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Kids World

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

February 15, 2004

Good Manners in the English Classroom

KidsOne of the reasons I teach English in Japan is to give students the basic skills which will enable them to make friends with non-Japanese in a simple, natural way. Most parents who send their children to my school think English is the most important education I can give their children. But I place social skills and good manners above language acquisition. One might be able to speak English well, but if that person lacks social skills, he or she is not going to be able to make a positive connection with non-Japanese. As E.E. Cummings expressed in his poem entitled "Since Feeling is First",

"Since feeling is first,
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you..."

Since I am a believer that feelings come before language, I place a higher emphasis on good etiquette in my classes than I do on English skills. My students sense this from me and do their best to exhibit good manners; once I can recognize that effort from them, their progress in language flows.

How does one do that? One does it by setting an example. Teachers who treat their students with respect and politeness are good role models for their classes.

The first thing I do is let my students feel like they are guests in my domain. Efforts are made to make the classroom welcoming, colorful, esthetically pleasing, cheerful, warm and beckoning. This means the room is decorated with posters, maps, pictures, and charts. There are a few plants by the window and a small vase of flowers on my desk. The blackboards shine, and the room is tidy and clean. The students can sense effort was made in preparation for their arrival. Music welcomes them when they enter the classroom. Such an atmosphere sets the tone and subliminally sends the message to the students that they are valued guests in my territory. And how do people act when they are guests in someone's home? They demonstrate good manners.

Before they enter the room, they learn how to say, "Hello, may I come in?" to which I reply, "Yes, you may." This phrase is a good base for other requests, such as, "May I go to the office?" or "May I go to the restroom?"

The students also learn how to ask me or their classmates for things, such as, "May I borrow your pencil/eraser/dictionary?" Either I or the students reply, "Here you are," and the person who asked responds with, "Thank you."

When I ask the students to hand in their homework, I thank each and every one of them who hands it in to me. When I hand back notebooks or workbooks to them, I say. "Here you are," and they reply naturally, "Thank you." This is done without fail each week.

When I ask a student to hand out the notebooks or workbooks, I notice two interesting things. First, I hand the batch of materials to a student and say. "Would you please hand these back to everyone?" The student usually says, "Yes" with a smile even though I doubt he or she can understand everything I am saying. But equally interesting is that the student handing the materials out says to the other students, "Here you are," without my telling him/her to say that. And the other students naturally say, "Thank you." This scenario is a great boost to me in that it tells me I am doing the right thing.

When we play games, I teach the students to say to the next person, "It's your turn," or "You go." Mastering phrases, such as the basic ones mentioned above, does more than teach them English; it empowers them by enabling them to socially interact with their classmates in a positive way, a pleasant way.

I know that if and when they travel abroad, they will not hesitate to thank the waitress when a menu is handed to them in a restaurant. They will not hesitate to ask the hostess at a house, "May I use the bathroom?" They will not hesitate to say to a foreign friend playing a game, "You go." Practice makes perfect. In each class I try to foster good feelings and good manners between the students and me and the students and each other. I encourage you to make space for positive social interaction in your English classroom. Your students will thank you for it.

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