April, what a wonderful time in Japan: a time for new beginnings and a fresh start. That is why in this post I want to offer some ideas for adding to your current teaching style. I will first start by talking a little about current policy related to English instruction in public schools. Then I want to cover speaking and using questions to enhance your classroom. I will use some of David Paul’s information from his book Teaching English to Children in Asia. This book is a must read for anyone looking to work on bettering your students English ability. David has been a mentor of mine since the mid-nineties, and we use many of his products in our classes.
Public School English Policy
Getting Japanese students to talk in class is often a difficult task. This is despite the fact that the Japanese Ministry of Education has mandated communicative classrooms for years now. It is also calling for an earlier starting age (grade 3) by 2020. Even now, many public elementary schools start English instruction early in students’ academic careers. However, current experience of university students does not seem to show this increased oral communication.
I often here from Japanese English teachers that they would love to have a more communicative focus but just do not know how to do it. They also state that the pressure from parents and administration for passing high school or university entrance tests is just too great to deviate from grammar-intensive pedagogy. Below is some information that I think will help.
Questions & Speaking
Of course speaking should be a major component of our lessons and can be combined with grammar to create lessons that meet both goals of communication and national testing. When it comes to speaking, I like to tell my students that if they do not use the language they are no better than those students who have never had the chance to learn it. I tell my students that they need take an active part in their learning. Therefore, over the years I have developed a system to assure students are using the language as much as possible. This was taken from David Paul’s Book Teaching English to Children in Asia p. 10-11. It shows a format for what students should be doing in their classes.
I have modified this to use in my classes using questions and keeping a student centered classroom. Below is a simple 3 step outline.
Bloom’s Taxonomy of Questions
Here is a chart that shows a basic breakdown of the balance of questions. As you can see, the most useful is the knowledge and comprehension section (around 70%). This is where most of our questions will fall. This is the lower level questioning that will focus on remember and understanding prior lessons and general knowledge. However, as the students advance in their English understanding and ability, they will be able to tackle more advanced style questions of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Application in the Classroom
When I wrote my book (Easy English Expressions), I tried to keep this philosophy in mind. Most questions will focus on knowledge and comprehension in the first book. Therefore, I have designed my lessons around a simple format (see below) that is easy to adjust for each class.
These 3 steps are included in almost any of my lessons and are expanded as needed. These steps also allow a teacher much leeway in their lesson planning. Anyone interested in more details can email me for sample lessons. In my next post, I hope to continue with the benefits of using questions and having students take responsibility for their learning. I think having students ask questions not only gives them a chance to speak, it also stimulates deeper thinking about the topic.