Friday, 28 June 2013

Run for the hills! YLE training in Yamagata

 You might think driving to Yamagata on a Friday night after classes is a bit of a fool's errand, but that exactly what I was doing this time last week. Although it's a long way (a tank of gas or 550km) it is very straightforward...Nagano, Niigata, Aizu, aim for Sendai & turn left. The cricket had just started (perfect time difference to England) & my iPhone could pick up the live radio commentary all the way. Bliss!

I found a quiet place to sleep in the car, and had a day of YLE examiner training to look forward to nice & early Saturday morning, at MY English school, owned by my friend Ryan Hagglund.

I really enjoy training teachers who teach children, because they generally do not try to over-complaicate things, and are dealing with YLE classes on a daily basis. Seeing the child-friendly nature of the exams for real is usually met with very positive comments and the realisation that the format of the materials is very familiar to their way of teaching...and does not require any massive re-invention of the wheel to help their students be successful in them. What is the point of teaching to a test, after all?

After a full day Saturday, we all went out for a pint or two, as well as a frog. Not too much the worse for wear (well, me anyway!) we practiced on Sunday with volunteer candidates for both the YLE exams and the adults. Such practice is really useful for the trainee examiners, as it piles on the pressure being a lot more realistic than practicing with each other.

Tired, satisfied, I pointed the car east, then south, then west, and south again listening to more cricket, delighted that England were winning and that we have half a dozen re-certified examiners in the Tohoku region. Well done team!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Of drilling and music in YLE classroom

I was thinking about drilling last week, and not just because I've got a hole in one of my teeth...and I put  the idea into my 'blog about this soon' folder. This folder is just next to 'go home & eat dinner' in my head, and I think I must have been hungry that evening.

I just came across Martin Sketchley's timely post on his really good blog ARGH!!! on drilling which reminded me I had something to say! Martin's post is here by the way, and I especially agree on using music to do the hard work. A couple of the other ideas are new to me, but as our landlord complains about noisy kids (yes, he's a real gas) the full-volume one will have to wait a while. Find Martin on twitter as @ELTExperiences

Devon Thaggard of Super Simple Songs fame is an exponent of using music all the time - warmers up, coolers down (if that is a proper phrase I don't know!), scene shifting & transitioning, background & subliminal input...all of which I like but I find myself up & down like a yo-yo doing that, and so do this once in a while. But I do like to use his songs a lot - check out some of our Audioboos here.

Songs obviously have rhythm, and I enjoy the challenge this brings to my learners as they are in (L1) habit of giving each consonant the same weight, and not elliding (joining words together). Enunciating nicely yes (I hope - they are copying me after all!) but not getting whole chunks out quickly enough or with too much "oomph" (my favourite technical phrase in EFL since my CELTA course!).

The other day I was introducing my YLs to the this/that way of a song in English Time 1 (OUP). The children already knew the vocab, so simple matter of sticking the flashcards out of arm's reach (around the room, spread out a bit). Having never hear the song before, I just asked them to listen and touch or point at the approriate card. Windmills! Second time was more co-ordinated, and they wanted to join in (fine - not me forcing them too, and they wanted to know what the other words were...OK, I gave them!). They wanted to try again and do's working!

The lyrics for the songs are in the back of the classbooks, which I really like - and they are also indented to identify different 'parts' in back & forth or question/answer chants.
This is a flower
       That's a bird
This is a flower
       That's a tree......
This makes it really easy to assign parts to students individually or in pairs/little groups, reading their 'bit' and hearing the other bit (a slow read through, focusing on actually reading - remembering? - the words). And then press play for a full speed go with all the words in, emphasising the this/that distinction as a 'battle'. Replay quickly with roles switched, and the little troopers will be singing all the way back to home :)

Here is a very impromptu audio grab of our efforts - remember, this was the 1st time they'd come across the song!

Check out all our Fotobabbles at

Drilling is not a dirty word in my EFL is just nicely disguised as 'fun'!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

#ELTchat - teachers working outside the box/professional development

As my last class was cancelled at the last minute this evening - ongoing business meeting (again - what can be so important at 8pm?) I was able to join in a 'conversation' that I have missed for several weeks.

How can you have a 'conversation' on twitter? Sounds barmy, doesn't it? Well, frankly, yes, it does. But, if you use a regular schedule and use a consistent hastag (#), then you can achieve/join a forum to discuss pre-decided topics. You can lurk, ie just watch, without joining in/sharing...but if you are 'brave' and dip your toe in, you get an awful lot more out of the discussion.

So this evening I realised I was listening to the cricket (not accidentally - England are playing South Africa at The Oval!) and that I could participate in the #ELTchat "chat", that happens (for me) every Weds night. I usually can't, and although there is a summary written up aferwards, I feel I have missed a chance to get involved - you don't write to people after a party you didn't go to, do you? Reading about it later is not the same as chucking your hat on the ring! So, with my Tweetdeck still working (opinion about Tweetdeck being scuttled later) I joined in.

The thing about twitter is (at least with peers) that you are not 'at' nor obliged even to respond. Contrast that with, for example email. A very good definition I read lately of email is that it is a 'to do list drawn up by other people'. And I hate that. If I send an email, I am going to end up with xyz number of extra things to do that I do not want to do - at the very least acknowledge/write a reply. I don't know about you, but I need time to think about stuff like that - be in the right mood, have the time to find attachments, craft the thing in such a way that I don't end up with yet another inbox stressor to deal with...

A twitter discussion = a topic I have decided is relevant to me...or a discussion about a topic by a bunch of people who I think are relevant ( I don't know who they are in advance, but they will be using the same #hashtag to identify the topic/discussion) is very empowering. They shatter geographical boundaries, overcome local insularity, and flatten playing fields.

Twitter chats also happen at the speed you can type; usually any 'chat' will be over in an hour. I find I need a second device necessary (my iPhone to respond) while following on a primary device PC using Tweetdeck (I wanted to use Monitter) to keep an eye on the ongoing feed. Otherwise, my response speed (unconfident) can mean I have missed 5 minutes of 'chat' and have become irrelevant/late. Sometimes people reply to you directly, in mid-flow....great! You have been heard, your answer is valuable, your public - peers - await!

So, while I did not have dinner tonight with my dad - in Japan for a week (or my kids, as usual) - or actually have dinner at all (school owner syndrome?) I instead found myself having a very impromptu & high speed chat about teachers & managers. Given that you can only tweet 140 characters in one go, you have to be very concise. Given that you also only have one hour - and multiple participants with a time line moving on quickly - you also do not have time to 'consider'. And I love that. You really do get 'gut' reactions - not rants or ambushes. Imagine a phone conversation with your phone card running out - and you want to say something. I have yet to engage in a chat with 'my' people that has not been an enormously positive experience.

Caveat. I am engaged with a professional group - not a social one. I am an adult, and I do not take bait or react to bullying. That itself is something you have to be old enough/smart enough to recognise. I do not give a shit if somebody I cannot identify says something negative. I do not identify specific examples or people. I take a few sessions to take the temperature of the group - see how well it is moderated - and to check who the bigger fish are. Are they my actual peers (do they have public profiles? Do they have many followers? Do they 'rant'?), is the discussion fair, will it be useful for me?

Tonight I was engaged with a "tight" group of people. I have taken the time to check out my industry, build a list of teachers around the world I think have valid/valuable opinions, follow #ff links and read blogs. I have noticed which contributors are fair, respond to others, share extras eg links, respond by naming @person who said something, welcome newbies etc. And to get involved, I have replied to the @person and used the #hashtag and from there I am in the middle of a conversation...mine...I am being retweeted, favourited, replied to and asked follow up questions. That's OK - I am 'on my topic'. If the conversation has moved on (and it will!) re-join. Maybe you did not read the topic carefully enough or your first message 'missed'. Keep trying (and leave space for  retweets - only use 120 characters) & remember to include the #hashtag!

Tonight, I was in a very high speed conversation with teachers/managers working in Dubai, Greece, Australia, the UK, South Korea, Finland & Croatia. There was no 'you are the expert' or 'you are stupid', 'I have a PhD' or 'Who are you?'. Instead, I was asked to explain (my 'shorthand' not the same as everyone elses) or to give examples or to expand. Some people retweeted my tweets, others were 'favorited'....and others got no response at all! Relax - none of us can be the eternal font of all wisdom!

I learned a lot of useful things from my "one hour of free-time" tonight. I also came across a stack of people on twitter I would like to get to know/follow/pay attention to. I also started to realise who some of the 'big hitters' are. I started a conversation with somebody I never had any chance of talking to otherwise...

And that is the beauty of twitter. I don't get teachers who don't get twitter. I really don't! The next last most useful resource for EFL teachers was The Guardian Weekly...back in the steam age!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Old Flames!

I try to avoid going to the office as much as I can on Sundays...I spend enough working Sundays away from home with exams & JALT.

But, I would drop everything for Ayako if asked - and she asked. As she came up the stairs with her big sister - last taught by Anna-sensei - we found her YLE Starters certificate on the wall. 2004??? Blimey! I need to get a new speil for my YLE training courses, as I often cite Ayako in them. She is profoundly deaf, yet trampled the listening & speaking parts of that test (you'll have to delve into this blog's archives for more). She is one of my heroes.

Already at uni, Aya-chan wants to study English again - overseas. I could help her easily if the British government had not started this ridiculous visa restriction that any potential English language learners have to already have at least KET. OK, so I am also one of the few school owners who knows what that is...and I also know that Cambridge English Language Assessment (formerly the artist known as ESOL) will enable her to take the test alongside fully-hearing candidates.

I am very excited that 'little' Ayako is going to bite off another massive chunk off "Can Do", and tackle a totally foreign country. Once again, this brave chick is doing a Captain Kirk, and boldly inspiring!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Let's read

With a thunderstorm in the air & humidity very heavy, my super learners were not really looking like a team ready to learn. Sweaty, sleepy & headachey, we broke out one of my favourite boardgames for YLEs, "Chip Oh"

Very simply a matching game, written words on cards to pictures on the board, with the aim to connect 4 of your markers in a line. I like to play this game with 'open' hands, to stretch out the game/encourage reading each others' cards and building a strategy...Always milk your resources!

Teaming up works a treat too, takes a lot of the pressure off BUT increases the competitiveness, as learners can work off their partners' strengths etc. Lazy Jim-sensei refused to help anyone this time, as all words were within 'reach' of our reading abilities, and some realised they actually could do an awful lot better than they thought. Empowering game, unexpected winner ( Me!...but Shunta did all the work!), and relaxed kids. Win Win

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Death of Karen Silkwood

After reading 2.

It was dark when Karen left the factory. She was driving carefully along the road to the hotel and then she saw the lights of another car behind her. Karen was very frightened so she drove faster.The car came right up behind Karen and began to hit the back of her car again and again. Her car left the road and turned over on its side. Karen hit her head and died.

A man got out of the other car and opened the door of Karen’s car. He took the brown envelop from Karen’s bag and then he drove away. 

Posted for Chinasa 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


After reading#4

Both the Celts and the Vikings came to Ireland from other countries - the Celts from France and Spain, the Vikings from Norway. Both were strong fighters, but the Celts also made beautiful jewellery.
The Celts arrived first, thousands of years ago.
They brought with them Celtic games, like hurling, and also music. The Irish language, which some people still speak in Ireland today, is Celtic too, but it is very different from English. There are other Celtic languages in wales, Scotland, and parts of Europe.
The Vikings began to attack Ireland around 800. Often they attacked the monasteries and stole the beautiful things that they found there. But some Vikings stayed and built towns. Waterford, Dublin and Cork were all Viking towns.
They also went to live in the north of Ireland in Ulster.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Chocolate - after reading confession

I read "Chocolate" and I did after reading#1 (crosswo

I love chocolate and I eat almost every day. But I've never think about the history of chocolate. I am surprised that Maya people used chocolate 1500 years ago.

Posted for Miyuki

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Love of a King - after reading

I read “ The Love of a King” and chose After reading #3.
Do you agree or disagree with these sentences?

1.    Edward was right to marry Wallis. Love is the most important thing in the world.
->It’s quite difficult question for me to decide, although I agree this sentence. A lot of people said that Money is important and I understand Money is necessary to live. The women can marry with rich man without Love, she just wants his money to live rich life or buy everything she wants. I cannot do that, I want to spend my time with person I loves.
2.  Wallis married Edward because he was rich and famous.
    -> I disagree with this sentence. She loved Edward not as a King. I think she knows that rich and famous are not important for her because she experienced married life with two men.
3.  The British Royal Family were very unkind to Edward.
-> I disagree because they have long story, if they accepted to Edward to marry Wallis, it damage the dignity of British Royal Family. I think Japan has also such a problem that the emperor should be a man etc.. People think about to do in the future.
4. Photographers should leave royal families alone. They need a private life just like other people.
 -> I agree with this sentence. Excess chase royal families like paparazzi lead to tragedy that Princess of Diana was died.  I think they need the private time as a person.

I’ve never known Edward story. Before reading this book, I watched “ The King’s speech” which is Edward’s brother Gorge story. He could not speak in front of people, so he practiced to be able to make a speech grandly. In the film, Edward is depicted a playboy and he doesn’t care country. It’s important for him to be with Wallis. After watching, I thought Edward is not good man, but I read this book my thinking was changed. I’m impressed that he abdicated and he married divorced women Wallis. During I was reading story, I could feel Edward spend good life with much Love for his after age. And I think if I would be faced to decide money or love, which I choose. I wish I could choose love like Edward.

Friday, 7 June 2013

ABC dominoes