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Summer Sun, Sleepy Students

Try this group project to motivate your students during the hot summer days.

By 3 min read 1

As I sit here in my blazingly hot teachers’ room in my school in Osaka, I am grateful for the small mercy that is the school air conditioning unit. Thankfully, now that temperatures have consistently been over 30 degrees for a few days, my vice principal has deemed it hot enough to switch on the air conditioners, much to everyone’s collective relief.

However, in the classrooms themselves, it is usually at the discretion of the individual teacher whether or not the cooling systems go on, or students are simply expected to “grin and bear it” as it were. Putting this as diplomatically as I can, let’s just say that for some of my colleagues, the idea of what constitutes “too hot” is quite different from my own ideas of excessive heat.

As a result, sweaty, overheated classrooms with students even more surly and apathetic than usual will pretty much be the norm from now until September, when things begin to cool a little once again. For any teacher, especially for a subject requiring as much unbroken concentration as English does, this can be extremely problematic.

So, how does the conscientious English teacher maintain a working and productive classroom in these conditions? It’s a puzzle that almost all English teachers in Japan will struggle with over the next couple of months.

Here is one idea to help get those students more motivated.

Of all the grades of students I teach, I find that my junior high school 3rd graders are perhaps the most apathetic. The lower level students have already given up by this point and conceded that English is beyond them. Conversely the higher level students are too concerned with the impending high school entrance exams, many of which don’t even have a speaking element to them.

To overcome these twin handicaps, I have got my kids into project work. Prior to coming to Japan I worked as magazine editor, among other things, in Hong Kong. I found magazine journalism, with its mix of writing styles, diverse content base and genuinely intriguing day to day changes in topics to be something far more interesting than usual coursework. So, I’ve got my 3rd graders working on their own class magazines.

To keep it simple, each student only needs to write an article of between 150-200 words. In return for their hard work, during the 5 or 6 weeks of downtime I have in the summer, I will edit their writing into a coherent publication that they can keep as a souvenir of their final year at school. It may also make an interesting folio piece they can present at future further education or job interviews. Certainly my own high school magazine played a big part in helping me land my first job as a newspaper copyboy when I was 16.

Editing the magazine together isn’t that difficult either. If your computer has MS Publisher, or a similar open source software, you can throw a magazine together in a couple of hours.
Of course, our English classes are supposed to be communicative, so my Japanese colleagues were, at least in the beginning, a bit reluctant to do what ostensibly appears to be a purely written activity.

However, there is much more to the journalistic craft than just writing. I’ve got my students having group discussions, brainstorming ideas together, and then presenting those ideas to their classmates during our weekly “news conference”. The kids were a bit reluctant at first, but so long as you let them write about the things that interest them, motivation remains relatively high.

I’m not going to lie and say that a magazine project is a magic bullet to solve the problem of student lethargy, but please consider giving it a try. You may be surprised by the results.

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  • Geoff Steele says:

    This is a great idea. Students will remember this kind of stuff. Nice work!



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