Thursday, 31 July 2014

Photo slideshow for June/July inside lovely new Luna

All of us are very happy to have finally moved premises. Although we lost quite a lot of space and had to rationalise materials (throw away a lot of junk, basically!) it is an absolute pleasure to be able to relax - and not have a miserable git of a landlord sneering constantly.

We have been gearing up to turn Bon Bon red, white & blue this Saturday evening, as you can see...but so much more too! Check out all the happy faces and busy bodies from our classrooms in June/July.

More photos shared at

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Postcard from London

Hi Jim,

I have arrived in London.
It is very hot in London.
Is Matsumoto hot?

Tomorrow I am going to my school.

from Rui

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A day at Sasabe Kindergarten – a new perspective

Sing-a-long time
I was fortunate enough to be invited along to Sasabe Kindergarten, for their last day before breaking up for the summer holidays, to observe how it’s possible to manage a class of over 20 youngsters effectively (just the thought of it was mind boggling for me), get involved and have some fun.

The teachers at Sasabe run a pretty tight ship to create an ideal learning environment for their students, with very little need for disciplining students directly. Instead of it being the teachers’ duty to pickup on misbehaviour, the majority of responsibility is handed over to the students to make sure nobody is being naughty or disruptive. There is a focus on peer to peer recognition, where students are given the
Better than any school lunch I ever had!
opportunity to praise each other for good behaviour or doing a certain activity particularly well. It’s fantastic to watch students in this sort of environment, it’s completely student focused with the teacher acting as a safety net when they need to. Every student is aware of how they should and shouldn’t behave (not by being told by the teacher but being asked by the teacher whether certain behaviour is appropriate or inappropriate) and are willing to help with the teacher’s job of reinforcing classroom rules.

Ready, get set, paint!
Of course in any classroom there is going to be at least one rebellious figure who will try their best to not conform to the rules, but in these instances the teachers are looking at the bigger picture. There is no need to fret and panic if only a small proportion of the class are doing their own thing, they will eventually integrate with the rest of the class through peer pressure while their fellow classmates encourage them to stop messing around.

Getting their hands dirty
The teachers are also able to control classes through certain cues, such as music, tone of voice and facial expressions. Responding to these cues is similar to a natural reflex, ingrained as part of the daily routine in order to maintain structure and order. Time to sit down and get ready for the next activity? Cue song. Time to be quite and focus on the teacher? Cue short but clear instructions. Time to stop misbehaving? Cue grumpy face.

You missed a spot
After spending the morning going between classrooms, joining in with the end of term assembly and eating lunch with the students it was time for the grand finale. The playground apparatus had been covered in plastic wrap in preparation for what was about to go down. The students were instructed of their afternoon task in their classrooms before being given free reign to paint the plastic covering most of the playground (this also provided as part of the decoration for the Sasabe festival held the following day) with their hands. Even me and Jim jumped in the fun and couldn’t help but laugh and smile as we all lathered up every available space on the plastic wrap. Nerves of steel on the teachers’ behalf for even attempting this but during the whole event there was not a single individual who was doing something they were not supposed to, everybody was following the instructions to a tee and there were no instances of painting each other (only themselves by accident!) or any signs of “kancho” handprints.

Thanks to Jim and all the staff at Sasabe for an enriching experience, I learnt so much and had a wonderful time. Looking forward to dancing our socks off at Matsumoto Bon Bon together!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Drum finale Matsumoto Castle

Drums at the Castle

Sunday evening at Matsumoto castle was a knockout event, with the drum festival or taiko matsuri  being held within the gardens once again - usually relegated to the gravel beyond the inner moat with not much view. Last time we enjoyed this setting was seven years ago, to my reckoning.

Fabulous view and some very good entertainment as well - name check for our ex-student Haruna playing with the Matsuoka group. Enjoy a sampler below :)

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Your Dead Friend - a vengeful ghost letter

The story in question
Dear Ling Cane,

Do you still remember me? I am Terry Sweet, the man you shot. Did you enjoy shooting your friend? Do you still think of me? The time has come and it is your turn to die..

          I am watching you from beyond the grave. From tonight something mysterious will happen, and I am going to be in your dreams from now on. Do you want to see a flying fork or a flying saucer? With me haunting you, you are going to see both.

          I will turn your dreams into nightmares. In the dream you will be me where I was carrying the painting. Then you will see your self get shot by yourself and feel the pain of the cold blooded bullet. Enjoy the show! It is free.

          I am sending you this letter from beyond the grave, so this means I can send letters to the police giving evidence of you killing me, but before I send the letters, I will continue to haunt you.

Select your destiny.

Your Dead Friend


Friday, 25 July 2014

Pass the cake, please!

YLEs use Sockpuppet app on iOS to activate a conversational exchange from English Time (OUP textbook) in English class.

Hotel front desk - checking in

Teens practice for that first overnight?!

Where's the bank?

A nearly successful attempt to get uncommunicative junior high school girl/boy to talk to each other! Trying to role play a basic 'in the street' exchange, asking for directions.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship Application

Mug shot of the (rather hopeful) winner
Recently Jim brought to my attention about the Cambridge English Teaching Framework and the Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship, which I can apply for by submitting an outline of where I believe I lie on the framework as well as how I intend to progress in each category. This doubles as a chance to reflect on my progress and future development plans as well as an possibility of winning a free trip to the 49th Annual International IATEFL Conference and Exhibition in Manchester next year. Fingers crossed I can win with my entry! (I may be in trouble with Jim if I don't!) Do you think I have a chance? Feedback and thoughts are, as always, more than welcome. 

As an English teacher who is still in the early stages of my career, I know that there are many aspects of my teaching that can be developed and built upon. In order to achieve this, it’s important to have realistic and challenging goals with a plan to bring these goals to fruition. Teaching ability is not necessarily quantifiable, but using the Cambridge English Teaching Framework as a reference allows you come to terms with your own skill level whilst providing a positive platform for further development.
 Having had a chance to read through the framework and do some well needed reflection, I find myself positioned somewhere between the “foundation” and “developing” categories. I am still at a stage where I am aware of and understand various techniques, methodologies, assessment principles etc when it comes to teaching, but I am not necessarily able to translate these concepts into my lessons effectively nor consistently.
Moreover, I currently have a tendency to concentrate more of my efforts on expanding my repertoire of teaching activities and resources rather than focusing on my weaknesses or adjustments that are required in my approach to teaching. Furthermore, as I gain in teaching experience, and in turn confidence, I appreciate more than ever that I cannot neglect the importance of my own professional development.
Taking a step back from my day to day position as an important member of staff at a small language school, I have realised that with the bigger picture in mind, I really do need to benchmark my progress and motivate myself beyond “developing”. Now, you may be wondering: “How do you intend to progress through the framework whilst achieving your career goals?” Good question!
I have found that a fantastic way of advancing personal development and finding new innovative ideas is by sharing experiences with other teachers. I am rather fortunate in having an enthusiastic and experienced long term English teacher as my mentor, as well as being fortunate enough to have been encouraged to attend a number of EFL seminars, workshops and training courses (such as the IIEEC Teacher Training Program) already. Through continued interactions with as diverse assortment of educators and instructors as possible, I believe that my open-minded and enthusiastic approach, along with my work situation, will grant me to put learning into practice quickly.
In addition, I intend to re-visit and critique past lesson plans in order to identify my strengths and weaknesses so I may adjust my teaching style accordingly. Deliberating over these points will enable me to enhance my development in the “teaching, learning and assessment” category, by identifying the most effective teaching methods and key concepts to apply within the classroom, and at the same time expanding myself in the “professional development and values” category by analyzing my flaws.

All in all I hope that I can start to achieve my full teaching potential through a combination of factors with the Cambridge English Teaching Framework acting as a solid reference point and as a bridge to my future development.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Evaluating apps in class - crowd sourcing problems!

Prepping for Successful Meetings
It's not often you get to a class and the students are already doing exactly what you wanted them to do...but that's exactly what happened for me this afternoon and I really want to give my class a pat on the back. So, Chinasa, Reiko, Yumi & Tomoko - well done!

I was going to give them a telling off, truth be told, because I could not see any evidence of them having done the homework I'd asked them to last time - to create & then share, do, vocabulary quizzes. But here's the thing, between us we figured out that the app we were using on our iPhones & Android was not up to scratch and was letting us down. While we thought our work in-app would show up online, it was not doing so. Likewise, material we wanted to share we were unable to (except in one case where the creator had gone to her PC and worked around the short-coming).

I was delighted, because we'd all byod (brought our own devices) - which these in-company students are otherwise told to leave in their lockers - and were finally using them instinctively (and not falling at the first hurdle failing to remember passwords etc!). Will they take their text books on a business trip? Nope. Dictionary? Nope. Phone? You bet - and there's so many different things we can make available for ourselves to make the job & the learning easier!

Negotiating pronunciation (an app for that too!)
So, now they kind of generated their own need to do an extra homework, which is to write to the app developer and point out their disappointment/frustrations with the tool, and to ask for improvements. Nothing like realia!

I look forward to hearing what kind of replies they get (I was going to write myself, but figured four end users sound louder than one intermediary!)

After reading "The Secret in the Farmhouse"...

Write about an act of bravery that you have personally witnessed or experienced.

I have three dogs. The accident happened to one of them nine years ago. It had past several months since I had her. I had taken her for a walk every morning.

One day, I changed the lead to new one for her as the previous one was a little bit complicating. It, however, was too loose to hold her. When she stopped to sniff a tuft of grass, I pull the lead and moved forward. Then, she came out from the lead. When I tried to catch her, she was surprised and ran away! I chased her, but she continued to escape from me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have mobile phone. In addition, there were no any other people around there. Therefore, I could not ask anyone to help and I had no way but to keep chase her not to lose her. I had been struggling with the situation for twenty minutes.

After that, I found a dog in the backyard of a house. I suddenly recalled that my dog liked other dogs. I thought that she came close to the dog if she saw the dog and I could catch her.

I didn’t know the owner of the house, but I knocked the window from the backyard to call the owner. The owner was surprised, but when I talked about the accident, she took her dog to me. When my dog saw the dog, she was pleased to come close and I finally caught her. I was very relieved and appreciated the owner and the dog.

Posted for Chinasa

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

After reading "The Man Next Door"

Describe some one you have lived with & how they influenced your lifestyle.

When I was going to abroad and study Chinese in Tianjin, China, I have lived with two girls. We have own rooms and share the kitchen, bathroom and living room. One of the girl is Korean-American. She speaks English and Korean a little. Another girl is Korean. They can talk with Korean each other. As I couldn't speak Korean, I had to use Chinese to communicate with them. It gives me many chance to speak Chinese.

The Korean girl was good at cooking. She often took care of me for breakfast and ask me whether I had a break fast or not. She often cooked some steamed rices and Korean pickle. I ate breakfast together with her. After that I need to have a breakfast before going to school or company. Sometimes I couldn't eat something which wanted to eat or couldn't speak Chinese well but these experience influenced my lifestyle.

Posted for Reiko

Monday, 21 July 2014

Workshop No. 5: Class Management & Lesson planning

          My third instalment in a series of reports on the IIEEC Teacher Training Program. I do apologise for such a big wall of text in advance, if any of you are able to go through the ordeal of reading my ramblings I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Class Management & Lesson planning was presented by Naoko Saitio and it's an area of my teaching that I currently wish to develop the most 

         Classroom management is crucial to creating the most optimal learning environment for your students, whilst a solid lesson plan is something every teacher should be equipped with in order to transition between activities smoothly and to avoid spiralling into a state of panic when things don’t quite go how you imagined. This workshop covered how to manage our classes in the most effective manner as well as how to build lessons plans that give the students the motivation and incentive to improve their English. A good lesson does not solely depend on the teaching ability of a teacher, having a successful lesson means that you must be able to plan accordingly and have the ability to stay composed and encourage your students no matter the circumstances. I must confess that classroom management is probably the aspect of my teaching that needs to be improved the most so I listened very intently and was very busy scribbling notes throughout this session.
            We covered several key topics when considering classroom management such as; discipline, praise and motivation, the use of classroom language and also the use of the mother tongue. Let’s start with discipline. It’s usually quite straight forward to spot the “problem” pupils; maybe they prefer to roll around on the floor instead of take part in the lesson or would rather continually blabber on in their native tongue. A good way of avoiding these situations in the first place is to make sure the students are always engaged and focused on the task at hand by having active student centred lessons (a good lesson plan comes in handy here!). However times will arise when you will have to discipline your students, and we were instructed to consider the “good” and “bad” ways of disciplining our students. We should avoid comparing the student’s behaviour to each other’s whilst not continuously scolding a repeat offender as your words will fall on death ears.
            Instead of resorting to scolding students, we can establish a set of classroom rules that outline the teacher’s expectations and what constitutes as acceptable or inappropriate behaviour. The students, as well as their parents, should be made aware of these rules and it is important to remain consistent when enforcing them. Additionally we can have the rules written and clearly displayed in the classroom to serve as a friendly reminder to the students, it is much easier to remind the students, or let them remind each other, what is expected of them rather than having to resort to disciplining them continuously. Telling students off should be kept as a last resort and avoided as much as possible. I always find changing your tone of voice when addressing misbehaving students works wonders, it also doesn’t hurt to arm yourself with a mean glare either.
            As for giving praise, we have to be very careful. If we give too much praise, especially undeservingly, students will begin to ignore praise as it becomes something that is expected and not earned. We were taught the importance of praise to promote motivation, as praise serves as encouragement, whilst being aware of “praise junkies” who become dependent on praise and recognition. By praising each student conditionally and subjectively based on their individual progress we can instil confidence and the desire to challenge themselves. By giving specific praise to individual accomplishments, we can show our students that the praise is genuine and that we are investing a real interest in them and what they are doing. This will lead to intrinsic motivation that comes from within, the students will become more willing to complete tasks and take genuine joy in doing so rather than doing them out of necessity.
            The point I found most interesting about classroom management from this workshop was the use of L1 within the classroom. Japanese parents typically prefer to send their children to classes taught by native speakers and this is reflected in many English schools in Japan primarily hiring native English speakers, with little to no focus on their Japanese speaking ability, due to the demand on behalf of the parents. However if we consider classroom management objectively, most of us will come to the conclusion that economical use of key words in L1 will in fact benefit the students as well as avoiding confusion when understanding the meanings of certain words or phrases. I always make a note to confirm the homework task with my students in L1 to avoid instances with uncompleted homework with the excuse “I didn’t know what to do”.
I am in complete agreement with this stance of teaching young learners, even though I sometimes have a bad tendency in overusing L1 when it comes to introducing a new game or activity. Let’s consider a situation I experienced where the use of L1 helped clear confusion: in one of my classes we were learning the phrase “I like” with items of food, the students came to a reasonable conclusion that the phrase was only associated when talking about things we like to eat as those were the only examples we covered during the lesson. When I asked them whether they like cats or dogs they all responded with looks of distaste and called out in unison “No I don’t!”, even though they regularly comment on how “kawaii” the illustrations from the textbook are. In this instance a quick clarification of “like” = “suki” resolves any confusion whilst minimising interaction in the native tongue. All it takes is picking out the key word from a sentence, not translation everything word for word, for the students to come to a better understanding of the English language.
Following in from the use of the mother tongue we considered the importance of classroom English. There are two types of classroom English that we must be aware of: a teacher’s classroom English and the students’ classroom English. Now hopefully the teacher’s classroom English the students are exposed to are along the lines of “Take out your homework please” and “Close your books”, rather than “Shut up!” or “Stop punching each other!” Classroom language is the most natural form of speaking that can occur within the classroom and should be used at every available opportunity, even if they are not taught as a part of the usual curriculum. Once the students become familiarized with the common expressions it deters the use of L1, there is nothing more infuriating to me than hearing “Nann pergi?” (What page?) for the umpteenth time having repeated “Open you books to page X” several times.  However, through responding to and using classroom language on a regular basis, these expressions will eventually become second nature to young learners allowing them to react automatically to instructions (or as the case may be being told off).
The final point to be covered was creating the ideal lesson plan, no easy feat as there is much to consider. Firstly we must look at the different kinds of lesson plans: long term plan, year plan, unit plan and daily plan. Considering all four of these lesson plans allow us to set realistic short long term goals for our classes and whether or not you and your students are able to reach these goals can also be used for self evaluation. If you were able to hit your target, what were you doing well and how were the students responding to your teaching. In contrast if you were unable to reach your targets you may be able to identify which areas of your teaching need improving or changing.
I was rather encouraged by the fact that my current lesson plans coincided with the suggested daily plan presented in the workshop, although the time I usually spend on the main part of a lesson (i.e new material) exceeded the recommended time allowance by two-fold. I’m unsure whether I am not using class activities efficiently and effectively or my teaching ability is not up to par but I find myself spending 20 minutes or so teaching and practising the main language focus of the lesson. Personally I believe that spending 8-10 minutes on the main part of a lesson is too brief to be able to sufficiently cover the topic and practise for fluency. So as on open question to put forward to those of you reading: How much time do you believe should be spent covering the main language focus of the lesson? Can it really be done in 8-10 minutes or is that an idealistic dream that most teachers may be chasing after for their entire career?
Getting back to the lesson plan as a whole, take careful consideration on how you will approach each lesson. How do you intend to teach the class: drills, group work, pair work, and extra resources such as games or worksheets? What extra resources/material will you need? There’s nothing more panic inducing than realizing halfway through your lesson you don’t have the right. How will transition smoothly between activities? What are your students going to be doing while you prepare for the next activity? Will your lesson be student centred with over 80% speaking time for the students? Or will they be jabbering away about how cool the latest episode of “Yo-kai Watch” was. This is just a brief list of seemingly endless things to consider for each lesson. And let’s not forget an after lesson checklist. How did your students respond? What needs adjusting?  What did your students learn? Mulling over your lesson plans afterwards grants you an opportunity to reflect on how well you managed the class and how you can make improvements to update your lesson plans for the future.
On some occasions however no amount of planning can prepare or save you from unforeseen circumstances that may suddenly spring up. Perhaps over half of your class falls ill, a student slips, falls and bursts into tears or having a busy day at school just takes its toll. Sometimes you have to accept that you cannot be prepared for everything and hope you can act on your feet confidently and automatically when the situation arises.  When I was put in these circumstances early on in my career I wish I had the understanding and hindsight I do now, but it’s the mistakes and bad experiences in which we can learn the most from.
 I feel that I have hugely benefitted from attending this workshop and by consolidating my thoughts onto paper by writing this report. Although my approach to lesson planning may not alter too much, I have gained a better understanding of how to manage my classes more effectively and highlighted my areas of weakness. Hopefully I can take all these and past experiences in my stride to improve myself as a teacher and a human being.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Bride Wore Black - letter from beyond the grave (after reading)

 Imagine Steve could write a 'ghost' letter to Kate...

My dear Kate,

I am sorry to leave you feeling lonely. But when you fell onto the ground next to the grave, I was very glad that I felt your real love for me.

Certainly I am a criminal. I was in prison at the age of eighteen. But my life was changed after I met you! I love you, Kate. You were always singing and laughing. I was always happy to be with you. I never feel you are noisy. If I will be able to be reborn, I want to get marry with you again.

I have a lot of enemies. But I did not notice that Bea deadly hated on me… It was my fault. She was a secretary of my dad, but I should not have invited her for our wedding. I needed to care about her feelings. Don’t blame Bea on my death.

And I was sorry about my mam. As you know, she was not hate on you. She just wanted me to marry her friend, Bea.

I love to see your smile. I want to see your nice smile again. So do not cry any more. You have nice mam and clever young sister. Smile again, Kate!

With real love from heaven,


Ghost written by Mio

Pass the cake, please!

YLEs use Sockpuppet app on iOS to activate a conversational exchange from English Time (OUP textbook) in English class.

Hotel front desk - checking in

Teens practice for that first overnight?!

Where's the bank?

A nearly successful attempt to get uncommunicative junior high school girl/boy to talk to each other! Trying to role play a basic 'in the street' exchange, asking for directions.

Pre-schoolers sing with Sockpuppet!

Want to get the shy ones trying? Use this app & tweak the voice pitch - and use one 'sock' for the group. Guarantee hilarity!

My classroom "What is it" on Sockpuppet

Great way to get kids to sing the song again from their English textbooks! My Wednesday afternoon pre-schoolers took the Sockpuppet bait!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

My schooldays

The building of my elementary school used to be the focus of attention as ‘futuristic’ in Nagano.

The heating facility used to the energy of Suwa hot springs. So I had no experience to see a potbelly stove until I entered Junior high school. I didn’t use to take off my outdoor shoes in the school building, although sweeping the floor was very hard. One corner of the building, the school entrance, was covered with a big glass window. It used to be shining and beautiful. Now, the glass is faded, and we can see shoe cupboards through that window. The school provides shoe cupboards for all students near the glass, because outdoor shoes brought mud dirt into the building.

The building was a true square and there were two small gardens in the center. My school used to have an elaborate garden. One used to be made with rocks brought from Yatsugatake mountain, which were made as a small Yatsugatake in shape. The other one used to be a flower garden, full of beautiful colorful flowers.

I used to be in a chorus club from 4th to 6thgrade. My homeroom teacher was a music teacher, and he coached the club. So me and half of my classmates joined this club. Every day, I used to sing songs with club mates after school, including weekends. In the last grade of elementary school, my club won Nagano 1st prize competition. NHK Nagano broadcasted this competition, and I watched this video with my class mates the next day. I was on TV. This was first time to watch myself on TV.


Between the Flags - after reading & I still can't swim!

I don’t like swimming. And I can’t swim the butterfly.

When I was an elementary school kid, I swam every day in our gym class during summer. We practiced mainly crawl and breast stroke, but we had to learn butterfly from the upper grade. We could learn it only for 5 days per season. Our teacher and our classmate who was a member of swimming club taught us. But I could not understand how to move my hands and legs. And there was not enough time for us to practice it.

But the last day, our teacher said “Now let’s swim the butterfly 25 meters without stopping! If you stop, start again.” I tried to swim hard and long time. I thought the goal was very near. But I noticed that I could swim only 10 meters! I was exhausted, and I could not keep swimming. Our teacher looked at me and said “Start again!” I thought my butterfly form was almost drowning, but my best friend was same level. I saw her swimming hard next to me, and I started to swim again. Finally I could swim 25 meters without stopping.

I think it is no problem for me not to be able to swim the butterfly. Because if I find a drowning person, I would swim crawl or breast stroke to rescue her, not butterfly.

Posted for Mio

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A day to remember - trip to see Matilda

Matilda (novel)
Matilda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In December I went to a musical called Matilda. It was brilliant! I went to the musical with my friend called Misha and her sister Tiana and their mum.

After school, Misha's mum picked me up in her car and we drove to the station. When we arrived at the station, we got on the train and went to the musical. When we arrived, first we had dinner, it was pizza and pasta. After that we went to the musical.

Matilda was very funny and it was very good story. The musical finished about 11 o'clock. We went to the shop and buyed some gift. After that we went home. I will never forget.

Posted for Rui (10)

Summer in Kamikochi - traveller's guide

Kamikochi (Photo credit: dwedelstein)
  • clear blue skies
  • lovely cool days
  • icy cold water
  • beautiful green forest
  • pretty, chirpy birds
  • friendly wild monkeys
  • secretive rare Ptarmigan
  • dangerous black bears
  • shy quiet deer
  • massive tall mountains
Things to do:
  • camping = safe, cheap camp site
  • hiking = enjoyable easy tracks
  • boating = interesting small boats
  • photography = beautiful natural scenes
Posted for Kaoru - who knows a thing or two about Kamikochi!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Workshop No. 4: Getting Maximum Results in Reading While Speaking

        My second in the series of reports I have written after completing the IIECT Teacher Training Program in Tokyo run by Ritsuko Nakata. As always feedback and comments are welcome. This workshop was presented by Naoko Saito & Junko Nakamura, entitled: Getting Maximum Results in Reading While Speaking

        The primal focus of the second workshop was how to develop the reading capability of young learners, an integral part of many young learners’ curriculum. Learning to read is no easy task, especially if you’re limited to 1 hour (or less) classes once per week, hence the significant importance of building a solid foundation by learning the English alphabet, the building blocks to becoming an accomplished reader, and their relation to sounds (or better known as phonics). From the alphabet we can build onto phonics and then progressing onto words and eventually sentences. If there is no foundation everything we build around it will crumble and fall, so it’s very important to get the basic right so learners don’t fall into bad habits early on. It’s also important to note that the students should know the meaning of the words and produce them orally before they attempt reading them. However, even just teaching the basic phonics sounds can be arduous and time consuming. This lead to the development of “MAT Phonics” so that students are able to, so they told us, learn all the sounds of the alphabet in just a few lessons. We were also told that in order to accomplish this successfully the students must already know how to say the alphabet correctly.
            The “MAT Phonics” method begins by teaching the vowel sounds in conjunctions with “MAT Vowel Actions”, these gestures helps young learners remember the short vowel sounds by replicating the shape formed by the mouth when saying these sounds. Next comes the consonant sounds. The consonants are split into four sound groups: “ee”, “e”, “ei” and “Mixed”. Once the consonants are split into their respective groups we implement something called “Phonics Math”, where we subtract the common group sound from the letter sound. For example the letter “b” belongs in the “ee” group and by applying “Phonics Math” we remove the “ee” sound to achieve the “b” phonic sound. Finally we have built our solid foundation and can move onto reading words and sentences by using these phonics sounds alongside some essential key words, some of which cannot be read phonetically (also referred to as sight words) that the students should already know such as; I, you, he, her, they, this, that, yes, no etc.
            Unfortunately I have had neither the time nor the opportunity to fully integrate these methods into my lessons. I have a habit on concentrating too much time on oral communication and not enough time on reading and writing, which is an aspect of my teaching that I want and need to change for the benefit of my students. On the other hand I have tried some of the suggested activities from the workshop, such as cutting up letters to piece together again and tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with our eyes closed. I am very interested using the “Phonics Math” method but I am slightly weary that the concept may be a bit too difficult to grasp for some of the students. I guess there is only one way to find out.
            Although I did find this workshop useful and insightful, I am still slightly apprehensive about including more time to cover reading and writing skills during lessons. It’s something the students need to be exposed to on a regular basis so that they can progress, but I am fearful that there are not enough minutes in each lesson to cover everything satisfactorily. The MAT method mixes reading and speaking at the same time, and I believe this is the tact I must take to achieve a balance of reading and writing activities within my lesson plans. It is not enough just relying on the textbooks and workbooks as sources for reading and writing practice, I must diverge more from what I have become accustomed to by including supplementary reading resources such as the Oxford Reading Tree series or the Oxford graded readers.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Workshop No.3: Know Yourself, Know Your Students

Over June and July I have participated in the IIEEC-Oxford University Press Teacher Training Certificate Program in Tokyo run by Ritsuko Nakata. For each workshop attended their is an additional task of writing a report. Even though I am not intending to apply for the certificates, as I have no plans of attending all 6 workshops, I thought I would give them a go anyway. Any feedback or comments are very welcome.
Here is the first instalment of the workshop reports: Know Yourself, Know Your Students presented by Miki Sakai.

The focal point of this workshop was the “Multiple Intelligences” (also referred to as MIs, which is something I learnt about whilst completing my TEFL course), understanding the details of the different intelligences and how to apply them effectively within the classroom when teaching young learners. Everybody is said to possess each and every type of the 8 intelligences, albeit in different proportions. Unfortunately, especially in my case, just possessing these MIs does not necessarily make you intelligent. However by understanding the 8 intelligences, we are able to identify our students’ skillset to create appropriate lesson plans that coincide with their learning strengths by catering to their strongest intelligences. For example, a person who possesses strong “Math Logic” (or “Number and Reasoning Smart”) will be better suited to activities involving counting or logical thought, whereas someone who is “Bodily-Kinesthetic” (or “Body Smart”) is more geared towards activities which comprise of gestures and bodily movement. By combining as many of the intelligences as possible during our lessons, we are able to improve our students’ aptitudes for learning English.
It is interesting to note that each of the intelligences can be trained or developed, much like any other skill, meaning we can turn any weakness into strength. Or at the very least develop it to a point where it is no longer considered to be a weakness. The MIs also interact with each other, often in complex ways; they are not so black and white.  Students may be accomplished in many of the intelligences and may respond better to tasks that integrate various skillsets rather than focusing on them individually. People can be intelligent in many different ways and we can come to realize this fact through the MIs.
Even before attending this workshop I have always made a point of having variety in my classroom by trying new fun and invigorating activities as often as possible. Sure it’s great to have a little structure and routine as well, but as we all know young learners can be quick to lose interest in repetitive activities, which can lead to a dull and mundane classroom environment. Having attended the workshop, I now understand the importance of respecting my students’ proficiency in the different intelligences, not just the intelligences I am most comfortable and familiar with, in order to incorporate activities that focus on my students’ capabilities as well as providing flexible lesson plans that utilizes the MIs that the students are most skilled with whilst also developing their weaker intelligences.
Now comes the important part, applying what I have learnt from the workshop into my classroom. From previous experiences I have found that a majority of students tend to be visual learners, meaning that many of my classes include activities that revolve around the “Spatial” intelligence. I like to use props and items of realia as visual aids where possible in place of flashcards and promote associating gestures with words or phrases, even if some may not seem all that conventional. Students respond much better when presented with a visual stimulus when introducing new vocabulary, whilst the gestures can serve as prompts for when the students are unable to recall a word or phrase. I have also found that at times students are able to remember the gesture associated with the word instead of the word itself, although this doesn’t mean they have learnt and memorized the words completely I still view this as progress nonetheless.
Songs and chats are also a fantastic way of involving many of the MIs at once, it also gets the students motivated and energised whilst allowing them to express themselves with their bodies. There are such a multitude of songs to choose from it’s sometimes hard to decide what to use! I tend to go with songs that allow the students to express their individual creativity while interacting interpersonally with their peers. One of my favourite songs to perform is “5 little monkeys” from Knock Knock English. It combines the “Verbal Linguistic”, “Math Logic”,  “Bodily-Kinesthetic”, “Musical”, “Interpersonal” and (to a lesser extent) “Naturalist” intelligences in just 1 activity. There is even a video version available on the “Super Simple Songs” YouTube channel that would then additionally include the “Spatial” intelligence. This song also gives me the opportunity to work on my monkey impression, which always gets a great reaction from my students. Some of my students probably think it’s TOO realistic.

All in all I found this workshop constructive and beneficial towards my personal development as an English teacher, especially for young learners. As well as learning about the MIs in more detail than I had previously, the workshop gave me the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and teaching techniques which I will be adding to my ever growing repertoire.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A nice song despite blurty boy - any advice?

Having a bit of a problem with 'blurty boy', who challenges every single thing I say, usually at decibels that would make a modern F1 car blush. Issues his own, contrary, edicts...continues a train of thought commentary on what he (and everyone else) is doing (or not doing), how much better he is at doing whatever it is we are doing, and that he has finished first etc.

If we throw in nose-picking, banging chairs, slouching, well-developed line of off-colour (L1) language & a weak bladder...well, I am struggling for a practical approach. Some days, it's just too hot or we've got an unexpected newbie in the class; that extra 5 minutes for 'focus, visualise the steps, have everything you are going to need to hand' evaporated and now I look daft trying to find the right track on the wrong CD. And so on. Oh, of course forgot to bring his own colour pencils & instead trashes mine/prevents anyone else from sharing nicely.

I'm amazed we managed to get this lovely little song squared away without getting shouty - think a tribute to the girls' patience and overwhelming niceness of the rest of the class members.

What do you do with alpha males in your YLE classes? Would love to know!

After reading about a wedding...The Bride Wore Black

Last autumn, my younger sister married and had a wedding.

In Japan, a bride and broom serve all guests delicious meal and give them entertainment in their wedding party. So, the bride and broom need to consider/arrange various issues/goods before wedding party.

I did a part-time job in wedding party for almost 2 years and my younger sister also arranged various issues with me and my advice.

My younger sister spend hard time before her wedding party, but on the day, she enjoyed her wedding party very much. I was very glad to see her happy smile and also enjoyed her wedding party very much and laughed all day.

Not just the wedding party of my younger sister, a wedding party always feel me happy and can hope truly that the bride and broom (sic) have a happy life.

Posted for Ritsuko

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

My idyllic place - after reading "Double Trouble"

There is a place, which is called, "Takabocchi" tableland in Shiojiri.

You can take Road 20 from the center of Shiojiri by car, and make turn to the East. After making turn, the road is going to be narrow and winding. The road to get Takabocchi tableland is not so far, but as the road is wild, you may feel nervous, and may think the road is finishing.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the view will be clear, and it's the Takabocchi tableland.

In summer time, you can see pastured cattle. When you walk to the South, you can see Suwako lake in your below view and Fuji mountain if you are lucky. When you walk to the North, you can see North Alps mountains. The bank of clouds is near you and move fast. The contrast of white clouds and blue sky is brilliant. The temperature is cooler than city area, and wind is fresh. In August, there is horse race. It's not so big festival, but you can hear foot sound of horses, and can see the exciting race so close.

I like the place because the color is beautiful, and clear air refreshes me. However, I don't think I want to live there because winter is too hard to live. The road is closed during winter, so I don't really know how hard it is, but it must be cold and heavy snow. Although it's hard in winter, I definitly recommend there to refresh your mind in summer.

Posted for Yumi