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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

June 15, 2002

Four Helpful Hints

Today I would like to share with you four simple hints which have helped us at our school and may help you in your situation.

1. Students should be Making English "Noise" 75% of the Time
Kids Do create interesting and fun activities and exercises/activities which enable the students to take charge and try to speak English with their peers 75% of the time. They don't have to be speaking perfect English sentences; they should just be trying to master the mini challenges you give them, like saying their ABCs, counting, reciting the days of the week, doing their self-introductions, asking and responding to each other in simple English couplets (Can you ski? Yes, I can./ No, I can't./ Yes a little. Do you like snakes? No, I don't.)

Insisting students speak English 75% of the time offers three benefits:
First, the students get experience speaking English.
Second, the students do not depend on the teacher to listen to their English. They use it randomly with anyone in the classroom.
Third, the teacher gets a chance to observe the students and see them in action.

2. Don't Explain...Just DO!
Often when I do presentations for teachers, I am asked, "If you only speak English in class, how do you explain things to your students?" The answer is easy, I NEVER explain. I just do. What merit is there in explaining? Once you start explaining, you open the door for Japanese; when you or your students speak Japanese, you all leave the English "zone" which you have worked so hard to create. Children are so wonderful in terms of trusting us and doing what we require of them. Just do your English activity in an easy-to-undertstand way and let them take the giant leap and try.

3. Don't Feel You Have to be an Entertainer
Do not feel you have to be an entertainer; this is a mistake all beginning administrators and teachers make (Mombusho included). Yes, songs and dances are an important part of the curriculum but not the main thrust. If you focus on songs and dance, three problems will result:

One: your students will expect to be entertained all the time.
Two: You will eventually burn out.
Three: You are sending the children the wrong signals about English, namely that it is "showtime." When they meet a non-Japanese are they supposed to try to communicate or break out into a song and dance?

4. Your students are your teachers.
Really and truly, our students are our teachers. You can attend lots of seminars and workshops, read lots of books and search on the net for ideas. But in the long run, good lessons are what happens between your students and you. Each teacher, each classroom, each class is unique unto itself. Observe your students and learn from them which of your methods work and which ones fail. This is one of the reasons they should be "making English noise" 75% of the time. This gives you a chance to see how they do. If you are always speaking and the main attraction of the class, you do not have a chance to learn from them. Unleash your power to your students and let them soar because they can.

Helene Jarmol Uchida

Helene Jarmol Uchida is a veteran teacher with teaching, curriculum development and teacher training experience in the U.S., Greece and Japan. She is the director of the Fukuoka-based Little America English Schools and lectures at Fukuoka Kyoiku Daigaku. She holds the LATEM seminars every year in cities throughout Japan and is also the author of 'The Challenge Book', an interactive English book and CD especially created for Japanese elementary school students.

See also our Interview with Helene Jarmol Uchida.

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