Mastering The Dreaded Demo Lesson

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Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

With April, and the new school year just around the corner, city boards of education and various recruitment agencies all across Japan are nearing the end of their recruitment cycles for spring 2015. However, as is the case every year there are still a number of last minute ALT positions up for grabs.

For most ALTs the interview itself is often a bizarre experience. Many of the questions can seem irrelevant and the methodology behind them is, at best, questionable. Yet, for most teachers, navigating the Q and A section of the interview is relatively easy. The trickiest part is the teaching itself. These days more and more companies want to actually see your teaching ability during the interview process. Time constraints however often mean that these “demo lessons” are reduced to little more than 5 minutes at most.

Considering that a typical public school English class lasts 45-50 minutes and is usually taught alongside a Japanese teacher who may or may not speak English, how can we recreate our teaching style accurately in only 5 minutes, on our own?

Today, I will draw on my 10 years of experience in the industry to try and offer the best advice I can. The list is by no means exhaustive but hopefully it will give you some inspiration. Here are my top 5 tips for nailing that demo lesson.

1. Positivity goes a long way.

This may sound very clichéd, but a big smile, and a bubbly personality can make a big difference. It is important to remember that recruiters of ALTs may not necessarily always be looking for the best teachers, rather they are looking for the people who will best fit in their classrooms. As such the personality of the ALT applicant can play a huge part.

As such the personality of the ALT applicant can play a huge part.

Be warm, be outgoing and be sincere in the way you speak during your lesson. Sometimes the premise you are presented with may seem ridiculous. “Imagine you are in a room with 40 boisterous elementary school kids”. This isn’t always easy when the reality is in fact not 40 young kids, but 4 or 5 middle-aged somewhat stern looking board of education bureaucrats. Again positivity and a willingness to “go with the flow” are essential elements here.

Also, be mindful of how you speak. A voice that is slow, clear, and with an easily audible, though not overbearing, volume will certainly leave a good impression. It’s also important to consider how your accent may sound in this regard. Most Japanese recruiters prefer a voice that is as neutral as possible. Coming from Glasgow, this certainly wasn’t easy for me in the beginning, but if you take the time to carefully consider each word, and keep your English as simple as possible, you will soon find yourself being understood far better.

2. Dress to impress.

This may sound really simple, but it is a minor detail all too often overlooked by candidates. Men should always wear a suit, preferably black, with a white shirt, and a conservative tie (no Disney characters please). Women have a little more leeway in this regard, but perhaps a ladies business suit with a plain white top is the best way to go. Wearing a full suit may not always be practical, especially if you are interviewing during the Japanese summer time, but it is an essential way to show interviewers that you take the job seriously.

Also, be mindful of the fact that Japanese are often more sensitive to smells and odours than in other countries. Wearing too much deodorant, perfume or cologne can often be just as offensive as not wearing enough. Beware of wearing any fragrance that is too pungent.

Planning is crucial.

This is possibly the most important part of the demo lesson. In most cases you will be given an outline of the language point or vocabulary you are expected to teach in the demonstration at least a few days ahead of the interview. Do not try to “wing it”. Plan plenty of time ahead. Sketch out a minute by minute plan of how you will teach the lesson.

Do not try to “wing it”. Plan plenty of time ahead.

Remember that your plan must include each of the following steps. 1) Introduce the language: make sure students know what they are going to learn today. 2) Set a logical context: Show a real situation where this language can be used. 3) Present and practice the language. 4) Do an activity to check comprehension.

Also, always allow some time at the end to check comprehension and answer any questions the students may have. If you can prepare your own materials beforehand, such as flashcards or games, then please do so. Again, this will show the recruiters that you are serious about the job and that you have given your preparation a lot of thought.

Some teachers like to use realia (real life objects) in their lessons. Whilst this can be fun in a full class, for a 5 minute demo lesson I would advise against it. Cultural differences, or a lack of awareness may mean the recruiters don’t fully understand what you are talking about and explaining it would take too long.

Don’t talk too much.

Many training manuals on English teaching have vastly different ideas about the right level of TTT (Teacher Talk Time) in a lesson. However, in the 5 minute demo, it is very important that you give the students time to practice, as such I would strongly recommend that you do not talk for any more than 50% of the lesson.

At least half of the time should be spent allowing the students to practice and then do an activity. Make sure you also give clear feedback and correction where necessary. Often, one recruiter will take on the role of the slow, or mischievous student, to see how you react. How you handle this particular student could go a long way to determining if you get hired or not.

Do not use any Japanese during the demo.

Since we hope to work in a school in Japan, it is only natural that we may wish to show the recruiters that we have taken some time to learn the language. However, the demo lesson is NOT the time to do this. In some cases using Japanese during the demonstration lesson is considered an immediate fail.

In most cases, you will be asked to give a short self- introduction either directly before or after the demo lesson. This is when you can show off your linguistic talents. If, like me, you haven’t yet reached the level where you can confidently speak Japanese on the fly, you may wish to script this out beforehand.

These are just a few ways to improve your chances at an interview. Perhaps you may have better ideas. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
To all those interviewing this year I wish you good luck and happy hunting.

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  • You started numbering the points but stopped at 2 🙂 +1 the last point: SPEAK SLOWLY. Even if you gauge that the students can understand (and would appreciate) more natural english your instructor might cite your increased speed as nervousness and mark down your score. I had this happen to me once and I wanted to flip a desk.

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Oops, Thanks for pointing that out 🙂
      Yes youre right about the slow speaking. That really is so important. Especially if, like me, you have quite a strong accent.

  • Ronald Ivan says:

    Hi Liam. Not sure if you mentioned this already but is there someone who’s going to play the part of the student or students? I’m not sure what I should do if I finished delivering the content in 2 minutes and still ‘teaching’ when I’m suppose to let the students practice and the five faces just sit there.

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Hi Ronald,
      What you should do during this time is have the students do an activity. Maybe a card game or something to practice what you have taught them. Your rolate this time is to monitor the students, support them and correct any mistakes they might make. Good luck

  • Hi! This comment is actually for one of your blog entries (which I can’t seem to find anywhere 🙁 ) about teaching in Japan, where you mentioned about some of the things new English teachers need to watch out for when they go to Japan. I am currently awaiting the results of an application, and the company I applied to said that the monthly rent for a single occupancy apartment would be around 55,000 yen, and that it would be automatically deducted from my salary should they hire me. I wanted to ask whether the price they quoted is fair, and that if that kind of thing is normal practice for Eikaiwa schools. Thank you very much in advance! ^_^

  • Liam Carrigan says:

    Glad to hear i could help 🙂 Hope the demo went well.

  • scuttlepants says:

    I really enjoyed this article- even though I am unlikely to actually need it, reading about the process was fascinating!

  • Jon E. says:

    Lalalala…don’t mind me. Bookmarking for early next year. 😀

  • DaughterOfWind says:

    I wonder why I shouldn’t use Japanese? Isn’t it better for children if I teach them in their mother language? I’m rather proud of my Japanese and I don’t see myself speaking English all the time during lesson…

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      9 times out of 10 you will be paired with a Japanese teacher in the classroom. It is there job to explain what you say in Japanese. And actually most studies show that total immersion in the language is the best way to become proficient. By all means use your Japanese to talk with your colleagues outside of class. But in the classroom i strongly recommend not speaking japanese. Whether we agree with it or not, this is the prevailing methodology in Japanese schools now, and as an employee in that school system you will be expected to follow established protocol in this regard.

  • Stephen Tetsu says:

    Great advice, particularly the “don’t talk too” much one.

    You have to remember that you’re being hired to help people speak English, not deliver monologues about the importance of (insert relatively mundane grammar point here).

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Thats it exactly Stephen, ive seen so many teachers who could really make good ALTs mess up on the interview because they talk too much. The combination of being nervous and also overly enthusiastic also compels us to talk too much from time to time.

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