English Outside the Classroom
We want to make English an interesting, relevant subject for our Japanese students, not just another boring, mandatory class that they have to take (and sleep through). How to accomplish that is a constant theme in teachers’ conversations: motivation; scipline; curriculum planning, etc. Many of us feel that disciplining students in Japanis not really our place - especially if there is a panese team/observer teacher in the room with us. Curriculum planning should be no great hurdle, either. If we are using an ESL xtbook, then we can just follow the textbook at a certain, comfortable pace. If we have no textbook, then we can use our own printed/distributed materials that follow our own plan (and which the students ought to be collecting and neatly organizing in a file or folder of some kind). This is what I do. Since I have been teaching English in Japan for so long I have a firm idea of what students should be learning, what sequence they should be learning it in, and how fast they should be mastering each step of the language ladder. (Although, really, I think of language learning as more like a spiral than a ladder, or a line, or any otherr shape.) I also know what mistakes my students will make/are likely to make before they make them, and what language points they will have trouble with or simply never get. (Year after year students make precisely the same mistakes. The greatest mistake of all, perhaps, is writing English words exactly as they are pronounced in katakana. So, for example, students spell my name “P-a-i-p-a”even after knowing me for four years, and despite the fact that I always wear a name tag on my shirt or sweater that says, “My name is Mr. Piper.”)
But despite these concerns of motivation, discipline, etc., I think that my personal biggest concerns at school are 1) taking English outside the classroom, and 2) minimizing the amount that I speak in class.
As to the first point, I think that wherever I am is the time and place for English. When I meet students outside the classroom, in the library, in the halls, in the washroom, on the streets outside, at the train station, or on the train, then those are the times and places for English to be spoken. English is not just for the classroom. In fact, at lunchtime I like to visit the school library and look over student’s shoulders to see if anyone is doing English homework. If they are, then I invite myself to check over their work right then-and-there. The fact that I do not speak much Japanese presses the point of having to speak English with me outside the classroom.
I put up monthly posters on a bulletin board in the school hallway near the teachers room (with permission, of course). My posters are intended to move English out of the classroom and into the halls - to spread it around a bit. And, naturally, each poster is relevant to the month: a Christmas poster for December; a New Year’s poster for January; Valentine’s Day for February, and so on.
As to the second point, I use a wide variety of laminated vocabulary flash cards in the lesson that I make myself as a tool for minimizing the time that I spend talking in class. I use them mostly as a review, to see how well, or if students have learned the vocabulary from a previous lesson/previous lessons. So I have several sets of flash cards on hand at any given time (they are no good and no use to me if they are not conveniently at hand): Alphabet; Numbers; Days; Months; Body; Weather; Flags; Family; Health and Feelings; Animals; Clothes, and more. Making and laminating the A4-size cards is an expensive and time-consuming labor, but I am happy with the results. Without speaking, all I do is hold up a card for all to see and students will shout out the word represented by an illustration, or read the word printed there. Or, I sometimes circulate the room and approach students individually, asking, “What’s this?”
For the older teenagers that I teach - the grade nines and tens - I have a smaller set of hand-size cards- seven of them. Each card bears a single interrogative word: Who; What; When; Where; How; Do; and, Why. At the start of class I locate a number of volunteers and distribute the cards. Those students’ job is to ask me a question some time during the class that begins with the word on their cards. For example: How are you? How old are you? Where do you live? Where are you from? Who is your favorite singer? and so on. They are all self-introduction, or greeting conversation questions that we studied, and that the students should be comfortable with. I do not demand difficult questions - for example, questions asking about reasons that begin with the word “Why.” In class the students that I give the cards to usually do not do as I desire. I mean, they neglect to ask anything of me and are probably hoping that I will forget about them and their question. So, I often have to make a point of going back to those students a couple of minutes after handing out the cards.
I know they love me for it.