Self-access centres in private language schools


I have always wanted to have some kind of self-access centre (room?) at Cambridge English. I feel it would offer a lot of value to some students, as well as make what we do more effective.

The room would have books, computers, and comfortable chairs. It would have nice lighting and be a quiet, pleasant place.

Students would come and use the room whenever they wanted, and regular classes would also include self-study time (students would have to spend 30-60 minutes of a 90- or 120-minute class doing self-study).

We may have the chance to create something like this this year as our current classroom is too small and there is very little real estate available in Sendai after the 2011 disaster so we have rented an apartment above the school to have classes in.

I would like to do something like this at university as well. For now, I think the best chance is to work with the library.

Does anyone have any experience of implementing this kind of system?

(photo is the Self-Access Centre at Kanda University)

We’ve thought about something similar as well and also need more space for our new school. How much room do you think such a self-access center would need?

Hey Ryan
We’re going to be using the kitchen and one room of the apartment (maybe 12-15 mats?). I’ll post pictures and a report once we get it started πŸ™‚

We tried something like this at Luna (language school) when we had a lot of space, inspired like you to put learning opportunities “out there” for children, teens, adults & patents to engage themselves with.

We put all our extra readers, board games, videos & DVDs, magazines etc within reach; PC & satellite TV, comfy furniture & a self-service coffee machine.

Result was very disappointing/annoying. Apart from a couple of signs with very simple instructions (like “put things back where you found them, please”) we did not want to make it “our” space. We did not assign a teacher or staff member to police it/be there all the time, although we teachers were around.When younger kids were there (and we were teaching), mums usually hung around too; we figured they could be relied upon to look after the basics, such as prevent children from running at full tilt into windows, playing dodgeball with Winnie the Pooh etc. My teachers & I did not know how to intervene when such aberrant behaviour became the norm.

Soft toys became missiles & limbs etc soon found dangling off. Furniture became an assault course, the sofa a bouncy castle. Books strewn all over the place & DVDs lost/scratched/used as child care replacement. BBC World news was always switched to TV home shopping channel or worse. The PC was unused but still broken. Board games battered & pieces missing in no time at all. Coffee machine was too expensive (for us) & too dangerous (scalding risk).

So, while I still think it is a great idea, the practicalities of looking after the resources you supply (and will have to repair/replace regularly) & who does that needs careful thought (and costing). Would love to have the brochure version!

Please let us know how your plan goes?!


Hi Jim
That does sound like a disappointing experience. We are not planning anything so ambitious. We’re probably going to limit it to students (JHS and SHS) in our ‘advanced’ classes. I am also planning to make self-study part of regular classes, much like Akio Furukawa does with extensive reading at his SEG schools. I will definitely report back on how it goes πŸ™‚

Great minds think alike!
Ben- have you spoken with Simon about this? I am not sure that he was involved in the set-up, but I know he had some involvement with the very centre you featured in your photo above.

Hi Cory
I have visited the SALC at Kanda, and spoken to the people that started it up. I’d still like to see something similar at Tohoku U., but for now a room at Cambridge will have to do!

Hey Ben,

I’ve been wanting to implement a Self-Access Center (SAC) at English Masters for some time now, too. Like everyone else, the main obstacles are space and capital. To do it properly, IMHO, you have to make a substantial investment into materials and incorporate use of the SAC into the curriculum (as you suggest above).

I designed and implemented a similar sized Self Access and Writing Center in the Graduate School of Materials Science at Nara Institute of Science and Technology before moving into my current position. It was a lot of fun, and it seems to be working out quite well for the graduate school. All said, we spent about 3,000,000 yen on the materials, including computers, ic recorders, listening stations, and lots of graded readers, graded listening materials, dvds (movies and tv series), and reference materials including dictionaries, writing manuals, style guides, etc. You could certainly start out with less in a language school setting, but I think it would be tough to justify a change to your curriculum (and presumably pricing) if you had materials valuing less than, say, 1,000,000 yen–just to throw a number out there.

As Jim’s account attests, I think you’d need to have a staff member supervising the center if it is going to be used by children. To be honest, I have a hard time seeing how this would work without chaos if many kids are using the center at once, even with a staff member supervising. Also, hiring a dedicated staff member for this purpose is a hefty expense that would need to be recovered elsewhere.

At some point, I hope to pull the trigger on something like this, but I am still a bit hesitant because I’m not convinced the average student is prepared to pay an additional fee in order to have access to such a center and yet the most sensible way to finance it would be to charge all (adult) students across the board.

Having said all that, it is absolutely clear that increasing comprehensible input is among the most important factors in accelerating rate of improvement in language school students, and a SAC would serve to lower the barrier to increased input and also encouraging learner autonomy. These are quite compelling reasons to go ahead with a SAC despite the financial considerations. We are a relatively high-end, JHS-Adults only language school, so English Masters is perhaps the ideal environment for a pilot run. You’ll be the first to know if we ever go through with it:-)


Hi Steve

Great to hear from you! It’s been far too long, eh? Are you going to be at the Pan-SIG or JALT National this year?

Would love to hear about anything you do at English Masters -you guys are extremely inspiring.

In our case, most of our students are kindy/elementary school age, so this would not apply to them. I am hoping to start a ‘Cambridge English Academy’, distinct to the Cambridge English Eikaiwa School we have currently, for junior and senior high school students who want more of an international education. We’re also thinking of going the other way, with a Cambridge English Playschool. More ideas than sense, eh? πŸ˜‰

We already have millions of yen’s worth of books and computers, so this would be a way of using them more effectively. Anyway, it’s likely to be a limited trial (there are only about 15 students in our advanced classes), so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted!

While I have nothing on that scale, I have a table and shelves in the waiting area where there are board games/puzzles and card games such as uno and a lot of David Lisgo’s cards. The kids are welcome to play with anything and as I am usually teaching only a few feet away they know that things should be played (a) quietly (b) in English. Works well as the puzzles are things they don’t play with everyday and the books are usually things we don’t use in class so it’s new and interesting. Games and puzzles as a bait and then they make the switch. Unsupervised would be a challenge at first but once the tone is set hopefully it would roll smoothly.

Hi Simon
I think we’re going to restrict it to the older students to begin with and see how it goes πŸ™‚
Also doing self-access activities as part of a longer class will hopefully help them build study habits.
I’ll keep you posted!


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