5 Oct 2010, 11:21pm
expectations university


Student self-introductions

I’ve been teaching in Japan for more than ten years now, so I have become very sensitive towards my students’ feelings. I try not to put them on the spot or under pressure to speak spontaneously, at least until they have had a chance to get used to me and the class.

However, last month I had the chance to visit leading universities in Korea and Hong Kong, and see what they were doing in English classes and departments. It may not be a fair comparison (many things, from the environment to class sizes to university expectations, are different) but I was surprised and impressed by how much the teachers there pushed the students. This made me change my attitude towards my own classes. After all, Japanese students will be sitting in meetings with their Chinese and Korean counterparts in ten years time, and at that point no-one is going to care about the special conditions in Japan with regards to English education. They are just going to be looking at the results: can you communicate effectively and get your point across?

Classes started at my university last week, and I tried something new in a presentation class on Friday: after explaining the syllabus and course guidelines, I had the students come up to the front of the class in groups of four and introduce themselves spontaneously.

It worked incredibly well. Because the students were in groups of four, we got through all twenty-nine of them quickly, and they surpasses my expectations completely with their short introductory speeches.

Many of them were funny, interesting, and engaging. I was able to get their names and make brief notes on each student in an interactive and informative way, and made all the other students take notes too. I suspect the fact that they all went through this together will make for a friendlier and more relaxed class, too.

This new (very old) activity is going to become part of more of my classes, I suspect. Does anyone else use this?

12 Oct 2010, 9:49am
by Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds


Hi, I've just found your blog through Twitter. How did you do the activity? Did you give them a chance to prepare, or did they just come up? And how did it work with coming up to the class in a group? It's a little hard to picture! They didn't introduce each other (which I guess is more common in US ESL classes if you're doing introductions using a small group activity), but stood together while doing individual introductions?

At any rate, it's great that it worked well, and I agree that it's really important (and difficult!) to try to find that sweet spot between helping your students challenge themselves and not pushing them so much that they shut down.

I was just reading a book from quite a few years ago about spoken Japanese (translated from Japanese), and the author noted that Japan-educated Japanese students were used to making spontaneous speeches about what they'd done during breaks, self-introductions, etc., but that returnee students who'd had most of their education overseas hated it and couldn't find anything to say. I was pretty surprised by that, but I guess if it's true, you might as well try to take advantage of it.

Hi Clarissa

Thanks for the comment! Between classes right now, so just a quick answer:

1. the students practiced a little first in their groups

2. yep, they were in a group at the front to reduce the pressure -I often do the same thing in staff gatherings, and it's always better to be in a group when doing self-intros 😉

3. spontaneous speeches are fairly common in Japan. I was completely thrown a few times in my first year here (the words 'and now Ben will make a speech' still cause terror) but you get used to it quite quickly.

My goal for the activity was to show the students that this was going to be a class where they are expected to be active and talk in English (for many of them, the first class where that is the case).


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