Monday, May 17, 2010

Another week, another post...

Hey everyone,

I’ve realized that I haven’t introduced my Monday and Friday classes, so today I will quickly go through my morning courses for those days.

Monday Morning = Friday Morning = Last Semester

Actually, these courses are pretty much the same as last semester. I had planned to do both classes in a computer room, but unfortunately, due to various reasons, it did not happen, so this semester I am in a regular classroom, but it is not too bad because it gives me a change from being in the computer room most of the time.

I had planned to do more focused listening activities like those I do in my other classes which take place in the computer room, but as that is pretty much impossible, I try to give them the regular listening practice that is done with a CD player. However, before I have them listen to a dialogue, I dictate the questions. The textbook also has, depending on the unit, some extra listening practice which I also use. Finally, I have students make their own conversation and present it after a specified time limit during which they have to practice and remember the dialogue. Here is an example:

As you can see, I give students a lot of support, but I encourage them to use their own ideas as much as possible.

So, just to recap, both Monday and Friday morning communication classes follow this pattern:

Review Test
Question Dictation
Listening Comprehension
Conversation Practice
Listening Activity
Conversation Construction and Presentation

Impression so far

I think the class is going well overall, but it would be interesting to try this in the computer room as I could have them do more extensive listening and dictation-type activities. I guess in many ways, I am focusing more on students’ passive understanding rather than active this year, and I know that some of you may not agree with such a style, but honestly, I like this new direction, and it will be interesting to see the class evaluation in the future. Actually, maybe it might be a good idea to get their opinion sooner, but as I read on ELT news a while back, consistency is important and I agree with that. If I have to completely change a class midway, wouldn’t that interrupt everything?


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thank you for your comments everyone!

Whoops, I almost forgot. Thank you Darren, Karenne, Fernando and Angela for your comments on my last blog post commentaphobia. It’s nice to hear that you have felt or still feel the way I do. Recently, things have been busy, so I haven’t really been keeping up with what’s been going on, but I hope I can get back on the horse soon.


eisensei is not dead...yet

Hello everyone,

It has been a while since I posted anything about my classes, but to be honest, I am attempting something quite different this semester, something which doesn't give me a lot to talk about in the way I used to last year. For example in today's class, which focuses on academic English, I have my students work individually in a computer room. I give them a short quiz based on the academic word list in the beginning of class based on example sentences that I record and post on my site for them to listen to, and then I give them a handout that explains in detail what they have to do. Here is the handout I give them. If they do not finish before the end of class, I give them a deadline by which they have to submit the work.

Lesson Guide

Academic English – Unit 3 Life Sciences
May 11, 2010

Read all steps before you start!

1. Do pages 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 B.

2. Correct your answers.

3. Put your book away, and go to my webpage, ********************************

4. Under ‘Basic Skills for the TOEFL iBT – Dictation Unit 3’, click on listening file.

5. Do the dictation in your notebook. Double space.

6. Check your dictation with your book. Use a COLOR pen (red, green etc).

7. Give me your notebook.

8. On the same webpage, click on Academic Word List Official Homepage. Then click on Sublist 3.

9. Read all the words. Look up the words that you don’t know in your dictionary.

10. Go back to my webpage. Under ‘Academic Word List - Vocabulary Listening Practice WORD LIST 3 Vocabulary’ click on the listening file. Listen and repeat.

11. Go back to the AWL Sublist 3.

12. Choose ONE exercise from each group (total SIX exercises) and answer the questions. Make sure you answer all questions correctly (A correct answer will have the :-) symbol).

13. Copy and paste all exercises in Microsoft Office Word.


15. Email me the file as an attachment.

16. Then go back to the same webpage and under ‘Academic Word List - Vocabulary Listening Practice WORD LIST 3 Example Sentences’ click on the listening file. Listen and repeat.

If you do not finish, the deadline is 1 PM Friday May 14, 2010.
Put your textbook work and your dictation in the SAME notebook.
On Tuesday May 18, 2010, there will be a REVIEW TEST for AWL Sublist 3.


My overall impression so far is that I think this works quite well. This was our 3rd class following this style and after working out the initial bugs, for example, in the first class, there was too much to do, so I had to reduce the amount, and then there was getting students use to the format of the class, using computers and so on, I think things are now running smoothly. First of all, students are getting very intensive listening practice with the dictation I provide for them. The textbook is at a level that requires some preview before class, which some students are actually doing; in the past, this number would almost be non-existent. They are also able to learn much academic vocabulary in context as well as through example sentences provided on a website I have them use. Also, this style of class allows all students to finish even if some have to work throughout the week to do so. This would not be so easy to do if I gave instructions and time limits orally in class. Finally, as there are answer keys available, students are able to self-correct their work and get immediate feedback.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Commentaphobia - Is there a cure?

Hi all,

I know I haven’t been writing about my classes yet, but things have been busy this week, and to be honest, I don’t see things slowing down any time soon, so what I may actually do is make one post, possibly on Fridays summarizing the weeks up’s and down’s. It will be my own personal digest, if you well. However, today I will not be writing about my classes, but I have a question, which I am just going to go right ahead and ask because it has been bugging me for some time.

Why can I not make comments?

That is my question for today. I just read a great article from Mike Guest about research papers, and I wanted to make a comment, but no matter how hard I tried, after about an hour (Yes, an hour!) I gave up. And this is not the first time this has happened to me. It’s really bizarre. I start writing; I edit; I erase; I go do something else; I come back and try again; ultimately, I turn off my computer. I don’t mean to be a lurker, as I think that is what I would be called, but what is it exactly that stops me from finishing my comment and clicking that send button? Have any of you had this experience? How did you overcome this problem?


Thursday, April 15, 2010


Hi everyone!

My second day of the new academic year is over. I just finished my 4-skill class. So far I have about 18 students, but I think that may increase next week.


The textbook we will be using has a DVD with exercises and videos and that will be what we will be focusing on the most. The exercises can also be saved, so I will have them do the activities in class and email me their results. Another activity I hope to include is a dictation – students will watch the included video and try to transcribe it. Of course, there will be some names that may be difficult for them, but I will provide that information in advance. Therefore the structure of the class will run mainly like this:

1. Students will work through selected activities on the DVD and in the textbook; the results of the activities completed on the DVD will be submitted to me via email, while the textbook activities will be written out in their notebooks.
2. Students will watch the DVD and transcribe what they hear. This will also be done in their notebooks, which will be submitted to me each week.

However, like I wrote earlier today, as this is the first time to use this book and to follow this kind of plan, there may be necessary modifications that I will have to make.


I followed the same plan as this morning, so I won’t go into any detail. I started thinking however after today’s class that maybe I should have done introductions, but I think I have a good reason why I am leaving that until next class – there will be more or fewer students next week as students can still change classes, and there are always some students who take the wrong class etc. I think therefore that just explaining the course this week and then waiting until next week to really get into introductions may be a good strategy. What do you think?




Classroom: **************************
Time: 4:20 – 5:50 Thursday
Instructor: *******************************
E-mail: ******************************
OFFICE: ************************


World English (Cengage)
Earphones or headphones

NOTE: Students who do not bring these items will lose points.


By the end of the course, you should:
-have a larger vocabulary
-have a better ability in all 4 skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing)




10 TEST 1

29 TEST 2


Grades will be based upon the following criteria:

Weekly Quizzes
Midterm Test
Final Test

*If you come at 4:35 or later, you will be marked absent.
*If you are absent 3 times, you will receive an F.
*If you are absent for a valid reason, you must give me that reason in writing by 1:00 PM Friday. If you fail to give me this notice of absence, you will be marked absent.

Reading, Writing, Listening! Oh my!

Hello everyone!

Well, I just had my second class of the semester. This class focuses primarily on reading and writing, but this year I’ve decided to include some listening as well. Unlike yesterday’s class which has only eight students, this one has thirty-eight, but for this class in particular, it’s common. Something I think I forgot to mention yesterday is that both of these classes are open to first and second-year students, although first-year students are predominant. Also, like yesterday’s class, I am conducting this one in a computer room. Actually, with the exception of textbook and primary focus, TOEIC vs Reading/Writiing, this class will be fairly similar in structure.


Independent Listening with MLH

Students will go online and register to be able to listen to the class audio files independently. Macmillan Language House has a great service called My School; all you have to do is request it and you have access to your own personal page that students can access, too. I wanted to have students do the listening activities independently because it allows them to focus more on the task than if I had them do it as a group where some students would be at a distance from the stereo. Furthermore, this allows me to check their ability, give feedback and evaluate their performance more easily as they will be expected to hand in the work they do.

Once they have registered for the page, they will have to listen independently to a short paragraph, which will also act as a model paragraph for the writing task later. They will listen and repeat after the audio; they will have headphones or earphones, so the amount of embarrassment experienced will be reduced somewhat (I say reduced because I think some will still be shy even if no one can hear them.).


What I refer to is the feeling some students have when they have to read or speak in front of others. I have had some students speak more quietly than usual, and I’ve even had one who turned red. Of course, I tried as much as possible to encourage a relaxed atmosphere, but for some students it is still difficult to perform such tasks, hence I decided to try such a task this year.


Textbook focus

After practicing the paragraph alone, they will then practice with a partner, changing the highlighted words in the paragraph with ones provided in the book. Next, they have about two writing activities that will be written out in their notebooks. These activities mainly consist of comprehension and grammar or vocabulary questions. Once they finish that, there may be one or two listening questions, depending on the chapter, that will have to do on their own. Again they will write the answers in the notebook. Finally, they will have to write a short paragraph based on the theme of the chapter, and that too will be written in their notebooks. Finally, these notebooks will be submitted to me for review at the end of class.

Internet Focus

Honestly, I am not sure if they will be able to complete all of what I am planning to have them do since I have not done this before, but once they finish the textbook tasks, they will have to go on-line again to the academic word list practice site where they will have to work through the list and some of the questions for that list. I will also expect them to email me this work as this will be included in their grade.


I won’t go into very much detail about what I did because today’s class followed the same pattern as yesterday’s class with the exception of having them write down their information in Excel. However, I was able to get this information (name and student number) via a questionnaire I distributed to find out which units they would like to do this semester. I did this because there will only be 12 classes this semester (two classes will be tests, and today’s class was orientation) and one of those 12 will focus on introductions. Therefore, that only leaves 11 classes, but there are fourteen units, so I had them choose them, which I think is better than me choosing them. It also allows me to get an idea of their interests, which is important, too. Next week will be the real start and I’ll be able to get a better idea of who my students are and what they can do. I will also be able to see how my plan will work, but of course, like all tentative plans, I’m sure that some things will probably have to be altered, but that’s one of the ways we learn how to teach, isn’t it? Trial and Error?




Classroom: ********************************
Time: 10:40 – 12:10 Thursday
Instructor: ******************************
E-mail: ********************************
OFFICE: ***************************


New Easy Writing (MLH)
Earphones or headphones

NOTE: Students who do not bring these items will lose points.


Academic Word List (
New Easy Writing (


By the end of the course, you should:
-be able to write a short paragraph on various topics
-have a larger vocabulary
-have a better listening ability


22 Unit 1 Introductions


10 TEST 1

29 TEST 2


Grades will be based upon the following criteria:

Weekly Quizzes
Vocabulary Exercises
Midterm Test
Final Test

*If you come at 10:55 or later, you will be marked absent.
*If you are absent 3 times, you will receive an F.
*If you are absent for a valid reason, you must give me that reason in writing by 1:00 PM Friday. If you fail to give me this notice of absence, you will be marked absent.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It begins...

Hello everyone!

Well, I've officially started my second year today. My first class of the new academic year was an advanced TOEIC preparation class. This class only has 8 students so far, so it should be an interesting semester. Also, unlike last year, I am conducting this class in a computer room. There are three reasons that I decided to do this:

1. Academic Word List
There is a very good site, in my opinion, that has all the lists plus loads of questions to practice the vocabulary with immediate feedback.

2. Listening Practice
I think sites such as VOA or Breaking News English are good for practicing listening comprehension.

3. Email
Something that I am considering trying, although I am not sure if it will work well since it is my first time to try this, is have the students email me at the end of class vocabulary lists of words that they did not know. I would then take these lists and make vocabulary quizzes for the students based on the most frequent words in their lists.


Like the email idea above, I am not sure how this will work out either, but each class will follow a similar structure.

Students will first work through the textbook (see below), but it is up to the student to choose the order; I have given them complete freedom in this matter. As they finish each question, they will submit their answers for marking, which I will do in class since there are so few students (one of the many advantages of a small class). Next, they will go back through the questions, highlighting the words they did not know. They will then make a list of those words with Japanese translation using Excel.

2. AWL
After a certain time, they will be expected to go online to work on the AWL, first starting with list 1 and so on. They will have to go through the vocabulary making sure they know the pronunciation, part of speech and meaning in Japanese of those words they don't know, and they will include these words in their list as well. After that, they will work through the questions on the website. Each list has 6 groups of 3 sets of 10 questions, so I am thinking of asking them to do only 1 set from each group. Also if there is time, I will ask them to add the words they don't know from the questions to the list they have already made that class.

Finally, they will email me this list and with the remainder of the time they will listen to an article from VOA or BNE. This will not only give them some listening practice, but it will also work as a post-task activity, or more importantly, a way to relax a little after having worked so intensively.


The purpose of today's class was to explain the course. I first introduced myself, stating explicitly what we would be doing in the course. I then had them write their names on cards with a marker - these cards will be placed on the computer they use to help me remember their names. I also had them hold these cards in front of them and I took a picture of them in pairs. Again, this was also for the purpose of remembering their names. Since there are so few students, however, I am quite confident that forgetting names in this class will not be a problem.

Once I finished taking their photos, I went through the syllabus (see below) explaining things in more detail, stopping at certain times to ask them if they had any questions. I also told them that if they ever had any questions they could email me or come to my office. Finally, I had them enter some personal information into the computer that I will use to make the student list for this class.

Well, I think that is it for today. Things are going to be busier for me this year, so I really can't spend so much time writing these, but I will do my best to continue them throughout the year. For those of you who are starting like me, good luck and all the best this year!


-------------------------CLASS SYLLABUS-------------------------


Classroom: ***********************************
Time: 9:00 – 10:30 Wednesday
Instructor: ********************************
E-mail: **************************************
OFFICE: ********************************************


Reading Guide to the TOEIC Test (Thomson)
Earphones or headphones

NOTE: Students who do not bring these items will lose points.

Academic Word List (


By the end of the course, you should:
-be able to improve your TOEIC score, especially in the reading section
-have a larger vocabulary




9 TEST 1



4 TEST 2


Grades will be based upon the following criteria:

Weekly Quizzes
Vocabulary Exercises
Midterm Test
Final Test
TOEIC Test Score

*If you come at 9:15 or later, you will be marked absent.
*If you are absent 3 times, you will receive an F.
*If you are absent for a valid reason, you must give me that reason in writing by 1:00 PM Thursday. If you fail to give me this notice of absence, you will be marked absent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Belated thank you's and a groovy article

A belated thank you

First of all, sorry for not doing this sooner, but I would to thank everyone for their comments on my last post. I really appreciated all the advice and the fact that I am not the only one who can be completely open with students. I especially liked Barbara’s comment about sharing information, which I now try to keep in mind when talking with students.

A VERY good article

Every Friday, I receive ELTNEWS.COM’s weekly newsletter, and while I don’t always read it, I decided to take a look at this week’s articles and stumbled upon Mike Guest’s article, ESS- How Tomoyuki lost his groove. I won’t go into any details, but I highly recommend you read it if you already haven’t.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Teacher-Student Relationship : How open is too open?

Hi everyone,

I’ve been thinking about something recently and would like to hear what you have to say about it.

Everyday we interact with our students in and out of class. Over time we may build relationships with some of our students, some closer than others. Some of us may even go out from time to time with some of those students and obviously discuss various topics, some of which may revolve around you, as some students are curious to know more about their teacher.

My question is therefore,

How open is too open?

What I mean is how much should we let our students know about ourselves as a person? Of course there is a limit, but beyond the obvious, how open should we be with our students?


Monday, March 8, 2010

The ROBOT EFL Revolution?

Hi everyone,

I know I just posted not too long ago, but I was just taking a look at the David English House e-mail newsletter when I stumbled across the following article:

Robots to Replace Native English Teachers

What do you think? Can we be replaced?


Discussing pragmatics now are we?

Hi everyone!

I just had my first official discussion meeting with a grad school classmate, and I think things went really well. We discussed a variety of topics including the dummy operator verb ‘do’, which Leech (2006) explains as follows:

"[T]he verb do, used as an auxiliary, is often called the dummy operator because it has no meaning of its own but exists simply to fill the 'slot' of operator when an operator is needed to form (for example) negative or interrogative sentences. In a similar way, it can be called a dummy subject when it fills the subject slot in sentences like: It's a pity that they wasted so much time."

We also did an analysis of a small dialogue based on the properties of everyday language as stated in Peter Grundy’s book Doing Pragmatics (2008). For those of you who are unfamiliar with these properties, there are nine in total:

1. Appropriateness
-Use of the most appropriate language for the given context
2. Non-literal or indirect meaning
3. Inference
4. Indeterminacy
-Ambiguous or unclear utterances, which leads the addressee to infer its meaning
5. Context
6. Relevance
-Understanding an utterance by choosing its most relevant meaning for the context in which it was uttered
7. Accommodation
-Background information, often cultural
8. Reflexivity
-Advice, or information a speaker provides to facilitate the understanding of his or her utterance
9. Misfires

And here is the dialogue we used for the analysis:

A: Are you an exchange student?
B: No, I'm a teacher here.
A: Oh. Where are you from?
B: I'm from Canada.
A: Nice.

Although we have already discussed our own analyses, if you are interested in pragmatics, or if you happen to be studying it as well, just go ahead and leave a comment and tell me, “How would you analyze this dialogue?”



Leech, Geoffrey N. (2006) A Glossary of English Grammar (Edinburgh University Press).
Grundy, Peter (2008) Doing Pragmatics (Hodder Education)

PS. Although I used Leech’s book as a reference, I actually found the quote for the dummy operator verb here on, but was unsure as to how to make such a reference, so went with the original source. If anyone knows how to make such a reference, or if anyone knows of a resource for explaining such references, please let me know and I can make the changes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coming out of blogger hibernation

Hello, everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I can't believe that it has almost been a month since my last post. Why haven't I been posting? Well, honestly, my reasons are pretty much the same as those Martin Tuttle gave on his blog last month - except for the baby part. I was quite surprised to stumble upon his post yesterday when checking my Google Reader, something I need to do more, and see that there was someone else who felt the same way. So thanks to you Mr. Tuttle, I've decided to try to post more often despite not having classes. Of course, I will begin posting regularly again from April when my classes start, but until then, I will try to keep myself in the blogosphere as much as possible. So tonight, for my comeback, if you will, I have prepared, what will probably be my biggest post - I would like to present the self-access language learning center that I have set up at the university where I am currently teaching. I hope you enjoy it and I welcome all your comments.


PS: Maybe I don't need to say this, but just in case, please click on the photos, graphs etc to enlarge them.


SAC - Introduction

Since the 1960s and 1970s, when the first resource centers and self-access systems were developed, the notion of self-access has prospered, both as theory and practice. Self-access centers are now common in many countries, and Japan is no exception (Jones, J.F. 1995; Gremmo, M., Riley, P. 1995). In order to clarify the goal of such a self-access center, Sheerin explains:

“The primary aim of such facilities is to enable learning to take place independently of teaching. Students are able to choose and use self-access material on their own and the material gives them the ability to correct or assess their own performance. By using such a self-access facility, students are able to direct their own learning.”

(Sheerin, 1989: 3)

The type of self-access system that I have set up is that of the ‘supermarket’ system, which offers the learner the opportunity to look around and choose what to study (Miller, L., Rogerson-Revell, P. 1993). Ultimately, I would like to have the students themselves organize, control, and maintain the center with the teacher’s role being that of an advisor or guidance counselor.


Gremmo, M. & Riley, P. (1995) Autonomy, self-direction and self access in language teaching and learning: the history of an idea. System, 23(2):151-164.
Jones, J.F., (1995) Self-access and culture: retreating from autonomy. ELT Journal, 49(3):228-234.
Miller, L. & Rogerson-Revell, P. (1993) Self-access systems. ELT Journal, 47(3): 228-233.
Sheerin, S. (1990) Self-Access (Oxford: Oxford University Press)


History of SAC

June 2009
I distributed a survey to all my students to find out which materials they would like to have in the center.
Using this data, I proposed the idea of setting up a self-access center at the departmental meeting.

July and August 2009
A budget was created for the project.
I started discussing floor plans and materials with my student volunteer staff.

October 2009
The room for the SAC was renovated.
I ordered the necessary materials for the SAC, ie furniture, DVD players, books etc.
I presented the SAC to students at the department orientation and asked for volunteers.

October 2009 – February 2010
In one of my classes, I had students make supplemental materials for the graded readers available in the SAC.

January 2010
The materials arrived.
I started to get the room ready, ie assembling shelves, arranging materials etc, together with the student volunteer staff.

February 2010
We conducted trial opening of the SAC, which is still underway.
At the end of the semester, I discussed the SAC in all of my classes.
The staff and I made and put up posters to advertise the SAC.

March 2010
I presented the SAC to a group of professors.


Plans for 2010/2011

I intend to re-distribute a modified questionnaire to all students.
I will try to recruit new staff including more exchange students.
I will announce via memo the opening of the SAC to all faculty members in order to request support and materials.
I will allocate two courses to SAC material preparation
Spring Semester - Audio/Visual
Fall Semester – Reading


Survey for SAC and Survey Results (June 2009)

I used a bilingual survey with a 6-point Likert scale, with 1 being ‘No, not at all.’ and 6 being ‘Yes, I would really be interested.’ I also asked them to write their name, sex and age.


Peach – 6 (Yes, I would be really interested.)
Purple – 5 (Yes, I would be interested.)
Pale Blue – 4 (Yes, I would be a little interested.)
Pale Yellow – 3 (No, I don’t think I would be interested.)
Burgundy – 2 (No, I wouldn’t be interested.)
Lavender – 1 (No, I wouldn’t be interested at all.)


Floor Plan


SAC Assistant Responsibilities

-checking out materials
-answering questions related to the center/materials
-checking inventory
-selecting materials
-making displays/posters
-planning events
-inputting data
-peer exchange


Materials Available in the SAC


SAC Material Preparation - Activity Making Process

1. Choose a chapter. Any chapter is OK, but the first chapter may be the best to use.
2. Write out the chapter using Word.
3. Read the chapter.
4. Write down any words you don’t know or any words you think students may not know.
5. Use a dictionary to find out each word’s part of speech (noun, verb, etc), and meaning (Japanese, English or both).
6. Choose the order of the activities you will make, and begin making them.
7. Once you have completed the activities, read the rest of the book.
8. Write down any words you don’t know or any words you think students may not know.
9. Use a dictionary to find out each word’s part of speech (noun, verb, etc), and meaning (Japanese, English or both).



Friday, February 5, 2010

Is it the end or is it just the beginning?

First of all, just in case any of you was wondering what happened to me this past week, allow me to explain. There are two reasons mainly:


Well this does not really necessitate any explanation as I’m sure most of you are full aware how busy it gets at the end, preparing tests, collecting reports, marking and grading, both which I still haven’t finished, but will try to over the next two weeks.


It took me a year, but it’s finally coming to fruition – the university’s first SAC. Next week will be the trial opening, so a lot of my time was taken up with last minute preparations and meetings; actually, I’m still not quite ready, but tomorrow I will have one more meeting that should do the job. I will not really get into any detail yet as to what I’m doing because over the next two months I will not have any classes, so this will give me something to write about until then!


This actually was my final class for the semester since the rest of the week was scheduled for tests. I started with the review as usual, and then did the listening comprehension with the textbook’s dialogue (the theme was leaving a party or a dinner). However, what I did next was different from what I had done in Friday’s class – I wrote on the blackboard the situation, ‘You are at a party or someone’s house for dinner’. I then wrote the following question, ‘What are some reasons you can give for having to leave?’ Now I chose to do the listening comprehension first in order to present the context more clearly, but also to give them some examples/ideas, unlike what I did in Thursday’s class, and which I should have done. I then gave them about 5 to 10 minutes to write down as many ideas as possible in pairs. As I walked around, I noticed that many students were using the same expression, ‘I have to’, so I wrote that on the board and asked them to think of different ways to say the same thing. When the time was up, I started asking students to write their reasons on the board, one per student. Once all the students had a turn, I went through the reasons correcting where necessary and by the time we finished this, the class was over. Now I corrected the sentences myself because this was our last class, but in the future, I could collect these and have them work on these sentences the following week. I was also thinking that using something like Facebook or Mixi could help facilitate the sentence collection as I could just have each student immediately post their sentence, something else to think about for next year.


Although there were many different and good reasons, like feeling ill or an angry mother, the reasons that I liked were actually reasons that perhaps one shouldn’t use when a guest. These were:

I have to go because I’m bored.
I must go because there is a TV show that I have to watch.

Now, with friends, the second one could be possible, but I think for no situation would the first one be OK. These examples gave me an idea for next time – perhaps I could first ask them for good reasons, and then ask them for bad ones and maybe even ask them why those reasons are considered inappropriate. It may also be interesting to have students rank the good reasons in order from worst to best. Finally, I could have students make conversations based on these examples.


I think this is one thing I have learned from this class, and will try to consider in the future. Until now, I usually have one lesson for one class, with the exception of review which usually takes the form of a review test, but after this lesson, I realized that there is so much material and so many possibilities that it would be very difficult if not impossible to get through it all in a 90 minute lesson, and since I’m not under any obligation to finish a certain amount of chapters in a semester, I shouldn’t worry if a lesson goes over one class. Of course, I should probably avoid taking four or five classes for one lesson, but perhaps that could be possible. What do you think? Come to think of it, though, my composition class was something like that because students were continually working through the semester without really having a clearly defined end or beginning.

I think I will stop here because I really need to set a time limit for how long I write. Perhaps more shorter blogs might be the answer, but I really do have to organize my time or it’s game over. Next week I will talk about my impressions of my first year as a full-time teacher, my class evaluations that I received from students and the SAC. Until then, have a good weekend!


Karenne, thanks for tagging me and your message about Martin's article, but I have question – for the tagging game, I am supposed to introduce two people I know, but I only know you and Darren, so what should I do? Can I introduce two people I don’t know?

Darren, thanks for the comment on commenting. I think my blog already has the functions you mentioned, but I will check again.

Charles, thanks for linking me. When I get the time I will visit your blog and link you to my site.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Dogme ELT Play in 2 Acts

Could this be my first step into Dogme ELT? – ACT 1

General English - Thursday

So Thursday is now officially over. Today we looked at hopes and intentions. First, I gave them a review quiz, which took the students some time to finish on account of its length – the students had to put 20 sentences in order to make the dialogue that we did last week. Once finished though, I did something quite different - I told them to put their books away. I then had them choose a color marker, but I did not allow two students sitting together to have the same color. Once everyone had markers, I told them to find a partner with the same color. After everyone had done this, I wrote hopes and intentions on the board and introduced the topic. I then asked them to think of ways to talk about such things, ie the future. Immediately, many students started asking one another what they had to do, meaning that they did not exactly get it, or rather I did not explain it well enough, so I wrote an example on the board; I chose ‘will’ first because I thought that it would make things clear for them, but also I expected that they would write this one first, and I really wanted them to think of other expressions. I gave them between 5 and 10 minutes to think of different expressions, but really I should have only given them 5 (I think I will be a timer for next year because this will make keeping time much simpler) because the more time students have the more they will speak in Japanese although students were speaking Japanese from the beginning, something that we all have experienced and struggled with I’m sure.

Intermission 1

Actually, if there are any blogs or articles on getting students to use English more – I don’t expect students to speak 100% of the time in class, although there may be some teachers who can get their students to do this, and if there are, I would love to hear from them – I would greatly appreciate any links to such sites. Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

Intermission 2

Actually though, one more thing I have to mention, and I would love to hear from other teachers about this, but I am considering making it mandatory to bring supplies such as notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers and especially dictionaries and that if students fail to bring these things, I am thinking of docking points or some other kind of punishment. I know, I don’t like the punishment word either, but each semester I tell students in the beginning to bring these things, but still I see students come to class without such things, and some students even seem proud to have nothing, and it always makes me wonder, ‘What are you intending to do here if you don’t have the necessities?’ because even with Dogme ELT, such things are necessary, am I right? I suppose I could remind students each week, but I am not sure if that would really work. Of course, it’s not everyone, fortunately, but I can’t help feel that there are more students like this than there should be.

Could this be my first step into Dogme ELT? – ACT 2

While they were writing, I walked around observing what students wrote, helping them when necessary. For example, some students had written ‘I wish’, so I explained that we don’t use this for future hopes and intentions. After their time was up, I had students come up to the board and write down the different expressions. Some of them were the following:

I’m planning to…
I’m going to…
I’d like to…
I hope to…
I want to…
I desire to…
My dream is to…

I then gave them another 10 minutes, although I think they had more than that (again, I need to buy a timer) to write down their hopes, intentions, and dreams for the spring break, for next year and for five years later. Some students could not think of such things at first, but after some support they were able to. One student was struggling to come up with ideas, but I told the student that one’s hopes, dreams and intentions didn’t always have to be big, but even the little ones were important, and the student immediately started writing many things. Finally, I had each student come up to the front of class to present what they would like to do for each time period. Again some of the hopes and intentions were on a small scale, such as learning how to cook a certain dish, and others were on a much larger one, for example one student wanted to stop war. Once everyone had finished, I praised them for their ideas, and I repeated what I had told the student earlier about the importance of all dreams and hopes, big and small, because they were their dreams and hopes. I was then going to finish with a short dialogue that focused on hopes and intentions when one of my students asked me what my hopes and dreams were, a question that I greatly appreciated because it showed the student being active. Here is what I said more or less:

I would like to learn Italian. Honestly, I don’t know why, but I love the way it sounds. However, between Japanese and French and other things, I am not sure if I have the time, but it would be nice to know even a few words. My dream is to be a musician. Yes, I’ve said it. A long time ago I played for 200 people, some of whom cried when they heard my song (I am not joking), and ever since, I’ve wanted, and still do, to become a musician. However, my immediate goal is to read more and learn more about teaching so that I can become a better teacher.

By the time we finished, there was not enough time for the dialogue, so I talked about their test and then let them go.


One thing that I did not do was to note their mistakes. I think I did not do this because I wanted to focus on their ideas, and also it was the last class, but I think in the future, I would take in their posters, write out their sentences on a handout and the following week have them look at their sentences to see if they could find their mistakes, and then correct them together. Another thing I should have done was to ask them explicitly to try and use the new expressions because not many of them did so far as I could tell. Many used ‘want to’, ‘will’, ‘going to’ and ‘would like to’, but I think they already knew these, so unfortunately we missed a good opportunity to practice the new expressions. Of course, there were the time limits, too, which should have been enforced better. I probably should have been clearer about their posters telling them explicitly just to write the phrases because many just read their sentences straight from their posters. Another thing that perhaps could have been interesting was to have the students write an example for each expression as a way to practice the expressions before they presented. I’m also thinking that maybe I should have done the listening task first as it would have given them a better context for hopes and intentions. I’m sure there are many other things I could say, if I thought about it long enough, but I still have some work that I must finish for tomorrow, so I will have to stop here. I think in the end though, that this lesson went fairly well, and I think the students enjoyed it, which is important, but that there are some bugs to be worked out, but as with most new things, that is to be expected.


What will the autonomous learner think of next?

Last Thursday Reading and Writing Class and How to Get Students to Ask Questions

Well, today was the last reading and writing class for the year, well not really the last because we have a test next week, but I never really count test day as a class. The activities for the lesson included a final worksheet on the indefinite and definite articles, a reading exercise, a sentence correction activity, a worksheet on ‘be going to’ and a writing task which asked the students to talk about what they would do during the break. After they students received their package and started working, I walked around telling them that if they had any questions, they could ask me; only one student did though. Of course I could add the adverb unfortunately, but the fact that one student asked me a question would be enough to end the previous sentence with fortunately, I think. Also, at the end, two students asked me about the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’ and when it is needed. Now, this was written in Japanese on the handout, but as I’ve come to realize, perhaps a more direct approach to teaching the articles may be in order. However, that said, I think that students should try to ask more questions, even if it is after class. If I continue this lesson style next year, I will try a modified version of Karenne’s advice (again, thanks Karenne!) of having students ask me questions. However, as the students choose the order in which they do the activities, it may be difficult to ask students after each activity for questions if they don’t understand, especially if you have almost 40 students, so what might be a good idea in this class would be to have students email me, or write questions down and submit them before leaving (an idea that stemmed from Karenne’s advice). Perhaps in this way, students may feel more comfortable asking me things.

Was this really learner autonomy?

I am asking myself this question because it is a valid one, and perhaps some or maybe all of you are thinking that just giving the students a choice in what order to do the activities does not really constitute learner autonomy, and after conducting such a lesson for a year, I would probably agree with you. However, if we consider this as the first step to fostering learner autonomy, then maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Of course, I now have to ask myself, ‘Ok, if this was the first step, then what next?’ to which I do have some ideas, such as giving students complete freedom in what they write about or having students choose what they would like to focus on/review next class and prepare that for them. However, these ideas still seem to be teacher focused to me, the latter more so than the former I should say, as they all come from me and not from the students. The more I think about it, though, perhaps what is really needed is a compromise between complete autonomy and complete teacher control. I know that it is important for students to take control of their learning in order to become fully autonomous learners, but I also know that not all students are interested in such control, let’s be honest, so maybe giving them the choice, with the guidance of the teacher, of course, of what to focus on based on materials provided by the teacher may be an idea to try, and by encouraging students to make opportunities for learning such as going to a library/SAC, going on-line etc, might just be the next step needed for fostering more learner autonomy in this class.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Would you like to come over for some Dogme ELT? Maybe you could ask me about disappearing sounds after?

Monday Foreign Communication

Today's lesson followed Friday's plan. We started with review, and then I dictated some questions. After looking at their answers we practiced the conversation and then the key expressions together. Next, we did task 2, a fill-in-the-blank task, which I had them practice in pairs afterward. Once finished, we did the conversation construction activity. After that, we moved on to Part B of disappearing sounds, which asked them to find the linking sounds. While they were working I wrote the sentences on the board and then had them come up to write in the answers, again making sure beforehand that their answers were OK. I finally had the students repeat after me first slowly with all sounds present and unlinked and then more quickly including all disappearing and linking sounds.

A hint of Dogmeism at the end of the tunnel

I think I had my first Dogme idea in class today (I should mention that I may have had ideas in the past, but at that time I had not known what Dogme ELT was, or wasn’t really thinking about it.). Today’s unit focused on inviting, making excuses, reasons for not going and finally making plans. I was going through the unit when it occurred to me that perhaps instead of having the students go through the expressions in the book, maybe I should have them first think of ways to invite someone, and make excuses for not being able to go. Now, I am not exactly sure where I was in the unit, but unfortunately, I did not try this out, and I think the main reason was that it was not part of the lesson, it would have been spontaneous, and since I had certain things to get done, I did not want to jeopardize that. I know that I may have missed a good opportunity to try something new here, but on the bright side, I think I may have something to try in the future, especially if I go with this book again, and if I am worried that such an activity may take up too much class time, I can always assign some of the book for homework. What do you think? Was this a Dogme moment?

After class

As I was cleaning the board, one of my students asked me a great question. One of the examples that was a tag question, went as follows:

John and Mary are coming, aren’t they?

Now, in class I did not mention that the ‘g’ could disappear, I am not sure why, but maybe it had slipped my mind, although since today was the sixth time to use this handout because this activity took two classes to finish, and I used it in three classes, I am really not sure how it could have slipped my mind, or why no one had mentioned it until now, but anyway, she asked me if in fact the ‘g’ could disappear, which I answered yes, but added that it was less common than say the ‘d’ disappearing from the word ‘and’. However, I am thinking that I probably should not have said that because perhaps the disappearing ‘g’ is in fact just as common as the other disappearing sounds, although personally, I would probably omit the ‘d’ from ‘and’ or the ‘t’ from ‘right’ for example more often than I would omit the ‘g’ from ‘talking’ or ‘studying’. Anyway, I am getting away from the point I am trying to make, but what I am trying to say is that I wish my students would come out more and ask questions during class and not wait until the end of class, although I do appreciate questions at any time because it shows me that they are interested, curious and active in their learning. I know it must be hard when there are 30 or 40 people in the class, but it would be nice to be asked questions more often. Unfortunately, from my experience, most students tend not to do so, and despite me asking them explicitly to ask questions when they don’t know or understand something, they hesitate. I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced such a class, but how have you dealt with this?

Leavin' so soon? But we just started learning about linking and disappearing sounds.

Friday Foreign Communication

I am only getting around to posting Friday’s class because I was quite busy on Friday. This was our last class for the semester, as the next class will be the final exam. As usual, we started with a review test, and then we looked at unit 15, the last unit in the book, which focused on the end of an evening when it’s time to go. I dictated some questions, and after answering them, I had them repeat after the CD. We then practiced several expressions in the textbook covering the basics on how to end an evening, how to keep a guest longer and how to finally say goodbye. I first had them repeat after me, and then I had them read and repeat after each other. By the time we finished we only had about 30 minutes left, so I had them do task 4 in the textbook which was a conversation construction task similar to the ones I had been making. I gave them about 7 minutes to practice and remember the conversation, but as the time was almost up, I noticed that some students were still having difficulty remembering the dialogue, so I gave them a couple extra minutes before having several pairs present. Finally, as we did not have enough time to look at the pronunciation activity – contrastive stress – I gave them the outline of the test.


Thinking back to the contrastive stress worksheet, it made me reconsider what I had been doing this semester with regarding to pronunciation teaching. I have come to believe that what is really important for them is not so much word stress or contrastive stress, but rather linking and disappearing sounds because they are more pertinent for listening comprehension in that they are ubiquitous in all utterances whereas something such as contrastive stress is not. I also think that having only one class a week is not enough really to help students understand the rules because they are in fact rules and once you know them or at least are fully aware of them, I think listening to English can become easier for some students. Of course there are still things such as slang and vocabulary which need to be dealt with, but perhaps if a student can grasp such topics as linking and disappearing sounds, he or she may be able to catch these words better, and thus further their understanding. I think therefore that next year, I may focus more of my lessons on those two aspects of listening comprehension. I could focus on these things in class, and then assign listening homework, or have the students find something they like, and ask them to try to highlight those links and disappearing sounds for next class. It may be an idea that just might work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do Canadians really say 'aboot' for 'about'? And other general stuff.

Thursday General English

Today's lesson followed the same format I've been using recently, namely review of last week, followed by comprehension questions on a dialogue, a pair work conversation task and finally pronunciation practice.

The unit's theme was Life Stories, ie learning how to talk about one's life, however, I think if I were a teacher trainer, I would have failed myself because I did not get the students to talk about themselves and despite the other chapters being somewhat distant from the students, eg restaurant talk and shopping, talking about one's life up to now could have been interesting, and at the same time easy for them to do because they would have known most of the vocabulary necessary considering it's about their hometowns, schools etc. Obviously, they would not have been able to practice all the vocabulary considering the book looks at one's life from birth to death, with things such as marriage and children, but they could have talked about where they were born, what their hometown was like, what they think of the place they live now etc. I am not sure why I only thought of it now, perhaps I was too focused on the usual lesson plan to think of including something like that. Although I haven’t decided on whether or not to change books next year, if I do continue using this one, I will definitely include that activity, although I will probably have them ask each other questions and perhaps present their partner at the end because if not, the students may revert to Japanese thus rendering such an opportunity less effective for speaking practice.

Contrastive Stress

The pronunciation today was contrastive stress. I think everyone knows what this is, but just in case, and hey, it gives me a chance to try to explain it in my own words, simply put, it’s the stress we use to signal the contrast between elements in an utterance or a dialogue, so for example,

A: Is this my pen?
B: No, it’s MY pen.

The extra stress, or prominence as it is called falls on MY in order to highlight the fact that it is not your pen but mine, the two items in opposition.

The task was quite straightforward – students had to underline the word that received the most stress in the responses to various statements and questions. After having them write the answers on the board, I had different pairs practice aloud the short dialogue, and then we practiced together. I also had them use hand gestures to help them understand the ‘extra’ stress that the contrasting word gets.

I have a question ‘aboot’ the listening

Since the pronunciation did not take so long, we had time to do the listening in the book before the class ended. However, I was surprised by what a heard – Canadian English, but it felt forced, especially on the word ‘about’, which sounded like ‘aboot’. Now, I am Canadian, but I really have to ask you all, and especially the Canadians out there, do we really say, ‘aboot’? Is it common because personally I have only heard it in comedy and never when talking with other Canadians. Of course, I have never been to British Columbia, and I haven’t spent much time in Quebec or Ontario or the other provinces for that matter, mainly stayed on the East Coast of Canada, something I hope to remedy in the future, but are there Canadians who say ‘Let’s talk aboot your life’?

One final note

I decided to add this here because I only thought of it now. It’s interesting that students don’t ask questions although I ask them to especially when they don’t know something. I’m referring to the comprehension questions. I made up nine questions and I dictated them quite quickly to illustrate the disappearing sounds and linking sounds that I have been teaching. I also did this in the hope that students would ask for clarification, which some do, but for some reason, for the following question, no one asked,

Who is Pedro?

The answer was George’s best friend, but when I asked the student whom I had asked for the answer to spell it, she couldn’t. I then asked the whole class, but no one seemed to know, so I had them as a class to work it out, which in itself was a great activity, but why didn’t they ask me to spell Pedro, when they asked me to spell George? It really makes me wonder, but I can’t for the life of me think as to why they didn’t.

What would you do if you won 10 billion yen?

Thursday Reading and Writing Class

Today’s lesson consisted of a reading activity, two worksheets on the conditional, a writing task using the conditional, and another sentence correction. Following last week’s model, I prepared packages and placed them on desks, asking students to sit where they saw a package. If I continue this style of lesson in the future, I will definitely have packages because it is a great time-saving device, and I really can’t say why I didn’t think of it sooner. I also tried something different which I think worked well, too – I asked students explicitly to submit work as they finished instead of waiting until the end to submit everyone at once. I chose to do this for two reasons, the first being that it freed up space on their desks, which may or may not interfere with their work, but hey, a clean desk is better, isn’t? The second reason was that towards the end I am usually looking at students’ paragraphs, so I can’t always see what’s going on, so this was a way to ensure that students did not copy from someone, although I am fairly sure no one has done it yet; let’s just consider it a preventative measure if you will, because you can never know.

The Conditional

Today’s conditional writing task asked the question, ‘What would you do if you won a billion yen?’ I got a lot of great answers such as, ‘I would save it’, or ‘I would give it to charity’, but there were some answers that I really liked such as ‘I would buy an island’, or ‘I would buy a castle’, and there was even one answer that said, ‘I would waste it’, if I remember correctly. The reason why I like these answers is not that they’re different, unique, but that those students used their imagination and broke away from such answers such as buying clothes, a house etc. Actually, I just got an idea - it may be interesting, if I have time of course, to look through the paragraphs counting the things that they said they would do and post them as a sort of top ten list of things my students would do if they won 10 billion yen. Actually, what would YOU do if you won 10 billion yen (about $109 million US, 78 million euros, $115 million CAN)? I think I would probably donate some of it, but a recording studio with lots of instruments in a nice, old castle with a well-stocked wine cellar on an island does have a nice ring to it. Anyway, getting back to the subject, the paragraphs were fairly well written, although many students thought that using would in the first sentence meant that they could just use the simple present in the remainder of the paragraph. Now that I think about it though, this could be interference from their L1, Japanese, because they don’t express the conditional with modals as we do, and often in Japanese, it would be, directly translated, ‘If…, I want to…’, which is what some of my students wrote. However, since I have the students show me their rough draft before they go on to write the final draft, I was able to point this out to them through explicit feedback. I may not have mentioned this, but for the other activities, although some will have explanations written, I only discuss the writing task with them. Of course, if students have questions about a certain task, they can ask me, but unfortunately most do not, which kind of makes me think that perhaps they hesitate asking me for some reason, despite me telling them that they could at any time ask me questions. Hmmm, maybe I should be more explicit next time.

Textbook Dilemma

As for the textbook decision, I have found a textbook that I like, but I am wondering if I really should go with it next year considering that I spent my first year building up a repertoire of materials. Actually, that reminds me, I was talking about this with my wife the other day that I tend to change books or lessons between semesters quite often. I am not sure why though. I guess the main reason is that I didn’t like the textbook for various reasons, but even the textbook is not that bad, and I’ve all these activities and materials, I still think of changing it for the next time, and often go back to the start. Interestingly enough, I also tend not to use the materials I’ve made from one semester to another, although there have been times when I have, for example with my reading and writing class, but even now, as I wrote above, I am thinking of using a book that will probably make it difficult to use those materials, or maybe it won’t? I suppose I could just modify them and that shouldn’t be difficult, now should it? Maybe I have made up my mind after all.