SRS, RSS, LMS: Online Tools to Boost Learner Efficiency

This is my presentation from the 2012 Tokyo ETJ Expo. Thanks to Oxford University Press for sponsoring my presentation and making it possible for me to attend.


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


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.

Nexus 7 Tablet Review

The Nexus 7 tablet by Google and Asus was finally released in Japan last month. I am a huge Google fan and am looking for alternatives to the iPad for the classroom. It was too good an excuse, so I went ahead and ordered one.

My wife has an iPad 2, and I will be comparing the Nexus 7 to that, as well as to my iPhone 4S. This is my first Android device.

In brief: it’s great. I really like the 7″ form factor. It feels much lighter and easier to hold than the iPad, and at just under 20,000 yen, it is less than half the price of the new retina iPad.

The good:

  • size and weight are much more user-friendly than the iPad
  • screen is good with internet, ebooks, and movies
  • Android OS is fast and fairly intuitive
  • 2000 yen credit for the Google Play Store
  • One movie and three books included
  • Lots of Japanese content on the Play store, including ebooks
  • E-reader includes an easy to use J-E/E-J dictionary
  • Skype is really easy to use
The bad:
  • Not as many apps as iOS
  • No Flash support! This is huge, as most of the websites I want students to use with this (WordEngine, Starfall) are flash-based
  • Not as intuitive as iOS in terms of navigation, etc.


I love this tablet. For reading ebooks, watching movies, carrying around with me, reading PDFs, accessing the Google online world (gmail, reader, drive, etc.) it is wonderful. I’m really glad I got it, and it will supplement my iPhone 4S for most of these tasks.

However, unless I can get around the lack of Flash support (there seem to be workarounds for it, but they are not official and involve some risks) we won’t be buying these for students to use in class. It’s a shame, as the smaller and lighter form factor would make them easier to use for children than iPads.

Basically, if you use Google sites like gmail, drive, and reader, if you read ebooks and need a tablet to take movies and music on the road with you, this could be ideal. As a classroom tool it is crippled by the lack of Flash support.

Anyone else tried the Nexus 7?


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).

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?

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • %d bloggers like this: