Richard's Blog Diary!

Take any problem in the World and it's invariably caused ( or made worse) by a lack of education. Too many kids hate school because it's too boring. So the aim of Genki English is to have all subjects in all countries taught in a fun, engaging and effective way.

While I'm on the road you'll hear about my travels, and when I'm doing studio work I'll keep you up to date with ideas, updates to the site and some of my favourite teaching resources. So if you want to find out what's it's like behind the scenes or how & why I do what I do or even if you're just nosey or a bit bored, have a read!

There's also a normal blog format of the diary.This is a bit of an experiment so please get in touch let me know what you think!

I'll update the diary as often as I can, so keep coming back. And of course whilst I'm away, the office staff in Japan are always ready to send off your CD orders just as soon as you send them in!

March 24th 2006 - Friday - Bangkok - Every school in Thailand!

I'm back in Bangkok because after watching last year's workshops and seeing the Genki English effect on even older teachers, the Thai Ministry of Education wants to put Genki English in not just a few, but every single elementary school in the entire country! Blimey. That is pretty cool. But with the enthusiasm the Thai teachers show, it's going to be really exciting.

And judging by my schedule for the next couple of weeks it also looks like they want me to personally train every single teacher!! Well, not quite, but they've set me up with several hundred teachers over the next couple of weeks. Right, better get an early night before tomorrow's big start!

March 23rd 2006 - Honolulu -> Tokyo -> Bangkok

You can't really get much of a cooler flight than today's, holiday resort to business center to Asian metropolis.

The last few days in Hawaii have been absolutely fantastic. I had expected to work a lot of the time, but with such a great group of people I ended up having so much fun I totally forgot about work for 3 whole days. Now that's something I've not done in ages. One of the cool things was learning so much from everyone, from how to play golf to treating the injuries from flipping the carts ( ice is apparently the best for almost anything), to ordering Margaritas and Martinis ( uberly complicated Stateside), to learning why beachfront properties are so expensive ( it's not the views, it's the sound of the waves), plus a hundred and one other conversations & experiences that made this week really fantastic, and certainly the best wedding I've ever been to! Thanks to everyone and big congratulations to the happy couple!

March 16th 2006 - Thursday - Hawaii - Even better

Yeah, I did write the title correctly, thanks to the wonder of crossing the dateline I had two March 16ths this year. If I was Irish and planned it a day later I could have had two St Patrick's Days!

I'm actually over here for a friends wedding, but I also have quite a bit of work to do, so what nicer a place to do it in! It's nice being in shorts again and it's so cool talking to the people here. There are people who work for the UN, Government Ministries, in Biotech or hospitals in New Orleans. I thought I was busy and travelled a lot, but that's nothing to the stories everyone here of of Africa, the Middle East or South America. It's a totally, totally different world to that I was in in England just last week!

March 16th 2006 - Thursday - Tokyo - Nice

Yesterday all the hotels on the island were full ( it's a small island!). So I was put up in a ryokan, which was nice and clean but I was feeling the culture shock. Most notably being freezing cold after stepping out of the shower ( no heating!), and the harshness of the fluorescent lights that everyone seems to use.

But last night they put me up a very posh hotel! Amazing views of the sea, fresh new tatami mats ( lovely smell), and gorgeous atmospheric lighting. So I was back in my "I like Japan" mood. Which was just as well as I had to fly back up to Tokyo and then head off abroad again...

March 15th 2006 - Hachijyojima - Back to school & 3rd graders from Mars...

After the past few months of doing computer work it was back to the fun part of Genki English, actually using it in classes! Today, instead of a simple kids show, I had three demo lessons. Each one would have two grades and I'd try and do as much as possible in the time, so it wouldn't be a true "example" lesson, but should hopefully give the teachers some ideas as long as they knew they didn't have to do it quite so genkily in their normal weekly lessons. . This school has been doing English for a while. They haven't used Genki English yet, but have some good ideas with materials based on, for example, the "Shingo Pera Pera" station book, which apart from the use of katakana is actually a good source of material and phrases.

First lesson was 5th & 6th, well you might as well get the toughest out of the way first! I'm not always comfortable about 6th grade lessons, as unlike their younger counterparts, it's impossible to guarantee a given lesson will work. But with today's kids I need not have worried! They were all very genki, and also quite cold so were more than happy to start off with genki stuff like the Good Morning song. Then after everyone was warmed up I did a bit of confidence building with them ( to stop them from using "Eigo wakaranai" as an excuse!). The teacher had requested the What do you think of ...? song, but they were showing signs of quieting down when I introduced new stuff, so I decided to keep it genki and go with the "I can do it!" song, which worked great and had them leaving the classroom with "I can do it!" flowing around their heads.

Then the next lesson was 1st and 2nd, and it turned out to be as perfect a lesson as you could ask for. Well, actually it was two, I did How are you? with the monster game which was good. They'd already learnt the "How are you?" question, and all I had to do was fix the "Fine thank you, and you?" rote answer that a guest teacher had instilled into them. The funniest part was when I asked them what the favourite food of the monster was and one kid shouted out "Melon!". Then we went on to do the Under the Sea theme with the sticky fingers game. They really nailed that song in only 15 minutes so I was very impressed. Going through the vocab looked like it may tax them a bit, but as soon as the song came in they became all genki again and were singing along to the "What you can see, under the sea?" lines without me having even taught them! Nice.

Then it was the 3rd & 4th grades, which are usually the best grades to teach; they have some experience and English they can use, but are still genki. However I'm not entirely sure what planet these 3rd grade kids came from. The 4th graders were usual genki, but interested, 4th graders, the 3rd graders acted like they had bought up a year's supply of Starbucks Lattes and drunk them all that morning. The plan was to do "Rock, Paper, Scissors", then to try the new "Do you have ...?" theme and finish with the Gokiburi game. It started off OK, but as soon as I started to ask about the pets ( it's always good to ask them and then pull out the picture card if that pet crops up, rather than simply teaching them in order), and they went mental, shouting out and going completely over the top to let me know their own pets! Now that's cool, I'm very happy to take the kids enthusiasm and channel it into learning the stuff, but if I had gone into the gokiburi game it would have descended into a total riot!! The 4th graders were also quite normal and not too over genki, so I figured I'd just calm the class down a bit. Usually I have 3 techniques for doing this. One is to introduce "Good night" into the warm up game, where they go to sleep when you say "good night" in between frantic rounds of stand up and sit down etc. The idea being you gradually increase the time spent "sleeping" and as their heart rates slow down, they get a bit calmer. But these kids were having none of that, and even after lying still for ages just bounced back!! So to plan B, tire them out!! So we did 10 sets of jumping whilst counting to 12, and another set of 10 karate punches, and even more jumping, shaking and moving around and they still had enough energy to rival a small nuclear power plant. These kids were untireable!! Usually in a lesson my plan C would be to do some colouring or worksheet type things as that usually works, but today I didn't have anything prepared. So I decided to just go with the manic genkiness flow, scrap the lesson plan and do "How old are you?" with mingle And even with all that jumping up and down they were still mega genki and bouncing off the walls at the end of the lesson. Wow, those were some very genki kids! I had school dinner with them at lunchtime and had to check the class teacher wasn't pouring bags of sugar into their rice.

Then in the afternoon it was the teachers' workshop. Most of the usual things came up, but also some interesting new questions. There were also requests for activities that don't require any preparation so in between the problem solving we did Newspaper Sumo, Leapfrog ( with the "Do you have ...?" theme ) and Lines. They were also impressed with the projects, and were really, really good teachers.

So it was a long day ( and I think I should market the stuff as "Genki Dieting" with all the weight I've probably lost moving around so much today), but very cool in a very nice location with great people. Then a quick shower in a great hotel ( views of the sea & volcanoes!), and a very nice dinner!

March 14th 2006 - Hachijojima - A Tropical Paradise in the Pacific

After I did Akita last year, I thought that having been to every prefecture in Japan would mean that from now on things would get a bit boring. I'd never again fly to a new airport, and my useless knowledge of where to find the nearest Starbucks in nearly every station in Japan would increase no more.

But no, it seems there are still plenty of very strange places left in Japan to visit! And today is one of them. It's one of the Pacific Islands south of Tokyo, that are technically part of the city, but when you look on Google Earth it's basically two volcanoes with a runway running in between for the 737s that make the 45 minute flight from Haneda. It's cool flying over though. Sea, sea, sea, sea, then all of a sudden this tiny little island! But nobody complains as they can reach city center Tokyo in less time than many people who live in the mainland suburbs.

I managed to get on the early flight today so was picked up by the teachers from tomorrow's school. As I haven't done any kids stuff in a while I agreed to do 3 demo lessons tomorrow, as well as the 3 hour teachers' workshop. Once we'd got everything sorted and prepared we had time to have a look round the island, which is pretty cool to say the least.

Apparently people first started living here after being shipwrecked and not being able to get away, which is certainly an interesting way for the kids to trace their roots! And it seems like the whole island is a massive science lab, with volcanic lava streams having flowed down to the water's edge, tons of amazing tropical fish and even glow in the dark mushrooms - I kid you not. The only thing I didn't get is that the tourist leaflets call it a "Tropical Paradise in the Pacific". Very nice, you might say.

Except today, it snowed....

March 12th 2006 - Tokyo - Location does seem to matter

One of the really, really nice things about my job is that I can literally do it anywhere. If I have internet access for email and skype, it doesn't really matter where I am. But as soon as I landed yesterday it seemed like everything just shifted up a gear. Whereas in Europe I was pretty much free to wake up when I like and go to sleep when I like and just get on with producing the new CD, as soon as I touched down yesterday it seemed everyone wanted everything doing straight away, from checking galley proofs to confirming flights to handling CD orders and about a million other things. Luckily jet lag seems to help, I wake up at 5 in the morning so can get all the normal stuff out of the way before everyone else is awake. I'll be glad to fly out again on Thursday at this rate!

March 11th 2006 - Fukuoka - 36 hours later

Well that was an interesting flight back to Japan. I left Leeds on Thursday morning and arrived in Fukuoka on Saturday morning! Two 9 hour stop overs aren't the most well planned way to travel, but I got a load of work done. Then usually on the flights I like the chance to catch up with movies and eat lots of nice food. Except on Thai they don't have TVs in the seats, and only showed one movie. Not the most fun bit of travelling I've ever done...

March 7th 2006 - UK - Busy, Busy

It does feel a little strange that I was PRing the blog in the newsletters this month, then I've been so busy I haven't had time to update it! But last night I finished off a new big project and got it sent to the factory, so if things go OK expect a nice announcement at the end of next week.

That's such a good feeling, stress free after working so hard for these last few months! And tomorrow I'm flying back to Japan.

March 3rd 2006 - Soundless breathing

From now on it seems like things are a bit more tricky to explain! My homework for today: trying to breathe without making a sound.

It's designed to open things up and release stress in your vocal chords. Try and see if you can do it. With all this new stuff I'm learning, I'd certainly recommend getting a voice coaching programme ( I haven't tried any out yet so can't give any recommendations just yet), or do as I've done and get a voice coach. Just like your students, it is possible to do it on your own, but for the motivation and feedback a teacher is really useful.

March 2nd 2006 - Steamy, Steamy

Part two of the voice tips series.... steam! If you feel your voice getting hoarse, get a humidifier for your room ( Argos sell them in the UK). Or before school in the morning, put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam from a hot bowl of water for 10 minutes. It works!

March 1st 2006 - UK - Speech Therapy

When experienced teachers ask me for a bit of advice, I always recommend singing lessons. This isn't to get your singing any better ( hey, I can't talk there myself!), but to help you use your voice and breathing more correctly. Very often teachers don't have the time to sit down and learn the techniques, and can often end up damaging or losing their voices. I'm exactly the same myself, I know what I should do, but don't always have the discipline to do all my warm ups. Things are also compounded for me because quite often mics or amps break down, or people think that I won't need a microphone to talk to 200 people! In those situations I can't just turn round and say "sorry, it's a no go", but doing them often leaves me without a voice for a couple of days.

So as next week is the start of this year's presentation season and as last year I lost my voice a few too many times, I went to the doctors to check things up and he recommended I go to a speech therapist, to get some discipline kicked into me! So that's where I was today. Everything was pretty much straight forward - drink plenty of water ( easy! ), avoid coffee ( hmmm tough!), outdoor exercise ( a little counterproductive in big cities with all the smog!), and of course breathing.

The trick with breathing is to make your stomach look as fat as possible ( quite easy for me) when you breathe in, and make it look as thin as possible ( quite tricky for me!) when you breathe out. "Fat in, Thin out" - right that's my breathing exercises for the day!

February 27th 2006 - Flights from Japan

If you're flying from Japan to overseas locations, the company I use to book my tickets is No.1 Travel. They're cheap, friendly and they're just sorting out my schedule for next month which is looking just crazy. There's something to be said for putting development time and presentation time in blocks, but it means in the next few weeks I'm going to be taking 11 flights and they all need co-ordinating down to the hour. But you know what they say "If you want something done, give it to someone busy", either that or I should stop trying to cram so much in.

Hopefully I might be able to fit in a visit to one of the tiny pacific islands south of Tokyo, that should be interesting! I love these islands in that their address is "Tokyo" but they are miles from anywhere. Anyway, the teachers are wanting a bit of help, so if I'm nearby I might as well pop in.

February 26th 2006 - Embarrassing Phone Numbers

I got an email this morning saying the phone number on the Kids English page was wrong, and indeed it was. The correct number is 0898-48-0256. I'm really grateful to the lady who wrote in. If anyone else spots any mistakes in the site, please let me know!

February 23rd 2006 - Fancy a free trip to the UK? + Trash

The British Council ( who are organising my mini Thailand tour next month) are again this year running their Team Teaching competition in Japan. The first prize is a Virgin Atlantic ticket for you and your JTE ( Japanese Teacher of English) from Japan to the UK. Very nice.

I attended the prize giving ceremony last year and to be honest the winners weren't all that hot ( JTEs translating everything the ALT said was a huge problem!), so I'd say you've got a really good chance of winning. And I could be wrong, but I don't think you have to be a UK ALT to enter, last year's winner was from Israel.

One of the best entries last year was an Elementary School lesson plan about "trash". The British Council have put the lesson plan online ( pdf ), it's well worth a look, as although it's not that easy to tell what to do from a written page, it was a really good lesson, highly recommended.

February 22nd 2006 - Kids English in the Classroom

When I first wrote the Kids English series in 2002 I was really happy that I could do all the fun parts of writing a course for kids, but the publishers paid for people to do all the hard work of putting all the nuts and bolts together! They always sold the product for kids to use at home, which is who it was aimed at, but I also kept in the design the ability to use it in classrooms.

Now that we distribute the set ourselves it's a lot more affordable for schools to get their hands on, so in yesterday's newsletter I put up links to 12 pages of help and info on how to get the most out of the Kids English set in a classroom or kindergarten. If you're looking for new themes, it's well worth a look.

1. Bubble Bubble ( parts of the body)
2. In the Kitchen...
3. Photo Safari ( animals)
4. Going Shopping
5. Happy Birthday
6. At the Beach
7. Ready, Steady, Go ( transport )
8. At the Park
9. Hide and Seek
10. Dressing Up! ( Clothes )
11. Just imagine ...
12. Merry Christmas

February 21st 2006 - March Newsletter

Sent off the new newsletter today.

February 20th 2006 - Do you like...? Song - Easy to Teach Remix

I've always liked CD3s "Do you like...?" song, but I've had a lot of feedback from teachers who don't like the fact that the kids have to rehearse the song before you can sing it. This is one reason why I don't often use it in demo classes myself. Similarly I've also had feedback from teachers outside Japan that the food theme can be a bit tough to do in one go.

So to help with both these problems I've just uploaded an "Easy to Teach" remix of the "Do you like...?" song. It uses the first 12 food words, and it's dead simple as the teacher just points to a card and says "Do you like apples?" etc. and the kids reply with either "Yes, I do" or "No, I don't". It makes going through the food vocab a lot easier, and there's a nice progression through the songs. Plus it also helps Japanese teachers who have trouble explaining the "Do you like apple/apples?" problem, this way the kids learn the correct way using the song, without needing any tedious grammar explanations. Dead easy and just the task songs are best at!

February 19th 2006 - Cool Cartoons of famous Japanese people

One of the most popular downloads for Junior High teachers over the last year has been the Famous People cards. Well over on the forum there has been a couple of great threads of everyone's recommended internet links.

One brilliant site, found by Gumby, is of cartoons of Japanese celebrities. The site is in Japanese, but if you click on the gallery page, even if you don't read Japanese you can click on a few random names and I'm sure you'll recognise them from TV. On the next page everyone's name is written in Roman Letters as well, to help you out.

They're great for spicing up lessons e.g. just drop them into the target conversation instead of boring old he/she/ characters from the textbook etc. Almost guaranteed to make teenagers sit up and pay attention!

February 16th 2006 - UK - Olympic Medals Game

Have you been watching the snowboarding? Pretty good stuff.

One great game for the Olympics is to everyday print out the medals table in English from the Torino website. Then...

Give each group a copy.
Ask a question, such as "How many medals does Finland have?"
The quickest team to answer is the winner.
Draw up a medals table for the class on the board, and give this group a gold medal.
The winning team then asks another question for another team to get the silver medal.

Great for numbers, countries & phonics practice for countries they don't know!

February 15th 2006 - Horse or Horse?

Pictures can be tough. They have to portray the meaning you're after, can be seen from the back of the class ( have a wander to the back when your cards are on the wall to check!), whilst still being cute and funny. Funny being very important, kids who laugh at a card remember it more.

So which do you prefer, horse A or horse B? Let me know if you have a preference!

February 13th 2006 - Word Flowers

I had an interesting email from a Genki English reader in Iraq this week. He's been producing "Word Flowers", which look like they could be really useful for Junior High kids or for some word play.

Have a look at his site: "Word Flowers"

Very topical for Valentine's Day tomorrow!

February 11th 2006 - UK - Saturday - Italian but not Spanish

It's my birthday tomorrow, so we all went out tonight. There were also a lot of Spanish people in town who had just arrived that afternoon in Leeds. Now I was really happy with how good my Spanish got last year ( after learning with the Pimsleur courses for just 3 weeks), but everything I spoke tonight came out Italian ( where I went last year after Spain). Hmmmm. The research shows that second language learning has a positive, if any, affect on your native language, but I guess for two foreign languages, learning similar ones together is not that good an idea. Or it could just have been the beer. In any case I ended up speaking in French again, which seems to happen everywhere I go lately.

February 8th 2006 - Wednesday - Animal Mini Cards

One other popular request on the "Wishlist" section of the forum and in emails has been Mini Cards for the Animals1 and Animals2 themes.

So for all you lucky CD owners out there, here they are - enjoy!

UPDATE: I've just put black & white ones up too!

February 7th 2006 - Tuesday - Songs, Games, Projects, Addicts

One topic of late has been how to fit Genki English into a longer, full time, multi year course of study. At the moment there are 40+ lessons on site which if you include reviews comes out to around 60 lessons, or 80 if you double each one up to two lessons a theme. I've even heard of schools doing 3 or 4 lessons per theme, using different games, worksheets then adding in even more vocab to the basic question. Plus of course there are a lot more themes coming in the future!

But anyway, the question is what to do when you've used all these themes up. At that stage the kids will know a heck of a lot of English ( just imagine if you could do all the GE themes in a new foreign language!). The aim then is to use real life projects. I'm sure you've seen the two I have written up on the site, and in an article called "How to use Genki English: Songs, Games & Projects" I wrote last week, I go through more ideas and how to solve some of the technical and administrative problems that crop up. For example some other ideas are:

Get them to describe their favourite toy or video game - you can start from really simple adjectives
Do a weather exchange - really easy, and a a great way to practise "What's the weather like in...?"
Write a picture book. - your kids write the words, the other school draws the pictures!
Introduce your school or town to the world.
Get them to describe their homework in English.
Links to other subjects such as geography - kids in the UK study Japanese volcanoes - show them what it's like to live near one!

Of course you can start some of these projects whilst working through the GE themes, in fact I'd really recommend this idea. Pick an exchange project you'd like to do, for example the pets project, then figure out which themes the kids will need to learn to do it, and plan your next few lessons around this. Simply by setting yourself a goal such as this you'll achieve a whole lot more in a shorter space of time. Then once the kids get addicted, they'll be eager to try the next set of songs & games in order to do the next exchange project!

That's what it's all about, getting the kids to be communication addicts!

February 6th 2006 - Monday - TPR Storytelling

In the Germany workshop the other week I mentioned a little about TPR storytelling, and had a follow up question on the forum about what I thought of it.

I think it's really good. I haven't tried it that much myself in classes, but it very much fits in with the ways of using story telling and TPR that I always have used.  The aims and dissatisfaction with traditional teaching are also totally on board with what I'm doing with GE.  The main problem I always found was finding suitable material which now seems to have disappeared thanks to Blaine Ray's materials.

Pages to have a look at are "3 Steps to TPRS", "Materials & Method" & nice TPR FAQ

The only slight reservation I have now is that some of the material is a little tough for the "one lesson a month" mold, I wonder if I should make my story books more TPR like...

February 5th 2006 - Sunday - Black & White A4 cards

One of the other recent requests on the forum has been for Black & White versions of the A4 picture cards. There are already black & white versions of the mini cards in the "Black & White Mini Card Book", and I've just put up pdf files of the A4 cards for the 5 CDs.( You'll need your CD Owners Club details)

B&W A4 Cards for CDs 1,2,3,4, ( pdf 7MB)
B&W A4 Cards for CD vol. 5 ( pdf 4MB)

To be honest printing the cards in black & white is a false economy for me, it's like having a sandwich with no bread, there's something important missing. But if you are on a fine budget or especially for teachers in countries with no colour printing at all, they should come in useful. You can always get the kids to colour them in class.

If you can go for the colour versions, as well as simply clicking on each picture on that songs' page ( see the menu at the top), I've also uploaded pdf files of all the cards together, which might make printing them out a little easier. Be warned, these are big files, it's a lot quicker to use the individual ones!

Colour A4 cards for CDs 1,2,3,4 (pdf) (10 MB)
Colour A4 cards for CD5 (pdf) ( 5MB)

February 4th 2006 - Saturday - Hip Hop Song: How you doing?

The Genki English High School / Adults Hip Hop podcast was really popular in the beginning, but I haven't updated it in a while. So here's another song, this time with "How are you?", "How you doing?" etc. and quite a few answers. The chorus is the main bit "It's easy. I can do it!", which should hopefully stick in student's heads when they get challenged!

I've also split each song into a separate page, so they're easier to find.


How you doing?
If you had a million dollars...
Dream Holiday
What shall I do today?
Excuse me, where's the ... ?
What do you do in your free time?
Have you ever ...

February 3rd 2006 - Friday - Oprah on Letterman

I've never actually seen an Oprah Winfrey show, but I just caught her interview on the Letterman show tonight. She is good. And it made me realise I've got to get myself kicked into gear and get more work done. Even if it is 2:30AM on Saturday morning.

February 2nd 2006 - Thursday - Do you have any pets?

There was a request on the forum the other week for a song that went "I have 1 dog, I have 2 cats" etc. So here it is:

I simply took the animals from CD4 with a new "Do you have any pets?" song and added the numbers as requested. I haven't tried it out in any classes yet, so it's still in the beta stage, but check it out and any feedback would be much appreciated!

February 1st 2006 - Wednesday - Team Taught Pizza

In the newsletter last night I also introduced the "Team Taught Pizza" book. Judging by the orders this morning it's very popular!

One of the things I'm always asked for is Junior High or Senior High teaching ideas. To be honest I don't have anything for Senior High, and only have my own experience for Junior High. At the same time I'd always noticed the Team Taught Pizza book at JET conferences and events, but never knew how to get hold of a copy! So to solve both problems, you can now order it through Genki English! I can recommend it for people asking about JHS lessons and you don't have to wait for conferences to get hold of it.

The other good thing about the book is everything is also translated into Japanese, which makes lesson planning a whole lot easier. The bad side is it weighs a ton, one for the desk drawer ( you might need one for each school you have ) rather than the backpack!

But it's certainly worthwhile recommending to anyone who teaches any lessons in Junior or Senior High.

January 31st 2006 - Tuesday - English Tiger

I'm always on the look out for new and interesting material to introduce to people. Basically the more good stuff I can recommend, the less I have to make myself!

Whilst I was over in Korea last year there was a very popular presentation by a group of guys called English Tiger. I thought their stuff would work really well in Japan, especially for private English teachers who teach in small groups. But their website is only in Korean! So we've worked out a nice package of games which are now on the Genki English site. Have a look: : English Tiger's Board Games & Card Games

Right, now it's time to send off the February newsletter!

January 30th 2006 - Monday - "Not tested on animals"

One of the ( many ) slogans I have at Genki English is "Not tested on animals. Tested on kids". Basically as soon as I put an idea up on the site thousands of teachers use it and I get a lot of feedback on what works and what doesn't.

I've been thinking though that it'd be cool to try and get more feedback on things before they actually go on the site. Most of the stuff I test out before hand with lots of kids, but when other teachers get hold of the materials they often have even better ideas on how to use them, and in some cases, such as the new CD 1 remix, the materials actually work better in a slightly different version.

I was thinking that the new forum could be a great way to try out demo versions of some of the new projects, so we can try out a few experimental type things without the risk of them going on the main site just yet. You can give your input on how you'd like them to be before they get on the site and of course you get to try out new materials before anybody else. As an avid computer user I don't usually like "beta" or test phase products, but it can be really fulfilling to see a new feature make it into a finished project.

So if you'd like to join in, I've put one such project on the "wishlist" section of the forum. Let me know what you think!

January 29th 2006 - Sunday - Valentine's Picture Book & Activities

The last picture book proved really successful, so here's a new one - "I love vegetables"

The cool part of the book is, of course, the twist at the end. This time it fits in very nicely with the upcoming Valentine's Day. It's not going to work for all your kids, but for the ones who are into this type of thing it's bound to get a chorus of "ahhhh"s and make you a very popular teacher! It certainly has every time I've tried it out.

The nice thing about these books is that I can use them to introduce new language that is difficult to do in song form. So here we have vegetables and Do you like...?. Having separate International and U.S. printed versions also gets over the zucchini / courgette and eggplant / aubergine problem. This way you can choose the ones you want, or even do both. Very nice.

I've also collated the various Valentine's Day games and things onto one "What to do on Valentine's?" page and there are a couple of new games on the Readers Games' Page.

January 28th 2006 - Funny week

Sorry for not keeping the blog up to date this week, 2 days were spent reinstalling my computer, 2 days full of cold and the rest of the time on secret projects!

Stay tuned next week for some very nice updates to go along with the February newsletter.

January 21st 2006 - See how it's done in the UK

The Teachers TV website has put up two videos of how MFL ( modern foreign languages) are taught in UK schools. As you can see the situation is very much similar to those in Japan.

The most useful aspect of the videos is that the reactions the UK teachers are having is exactly the same as Japanese classroom teachers. If you don't speak Japanese it can sometimes be tricky to get a sense for what they are thinking, but here you can really pick up on the sense of nervousness and need of the teachers for someone to just help them out and more importantly show them where they are going wrong or right.

Over here this role is filled by ASTs or Advanced Skills Teachers. They are used in a similar way to ALTs in Japan - just that the government doesn't leave the training up to Genki English! The way the AST deals with the classroom teachers is a good role model for elementary school ALTs.

There's also one more video called "Activity Based Learning". It wouldn't seem to be the most exciting thing on the planet, and a few of the ideas are considered a little old fashioned, but you can see how kids do indeed get a great deal from language classes and are really focussed on the lesson - or maybe this is the influence of the TV cameras?? ; )

January 19th 2006 - Thursday - UK - New worksheets

Last week I updated several of the CD1,2&3 worksheets as the printed book needed reprinting. Today I uploaded them on to the site so people who previously bought the CD set can get hold of them.

  • How are you? / Weather - I took the faces off the character worksheets so it's easier for the kids to draw different feelings.
  • What time is it? - featuring the new clocks with easier to read numbers.
  • Where are you going? - all the vocab is now on the worksheet.
  • When is your birthday? - the month pictures are now included ( instead of just the name of the month )
  • I'm thirsty - the menus now have pictures as well as words to make it easier to play!

January 17th 2006 - Tuesday - UK - The forum is back

I don't think you can have jet lag from Germany, but I was strangely wide awake at work at 7 this morning. And I spent the next 6 hours trying to get the Genki English forum back again. And I think I've done it!

Apparently what took the forum down last time was simply a computer worm. The old backups were no good, but as lots of people have been asking for the forum back I figured a new one starting from the beginning is better than nothing. You can always access the old archives on google as they have cached everything. So if you have any questions or need help or advice about your teaching, requests for new things on the site or would like downloads and previews of new songs....

.... welcome back to the Genki English forum!

Update: and by the evening it was already packed with comments! Thank you.

January 16th 2006 - Monday - Back to the UK

After a touch more filming in Hamburg it was time to fly back to the UK.

And what a welcome. Aside from the rain, which is to be expected, the first thing you see when you enter Manchester airport is a nice big sign at immigrations saying "Assaults and threats against our staff will not be tolerated" and then another massive one at baggage control saying "Beware: Pickpockets. Watch your bags or lose them". What a lovely welcome to England. Doesn't it just make you want to move back!

It's just a little different from the sign I saw in Fukuoka airport last year "Please be careful, some people have reported leaving their wallets in the bathrooms, and when they went back later the wallets were no longer there".

Right, time to catch up on my emails. The only bad thing about Germany was the internet access prices; 2 Euros for 15 minutes! I guess I got spoiled with the free Wi-Fi in Italy and Spain last year!

January 15th 2006 - Sunday - Into Europe....

After seeing the reactions of the teachers yesterday, I was thinking more and more today that Genki English should really get more into Europe. Whenever I've been here before it's all seemed very "schooly" e.g. very simple worksheets, repeat after me, and silly activities like "put your hands on your heads if you hear a noun, put them to your sides if you hear a verb". I'd always figured that was what the teachers were looking for and hence didn't need GE, but it seems that just like in Asia, a more fun way to teach is what's wanted.


But anyway, the main aim of today was to get some footage shot for the new Primary MFL German series. First off was the Baltic sea, which was frozen on the edges! I've never seen that before. It felt like being in deepest Russia with the arctic landscape. Then we looked at the map and realised we weren't as far north as Leeds! ( But still way north of Hokkaido.)

Next stop was Lubeck, which despite looking fantastic from the river, wasn't that hot really, Luneburg the other day was so much better! But still a good day.

January 14th 2006 - Saturday - The first Genki English workshop in Germany!

I always get a little nervous doing a workshop in a new country for the first time. You never know who you're going to get or what they want to see! But you know what, I needed have worried at all today. They were a really great group of teachers, we had the full day and a nice venue, and in the beginning string game they were asking for more fun games & ideas, which is certainly something I can help with!

So we spent the day basically going through a general Genki English workshop with a nice selection of themes based on comments and feedback to previous games & songs. It's all very well researching things on the net, or reading up about the latest policies in a country, but it's great to actually meet the teachers themselves and find out that teaching in Europe isn't that different from everywhere else, and the Genki English materials seem to fit in just fine. I'm going to have to start promoting things a little more over here, I think!

You can find out what we did in the Germany Workshop here, or there's a pdf version which has turned out to be a great introduction to Genki English if you want something to pass on to a friend!

So thank you very much to everyone, I had a great day and it was so, so nice to see everyone getting so genki!!

Then in the evening we popped out to Bremen to have a look around. The funny thing was there was no-one around, everyone was in the Cathedral for an American Gospel Tour, which was pretty cool! So some more very nice German food in a great location!

January 13th 2006 Friday - Germany - In a Chocolate Box

This is such a beautiful place! Today we hired a car and went down to the town where tomorrow's workshop will be. It is just like being in a Christmas card! I can't believe places like this still actually exist. After going through last minute planning for tomorrow, we went out to Luneburg. It's just like the Huis Ten Bois theme park in Japan, but real. And so big.

The last time I was in Germany was for the Nobel Prize conference in Lindau, which was nice but I never got to do any sight seeing, so it is really nice to be able to explore a little this time.

January 12th 2006 - Off to Germany!

It's the first Genki English Workshop in Germany this weekend. Very exciting! I've also brought my brother across with me, as while I'm over here I'm going to try and sort out some more new ideas and materials for the new Genki German course.

Hamburg was the city for today, and it was pretty cool, if a little too foggy to video. I'm also really surprised at how many sushi shops there are, it's like being in Tokyo. But the beer is German, which is good!

January 10th 2006 - UK - New CD 1,2,3 Worksheets

As well as working on new songs and things, I also got a call this morning to say we'd run out of stock of the CD 1,2,3 Worksheet Books. So I took the chance to update a few of the pages. They'll be shipping by the time you read this, and I'll have the updated versions on the website when I get back from Germany.

January 9th 2006 - Uk - Newsletter day

As the title suggests, it was time to send out the monthly newsletter, and get lots of very nice replies!

January 7th 2006 - UK - Ice Breakers

Lots of things on today, but I managed to put up a page of simple Ice Breaker games for use with groups of adults. They're often requested, so if you have any of your own, please send them in!

January 6th 2006 - UK - What's the correct time?

It certainly pays to put messenger on once in a while. Today I was having a chat with a teacher in Hokkaido who very nicely pointed out that as the numbers on the Time Flashcards go round in a circle, the "6" actually looks like a "9".

Oh, oh, that's a pretty big mistake! So I've put a whole new set of time flashcards that are 110% better ( and hopefully correct!). Sorry about that, if you spot anything else, please let me know!

January 5th 2006 - UK - Games, Games, Games

Big games update today! Usually January is pretty quiet on the site but in the last few days I've had lots of really good things sent in. Enjoy!

I know what you did last summer
( JHS questions)
Fortune Teller / Cootie Catcher ( nice little craft idea!)
Thou Shalt Not Pass - ( Do you have? )
How well do you know your classmates? ( "does")
Evil Numbers Game ( simple maths)
Naughty Or Nice Christmas Game ( great for next Xmas!)

January 4th 2006 - UK - New style of picture cards, what do you think?

One of the things I tried to do yesterday was instead of having a picture card with just a part of the face on, I wanted fun characters that were called "nose", "ears" or "eyes" etc. Unfortunately I couldn't draw any well enough myself! So today I asked my cousin James, who's a real artist, to do some for me. Here they are: The new Make a Face Cards.

I think they've turned out really well! But what do you think? And more importantly, what do your kids think? If the reaction is favourable enough I might be able to get James to do more cards! Let me know!

January 3rd 2006 - UK - Make a Face song!

Usually I do my "look back at 2005" post at this time, but I haven't had time to sit down long enough to write it!

Which is just as well as over Christmas I've been back in the UK, and once again it's the music here that makes it so good. I came up with a load of ideas for new songs, so today I sat down and recorded the new "Make a Face" song.

With the high profile of GE in Japan, and especially at the bookstores, I always feel under pressure to come up with "new and amazing" ideas. But with the feedback from CD5 what I found out was that I can't just focus on what's best for the kids, I also have to make everything easy to teach for the teachers! In Thailand as well, they weren't really looking for fancy ways of teaching "What do you think of...?", they are looking for ways to teach the "bread & butter" language. I've always shied away from those as there are already plenty of songs like that ( i.e. "Heads & Shoulders") and always felt I didn't need to duplicate anything. But not all songs are as good or as available as "Heads & Shoulders" so I decided to write a simple "parts of the face" song as it allows teachers to do the popular "fukuwarai" New Year's game. So the motto for the new songs is: "Keep it simple"!

For the production for this song, it turned out the best thing was a similar thing to what I did for the Phonics "d" song. Again, until now I've always shied away from re-using production styles, instead preferring to come up with 100% different tracks. But as a teacher said to me last year "that doesn't matter, a song that works now is better than a super-original one next year". Good point. So I'm going to get cracking on these new songs, forget about making them too flashy or clever, as long as they work in the classroom, that's what matters!

I also tried recording with my posh new Samson CO1U microphone, which plugs straight into the computer without using a mixing desk. Very nice! I thought.... but it doesn't actually work with a digital mixing desk! So I had to use my old mics, oh well, never mind, let's go with what works and just get the songs into the classrooms!

January 1st 2006 - UK - 2006 Calendars!

I always feel really grateful at this time of year for all the support and great times people have given me. I always want to give something back, to do something special to say "thank you".
A few years ago I tried desktop calendars and they were really popular, but they took too much time to produce. So yesterday I sat down and did a whole year's worth! They're not desktops, they're printable 2006 Calendars for the classroom wall.

Enjoy and have a very, very Genki 2006!

December 18th 2005 - Bangkok - Communicative Language Teaching Expo sponsored by the Thai Ministry of Education

After yesterday I was really quite excited about today, and the Thai teachers didn't disappoint. The main aim was to let more teachers know about Genki English and to let the people in charge see how well teachers take to the materials so hopefully we can get the go ahead to do things on a national basis next year.

There were 6 rooms with activities going on, and participants were free to move between them, but by the time I started my room was packed with several hundred people, I guess being top of the bill really helps.

I started things off with a bit of a warm up, and launched into a series of songs and they were great. The cool thing with Thai teachers is that they seem to be able to sing the songs even before I've finished teaching them! The room was massive as well with a huge sound system, plus a projector for the animations and things were great. The only bad thing about it was that they weren't that into games! The usual format I use in a "first time" workshop like this is to treat it like a lesson, teach them the song then let them practice with a game. But when I started doing games people at the back started leaving. So I asked them what they wanted to do and everyone was "we want more songs!". So, fair enough! The only problem with that is that the games are usually my break time, and going through so many songs at the speed they were going means I had to be genki all the 3 hours! It was cool though that the teachers were simply writing down the lyrics, so that they could sing the songs in their lessons, they could remember all the melodies.

Then lunch time and another fantastic meal that I didn't get much chance to eat as I was busy talking with everyone there. The secretary general of the Education Ministry had popped into my workshop earlier ( surrounded by a million people), and came up to me to thank me for showing them all the songs.

Then in the afternoon I had another 3 hour session. It was supposed to be a repeat of this morning, but word seemed to have spread so that there were not only new people there, but quite a few from this morning as well. So I started off with new songs. Then the Education Minister walks in and sits down at the front!! That was a bit nerve wracking! I didn't really have everyone fully warmed up and was trying to think of a song that could be done really quickly ( as I figured he'd leave pretty soon), but he stayed all the way through Doctor, Doctor, and When, When, When?. Then he stood up and came to thank me, right there in front of everyone!! I was still on a high from the When, when, when? song so wasn't really sure what was going on, but he was really great, and it was just so nice to get the recognition and being praised by an education minister is a really nice feeling! Wow.

Then around 3 o'clock everyone was getting a little tired, so rather than push on to the very end I decided to cut things short and end on a high note. And that we certainly did. Afterwards I said I'd do some games at the front, so had a nice small group stick around.

I was really amazed by where these teachers had come from, they really were from all over Thailand, from the Southern most islands to teachers from the Northern hill tribes.

Then it was the final speeches and the Education Minister was talking about how impressed he was to see even the older teachers being so genki ( well, he didn't use the word "genki"!) in my workshops.

So after a shower and a swim it was out for dinner. Perfect. I like Thailand!!

Then tomorrow I'm flying out to Europe.

December 17th 2005 - Bangkok - the Prime Minister

Oh my goodness I have never seen anything like this before! There were 2,000 teachers here alright, but it was also a full scale expo. Adding in members of the public, and students who were doing events, there were 10,000 people altogether! Things started out with a massive show by kids from all over the country, full of dancing and singing and plays in English. Then the Education Minister started a speech, and as he did, the kids started singing again, so he joined in! Wow, you'd never get that in Japan, the Education Minister actually joining in and singing in English!

Then afterwards I was told that my workshops would be in a different place, because ...... the Prime Minister wants to use my room!!! Eh?? Errr, well, err, yeah, OK. But then a very nice lady from the Ministry slapped a security badge on me and said "You're having lunch with him"!

So I had lunch with the Prime Minister! Talk about surreal to say the least. But it was really cool. There were also a group of students there and he did everything in English, talking about how education in Thailand can be improved, and it sounded like he was reading a Genki English blurb word-for-word, this could be really exciting.

This whole expo in fact was only put together in a matter of weeks, and they really have the intent to go ahead and implement all these changes, starting with confidence training for the teachers. In Japan it's like, "Well, we know things are bad, but we can't do anything", in Korea it's "Right, this is what we're going to do. Do it, do it, do it!" whereas here it's "yep, we're doing it!". In ten years Thailand could be a really strong world player if they keep this up!

So the rest of the day was spent sorting things out for tomorrow, chatting to people and even in Bangkok I can't walk around without bumping into people I know, which is pretty cool I guess. But lunch with the Prime Minister, I'd have never thought of that this morning when I woke up!

Click here for my Diary October 2005 - December 2005

Click here for my Diary April 2005 - October 2005

Click here for my Diary July 2004 - Apr 2005

Click here for my Diary Jan - June 2004

Click here for my Diary June - December 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary Jan-May 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary 2002!

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