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Be Nice curriculum EFL eikaiwa ES expectations junior high school kids language courses Language learning school management Teach Like a Champion teaching

Zero tolerance

I’m normally a fairly laid-back guy, and I am probably a ‘nice’ teacher. I see my role as being a coach, someone who can provide training, encouragement, and advice to my students so they can learn the skills of English. At university, I set clear (high) expectations and show my students how to meet them.

In children’s classes though, something wasn’t right.

I’ve been reading a lot recently. Kindle on a phone makes reading anywhere, anytime a breeze. I think I have probably more than doubled the number of books I read since I got it.

Two standouts: Teach like a Champion, which I have talked about before, and more recently Work Hard, Be Nice (about the Knowledge Is Power Program in the US).

Both of them talk about high-energy, high-expectation, zero-tolerance classrooms. I don’t have big problems with discipline in my classes, but they could definitely be better, and perhaps the techniques in these books could help me…

I want my classes to be exciting, the students to be motivated and enthusiastic, and the results to be spectacular. I have some students who end up amazing users of English, and some that don’t, but I think it is possible to increase the numbers of those that do.

Recently I have been experimenting with a two-pronged approach:

1. keep the students busy with achievable, interesting activities
2. firmly jump on any form of undesired student behaviour immediately

Examples of undesirable behaviour: hitting, verbal attacks on teachers or other students, moving around without permission, talking about things not germane to the lesson, playing with pencils or other objects, not singing, not participating in speaking activities, not doing homework, not following instructions, etc.

So far it is going really well. I think students like to know what is expected of them and what they should be doing. Being firm in enforcing the rules allows the students who are into the lessons to enjoy them more, and makes life easier for the teacher. The flipside, of course, as alluded to in number 1 above, is that it is also essential to keep students challenged and busy in class.

I am going to continue with my ‘firm teacher’ experiment and see how the students progress. I’m very excited to see how the classes go over the next few months until March.

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Building Blocks Library curriculum EFL eikaiwa ES extensive reading junior high school kids Language learning materials phonics readers Reading Review reviews teaching

Review of MPI’s Building Blocks Library

Full disclosure: I was asked to write some additional readers for this series last year, and they just came out. I’ll try not to be too gushy in this review.

The Building Blocks Library, published by Matsuka Phonics Institute, is a ten level series with 82 titles. The first four levels are written as phonics readers to help students start reading, the ones after that are leveled readers for extensive reading.

The good:

  • The same characters appear in many of the books, developing throughout the levels
  • Ten levels means that students can move up through the series gradually and read at their level
  • The artwork and production values are high and the books are attractive
  • Each level comes with a CD of the books read aloud: the CD is well made and the voice acting is good
  • Most of the books are interesting with varied story lines
  • The series is reasonably priced, especially considering they come with CDs

The bad:

  • There are not enough books at each level to meet student needs (this has been partially addressed with the new Level 0 and Level 1A sets, but schools will still need to supplement this with other materials)
  • The difficulty outstrips the content at the higher levels, ie they are difficult for ordinary junior high school students to read even though the stories probably appeal to students that age the most

Overall:

This is a very nicely produced series that appeals to students and is economical and easy to integrate for schools. The main drawback is that there are not enough books at each level to allow students to move up the levels smoothly -ideally students would be doing much more reading at each level before moving up so teachers will have to supplement this with other materials.

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e-future Graded Comic Readers EFL ES extensive reading high school junior high school kids materials readers Reading reviews

e-future Graded Comic Readers: Magic Adventures

I just received my order of a full set of e-future Graded Comic Readers (Magic Adventures) and am, so far, extremely impressed.

The series consists of 18 comic books over three levels (200, 400, and 600 headwords). The story starts off in our world, then goes into Magic Land, then comes back to the real world. The characters are children and it has a real Harry Potter kind of vibe to it. The artwork is very nice, and the production values are high. They also have exercises and a glossary in the back.

Each book has a CD (not mp3 thankfully) with various tracks: theme song, the story, listen and read, listen and repeat, key words and expressions, then a great one: read the story using prompts, making them ideal for homework or self-study.

The books are comics, so feel very fresh. The students I tried them with today (elementary and junior high school) really liked them and so did I.

This is my find of the week: great, fresh, reading material at a reasonable price (set of 18 is just over 13,000 yen before discounts).

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EFL eikaiwa high school junior high school Language learning materials reviews speaking teaching textbooks university

Jazz English

Published by Compass, Jazz English is a speaking textbook for lower-intermediate students. It works very well with junior high school students that have been studying for a while and are ready to take things to the next level in terms of speaking, as well as with high school and I imagine lower level university students. I have only used the first textbook, so this review does not address Jazz English 2, nor the companion workbook (which I am going to try soon).

The textbook consists of ten main units and three supplementary ones, with all units following the same pattern: new vocabulary, conversation prompt questions, a dialogue, a short reading section, a crossword to practice the vocabulary, a short reading task, exercises to support speaking, and a final speaking activity.

The focus of the book is for students to develop more autonomy while speaking, and to try to have longer and more complex conversations. It does this very well, at least in my experience, with students that have a solid base of vocabulary and English exposure, and who are motivated to improve their conversational skills. Our ‘advanced’ classes, consisting of junior high and high school students that have been studying for four or more years took to it very well.

This has been a real find for us this year, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for classes similar to the one described above. The course requires a lot of student input, so this book would not work well with unmotivated or reluctant learners.

Anybody else using Jazz English?