blank paper, then hold up the stamp pads you’ve brought along. Go through the colors as a review. Then go through these 3 methods of transportation: bike, bus, and rocket. Once this is done, follow these steps.
    1. Put on your apron.
    2. Name a color, and put that stamp color on your index finger. Place it on the paper once horizontally and once vertically to make a bike shape. Then, place your 2 fingertips on the stamp pad and add wheel shapes to make a bike on the paper. Name the method of transportation and have students repeat it.
    3. Wipe off your hands with the damp cloth. Then select a different stamp pad color. Put the palm of your hand on it and place it on the paper. It should make a square-ish shape. Then, place your 2 fingertips on the stamp pad and add wheel shapes to make a bus on the paper. Name the method of transportation and have students repeat it.
    4. Wipe off your hands again and select a new stamp pad. Put the side of your hand on it and stick it to the paper. It should make a vertical line of sorts. This will be your rocket. Name the method of transportation and have students repeat it.
    5. Quickly add some details to your image (with crayons/markers) and say: “Now we color.” Students will get the idea. ***For a picture of what the finished product could look like, see the pictures below.***
  4. Now that you have demonstrated the activity, have the students put on their aprons and distribute stamp pads, crayons/markers, and papers. Help them make their stamp shapes and remind them to wipe their hands (or wash them) in between stamp sets. Once they finish, encourage them to draw on their papers. They can even write their names (and/or the methods of transportation) if they’re capable of doing so. Basically, monitor the activity to make sure students are doing well. Get them to speak English too by asking questions, such as: “What’s this?” (while pointing to a method of transportation), “What color do you want?” and “What do you ride?” They’ll surprise you with what they know.
  5. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO CLEAN UP!!! I can not emphasize this enough. I’ve learned this from experience: clean up time should be factored into the lesson or else you get stuck with it all. Or worse, the homeroom teacher has to do it, which is very unfair to them. To cut down on clean up time, have the students help with this step. They can wash their own hands, put lids on stamp pads (then give them to you), clean up markers/crayons, put dirty newspaper from the tables in a garbage bag, take each others’ aprons off and hand them to you, and wipe tables if necessary.

Once the clean up is finished, your lesson time should be up. If not, throw in a fun song or a review game to finish the lesson on a positive note. Also, allow your kids to take their papers home so that their parents can see what they made in English class!

 

 

The Keyword Game: A Quick Way to Review

This game is a great way to get students to recognize new words or phonics sounds. It’s perfect as a quick warm-up or as a closing game to eat up those extra 10 minutes.

What you’ll need: flashcards of whatever vocabulary or letters you’re teaching, 1 eraser or pencil for every 2 students, and students (duh!)

Step 1: It’s important that students know the words they’re going to play with, so make sure you teach them first.

Step 2: Place a pencil or eraser in front of each 2 students (they can do this themselves too with their own pencils/erasers). Place one in front of yourself so you can demonstrate.

Step 3: Hold up your “secret” word. Say different words (preferably other vocabulary words they know). Then, say the “secret” word and grab the eraser/pencil as quickly as you can. The idea is that when the “secret” word is said, the students need to try to grab the pencil/eraser. The first student to get it wins.

Step 4: Do a practice round with the same word. The kids will catch on quickly if they haven’t already at this point.

Step 5: Play several more rounds, but switch up your “secret” word so that students can learn to recognize different and new vocabulary.

 

5 Reasons Your Students Might Be Misbehaving and What You Can Do About It

We all have those classes… Those classes where it seems as if the students are out to get you because they refuse to learn and they constantly misbehave. We teachers face them like weathered soldiers on a battlefield: we do it out of duty, but we hate (almost) every second of it.

I know I have my “challenge” classes, but one thing that has managed to keep me sane and, surprisingly, has cut down on some misbehavior, is understanding some possible reasons why my students are misbehaving (there’s actually a great article on that here; I would encourage you to read it to get further ideas on classroom management and why students act the way they do.). Knowing the why of the equation allows me to come up with simple solutions that, when implemented properly, can lower instances of misbehavior.

So, without further ado, here are 5 reasons (and possible solutions) your students might be acting out:

Number 1: They’re bored

Yeah, I know: not all classes can be fun all of the time, or else we’d never get any teaching done. But sometimes, what we teachers need to do is take a step back and ask ourselves: “Is this super boring? Am boring right now?” If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to change our delivery of the subject matter. Incorporating games, getting the kids to take brain breaks (or even just stretch), and approaching every new topic as if it was the coolest thing since sliced bread!!!! can help smooth out this issue. As one of my professors in university once told me: “If you’re bored teaching, then I guarantee you your students were bored and stopped listening 5 minutes ago.”

Number 2: They’re utterly and completely lost

I can’t tell you how many behavior problems start with students not understanding what’s happening in class! When students don’t know what they’re doing, they will often use misbehavior to cover it up. In their minds, if they act out and misbehave, the teacher’s attention will be redirected and they won’t have to answer the dreaded question that they just aren’t getting. So how do we combat this? We need to take a look around the class and try to read students’ body language. Are they slouching and looking down at their hands? Do they have gaping mouths and that glazed “I don’t get it” look in their eyes? If they do, let’s try spending more time on our topic. We can re-explain it or use different examples. If our students can read, we can even write some sentence patterns on the board so they can more easily follow. Let’s give them the tools they need to get it, and they will.

Number 3: They aren’t challenged enough

Just like students who are lost can cause problems, students who are advanced and feeling unchallenged can stir the pot. They already know what we’re teaching them and they want to learn more,  but we aren’t providing them with the enrichment they need. So they get bored and disturb others or cause a commotion. This issue’s a little harder to deal with than the previous two. After all, we don’t want to leave the kids who learn at a slower rate behind by matching the pace of the excelling student. But we don’t want to bore the excelling student either. So what can we do? I don’t have an exact solution, but I’ve found that bringing extra materials for gifted students can help keep them out of trouble. Also, I try to challenge them in subtle ways. For example, if we’re working on: “What fruit do you like?” –> “I like____.” sentence patterns, when it gets to my speedier student’s turn, I ask them a harder variation of the question, like: “What’s your favorite fruit?” or “What vegetable do you like?” Try it and you may just see the light go on in their eyes as they really focus to answer.

Number 4: They’re pushing us to see how far we’ll go

Students push back at adults sometimes. It’s a fact. And let’s not kid ourselves, this happens A LOT in the classroom. Sometimes, students just want to poke at us teachers to see how we’ll react. We’re like some sort of pavlovian science experiment to them. So how do we deal with this? Keep our composure, that’s how. We should never EVER let a student bait us into yelling or losing our cool!!! We should also be sure to implement classroom procedures and stick to them. For example, if the rule is: “put your hand up to speak,” we have to ensure that we don’t recognize students without their hands up, regardless of how good their answer is. Doing so would send the message that we teachers don’t stick to our rules, so breaking them is OK. Another way to deal with this is to give more attention to positive behaviors that we want to see, rather than negative ones we don’t want to see. So, to use the earlier rule as an example, if a student has their hand up, praise them. Ignore the ones without their hands up or gently remind them, by saying: “hand please.” Obviously, if a behavior puts others in danger (punching or bullying), then immediate action is warranted. Try removing the student from the situation. I find time-out chairs do the trick.

Number 5: They just want attention

Sometimes kids just want to be seen and heard. Maybe they feel like they don’t get enough attention at home or maybe they just enjoy being little superstars. This is normal. But giving attention to misbehaving students who want it risks reinforcing misbehavior. After all, acting out got them the attention they wanted, so why stop? Dealing with this involves a fine line of sticking to your rules, ignoring attention-seeking behavior, and rewarding those students who ARE following the rules (rather than punishing those who aren’t). When students see that the kids who behave get treats and more attention than them, they’ll want to imitate the “good” kids (for an idea on how to do this, see my earlier post on the star system).

OK… But what if it’s not any of those 5 reasons?

Let’s be real for a second: obviously, these 5 reasons aren’t always the case. Maybe the misbehaving student had an incident at home that makes it hard for him/her to focus. Or perhaps he/she has some sort of learning/behavioral disorder. At its simplest, maybe the student in question is just bone-tired and his/her brain is incapable of capting new information because of it.

But these are all factors we just can’t control or change. And it’s true: sometimes, very rarely, there just isn’t anything we can do. But that’s not the case the vast majority of the time. There’s almost always some sort of change we can make to help smooth over difficult situations. That’s why I like to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do. That means I ask myself 3 simple questions: What was the student doing that he/she shouldn’t have been doing?; Why were they doing it (or why do I think they were doing it)?; and How will I try to discourage/avoid this behavior in the future?

It sounds corny. Believe me, I had my doubts at first too. But it really does work! So try it next time you have one of those classes during which “no one listens” or “the kids are wild.” You’ll be surprised at how this can change your outlook on misbehavior and help you avoid it in the long run.