Be a Better Teacher

For ALTs who want to be better in the classroom.

As language teachers, there are four skills we have ensure our students develop. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The best ALTs understand that success lies in getting the foundations of these four skills right.

One part of our jobs as ALTs is to introduce and promote culture. Arguably more important though, is to understand the culture of Japanese students, particularly when it comes to communication activities.

It's an inevitable part of the ALT classroom experience. The questions that cross the boundary from innocuous to invasive or even offensive. And these questions may not be directed at just you. Here's some tips on how to handle these occurrences.

If you work as an ALT in the public school system, whether you like it or not, you're playing custodian to the next generation. Your job may be to assist the home-room teacher teach English, but your responsibility is to help the children under your watch grow into adults who can participate in the international community they will inhabit. Teamwork is now and will be a part of that future.

Many language teachers in Japan complain that they are employed as over-qualified CD players. Especially in junior high schools, JTEs often ask ALTs to read this for the students. This gets old and you may even start to wonder why you're doing it when there's a CD player right there? Well, here's something you can do to impress your colleague, focus students attention and get them actually listening to what you're saying, and most importantly, differentiate yourself from a recording.

If you teach English at elementary school in Japan, you'll probably be using Hi, friends! Most of the Lessons in this text book follow a four part structure. For ALTs that visit schools once a week, that means each grammar point lasts four weeks. Seems like too long? Personally, I think it's about right.

When I first started teaching English in Japan, we didn't have textbooks for elementary students. Then we had Eigo Noto. Now we have Hi, friends! When I first started, each lesson I taught at elementary school was unto itself - the never continued or related to each other. They were also very vocabulary focused. Grammar was an afterthought.

Did you know that motivation is the primary trigger of language acquisition? And that motivation differs student to student? It seems so obvious but there was a time when academics assumed students all had the same level of motivation for learning a new language. Crazy right!

Often the work of an ALT, especially at junior high level, is likened to being a tape recorder. We're asked to read things out loud so that students can repeat after us. This can get boring but if you consider the purpose and potential benefits of this activity, you can increase the value to the students of this activity.

One of the biggest challenges teaching English in Japan is communicating with students (and teachers) in class. Some of us choose to use the crutch of Japanese to help with classroom instructions and communication, while others are die-hard for the full immersion English only approach. But then it's very easy to start using Japanese-English rather than normal English. What is the difference? Which is better?

I'm not a great people person - actually I'm a bit of an introvert. It's probably no surprise that I find it challenging to approach people who I don't know well for meetings that will always be tainted with language barrier awkwardness. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.

A common place where students can slip is plurals in common phrases like "I like bananas." or "I have 2 dogs." You'll often hear them missing the "s" at the end. Here's a few tips to teach plurals in elementary school.

If you teach English in the Japanese public school system at Elementary level, you probably work or have worked alongside at least one homeroom teacher (HRT) that gives the distinct impression of disliking English (or at least, teaching it). In some cases, there's nothing you can do but in most the reason and solution for better classroom interaction and a more enthusiastic homeroom teacher is simple.

Presenting in pairs is a way to lessen the burden of presenting things in front of the whole class. Even though doing solo presentations is a good confidence builder, it is challenging speaking in a second language and solo speaking just makes is stressful when the main goal of an English lesson should be to get the students talking!

If you teach English at a public school in Japan, you know that not all students are eager to participate all the time. These easy to implement steps can encourage elementary students to participate more in your classes.

When I started teaching English in Japan, I think the students got some good communication time with me. I had no idea how to teach, even less Japanese ability and so what I did was talk to the students. And without any idea of what they had studied so far. During warmup Q&A's, the class teacher would often tell me "Sorry, they haven't studied that grammar yet."

Splitting the class into teams and giving points to create competition is a great way to get kids enthusiastic about an activity. Kids love competition. But there are some things to watch out for.

Oftentimes, our roles in class are thinking up games or activities to make practicing a phrase or short dialogue set fun and kid oriented. But there is the other English that you should also nurture in your class. The every day English, also known as classroom English - it's what the students use as part of the lesson but isn't the lesson, it's what helps communication throughout the class.

Your first day as an English teacher in a Japanese school can be nerve wracking. Not only are you dropped into a new work environment with new people (and for many of us) in a new language. On top of that, the first time you step into a Japanese class room you will be asked to teach your first live lesson! - The good news is it's not that bad, and the tips below will help you get through it.

We often use warm-ups in class, whether teaching elementary, junior high or high school. A bad warm-up is no fun for teachers or students and can set a mood that's hard to shake. On the other hand, an effective warm-up that hits these three main points will set you up for a successful class that leaves students looking forward to their next English lesson with you.

English pronunciation in Japan is generally at quite a low level. This is because Japanese students of English tend to rely on the katakana pronunciation of English words.

The katakana pronunciation can make it hard for certain words to be understood by a native English speaker but the reverse problem occurs too. Students also have trouble understanding words spoken in a natural, native English speaker's accent.

Introducing - a new and growing project.

Free, professional development self study modules and writing for ALT's.

Also: proofreaders needed!