Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing, We Love Writing, Lots and Lots of Writing

There were many students absent today, probably due to the influenza virus rampaging many areas of Japan right now. I am not sure if what I had was the flu or not, but I am better for the most part. Of course, I am apprehensive of being back because when you are surrounded by so many different students, it is not too hard to pick up something different and considering my fragile state, it makes it that much easier.

Anyway, enough about my cold. Today I did not change their seating arrangements; I did ask those in the back to come forward, but that's all. I then passed back their work from last week, then reminded them about the absentee slip. I then had them clear off their desks and had them do the review quiz. Next, I drew the hamburger on the board, explaining that the top is the main idea or topic, and that it is important to have supporting details, which I referred to as extra information to support the big or main idea. In the future I will stop using the term supporting details because I think it just confuses the matter, and simply saying extra information or ideas about the topic may be a little clearer. I then had them do two activities about the supporting details, one where they had to distinguish the topic sentence from the supporting details and another which had them write out the supporting details and count them from an full paragraph. Once we corrected this, I had them do the reading from last week and by the time they were finished, there was not enough time to do anything else, so I let them go early.

I think the class ran smoothly despite having a cold, but there are some things I have noticed that I should try to resolve. First of all, I think the wording I use for the parts of the paragraph needs to be reconsidered, even if only a little. If I am going to use topic sentence, which is what teachers commonly use, it may be better to let students know what it is in Japanese. As for supporting details, it may be better to use things such as extra information about topic etc as the words supporting and details may be difficult to understand. Next, I think the second task took too much time. Perhaps I did not need them to write out the supporting details. I think this idea came from a textbook, or I may have thought that having them write out the sentences would help them understand what supporting details were better, but now that I think about it, it may have been better to do something like give a topic and a list of various sentences and have them select the appropriate sentences to go with that topic. This kind of activity could have be used after completing a more simplified, say count the supporting details only, task 2. This would provide students with more steps leading up to the final goal of understanding better that supporting details are related and necessary for the topic.

One other thing that is more related to time management is that although I showed up on time, we did not start the review until 15 minutes later. From the time I arrived to that time, I only set up my computer, passed back work and reminded them of the absentee slips. Now, there are normally 40 students, so handing back work can take time, but does it really take that much? I didn’t notice until looking at my notes. It may be a good idea then to wait until the end of class, or leave them for students to come up and get later. However, the problem with that is that some students may not come and get their work. This is something that I should try to render in the future, but then again, is it something I really should worry about? Shouldn’t I really be concerned with achieving the goals of the class?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I think influenza will probably be on the TOEIC test.

After spending all day Tuesday in bed, taking medicine and eating soup, I thought I had enough energy to come back to work on Wednesday, but after the first class, I realized that if I really wanted to get over this bug, I needed to go home and rest, which I did shortly after this class.

We started the class with the unit 3 and 4 quizzes in the back of the book. I was happy to see that many of the students had finished the homework, but unlike the previous week where we quickly finished this section, it actually took half the class this time to finish. Considering my state, I can't say for sure, but students did seem exhausted, too, and considering what I had and what's going around, I wouldn't be surprised if many of them were in the early stages of catching something. Of course, the class is on a Wednesday morning, and if you are anything like me, you are not a morning person.

Anyway, the quizzes, despite taking a long time, are still quite important for the students, and should not be neglected because they need vocabulary for the TOEIC. I think, and I am sure I have already posted this, vocabulary is the biggest factor in improving your score, and I hope that over time my students will come to understand that and not before it is too late.

Once we finished each quiz, I also had them practice the pronunciation with me as well because it can help with the listening component as well. After both quizzes were corrected, we did the mini-test of unit 4 before starting unit 5, which focuses on part 5 or the fill in the blanks section of the test. In this unit we focused on discerning the part of speech being asked for in the question in order to make answer selection a little easier. I first asked some students to give me an example of part of speech and I wrote them on the board. I then had two students read the test tips on the page before asking them to work in pairs to decide which part of speech is required for the answer. We were able to work our way through this and onto the next exercise, which practiced this test strategy a little more when our time ran out.

Due to lack of time we were not able to finish the unit, and so I was unable to assign any homework, although I encouraged them to study the vocabulary they did not know. One thing that I may start doing in this class is giving them extra vocabulary quizzes on top of the homework. I know that it sounds much, but for the TOEIC, which is not an easy test, vocabulary, as well as hard work and effort are important if you want to get that score higher.

How do you say 'influenza' or whatever it was I had in Japanese?

After 3 days battling what may have been the flu (I say may have been because although I suffered, I think the flu would have been much worse), I have recovered enough to be able to update my blog.

Before I begin, I should mention that most of what I say in Friday’s post will resemble quite a bit, if not perfectly, Monday’s post since I use the same textbook and activities in both.

I started this class by passing back their review quizzes, and then I reminded them about the absentee slip and the deadline for submission. I then had them do the review test for last week, and I followed that with the word stress. I was quite sore from the past weekend playing sports with students at an extracurricular event that I was not really able to stomp along with them, but chose different students to stomp out the stress and had the classmates repeat.

I then started the chapter in the same way as Friday walking around complimenting people on things, then asking them to write down as many things as possible that we can compliment someone on. At 9h45 I had them come up and write their answers on the board. Many of the students had used more tangible examples such as possessions, so I gave some different examples such as cooking or language to illustrate the intangibleness of what can be complimented on.

Next, I told them to keep their books closes, and I dictated these questions to them.

What are they talking about?
Who gave it to her?
Why did they give it to her?

There were only three questions because unfortunately, the dialogues in the textbook are rather short. Once they were finished I asked individual students for the questions to make sure they were OK before we listened. I then played the CD twice and took their answers orally. After that, I told them to practice the conversation four times before moving on.

The last activity of the day was the same one I had tried to do in Friday’s class, but ended up assigning as homework. I realize now that this activity does take a lot of time and maybe even too much time. The first part, the dictation, did not seem to take them too long to complete, but putting together the five conversations was very time consuming for many, and if I had not told them to stop so we could correct as a group, we would not have been able to finish on time. As I had wrote in Friday’s post, I gave them an example in the hope that it would clarify things, but it may only have done so slightly, although I may be too hard on myself because when I was walking around observing, many students seemed to know what to do; it was just that putting together the puzzle with so many pieces proved more challenging than anticipated. I think the task though, still has potential and that it may be better in the future to modify this activity, maybe reduce the number of dialogues, or practice some dialogues first, let them get the idea of the conversation pattern in their heads, and then let them try, and see if that helps them work through the task better.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My office is full of TOEIC

Today's class followed the same format as the previous classes, but I think that next week will be different because I only gave them three worksheets instead of the six.

I made sure I had everything ready as I had said I would, so I was able to get there on time, but the room was a little too noisy, so I proposed to have the class in my office, and I told them to come here from next week. Moving to my office therefore meant that we did not start on time, but I think next week will be better.

Once we all got straightened away, I gave them the articles, and then we started correcting the questions. However, unlike the last couple of classes, I discussed a few more of the questions asking them what they thought or what they would do, just to get a little more speaking involved.

This took most of the class, so for the list, I had them repeat all the words with me first, and then asked them for parts of speech and for derivations. Once we finished, there was only a little time left, so I told them that we would pick up with the book next week, and since I gave them only half the workload, I think we will have more time to focus on it.

Much ado about homework

I am only getting around to posting Friday's notes today because Friday and Saturday I was away.


I think this may have been one of those weeks when things don't go according to plan because I have not been satisfied with my teaching this week. I think it may be due to formatting my computer as this interrupted my week schedule considerably; I know now that I should have waited until the weekend, but alas that is my personality.

Today I started by having them change seats. I did this in order to allow them to meet new people. I then asked them about the homework, but I realize now that I should have been clearer because only 4 (although to be honest, walking around, it seemed that many more had finished) had finished it, so I didn’t take it in as planned. Instead I handed out the quiz and then we reviewed the word stress (refer to the previous post for explanation). After explaining the rules and telling them to start, I noticed that some were still unsure as to what to do, so I explained it to them; other students asked their neighbors, which I don’t mind at all, and soon everyone was on their way. I told them that the fastest group to finish would get candy, so I must not forget that next week.

After that, I told them to take out last week’s pair work, which was supposed to have been done for homework, and after explaining what they had to do one more time, I asked them to do it then. I think this time things went well, so I know that it was due to lack of time that they did not understand the activity. On Monday I will be doing this activity so I have to make sure to give myself enough time to explain and them enough time to complete within the class because it was originally meant to be an in-class activity and not homework.

By the time we finished, it was around 10, so I had to skip some of the chapter. I first dictated some questions for the short introductory dialogue and then played the CD twice. I then asked them to quickly practice the conversation. After that, I had them close their books and repeat the key expressions after me. Next, I had them do the vocabulary activity – they had to match English to Japanese. This did not take them too much time and I just asked them individually how to say the English dishes in Japanese. This activity was a pre-task for the final task of the day – in pairs they had to make conversations based on a model dialogue using a menu where one person acted as a foreigner who did not understand Japanese, and the other the Japanese friend. I was a little surprised to see that many of them finished so quickly, so I asked some pairs to stand up and practice in front of class.

I think I may have chosen the wrong textbook or rather, a textbook that does not suit my teaching style because I prefer longer introductory conversations and more listening exercises as are found in yesterday's class. I did not have time to finish the chapter due to last week's homework, but if it weren't for that, I probably would have finished much earlier. Furthermore, the teacher's guide has no extra activities, only the answer key, which I think is not good for a textbook. Surely, I can make up materials on my own, and perhaps that is what the authors want, but a teacher's guide should definitely have more than this. However, maybe that is the problem – I am thinking that the textbook is enough, but it isn't, and I probably should have noticed that earlier, but as they say, better late than never.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is time really free?

My students really helped me today because when I arrived they were organizing the desks for me. As I noted in a previous post, finding time to arrange the desks was a real concern, but if they continue to do this for me, I'll be able to start the class on time.

Unfortunately though, this class didn't get off to a good start because I forgot the CD, and had to go back to get it. Now, the class had not started yet so that was OK, but I should have been better prepared. What was worse though, was that later on in the class, I realized I had left their work up in my office, and had to go back up to get it. They were working on something during this time, but still I couldn't believe having forgotten two things! I think it really interrupted my mental preparedness.

Before I continue to criticize myself, I should talk about what we did. Of course, as usual, we started with a review quiz. The students were able to finish quickly, so we moved on to the pronunciation. Today we focused on the review of initial and final stress in two-syllable words. I used the game from Hancock's Pronunciation Games by Cambridge to do this and I think it worked well. I was also pleased to see that they finished very quickly, or faster than I was expecting (which actually meant that I would have more time left; I thought that the activity would take about 15 minutes, but it only took 10). To practice the pronunciation, I had them stand up and we stomped the stress; the students seemed to enjoy this.

Next, I told the students to keep their books closed and I dictated some questions. I can usually make up questions on the spot, but for some reason, I had trouble, which made me realize that I have to prepare these questions ahead of time, not only because it is more professional, but also so that it doesn't throw me off my game, when I suddenly find out that it is not as easy to make up questions as I think. Once they had written down the questions, I asked some students to read me back the questions to check to make sure they had them before we listened. After that, I had them repeat after the CD, first with books opened, then practice with their partner, and then without books. What was strange was that I was making errors with something as simple as pushing pause, as I would cut off the CD too early for example.

However, the next activity seemed to work well, and it may be nice to try it again not only in this class, but in others as well. I chose two students to go up to the front of the class, and then I had them pick two students who would read their lines to them, and they would act out the conversation. Both groups did really well, and the whole class seemed to really take to it. Of course, it may have also depended on the students because some of the shier students may find this difficult to do, but it may be worth a try because the students are never alone as they are working with their classmates.

Next, we continued with a listening exercise. I played it about 2 times and then got them to tell me their answers. I then finished the class with a speaking activity where students had to ask each other yes or no questions about interests and abilities. I then walked around to see how they were answering, and even asking them questions at times, too. I then asked for a group consensus on whether they were artistic or athletic, two of the personality types used in the activity.

I realized that despite being prepared, because I really did prepare, writing out my lesson plan etc, I felt that I wasn’t mentally prepared. This could have been due to being busy the last couple of days with my computer or something else, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way I was teaching today. One thing that I have learned from this is that even if I think I am ready, I need to take time to make sure I really know what I am about to do, and prepare myself mentally for the upcoming task.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The topic is in the hamburger?

I did something different today. I notice that many students tend to sit in the same place and usually, but not always, with the same person, so what I did before starting the class was separate them. I gave half the class an A and the other B, and told them to find a partner. This of course took a few minutes, and some students came while people were looking for a partner, so I matched them immediately with someone, but it worked out quite well.

Once they were seated I had them clear off their desks for the review quiz. I gave them about 10 minutes, but many were finished before the time was up. I then quickly reviewed the paragraph rules by asking individual students for them, and having students repeat after me. After that, I passed back their work from the previous week.

Around 11 I introduced, using both English and Japanese, the topic and my hamburger analogy for the paragraph. I explained how important the topic was and that it is usually introduced in the first sentence and that this was called the topic sentence. I then had them do an activity where they had to find the main idea or topic of a list of similar words. I then gave them five paragraphs and asked them first to take turns reading each paragraph aloud, then to work together to figure out what the topic was and what the topic sentence was. I did not give them a time limit, but walked around observing them and when it seemed that most of them had finished, I asked them individually to tell me what the topic and topic sentence were.

After finishing the activities, I was going to continue with the worksheet on and versus but, but realized that we did not have enough time to do that, the reading and the sentence correction, so I once again asked them to choose, and a huge majority wanted to do the worksheet on and versus but, so we did. Once the majority had finished, I asked students to come up and write the answers on the board. I then had students read the sentences aloud before asking them for the rules – namely, and is for two similar ideas, whereas but is for two contrasting ideas. Finally, I told them to review the worksheet on and versus but and the topic/topic sentence for next week’s test.

Looking back on today’s lesson, I think things went well. However, I think that some of my students had a little trouble with the idea of topic and topic sentence despite explaining to them in Japanese and English. This difficulty could be attributed to the foreignness of the concept as many students may not have studied this in high school, or it could have been due to my explanation – perhaps I should consider a written explanation in the future. However, on the bright side, we will continue to focus on this in upcoming classes since we will be looking at writing in more detail, so I am fairly confident that it will become easier for them. Speaking of the writing, I am also considering doing it a little differently in that I think I may have the students write on topics that interest them, especially those that they highlighted in the questionnaire I gave them. I think that writing about something you like will definitely make the writing process a little easier and hopefully enjoyable.

Diving into the SA SEA

I am only getting around to writing this today because yesterday I formatted my computer, a very pleasant experience that I am sure that all of you have probably experienced at some time in your lives.

Before I start, I have to say that for this class, there really isn't a lot to say in terms of a lesson plan because the students choose what they do, how they do it and the pace at which they do it. My purpose is simply as guide, and I spend most of my time answering questions, giving advice as to how to go about doing certain things and making sure that students are focused on the task. Last week's class focused on typing the text out on the computer. Not everyone was able to finish, but the majority who did continued this week with vocabulary. The ones who did not finish the text last week, simply finished up what they were doing and then moved on. As was expected, some students were able to finish earlier than others, but I told them to continue with the activities. Next week, they will continue to work on their vocabulary if they are not finished or the activities.

I think that overall the class has gone well so far; the students are doing the work, and even helping each other with any problems they may have. In this class and the previous one, students were really only able to complete one task, but I have to say that the pace is good; students are focusing on what they are doing, and although there may be some talking, it is not really affecting their work. What I am noticing is that there is a growing sense of community among certain students (I say certain because due to the seating arrangements it is hard for all the students to be close, although I do have them sit closer to the front of the class, so there is no one isolated from the group). I also have to say that the number (17) of students does help a lot because this type of class may be a little harder if there were say 50 or 60 in the class. Finally, having an exchange student assist me in the class has also been very helpful and it would definitely be nice if I could have someone to help me out in future classes as well because I think that this may be the way I conduct this class from now on – of course, like any new style, it's important to test it, but if things continue the way they are, I think it will be a viable option.

Do you have any TOEIC?

I know I should really try to post these the day of the class, but yesterday and even today were spent pretty much formatting my computer, so I did not have the time. Fortunately, the computer is back to to normal and completely refreshed for a new start!

Today we focused on listening strategies, mainly predicting context from key words skimmed from the question and answers for parts 3 and 4 of the TOEIC. However, before we started, we did unit 2's mini-test, which focused on part 2 of the test, and then looked at their vocabulary homework – vocabulary quizzes found at the back of the book. Once we had worked through this we started unit 3. I introduced the main focus of the chapter and then had a student read aloud the test tip. I then had them do question 2 which asked them to look for keywords in the questions and answers. I gave them about a minute to do this, then asked for their answers and followed that up with a short listening. We then did exercise 3, but we did not go through the key words, I just told them to skim the questions and answers for a minute before I played the CD; the mini-test was done in much the same fashion. Interestingly, I noticed that students had more trouble with the first two questions than with the mini-test. Considering that we only practiced twice before the mini-test, I don't think I can associate their improvement with that, but rather I think they were more comfortable with the vocabulary; also, one of the conversations used British English, and for many students this can be difficult to understand since many schools, maybe even most, focus on North American English. I did recommend that they listen to the BBC, but it may be a good idea to look for some simple British English listening sites to give them in the future. I also told them that vocabulary is extremely important and that the more they review and study vocabulary, the easier the listening will become. Of course, it is also important to listen to English as much as possible, but even if you can catch the word, if you don't know it or its related word ie synonym/antonym, you are really back to square one.

I will not really write out in detail what I did for unit 4 because Parts 3 and 4 are very similar and thus so are their chapters in this book. However, unlike chapter 3 I had them do the first question of chapter 4 which focused on paraphrasing, another common feature of the TOEIC. I also had students read the test tips aloud, but I skipped question 2 and went on with question 3. Again one conversation seemed easier for them than the other, which could be attributed to things such as lack of vocabulary and unfamiliarity with the situation in question. For example, the first announcement was clearer in my opinion than the second, which was someone, probably a chief or manager talking at a meeting about deadlines and a project.

Like last week, we did not have enough time to finish unit 4, so we will do that next class. Maybe it might be a good idea to continue in this way because it does give them some extra review each consecutive week.

One thing I am also noticing is that perhaps I am going to fast in this class; I am doing two lessons a class and that is possibly a lot of vocabulary for some. It may also be a good idea to give students the listening scripts afterward, so that they can see where they went wrong because despite the fact that I am explaining the answers orally, this may not be understood by all, so giving them the scripts may be a surefire way of helping them understand, while at the same time, giving them some new vocabulary.

Another thing that I cannot stress enough and I'll probably say this each week is that vocabulary is important and needs to be studied. This is only my third time if you count the advanced classes, but it is something that I have noticed each time – vocabulary is probably the biggest part, followed by the strategies. Some of you may disagree with me on that, but that is what I believe. Therefore, it may be a good idea to reconsider my classes and slow down a little more and focus on the scripts and vocabulary. Of course, that will mean that I will probably, no I will definitely have to reduce the amount of the textbook, which although something I would prefer not to do, since the students have bought the book and so there is a big part of me that would like to finish the majority of it, I will have to compromise and focus on each chapter more deeply, and see if that helps my students.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Please allow me to introduce myself.

Today was my second Monday foreign communication class because last Monday was a holiday. I try to do the same things in both my Monday and Friday communication classes, so their posts will probably resemble closely to one another; nevertheless I will continue both posts.

I got to class a little earlier and so was able to start on time. I had everyone clear off their desks and then passed out the review quiz. I gave them five minutes, but they all had finished before the time was up, so I collected them and moved on to the word stress. In Friday’s class, I had used clapping to designate the syllable stress, but this time I tried stomping, and I think it actually worked better. I had students stand up for the corrections and as in Friday’s class, chose one student who would say the answer and then everyone would repeat after him or her.

At around 9:30 we started the textbook with a listening activity. I dictated the questions first and then had students read them aloud to make sure they all had the correct questions. I then played the conversation 2 times and after asked individual students for answers. Next, I had students repeat after the CD with their books opened. Once we finished this, I had them get in pairs and practice the conversation asking them to change partners three times. Finally, I had them close their books and practice the conversation with the CD.

I then had them open their books to the expressions for starting a conversation with a stranger. I explained the importance of each one, having the students repeat the expression after me. Next, I had them do task 1, an activity where they had to replace simple answers with longer ones, a strategy to keep a conversation going. It did not take them that long to finish, so I went around asking them individually to give me the answers. I then had them practice the conversation in pairs. After that, we continued with the expressions for self-introduction, and I had them do a repetition activity. One student would read out sentences in random order, and the other would repeat.

To the end the class, we did a listening activity. The students had to listen for certain information such as name, nickname, job etc. I played this about 3 times, and then asked students to come up and fill in a table I had written on the board.

I think this class went well, but I did not have enough time to do the pair work dictation activity I had planned. I don’t mind so much though because although this activity is important, it is more supplementary than anything. Of course, next week’s pair work activity will be more important as it combines the components that we will learn in that class, so I will have to try to make a little more time for that, but if I have to end up setting the second part as I did in Friday’s class, that’s OK, too.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Friday, October 16, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all scream for...TOEIC!

Today's class went better than last week because we were able to start earlier, but I have to admit that 10 minutes is not a lot of time to leave one class, get your things for another and make it there to start on time. However, I did notice today that there are some classrooms available close to my first period class, so it may be better to change rooms if possible. Also, I need to make sure that everything is photocopied because that can take time as well. Perhaps what I should try next time is to bring everything along with me so that I don't have to go upstairs at all. That way, I probably should be able to make it on time and not be so exhausted, as I've felt these two past Fridays. I must admit though, that I like having classes back to back because it frees up my Friday afternoons. Of course, I don't go home early or anything like that, but it is nice to have the afternoon to reflect on classes, prepare for next week or read, which is something I really have to catch up on, but isn't it common at the start of a new semester?

Well, today we started by correcting their homework. I had given them six pages of fill in the blank questions using the vocabulary from the academic word list. They all had their work done which was great. I did not choose anyone though, but asked them to volunteer answers. As we were correcting the work, I made comments where necessary regarding pronunciation or word usage particularly collocations. Once we finished, and this took a big chunk of the class, we moved on to the new list, again practicing pronunciation and having them do lexical derivations, mainly transposition. After this, I noticed that we had very little time, so we began correcting last week's work, but stopped halfway as we ran out of time.

This week I gave them the same amount of homework, but after today, I now realize that the homework, although important, takes up too much class time, so next week I will only give them half of the questions, and try to focus a little more on the book and see how that goes.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


My! What a lovely English class you have!

I was surprised by today’s class because last night when I was preparing for it I was a little worried that there would not be enough material in the chapter to fill out a class without my own supplements. However, I was unable to complete the chapter, and even had to assign the final pair work activity as homework.

I arrived at the class around 9 and set up my computer. While waiting for the computer to come on, I wrote the goals for the class on the board and then went to the office to borrow a CD player (mine is not reliable anymore as it tends to skip). I then came back and passed back the work they did last week. This took more time than I was expecting, so we did not start review until 9:14; I gave them 10 minutes to complete it, but the majority had completed it before time was up, so I collected it and then moved on to the word stress (the document is on the previous post) following the same procedure as laid out in the post first introducing this activity. Actually, I just remembered that I did something a little different – I picked individual students to clap the stress and had the students repeat after that student.

Once finished, we moved on to chapter two which focused on compliments. I asked the students to think of what you can compliment someone on. Some students were not sure as to what to write, so I gave them some examples ie haircut etc. I probably gave this activity, considering it was a warm-up, too much time, so when I do this in Monday’s class (we are using the same book), I will tell them they only have 5 minutes. Once I felt they had enough time to think of ideas, I asked each student to write their example on the board, and there were many, and many of them great, like smile, fashion, etc. I then had them keep their books closed, and I dictated three questions (I was going to erase their examples but thought it better to leave them) for a listening activity - they had to listen to a short conversation and answer the questions. After they listened to the CD, I had them repeat the dialogue after me, and then asked them to read it in pairs. Next, we looked at some expressions for complimenting and some responses to compliments. I had them repeat after me telling them that how they said it and how they looked when they said it were important, as giving someone a compliment with a frown can actually mean the opposite. After practicing, I had them change partners and then had one person read sentences randomly to their partner, who listened and repeated.

By the time we finished this task, I realized I did not have a lot of time left. I decided to continue with task 2, a short dictation type listening activity, before going on to the pair work, but I probably should have started the pair work at that time omitting task 2, because we did not have enough time to finish it. I ended up setting it for homework, instead, along with review of pages 6 and 7 of chapter 2 for next week’s review quiz. The pair work was a modified version of the pair work dictation exercise in that this time, once they had finished, they were asked to make 6 different conversations, each consisting of three sentences. Unfortunately, this was one time when Japanese did not help clarify the activity and I know now that an example, which in the end I did write on the board, would have been clearer. Also, due to lack of time, I was not able to really explain what to do; again I thought the Japanese would be sufficient. Therefore, next time if I do something like this, I need to give myself more time to explain with examples. What I mean is that first, I should have asked them to do the first part and check their answers and then asked them to listen to me while I explained the next part. In short, I rushed a possibly good activity, something I need to be careful not to do again.

I have to say that I am amazed how quickly today’s class went by, and how I was wrong to think that there would not be enough in the chapter because it turned out to be quite the opposite. However, I could not help feeling that my students did not have so much speaking practice today, what I mean to say is that I don’t feel we really practiced how to compliment and how to respond to compliments. Indeed, we looked at different expressions and the homework asks that they make short dialogues of that nature, but there was really no in-class practice, so I think that in future classes, I need to try to focus more on that kind of actual practice, even if it means reducing or cutting out altogether another activity.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Speaking Listening Speaking Listening

Things have been very busy this week, but it was to be expected because we are still in the first few weeks of the semester. I think that from November, things will slow down a little, and I will hopefully have more time to post the same day as my class. Of course, the first few posts have also been quite lengthy, which takes time to write, but I think that eventually, I will be able to post them quickly. Honestly, I try to write notes during class (not this detailed of course), but I prefer to walk around and observe my students during activities, so it can be challenging to write anything until afterward, but it is not really a problem.

Well, yesterday’s class felt almost like a replay of last week’s class. I had two more new students join, but then, I had some students not show up, so I am not sure if that means they have decided not to take the course or if they were just absent. I will have to wait until next week to find out. I think that I may have to change the classroom, too, because there is a class in there before mine, and as I try to arrange desks to give the students enough space, and to give the space to get near them, I need time to do that. I asked students to help me, but I think the arrangement is something that should be done much earlier than 10 minutes before. I think that having so little time to arrange the room could cause me to start the class later than I want to, and also, having the room ready beforehand, you can feel more relaxed going in than if you have to go in just before class to do it. Therefore, I think I will try to find out if there are any other classrooms available and move there.

Once the desks were in order, and the students had their books (I asked the students without books to go and buy them before class), we started with a review quiz of unit 1. It was a simple fill in the blank exercise, but I may increase the level of difficulty in the future. After that, we looked at the second installment of word stress focusing on words whose stress falls on the second syllable in two-syllable words. Next week, we will review both word initial and word final stress before moving on to three-syllable words the following week. I am very happy to say that the students seem to have a good understanding of word stress so far, but we will see how it goes next week with the review.

Next, we started unit 2, which focuses on daily activities. There are only 12 units in this book, so we have to do them all. Personally, I prefer to have more chapters, so that I can choose those to focus on, but since I am giving them two tests, there is enough material for each class, so it works out well. Something which I am considering though is having them choose the next unit, something that may be interesting to try next class.

I began by writing some questions on the board and then had them listen to the CD for the answers. After we had looked at the answers, we listened to the conversation as a class with books opened, and then I had them practice with a different partner. I then did something a little different – I chose three groups to practice the conversation in front of the class, and then I asked the class to vote on the best performance. I think the students liked this, and maybe I will try again choosing different pairs each time.

After that, we continued with vocabulary. The activity was simply matching expressions to its corresponding picture. I then asked students individually for the answers, and had them in pairs to use the vocabulary and simply tell their partner what they do on a day of their choosing. I walked around to make sure they were focused on the task and to provide support if necessary. We then did a short dictation – they had to listen to the CD and fill in the blanks. After we had corrected this, I had them stand up and walk around finding three different partners to practice the conversation each time choosing a different set of words. Finally, we did another listening exercise. They listened to a short dialogue, more like an interview and they had to answer several questions. This was a little difficult for some, so I played it about 3 times before asking them for their answers.

I think that this class went well overall, but I did not have enough time to do a speaking activity that I wanted to do. I think I may be able to overcome this by cutting out one of the dialogue practice activities because it would be better for them to ask questions to their partner than just simply reading a scripted dialogue. Of course, you could try to have them memorize the conversation and then practice in front of a small group; I am not sure how well it would work, but it may be something to try because then they have to do more than just read a text, they have to focus on what they are reading. It may also be worthwhile to skip the vocabulary component as well because many of the words they seem to already know (this textbook is only level 1). In future classes therefore, I should try to focus on more speaking activities, but maintain the amount of listening activities because that is something that I wanted to include more this semester and a big reason for going with a textbook. Obviously speaking is important in a class, but a good balance between the two is definitely key.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What do Jaws and the paragraph have in common?

Today we looked at the paragraph, but first I passed back their homework and then started the review of capital letters. As mentioned earlier, I will try to review each week; I hope it will encourage some of them to review, but as with all classes some will and some will not.

Once I had collected the review quiz, I reviewed orally the rules which I think most could remember. I then wrote an incorrect paragraph on the board, and had them copy it down. I then asked students (mainly from last semester) if the paragraph was OK or not. I then had different students come up and circle the areas that were wrong. Next, I used humor to explain the capital letter rules. For indenting, I had everyone push air with their hands with me; for continuing a new sentence on the same line, I used some Japanese, saying that the new sentence was lonely and that it wanted to be next to someone upstairs; for writing past the end of the line, I used the story of Jaws, telling them to be careful or the word would be eaten, again using Japanese. Once we did this, I had some students hand out the practice, three paragraphs with both capital letter and paragraph rule errors and asked them to correct and rewrite them. I gave the students about 15 minutes for this, but most had finished around 10 minutes, so I had some students hand out the answers and asked them to self-correct their work.

Next, I had them in pairs correct some wrong sentences. I asked them to do it in pairs, but many chose to do it individually. I gave them about 10 minutes and then asked several of them to come up to the board. I told them not to worry if they made mistakes and to try their best. Once this was finished I had some other students pass out the answers. Interestingly, I had made a mistake and one student noticed it and told me, so I gave him a point. It may be interesting to try this in future classes, to make a mistake on purpose and see if anyone gets it.

Finally, I had students pass out the reading question and accompanying text. I gave them 10 minutes to complete and then collected them. Before they started, I told them to look at the questions and try to find those questions in the story without reading the whole thing. I haven’t corrected the work yet, but if I notice that many were unable to finish, I may try a more explicit approach to illustrating techniques such as skimming and scanning.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Note: For the image files, you may have noticed that there are no lines. I am not sure why, but I use the paint program to make the image files, and when I copy and paste the word document into paint, the lines disappear.

The road to self-access is a long and winding one

Yesterday, I had my first actual self-access material development class. I say yesterday because I spent most of the evening trying to install/uninstall a program to no avail (I got rid of most of it, but it still lingers in my add/delete program window - it doesn't want to leave apparently!), so by the time I gave up (yes, I had to), it was time to head home or stay the night, something which I am not quite ready to do yet.

However, this particular class does not really need any detailed explanation as would demand the other classes I teach because I am really only there as guide, a counselor to help them with their questions and problems. If you are interested in what I am doing in this class, please take a look at the following post:

In the first class, I had asked students to come to my office before the second class, so that I could talk to them more about the class itself and also so that they could choose a book. In order to help them choose a book, I had them fill out a short questionnaire, but really what I had them do was choose something that would interest them even if it was a different genre from what they would normally read.

In yesterday's class, I distributed their books and told them to type out a chapter or a part of a chapter of their choosing; I recommended the first chapter, but tried to leave it up to them as much as possible. I should also mention again that I had gotten permission to use these books in this manner before the semester started. I told them that in this class they should try to finish typing out the chapter and if they had time, to start the vocabulary. Most of the students were only able to finish the typing, but that was OK. I then had them save their work in a folder and then had them email me the file of their work. This is something I will do each week as a check to see what and how much they are doing. If I sense that they are slacking or not doing enough (are they talking with their buddies etc) they will be marked absent. I know that this may be strict, but as long as they work and show me that they are doing as much as possible to the extent of their ability, they will be OK.

Next week, they will continue with the vocabulary lists and then move on to the activities. I have given them a handout with many activities (I won't upload the document because it is about 20 pages long), and have asked them to refer to that if they have questions about what activities to make. Of course, they can also ask me or what I hope, they will use their own creativity and imagination and surprise me. Hey, everyone likes surprises, right?

One final thing before I go, I am very fortunate to have an exchange student join this class. Honestly, I have never team taught a class, or rather team supervised, but I think he will be able to help me a lot. I really have a good feeling about this class, and I think we may get some great materials for the center. I think that I may have forgotten to mention this, but I have informed the students that their materials would be made available in the center although anonymously, so what they will be doing will be very useful and helpful to everyone here at the university, especially those who choose to use the center.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wow, that's a lot of TOEIC you got there!

Things are finally on their way now. All of the books have arrived, even the teacher's guides and CDs, too. I was also very happy to see that almost everyone had the book this morning; today we had our first actual TOEIC lesson, and overall, I think it went well. I think though that I need to encourage students more to tell me when they don't understand, but I am sure that in time as long as I continue to encourage them, they will become more comfortable asking me questions. I understand that in a big class, it can be difficult to ask questions, and that is why I told them to come to my office or email me if they have a question or problem.

Today's plan was to complete both units 1 and 2, and I almost achieved that goal - I was unable to do unit 2's mini test, but I will do that next week. One problem I noticed is that I have to go to class earlier, not saying that I go late, but it's just that I get there at 9, but due to the time it takes to set up the computer etc, the class doesn't start until 9:10 or so, which is not cool. I will therefore try to go earlier next time and hopefully that will give me the time necessary to finish both units.

I should also explain the reasoning behind doing two units per class, which I know, does sound a bit much, but the textbook has 28 units, so doing only half of the book would be unfair to the students. The chapters are only short, too, so one chapter would really not take a whole class to complete, unless you have a substantial source of supplementary materials, which could be a future option. Furthermore, each chapter while focusing on a new topic, does build on the previous chapters, so the students will be able to review to a certain extent past material over the course of the semester. However, I should also mention that while I would like to finish two units a class, this goal is not set in stone, so if there is not enough time, it is not that big of a problem. This is also my first time to use this book with this number of students, so obviously, as we proceed through the book, I may probably have to make some modifications, as I get to know the students better. It may even be worthwhile talking to them at some point to get an idea of how the class is for them even if it is only informally, and of course individually, as I think this is the best way to really hear what they want to say.

Well, here is how the class went today. The main goals were to focus on using the photo to predict answers and thinking about the meaning of wh-questions for parts one and two of the listening test. This included brainstorming and distractors, two things which I emphasized as much as possible.

After setting up my computer and opening the necessary files (I keep my lesson plans on my computer), I introduced the unit and its goal. I then had a student read the first test tip aloud (I should mention again that I am using Tactics for the TOEIC by OUP, which has tips written throughout the book. I also encourage students to reread these at home and try to remember them.). I then explained brainstorming and had them do the language building component of unit 1 in pairs. I gave them about 5 minutes and then I asked for individual answers. Once finished I had another student read the next test tip, and then I had two more read the examples for the next activity. I then gave them 5 minutes again to write sentences about the photos using the vocabulary that they had just brainstormed. I then asked for different examples and wrote them on the board.

One thing I noticed is that in this book they were using family with a plural verb whereas I usually use it with a singular verb. When I was planning this lesson, I didn't notice this so it threw me off a bit. I looked it up in Swan's (1998) Practical English Usage and he states that "In British English, singular words like family..., which refer to groups of people, can be used with either singular or plural verbs and pronouns." It then goes on to say that, "In American English singular verbs are normally used with most of these nouns in all cases (though family can have a plural verb)." That is why I was not sure because coming from Canada, I usually use family with a singular verb. Next week, I will mention this difference to my students. I think this example should also be telling me to watch out for such things because the book I am using is published by OUP, so there may be other little differences as well.

After finishing exercises one and two, I had them do the mini test using an answer sheet similar to the actual one used on the test. I then went around asking different students for the answers, explaining why the other answers were false. I think that next time it may be better to give them the transcript once we have corrected the test so that they can actually see why the other answers were wrong. I did explain it, but perhaps doing so orally may be difficult for some to understand.

Once unit 1 was finished, I moved on to unit 2. It took me about 40 minutes to complete unit 1, so if I had started earlier I probably would have had enough time to do both units. I went through unit 2 in the same way, having students read the test tips and examples when necessary, and having them do some of the activities alone and the others in pairs. In this unit the main focus was on key words and distractors, something which I should definitely try to focus on in upcoming classes because the TOEIC test is full of them. According to Tactics for TOEIC (2007) there are three types of distractors:

1. You have the same word in the question and answer, but the meaning is different.
Ex: The question asks if you have been to Canada, but the answer says that Canada is a big country or it's cold in Canada or skiing in Canada is great.

2. The subjects of the question and answer may be related, but it does not answer the question.
Ex: The question is asking why you want a new car, but the answer is talking about how you think gasoline is too expensive.

3. The words have similar sounds, but are different.
Ex: copy and coffee, sheep and ship.

By the time we got to the mini test, time was up, so I told them that we would do that first next week. I also assigned homework - vocabulary practice - to be completed for next week. They have the answers in their books, but I am not sure if they will notice or not. However, what I am thinking of doing is giving them a review test each week based on that homework, but modified so as to make it different from the actual questions. I really hope that students do the homework because vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of the TOEIC, something which I have already discussed in class, and probably something which I should continue to emphasize throughout the course.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Friday, October 9, 2009

And who said vocabulary wasn't important?

Today I had a new student, but another had decided not to take the course, so I had only 4. I think that this will probably be the final number since this is the second week, and this is the advanced class, which is quite demanding for many students. I don't mind the low number though, because each student can get a lot of practice, and I can deal with questions and problems more closely as opposed to a bigger class.

I was unable to start on time because I had to do some extra photocopying for the new student and then the new student had no book along with another student from last week who had forgotten it, so I had to photocopy that for them. However, my book has all the answers written in, so I couldn't. Unfortunately, I did not notice until later that I could have used someone's book which I evidently did. However, this meant I had to leave to photocopy twice, but I did not really have a choice.

We started the academic word list at 11 and I had them repeat after one another. I then went through asking them for part of speech and then for its derivation. I really appreciated that they had all prepared beforehand, which shows that they are making an effort. Once finished I gave them the homework, some fill in the blank exercises and the new list (I will not post these here because you can find them on the academic word list website that I talked about in a previous post). I also gave them 3 newspaper articles from the Nikkei Weekly; this is not mandatory, but a business English newspaper can help with the TOEIC which is itself a business oriented English test.

At 11:50 I gave them 10 minutes to finish 46 questions. For the TOEIC time is important, so they really need to get use to answering quickly. Perhaps 10 minutes was a little too short, but 15 to 20 seconds per question is ideal for this kind of test.

Finally, at 12 we started to correct the questions, but I ran out of time, so I asked them if they would like to answer the questions next week or continue a little later, and they chose to wait until next week. I then took their work, and next week after the next academic word list and homework corrections, we will continue with those unanswered questions.

Notes, notes and more notes!

Today I had my second foreign communication class. Before I started, I had arranged the desks with the help of the students, so that they would have space, and then I wrote the goals on the board. I also had a few new students, so I had them write their names and then I took their photos. I also gave them the syllabus, absentee slip and questionnaire to fill out and give me at a later time. Once that had been taken care of, I had them clear off their desks for the review quiz; I told them about last week that there would be a review test on the classroom English expressions. Besides the principal reason of review, I also have the review to help me keep attendance as I have them write down their name and number.

Next, we started the first of many activities focusing on word stress, sentence stress and intonation. Today I introduced word stress in two-syllable words. I wrote a one-syllable word on the board and then I hit the board once while saying the word. I then had students make a fist and knock on their desks while saying the word after me. I then wrote a two-syllable word on the board and repeated knocking twice. I also demonstrated the strong and week syllable of the word using some humor and gestures, presenting a strong syllable by pretending to flex and a weak one by acting really weak (this may of course be hard to picture, but I guess one way to think about it is to picture someone full of confidence followed by someone with no confidence at all, and that is pretty much what it was I was doing). I then had students pass out a worksheet with twenty words, most of which were taken from their book. I then gave them 10 minutes to complete the task, but many were finished before that. I then called on them individually to answer, asking them to clap loudly on the stressed syllable, and quietly on the unstressed syllable. I then had everyone repeat the answer after me. I noticed here that maybe I should have used fewer words because toward the end, some students looked a little tired. However, something like this, which students may not know very well, requires practice.

After the word stress activity, I started unit 1 of the textbook. It hasn't arrived yet, so I photocopied it for them. I first had them repeat the conversation after me and then I had them find a new partner and practice twice taking turns to read both roles. I also encouraged eye contact as much as possible. I then had them not look at the dialogue and repeat after me, which I have to say they did really well. After that, I talked about some of the expressions on the bottom of the page, expressions useful for starting up conversations. I used some Japanese, but said that if they were waiting in line or for a bus and they wanted to start a conversation with a foreigner, here were some ways they could do that. I also expressed that asking 'Are you American?' is not as appropriate as 'Where are you from?'.

Next, I had them do a fill in the blank activity in the book. They had to replace short one-word responses with something more substantial. After we had corrected this, I had them read it with their partner.

I then had them do a pair work dictation activity, which I have been using since the start of the year. I used many expressions from the textbook, which in pairs, one would have to read and the other would listen and write down the answer. I think this can be a great way to get them talking a little more and at the same time to encourage the use of classroom English, which I consider really important. I told them that once they had finished, they should check their answers, which they did. I also asked them as a class to tell me what certain words meant such as dormitory or convenience store. I will add here that this is what I did during the word stress activity, too, because there were many useful words that I felt many would not know.

Finally, I told them to review the conversation on page 2 and the expressions on page 3 for next week, as I will give them a review quiz on that material. I know that often many students would prefer to not have homework, but review is important, and while there are some students who don't need a reason to study, for many others, it is necessary.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Generally General English

I started this class a little late because there were more new students than I had expected, so I had to make extra photocopies. I also had the new students write their names, then I took their photos and gave them the information pertaining to the course.

Once I had finished, we started with the review of classroom English (The quiz can be found in the previous post). I told the new students to try the review despite being absent the other week. After the review, I started the word stress activity, which I explained in Friday's notes (Again, I should note that I am only writing Thursday's notes now because yesterday I had no time, and I thought it better to finish Friday while it was still fresh in my mind).

Next, we started unit 1 of the textbook. I still haven't received the teachers materials, but fortunately there is a student CD inclosed, so I used that. I first had them write down some questions about the conversation and then I played the CD for them, but had to stop and borrow another CD player because the one I had was not working. I played the CD twice and then asked individual students for the answers. I then had them repeat after me, and next, had them practice in pairs. I finally had them repeat without the book after the CD.

We then continued with exercise 3, which is a vocabulary exercise. It did not take them much time, but I asked them questions such as who works in a convenience store or who lives in a dormitory etc.

By the time we finished that, there was not much time left, so I had them do the pair work dictation, another activity that I have already talked about in another post. I finished the class by telling them to review exercise 2, the conversation, for next week. I also told the new students to buy the book, and everyone to bring a dictionary, pencil, paper and/or notebook and the book, of course, for next week.

Is today Thursday or Friday?

I am only getting around to posting my two Thursday classes today because yesterday, I was so busy that I hardly had time to eat let alone post two classes. However, today, things cooled down a bit, so I was able to complete the notes for all the classes, both yesterday and today. Here are the notes for my Thursday reading and writing class.

Today I started by talking to those who were absent last week. I got their names/photos and gave them the information to bring to my office.

I then had them review classroom English with a small quiz, which I collected to correct for next week.

Next, I started the capital letters. I wrote an incorrect sentence on the board and asked them what was wrong with it. I asked several students to come up and circle the mistakes. I then had students hand out a worksheet and I gave them 10 minutes to rewrite some sentences with capital letter mistakes; the sentences were based on my own personal history of coming to Japan as an exchange student many years ago. I then asked several students to write just those words that were incorrect on the board. I then had them think of the rules for capitals, which I wrote on the board.

Next, I did something different; I gave them the choice of reading/paragraph, or sentence correction. They chose reading (18 said reading, 10 said paragraph, 2 said sentence correction, which may mean that I should have clarified what that was with an example on the board). I then had students hand out the worksheets and reading and explained true or false using myself as an example. I gave them 10 minutes to complete the questions. When they had finished I collected them, and then I gave them another choice: Do you want the teacher to read the story? I collected votes, and although the difference in responses was not so big, the majority asked me to read which I did.

Finally, I told them to review capital letters for next week and then let them go. There were some students who stayed behind and they helped me put the desks back where they were (I have already mentioned in another post that I try to get my students to help me with the desks to create a more cooperative, community spirit; what is nice is that there are some students who don't even need to be asked to help, they just do! I love that!)

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And now for the SAC material development class

Today I had my seventh and final class. In this class, I have decided to have my students make materials for the SAC, which I hope to have up and running around January. I think that this will not only help them improve their English because they have to really understand the material, but it will also help me with material development, and of course it will help those who wish to use the center in the future.

Each class will mainly be the students working individually reading and preparing the chapter that they choose from one graded reader. I received permission to use the graded readers beforehand, so I don’t have to worry about copyright laws, which anyone who has experience with managing a SAC can tell you, it can be a real pain trying to understand what you can use and what you can’t. I good site though to start is the blog TEFLtastic by Alex Case. He really does a good job of explaining clearly all the do’s and don’ts of copyright. Here is the link:

Moving on to the class - I arrived a little late due to having too much photocopying to do. I had heard that I would have around 40 students, and just the guide book alone was 20 pages! I thought I would have enough time, but boy was I wrong. Unfortunately, when I got to class, I had less than half the expected number, 18 actually, although that may increase next week, but you can just imagine all the paper I wasted! I really felt bad for all the trees, and I mean it. I wish I had known beforehand how many students I would actually have, but well, too late for that now isn’t it?

I started by having them write their names on the paper and taking their photo. I then gave out the syllabus and absentee slip. I explained to them about the SAC that I am planning and told them that they will be helping everyone by making materials for the center. After explaining the grade system (one of the students was clicking his mouse, seeming not to be paying attention, but when I confronted him about it, he said he was doing nothing; I think I may have to have a talk with him later because I really don't need his attitude during the whole semester) I had students hand out the three stories. I told them that there were three levels and that they had to read each one and circle the words they did not know. This activity was to help me know better what level they can try in the next class.

After they finished reading, I asked them individually which story they thought was most appropriate to their level. The majority of them said ET, but I think they can handle level 3. I think I may have made a mistake, too, in choosing ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ for level assessment because although graded at level 3, the names have not been modified, and that can make it seem difficult for students. I should have realized that before selecting it, but next time, I will make sure not to use that book.

As students were coming up, I handed them the booklet explaining how to make the resources with examples. Once everyone had the guide, I explained it to them again what they would be doing in class. I told them that they did not have to use all the materials and that they could use their own ideas for the materials. I finally gave them the questionnaire to fill out (Many of them had already received it in another class, but it makes it easier for me not having to search through piles of questionnaires from other classes, when it will only take them a minute or so to fill it out.) and told them to come to my office before Wednesday so that I could discuss which book they would start with first.

Next week, they will begin by typing out their selected chapters using Word and then they will have to make materials each week. One thing though that I probably should consider before next week is how many activities they will be required to make before going on to the next book. Perhaps five or six may be a good number, but actually I did tell them that the more materials they make the higher their grade will be, so by telling them how many activities to make each week, it would defeat the purpose of having them decide.

One thing that I have to say is that I think now that I should have translated the explanations to make it easier for them to understand. I had considered it, but decided not to in the end, but now I realize that it would have made things run much more smoothly. Also, I should have explained the center a little more in detail; I did at the beginning, but it was not until the end, when it finally dawned on one of the students that what we were really doing was making educational materials for the center that everyone seemed to really understand the purpose. I then explained to them that what they would be doing was very important because many future students will use their materials. I think that this could have all been clarified immediately if I had given them first a Japanese handout on the center followed by one on the class itself. Again it could probably be another case of overestimating their ability, something, which for some reason I feel like I am doing a lot this semester; or maybe it is because having reasonable expectations of my students may help them work harder whereas not expecting anything would create a negative mood, something that I would not want to have for the whole semester.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


The other TOEIC

Today I had my second TOEIC class. The ultimate goal of this class is for students to achieve a score of 550 or higher, but unlike Friday's class, where they must reach the goal or risk failing, in this class, students do not have to worry about such pressure. As a result, this class is also much bigger than Friday's in that there are 22 students in today's class as opposed to only 4 in the other. It is interesting though that there are some students in today's class who already have an A standing as long as they maintain their current score, but that these students did not join my Friday class, again probably due to the pressure of not achieving the required score or maybe they do not need such a high score. Furthermore, today's class is registered as a different class, which means that for some students it is a required course for their major whereas Friday's class, so far as I know, is not.

Well, I started this class like the others asking them what my name was and then having them make name cards. I then took their photos. However, this time instead of looking at classroom English or having them ask each other questions, which most of them has already done in my other classes and therefore needn't be done again (only 7 of the 22 students in this class were new), I went straight to the syllabus. I had two students hand out the syllabus and the absentee slip, and I began explaining it to them. However, at around 9:17 a student arrived, so I took this time to explain the rule for being late; I did not punish the student this time because it was the first class, but I reminded him (he is in another of my classes, so he should already know this rule) that next week he would need to come on time. I then went back to the syllabus and I introduced the textbook. I told them that it hadn't arrived yet, but hopefully it will have by next week. It is really unfortunate because I ordered this textbook at the same time as the other TOEIC class textbook, but while the latter ha arrived, the former is yet to come. Again in the end, there is no one to blame but myself because I should have ordered all the books a month or so ago and I didn't, so I just have to deal with the consequences; no use crying over spilled milk, as they say!

I also asked them to write down which examination, TOEIC or Eiken, they have taken, when they took it and what their score was. I did this to get an idea of what they will need to get to receive an A. However, I noticed that many have not taken the TOEIC test, so it may be challenging for them to reach 550. Of course, they don't have to get 550, but they do need to get more than 400 or they will lose the credit. Since I don't have experience taking the TOEIC, I can't say how easy it would be for someone to get 400 while never having taken it, but I do no from my experience teaching it that their is a format, a layout to the test that students have to get used to and I think that is what I will have to try to focus on this semester.

Next, I asked them in pairs to think about ways to learn a new word, what kinds of information they can write down about a new word. I asked them this because for the TOEIC test vocabulary is really important and they need to know at least some of the ways of learning vocabulary. I also told them that they did not have to use all the information and that they should try and choose what works best for them. This activity turned out to be harder than expected, but it may have been due to my explanation; perhaps a handout or a written example could have helped clarify things. However, one student did tell me she did not understand, which I really appreciate, and I gave them an example. I also used some Japanese, but I think the example worked better because most of them started writing as soon as I had given them the example. I gave them about 5 minutes, but it probably took longer due to the misunderstanding, and afterward we looked at their answers writing them on the board.

Finally, I did a similar thing with classroom English. I chose to do it this way because many of them had done the handout in other classes this past week, so I decided to try the activity orally, having them in paris think of different English expressions to use in the classroom. I think this was easier for them probably because many of them had done it already. It was therefore a good review for those students, and they could also help me by explaining the activity to the new students who may not have understood the activity. Once finished, we wrote them on the board and I encouraged them to use the expressions as much and as often as possible.

I have to say that I am a little worried about this class because when I ordered the book, which is all in English, I was under the impression that the required score to take this class would be higher, but later I found out that it actually had been lowered, so I am not sure how students will react to the book. I think that for many it will be difficult because there is no Japanese support, unlike in most TOEIC books, and there will be a lot of vocabulary for them to learn. Again I could be wrong as this is the first class, but I can't help feel that if many of them do not put in the effort and work hard, they may not be able to obtain a better score; I hope they prove me wrong.

Next week I plan on looking at the first two units. They are really short actually, so I think two may be possible but then again I will have play it by ear because this will be the first time to teach TOEIC to so many students and with a book I have never tried before. Wish me luck!

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Morning Communication

It's Monday and I've now had 5 of my 7 classes. Today I have only one course, my other Foreign Communication class. I have 36 students, but today I had only 35 and one of them I noticed is not registered for my class, so at least two were absent; I need to check to see if there are any other students who are registered for another class, hence the reason I say 'at least'. However, it sometimes happens that someone makes a mistake and comes to the wrong class, but it is usually only one or at most two; I don't really remember ever having a big number of students suddenly coming to me saying that they are registered for another class although I would never say that it never happens because during the first week anything can really happen.

Like most of my classes so far, I have many students who took my class last semester whether it was my communication class or my reading/writing class. I know that it is too early to be thinking of next year's classes, but if I decide to go with textbooks from now on, I probably should look into books that have two or three levels, but then again it is not that I have all the same students, so what I really have to do is just modify the course somewhat so that those students who have already taken my course won't encounter the same material. Of course, that is easier said than done. Actually, it might be an idea to use the same book twice, but have different activities for both semesters so that past students can review without repeating exactly the same thing. It may also help me in that the more I use it the more activities I can produce to supplement the textbook. It may be something to consider.

Today's class followed the same pattern as Friday's. I was debating at first to have them fill out the questionnaire in class, but in the end I decided that it would be best for me to see the students in a more private setting where there are fewer distractions.

I started the class asking them who I was and how to spell my name; many of the past students were really quiet, but as with most first classes they tend to be that way. Of course, some students are always quiet even when you meet them in private. After having written my name on the board, I asked the students to take out a piece of paper and to make a name card to put on their desks. Again many of those who had taken my class before had no problem following the instructions, and they also helped by explaining to their partners, which as I have mentioned in a previous post, helps me out a lot. I then went around taking their pictures in pairs, except for the last four because my batteries were running low.

Next, we did the classroom English. I first asked them what was really important in an English class, but no one was willing to answer, so I told them that classroom English, expressions to use when they have a problem, was really important. I then gave them 5 minutes to do the activity (refer to Friday's post for the handout). I then went around asking them individually for the answer, then writing it on the board. I also explained the importance using some Japanese to help them understand what I was saying, and then I had them repeat after me. One thing I just realized though is that I forgot to look at the final question – which of the ten expressions is for the teacher and not the students. I have to be careful next time not to let that happen again.

Once finished, I had two students pass out the handout with several questions. I then gave half the class A and the other half B and told the As to find Bs and vice versa. I then gave them 15 minutes to ask and write down the answers, telling them to write complete sentences. Again this was to get an assessment of what they could do, and to see what mistakes if any were being made. Of course, I don't mind if students make mistakes because that is how they learn; it is not important to get anything right the first time; if they did they would not have to be studying English in class would they?

After collecting the questions, I had two more students pass out the syllabus and the absentee slip and I explained it, again using Japanese and English. What I usually do is speak in English first and then if it is something I consider important, but may be complicated for some, I try to translate it in Japanese. It also lets them know that I can help them in Japanese if necessary, but of course I encourage them to use as much English as possible. Finally, I passed out the questionnaire and asked them to bring it to my office by tomorrow.

I think today's class went well. I had several students who were quiet at first, but once I put them into pairs, they started talking, although not completely in English, which is probably something I will leave to another time. I also had some students speaking in Japanese with their friends while they should have been paying attention, but it wasn't really that much of a problem. I simply called out their names (Thank you name cards!) and told them that what I was saying was important and that they needed to listen, and they did. After we had finished the questions, students were a little noisy, but they had just finished the activity and had to wait for the syllabus to be handed out and that took a couple of minutes, so it was OK for them to talk during that time, but once everyone had the syllabus, I told them in English and Japanese to listen because it was really important and they soon quietened down.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!