5 simple tips for English classes

There are a number of really simple techniques that I tend to use in almost all my classes, so I thought it might be interesting to put some of them down here.

The questionnaire


1. Use name signs for attendance, to learn student names, and for classroom management

I first wrote about this in 2006! Still using it now though, with the addition of the technique below that I got from my partner in crime, Daniel E. This tip is best for teachers that teach a lot of students, who basically are not able to learn names under normal circumstances.

2. Assign students class numbers to help with classroom management and paperwork

For medium-sized classes and larger, it can be really useful to assign students a class number, to be used in addition to their existing student numbers, etc. Basically give each student a number, starting from one. Have them put it on everything that they hand in (notebooks, worksheets, exam papers, etc.). You can collect them in order or just put them into order quickly after you collect them.

Then, when you come to mark them, you can work through them quickly making a note of grades in your excel sheet or markbook.

Returning the papers is also easier as they are in order. You can pass them out if students are in assigned seats, or leave them at the front in piles (easy for the students to find theirs as they are in order).

3. Dictate questions instead of giving students handouts

I used to think dictation was horribly old-fashioned, but have come to realise that the reason it’s been used for centuries is that it works πŸ™‚

Recently I’ve been dictating questions to students instead of printing them on handouts, and dictating homework assignments. It takes a bit more time than just handing out pre-printed versions, but this way the students get to work on their listening and writing, and end up thinking about the content more.

A really easy change to make.

4. Put students in groups of 3 for group work

I used to do group work with groups of four or even (gasp!) six. The inevitable consequence of this is that some students end up doing nothing for long stretches of time. However, working in pairs means that some students can be stuck with an unskilled or unmotivated partner.

Groups of three seems to be the sweet spot, and ensures that no-one can hide from the activity, and students are less likely to be stuck with an uncooperative partner. Threes also minimize the chances of two friends bypassing the activity to continue a previous conversation!

5. Use a visible timer for activities

I have started using a countdown on my computer for short speaking activities, and find that it frees me from having to ‘guesstimate’ when to wrap things up. Also, students know how long they have to keep talking for, which makes it easier to give that one last push.

I like the online stopwatch in full-screen mode, either showing the computer screen to students or using a projector to do so for larger classes.

How about you? Do you have any good tips for other teachers?

Oxford Day 2013

I’m really pleased to be part of Oxford Day 2013, to be held in Tokyo on November 23rd.

oxford day 2013

You can see more information here.

My workshop is from 13:00 to 14:00:

Maximising input through extensive reading and listening resourcesΒ (Room 2)
Teachers and learners all know that the way to get better at English is to get a lot of input (through extensive reading and listening) and practice (through speaking and writing). The hard part is actually doing that day in, day out. One important factor is whether learners can find content at their level that interests them. This 60-minute workshop will introduce a variety of resources, both online and off, suitable for all levels, as well as how to best introduce them to learners in a way that encourages and motivates.

It really is a great lineup, it’s free, and you even get a complimentary lunch πŸ˜‰

Register here, and I hope to see you there.

Work the System – book review

(I reviewed this book previously on my book reviews blog, but am re-posting here as I think it might be helpful to readers)

Work the System

Work the System, by Sam Carpenter, is a book with a very simple premise: it is possible to vastly improve your work and your life by concentrating on systems.

In a similar vein to Tim Ferriss, Carpenter emphasizes the gains to be made when everyday tasks are optimized and automated. He advocates writing down step-by-step instructions for any task that has to be performed regularly.

The premise is obvious, but after just one reading I have identified dozens of areas in my own life where I can apply this. The upside seems enormous.

For teachers, this would involve writing a class manual for your students that describes all the tasks they must perform.Β At Tohoku University, thanks to the mad organizational skills of my colleague Dan E., we already have something like this, and it makes teaching almost effortless.

Essential to entrepreneurs and small-business owners, this book should also prove useful for classroom teachers. Extremely recommended, unless you are already a happy productivity ninja with a great life πŸ™‚

Get a Job Teaching English in Japan

Get a Job Teaching English in Japan

My second ebook, Get a Job Teaching English in Japan, is free on Amazon Kindle for the next couple of days. It’s aimed at people new to Japan, but I would be really grateful if you would grab a copy and leave an honest review on Amazon. The book is available in all the Kindle stores and you should be able to find it with a simple search.

If you have any comments about the content, please let me know! One of the nice things about Kindle is that you can fix mistakes after ‘printing’.

Thanks for all your support.

How much do you want it?


This post came out of a conversation I had on Facebook with my friend Mark. It reminded me of something I believe, and showed me how it applied to various different aspects of life in the same way.

We were talking about financial independence (which I define as not having to work for money because your basic needs are met by passive income) and it struck me that this is almost exactly the same as English ability.

Pretty much everyone I know would like to be good at English. If I could give them a magic pill (or upload it to their brain, a la Matrix) not one of them would turn it down. How to actually get good at English is not really a secret, either. Do a lot of reading and listening in English, speak as much as possible, and after enough practice you will be fairly competent. The thing is, few people are willing to put in the time and effort to do this.

Much like financial independence, which comes from spending less than you make and investing the difference. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be financially independent, either.

As a teacher, this is kind of tough for me.

I am not going to make much difference here. All my students want to be good at English, and most of them know what they should be doing to get there. They just aren’t motivated enough.

So I guess my job is to cajole, persuade, inform, and support. Maybe I can get a few more people to take the red pill πŸ™‚


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