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 & workshops, 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 version and please get in touch if you have any comments.

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!

June 30th 2007 - Thailand - On to millions of students...

When I first volunteered to do some training in Thailand five years ago I had no idea how big this would all become. Now it's 2007 and we have the job of training teachers in every single school in the country. With tens of thousands of schools it's a big, big project to do. Of course as with any sustainable education project I'm not going to have to do it all myself!

The county is split up into 600 areas so this week we have had one teacher from each area come to Bangkok. Unlike many countries this was very much "professional development" instead of "teacher training" as they were really good teachers. The idea is they get a rough idea of what Genki English is all about, then head back home to train the other teachers who already have all the materials.

And they were great. The only weak link in the chain was me not having enough Thai to explain all the complicated stuff! But luckily we got around that as the new Genki English manual for Thailand is all in Thai, so we got the teachers to come up and read the passages. This worked really well in that it removed me from the proceedings quite a bit, which is always a good thing as the teachers themselves will be conducting workshops when they head back home. Plus it also meant I don't have to worry about learning the Thai for things like "quantum mechanics" or "genetic engineering" (yet!).

Anyway, it was a physically tough week, doing so many hours of Genki English everyday at such a high speed is a sure way to lose a lot of weight, but the teachers were loving the songs and games and were getting really into the whole motivation aspect of what this is all about. The teachers who were here for the second time helped even more by relaying stories of their students getting penfriends abroad from the projects and how well the songs were working in their classes.

The next thing will hopefully be a tour round the provinces to teach smaller groups of teachers the more advanced stuff, and that means I might have to be here for quite a while next year. But what with the wonderful food, cheap prices ( I saw "Transformers" on Thursday on the biggest screen in Asia for about 500 yen!), and unbelievable genki teachers who really understand how education is important for their students, and I don't think I'll have any complaints!

June 22nd 2007 - Thailand - Thai Ministry Genki Books & CDs

I've got workshops all next week in Bangkok and today I popped in for the briefing session and I finally got to see the Thailand Ministry of Education's and the British Council's versions of the Genki English packs. They've actually come out really, really well!

The funny thing is that there is now an official Genki English lesson plans book in Thai before I've even finished the English version.

Actually I haven't even seen the new CD7 yet myself yet!

June 18th 2007 - Can you kick? Game

Today we have a very nice game, in fact it's one of my favourites, for use with the new Can you kick? song.

It's basically just a modified version of the Do you have..? game, but it's one of the easiest ways to get the kids practising "Can you...?".

You do need a lot of mini cards for this theme, so if your budget won't stretch to colour print outs, the kids are usually just as happy with black and white ones that they can colour themselves. It's great colour and clothes practice ( e.g. what colour shall we make the shirts? What about the shorts?) Plus the best thing is the kids can take the cards away with them and use them for games in their lunch time. Of course sometimes this does descend into their own language, but you'd be surprised at how many of them continue to play in English - and they get so proud that they can!

One other great idea with pair work type activities is to let the kids come to the front at any time and check out how to say any of the words on the computer. They try to get as close as possible to the pronunciation and it's also good for you to see just which words they are finding tough, and which ones are easy. Although actually in this theme pretty much all the words are easy!

Have a try at the Can you kick? Game.

June 16th 2007 - UK's MFL Scheme of Work

The UK government have just published their new MFL ( Modern Foreign Languages) Scheme of Work for Key Stage 2. It's very dense and very comprehensive and maybe a touch dry in places, but it should give you a few of ideas for whichever language you are teaching.

June 12th 2007 - Okayama - Teaching 2000 kids in day

When you do school visits, you sometimes have bad days and sometimes you have good days. To be honest today didn't start very well as I had to spend the first 30 minutes wiring up the schools broken sound system - I can't remember the amount of times I've had to do that!

But then the first 1,200 kids rolled into the gym and everything went magically from there. This school is actually one of the Ministry of Education's test schools and they are the school that is testing out the DVD versions of the Genki English CDs. I also did a two day workshop here two years ago and they have a fantastic lady in charge of the programme. And boy does it show! Even just in the setting up the kids were actually answering when I asked questions ( instead of the usual running away!), and were asking me stuff themselves, and not just "Say this to the foreigner" type things, but the normal things that kids ask me in Japanese.

The show we started out with Rock, Paper, Scissors just to check they all got the Genki English rules. They sailed through this, which is a bit cheating I suppose as they've already done it loads of times in their normal lessons. But I was also asked to teach a new theme that they hadn't done yet and the request was for "How did you get here?". This is a fun theme, but having all the grades together meant introducing the vocab is a little tough ( e.g. you need different jokes for each grade level!). So I just decided to whiz through the vocab and mini lesson and get them onto the music as quickly as possible, the para para techno music always gets them awake. And as was to be expected from a first run through a new theme after only 5 minutes they were a little lukewarm to say the least. Which is fine of course, if they could sing it all perfectly straight away there'd be no point teaching it! So then I came in with usual motivation talky bits and rule number two of "Try again!" came into play and we tried it again. And my goodness, they were amazing. Going from being quite unconfident and hesitant to blasting out all the words, including the chorus, with really great pronunciation and perfect timing. In fact they were so loud they broke the sound system. But no problem, these kids proved that they could tackle even a new theme straight away.

So then to finish off it was How old are you? and Mingle. Which like Rock, Paper, Scissors I didn't have to teach as they already new it. And they did great. One nice touch is that the teachers give them cool hand gestures for the chorus and then only have them jump on their own age. At first I didn't figure out what was going on, but afterwards I realised why there was this ripple effect from front to back!

Semi Immersion

Right, now it's on to the second school before the teachers' workshop this afternoon. This second school is trying things in a different way. Instead of introducing Genki English they are doing a semi-immersion class where they teach the music lessons all in English. Now I can't really see how this works myself but it will be interesting to see how they get on!

This time we had 900 kids and no sound system set up ( "We thought you didn't really need it so we set up the speaker in the projector machine for you") hmmm. Luckily they had a several thousand dollar PA system at the side of the gym being unused ( after they were complaining they have no money!) so I rigged that up and it sounded really nice. When you have a nice sound system you don't have to have things so loud, which can make the whole experience much clearer and much more like a movie. The show was OK but the kids lack of experience with Genki English showed through ( e.g. "Can you do it?" and half the kids go "No!"), so I just did the basic first step show. After that they were really good but the very nice head teacher came up to me afterwards and said "Wow, that was great. Was it the same content as this morning's school?". To which the answer was of course "no, this morning was way more advanced" but I had to say that diplomatically of course. But this throws up the problem in this city that both these schools feed into the same Junior High School and there is a huge gulf in ability and attitude between the two schools.

Teachers' Time

Most of the teachers at today's schools had been to a two day Genki English Bootcamp 2 years ago and they were all well up to speed with few worries about how to teach English. There were however quite a few new teachers, but they very quickly got over the fact that I'm not going to take half-heartedness as a valid excuse and pretty soon their questions turned to practical things that they can fix, compared with general worries that are un-founded. Activities wise we did the Genki Disco Warm Up, Do you like? + the Genki English version of Karuta, and the new Time 2 song and game which they loved. Then it was finishing on why elementary school English and International Understanding is so important, which worked out great. They are a very good bunch of teachers.

After spending so much time abroad recently and hearing the same old same old stories in the Japanese press about how elementary school English hasn't moved forward, I had sometimes had thoughts of "is all this working in Japan?" and "shouldn't I spend more of my time in countries where they are more serious about education?" but going to this morning's schools was confirmation that things are indeed moving forward and Japanese teachers with the right attitude can, and are, making a huge difference. So that's good and it gives me the confidence that I'm not wasting my Summers doing all this training and the good teachers are taking a lot of ideas away and using them to great effect in their schools. Ganbare and keep up the good work!

June 10th 2007 - Where is Baby Monkey? Rooms game

One of the best things I like about Genki English is that as soon as I put up a comment on the Where is Baby Monkey? page that I don't have a suitable game yet, people keep telling me about some great suggestions!

The best one was from Cesar and the Okinawa group last week, a super simple version of Clue ( or Cluedo). I've written it up as this month's newsletter "Game of the Month". It's great in that you can keep it nice and simple, e.g. just family and rooms, or make it more advanced by adding in previous themes like What are you doing? to get the kids asking funky things like "Is Grandma Monkey dancing in the garden?".

I guess you could also go crazy and add in another noun theme to make even longer sentences.

Right, I'm on the road again today, I've got a demo class for 1,800 kids on Tuesday! Wish me luck!

June 7th 2007 - New Pack + CD7 $12 Download

If you can't wait till Monday to get your hands on the new themes, I've just updated the Download Pack to include the all new CD7 songs.

And if you are a CD Owners Club member you can also buy the download of just the new songs, as opposed to ordering the CD. ( I was going to offer this just to people who'd bought the previous download pack, but figured I might as well make it open to all of you!)

It's 1,980 yen + p&p for the CD ( which also includes the mini lessons, karaoke versions and the software) and $12 for the download ( which only has the songs), so I think I'd probably go for the CD, but especially if you are outside Japan the download is a great way to avoid any shipping or customs delays and you'll get the songs straight away! Enjoy!

June 6th - Tokyo JET ( Japan Exchange & Teaching) Conference

Most of the content of today was as the 2007 Kobe Recontracting Conference, but I did make a few changes.

First of all we started off with the new Genki Disco Warm Up, that went down really well, it looks so good with so many people dancing in unison!

Then for the German song ( to get used to how it feels for students!), instead of the quite easy Left & Right song, this time we tried the more challenging "Wie heisst du?" ( What's your name?) song. That also worked out really well and it was good to see that although a few people said it was too easy, and a few said it was too hard, most people voted it as being "tough at the beginning, but easier as you go on", which got even the skeptical people nodding heads with a look of "well, this does work"! Cool. It also made it easier to move on to "What can you see?" later on.

We also tried a couple of the Hip Hop songs for senior high, which were again popular. Quite a few JETs also offered to send in their high school material, which will be much appreciated. Jeff's done a great job with his full high school lesson plans, but more are always welcome!

Overall another really good conference, in fact the first group were so friendly and wide awake it was almost like a chat, with questions and comments backwards and forwards. Probably one of the easiest JET workshops I've ever done!

So good luck to everyone and enjoy your second year!

June 5th 2007 - A4 Magic & Okinawa

First up today is a request for A4 versions of the Magic Corner cards. I had a lot of feedback this weekend that it works great in class except that only half the kids can see the pictures! So now all the kids can see what's going on. Apparently it's also good for 6th graders and older kids so you might want to try it out.

I'm now on a plane back from my Okinawa trip. Okinawa isn't quite the sun kissed paradise it's portrayed as in the adverts ( I actually felt cold yesterday, and the architecture is very much "Japan"), but as usual it's the people that make a place special. Thanks to everyone who looked after me this week, I had a great time down in Naha, on the beach in Ginowan and the last few days in Nago. And I have to make an Okinawa themed song, which is another great thing about the island, the music!

June 4th 2007 - CD7, it's here!

Here's some big news for you, CD7 is ready and on the website!

If you're a CD Set Owner you can download all the funky new flashcards and minicards, and get a very nice discount when you order the new CD! You can also get the CD without post and packing by adding it to your next Student Pack order.

If you don't have the CD Set yet, add in CD7 and you'll be able to have all the latest Genki English songs in your class.

We're taking pre-orders from today, which we'll send off on June 11th (the day we get the new CDs from the factory), and we'll also be taking international orders from that date.

I'll be writing some more posts about all the great themes later in the week, but for the time being have a wonder round the pages, read up on the games, print out the new pictures and enjoy the demo songs!

(PS whilst I'm updating the site you might find a few files that haven't been uploaded yet, if they don't clear up in a few minutes please write in and let me know!)

June 3rd 2007 - Okinawa Bootcamp

Had the first Okinawa Genki English Bootcamp in Nago City today. 40 people attended which was amazing for a Sunday and although doing everything in English & Japanese did take up quite a lot of time it was a very nice day. Thanks to everyone for joining in !

Here's most of what we did:

What's your name?
How are you? + Monster Game
What are doing? + Harry Potter
Where are you going? + Leapfrog game
Rocket Launch.
6th Graders + Projects
Plus a touch of phonics ( but for JHS rather than elementary)

Other things that came up where how to communicate with classroom teachers and how to explain the games with no Japanese. As usual the answer is to simply print out the Japanese version of each song/game and pass it to the teacher. We also had a quick look at the Classroom English / Classroom Japanese page.

Then in the afternoon we went through even more ideas...

Genki English variation of Karuta with "Do you like...?"
Ordering Food song
How much? + Bargaining game
Fruit Market song
Plus a couple of secret new CD7 songs "Genki Disco Warm Up", "Time Part 2" and "Do you have any brothers and sisters?".
Then a few games to finish off with Balloon Game, Card Game, "What did you say?" game and the Thank you song.

Thanks for all your questions and requests, I had a great time and I hope you found it useful. There's also the online video workshop if you want to catch up with any of the Genki English rules ( and a version in Japanese).

And the order forms you picked up allow you order the Superpacks with free postage and packing!

I'll be back in Okinawa in August so if you or any of your schools want to have a workshop, please get in touch!

May 30th 2007 - Kobe JET ( Japan Exchange & Teaching) Conference

Thanks to everyone who attended the two JET workshops today, I don't think I have ever seen such a bright eyed wide awake bunch of JETs so early in the morning, you were great!

As promised I've written up what we did on the site: Kobe Re-Contracting Conference 2007

This was the first year they let me do more teaching things ( e.g. the Under the Sea theme etc.) as opposed to only "getting the most out of JET" type material. If you have any thoughts about the balance of time spent on those two ( e.g. less of one, more of the other etc.) then please let me know because it will really help with planning the workshops for Tokyo next week!

Right now I'm on a plane down to Okinawa to do a workshop for a group of JETs down there, and if you'd like to hear more teaching ideas then please get in touch and we can have a talk about doing a JET workshop in your town!

May 28th 2007 - Pirates of the Caribbean

With all the buzz about At World's End, pirates offer a ton of great game ideas. Here are a couple you could use with the Left & Right song...

A cross between the Mr Bump game and Shiver me timbers game, do the Captain Jack Sparrow Treasure Chase. One kid dresses up as Jack Sparrow or Elizabeth, the others guide him/her to the treasure. Have cut outs of the various bad guys on the chairs they have to try and avoid. Either use blindfolds or a double eye patch!

Or turn the Star Wars Lightsaber Battle Game into the Pirates' Fight to the Death game. Simply use blindfolds or eye patches on both eyes instead of masks and inflatable cutlasses instead of light sabers.

Lot of fun and lots of real English practice. As usual the 100 yen / dollar store, Toys R Us or even Amazon ( USor JP) will be your best friends for all the pirate props!

May 22nd 2007 - Free Okinawa Bootcamp - June 3rd

Just to keep you up to date with the Genki English Okinawa dates. The JShine symposium has been postponed, but the free Genki English Bootcamp is all ready to go for Sunday the 3rd in Nago City. A full morning Bootcamp of Q&A and how to teach the Genki English curriculum plus an optional afternoon of more activities. Both ALTs and Japanese elementary school teachers will be present so it will be bilingual and a great way to bridge the gap. Places are almost full, but if you'd like to attend please contact Cesar Hernandez at 098-058-2654 for more information.

Place: Ginnosuzu Kindergarten, 2nd Floor, Nago City. 
Price: Free!

There'll also be a paid for 3 day workshop in Okinawa in August.

May 17th 2007 - Genki in London

When you travel it's always the little things that stand out. Yesterday I popped down to London. At first I was really grateful for not having to commute to work every morning. But having things like wi-fi and power outlets on the trains made a great impression of UK travel efficiency. Which was quickly destroyed by having the train back cancelled!

The food was nice though, along with Fish & Chips, they're now promoting Cornish Pasties as the traditional English food to try. Very nice.

Had a good day, some great chats about Genki English plans around the world and got a bit of work done on a new project!

May 14th 2007 - Why kids? + Creativity

Especially in Europe, people always ask "why does Genki English focus so much on kids and schools?". The reason is that school is broken. Even if we can only help a little bit it's probably worthwhile.

Here's a video from the TED conferences. I think you'll enjoy it. It's also very funny.

May 7th 2007 - Genki in Dubai

I've just finished a big project in Japan (announcement coming soon!), and I'm now heading off to re-mix some new songs in the UK. Luckily my 60,000 yen ticket ( special flight through Chubu airport) allowed me to take the weekend off on the beach in Dubai.

It's a fantastic place and it was great having a holiday for the first time this year. Last year I thought Shanghai was super hi-tech and moving forward ( it made Tokyo look like a provincial back water), but Dubai makes Shanghai look old fashioned! Nice beaches, amazing buildings and great people, well worth a visit. Emirates also have the great new flight system with just about any movie to watch on board.

Anyone fancy organising a Genki English workshop here next year? I'd love to come back! : )

May 2nd 2007 - Make a Difference

I saw this on one of the mailing lists yesterday.

The best quote: "You can never tell what type of impact you may have on another's life by your actions ... or lack of action."

Make a Difference Movie

May 1st 2007 - Four Hour Work Week

I always think that time management is one of the biggest problems in schools. Tim Ferriss' new book "The Four Hour Work Week" ( which is just what it says, being razor sharp with how you spend your work time, so you can spend it doing what you really want to do.) may be taking things a bit far, but it certainly looks to have some great content.

Tim also applies the ideas to language learning. On his blog he has a great post about how he learnt Japanese in 6 months, Chinese in 3 and Italian in 1. I think Tim's just about right with those time frames and it's good to see an author practice what he preaches. ( Don't get me started on all the authors and "trainers" who claim their method is the best ever for teaching English but haven't learnt the language of the country they've been living in for 20 years!)

Tim's methods are basically the same ones as I use with Genki English, but he has them written out very nicely for motivated adult learners, such as yourself, to use straight away. If you feel you've been holding back with your language learning recently, have a look.

If you happen to be one of the very lucky teachers who have too much free time during the week, the book also has a section on "how to fill the void".

I'm going to pick up a copy for my flight to Dubai next week, I'll let you know what it's like!

April 28th 2007 - Why Japanese Food is like the Atkin's Diet

You often hear about why Japanese people are so slim. And I've only just realised why..

I used to always get really frustrated at banquets in Japan as you have trays and trays of really nice food, but it was all "good stuff" like sushi and sashimi and gorgeous vegetables etc. etc. When I'm really hungry I'm always waiting for the "fill you up" things like rice or noodles. The thing is that they always come at the end of the meal - a very long time to wait! Some people have told me the reason is that you can't mix similar food products. As you start a banquet with beer, you can't enjoy the rice until the beer is gone. This always sounded a bit fishy to me, what happened before beer became popular?

The other reason given is that if you eat rice or noodles you'll be too full to eat all the other foods. So they come at the end, just to fill up any space you have left. Now that makes a lot more sense. It's basically the current low-carb idea, fill up on the good stuff then keep the carbs to the end. Hence why everyone's so slim... but it still doesn't help when you're really hungry!

April 26th 2007 - MP3 workbook quizzes

Just spent the morning working through my email mountain ( it's amazing how 2 days without net access builds up!). One of the emails was about the mp3 files of the Workbook Quizzes for CDs 1 & 3. They're all now fixed and you can find them, along with the printable workbooks, near the end of the CD Owners Club page.

Listening through the files for the first time in a long time, they actually sounded really useful! I pulled the plug on the workbooks project as the teachers in the test schools had the attitude of "Wow! No need to do any talking or communication activities, the kids can spend all lesson doing worksheets!". But things have maybe matured, and fast net access means it's easier to get access to the quiz mp3s. Maybe it's time to resurrect the workbooks? What do you think?

April 25th 2007 - Volunteers please...

Whenever I do workshops every person in the room is involved. The reason is that however much you read about a game or song, or even watch videos, it's not until you try it as a student that you actually see why it works. For example when I first started on the JET programme everyone was talking about games in all the workshops. And I was thinking "Why does everyone keep going on about games all the time?". Then in one group they actually had us play some of them. The first one they did was Criss Cross. At the beginning I was just wanting it do be over, thinking "What are we doing playing kids' games. We're supposed to be teachers!". But then part way through I noticed other people sitting down. Then near the end I was suddenly struck by the fact that if I didn't put in an effort to win, I could be the last one standing. Now that was scary! That's when the heart rate increases and suddenly you're desperate to answer the questions and win the game.

If it wasn't for that experience I probably would never have realised just how and why games work. The thing is it takes a leap of faith to actually try the thing in the first place.

Seth Godin talks about "how to be a great audience" i.e. the more you participate in a conference (or class) the more you get out of it. But today I wasn't at a conference I just popped along to see a Taiko drum show. And as soon as the guy mentioned they were looking for "volunteers" I was filled with dread as I knew they'd pick the only face that was different to all the rest. I just really wasn't in the mood to get up on stage in front of all those people. Contrary to what you might think, I much prefer to stay in the background. But of course everyone got on the bandwagon of trying to persuade, and physically drag, me to play the drums. And if I hadn't played Taiko before then it would have been a fantastic "once in a lifetime" experience. As it was I guess I got a free workout for the day ( hitting those drums is hard work!).

Anyway, the point is that there are probably lots of games, songs and ideas that you've read or heard about but you've thought, "Nah, I don't think that will work". But just try it and see. Even better, try it as a student! Once you participate and get hit by the adrenaline, emotion and need to win it completely changes how you see just about all the games and songs!

April 24th 2007 - Four Tonne Truck

Popped back to Genki HQ in Ehime today. We've just ordered another lot of the Kids English video set. The thing is that each set comes in two huge boxes. They had to hire a four tonne truck just to bring them all down from Tokyo!

They're now all safely tucked away in the Genki English warehouse ready to be sent out. We've also had quite a few people asking to buy the video set from overseas. Unfortunately as they are VHS videos (and lots of them) they won't work on machines outside Japan. A few people have asked if we can make a DVD version. Although I wrote the course, it's published by a big publishing company, the same one that handles the Napoleon Hill materials in Japan, and the director of the videos worked on one of the Maki Goto's ( from Morning Musume fame) videos, so unfortunately we don't have the rights to make a DVD version. Sorry about that!

The normal CD 6 Pack we do send out to just about every country!

April 23rd 2007 - Just listen...

One of the reasons I wrote the Genki English songs was that although there are many songs that you can use for listening in class, there are very few that you can get your kids to actually sing in one lesson.

But that's not to say you can't use the Genki English songs for listening. As they are so easy they make great activities for beginners or slightly more advanced learners alike. For example:

Have the A4 picture cards at the back of the class, the kids have to race to the front as they hear each word and put them in order on the board.
Give each kid, or group, the minicards. Get them to cut them up then re-arrange them in order whilst listening to the song.

Give each kid one A4 card. They have to line up in the order of the song.
Simply get the kids to do the actions and gestures without singing.

The trick is not to over do the "just listening" activities. If all you are doing is listening, the genkiness will wear off after the first listen. But if the kids are actually doing something you can get a few more listens with all the energy intact.

Personally I prefer the big energy boost the CDs give after you've sung the song a cappella a few times, the surprise effect is like a triple cappuccino. Plus in most countries the kids are usually quite good at listening, but need much more work on speaking out.

But if you have the time and want to slow things down a touch, try some of the listening ideas above. Just about all the songs work like this, but the big granddaddy of them all is CD5's Ordering Food song, especially if you play the marathon A-Z version!

( Thanks to everyone for reminding me of this in the forum)

April 20th 2007 - Top Ten Genki Songs

There's a nice thread over on the CD Owners forum where a few people have written up their Top 10 Genki English songs. The best parts are the conversations about extra ideas to use the songs in class.

The Genki Songs all have specific ways of teaching that makes them work. Usually I'd recommend looking at the videos on the teaching guide CDROM ( you should have it in your Superpack or CD 6 Pack). That's the best crash course, but it's great to hear everyone else's ideas.

What's your Top 10? We'd love to hear!

April 19th 2007 - Learn a new alphabet: Hangul, Hiragana, Katakana Songs

I'm amazed at how popular foreign languages are in the States, especially Japanese and also Korean. A lot of people are also interested in reading the different symbols involved. The trick of course is to make it fun. So to help out I've made 2 hip hop and 1 dance track to learn a few of the symbols. The results are looking very good and for teachers it's a great way to get a sense of how your students feel when they see English phonics. Actually learning a new alphabet yourself really kicks you into gear and let's you see how useful (and easy if made fun!) phonics can be.

The songs are purposely very fast, so they can survive several listens. At the moment it looks like it takes a dozen listens or so to get a good grasp of each alphabet, for an average new learner. Well, you wouldn't want to be bored on your first listen, would you? The interesting thing is that Korean has more newer sounds, but the symbols are a lot simpler, whereas Japanese has very few new sounds, but some tricky symbols, so they balance up very well.

As usual: Warning these songs get very annoying very quickly and will be with you all day!

April 18th 2007 - Spiderman 3 Game

Yesterday was the big premier in Tokyo, so today it's time for Spiderman 3 to make his way into the classroom.

The original Spiderman game has become hugely popular in high school classes, so I've just tweaked it a little to bring in the new Spiderman and the new Sandman villain. Basically this time when a Spiderman wins a question he moves up two spaces, and the other villains move up just one. It makes it a much more exciting game

If it all sounds well confusing, just check out animation on the Spiderman 3 game page and everything will become clear! The game also features on the site. ( although I haven't updated that to no. 3 just yet)

April 17th 2007 - Okinawa in June

As you may have seen on the schedule page, I have a big symposium in Okinawa in June. As the travel expenses will be paid for, the plan was then to spend a bit of time down there, maybe visiting the islands and doing lots of workshops in a mini tour.

But ... I just got the dates through and the symposium is going to be on June 2nd. The thing is I have a gig in Kobe on May 30th and one in Tokyo June 6th. So the only dates I could do school visits in Okinawa are 1st or 4th of June. Sorry about that. But if your schools can do those dates, please get in touch.

If you could get a bunch of teachers together in your local area for Sunday 3rd, there's always the possibility of setting up a full day or half day Genki English bootcamp then. Again, get in touch and let's work something out!

April 16th 2007 - School Subjects

Hope you had a nice weekend!

Last term we had a request for ideas for teaching "school subjects" ( math(s), English, PE, science etc.). Although I explained that it's not one of the themes I personally like, as it's usually not kids but teachers who make the request, I'm glad to say that Atley Jonas has risen to the challenge in style.

He has sent in his complete lesson set with picture cards, mini cards, and Catch a Thief and Crazy Eights games. Have a look at Atley's School Subjects.

April 13th 2007 - First Lesson when you don't speak the lingo

And to the final post in this series, what to do in a first lesson when you don't speak your students' language. I know whenever I do a class in a new country for the first time it can be terrifying. You walk in there, nobody speaks any languages you understand ( because if they did they wouldn't need you!) and you just have to get on with it, usually to a wall of blank expressions.

I usually start out with the Warm Up game, as usual. But instead of telling them the meaning, I'd simply say the commands to myself and obey them. e.g. get a chair, say "sit down" to yourself, pretend you are thinking for a few moments, then do a mime of "Ah, I think I know what that means!", sit down, then smile that you got it right. Repeat with stand up. After a while the kids will usually get the meaning, although just be careful that in some cases they may think it means something else ( e.g. "sit down" = "chair" or something,). As you are going at a much slower pace ( you'll need lots of lessons and patience this way) you can do things like just stand up and pretend to be bored. Eventually one of the kids will tell you to sit down! They then have lots of fun giving you instructions. Or you can use an egg timer to say have 1 minute you giving them instructions ( introduce a new one each time it's your go) and then they give instructions to you.

I always try and introduce at least one song, even in a lesson like this, ( the whole "power of music" thing to give them something they can remember all day), for Japan or Korea I'd really recommend "Rock, Paper, Scissors". The kids get the meaning straight away and go mad for it! You'll notice that there's a long pause between each verse, this is to allow the kids to calm down after they look around seeing who they've beaten and who they lost to. For other countries I'd recommend Left & Right as it's very simple and kids everywhere enjoy it. The only thing to watch out for there is that you must face away from the kids, so they don't mix up your left and right with their left and right. ( i.e. if you are facing them and you move right, it's their left!"). The song usually thaws any ice that's left and gets everyone happy and smiley.

In subsequent lessons you'd probably be best sticking to simple things like parts of the face or colours.

Of course my main advice would be, obviously, to learn some of the students' language. Just a couple of words to start things off really breaks the ice and the tension. Plus if you can listen to what the students are saying it makes planning the lesson a whole lot easier. The rule is to use the kids' language:

As little as possible, but as much as necessary.

In the beginning they need lots of help for both meaning and, most importantly, motivation. But as you teach something, you only ever use it, and accept it, in English. Eventually you'll get to the 100% English classroom, but not in the beginning. Just imagine if you had to teach Chinese to your friends back home, would you need any English?

Luckily there's lots of material on the net to help you, especially on YouTube, and you might want to have a look at my materials for Korean, Japanese and German.

And of course there's the whole trust issue of "Why should I trust a foreign language teacher who hasn't taught themselves our foreign language?". Would you go to a guitar teacher who couldn't play the guitar?

April 12th 2007 - First Lesson in Junior High School

The number one top idea for a first Junior High School lesson is without doubt the "What's your name?" lesson. As I wrote in the "6th graders" article, even the hardest nosed too-cool-for-school 6th graders turn back into little angels in the first year of Junior High. And after a week full of entrance ceremonies and often very boring lessons they appreciate having the chance to move around the class and get a bit of the "good old days" of elementary school back. The song gets all the important points like eye contact etc. and lets the Japanese teacher see how much the kids can do. ( It also helps that "What's your name?" is the first topic in many textbooks!)

Then it's usually on to the alphabet. I really, really recommend getting the kids into the computer room and playing with the Genki English phonics games for this. The kids play around for a few minutes, then they race to see who can finish first.

You might have a tough job persuading a stuck in the mud old teacher to go for this ( you could try showing them the explanation in the front of the Foxy Phonics book), but the computer teacher will usually be very happy as they have to spend the first few lessons teaching about the internet, using a mouse, links etc. anyway and the chance to use some real content from other classes is always appreciated.

If you can get the basic phonics cracked in these first couple of weeks you won't believe how huge an impact it will have on the rest of the year!

April 11th 2007 - First Lesson in video with NHK

NHKpI was putting up some new stuff on YouTube yesterday and noticed that someone had uploaded the documentary NHK did about Genki English a few years ago. So I've linked it up from the site.

The show is in Japanese but you can see a bit of how I write the songs & some of the early tours with Will Jasprizza.

The best part is how a Japanese teacher tackles her first ever English lesson! We did a kids show at her school, a teachers workshop, a private consult then after just one practice lesson this "60% terrified" teacher has to teach her class's first English lesson - in front of the parents! Will she make it... watch and see!

April 10th 2007 - First lesson of the year, if you speak ...

To be a bit more constructive today I'm going to start a series of three posts on what to do in the first lesson of the year. ( Quite a few countries start their school year this week). The first one today will be the number one super best lesson lesson I have, but you need to be able to speak the kids' language to make it work. Tomorrow will be some ideas for if you don't speak the kids native language and then I'll have some ideas and things for Junior High School.

First Lesson of the YearSo, what's my super number one lesson? Without a doubt it's the How are you? Feelings song followed by the How are you Monster game. ( That's the reason I chose this as the freebie song for the website). It works amazingly well, the kids get some really useful language and they continue the game for the rest of the day. The only drawback is you need some Korean / Chinese / Spanish etc. to be able to explain the rules of the game to the kids. If you are teaching in Japan though, print out the Japanese version of the game and the class teacher can explain it.

Adding in a touch of the Warm Up game will make this a full lesson.

Once you've had a bit of practice ( say teaching it to 4 or 5 classes) you can finish it in 25 minutes or so and in that case I'd really recommend the Rock, Paper, Scissors song between the Warm Up and How are you? This way you can set down all the rules of the classroom e.g. losing means "try again", "I can do it" and general classroom management. I put up a video in the CD Owners Club to see how I do this.

But for now just stick with How are you? and the Monster game and the kids will love English for the rest of the year!

April 9th 2007 - Murdering Dr Suess

One of the main things that keeps me going with Genki English is because of all the really bad learning materials out there. I love it when I come across something that's good as I can simply recommend it and get one with something else. But far too often some of the material available is just appallingly bad.

For example I read on a news site this morning about a new online learning website for Japanese students. Part of what they have is a traditional stories section. It's a bit similar to the Fairy Stories section I wrote last month.

But they have licensed Hello Kitty pictures to illustrate the story! Wow, now that is genius. It's the perfect thing to get the attention of Japanese learners. Wonderful! But then you listen to the narrations they provide and they are in the most atrociously bad katakana accents. Sunoo-wu Howaito--- etc. and the phrasing and beauty of the English just goes out the window replaced with awkward pauses and stilted timing. It sounds horrible, and would get zero in any credible English test or exam. The problem is that learners who don't know any better think this what they should be copying.

At yesterday's workshop we had the same thing. One of the teachers did a really good workshop on using a Dr Suess picture book. She did a great job with lots of activities and games. For example playing karuta where you read part of the book and the kids have to flip to the right page.

But ... she was using a CD produced by a Japanese company to provide the model pronunciation for the kids. And it was horrible! Although Dr Suess contains some words that I wouldn't normally recommend for ESL ( for example "pail" or "bureau drawers") I would usual forgive it for the beauty of the rhythm and rhyme of the story. It is beautiful and a level I could never hope to achieve with my own works. But on this CD they'd just destroyed any essence of correct English. It was just as if the, obviously non-English speaking, producers of the CD had said to the native English speaking actors "Make it more lively!", and instead of the flows and ebbs and poetry Dr Suess intended, it was just a flat soulless, half hearted recording almost to the tune of Grandmaster Flash's "Don't push me, I'm close to the edge"! Where on Earth did that idea come from? But the kids were copying this and the teachers were thinking it was wonderful! They were all congratulating each other on how amazing the recording of their students was.

The generous explanation of this is that the publishers are just trying to make a quick buck off teachers who don't know any better. The cynical explanation is that it's another example of the plot to keep Japanese people's English level as low as possible.

Whatever the cause there should really be no excuse. We should be teaching the beauty, fun and funkiness of the language, not just regurgitating the words in some machine gun boring fashion that removes any essence of art and leaves the communication value at zero. At the very least we should not be teaching pronunciation and reading styles that are just plain wrong.

The ironic thing about all this? It's the people who complain via email and in their blogs that my recordings ( for example the phonics page or picture books ) should be re-recorded "with real native speakers". Sometimes you just can't win...

April 8th 2007 - A few ideas + more How Many?

Had a busy day today. Started off with a Genki English chat with a teacher who'd flown in from Jeju in Korea. That was good. Then off to my "mini workshop". The good thing about today was it was nice and pressure free so I could try some ideas and techniques which I hadn't done with teachers before. Most of them went really well, especially Number Golf, but doing the How many? song and getting teachers to collect points, pens etc. failed miserably!

Luckily everyone gave some good ideas, so what we did was:
* Sing the chorus with the hand in hand folkdance like in Fruit Market
* Then everyone gets in a big circle
* I chose one person and from this person we all counted round 1 to 12.
* I stopped the CD player.
* We all shout out "How many points do you have?"
* The person who was the last number 12 shouts out an answer e.g. 3,4, 6 etc.
* Everyone gets into groups of that number and sits down.
* Start the CD and start dancing again.

Combining this with the Mingle style game really worked, which was a big relief!

Here are the rest of the ideas:

When, when, when song
Numbers Golf
Body Balloon Game ( like the balloon game but only with parts of the body)
Koala game ( with Kids English Happy Chan)
How many? Song
Magic Corner
+ secret bonus song!

April 7th 2007 - Narrations + SFX

It always pays to ask. The big request about the picture books wasn't the speed of the pages turning, but narrations! This was one of those projects on my to do list that I've never had time to do. But a little push works wonders, so now two more of the picture books have narrations: Baby Monkey Family and Baby Monkey's Clothes. I also put a couple of sound effects & little animations into the clothes theme. The temptation is not to get carried away and try and make a full length cartoon! If only I had the time..

I've got a lot more mini projects like this that are almost, but not quite, ready to go, so it's always great to hear requests. One new project is a fantastic phonics games ebook from David Lisgo which I need to get done. But for the rest of today there's other deadlines to be met!

April 6th 2007 - For Junior High ..

Rebecca sent in this feedback about the Last Person Standing Game. You might want to try it in your problem JHS classes!

This game changed a group of surly, pubescent second year JH girls into a smiley, screaming fun-loving bunch who wouldn't let the game finish!  We played for about 20 minutes.  Problems were me running out of simple questions and a few of the "different" girls who refused to answer and their row/column felt unfairly disadvantaged.  Obviously these could be prevented by preparing lots of questions in advance and maybe having everyone move one seat to their right after 5/10 questions.

There's also a page of questions on the site that might help!

April 5th 2007 - Manga de Eigo

Manga?I was having a chat yesterday about new ways of learning English. One of the most popular requests was to have English Manga to learn from. Not necessarily in the American sense of "Manga" but in the Japanese meaning of a "comic", even something simple like for kids.

Then it hit me that that's basically what the Genki English picture books are! I've been calling them picture books but really they could easily be considered manga.

So I had a look again and although the flipping pages animation does look cool the first time, on an old computer it can be really slow. So on a couple of books I've taken it out and made the page change on a simple click. What do you think? For example I've just made the Easter Book like that ( with an improved ending!). Maybe it's worthwhile doing them all like this?

Also, if you have a blog or website, please make a link to any of the picture book ( manga!) pages you like. The more people that link up, and hence the more visitors that come to the pages, the more free stuff I can put online!

April 4th 2007 - Tea & Coronation Street

I'm often asked about "English Culture" and to give examples. And to be honest there really isn't anything that is particularly English. In England people drink beer and Starbucks just like lots of other places and things like bagpipes are obviously Scottish not English.

But flipping through the BBC news last night I found something that you really don't get anywhere else except in England: Kettle Spikes!

Last night had the climax of the TV show "Coronation Street"'s latest plot. And how do we know how mega popular it was? Because, according to the BBC, when the show ended there was a huge spike on the electricity grid as 650,000 people switched on their kettles for a cup of tea!

Now that's something you don't see anywhere else!

April 3rd 2007 - How Many Game 2

I've been trying to come up with a funky dance routine to go with the "How many?" song. So far I haven't found anything that could be called "Easy to Teach". But today I came up with this idea.

1. 2 kids are at the front.
2. As everyone is singing "How many points do you have?" the 2 kids kids rush around the class collecting tokens from everyone.
3. They rush back to the front for the counting part and hold up one token at a a time as everyone counts along to the music.
4. Another 2 kids do the same for "pens" etc.
5. The fun part, of course, is the last line "How many friends do you have?" where they have to go round and collect 12 friends!

Just like the "Is it .. adjectives" game, the reason it works so well is that it's basically a game but with a soundtrack. This adds a lot of tension and makes it like being in a movie!

You'll need to practice a few times a cappella (without the music) first, but once the kids are up to speed you can play it again and again but each time call out a different item for them to collect, pencils, rulers, books, desks(!) etc.

April 2nd 2007 - Updated Famous People Cards

A few people have written to say that as the Famous People Cards had peoples' ages on they were getting out of date. Thank you for letting me know, I'd have never have picked up on that otherwise!

I've had them edited up so now they have DOB for Date of Birth and then a blank space underneath where your kids can calculate the ages. I also corrected a few mistakes, such as Kim Jong Il's birthday which isn't the same as mine!

Hopefully they'll be able to cheer up your junior high lessons for a few more years to come.

Click here for me Diary January - March 2007

Click here for my Diary August - December 2006

Click here for my Diary March - July 2006

Click here for my Diary January - March 2006

Click here for my Diary October 2005 - December 2005

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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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