Category Archives: getting started

A month on TPRS

Well, almost a month. Time to take stock. What’s happened?

Today, I taught two classes of EFL, both without a textbook and in one I used a song. For the rest of the time, it was just me talking and asking simple questions, using information supplied by the students themselves. TPRS works.

And I haven’t even really started telling stories yet! Just today, I made up a story using student input and used it as dictation. Some students were volunteering interesting alternative versions, but I did not feel comfortable using them, as the main character in the story was one of the students. Shame! Their suggestions were more vivid than mine.

I’ve noticed a few things:

  1. I need a backup plan, in case I dry up and run out of ideas during the class. Having a backup plan – some non-TPRS material – helps me relax and so far I’ve only had to use it once.
  2. I need input from students, and a good way to get it is to ask them to write freely (on any topic) for a fixed amount of time: usually 5 minutes.
  3. How to use the students’ input? I’ve been doing the simple and obvious: making simple statements, then asking questions about it, then personalizing the questions, e.g. “Ms A gave her father a birthday present. What (do you think) she gave him? [Then…] Do you give your father a birthday present? What?” etc
  4. The key to TPRS is personalization. In fact, I’m starting to think that personalization is the key to good/successful teaching.
  5. In one class today, I did a 15-minute spiel on pronunciation, because  a colleague who co-teaches that class had asked me to (and she said students had asked her). It was boring. I completely lost a key “barometer” student (who actually may not be that low in ability, but he’s only interested in drawing manga): he just slept through the whole thing, and I could not really draw him back in successfully even after I reverted to TPRS after the pronunciation lecture and practice.
  6. Trying to teach pronunciation, or a grammar point does not work well because it’s hard to get students interested in it. If they are not interested, they do not respond, and that gives me less input to work with; plus I don’t know if they understand or not.
  7. Talking about students themselves works well. Referring to things they did or said works well.
  8. I teach two different levels of freshmen. The higher level need (obviously) more challenging input, and at first that was difficult for me: I could not think on my feet quickly enough to come up with only slightly more complex sentence structures. After a while they got a bit bored with the “yes/no” questions or the easy choices.  It took me a while before I was able to spontaneously create complex (i.e. with subordinate clauses) questions. Even now, it’s hard for me to “change gears”.
  9. Class prep time is waaaaay down: 5-10 mins, usually just before class, skimming through their free writing for tidbits of personal information I can use. This in itself is a godsend.
  10. Ben Slavic’s books and blog have been a great help. I highly recommend them. Them and Blaine Ray’s Fluency through TPR Storytelling.
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Blogging with students (4)

Because the task I described at the end of my previous post, proved a little too challenging for my students, I re-cast it (see below). I’m trying to lead them to an understanding of web 2.0

What is good blogging?

  1. Visit this blog, then this one. Which is better (more interesting, more useful) do you think? Why is it better?
  2. Now visit this blog, then this one. Which is better do you think? Why is it better?
  3. Now visit this blog, then this one. Which is better do you think? Why?
  4. Now go back to the blog you chose in question 1. Write the answers to these questions on your blog.
    1. Who is the blog author?
    2. What is his/her name?
    3. Which country and town do they live in?
    4. Do you want to write a comment on their blog?
    5. Why (or why not) write a comment?
    6. Is it easy to write a comment?
    7. If you write a comment, can the blog author reply to your comment?
    8. Can the blog author contact you?
    9. How?

I followed this up with a quick look at the BBC websites which invite readers to post their photos and videos.

Here are some news photos for you to see from the BBC: 1, 2, 3.
Who took these pictures?
The BBC lets readers send in their photos (see here). What do you think about this idea?

I feel like I’m re-inventing the wheel here. Thousands of people have probably already put together a list of instructions and tasks for EFL students beginning blogging, and they’re no doubt all much better than my attempt. But I couldn’t find any suitable ones in an hour’s worth of Googling. If you know some, or want to collaborate, please drop me a line.

(Credit: a very warm thanks to Aaron and Sean for lending me their students’ blogs.)

Blogging with students (3)

I then set them the following task:

Look again at my blog entry British Sports News. Then answer the questions below on your blog.

  1. Good blogging is NOT:
    1. a diary: Dear Blog, Today I got up at 6.30. I had
      a cup of coffee for breakfast. I brushed my teeth. I went to work by train. Then
      I came home. I had dinner and went to bed at 11 pm.
      This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your blog).
    2. Today, I visited this website. It was interesting. Then I visited that website. It was interesting, too. This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your
    3. Today, I found this news article. Please read it:

      Police have confirmed they are now investigating the discovery of two car bombs in the West End of London. Police said the second device was found in a Mercedes hours after the car had been given a parking ticket in Cockspur Street and towed to Park Lane.Another Mercedes, with a bomb made up of 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, had been found outside a nightclub in Haymarket at 0130 BST.Both devices were similar, viable and clearly linked, police said.At a news conference on Friday evening, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said the discovery of the second device was “obviously troubling”.“There was a considerable amount of fuel and gas canisters, as in the first vehicle. There was also a substantial quantity of nails,” he said.

      This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your blog).

Woah! This was hard, this required thinking!

Blogging with students (2)

This post follows my previous entry on Blogging with students.

Today I had another session with the one class I teach this year where we are using the Internet as an integral part of the class. Yesterday, I wrote a model blog entry in order to

  • encourage them to write in English
  • show them what I expect in a blog entry

Because part of this course is reading news articles in English, vocabulary-building is obviously key. Having attended a workshop given by the creators of Lexxica last year, I signed up for an account, created a group for my students and today had them take the Lexxica vocab assessment test, V-check. It is really quite impressive. I also invited them to play with the games and flashcards and to write a brief response on their blogs.

Apart from the course title, I have been given no directives, guidance or objectives for this course, which will not surprise those who read an earlier blog entry on instructional objectives and university EFL classes (in Japan). So I have to make my own.

Although it’s a little late (almost at the end of the first semester!), better late than never, eh? I’m making my own list, but I thought I would ask the students what they expected from the course. This isn’t as dumb as it sounds (really!). (If you agree this isn’t dumb, skip to the next blog entry).

Over 10 years ago, when I first started writing course descriptions (because there weren’t any), it was because I was interviewing English native-speakers for part-time positions and they kept embarrassing me by rudely asking “where’s the course description?” Imagine! I approached my Japanese colleagues about this, first to check that there weren’t any, second, to obtain guidance and third to see if the department could show consistency and fairness by creating course descriptions for all the department courses, not just those taught by English native-speakers (the furriners).

Guess what I found out, boys and girls? Oh, Japanese teachers don’t need course descriptions; they already know what to teach. How? From the course title.

So if it’s called “Eigo Hyougen” (English Expression), for instance, everyone knows that it’s a writing-in-English class to be taught mainly in Japanese and asking students to translate discrete, context-less items from Japanese into English. Got it? How come you didn’t know that? The joys of living in a high-context culture.

So you see, as participants since birth in this high-context culture, my students are likely to have a much better idea of what this class is than I do.

Asking them is also a smart move because, even if they don’t know, in this culture it seems that often the standard is what people expect; therefore, if I first find out what my students expect from this class, and follow that, I probably won’t go far wrong.

(An example: if a course has a title written in Roman script, and is taught by someone with a non-Japanese name, then it’s probably “Eikaiwa” (English conversation), regardless of what the course description says. I recently heard of the case where a university year-book was being produced and photos and short profiles were being prepared for all the teaching staff, of which there were quite a few non-Japanese, some of whom taught Engineering, some of whom taught English. Regardless, all the furriners had the caption “English instructor” pasted under their photo. They’re furrners, right? What the hell else they going to teach?!? What planet are you from?!?!)