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This article has been written by Jane Wolff on behalf of Sopris Learning who develop learning resources for children & schools. They offer many tools & resources including an algebra assessment & a literacy curriculum.

June 05, 2012

“Excitement” keeps the students hooked

Teaching English in Japanese culture centres can oft be a thankless task. As one of my experienced teacher friends once put it: “The old ladies are there to spend time with each other. You’re just the entertainment in the background.” The analysis usually holds true, with students demonstrating precious little loyalty, regularly disappearing from the register without explanation, or suddenly declaring at the end of a class: “This is my last lesson. Goodbye.” At least I can use such quotes in a future lesson on “conversation killers.”

True, the culture centre textbooks provide scant motivation to continue studying, a frequent headache for my company managers who simply don’t have anybody on hand to design independent materials. Culture centre students have been absolutely conditioned, since poring through the laborious grammar books in junior high school, that speaking English must involve holding a textbook firmly between your quivering fingers. With some classes I have been able to break this mould; with others I am fighting a battle with the hopeless optimism of Satsuma rebels.

Not by coincidence did I seek to liven up this week’s lessons by focusing on the word “excite,” rather than use the textbook. I was of course trying to insure against future leaving announcements or silent departures of class members by attempting to discover what actually excites them. And the beauty of teaching eikaiwa is that one simple idea can actually transform into a completely different lesson which develops a whole range of useful skills.

When asking the question: “What do you find exciting?” it suddenly occurred to me that the present continuous was the only form of “excite” that the students recognized. They knew neither that a verb existed, nor of the noun “excitement.” As for the adverb “excitable,” I might as well have been speaking Swahili. A quick scan of the several thousand lesson memories in my brain recalled that no text had even bothered to venture outside of teaching “excited” and “exciting.” Worst of all, most students were even confusing these two.

So after ironing out the “person is excited, situation is exciting” point, we moved – as I so often do – to link the key words with relevant situations in the students’ lives. The average age is over 60, so many of them have recently been introduced to “excitable grandchildren” – the example of my friend’s baby excitedly throwing his birthday cake off the table always elicits raucous laughter.

The Olympics is being ferociously covered by the Japanese media every day now, so we also talked about which athletes “excite” the students, and why. (It’s never a proper lesson without expanding opinions, of course!) The prospect of a Japanese sumo wrestler winning the championship for the first time in six years was a cause for “much excitement,” while high-school English lessons contained “no excitement” whatsoever.

Thankfully, by exploring the possibilities of “excite,” the students began to excite themselves a little more. Let’s hope the excitement continues as they chatter away over post-lesson coffee.

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I think "excitable" is an adjective.

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