5 Ways to Energize Your English Teaching in Japan as Winter Approaches

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English conversation class

With the novelty of the new school term wearing off, the weather turning chilly and the year starting to wind down, it can be a struggle to keep things upbeat in the classroom. If you find yourself lacking inspiration at this time of year, don’t despair. Whether you work as an assistant language teacher or at a private language school, here are five suggestions for things you can do to rev up your teaching and bring some fresh ideas into the classroom.

1) Ask to observe other teachers

Watch how they go about their work. How do they structure their lessons? What tasks and activities do they use? How do they set them up? How do they give instructions? What happens before the tasks? What happens during? What happens after?

How do they incorporate reading, writing, listening and speaking skills into their lessons?

Look at what works for them and what doesn’t. What would you change if you were teaching the class? How could you bring elements of this teacher’s techniques into your own lessons? Can you learn anything from their classroom manner?

Don’t just look at specific activities. Take note of general approaches. Do they pre-teach vocabulary? When and why? How do they approach feedback — do they correct errors immediately or later? Are they mostly positive or mostly negative with their comments?  

If you can, convince someone to observe you and offer feedback on things you could work on. Having a conversation about teaching can give you insights from the mundane (“I need to speak more slowly.”) to the magical (“Wow! Good lesson planning really does make a difference!”).

2) Let the learners drive the lesson

Google “task-based learning” for ideas and prepare to step back from being the obviously dominant voice. Rather than always leading the class yourself, delegate responsibility to the students every now and then. Put learners into groups or pairs with a clearly defined activity to complete. Be available to support the students as they need it and look for teachable moments as you go along.

As examples of activities to use, you could task students with preparing a map of the city center, a map of major regional attractions or a guide to local public transport. You might ask them to create a menu for a dinner party, an itinerary for a trip or prepare an article for a newspaper about some aspect of local culture.

These things will help you to think about your teaching, give you new ideas and motivate you to do better for yourself and for your students.

A task-based, student-centered approach allows the pupils to take charge of their own learning and helps you as a teacher to test their ability to show initiative, work with others towards a common goal and use language to get things done.

3) Do some professional development

Consider taking an online course through Coursera, EdX, Udemy, Udacity or an in-person course such as the CELTA. Read a book on English language teaching (Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching by Jim Scrivener is an excellent start). Attend one of the seminars, workshops or conferences advertised on jalt.org. Join a teachers’ organization, Facebook group or LinkedIn forum. Read journal articles on topics that interest you. Engage intellectually with the teaching process.

These things will help you to think about your teaching, give you new ideas and motivate you to do better for yourself and for your students.

4) Find new five-minute activities and work them into your lessons

Set yourself a goal to introduce a new short activity into your classes every month. It could be a yes/no question game; it could be a short role play activity; it could be a listening or writing exercise. Try it out (with appropriate variations for level) with all your classes and see how they react. Variety in short tasks can provide a springboard for teaching, is great for reviewing previous language, can work well for lead-ins and gives students something fun and different to work with. For examples, Google is your friend or check out other articles right here on GaijinPot — like this one.

5) Mess around with the textbook

A creative approach to the textbook can be rewarding for both teachers and students. Things you can do include changing the order of activities, finding complementary video or audio material and making up worksheets of your own to accompany the text.

Using information gap activities that build real world question-and-answer skills can be a useful way to approach a text, while devising your own skimming, scanning and reading-for-detail exercises is helpful for building further reading and information gathering skills.

As a general rule, if you can get the textbook lessons to align more closely to the students’ lives and the real world, it will help to make the activities more fun, more interesting and more relevant.

So there we are: five suggestions for ways to change up your teaching for the year’s end. If you do find any of these suggestions useful, please let us know how you get on.

Do you have any suggestions on how to breathe new life into old lessons or perk up the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

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