Richard's 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!




Saturday 29th July - Teaching your Teachers

Many ALTs have written saying how their board of education has asked them to do a workshop for the Japanese Elementary School teachers in their town. Many people have written asking for help so here's a post I put on the forum a few weeks ago:

I've also put up an article on the site of the basic Teaching Teachers stuff, have a read of this first.

Here are a couple of practical tricks that work:

* To cure the fear of making mistakes:

Start off with some simple stand up, sit downs. Then tell them that they are too slow, the kids are so much faster! ( The really respond to this). Then really build up to it saying "OK, let's go really fast!". Do a big, slow "3, 2, 1" countdown ( some people will stand up here which gets a laugh), then as you raise your hands in the air shout out "Sit down". Of course some of them will stand. This is a great time to do a really shocked expression and say something like "Oh, no! You made a mistake! That's it, were finished, oh no it's terrible" ( Machigaeta hito iru ne? Taihen! Dou shou?). Hopefully then someone will say "No, it's OK, it's just a joke." Then you can say "Yeah, but in Junior High you all learnt that making mistakes in English is bad. You all want to speak with the ALTs, but are too afraid of making mistakes, yeah?" ( Demo mina wa chugakkou de "machigae shitara dame" to naratta deshou? ALT to hanashi shitai kedo machigae shitakunai deshou?") (nods from the crowd) "What can we do? " (expression of desperation). This gets a lot of "naruhodos" and you can then start off with the "Making mistakes is good. People who don't make mistakes aren't trying hard enough" ( machigae shiteinai hito ha jyuubun gannbatte inai - you will need to say all this in Japanese!).



* To cure the "I can't teach English" problem


Then I do a bit of a TPR style warm up, showing how you can introduce different themes ( e.g. sports, music, emotions etc.). Then if you have 20 or less teachers it's great to put them in a circle and each one in turn shouts out a command for the group ( with a gesture of course). If they make a mistake, really make a big thing that they are the only ones who are trying hard! They'll be able to accept that and you can correct them. That should then spur the rest of them on to try more adventurous stuff than simply "clap" or "cheer".

The cool thing with this is that later on if they start saying "Yeah, but we can't teach English" you can say, "You just did!".

It's confidence tricks like this that really make the difference.



*Where's the story?"


It's also good to spell out your vision of what the target is, where we are going with English lessons, in Seth Godin's words "Where's the story?". If you can show them the beginning, middle, end and where they are supposed to lead up to after the 6 years of study it really helps get the pathway fixed in their minds. For example here's what I use. From then on it's just a case of removing any obstacles from the road.

Have a look at the basics article I wrote, and if you you need more help, you could always play the Genki English Teacher Training video, or if you really don't want to do the workshop yourself, invite me along and I'll have them genki and stress free in no time!

Be genki,

Richard




If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Friday 27th July - Aichi Day 2- Teacher Training

OK, so the aim of today's workshop was to get the teachers able to teach on their own. The plan was quite simple:

1) Put them in groups of three or four.
2) Give them a printed copy of the curriculum in Japanese and 45 minute lesson plan and let them choose a theme to teach
3) Look on the website for the lesson plan and game explanation ( using the Songs/Themes menu at the top of the page)
4) Use the CD software to practise in their group
5) Present the demo lesson to everyone else.

So after a small warm up I got them sat down at the computers and told them to go to www.GenkiEnglish.com. To which they all had blank faces saying "eh, what do you mean?". Apparently they had never used the internet before. These are all qualified elementary school teachers at a school with a fully equipped computer room. Ah. So after getting the computer teacher to explain where to type in URLs ( they were doing things like typing "genki" into Yahoo kids and wondering why the screen was different from mine), we eventually got them on the Genki English site. At this point I was rather worried that 3 hours maybe isn't enough! Teachers who can't use the internet.... Japan: the land of hi-teach?

Anyway once they'd figured it out they were quite happy reading about how to teach the song, and checking the photos of the gestures. The first three groups chose Good Morning ( really easy), colours ( again easy) and How much? ( a little tougher). And they actually did really well. Pedagogically it wasn't the best lessons ever, but for a first attempt they did good. They quickly realised the importance of preparation ( something they said they had no time for before), and how easy it is to use the Genki English software and mini-lessons, which freed them up to do the real teacher's job which is motivating the students. They made lots of mistakes, but I made sure the atmosphere was one where they could do that frequently ( by praising the ones who did make mistakes), and in the kanso ( feedback) time there was lots of honest criticism that was picked up by the next group and lots of "I'm glad I tried it because I would have never thought of that" or that "It was scary at first, but quite easy once you get into it". They also noticed the need for lots of communication if you have more than one teacher. Excellent. I was also really happy that they turned out quite proficient lessons, certainly better than many of the usual demo lessons you see in elementary schools, and with practise they'll be cool.

Then lunch.

Then in the afternoon another 4 teachers joined who were still very much in the "I know nothing" mode, so I made new groups with one new person in each group, got them to choose a new theme and they did it again, this time choosing What's the weather like?, How did you get here?, Doctor Doctor & How are you?. They made a few more mistakes this time ( after lunch tiredness!), like missing out the mini lesson acapella step and just playing the song, hence everyone was doing the "eh? what are we supposed to do?", but they quickly realised so went back and redid the lesson correctly and the difference was really noticeable. Lesson learned. In the warm ups they also included the precious themes as a review and they could see that not only their English, but their genkiness was getting better and better.

So a really good day. Going from terrified teachers who couldn't use the internet to being able to do a basic Genki English lesson was really something to see. It made a huge difference doing things in the computer room as they could look on the website in groups, and having a student pack license for the CDs meant they could all use the software at the same time. Although actually even if you just had the Superpack you could do a similar thing, you'd just have to make sure that each group used a song from a different CD.

This week I was also really thinking about making printed lesson plans instead of the web based ones, as teachers had requested them. But what I found out today was that they can use the net based lesson plans ( and especially the photos are useful), but it's actually entering URLs and finding websites that is the problem!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Thursday 27th July 2006 - Aichi Day 1

Another two day workshop and as this school had had a one day workshop last year covering all the important basics, I just jumped into doing more advanced teaching methods and how to improve the efficiency of the lessons.

This school has also bought student packs of all the CDs and the Kids English set. As they have the student pack license, they could put the software onto the schools server and every computer in the computer room ( and classrooms!) can access the GE software. So we also spent an hour or so going through how to use it. i.e.

1) Choose a theme
2) Give the students 3-4 minutes to play on the "words" part
3) Give them another 3-4 minutes to play on the "game" part
4) Get everyone to reset the game then start all together.
5) See who can do it the fastest.

The points here are:

1) It gets them out of the "panic because I don't understand" mode into the "Oh, there's a word I know" mode
2) Everyone learns at their own pace
3) It's a computer game so it's fun!
4) It's a computer game so you take risks in getting the questions wrong or right.

We first of all did the games as a review. But of course the teachers already knew all the English. So then we did it the other way, where you first introduce the new English with the computer game. This works really, really well as the kids have lots & lots of exposure to the language. Then when you eventually do come to do the song in class, they already know everything! To test the teachers we did the toughest computer game "The Monkey Family". It took a while for them to start "thinking like a kid" but after the 2nd go they really saw how quickly they had improved.

Although they did enjoy the games & songs, they weren't into any of the discussion points or asking that many questions. This confused me a bit, because usually after my "War Speech" which I give at the end of the basics workshop, teachers all always enthused to get on with the job. It wasn't until the evening drinking party that I realised that this was the school last year where some dodgy guy was stalking around the playground with a knife and we had to cut the workshop short! Hence no war speech. Ah, that explains a thing or two. Right, OK, looks like tomorrow I'll have to start with the basics again, but get them into actually teaching as soon as possible.
But you've got to show people the destination, otherwise they are bound to get lost.


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Wednesday 26th July 2006 - Okinawa Day 3 - Back in June!

OK, first things first, I'm going to be back in Okinawa twice next year! In June we're planning a mini-tour, so if you would like a workshop at your elementary school or for your group of teachers, get in touch now and we'll get you on the list. Next year my elementary school workshops will probably have a presentation fee, but for Okinawa they'll still be free and as my travel expenses will be paid for to get to Naha, it'll only be the travel expenses to get to your school and hotel accommodation that I'll need. It's a great chance. If you need any materials to persuade your head teachers, have a look at the workshop details in Japanese and my self intro in Japanese. As usual, go straight to the head teacher, not via the Board of Education ( that will take forever!)

Then on August 20th 2007 I'll have another three day workshop as part of the J-Shine two week certification course. This year that course cost around 80,000 yen, but included some materials and next year will probably include some Genki English materials as well. If you're interested, again get in touch.

I'm actually writing this blog entry after doing 6 hours of workshops and flying back up to Japan, and I think I already miss Okinawa! I don't know if it's the weather, the sense of space, the way people dress and are less stressed, or maybe that everyone was so nice or that I really got to help the teachers with a full set of workshops instead of a 90 minute "warm up" and stayed in a really nice hotel??? It's also a lot less humid down in Okinawa!

Anyway today's workshops were again great, going through how to chop up the themes and re-use the language in other ways, e.g. to combine Where are you going?, Where are you from? + How did you get here? into a massive I like pink fish game where the answers were things like "I'm going to school in Australia by mountain bike". We also did things like using "Do you have ...?" from the pets song and using it with the transport mini cards in the Do you have game? ( Of course you can also do it the other way and use "I came here by " + animal for a fun alternative!) And after yesterday going through how the GE curriculum is made ( by actually listening to what the kids say), we pretty much worked our way through it. The students were also up teaching the new themes using the computer for the pronunciation and they did really well. There's so much material now on GE that it pretty much covers everything, the only thing missing is one-page printable lesson plans, which I'll get to work on as soon as I can!

The list of the activities we did is here: Okinawa 2006 ( In Japanese)



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.

Tuesday 25th July 2006 - Okinawa Day 2

Today was billed as "songs and games", and as we covered all the important theory and motivation bits yesterday, that's what we did all morning. In fact the first hour we spent doing the the full "Left & Right" lesson in real time, just to show what sort of speed a class would go ( i.e. about half the speed of the usual workshop speed).

The only thing I was concerned about was that the students were afraid of asking questions in front of the teachers, and the teachers were afraid of asking questions in front of the students. So in the afternoon I split them up and got them to make lists of all the problems they have with elementary school, so we could solve them one by one. And pretty amazingly they all came up with basically the same things. Everything was fairly easy to clear up ( except for the ALTs favourite problem of what to do with awkward classroom teachers) so we ended on some more games and songs, which brought smiles to all their faces, and it was the end of another very genki and eye opening day.


Monday 24th July 2006 - Okinawa TV!

I've been looking forward to this workshop for a while now, instead of a 1 hour "sales pitch" or 3 hour introduction, I have three full days of professional development workshops which is itself part of a 2 week long programme. About half the participants were elementary school teachers and about half were student teachers. And wow was I surprised at how shy the students were! Teachers are usually no problem once you get them warmed up, but the students were pretty much near the beginning of learning to be teachers and were very unsure of themselves. Mind you the TV cameras might not have helped! But after a few activities they started warming up. Usually with workshops it's the talking bits that get all the "oohs" and "aaahs" with Elementary school teachers as we go through curing their problems, but with the students it was more of case of actually teaching them using Genki English, rather than explaining things. ( The How are you? Monster Game bombed, but the bargaining game rocked!)

In fact in the afternoon I started off with the Hip Hop songs, which they really got into ( I was quite surprised!).

The great thing about having 3 days is that you can introduce bad games that a lot of schools use, and as they are actually playing them ( instead of teaching them ) , they realise how ineffective some things can be. For example we did the basic karuta, where the teacher just says a word, and the kids take a card ( we were all sat in a circle with the cards between us). They quickly twigged on that they weren't talking, and that only using words without any context was pretty useless practice. So they started asking me "What's your favourite food?" and I answered and they slapped the card. That then led them into seeing that it's not much of an improvement as they could be speaking completely nonsense words and it wouldn't matter. So then we did the best variation where each person asks me in turn "Do you like ...?" + one of the foods. I either answer yes or no. They quickly saw how this helps especially the shy kids as everyone has to listen really carefully, but then off course explode into action when the answer is "Yes".

And we finished off with the exchange projects for 5,6th grades and the importance of teaching what we do.

So it was tough, and not the easy ride it would have been if everyone had actually taught in elementary school and had some teaching experience, but things sort of worked out towards the end.

Then a quick rest ( and check to see the TV report) and out for a very nice steak dinner!



Sunday 23rd July 2006 - Kokusai Rikai

Unlike usual workshops where I work through things in stages according to the teachers needs, this week's workshops have all got titles. Tomorrow afternoon is "International Understanding". Usually I have that as the big finale at the end, to show the teachers how important their work is. But tomorrow I have a full 3 hours devoted to it. So yesterday I was collating all my material to decide on what order to do things in and had a read through the articles I wrote for ALC's Kids Com magazine in 2001. There's some real gems of ideas in there that I'd completely forgotten about! They all have Japanese translations, so if your teachers ever ask you about International Understanding, show them the articles, it'll be a nice eye opener for them.


Of course these are all just a variation on the "Ibunka kyouiku" ( "cultural differences") theme, although I much prefer to say "doubunka kyouiku" (cultural similarities). The real international understanding comes in the project work.



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Friday 21st July 2006 - Genki English T-shirts! ( but only a few )

Greetings from sunny Okinawa! I've actually spent the last few days in (rainy!) Ehime, where in amongst all the boxes of CDs and Kids English ( very big boxes!), we found an unopened carton of Genki English t-shirts. Lots of people have been asking to buy them, so after taking out a few for myself, I've put the rest on the site to purchase. But get your order in soon as there is only one box full. The colours are yellow, red, genki orange and purple, all of which you'll find modelled throughout the site, except for the purple ones! The perfect way to get you genki.

Genki English T-shirts


Thursday 20th July 2006 - Readers' Games in Japanese

I get lots of request for new things for the site, and also lots of "thank you"s for having Japanese translations. But strangely enough I've never had any requests for Japanese translations of any readers' games. That's always surprised me. I'm sure they'd really help with lesson planning and Japanese teachers are always asking for new games. But I always find it too tricky ( and really time consuming), to translate other people's English into Japanese, as you basically have to re-write the whole explanation to be from a Japanese teachers' point of view.

But last month I put out a request on the Japanese newsletter for help. The response has been amazing, I can't believe how many nice, generous and thoughtful people there are out there! These teachers have translated nearly all of the 100+ plus readers' games. I've started editing them up and soon you'll find "This page in Japanese" appearing on the games over the next few weeks. I'm sure you'll all join in with me in saying a very big "Thank you" to all those teachers who offered their time!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Wednesday 19th July - Why Japanese trains are so expensive

If you've ever wondered why trains in Japan can be so expensive, here's the reason....

Japan Rail (JR) are starting to label all their stations with a number then a letter for the line name. Great idea, that will make things a lot easier for a lot of people. So they have to change all the signs over. OK, fair enough. And how many people does it take to put up a 10cm x 60cm plastic sign?

Four. Yep four people, one to put up the sign, one to hold the ladder and 2 to watch them. If it was a joke it wouldn't be funny, but it's true and here's the photo to prove it. Here's where your train fares really go! Now how can I get an easy job like that....





If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Tuesday 18th July 2006 - Ouch!

I got an email yesterday with the projected cost of hosting the website for July. Over $3500. Ouch! Apparently it's the online videos that are the main culprit ( hence I've had to take them down whilst I figure out how what to do), but also the free MP3 songs and other media files. Wow, giving away stuff for free is one thing, but it's getting a little out of hand... Any ideas anyone?


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Friday 14th July - What you want

Today I was invited to a school because the deputy head wanted to know why I would offer to do the Summer workshop at his school for free. Hmmm, OK, take half a day up explaining why I'm not going to charge, interesting use of time there! But I was in town anyway and was curious.

Then on the way back I stopped off in the Kinokuniya bookstore. You know with all the books around, both children's course books ( hidden away in the foreign books section for some reason) and the thousands and thousands of adult focussed English learning books, you'd think I wouldn't have to try anymore. There's so much out there!

But then why do we still have the situation like this morning were the teachers were saying "Help! We don't know what to do!". Books may be cool, but they don't get read. Making videos or a website makes it more visual, but even when they buy them ( price obviously isn't the problem), they never watch them, .

What is it that Japanese teachers want?

I think workshops are the best way I've found so far, where you can hold hands and walk them through things, but with 10s of thousands of teachers in Japan, that's not the most effective way. I think what we need to do is to just force all the teachers to teach English now. Then when they hit the problems in class, they'll look for the solutions and be happy when they find them. Rather than now where the solutions are all out there, but they haven't experienced the problems yet.


And just as I was writing this a a load of half naked people walked passed with a portable shrine on their shoulders. Never a dull place, Japan.


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Thursday 13th July 2006 - Hip Hop Numbers

It's always the simplest things that seem to be in demand. So the other day I put up a series of 12 number picture cards. The first eight fit in with the numbers mix ( e.g. "I have 2 rabbits" etc.) of the "Do you have any pets?" song, and I've added in an extra 4 to bring it up to 12. Plus I wrote down a few hints & ideas to help with teaching numbers.

Today I put up an English version of the Numbers Hip Hop song. The track has been a huge success over on the Genki Japan site, and it was a not too tricky task to re-record an English version. It's in the CD Owners Club so you can download and enjoy it now. The really cool thing is for people who still aren't sure of the value of using songs, just a few listens to the Japanese version will have you convinced of how songs get a foreign language stuck in your head like nothing else!


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Wednesday 12th July 2006 - Fukuoka - The 10 most dynamic cities

It's Summer and you can feel it. Not just in the super humid air, but in the whole carnival atmosphere as the yearly Yamgasa Festival gets underway in Fukuoka this week. It's nice, it's great, but it's not good for working as all the coffee shops are full!

In my break I was reading in Fast Company about the new super aerotropoli that are springing up around the World, from Dubai to Bangkok. Whole cities grown around airports because people need to travel. On the subway back I was thinking that that's just what Fukuoka is, I spend a lot of time here because it's so convenient, being as close to Seoul and Shanghai as Tokyo. And funnily enough this month's Newsweek has chosen Fukuoka as one of the Worlds Most Dynamic Cities. It's nice to find something in Japan that's part of and looking into the future!


Monday 10th July 2006 - Don't be afraid, Do!

One of the big points in my workshops is fixing teachers fears of making mistakes. There are plenty of tricks to use and usually it works out very well with plenty of "Ah, I see"s by the end. One of the simplest tricks is to do the "stand up", "sit down" thing, but get them really revved up to do it really quickly. Then do a "3-2-1" countdown and as you raise your hands you say "sit down". Some teachers will always stand up. Then I do a shocked face and say "But in Junior High School you were all taught that making mistakes was wrong. Just now some of you did make mistakes, oh no, what are we going to do?". It's all tongue in cheek but the teachers quickly pick up on how absurd being afraid is. From then on I do the "People who don't make mistakes aren't trying hard enough" line and really praise any teachers who try, but get it wrong, later on.

One teacher came up to me the other day and was saying how she once corrected a boy several times for making the same mistake, and now the class refuses to try at all. "I tell them "Don't be afraid of making mistakes"", she said, "But they don't listen".

That's where the problem lies. It's not that they "shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes", that's too wishy washy and doesn't stick, you should be telling your kids "Make mistakes!". Tell them mistakes are mandatory in class!

As Larry Brilliant ( the guy hired by Google to donate 1 billion of their dollars to charity) says in this month's Wired magazine "If I have a 100 percent batting average, you should fire me, because it means we haven't tried anything really noble"



Saturday 8th July 2006 - Nagasaki & Trees in the road

Nagasaki seems to have more history than any other city in Japan, from all sorts of eras. From being the 2nd ( and hopefully last ) city to be nuclear bombed, to having some of the first Christian missionary's - who were then crucified, and being the only place allowed contact with foreigners when Japan was isolated from the world.

Anyway, today I was invited down for the twice yearly "Junshin University English Education Public Lecture". I was also sharing the billing with Tono Sensei, whom you've probably seen as the resident expert on one of NHK's daily English learning programmes ( it's the one with the cartoon dude called "Corpus Kun"). Usually a I get a little nervous presenting after University professors as they usually come out with incredible stuff like telling the teachers "The kids don't have to learn anything, just having fun is OK", or "Don't teach things like "What's your name?" it's too impolite" to insinuations that if you teach English to your kids they'll never speak correct Japanese again!

So it was quite a relief to see that Professor Tono is a cool guy and also gave a nice presentation saying lots of good things. The main thrust of it though was his research into the English that Japanese people use. The corpus he has been studying shows things like how Japanese speakers tend to not use "the" correctly, and higher level speakers' main problem is mistaken use of nouns. The objective is to use this research to help develop new teaching materials.

Then it was my turn, and after a lecture style presentation I was asked to make it as fun and interactive as possible, which is no problem. However although a lot of the people knew Genki English, for most of them it was their first time at a workshop ( lots of student teachers), so I couldn't only do activities, but did the "Problem Solving" Elementary School workshop where we make all their elementary school English worries disappear! But we did get chance for a few activities including the "What's your name song"?, "Rocket Launch", "Where do you live?" and the Where do you live shiritori game. The room was packed ( standing room only!), and they were a fantastic audience. I've also been invited to do a 3 hour workshop in Sasebo on August 21st.

Then after lots of chats with teachers it was out for an amazing meal atop one of Nagasaki's mountains. Gorgeous sashimi and an amazing view of the new bridge lit up in the distance. The craziest thing though was the road up to the restaurant. It used to be a huge staircase leading up to the temple on the top, but in recent years they've tarmaced it and made it suitable for cars ( no surprise there then). But... they've left all the hundreds of year old trees exactly where they were, which is now slap bang in the middle of the road! You turn a corner and there's a massive tree just stuck there in your path. Not the sort of thing you want to see heading back down the hill when it's pitch black! I bet the kids have great fun sledging in Winter though.



Friday 7th July 2006 - People are so nice

I'm a firm believer in being nice to people, what's to be gained by being nasty? Luckily most people are the same. Unfortunately on the internet some people aren't and experiments like making the Discussion Board open to anyone didn't really work! It's also true that "it's the squeaky wheel that gets cleaned" and I only really ever hear from people if they have problems or specific questions. Which is why this week I've been totally bowled over by the response I got from asking on the Japanese newsletter for help on a new project. The replies from people have been so amazing. The "6,000 people a day" statistics tend to lose their meaning over time, but actually hearing from you makes all the difference. So thank you, everyone, for offering your time and your nice words. It makes me want to try even more!



Monday July 3rd 2006 - New Greetings Pics

Along with the new pictures for "I'm thirsty" and the adjectives song (Part 1 & Part 2), I also updated the greetings pictures for the Good Morning song when I remixed CD volume 3 in the Spring. Today I put them on the site, along with some nice new mini cards. I never actually use picture cards with this song, but they are great for review games. Enjoy!


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.




Sunday July 2nd 2006 - Do you like dog?

I've lost count of the amount of times I've seen that question on school lesson plans or actually being taught by Japanese teachers! It's not the most serious mistake in the world, but doesn't sound very cool, and you wouldn't get away with teaching 7 + 2 = 8 in maths, so why allow it in English?

The trick I use ( which nearly always works) is to say "I like dogs" means you like dogs ( inu ga suki) but "I like dog" means you like dog flavour ( inu no aji ga suki). This usually sorts the kids out.

For the same reason I've also chosen all plurals in the Do you like theme.

To help even more a couple of years ago I came up with the idea of joining the singular answers "I like apple" etc. in with the "What's your favourite flavour?" question, this really helps in getting the whole thing sorted in the kids' heads without having to give any consulted grammar explanations. It's taken me a while to get it into a song form ( it was supposed to go on CD6, but got moved as there were a few problems with the set of flavours I originally chose!), but it's now available to download, just in time for the Summer season. There's a also a very nice description of how to introduce the words and some amazing graphics that look like you could eat them off the page, courtesy of my cousin James, and mini cards in Commonwealth and US spellings.

The What's your favourite flavour? Theme

You could also use this song with the How are you? Monster game, but this time the kids ask "What's your favourite flavour?" and if you say "Human!" they run back to the safe wall.


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.





Saturday July 1st 2006 - Dinosaur Survival

The blog's been a bit quiet this week, I've been busy working on new stuff ( see later in the week!)

For today here are some great new games that have been sent in:



Sunday 25th June 2006 - Kagoshima

If you happened to live in Kagoshima ( or anywhere within an hour or two's travel), today's JALT Conference was certainly worthwhile. Although some of the workshops were a little dubious ( fruit basket!), some of them were really good and there were so many of them! Unfortunately two of the ones I wanted to see were also on at the same time as me, one about TPRS and one by David Lisgo about his phonics materials, but it was good to hear some of the others, especially the elementary school teachers problems and worries. The solutions are all out there though!

I had originally planned a higher level workshop with lots of the newer material as I figured it would be mostly private English teachers who would attend. But I was told on the day that in fact there were mostly elementary school teachers! Which is good, but I also had to prepare other things. In the event though the elementary school teachers mostly went to the other workshops ( the perils of having a non-Japanese name and people not believing I would do the workshop in Japanese eventhough I was one of the few who didn't do it in English!). But the group I had were really good and there were lots of them. So we started off with the World Cup song, then Where do you live? with the Shiritori game, then Do you have any pets? using Sticky Fingers to show how to introduce vocab in a fun way, then the phonics song and a run through some of the articles on the website.

The trickiest thing was the time though. Recently I've been doing real professional development workshops that last several hours or days, in which you can really build people up from the ground level to being able to use everything. Today was only 90 minutes to which my normal tactic would be to show them some stuff then introduce the Superpack which has all the follow up training material.
But today had to be "non-commercial" which meant I wasn't allowed to talk about any products, and hence couldn't invite people to follow up at home. A little strange. So it sort of turned into a "Wow, that's good. But that's it?" type of thing, but hopefully some people will check out the website.

It was also good chatting to everyone there, one of the perks of being a presenter is that you get to hang out with all the other presenters, some of them are very famous and all of them have lots of interesting things to talk about!





Friday 23rd June - If you had a Million Dollars..

The worksheet I put up the other week for the "Where's the ...?" hip hop track has proved really popular since I've started demoing it in workshops. Originally the songs were intended for learners to listen to on their ipods, but it seems lots of teachers are having great success with using them in normal private adult English classes. The worksheets add the extra group input that makes them work well in lessons.

So to help out I've added another 3 worksheets to the set, this time we have If you had a million dollars, Dream Holiday & Have you ever...? Remember if you do recommend the podcast to your students, make sure they subscribe to the free Japanese version with all the extra bits in, rather than the international version which is just the stripped down songs!

And if you have any other ideas on how to use these songs in class, be sure to share them with everybody.


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.




Wednesday 21st June 2006 - World Cup Special Song & Game

I was supposed to get all this on the site yesterday, but hopefully today is not too late to catch the big Japan vs. Brazil game tomorrow night!

First up we have a funky MP3 download of the new Genki English World Cup Song. It's a really great warm up, and has lots of useful English in it! As you probably saw in my blog last week the kids in Akita loved it, as I'm sure your kids will. I was hoping to show you a video of the kids singing it, but my video camera's broken! Anyway, have a try and see. It also helps in curing the Japanese teachers telling the kids that they have to shout out "Fight!" to support their team!

The next up is some cards I've prepared that go well with the World Cup Janken game that the teachers in ACET in Fukuoka introduced last week. Enjoy!

Right now I've got to go and write all this up for the newsletter, before my computer starts melting in the heat!


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.





Saturday 17th June 2006 - Akita - Kids Club & Adults

Today was very topsy turvey. This morning started out with a show for the kids in the city sponsored kids club. Every Saturday the kids meet for English classes taught by members of the community. If all the primary school teachers in town were doing their jobs, I guess the city wouldn't need this club, but there you go.

Today all the classes were together for a Genki English show and for some of the kids it was their fourth one. Needless to say they were amazing, all 177 of them. We started off with "Rock, Paper, Scissors" to show the parents, who suddenly looked shocked at a) how good the kids were and b) how I said I'd refuse to continue if they just left things up to me and didn't try as hard themselves! To which they became the best group of parents I've ever seen and nearly made themselves ill ( or at least lose a couple of kgs) during the "When, when, when" song.

Next was the main meat of "Do you have any pets?" and the Gokiburi ( or now Hamster) game. The trick with this theme is to go through the song enough times so the kids have a good enough grip on the English to play the game, but not to spend too long on it and make them bored. Today my greatest ally was the parents as they had miraculously learned all the English and could hence help some of the first graders in the game. And that was a joy to behold, seeing about two thirds of the kids being able to handle the language going into the game, but all of them being able to use it perfectly after the game.

Then after quite a few "kami samas" had been awarded, it was time for the "Where are you going?" song to end on a mega high note. Excellent.

Then after lunch it was supposed to be the main event, the teachers workshop to follow on from last year, for which had I prepared lots of really nice new stuff to do ( and bought some funky inflatable lightsabers from Toys R US). This year we didn't do too well on press coverage ( last year NHK and the newspapers did nice features), the reason being the murder that happened in the next town over ( safe Japan?). But the local radio had been advertising the workshop today, so instead of mostly teachers it was mostly adults who were wanting to learn English. Recently that's what I've been focussed more on, but if that's who I aimed it for, the teachers who took time out on their Saturday would be disappointed, and if I did teacher stuff, the adults would be bored! A bit of a tough decision and although everyone said they really enjoyed it on the surveys, I had to spend way too long talking and explaining stuff! So my very funky list of new songs and games got slimmed down to:

Where do you live? + Where do you live? Shiritori. In which everyone was hopeless at the place names! But at least it helped prove my point that in making the game the tough part, the English was achieved almost instantly and without thinking!
Where is Mr Monkey? In which the adults were again hopeless when I just said the words without writing them down! Ah, I guess I should have done it at adults' pace instead of kids' pace!
What do you think of...? Computer Game. In which the parents completely failed to grasp that how kids learn has been transformed by years of Nintendo, to instead of being "aim, aim, aim, aim, aim", it's "shoot, shoot, shoot" and try again when you get it wrong. Luckily the teachers got it!
When is your birthday? - At last a hit!! It's tricky doing "dekiru, dekiru, dekiru" when they couldn't do any of the games! Luckily this sure fire hit at the end livened things up!
Otona wa jyouzu naru kotsu - lots of ideas from this page on how to learn English, and lots of material from my new book which is an extension of this article. ( Coming soon!)

But that was draining! One of things I always preach is "Teach to your audience". If you're teaching 6 year olds, think like a kid, if it's real estate professionals or astrophysicists, think like they do. The problem comes when you have two opposite groups like today, both teachers of kids and adult learners. That takes a lot out of you. But the kids were energising this morning and the adults liked it, so let's see how we go.

I was shattered though after doing 3 shows a day for a week, teaching over 2,000 people. If I hadn't been so fat before, the amount of weight I've lost this week would be alarming! Not to mentioned the liters & liters of water a day I've been going through. I just collapsed on my bed when I got back to the hotel. But only an hour's rest before the BBQ, the first beer of the week, and lots of cool people to chat to in the evening.

It has been great though this week and has really renewed my faith in even having only one off visits to a school. Next year they want me back, and I think I'd like to come back to see how much better they can get. But next time it will be just one show, all the kids together in the City's Dome, then a 2 day workshop for the teachers, because I don't think I'll have recovered all my energy back by then!






Friday 16th June 2006 - Akita - What do you do? in 20 minutes

These second time schools are something special. Last time I did the basic show here in November, and today I figured on doing something a bit more challenging, so after the usual warm ups, we went through "What do you do?". That was amazing, the whole school, 6th graders included, were just enthralled by it. They came up with lots of great gestures for the jobs, and picked up on lots of the little extra bits. For example I've only ever taught this song with picture cards before. But today I had a projector, and part of the "Teacher" card has an animation that goes:

4 + 3 = 8 X
3 x 4 = 9 X
1 + 2 = 3

The kids were so interested in why there was a tick on the final one, because of course in Japan, both a cross and tick means "wrong". It's little things like that that keeps the kids attention and lets you keep moving on to the next set of things to do. The sound system was crystal clear today and I did all the pronunciation coming from the computer ( so the teachers could see they don't actually have to have perfect pronunciation themselves, they just press a button and the kids copy the sound from the computer), and the kids could speak so well. Then it came to final word where they have to say what they'd like to be. With 149 kids I figured that might turn into chaos, but they were really cool with it. Lots of them were saying things like "denkiya san" or "Pan ya san", so I figured "shop keeper" is the best for that. Then others were asking about "Sakaa Senshu", so I asked them what "Sakaa" is in English, which they said "soccer", then taught them "player" for "senshu". Then when other kids asked for "Yakyu Senshu" I simply had to say "You tell me! What's "yakyu" and what's "senshu"" to which they replied "baseball player". If the kids aren't really interested at this point, when they come to sing in the song they sort of shut up when they have to say what they want to be. But not here, they sung the whole song beautifully and were shouting out what they wanted to be on the final verse! Excellent. Because that's what it's all about, getting the kids to think big. This song usually takes 40 minus, but they had it mastered in 20. The other good thing about this song is that instead of the "What would you like to be?" line, it's "What do you do?", psychologically it's so much better to have yourself say "I am ..." rather than "I want to be..." with whatever goal you wish to make true.

So a perfect school.

Then things went a bit downhill at the next one! It was the first time I've visited this school so I knew I'd have to start off simple and work through all the confidence training. Things looked good at the beginning though as the Head teacher said "I'm a little bit afraid that the kids may be too genki for you today". Well, in the World of Genki English there aint no such thing as "too genki"! But when the kids walked in they were the quietest bunch of kids I've ever seen anywhere in Japan! These were 1st to 4th graders and they were like zombies!! Oh... So I started to liven things up a bit and what happens, the school chimes start playing, which cuts off the sound system!! So I had no music!!!!!!!!!!!!! Arggghhhh.. Well, I did have some but it was so small as to be unusable. So the only thing I could do was to do like I do in some of the bookstores, get them to be 100% genki, but in a whisper!! Which sort of worked, ish. But these kids could really have done with the loud music to wake them up. The music is also good for getting them quiet when the song has finished. So anyway things weren't too good so I figured I'd try the How are you Monster Game. As usual I asked the teachers to help as 100 kids is a lot to control in 10 minutes. But they just sat their doing nothing! So we started and half the kids were cheating ( jumping lots of steps instead of just one). So I asked the teachers to help again, and they refused to help again!!! My goodness! I tried one more time and the kids who were misbehaving were going too far, so I stopped the lesson, told them all to sit back down where they started and went into my serious "teacher mode" of saying "Well, you know I planned on doing something fun at this school. But the next time the BOE or newspapers ask me what you were like I'm just going to have to say how rude you all were and wouldn't play fair.". Needless to say this shocked the kids and I think also the head teacher as lots of parents were present! If it was my own class I'd have simply stopped things there and done some really boring work as a punishment, but here this was about all the punishment I could give. So I just stood at the front, looking all disappointed at them. It was a big contrast to all the genkiness before! And eventually they started to apologise. So I asked what impression of the school they wanted me to walk away with, and they said they wanted to be seen as good kids, so I asked what should we do, and they asked to play the game again, this time listening to what I had to say! So that's what we did, I dialled up the genkiness back to 100 and they had a great time with the game, really enjoyed themselves and obeyed all the rules. So that was very hard work, but we got a good result in the end!

Then onto the 3rd school of the day ( they've been working me hard!).

This was another "second time" school like the first one today so I was expecting good things! But I started with "Can you do it?" and got a cheeky bunch of 6th graders shouting out "No!". OK, so time to stop again! Most kids in Japan are great and respond really well to the "Dekiru, dekiru, dekiru" ( I can do it!) stuff, but sometimes you do get the cheeky kids and the trick is to just to say "eh, why not?". To which they usually just say, "Oh sorry, we were just joking", but you certainly do have to address it, as it's impossible to continue otherwise. This week I have the added advantage of the World Cup and saying, "Well, do you want the Japanese team to go around thinking "dekinai" ( I can't do it) for the Croatia match?" to they all replied "No way!". So, Soccer and English are the same, "Dekiru to omoeba dekiru!". Which eventually got them onside!
The sound system here was really rubbish and although we did the "What do you do?" song, it took a good 40 minutes to do it ( which is the average), so we only had time for "Thank you" at the end. They did come up with some good gestures for What do you do? and were again asking lots of questions about the animations. But my voice was absolutely killing because the mic was next to useless! But at the end we had 200 very motivated and very excited kids who had learnt a lot of new English and were very happy. So not bad.

Then a newspaper interview.

The best bit of today had to be this morning's school though, they were amazing kids and teachers! The great sound system helped, but the fire those kids have is amazing!




Thursday 15th June 2006 - Akita - Shapes, Aliens + Small School

I had a bit of a challenge this morning. Before the main show with all the kids, I had an hour with the three 3rd grade classes and their parents. Motivating adults is quite easy, and motivating 3rd graders is even easier, but not at the same time!! I starting off aiming at the kids, but the parents were like lead weights dragging everyone down. So I switched to focussing on them and the kids were off paying attention elsewhere. Eventually though things did settle down and we could get the warm ups of Rock, Paper, Scissors and Good Morning out of the way.

The whole point of these "Oyakoko" ( kids & parents) days is to get everyone working together so I was asked to do some games. That is a bit of a challenge with over a hundred people. So what I decided on was a massive version of the Stopwatch Circle game, with each class ( and their parents) being one team. One person on each team would start and ask the target English to the person next to them. When it got back round to the first person the team would shout out and the fastest one is the winner. I used the Banana Tree Game to keep score and let the kids choose which animals they wanted to be from the Pets Theme.

The problem was getting them into groups quickly enough, they were taking ages to get themselves into perfect circles. So the best thing to do to speed it along is to make it into a game! For the first time ever I actually used shapes in a class! Basically I introduced "Triangle" and "Circle" then shouted out things like "Rabbit team, make a circle". After a few attempts of each team doing it separately, I said "Everyone, make a triangle and sit down" and they raced to do it quicker than the other teams. Which meant it was very easy to put them back into groups after each song. Content wise we only managed "What's your name?" and "Thank you", but the parents had a good time and learnt a lot about what elementary school English is like.

Next it was the rest of the kids in the school, nearly 400 of them. The school sound system also decided to pack in at this point, which wasn't too good! But whilst the kids were filing in I played the Mr Octopus song. We had the projector set up at the front and the first and second graders were going crazy when the octopus, then spider then alien appeared on screen. You'd think David Beckham had just walked in the room they were so excited! So when that finished I played the Doctor Doctor animation and they went crazy for that as well! I actually thought about just leaving the CD playing for the hour, they didn't really need me! But I don't think the teachers would be too happy with that. As the kids were so warmed up already, it was a great show going through the Genki English World Cup Song, How old are you? and Mingle ( because the sound system had died and we couldn't play any more songs!).

That was a tough, tough morning though, both with the parents and the lack of sound system. I was shattered.

But then it was time to move on to the next school. This is one of those small schools you find throughout Japan and the total number of students was 27. So instead of a show, I just figured on doing a lesson, well actually three of them in one hour, but still at "lesson" not "show" pace. And the kids were perfect. Rock, Paper, Scissors started off as usual, then we did "Under the Sea" with the Sticky Fingers game. I usually find that song works best for 1st & 2nd graders so I started off by saying to the 5th & 6th graders "OK, we're doing this for the younger kids and you might find it a bit babyish, just help me out", but they were more into it than the 6 and 7 year olds! The whole lot of them were coming up with crazy gestures, playing the game and singing the song really, really well. It was also good to show the teachers how to teach "I can see a whale" etc. then introduce a word such as "crab" and ask the kids to translate into English "Kani ga miemasu yo!", building up the sentences like lego bricks. They were so good at that song that we also did "Do you like..?" and the new Food Karuta game. They were great on that, and even the 1st graders could ask me "Do you like...?" without any prompting. Excellent. I think that was about as near as you could possibly get to a perfect demonstration lesson. And after being shattered at lunchtime, I was all genki again at the end of the day!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Wednesday 14th June 2006 - The Proof & the Genki English World Cup Song

Yesterday I was wondering if doing a one off show was worth while if the teachers wouldn't follow up on it. But my goodness, today proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how well Genki English works even if it is only once a year.

This morning's school was one I'd visited last year. Today I walked in and the kids were as motivated as anything right from the start. "Can you do another 3 super challenging themes today?" and without any prompting they were all "Mochiron Dekiru yo!" ( "Of course we can do it!") in the loudest, pumped up voices you could imagine. The teachers looked as shocked to see their kids so genki as I was pleasantly surprised! A quick run through "Good Morning" and without hesitation they were all shouting "Try again!". Now that is good. And all because of a one hour show last year. So we went on with What time is it Mr Wolf?, which they did with flawless pronunciation in 10 minutes.


Learn to speak GermanI did know this was a second time school and wanted to do something new in the middle. And how newer can you get than a song I wrote at 8 o'clock this morning - the Genki English World Cup Song! I'd been wanting to do this for ages, but nothing worked, then this morning the music and everything just clicked and I had a version up and ready to try with the kids. I took a lead out of Larry King's book and told them it was new and if they liked it, next week a few thousand kids would be using it around the world, and if they didn't like it I'd simply start again. They were so hyped up by this and sung the whole thing brilliantly and came up with some great gestures. They were just crazy to do new stuff! Honestly you have never seen a group of people just so excited and full of confidence. Finally we only had 10 minutes left so we ran through "How are you?" and the How are you monster game to show that they can't just sing the English, they can actually use it in context and know what it means.

What a brilliant school, and great kids. Can you imagine how good these kids would be if the teachers followed up each day?

Next up was a bit down to Earth for a new school. It was the basic show and expressions of "Err... hmmm.. not sure, it's a bit difficult!" at the start before I taught them the Genki English rules. The staff had also taken it on themselves to ignore the written instructions from the Board of Education asking them to set up the equipment. After losing my voice and having to go to hospital last year because of teachers expecting me to teach a couple of hundred kids without mics, this year we spelled everything out and said "No mics, no show". They still ignored it! The crazy thing was they had 1,000s of dollars worth of brand new PA gear in the gym ( with cool speakers built into the front of the stage which were very nice), but had lost the wireless mics that went with them so were using a cheap portable amp instead! But work is work, so I just let them make their excuses to the BOE people ( who were not happy ) and re-wired the PA system, which turned out to sound really good at the end of the day. I did the World Cup song again and they were great, especially the 6th graders were loving in. Nice clear sound makes a big difference.

Then school lunch, then the third school of the day!!

This one was a bit weird. I came here last year and just did the 1st to 5th graders ( the teachers of the other grades didn't want their kids to learn English). So this time it was the 3rd to 5th graders for some strange reason. The reason turned out to be that the new Head teacher hadn't read the instructions from the BOE that said it should be all the kids! As usual afterwards they were saying "Oh, yes, we should have done the whole school!". It is frustrating that public workers in Japan move around almost every year, well at least not staying in the same place more than 3 years, the reason, historically, is to stop people staying in one job, building up a power base and getting corrupted. But the off shoot of everyone changing is that even though the kids stay the same you have to explain things to the new staff every year. But the kids were cool, and it was the end of a long, but very good day!

The best thing though for me was seeing how much of an influence last year's show had on the kids this morning. I have been seriously thinking of cutting out the kids events and concentrating solely on the teachers. Certainly with the workshops abroad I've not even considered doing stuff for kids. But you know, just seeing this today really makes an impression, maybe I should just forget the teachers and make it my aim to teach every kid in Japan!

Tokyo dome anyone???


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.





Tuesday 13th June 2006 - Akita- For a one shot?

Last time I came here it was a week of school visits. Of course word got round the rest of the schools, so I'm back here for another week. After quite a while of computer work, I guess it's kind of like a holiday.

The only slight problem with it is that today was two new schools, and after doing the basic show once, it sort of got a bit boring ( for me ) as I've probably taught this show to about 20,000 kids already! I want to teach some of the funky new themes again!

The first one was all the school, as usual, and apart from them being very quiet ( over disciplined?) in the beginning, they were very, very good and even the sixth graders were genki at the end. So for the afternoon, which due to the schedule was only the 3rd graders, I figured I'd like to try something new.

The problem is that although you can actually do any of the Genki English themes straight away in 45 minutes, if they haven't had a Genki English lesson before there aren't that many themes you can do three of in 45 minutes! I did try something different with the Sports Song, but they were doing the usual Japanese thing of stopping when a word came up they didn't know. So I had to fix that first by moving back onto sure fire songs ( mainly from CD1 + Rock, Paper, Scissors) to teach the Genki English rules of "I can do it!" and "Losing means Try Again!". Which they did very well and we finished off with the How are you? Monster game, which was a hit as usual. They were actually really good kids, I think they just weren't that into sports. Maybe I should have done the Bugs song instead!

It is very tough though deciding what to do in a one off lesson, especially when the teacher, by their own admission, has no intention of continuing things ( hmmm). The other day we calculated that in a given month there are maybe half a million kids learning using Genki English around the globe, and I was thinking today that is spending the afternoon teaching a one off class to 100 kids really an effective use of my time? But then checking my emails tonight and seeing the effects teachers have, then well, I guess it might not be the best use of time, but those kids aren't going to forget it in a hurry, and even if just one of them picks up on the Genki English rules then I guess you couldn't call it a bad days work at all. I'll just wait till tomorrow for the second time kids to do lots of funky new stuff!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Monday 12th June 2006 - Akita - Back to Odate, Hooped Cards & lovely food

I was up to I don't what time this morning trying to reply to emails, as I have a feeling I won't get much chance this week with doing demo lessons for 2,000 kids! Then a flight up to Tokyo, a quick meeting then way up North to Odate City in Akita prefecture. It's only 6 months since I was last here, and so much has happened in that time, but it still only seems like yesterday, and everyone is just as amazingly friendly as before! It was strange seeing snow on the ground in June though. ( They pile all the unwanted snow into a river bed, and it still hasn't thawed yet).

It was great talking to everyone, and like yesterday it was good to hear how teachers change Genki English to their own needs. One of the teachers had a fantastic idea of punching a hole in the corner of each picture card, then fastening each theme together with one of the openable hoops you can find in the 100 yen stores. Such a simple idea, but it means no more hunting around for a particular theme, you just pop open the hoop and off you go! The same teacher had also done the same with the Picture Books, and she's written the story from the next card in the sequence onto the back of the card before it. That way you can hold the cards with the pictures facing the kids, but you can read from the back card in the pile! Ingenious. ( Just watch out for your fingers blocking the pictures on the front.) I've had a bit of feedback about the Picture Books, but they were really loving them today, so I guess I'll have to get some more done!

Then it was a fantastic, fantastic meal and back to my hotel where I fell asleep during the Japan v. Australia match, but strangely woke up to catch the last 7 minutes!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Sunday 11th June 2006 - Fukuoka - Wiggles, World Cup Janken + Magic Water

I happened to be in Fukuoka again today so popped along to the Fukuoka teachers group, ACET. I'm sure this must be a particularly talented group of teachers, but if other teachers groups in other parts of the country do similar things in their meetings, there must be so many great new teaching ideas still out there!

Today's theme was songs. Every member had to bring one along and present it to the class. Two people had decided to do the Genki English "Under the Sea" song which was quite funny as they didn't know I'd be there! It was very interesting to see how they change the song and spread it out to cover one whole lesson. Usually I pre-teach the vocab then get everyone to do the song. But here they introduced the vocab, then had the kids listen to the song and put the words in order. Then when everything was finalised everyone sung it together. The new actions they had were amazing, I have to find a way to get them on the site!

Some of the other songs were sort of run-of-the-mill-made-for-teaching-but-not-sounding-too-genki ( including one that had "I'm fine thank you, and you?" as the set answer to "How are you?".). But some other highlights were:

The Wiggles & Hi-5. If you don't know these two, do a quick google search, they are huge in Australia and have great music production. I've always found their songs to be great but to have too much English to do in lessons. But here the teachers took a different approach. Instead of teaching the English, they simply taught the dance moves ( you can get them from their videos). Then they do the song at the beginning of each lesson for several weeks. Eventually the kids naturally pick up on the English. Very nice, and if you have weekly lessons, I'd say give it a shot. "Hoop dee doo" was the CD they were using.

Skipping songs. Again concentrate on the skipping side of things, then as the weeks go on the kids pick up the English. Works very well, especially for someone like me who has never skipped before!

World Cup Janken. This was a great game. Print out lots of mini cards with the names of countries who are in the World Cup. On the back of each card, put either a rock, paper or scissors symbol. One kid chooses a card by saying something like "I like England" or "I think Croatia will win". The other kid does the same. Then they do the Janken chant and at the end, instead of choosing the rock, paper or scissors themselves, they turn the card over to see who wins!

Magic Water Bottles. This was a fantastic idea that had everyone gaping in amazement! You get three or four kids to the front and give them a 2 liter bottle of water. You then do some exercises like, "Left, shake, shake!", "Up, shake, shake!", "Down, shake shake". And magically the bottles all turn into mega bright colours! Everyone is shocked and it's a great way to introduce the colours, plus ask questions like "Well, how do we make purple?". The trick is that you put a touch of paint in the cap of each bottle. As the kids shake it, the paint mixes with the water and hey presto!

Finally at the end I did the "Where's the ....?" hip hop song with the new worksheet. That worked really, really well. So well in fact I think I'll do worksheets for the other themes as well.

So thank you all very much for making me feel so welcome again, and keep up the good work, you guys are fantastic! And if any of you teach near Fukuoka, I'd definitely recommend popping along to one of the ACET meetings, the next is on July the 9th.



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.

Friday 9th June 2006 - Korg + Listening Quizzes


First things first, today I put up 3 new Do you like...? listening quizzes ( very simple, you listen to the CD and put a cross or tick by each word) and also another crossword and domino set. I also put a new link on the main menu where you can go straight to the kindergarten, elementary or high school sections. After talking to high school JETs this week, it seems that in most cases they use JHS material anyway, so I've just changed the name!

Whilst I was in town ( working in Seattles' Best) I popped along to the music store as the Korg Legacy Collection Synth has now been reduced from 60,000 yen to 15,000 which is a very nice bargain. But Korg have also released a new "real" synthesiser and it sounds very nice.... I just spent 2 hours playing it in the music store and came up with loads of song ideas. I'm just on the point of buying it, the only problem, of course, is that it's an extra lot of kgs for me to carry around everywhere! Is it worth it??? Can I justify it by saying it's free weight training? Well, if any of the store staff had come up to talk to me I would have bought it there and then, but none of them did. So I'll do the Robert Kiyosaki thing and think about it for a day or two!

It does sound nice though.....



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Thursday 8th June 2006 - Medium Size, A5 Picture Cards

As you have probably found out, printing out hundreds of picture cards can be a nightmare, especially if your school or board of education puts a strict limit on how much ink you can use. One option is to print at home where you can take advantage of cheap ink replacement cartridges.

One other idea is to print out smaller versions of the picture cards. Naron from the forum has very kindly edited up 5 sets of A5 cards with each page having two pictures. They're great for games where the minicards would be too small, and they only use half the ink!

Here are the cards saved as "pdf" format:

A5 Parts of the Face ( 300 KB)
A5 Animals 1 & 2 ( 1.2 MB)
A5 Under the Sea ( 500 KB)
A5 Food ( 930 KB)
A5 Vegetables ( 500 KB)

If you like them, let us know and we might be able to do some more. And if you really hate printing A4 cards yourself, ask your school to buy the Printed Pack, if they do the maths it often works out cheaper than printing individual cards, and if they give us a ring ( 0898-48-0256 in Japanese), we can help with the paperwork!


If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.




Tuesday 6th June 2006 - Breakfast & Genies

This morning I was thinking back and it's only a few years since AJET offered Genki English a spare room to put on an unofficial workshop after the main Tokyo Recontracting Conference. At the time the Ministry of Education didn't even admit ALTs visited elementary schools. Hence there were no travel expenses and one time I even had to sleep on a park bench in Shibuya! So today having breakfast in the very nice Keio plaza, all included as part of doing an official workshop, it made me appreciate things a whole lot more.

Afterwards I had a few meetings and popped along to a couple of the workshops. The elementary school one was OK, but nothing particularly Earth shattering. The presenter decided to base things on the Magic Time course book. Although I know the authors and would highly recommend their workshops, I always find these types of books not really suitable to large groups of kids in elementary school. But the presenter did a good job of using activities and ideas where the kids didn't need the text in front of them. Some of them were a little "school like", but he certainly had the personality and energy to pull it off. A couple of the good ideas were:

"Masters & Genies" variation of Simon Says. The teacher is the master, the kids are genies. The teacher gives a command, and the kids do it only if it is followed with three big claps, like in the Aladdin movie. The story element makes it fun, I like that.
Give several kids the picture cards that appear in a song. When your card is sung, you stand up, hold up the card and all the other kids point to it whilst singing the line. I can imagine that would be good with the Fruit Market song, for example, or ones that don't have obvious gestures.

It was also good that the presenter was stressing things like don't just teach vocab, but teach phrases. Teach plurals first, and lots of recycling. Plus he threw in the very good idea of using a bit of Japanese yourself as a pre-emptive strike to stop the Japanese teacher translating every word you say!

It was a very specific type of workshop though, and it would be great if the ALTs had lots of these specific ones to see, but if this was the only workshop they went to this year, they're probably missing out on quite a few things.

Thinking about this more, I was wondering why CLAIR don't video all the workshops and make them available afterwards? I've suggested this a few times, but I guess it's too much work. It would be cool to have a nice bank of all the best workshops over the last few years. But then again, the problem I always had as an ALT was that no matter how many times you saw a game or song presented, it wasn't until you actually participated and felt the adrenaline going, that you "got it" and used them in your own classes!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.




Monday 5th June 2006 - Tokyo Conference

Today was the Tokyo version of the Kobe JET Programme renewers conference I did last month, which both together had about 1,000 participants. As usual it was a different vibe in Tokyo to Kobe ( bigger city, so people are more dispersed I guess), and things were overall very good.

I did, however, mess up the timing of the first one something rotten! Sorry! After having two pretty much perfect workshops in Kobe, I walked into the first Tokyo one expecting it to be just as easy from the start. But before I'd even got to the genki stuff, I just asked the JETs to stand up and some of them moaned! ( Didn't they read the title on the door? ) That really threw me, and I paced it way too slow, ended up having to cut out the High School parts ( and most of them were high school JETs as well) and didn't have time to do the Genki Speech. So I do apologise for that!

The second was just totally different, and everyone was just so nice and friendly from the start, totally perfect. I paced it really, really fast, and over genki, and everyone kept up and I managed to do everything including the high school stuff ( but not unfortunately the new podcast games!), and got in the full length genki speech. The room was electric at the end! Great, brilliant.

Mind you people were coming up to me after both workshops to say how much they got out of it, so that can't be too bad.

It was also good to do the GenkiGerman.com Version of the "Left & Right" song, and especially the second group were going crazy with it. Well, it is the World Cup this week after all!

Anyway, I've written everything up and you can find it on this page: The 2006 Kobe/Tokyo Recontracting Conference Notes. Enjoy & be genki!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.


Sunday 4th June 2006 - Planets & slow, slow phonics

One of the great things about Genki English is all the amazing ideas people send in to share with everyone. Sometimes they take a bit of work to make public ( especially things with copyrights of images etc.), but they are always really good ideas.

Today I finally managed to get Atley Jonas' Days of the Week cards all jazzed up for the site. I've always found using the planets to be a good way to make this otherwise pretty mundane topic more interesting. Kids always love seeing real photos of the planets. Atley also came up with the idea of using the astronomical symbols for the planets, and along with some very nice NASA images they make the cards look very cool to say the least! Atley also sent in his "Borg" & "Week long war" games.

Elsewhere long time contributor Katie Dwyer has sent in her "Leg it!" and "Funky Footwork" games. Which are also very nice.

The Phonics ABC song has been a bit hit in the Japanese blogosphere, and today I finally managed to upload a high quality mp3 version you can use in class. Most of the feedback from Japanese teachers has been "It's too fast! The normal abc song is OK at this speed, but not phonics!". The main reason for that is, of course, that the teachers are used to Ay, Bee, Shes and phonics is something new, whereas for the kids they don't care and just do the phonics from the start. The idea I had for the song was to keep it fast to use as a review and unlike the other phonics songs I wasn't thinking it to be used first thing in the very first phonics lesson.

The kids do get lost on the first verse, but as per Genki English rule number 2, they try again. Then in the middle section it's a really simple "repeat after me", then thanks to this part just about every kid can sing the final verse, even though it's just as fast as the first verse! The problem for Japanese adults is the katakana starts to interfere with the rhythm. So I've bowed to pressure somewhat and also recorded a "very, very slow version". I really hate to do that as the fast version is so much more beneficial for the kids. But if teachers don't like it they won't use it, so I suppose it's the lesser of two evils.

I've also got an online numbers game ( to go in the new online games section ), the Japanese version of the Da Vinci Code Game ( i.e. you can print out both versions to help with discussing the lesson with the JTE ) and Japanese version of the GenkiGerman sites finished. Anyway, I've got lots more readers' ideas waiting to go on the site (A5 picture cards, more crosswords, picture dominoes etc.), please keep sending more in and as soon as I get back from Tokyo this week I'll get cracking!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.



Friday 2nd June 2006 - Foxy Phonics

Phonics ( basically teaching "ah, buh, cuh" instead of "Ay, Bee, See") is becoming a worldwide pandemic at the moment. The UK & Australia have recently decided to bring it back on a national level, and in the States courses such as "Hooked on Phonics" are hugely popular. The idea being that if the kids can do the basic phonics they can read 80% of English. It might also surprise you to know that Genki Phonics is also huge in the US, I know it surprised me when I first found out! Thousands of parents in Japan also see phonics as the be all and end all of English learning, the magic bullet that will make their kids fluent. Hmmm....

Also since I introduced AJET's Team Taught Pizza book for Junior High schools earlier in the year that also has become a slightly more limited, but still very big hit. So it was with great anticipation that last week I managed to get a look at the new AJET publication - Foxy Phonics, a worksheet based course for teaching Phonics in Junior High School. I knew straight away it was going to be a huge hit!

However when I saw the book last week for the first time, I must admit I was more than a little disappointed. The book looks very, very basic. The pictures are hand drawn and the page design was obviously done in Word, with horrible square boxes around everything. The choice of font wasn't a particularly good one either. Certainly not the super book I was expecting. : (

But after actually reading through it ( as opposed to just flipping the pages), it does indeed fill a huge void in the materials currently available for Junior High School. I guess instead of a flashy maglev bullet train, it's a subway car, which might not look pretty but certainly gets the job done very well. The 130 worksheets are tied in very nicely with the JHS textbooks, and the answer key at the back makes using them a doddle. They are going to help kids enormously in Junior High, and save a load of time for the teachers. The best bit I found though was the Japanese explanation at the beginning, just what you need to convince a doubting teacher! So as I wrote on the explanation page of the site, think "school like" rather than "genki" for the design and for 1,500 yen you will not be disappointed! www.FoxyPhonics.com


Update: As you may have seen we sold out of our first batch this week, but we will be having a big new delivery arriving tomorrow!



If you'd like to add to this post, have a look at the Genki English forum.

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Wednesday 31st may 2006 - The American Idol Classroom

I just watched the American Idol final on Fox tonight ( Japan is a week late). There were special guests everywhere and brilliant songs, what a fantastic piece of TV. Great entertainment is all about moving people, changing emotions to inspire, to relax, to take people on a trip where you acquire knowledge without you even knowing it, at the end you feel on top of the World and want to try it all again. There is so much the education world can learn from entertainment. Even in the one show, American Idol, you have...

The story. It starts off with thousands of hopefuls and you know where it's going to end. You have a pathway to walk on and a goal to reach. There's no dawdling or looking out the window. You know where you are, where you are going, so you start the walk. In the classroom the content of the lesson is the Idol stars, the students are the viewers, let's follow the story.

The Baddie. Simon Cowell doesn't mind playing the bad guy, the one everyone loves to hate, the one who people tune in to see, he's in charge of everyone's recording rights. You need something like that in your class. What do you make the bad guy everyone can battle against? Unnecessary Japanese? Katakana pronunciation? Talking too quietly? Just remember that mistakes aren't bad guys, they're good guys. As long as you don't make them thrice.

It's mine!. The reason Idol is so popular is that along the way it's not the producer or teacher that chooses how you walk that path, the viewers, the students choose. It then becomes their own, they own it. Let the kids choose.

The emotion. The ups and downs, the "Oh nos!", the "What's going to happen next?", the "I can't believe it!" all keep you on the edge of your seat right to the very end. You need the lows and tears to appreciate the highs and joys.

The sounds & sights. Sights are what we see straight away, it's got to draw the eye. But music is the most powerful tool to move people emotionally. Imagine American Idol without music. Imagine a classroom without songs.

The event. You were there, you were part of it! You saw them at the lowly beginning, you saw them at the end. If you were part of it, you knew how special it was. Your students aren't just in any English class, they're in your English class. That is special.

The happy ending. No one could watch Idol and not be happy at the end. Yes there was a winner, but everyone was a winner. And we all know the end is just the beginning of the next chapter, and we want to know what happens next. Every lesson should be the same, we know who won, but we all won, and we all have a chance to try again next time.

Over the years entertainment has learned what people want, what they need and what they crave. That's what we need to use in our lessons, to use all the tools & techniques available to make as many students as involved and engaged as possible in the lessons, in the learning. We don't just have to move their minds, we have to move their hearts, to take them on a story as they learn, and arrive at the happy ending, the learning of the new skills, that everyone deserves.




Monday 29th May 2006 - TPRS from the British Council

One of the other workshops I attended last week in Kobe was on storytelling in the classroom. Funnily enough when I looked at the name of the presenter, it was Hamish Buchan from the British Council. The British Council, in various countries, have been really great over the last year or so ( have a look at this link for a lesson plan they have incorporating the GE "Under the Sea" song), but my schedule has never matched up with Hamish's in Tokyo so we'd not actually met until today.

The workshop itself was very good, it was great to see a professional workshop at the conference. He started out with basic Total Physical Response ( TPR) similar to the TPR Warm Up game. He then did a demo in Hungarian and had people split into twos, one giving instructions to the other. That was a really good idea.

Then he moved onto storytelling using actions and gestures. This is a style of teaching called TPRS which I've been looking into more and more after Gumby and CJ were talking about the benefits of it on the GE forum. Here's a good overview from the main TPRS website. We started out with a story that went something like:

Mr Bean woke up
Mr Bean switched off the alarm clock
Mr Bean made the bed
Mr Bean got dressed
Mr Bean brushed his teeth
Mr Bean left the house
etc. etc.

The key with TPRS is that kids hear the words many ( several dozen ) times, all the while doing the directions, then eventually they begin to speak them. At this point we were split into twos to practise on each other.

The key is to keep it interesting enough so the kids are always paying attention. Here Mr Bean was the hook, other teachers use strange stories to get the kids paying avid attention.

The magic part of this lesson was that Hamish then played an actual episode of Mr Bean - "The Dentist". In the video Mr Bean does everything the kids just learnt, but in a different order. It's very funny and afterwards the kids can easily discuss the order of what happened in English! I just had a look on You Tube but they only have part of the episode, you can see it here.

You could probably choose any of the episodes on You Tube and do a similar thing. Just don't present the actions in the order they appear in the video!

We then moved onto a lot of other great activities. Including going through Eric Carle's "Brown Bear, what do you see?", and then using the animals that crop up to tell a version of the Big Turnip story. i.e. instead of the farmer calling for his wife, daughter etc. he calls for the "red birds", "white dogs" etc. which are the names of the groups the kids are in. Both these books are hugely popular in Japanese schools, and it's a great way to link them, and the English, together.

If you get the chance, I'd highly recommend the British Council workshops and next year they are planning on introducing a correspondence course for JET programme participants, which should be very worthwhile doing.




Sunday 28th May 2006 - Back in Inaka

I'm back in Ehime this weekend, for the first time since November. When I used to be a JET I could never understand why ALTs from the big cities complained about living in the countryside. What's not to like about being surrounded by greenery, clean air and lots of fresh food? But after being in the big city myself for the past few months it was strange not being able to catch a Starbucks when I needed one!

I've only been here for a couple of days though so it is pretty busy to say the least. It's been lots of backing up of data, doing stock checks and preparing the action plans for this year. From day to day things do seem to move slowly, but when you look back over 6 months a lot has happened, and the rest of this year should be pretty exciting too. Stay tuned!



Friday 26th May 2006 - Ideas from Nagahama

Yesterday, after having meetings all morning ( lots of new stuff coming up on the site!), in the afternoon I popped along to some of the ALT workshops to see what was going on. The first one was by an elementary school ALT, Stein Setvik from Nagahama City Elementary English Program in Shiga Prefecture, and it was really good. In past years they have been some terrible ones. One year the presenter told the ALTs they had to never speak Japanese in elementary schools, even at lunchtime or when lesson planning with the teachers! One other time the presenter handed everyone a print out of just about all the games on Genki English ( without asking me), and simply read through them in the workshop! So it was a relief to see a very good one this year.

I'll put a link up to Stein's handouts when CLAIR puts them online, but for now some of the very nice ideas from him and the participating JETs were:

Graduation Game: In the Gokiburi Game instead of evolving through animals, you start off at 1st grade and work your way up to 6th grade, before doing the conversation and rock, paper, scissors with the teacher in order to graduate from elementary school! The target language is, of course, "What grade are you in?"

Famous People: Instead of the Name Card Game, give each child a laminated A4 picture of a famous person, and a load of paper money. They meet and ask each other "What's your name?" and then answer with the card they are carrying. They then rock, paper, scissors. The loser gives the winner some money ( you decide how much depending on whether you want to practise big or small numbers), and they switch pictures. They split up, find someone else and try it again with the name of the new card they have!

For the Monster Drawing Game, instead of the teacher deciding how many limbs to draw, one kid throws a dice and they draw that many.

Class word search. For older kids, or Junior High, try drawing a massive word search on the board. The kids come up and ring the words they find.

Greetings. Get the kids, one at a time, to walk out the front door of the class. Everyone says "Goodbye!", as they walk back in the door at the back of class everyone says "Hello!".

Hot, Cold, Warm, Cool. Send one kid out of the room. Hide a cuddly toy in the class somewhere. The kid comes back and has to find out where the toy is. As they move around the class room everyone shouts out "Hot, Cold, Warm or Cool" when they get nearer or farther away!

Anyway, those are a few of the good ideas I learnt, I'll link up to the rest later. Thanks Stein, I'm sure you've helped a lot of ALTs this year.

And if you were in the audience and contributed any of the ideas above, let me know and I'll give you the credit.





Thursday 25th May 2006 - Yomiuri Part Two

Today the Yomiuri had the second in its series of articles about elementary school English. This time from one of the opponents, Prof. Yukio Otsu. You can read the article here ( note: the link will expire soon).

He seems to be of the familiar, but not widely held outside Japan, view that English shouldn't be taught as it might interfere with their Japanese. "It's crucial that children first establish a firm foundation in Japanese as their mother tongue and learn its structure." The usual one-liner response to that is, "Well try telling that to a child in Luxembourg. They'll answer you ... in 3 languages." It's estimated that half the population of the World is multilingual, and most professional educators would laugh at the suggestion that a few hours of English per week would harm the kids' Japanese ability.

But the new tactic seems to be to latch on to the failings of the current implementation and use that as further ammunition. For example South Korea where 6th grade kids find English amongst their most disliked classes, or some parts of Japan where a similar thing happens. Of course the reason in both these cases is nearly always teachers pushing grammar based Junior High School type teaching into elementary schools. Some schools really do go overboard on this and it really is a shame to see the kids who do end up really disliking English and anything to do with it. Luckily most schools aren't like that!

The thing is people who make these types of negative comments completely gloss over the widespread results of many other kids who now enter junior high school with really good pronunciation, a good attitude to English, and the basics of most of the JHS content, all thanks to a good experience in elementary school. But Prof Otsu goes on to say "Introducing English education at the primary school level won't produce positive results, no matter how many resources we secure for it".. Obviously someone who's never actually taught English in elementary schools then! Where do they get these experts?

The problem is, as it always has been, is that the people in charge don't see the good effects as many Japanese JHS teachers often don't have the English ability to recognise them themselves. Of course to most ALTs and good English speaking teachers the difference is obvious, and amazing, but how do we quantify that for the skeptics?





Wednesday 24th May 2006 - Kobe JET Conference

Today was this year's Kobe Conference for recontracting members of the Japanese governments' JET programme.

This was the 4th year I've been asked to present here, but quite a few things have changed, so it was almost like doing it for the first time. First of all there was no AJET info fair, so I didn't have to bother with any "sales" type things. These were the first group of JETs that I'd also presented to at their Tokyo Orientation last year, and I'd basically used up half of my material and all the jokes then, so had to come up with all new stuff! Usually my workshop is on the last day when everyone is severely hung over, but today I was on first on the first day, so everyone was wide awake and ready to go. So that meant we could get going straight away, with only a small warm up, "The bargaining game" for the first group, and Left & Right for the second. I could tell straight away it was going to be a good conference, and it felt like presenting to a group of mates who were very happy to be there.

Content wise I decided to start of with some basic theory stuff ( e.g. "L+1", "Multiple Intelligences" etc. ) to give them the background to realise why we do the activities we do, and build on how and why we learn, all along illustrating it with lots of practical ideas from 1st grade, working our way up to Junior & Senior High. I've written up the main points on the site, which you can find on the link here: "Kobe 2006 Recontracting Conference Notes".

Then to finish off it was my Genki speech, which I didn't do in Tokyo last year, and the room was just buzzing at the end! This is what the JET programme is all about! I didn't have to prompt anyone to do the activities and everyone was listening to the theory bits and really taking them in. Both groups were great JETs. The only thing that surprised me was how many of the basic ideas and games they hadn't been taught yet. It might be worthwhile doing more prefectural JET workshops like I used to do, as just getting a grip on some basic strategies really takes the stress out of the job.

Then it was a quick rest and out for the evening. Even without the Genki English t-shirt on it took an hour to walk along the road as everyone kept coming up to chat. Everyone was just so friendly, and as I knew a lot of them from last year, it really felt like the old days again, and it certainly keeps my confidence up about how good 95% of the JET programme really, really is.

So thanks everybody, I had a great time and you were a pleasure to present to! Keep up the good work, and be genki!





Tuesday 23rd May 2006 - Drowning in Emails

Just a quick word to say I'm drowning in emails at the moment! I will get back to all them, as usual, but it might take another couple of days to get through them all. I do apologise and ask for your understanding!! Thank you!

Tuesday 23rd May 2006 - Much more positive article in the Yomiuri

The Daily Yomiuri is doing a series of interviews with people on the government panel who are discussing Elementary School English in Japan. This week it's the turn of one of the people in favour, Mineo Nakajima. Here's the article http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/language/20060518TDY14001.htm

(The link will expire soon. Link found courtesy of the ELTnews)



Monday 22nd May 2006 - Mix 'n' Match & Pic Packs A&B

I made a couple of big changes to the site today. The first is splitting the printed/laminated picture card packs in two. Quite a few people already have the cards for CDs 1 to 4, but were getting fed up with the all the hassles of printing out lots of the new ones. After trying to print out cards on my little printer for Saturday's workshop, I quite agree, running out of ink and paper getting torn and stuff just isn't worth the hassle! So now you can buy the CD5 & CD6 cards on their own. It's quite nice that both the CD1-4 and the CD5&6 sets work out at around 200 cards each.

The next big change is that I've made the big discount CD packs into a "CD Owners Club" only offer. This means that instead of ordering 15 copies of any one CD to get the less than half price, you can mix and match any of the CDs as long as the total order is 15 or more. This is particularly good for your second or third order as new parents will probably want to buy CD1, and other parents may want to move on to CD2 or the new CD3. Plus of course you can add in a copy of CD6 for yourself for 1,980 yen!

I've also put an article on the site on how to use the GE computer games in class. A few teachers have been scratching their heads on why the games are designed how they are. Have a look at the article and the head scratching will change into "ooooo"!

Enjoy!



Sunday 21st May 2006 - The Da Vinci Code Game

One of the things I always try to do when teaching is to make the subject alive, to take it out of the realm of just being in the classroom by bringing in the things kids are interested in from the outside world. With all the hype that surrounds them, Hollywood movies make an obvious choice. Simple things like giving a game a name like Harry Potter, Spiderman or Star Wars can really get the kids fired up and totally enthused in the lesson.

And at the moment, the topic on everyone's lips if of course the Da Vinci Code movie. I've been thinking all week that it would make a great game. Yesterday I was looking into some phonics decoding activities, and I got a great idea for the game. Basically all it is is numbers that represent the alphabet e.g. a=1, b=2, c=3. The kids decode then read the word. The cool part is super imposing them onto a picture of the Mona Lisa ( luckily now out of copyright and able to be used!), et voila the Da Vinci Mona Lisa Code Game.

Apart from the name and the picture there's nothing else from the movie in it. However as you probably know there is quite a bit of controversy around the film. And as I must be about the only person on the planet who hasn't read the book ( no mobile phone version yet!), tonight at the movie theatre was the first time I'd seen the story. And I can see why some people would be upset by it.

That got me thinking about the game again. Even if it motivates 100 kids to try harder at English, it isn't worth it if even one kid is offended by it. It's maybe fine for Hollywood to offend people, well they probably want to do that to get the publicity, but it's not something that someone in education wants to do. So I decided to take the game down. But then I got to thinking that it is really a good game, and if we keep the Mona Lisa Code Game title instead of calling it the "Da Vinci Code" and the fact that professional teachers are responsible in choosing what to introduce in their classes, then I guess it's cool to leave it up there because it may be useful to some. But if you feel that it may in any way upset any of your students then please don't use it, there are lots more ways to get kids into enjoying learning.

And the new Superman movie is only a month away...








Saturday 20th May 2006 - Live in Fukuoka

It is a strange feeling being asked to do CD signings and presentations in bookstores. When I was back in England I'd see people presenting in Borders or HMV and think "That looks cool.", now I'm here in Japan, of all places, doing the same thing myself! It doesn't seem real somehow.

Oxford University Press were on before me today, which was good as it shows the contrast between the genki stuff and their more "bookish" things. Having said that I do really like their new potato pals series.

The gig today was in the store itself, which is always cool as I can be really loud to get more and more people to join, and the room itself was pretty packed. I also did things differently today by deliberately saying the first 30 minutes would be a "Mini kids Show" and the second hour would be for teachers. And it worked really well. In the kids show I could pretty much ignore the adults and not worry about them getting lost as they could see the how well the kids were doing.

It's always good to get kids to do the "Rock, Paper, Scissors" song as they always go mad in between the verses ( hence the long delay before the next one comes in!). Adults never believe it till they see it and always look around saying "eh?? What's all this empty time for?". Then we moved onto "When, When, When?" and it was fantastic to see all the teachers with a "Woooo, this is too hard and too fast!" expressions, then the kids quite effortlessly singing their way through it! The kids were actually really good, so I asked the usual choice of "Easy" or "Challenge" for the next song, and they all wanted to go for the challenge. So we tried the "Under the Sea" song. Part way through they were flagging a bit ( they'd also sat through the OUP readings before me) so I did the Sticky Fingers game, which lasted about 3 minutes before they started getting restless again, so it was time to go back to the song. Then a big finish with "Thank you!" and they were great.

After a ten minutes break it was into the hour long teachers' workshop. Things worked out really well as I'd already done warming up with the kids, and the Genki English rules ( "I can do it!" and "Losing just means try again!"), and more importantly the teachers couldn't do their "This is too hard, kids can't possibly do it!" excuse as the kids who were lingering at the back were keeping up no problem!

There were also lots of fans here today, which is always good to see, and most people had come to buy CD6, so that's mainly what we did. Make a Face went over OKish, and I was a bit surprised as I thought they would have liked it more. The alternative "Draw a face" version went down a little better. Then everyone became really genki for "Do you have any pets?" which was good. Explaining about using the 2 rabbits mix so the teacher says "I have 2 rabbits" but the kids say "He/She has 2 rabbits" got a nice round of "ooo"s, as did using the two versions to solve the "I have a hamsters" problem. Everyone was a little tired by now, so we had a quick go of the Gokiburi game. Then after doing the "Drinks" Remix ( I still prefer the Heavy Metal version though!), we did the Phonics ABC song. They went mad!! In the conversation topics they were happy, but as usual with Japan, introduce some letters and they suddenly all jumped to cloud 9!! I have got to find a way to make sure they do the communication bits before the reading, not the other way round!

Then we finished off with "Where do you live?" which is a great ending. As the kids were all doing different things now, it was good to be able to do more talky bits with the teachers, like the Harry Potter effect and why "being shy" needs to be addressed ASAP ( as the actual definition of shy is "the degree to which we cannot communicate with other people"). And it was great to have time at the end to chat to everyone. The only funny thing about today was that in old days I used to look at bookstore gigs as a great budget booster where we'd sell lots more than usual. But these days even though everyone bought a load of stuff today, we still sold the same amount online without having to do all the hard work today. But I guess that's a consequence of all the hard computer work I've put in over the past few months, and there's no two ways about it, actually getting out there and using the stuff with real teachers and real kids is 1000% more fun!



Friday 19th May 2006 - Easier to find stuff on the site

After finding out how many pages were on the site yesterday, and figuring out that the old search system only indexed about 800 pages, I decided to put in a new google powered search engine on the site. It seems to be working out really well, you just put in the target English you want to teach and it spits out all the games, newsletters, songs etc. that help you teach it. Nice!

Right, now I'm off to get ready for tomorrow's gig at the bookstore in Fukuoka.

 
Web GenkiEnglish.net




Thursday 18th May 2006 - 9,980 Pages

People always ask me how I find the time to write so much for the GE website. The usual answer I give is "it's taken 7 years". Today I had a look and according to Google there are 9,980 pages of content on Genki English! Now that is more than a little crazy and I don't think I'll ever be able to condense it down into a printed book.



Wednesday 17th May 2006 - Phonics "a b c" Song

The other day I popped into see the ACET teachers at their monthly meeting in Fukuoka. They are a great bunch of people with lots of energy and ideas! One of the ideas they presented was an "ABC" rap, which was really good. What shocked me though was that some teachers were still teaching beginners "Ay, Bee, See" instead of the phonics "ah, buh, kuh". These days outside Japan everyone has pretty much succumbed to the power of phonics!

But anyway, I figured it might be a good idea to do a phonics "a b c" song to use instead of the conventional "A B C" song. So I had a mess around today and got quite a nice little demo sorted out. It's not properly recorded yet, but if you'd like to have a look it's now on the site. The Genki English "a b c" Phonics Song! Any feedback would be much appreciated!



Tuesday 16th May 2006 - Japanese Mobile Phones, eh?

A few years ago I used to really love coming back to Japan after a couple of months ( or sometimes even weeks!), and be amazed at all the new hi tech stuff that had been released whilst I was away. It was also lots of fun laughing at everyone in the UK as they walked around with their brick-sized phones whilst I had a super sexy slim Japanese one.

Flip to 2006 and what on Earth's happened? After being in the UK where everyone wants a bluetooth Walkman phone, and in the US where everyone is addicted to their Treos and and Blackberrys, China where super small phones are everywhere and even Thailand where the people who can afford it have the most amazing pda phones that are so small and do everything, today in the phone store in Japan I was well shocked! All I wanted to do was to update my phone, thinking I could get a nice pda phone that has my calendar and can be used to update the website etc. And there aren't any! There's nothing like the blackberry or treo over here at all. And the hand sets they do have look like they've jumped back to the 80s they are just so big & bulky! I noticed a couple of years ago that Korean stores we're selling TVs and laptops that were faster, cheaper & smaller than Japan, but it looks like Japanese phones have also lost their edge now. Well thank goodness for Nintendo & Sony, otherwise Japanese Hi-Tech would be looking decidedly third world.



Monday 15th May 2006 - "My Languages Portfolio"

As many of you probably know, the EU is heavily into promoting languages at the primary school level. The often quoted aim is to have all kids to have three languages by the time they leave school. So along with lots of research they also provide lots of very nice resources. These are sometimes of the "designed by committee" style of being a touch over done, but are mostly very good. One new project they have is a "my languages portfolio" which you can download to have a look at.

The idea is that students will use their portfolio and in a fun way keep a record of what they've done. It's also a great way to keep parents up to date with how the kids are getting on. If you're teaching outside the EU there are a couple of things to keep in mind with the one I've linked to above:

* It has to be in the students native language. i.e. don't try giving this one as is to your Japanese students!
* It reflects the language learning situation in the EU e.g. in the UK some schools have up to 50% of students already bilingual.

But apart from that it contains lots of useful ideas that you could probably adopt for your lessons e.g.

* Languages I know
* What you can do in those languages ( e.g. watch TV, write to pen friends, speak to guest teachers)
* How I learn languages ( e.g. what I find fun, what I find difficult. )
* My progress in learning a language ( e.g. "I can match words I hear with pictures", "I can understand the teacher's instructions" etc.)

It also has sections on speaking, listening, reading, writing and intercultural understanding with examples of things the kids can do or work up to with a list to check off and advanced topics to work towards. Overall a good read that should give you plenty of new ideas.




Sunday 14th May 2006 - Annoying Microsoft

If you've got a Japanese Windows machine, it's probably updated itself over the last few days. Usually these updates just bug fixes, but the new one is annoying in the extreme. What it does is make you click before allowing any "flash" files to play. "Flash" is the tool I use to do things like the phonics page or classroom English page or anything on the site that talks. The problem is that where I wrote on the page "click to hear the sounds", it doesn't work as you have to click once to tell Internet Explorer to allow clicking, and then click again to hear the sounds! It's really frustrating because the teachers who use these pages are mostly the ones who have little confidence with English or computers ( i.e. the ones I want to help by making things easy for them), and they're going to end up being more confused than ever! It also means that the groovy "Lesson of the Day" link which used to show a new random lesson every day doesn't work, and you have to click twice on the "random game" links to make them work. : (

Hmmm... I think now is the time to switch to firefox. At least that works!





Saturday 13th May 2006 - Ton of new stuff

I was looking through my inbox today to try and get up to date with all my emails, when I came across a load of Readers' Games that I hadn't put up on the site yet. So you now have Gemma Fishers' "Doraemon & Dorami Game" ( He, She, etc.) & Josh Katz' "Mario Tracer Game" ( left, right, up, down), which also gave me the idea for the "Tron Game" ( again left, right, up, down).

Roger's also sent in a whole lot more dominoes and crosswords. This time it's "Pets", "Make a Face" and a very nice higher level "Do you, does she, do they" set of dominoes. There are now so many of Roger's games that I've now put them on a new page of their own: Crosswords, Dominoes & Wordsearches.

Right, back to work answering my emails, you never know what else might turn up!




Friday 12th May 2006 - For the World Cup, GenkiGerman.com !

Primary School German

It's taken a while, but just in time for the World Cup we have Songs & Games for learning German - GenkiGerman.com!

This was a project we'd been discussing when I was over in Germany, of taking some of the Genki English songs and translating them into German. And they have turned out very well, I'm well excited about it all!

The site is still in beta format as I get it all checked and everything, but if you have any friends who are teaching German or if you fancy having a go yourself, have a look! As usual at the start it's a bit of an experiment, so any feedback you have would be warmly appreciated.

Enjoy!







Thursday 11th May 2006 - Australian Scholarships

Parents and high school kids are always telling me how they'd like to study abroad, but can't afford it. The key is to find a scholarship. There are many of them out there, mainly from embassies ( have a search on google), but also some universities and private foundations. As it happens CNN have just started this new ad for Scholarships in Australia. I haven't had a look myself, but it might be worthwhile checking out.




Wednesday 10th May 2006 - Paradigm A or Paradigm B?

After sending out the Japanese newsletter last night I found out that there are over 4,000 people subscribed to the Genki English newsletters. That's more than the ETJ list ( one of my daily reads), and one of the biggest on Yahoo. Whilst I was there I had a look around and found some other very nice mailing lists with some very nice posts. One of them was here
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/language-learning/message/39

They have a very concise and well written comparison of the two paradigms of language learning ( and hence teaching), one the traditional ( my term) and one more modern. The article asks, which are you? When I study a language I naturally feel myself being drawn towards the first paradigm, but when I actually come to use a foreign language ( which happens quite a lot) I quickly realise the second is so much more practical, and is totally the one I favour for teaching. But of course you don't have to be one or the other, one probably requires a bit of the other. But which way do you tend to, A or B?




Monday 8th May 2006 - Fukuoka - Genki Japan Games

After trying to find good websites to learn Chinese and being so fed up with everything being soooo boring, I decided to take the karma approach to stuff and put some more learning Japanese stuff out there first.

So I basically took two of the games from the CD1 Remix, flipped them into Japanese and put them on the GenkiJapan.net site. They're a bit slimmed down to fit on the web, but they work really well, and are lots of fun. ( It's basically learn while you play for adults). Have a try:

Shopping
Left & Right
North & South ( this one isn't on the GE CD, but is pretty useful I thought!)

The funny thing is getting people to do the recordings in a real voice. Professionals always start speaking in really over pronounced ways that are completely different to what the average person on the street says. It's also the same with normal people, as soon as you put a microphone in front of them - they all go into "have to sound like a textbook" mode. It's taken a lot of editing to get rid of this, but what you have here is pretty much real everyday Japanese, which is what I wanted.

Right, anyone fancy doing some fun stuff for me to learn Chinese?





Sunday 7th May 2006 - Shanghai China

I never realised how close China is to Japan. From Fukuoka it's only a 90 minute flight to Shanghai. That's quicker than flying to Tokyo!

China certainly lives up to all that's written about it. Talk about a high pace of development, and on such a huge scale. Things even start out well with the 7 minute, 400kmph Mag Lev Super Train from the airport.

Genki English is used by lots of teachers in China, and it really does make a difference to come here and see what things are actually like. I can certainly see why the average email I get says "Help, I teach 80 kids at once and no-one speaks English". I do need to sort out access to the website though, which doesn't always seem to be as good as it should, but from what I can tell it isn't actually banned ( which was a worry last year! ), which is good news. The Chinese version should also be on its way soon.

It's also interesting to see how much Chinese you can read if you already know Japanese. It was really not much problem reading signs and things, and learning new words was pretty easy when the characters made sense ( a bear cat anyone?). But of course it doesn't help at all with actually trying to talk to people! I still need quite a lot of practice with that.

I'm not too keen on the food though. In Korea or Italy you're almost wanting to have more mealtimes in the day, but I wasn't too impressed with the sucking of fat out of dumplings over here!

Anyway, it's given me lots of ideas, so it's time to head back to Japan for the crazy Summer season with plenty of renewed genkiness!




Saturday 29th April 2006 - Off to China

I'm going to be in China over the next few days, and I probably won't have regular email. The Japan office will be open around the Golden Week holidays, and I'll be back on email from the 5th. Just one thing, if you do email me, please check your spam folders for my reply. I do still reply to all my emails but sometimes things disappear in spam filters, so if you haven't heard from me in a few days, try and get in touch again.

Right, off to brush up on my Chinese now. Doing that Thai intensive course the other week really helped with the tones, let's see how I get on tomorrow! Have a nice Golden Week!




Friday 28th April 2006 - Teach in JHS or SHS? You have to see this!

Over on the forum there's a really big list of very good websites building up. One of the links put up this week was for a massive pdf book of games and ideas by the JET teachers down in Okinawa. It's a really big download, but there are so many ideas for Junior High School (JHS) and Senior High School (SHS) that it's great resource. Have a look:

Massive ebook of games for JHS & SHS ( Thanks to Roger for the link)


Don't forget the Team Taught Pizza or Joel's "Teachers & Kids" book if you'd like a real printed book instead.






Thursday 27th April 2006 - Chinese pod + how to learn English in Japan

I actually had a bit of time free today to catch up with emails and blog links and things. One of the good sites I heard about is www.chinesepod.com. This is a really great site with loads and loads of podcasts ( which are actually free), all done in a very up to date style. Nice. Highly recommended.

They also had a few videos over at You Tube, which weren't that good. But whilst I was there I had a look to see if there were any videos for learning English - and they do! But oh my goodness, if you want a laugh, here are two of the most popular clips for Japanese people to learn English - Ayaka's English lesson & Eigojuku. With programmes like that I think I can retire from Genki English!



Wednesday 26th April 2006 - The net + Genki German

I didn't get the last lot of software done for Monday, it took till four o'clock this morning! Then today was spent checking everything. It's amazing how things have changed in the last year though. Before I used to have make CDs and have them expressed to the factory. These days I can just email them.

Whilst I slept I also had the English proof read in England, and in Germany they were recording the new Genki German songs, which arrived in my inbox this morning. All whilst I slept! A little crazy, but it means stuff gets done a lot quicker these days.

Once I'd sent off the final email it was back into stress free mode again after so many late nights, so I decided to take the evening off and went to see V for Vendetta, which was good.



Tuesday 25th April 2006 - Chinese Visa

You know I've never actually had to get a visa to visit somewhere before. Especially having a European passport you forget how easy it is now to travel to so many countries. However next week I'm in China, so have to get a proper visa. It'll be strange not having my passport for 3 days!


Monday 24th April 2006 - Officially, no change

With all the talk recently of reforming or changing the elementary school "English" curriculum, I figured I'd better check up to make sure that there have been no changes to the Course of Study of this year.

The Course of Study or "Shidou youryou" ( 小学校学習指導要 ) is the official word on what we have to teach in elementary schools. Your schools will have a copy in the Head Teachers' room, although most teachers won't have actually read it! It's worthwhile showing your teachers though, it really puts people at ease when they see it. You can also buy it from bookstores, ISBN4-487-28682-4 for 100 yen. Note that it's not the blue "Handbook" but a small green book with the more formal description of the course all in Japanese. You want page 69 ( it's only one page for "Kokusai Rikai").

So anyway, I had a quick look and luckily nothing has changed. I just updated the version I have on the site to have the new page number, but the content is all the same. i.e. it isn't to be seen as preparation for Junior High / don't teach Junior High material in Elementary school, keep it aural/oral based, start of with "learning by doing" with "suitable songs, games, skits " etc. then move on to exchanges of culture, crafts etc. with kids in other countries.

Which is very good as far as I'm concerned. Although it means the bad schools will continue as they are, it also means the good schools can keep going with the great progress they've been making over the last few years, and it's another year without the fear of being forced to teach Junior High style boring grammar based lessons!




Sunday 23rd April 2006 - TEFL, TESL or is it really TCFL?

This month's Wired magazine has a great article about how we learn by playing computer games:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/learn.html


And they also have another great article on "Beijing's global campaign to make Chinese the number one language in the world."
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/mandarin.html

Be genki,




Saturday 22nd April 2006 - Fukuoka - Locked Up

I've basically spent the last week dawn to dusk programming some new software. What a difference to last week recording then taking my breaks by the pool or the beach! I also felt really good physically last week, doing 3 hours of Genki English is really good for you! Needless to say this week spending every day in front of a computer doesn't feel that good! But hopefully the new project will be finished by Monday.

Luckily Hitzradio.com kept me sane.




Tuesday 18th April 2006 - Fukuoka - New Monkey Magic

Well, we all know it's really just "Monkey". It's great to see the new version on Japanese TV. I loved the show as a kid. Apparently the original Monkey was also in the first episode of the new series!

When I was an ALT, one JTE and I re-wrote the whole second year textbook to be the Monkey story, the kids loved it, especially playing video clips with all the dodgy English! I'll have to see if I can find the files.

One of the techniques I use for teaching other languages to adults is to really super over exaggerate the accent of the language you are talking. For example, if you're learning French, really go over board with the Inspector Clouseau impersonations. It works really well in curing people of their shyness! When I came to Japan I thought I'd try the same, and spent a fair few weeks trying to speak with a "Monkey" accent, which of course didn't go down too well!

I also think Godaigo ( the people who wrote the Monkey magic song ), are some of the best English speakers in Japan. As a kid I always thought their song went "In Ghandara, Ghandara, I know Kuni Ghandara" and was convinced Ghandara was a person with the first name Kuni. It was only last year that I figured out they were actually singing in Japanese: "Ai no kuni Ghandara" - the country of love Ghandara!

Well anyway, if you're in Japan, enjoy the series, and for the fans in the UK, Canada and Australia ( it never seemed to have made it to the US ), you can look forward to the new series over there soon!




Sunday 16th April 2006 - Japan - More Crosswords & Dominoes ( great for JHS!)


Genki English reader Roger from Imakane has been a total worksheet machine over the last few weeks and I've just uploaded another batch of his great crosswords, dominoes and wordsearches. They are proving very popular for Junior High School as well, so if you know any teachers who teach there, be sure to pass on the link.

Roger has also sent in a lot of great worksheets featuring famous people in Japan. These should be great for older kids, so as soon as I get permission to use all the graphics, they'll be up on the site. For the time being there is one set of worldwide famous people that you might find useful. Enjoy!

If you have any requests, send them in and I'll pass them on.




Saturday 15th April 2006 - Flying back to Japan - Nationalism/Patriotism in schools?

I'm actually looking forward to getting back to Japan this time. I got a load of work done in Europe, had a great time in the States and being with all the Thai teachers made me totally excited about the future. Thailand is certainly a country that is going places, the whole development around Siam Square is simply amazing, I don't know anywhere in the world that is so highly developed, well except maybe Shanghai. And today it's back to Japan, which is actually quite cool. Most people who live in Japan ( me included ) often treat it as normal, nothing special, but when people ask you where you are going next week it does sounds good to say "Tokyo"! Plus it's the nice Spring weather and after golden week I have a load of great gigs lined up.

But just one hint, if you're in a good Japan mood, don't read the newspapers!! After last week saying that they were "thinking about" making English mandatory for 5th and 6th graders only ( obviously they have never spoken to anyone who has ever taught in elementary schools who could tell them that those are the least responsive ages to start), according to the papers, the Japanese government are now thinking of introducing "nationalism" or "patriotism" ( depending on which translation you choose) classes to schools!! What's going on there???? I can see where they are coming from, they are obviously terrified about the economic and political rise of China. For example last month's flight from Honolulu to Tokyo was not filled with Japanese tourists as may be expected, but with Chinese tourists. Last year in Milan there were hardly any Japanese tourist signs, everything was posted in Chinese. Plus the fact that everywhere you go around the world everyone is talking about China and hardly anyone talks about Japan anymore. But introducing classes in nationalism??? That can't be right. Japan is still a cool place with a lot of to offer, but surely it's "international understanding education" that's needed for the future.




Thursday 13th April 2006 - Phuket - Songkran - Happy New Year!


I have a habit of walking out of hotel rooms straight into the middle of festivals. Today was no exception as it's the Thai New Year - Songkran. How do they celebrate over here? Well, seeing as it's the height of Summer you walk around the streets with huge buckets of water and throw them over complete strangers! Or you buy a super high powered water pistol and do the same. Great fun.

Traffic comes to a standstill as trucks armed with massive tanks of water roam the streets for people to shower, and even motorbikes aren't exempt with people throwing buckets of water at them too!

In Phuket it's only on for one day ( in other areas it can be 3 or 4 days), and was over by sun down. But lots of fun all the same.





Sunday 9th April 2006 - Phuket - Recording + even newer "Do you like...?"

After a very nice holiday yesterday, today it was back to work. For this week that consists of working on new recordings and the Thai CD masters.

I've also done an even newer version of the "Do you like ...?" remix, which CD Owners can download now. After using it with the Thai teachers last week I've put in a little "Nice, nice, nice" chorus which works well to break it up and make it more fun to do, rather than seeming like a drill!

Luckily whilst I'm by the beach I can do a bit of work, pop out for half an hour's jet skiing, do a few more hours work, pop out again for some food, which is all pretty nice and should lead to some very genki new stuff!



Saturday 8th April 2006 - Phuket - Nice & easy

I love the sun. Last week I did get invited down here to do a workshop, but as it is the Songkran holidays they couldn't get things sorted in time.

Which is just as well as being in a nice hotel and lazing around in the pool seems to bring out all these amazing new songs and ideas! This is great, it's like work without the work. I also wrote up a couple of the new games from this week, one for "When is your birthday?" and "Do you like..?" and wrote down about the "Harry Potter/Star Wars/Matrix" thing I've been thinking about for secondary school classes.

Right, I'm off for some BBQd prawns!






Friday 7th April 2006 - Thailand - Live in Thailand?

When I first arrived here two and a half weeks ago they handed me a ton of breakfast coupons and it seemed like I was going to be here for ages. But today was the last day, and it was time to get all packed up. I also popped into the main hall to sort out my flight for tomorrow and ended up being called on stage and given a present!

Then in the evening it was out with the trainers. That was good and although yesterday was my "wow, it's all over" beers, today it was nice to just relax and enjoy eating outside. One thing that everyone kept saying though was that if I spend half of the year doing GE music or software work, why on Earth do I still live in Japan where it is so expensive? Surely it would be better to work in Thailand where the weather's nice, everyone has a pool, there's nice food and the cost of living is so much cheaper?

And you know they're right really! Purely from a financial stand point it's really daft to be in Japan when I don't have presentations, the price differences are so huge. The only thing that doesn't appeal is how foreign guys are seen here, and the whole seedy side of things in Bangkok. Whenever I've been here before it's always been in the countryside where everyone is nice and friendly. But some places in Bangkok are just downright horrible. Even one of the teachers the other day had a dodgy foreign bloke trying to buy her! That gave her a real life chance to use her English though!. The whole point of the project I'm doing here is to give Thai kids a better education so they have more choices when they grow up. But the way some western guys take advantage of things now is just repulsive really. But I guess it depends on the area, if you have a nice area of the country away from all that it would be so nice. The whole cost of living and quality of life here is so much better than in many, many countries. Now broadband is everywhere, the thought of all year sunshine, really, really nice food, an Education Ministry and teachers with a can do attitude, spacious living places and a place to swim every morning certainly sounds nice!




Thursday 6th April 2006 - Thailand - Life is good

I was about to write here "my life is good", but it can't be just me, where ever I go people are having an amazing time. It's true that the most interesting days to blog about are the ones where you never have time to write! And it's also true that if you want something done, you give it to a busy person.

This morning I was working on more animations for the Thai versions of the songs, and by request I also wrote and recorded a new adjectives song, all with actions that should work as a nice warm up (I'll have a version in the CD Owners Club soon).

Then the final day's workshop for this group of teachers. One of the things I do in longer workshops is to always ask if an activity is good or bad, and why. For example I'll do some games and leave one rule out, or "forget" to do something important in one of the songs. The idea is it keeps them on their toes and keeps them thinking of how to improve things. The other day they were saying how things were going too fast, so I started off today with the Easter Egg Hunt. I asked whether they though this song would work well in elementary school and everyone of them said "No, it's too slow, isn't it!". Nice!! Of course if works well in small English classes, but in elementary school the kids usually fall asleep!

So it was back into the Genki side of things. Then explanations of why I do this and why all the background psychology is so important, it's not so much about teaching English, it's about giving the kids a thirst to learn and the skills to set big goals and achieve them. If I had done this on the first day, I doubt many people would have understood, but after putting everything into practise pretty much all them were in agreement, and it was good to see the Ministry people nodding as well.

Mind you on a couple of the games ( we did a modified gokiburi where of course you only get to human instead of god) some of the teachers were a little confused to say the least. One of my problems is that I always look at the people who least understand in a class. The good teachers will learn whatever, but I don't want anyone to go away not understanding the basics. So instead of moving on to the projects and more complicated stuff, I stayed with explaining the games really thoroughly so everyone got them. I mentioned this to the British Council people and they were saying "Yeah, but I think most of them get it. Let's test them!!". "Errr... we can see. Look, some of them can't do the game" I replied. So they said "Well, let's test to see if they have at least remembered the songs and the basics of the games". Usually my aim in workshops isn't to have the teachers remember things, but simply to experience them ( if you just read about them you aren't going to try them, but once you experience them you feel the adrenaline and know what it's all about!), and I don't expect people to remember the words or games, that's what the website is there for, so in the future when they are teaching these lessons they can simply look and jog their memories. But anyway we tried the test. And my goodness they were so good! We had some very cool clocks to give away as prizes which helped, but after doing each song just once we were asking what the lyrics were. Without the picture cards even I forget, but they remembered them all! The thing was one person would stand up, then start going through the gestures and then remembering the words. Then when they got stuck everyone else would do the gesture and they'd remember. Wow, I have never seen that with adults before! It really works with non-kids , that's pretty amazing! So I was pretty much dumfounded, and they even remembered all the words from the new adjectives song I wrote this morning! So to finish off we did the Thai teachers favourite song "What do you do?" and as usual they took it to a whole new choral extravagance and it just rocked. Now that is Thailand!

I was shattered. A quick shower, a dip in the pool for half an hour, then to get ready for the big teachers party!

The teachers here come from all over Thailand, from the north to the south, a distance of about two days travel. They are naturally eager to show off their regional song and dances. Each area in turn got on stage and did their thing and it was really, really cool. Of course most of them also invited me on stage to dance with them, which could have been totally embarrassing, but with these things you've just got to go with the flow. It was actually cool, everybody was up dancing and singing, playing the games and of course eating the fantastic food. I also had a speech to do, and they were so receptive, even the shier ones and more posh teachers from before were 110% more genki, and they loved the adults only 4th rule of Genki English - "To get good at English, drink lots of beer".

It was lots of fun, but the best thing for me was seeing how much of the GE technique they were taking and using in their presentations. When people weren't listening, they were doing the hand raising thing, when people were too loud they were doing the things we'd been doing this week and all the way through were shouts of "I can do it!" and "Try again!". One guy even did a whole skit teaching Isan dialect in GE style! That really brought home to me that it's not just what we teach, but also how we teach it that sticks with the teachers, and even the not super genki ones do take a heck of a lot in. I guess I need to be more optimistic! Yesterday afternoon I was a little worried to say the least that we weren't going to get them all up to speed, but today there were no such worries, I'd give them all an A+.

It was also nice to be able to go and talk to everyone there. There is still a strong class system in Thailand and some people can be a little snobby it seems! But it was cool for me to chat to the posh people, then go drinking with the country teachers I'd been out eating with in the week, and just have a good time with everyone.

We eventually got thrown out, so went for some beers in the lobby, then when we got thrown out of there it was time to finish this amazing day.







Wednesday 5th April 2006 - Bangkok - Ships in harbour + CD6

Spent the morning re-mixing and re-programming versions of the songs for the Thai schools, e.g. things like the "Where are you from?" song. Then another 3 hours of workshops in the afternoon. It's so nice having three days to do this. In Japan it's so difficult to get even 3 hours. But those are taken up by the basic philosophy and do work well, but it's in day 2 when we put those things to work that the teachers start getting the "aha" moments when everything fits together.

A lot of the teachers were asking how on Earth they can train primary teachers who don't speak English and why foreign teachers can't do the teaching. Now that's a lot to work on! My answer ......In an ideal world every language teacher would be a native speaker with fantastic teaching skills, after all, would you go to a guitar teacher who couldn't play the guitar? But there is a massive worldwide shortage of quality native speaker teachers ( great job prospects at the moment!), and contrary to what the teachers think, just being a native speaker isn't enough. For example, could any Thai speaker simply walk into a Thai classroom and teach the Thai language class to the kids? Would they know what to teach? How to teach it? How to answer the kids' questions? At the end of the day, as in many countries, it is the class teachers who are going to have to do this. So what I've found is the best thing to do over the years is to simply say, forget about the teacher "teaching" the kids. The teacher starts from zero, the kids start from zero and let's learn together! "But my students will quickly become better than me" cry most teachers, "Good", I say, "because having the students become better than you is the sign of a fantastic teacher!". This usually gets people on board and along with the "Mistaikes are good" and "Ships in harbour catch no fish" type exercises the teachers feel a lot less scared and a lot more excited about trying new things out. Because once you take away the fear of losing face, it really is just a lot of fun!

Oh, and I also co-ordinated the worldwide release of CD volume 6!




Tuesday 4th April 2006 - Bangkok - Training the trainers

Teaching using Genki English is dead easy, that's what it's made for. Training teachers to use Genki English is also pretty easy, that's what I do everyday. But training teachers to train other teachers how to use GE is a new experience!

The Ministry of Education has brought together around 180 of the best teachers from every area in Thailand. They have two weeks of workshops ( many sponsored by the British Council ) in which they learn how to train up all the primary school teachers in their areas. Over the next 3 days they also have 9 hours of Genki English workshops, to show them how to use the GE songs, games & projects.

Although these teachers are really good ( really the creme de la creme ) they are secondary school teachers - which filled me with a little dread! And I found out today that except for 3 of them, they had never taught primary kids and they all admitted they had no idea what teaching younger kids is like and were wanting to know how different it is! Ah..... those of you who teach both certainly know the difference! I was so glad that I had taught demo classes in Thai High Schools before so at least I knew where they were coming from.

So I started doing some stuff and they were totally freaked out!! Both with the level of English ( "This is secondary stuff, primary kids can't do it!!"), and the speed at which the kids get through stuff ( "No, they can't possible move like that!"). So in the 3 hours we covered about half of what we did with the real primary school teachers last week! A lot of it was gently, gently, yes you can do it, style things. These guys are going to have a huge shock when they set foot in a primary classroom, they just have no comprehension of what it's like. Mind you they should all be happily surprised at the progress they can make and by the end of it they were quietly relieved and quite excited.

Contents wise it was the basic 3 hour workshop, but without too much explanations as a large group of them were struggling with the English explanations and my Thai isn't up there yet, but eventually they came round and the two rules of "I can do it!" and "Try again" were firmly in place for a massive finale of the "I can do it" song ( a new Thai favourite!).

Good, certainly a lot better than I thought it might have been. I could never have imagined doing this with Japanese high school teachers unless they'd had 4 or 5 beers each. No where near as good as primary teachers, because there everyone is in the know. But let's see how far we can get as now the basics are over, it's a full day of activities tomorrow!




Monday 3rd April 2006 - Bangkok - Way too much...

Getting CD6 ready for release ( and up on the site), learning Thai ( very exhausting!), preparing for the Thai workshops, developing new materials, meeting with teachers and trying to write a book. That's been this week, I'll try and keep up with the blog from now on!


March 29th 2006 - Wednesday - But not the alphabet!

Whenever you start a new language ( or anything really ) you always make the most progress in the first lesson. Basically you go from nothing to being able to speak something. From then on it's a case of reviewing what you've learnt and adding in a few new bits. With an intensive course like I'm doing now though the review starts to take up more and more time and it feels like you're "doing" less and less.

The natural temptation then is to feel like you want to do some "study" so many people fall into the trap of learning to write the alphabet. It is a difficult temptation to resist and one that many Thai course writers don't, but although it may seem like you are doing "something", learning to read the Thai alphabet is next to useless if you can't converse with people.

The speaking always comes in stages though, like a stair case, it feels like you haven't progressed in a while, then suddenly you start to jump up a little, then it plateaus again. Just don't do the alphabet for a long while yet, that's like a stairmaster exercise machine, you'll have a done a huge workout but when someone starts to speak to you, you'll still be stuck on the ground floor!




March 28th 2006 - Tuesday - How to Learn Thai!

As I said on the weekend I really need to learn Thai. As in Japan, confidence training is a big part of my presentations, and I really need to be able to explain some of the "paradigm shift" aspects of teaching Genki English in a way the non-English speaking teachers understand.

So I've put together a mega crash course to get my up to speed in Thai as soon as possible ( hopefully!). What I've come up with is:

1) Pimsleur Thai Course ( for speaking. A little slow, but it really sticks)
2) Rosetta Stone Software ( for listening. I bought this ages ago, so I'm going to really try it now. )
3) A talking dictionary. ( needs to be talking for a tonal language like Thai, just need to carry it everywhere. The one I've just bought, by "E-Dict" also has Chinese and Korean so should be useful later on. )
4) A good teacher! These days with computers, mp3s etc,you can get away without a teacher. But for a language like Thai, a teacher is really useful in giving feedback on the tones and sounds which at first all sound the same.
5) Tons of confidence. Well I have that already, Thai doesn't look too hard and if a 4 year old can do it then I'm sure I can give it a good shot!

So that's my plan, let's see how I get on!


Oh, today I was also helping the teachers with their computer classes which was good as they were pretty much up to speed which should prove useful next week!


March 27th 2006 - Monday - 2 week workshop

This week I was supposed to start a tour round Thailand, visiting all the big cities and all the out of the way places that usually don't get workshops. Unfortunately because of the election that part of the project has had to be put on hold. So I'm now in Bangkok, staying in a very nice hotel, helping with the elementary school trainers conference. I have 9 hours of workshops with them next week, and this week was helping out and getting to know them. I also have a ton of computer work to do and prep work to localise all the material for the Thai schools. But you can't say it's not fun!


March 26th 2006 - Sunday - Kindergarten Teachers

I wasn't quite sure what to expect today, it was in another hotel across town, this time organised by the "private schools" section of the Ministry of Education. I wasn't quite sure what that meant until I arrived and found out they wanted to see what 120 kindergarten teachers thought of it all!! So a 3 hour kindergarten workshop ensued. Well, actually there wasn't that much difference, I just took out a few of the more challenging songs and games. And they were great. Kindergarten has to be the most tiring of any type of teaching, so the teachers had stamina to spare and they seemed to appreciate the fact I'd also spent 3 Summers teaching in kindergarten. Afterwards one of the head teachers asked if I could go to his school and teach the rest of his teachers. I'm not quite sure what my schedule is going to be like from now on, but they sort of clinched it when they said their school was in Phuket!!

The Secretary General of the Education Ministry also popped in and was apparently impressed again, so that's always good to hear. Right, what's next!!



March 25th 2006 - Saturday - Since 2AM

So today was the first two big workshops to introduce Elementary School teachers across Thailand to Genki English.

The set up was similar to last December, with a massive hall, a nice big projector screen and a great loud sound system. The first group was 200 elementary school teachers from Bangkok, and they were, as expected from Thai teachers, very, very genki! The things we went through are on the Thai page.

I also wanted to try some more games. Although it was billed as just showing the teachers how genki English can be ( the regional trainers will follow up later), I also wanted to show more of the techniques and things they could use straight away in class. What I quickly found out though, was that I need to speak Thai!! In a similar way to private teachers in Japan, they were all saying "Oh, we understand, we don't need translations", but what they actually meant was they understood the target English from the songs, but not the directions to actually play the games!! So the first few runs through of things like the Gokiburi Game failed miserably to say the least. But we eventually found a way to translate the game instructions into Thai and they went crazy!! So games also work good over here.

Then it was lunch time and then to start all over again with another 3 hours with a new group of 200 teachers. This time they had been called in from all over Thailand, some of them setting off at 2AM to be here. Now that's dedication - especially on a Saturday! The side effect though is that after an hour of so they were beginning to get a bit tired. My usual plan in those situations is to wind things down and finish a bit early, no point pushing right to the end, it's best to finish on a high note. But after just a little rest ( a very quiet run through of the Warm Up game and "When is your birthday?") they miraculously sprang back to being 100% genki and were tearing up things like "Where is Mr Monkey?" like there was no tomorrow! Excellent!! No that's what Genki English is all about, and the feedback was great, with most people asking for a week long Genki English boot camp - now that would be fun!



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!




Click here for my Diary January - March 2006

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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