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!

August 31st 2007 - Links for new JETs

If you've just arrived on the JET programme and have your first lessons next week, take a couple of hours to run through these pages, they'll take away most of the panic!

Your first day at elementary school
What we are supposed to be teaching in Elementary school - it's probably not what you think!
The same thing in more official terms

For the first lesson you could try a self introduction in the form of a true/false quiz. You start out with things like "My name is David Beckham" and the kids have to guess true or false. Then try a few more like "My name is Ichiro" ( famous Japanese baseball player). Eventually give your real name, maybe write it on the board ( the kids can't read it, but it looks cool to them). Then try the same with your age "I'm 134 years old" or "I'm 6 years old". Or with hobbies, you might have to use some Japanese to do this last one though! It gets the kids laughing whilst using English, and any photos or real things you have will really help the lesson.

Then once you start your main teaching, you'll want to have a look through the online training video, which has a ton of ideas and hints to teach English to kids. Many of the Japanese teachers will assume that you are fully trained in how to teach English in elementary school and know everything about it! Oh yes, most teachers are shocked when I tell them that new ALTs only have 2 or 3 hours of workshops. On the other hand, although most Japanese teachers are fully qualified teachers they will have had hardly any training in how to teach English. Hence being patient and communicating is very important! For that have a look at ..

Classroom Japanese / Classroom English

You might also find that the school's curriculum is a little odd. This is because many teachers will feel that they have to prepare something for you, but they really have no idea what to put in the curriculum so quickly copy something from a book. In that case you might want to try the Genki English curriculum. All the lesson plans, games etc. are all written in Japanese so it's easy for you to print both and plan with the classroom teacher.

Elementary school curriculum

You're going to love it, if you think like a kid and think what types of things you thought were fun at that age, you'll have a great time. The kids will learn loads, get really good and unlike selling arms to Africa or anything like that, it's a great way to spend your time.

There's also lots more on the Help and Advice page.

August 31st 2007 - Team Taught Pizza really is sold out!

I mentioned on my blog the other day that the Team Taught Pizza book was nearing the end of its stocks. As it's coming up to the start of term when everyone is placing orders for everything then we sold out on Tuesday. Lots of people have been emailing me orders as it isn't on the main order form anymore, but it really is sold out, and AJET tell me there won't be another print run.

Polite requests by email are fine, and I understand your frustration, but please don't send me hate mail about this.

Apparently AJET are working on a totally different book that may overlap with some content, but they are being a bit vague with dates, so I don't really know when it will be available. Plus it will only get on the GE site if it's really good!

Luckily though we do have the Altia Book for Junior High School, which is just as good. But I do realise it isn't in Japanese so sorry about that. If you need Japanese explanations of junior high school games etc, then the main Junior High School page of this website is probably your best bet for now or if you have any cool ideas then please send them in.

Foxy Phonics is also very near the end of its stocks, we'll probably run out in next week's rush. AJET are working on a new Foxy Phonics book, and I hope to have some input on how to improve it, but that's probably not going to be out for at least a few months, so if you need it now, get your orders in ASAP!

August 29th 2007 - 3 days in Nara + 6th graders

As last year, this year I also had 3 days of workshops in Gojo city, Nara... he's how it went

Day 1 - beginnings

The main part of the training is the teaching practice, but in order to do that we have to, of course, go through all the basics, and more importantly how different Genki English is to what the teachers learnt in Junior High School. We also had teachers from all five of the Ministry of Education's pilot schools in the prefecture attending. There was a lot of talking, but some good questions and everyone was pretty good for the teaching part. The school also had an interactive white board which was great for showing off the software.

Then in the afternoon the teachers got into groups, picked a lesson, read the lesson plan on the site and presented it to everyone else. About half the teachers had taken my course last year, so were pretty good. As usual the biggest problems wasn't the English but how to use the internet! But the teachers quickly got the main points of confidence training, getting the pronunciation from the Genki English software, doing the song a cappella first before kicking in the music and then the game to finish. Although understanding how to play the games was pretty tricky. But they did better than most schools for a first try, in fact some of the teachers were really, really good.

Day 2 - 6th grade demo class + TV

Last year I did a demo class for 3rd and 4th years, so this year they wanted me to do one for 5th and 6th graders in a different school. Hmmm., not the best situation in the world! Whilst you can use the GE songs and games with upper graders, in many cases it's like teaching a brick wall! That's why I recommend doing projects in the upper grades, to actually use the language they've learnt in the lower grades. So today it was decided to try the School lunch Exchange. The only snag is that the kids have to have some English ability to do this, and I wasn't sure if they had or not!

At the beginning they were in total "too cool for school" mode ( especially as today is supposed to be a holiday) so first of all I got them warmed up with Rock, Paper, Scissors. The song along with a couple of jokes got them talking and smiling. The teachers also seemed impressed at the kids change of reactions, which was also good.

The next step was to test their English, to see if they were up to doing the project. To do that I tried the Hammer Game. And they were pretty hopeless! They were very much in the head titling and "ehhh, I don't understand" mode. So I sat them down for a bit of a pep talk and went through the "you already understand a load of English" skit, and after this they were actually quite good and enjoyed the game. And I also knew they at least had enough English to try the basic version of the project.

So first of all I introduced a couple of school lunch photos from the US and UK, and they were quite interested actually. Then I told them we were going to talk about, record and then send off info about their school lunches to kids abroad and their faces really lit up. Which was a big relief!! ( Although the Genki English songs and games have a pretty much 99% success rate, 5th and 6th grade projects have only about a 75% success rate!).

I put them in groups and each one had a picture of a school lunch that they had to describe. First of all I get them to try the easy words such as milk or rice or potatoes, then for the tougher ones I get them to think how to explain them in easy Japanese, then think how to say that in English. The word "mixed" came to the rescue quite a lot ( e.g. "mixed rice" for the picture on the left!) The point here is not to learn any new English, but to learn to use whatever they have. If they don't know something, even something simple like "vegetables" is OK for now. Then in turn each group came to the front ( and this was in front of 30+ guest teachers as well), practised their menu once, then we recorded it. Now the class teacher will contact a dozen or so schools in different countries from and hopefully get one or two replies for the kids in September. The kids were very much looking forward to it!

So that was a relief that the lesson actually worked!

In the afternoon it was back to the teachers teaching the normal lessons and again they did quite well, despite the TV news cameras poking in their faces! The biggest thing for me was just how quickly the brand new teachers picked things up. They weren't here yesterday as they had prefectural training, but with only a few minutes to rehearse they did a very good lesson. Obviously they had no fears about touching the computer, and it is much easier to learn how to teach if you start with a blank canvas, rather than having to completely re-learn the subject.

Then after a very nice onsen ( I'm staying in a hot spring resort this week, it makes a bit difference to the horrible Sunroute hotel in Okayama on the weekend, but not as good as the Okinawa beach last week of course!), it was out for dinner with the teachers. The Junior High Teacher also came along and it was great to chat about JHS English. Hopefully we can come up with some cool projects in the future!

Day 3 - Billy & life begins...

Unlike most schools we hadn't really had any bad lessons this week - until this morning! First off it was "I have a question", but the teachers had been practicing with the wrong software! Then Creepy Crawlies where the "What's that?" and "What's this?" were causing no end of problems, I am going to have to do an easy to teach version of that soon. Then one team did "What would you like for Breakfast" with the "Bad Fruit" game. One of the teachers is at a government test school and they have to do shopping as a demo lesson in November. But it just takes up so much time to set up a "shopping" style demo lesson. The Bad Fruit idea makes it more fun,which we found today, but I think if you have to do shopping you might as well just do the How much? song and the Bargaining game as the kids love it and it's easy to do in one lesson ( with practice!).

But all the teachers worked really hard and picked up on the idea of re-using English in other themes. Last night I also revamped the curriculum page to reflect this.

Then in the afternoon it was picture books, hip hop stuff and a few more themes which became really, really easy to teach with just a few minutes preparation. If we had finished yesterday everyone would still have been "eeehh, that's too hard" but doing the full three days means you really do finish on a "wow, that really is easy" mode, and finishing early made sure everyone went home on a big happy high note.

One funny thing was that during the chorus of a lot of the songs the teachers were doing Billy's Bootcamp style aerobic dances. It's usually tricky to think of gestures for the chorus parts of songs like "Do you have any pets?", but as Billy Blanks is so popular in Japan at the moment, the kids love it and it really makes them look forward to the chorus and to even want to sing the song again and again.. But the newly arrived ALT was looking at us with a face that just said "Dude, what are you all doing?". I guess if you haven't taught kids before it might all look a bit strange!

Anyway the teachers were all really great, and eventhough they invited me back next year I think they'll be just fine on their own. If they do need some topping up I'll gladly pop back for a workshop, or a full 3 day course for other teachers, but this week's teachers all did remarkably well and I'm sure they'll do some fantastic lessons. Having time to show the full range of Genki English and especially all the self development and importance of education ideas is really good. At the end of today's lesson one of teachers said that at 53 she was thinking her life was beginning to wind up, but after taking the Genki English workshops this week she realised she has much more she can do and said she had completely revalued her life. Wow, you can't ask for much more than that!

August 27th 2007 - Nara- The new education minister is...

This time last year I was in the same school as today and the teachers were panicking as they were convinced that from April this year they would have to teach English on their own. All sorts of publishers were pushing out well dodgy textbooks and although teachers were panicky they were actually knuckling down and getting ready.

Cut to a couple of months later and Japan had a new Education Minister who almost immediately said that elementary English education isn't needed in Japan and proceeded to follow this up with all sorts of strange proclamations including that Japan was in a state of "human rights metabolic syndrome" especially with regards to minorities. Hmmm.

Hence this year there's a distinct cooling in teachers' passions for English.

After the recent election everyone was looking to see who the new education minister would be. Although English, or rather International Understanding as the subject is really called, could never become compulsory too quickly, it would be nice to have someone who was more positive in the role.

So today the results were in, and the new Minister is ..... Ibuki Bunmei - the same guy as before!

So that means English won't become compulsory for quite a while. But it does mean that the best teachers are still free to teach to the best of your abilities in the current framework, so for the kids' sakes, that's what we'll do!

PS I'll write up today's activities when we've finished the 3 days. Plus have a look for Genki English in the Nara Shinbun newspaper tomorrow!

August 25th 2007 - For trainers in Thailand

If you're been called in to help with the provincial Thailand training workshops this week then thank you very much! I'm really wanting to make sure this project works as well as it can, so I'm very happy to support you in any way. Here are a few ideas that may help.

Presenting to 100s of teachers is tough, but the Genki English materials are designed for large groups, so things scale very easily.

With 200 teachers you can't really do much "individual teaching practice" as such as there are just too many of them, so I usually just go through several of the lessons and mix it in with lots of motivation talking.

Your biggest challenge will be to make sure there is a big enough sound system that sounds loud even with all those people.

If you have a computer and projector things will be quite easy.

I usually start with a bit of TPR warm up then one of the really simple songs like "What's your name?" or "How are you?". Once everyone was relaxed I'd put up on the projector the first instructions page of the Genki English Teaching Book ( in Thai of course), and get one of the genki teachers from the front to come up and read it to everyone. This gets them into the way of thinking we'll need.

Then choose a new song, bring up the page in the teaching book in Thai on the projector screen, get a teacher to read how to teach it ( not the game yet, just the song), then run through the words, then Mini Lesson on the software CD. Using the book means all the actions etc. in the song are in Thai so everyone understands. The translation is pretty much directly what I wrote in the English version, but is designed to be funny so don't be surprised if they start laughing part way through!

Then check to see if they are OK, get them motivated to sing nice and loud, then play the song from the software. It's important to do the words with gestures first, then the mini lesson before doing the song. If you do the song first they'll just get lost, but if they practice it in the mini lesson ( maybe even twice) they'll really enjoy it when the funky music kicks in. They should all be nice and happy then!

If you look at the individual song pages on the website there are photos etc. showing how to do all the, very important, gestures which you might want to have a look at beforehand yourself.

I'd also recommend you try teaching each song and game in the mirror beforehand to iron out any problems.

Next is to get someone to come and read the classroom game explanation from the book ( again in Thai and again on the projector screen) , then for them to try the classroom game together. ( Note this is different from the "game" part of the computer software). In the songs they learn the new English, in the game they practice it.

For 200 people try and choose themes where the game doesn't need any extra materials, otherwise you'll end up spending half the time handing out cards/worksheets etc.

Then simple rinse, wash and repeat. Near the end I put up the final page of the teaching book and get a teacher to read it, it's a huge confidence boost for them. Then end with the "Thank you" song.

If you don't have a computer and projector you'll have to have picture cards printed for each theme you want to do and all the teachers will have to bring their own copy of the teaching book, so if you can I'd say a projector is very important!

All 32,000 elementary schools in Thailand have the CD packs, books etc. but distribution is sometimes a bit of a problem and many of them may be held in the Director's office, so tell them to have a look in there.

Motivation wise I tend to just concentrate on the main two rules of Genki English

"Can you do it? Yes, I can!" and
"Losing means try again" ( for the games).

The Thai teachers are usually great, and with just a little confidence building and letting them know that mistakes are OK they'll be fine . I get them to stand up and sit down really quickly at the beginning, then trick them by saying "sit down" whilst raising my hands. I then do a shocked face, then relax and say "mistakes are no problem!".

Please email me for anything else you need, either materials or advice. The Thai teachers are always so grateful to see how the ideas work and the kids love them , so your hard work is very much appreciated. Thank you and good luck,

Be genki,


August 24th 2007 - Okayama, Japan - Linking it up + (lack of) communication skills

There's a reason why Okayama City's teachers are considered some of the best in the country, it's because they are all forced to teach on their own and hence usually just get on with the job instead of only discussing how to get on with the job!

As it's my 5th ( 6th?) year here I wanted to talk about how to link the various themes together so that the kids can use what they've previously learnt. For example many schools simply set their curriculum up with things like "fruits", then "jobs", then "feelings" etc. but as there's no links between the English used, instead of building up a structure a layer at a time, it turns into islands that are isolated from each other. So ideas to fix this was my aim for the day. I planned on introducing a ton of different lessons that all flow, link in and compliment each other. For example today we did:

Do you like food? which then in the next week's lesson links in to ...
Do you like animals? Same English, different topic. The next lesson would be ...
Do you have any pets? Same topic, new English. Then....
Baby Monkey family. Off the path you may say, but then we link it with the previous theme to get...
Do you have any brothers or sisters?

You see how they all flow and overlap into each other, whilst all still being phrases that the kids ask and use all the time.

Next was the adjectives themes, which we could then link up with the animals this morning for the pink fish game. Again, building on what they've studied and using the old language in new ways. It's such a fantastic feeling when you learn just one new phrase that you can mix into your skill set to make hundreds of brand new expressions.

We also did the similar thing with the Come on, Come on song, which you follow up in the next lesson with the Can you play? lesson, which I would then follow up with I can do it?

There is actually a ton of content there, almost a year's worth, and I was really surprised the teachers could keep up in the morning, but in the afternoon I think I had burnt them out! But a lot of those themes most teachers won't even touch as they say they are "too difficult" ( i.e. it's just that they haven't learnt them themselves!), but when you build it up layer by layer, gradually going from the shallow to deeper water, you can eventually swim out on your own. The teachers today were great at this. There were also 8 new ALTs here today. The BOE had printed the Japanese Lesson Plans book for all the teachers, so I also set the Japanese teachers the task of explaining the games to the ALTs in English, which was also a great success.

The first problem was that for half of the teachers it was their first time at my workshop ( we never usually do more than 100 teachers a year and there are nearly 1000 in the city!). The other teachers managed to pull them along as they knew the Genki English motivation ideas, but when I came to talk about goals and things, which I figured would be a 5 minute review, they had no concept at all of goal setting for their classes. I was a bit taken aback and as I didn't have my goals workshop prepared I sort of made a mess of a half hearted explanation which nobody got. Sorry!

But worse than that was the general lack of communication skills. The aim of a lot of the higher level themes is to use the English to give information to another party i.e. communication. If the message doesn't get across, it's not communication, it's just moving your mouth. For example in the "I have a question" Guessing Game the kids, or teachers in this case, have to ask questions to figure out what object was chosen. Nobody could hear them! I was in a bit of a panic as I figured the mics were broken. Afterwards I checked and they weren't. The problem was simply that the teachers were refusing to speak in a voice loud enough for anyone to hear. "Shyness" doesn't cut it as an excuse, this is a basic fundamental skill, if you're far away, move closer, if you're too quiet, speak louder or more clearly. There's no point just moving your mouth if the other person can't hear. The only person who could do it? The ALT!

The same in the Pink Fish game, I couldn't hear a word any of the teachers said. If this was in a classroom nobody would get any points until we could all hear what was being said, the kids usually get this in 5 minutes or so. But today, the only person who could do it? Another of the ALTs! This has nothing to do with English proficiency, it's a simple communication skill, and it's easy now to see why most Japanese companies say the skill is decidedly lacking in their new recruits. If teachers don't realise it, kids will never learn.

Finally we did the Where is Baby Monkey? theme and game. This time the ALTs were saying "Why are the teachers over thinking everything so much?". They couldn't get their heads round the rules at all. Again it was up to yet another ALT, who couldn't even understand the instructions as they were in Japanese, to take the lead and figure out how to win the game. Although I actually messed up the ending by missing one of the cards - very embarrassing & sorry again!

Anyway, it was maybe a bit too much for one day, and I guess I can't complain as I messed up quite a few of the things myself. Usually when there are so many new people I do take it very slowly and a lot more "holding hands". But the other half of the teachers who knew Genki English wanted to see the next level and I really wanted to show them that. I can see why the kids at the school I went to the other month were so good, because their teachers have their goals set and know how to communicate!

I think next year I'll split the course up and re-do the basics for first timers. But for today, certainly very good on the courage on tackling higher themes, no problems on teaching kids the basic level stuff and with a few tricks to really experience what "communicating" actually means then I think most of the teachers can be as good as the many superstar teachers that Okayama already has!

August 23rd 2007 - Okinawa Day 4 - In review

Today I had my super group of teachers who have been attending all week plus they were joined by another big group of teachers and student teachers. I had to do a "basics" workshop but it was tough as there were many students who hadn't yet taught, hence you don't get the look of relief that real teachers have when you present something that can help them. But they were fine, and it worked out well. Then another lunch and a chat about a whole new set of materials which are looking very exciting!

Now I'm about to head on the plane up to Okayama. I've been staying on the "Tropical beach" all this week, but have been inside from dawn to well past dusk, I could really do with a day at the beach!

PS the team taught pizza and foxy phonics books are about to become sold out. If you want one, get your order in now as they'll probably all be gone by early September.

August 22nd 2007 - Okinawa Day 3, the task fills the time

No matter how many times I do these "jissen" ( where the teachers teach ) workshops I always have a sinking feeling part way through that the teachers will never make it and we'll end up finishing with them even more confused than where we started. But luckily every time ( so far!) we get to the teachers' third time at presenting, everything always seems to click. When I let them take 30 minutes to prepare yesterday, it took 30 minutes, today I gave them 5 and it took just 5. In a real school Japanese school you'd never have 30 minutes to prepare for just one lesson, and 5 minutes makes sure you cut out all the humming and ahhing and being far too polite in deciding which teacher will do which part, and simply get on with the job! As usual the teachers were taking the GE lesson plans and dressing them up with their own teaching skills which was great. They actually did some great lessons! The workshops worked well and we got some great feedback in the afternoon. If you looked at what they learnt it might all seem obvious, but putting in practice means you really feel it.

Then in the afternoon we did lots of extra stuff like how to use the computer games in an elementary school computer room ( have several computers, the teacher says "go" and see who can finish the game the quickest), picture books, hip hop songs etc. There was also a request for phonics. I only briefly introduced the GE phonics materials, but I probably should have taken the time to explain things properly. i.e. that it's the sounds that come first, and the letters are how you represent those sounds, not the other way round!

Then out in the evening for another string of meetings, dinners and drinks until 2 in the morning!

August 21st 2007 - Okinawa Day 2 + Lesson Plans

Even though I have a very small class of teachers today it seemed to take quite a long time to work through 2 themes each. I think it probably had a lot to do with having a mixed class of elementary school teachers ( who the course is aimed at) and private school teachers who may not have the experience, or realise the challenges, in teaching 30 kids at once. They did start off quite well, but I was still having to give input at the end of the day, which I would have preferred to have gotten past. Very often it's simply a case of flicking the genki switch to drag the lesson out of "repeat after me and fall asleep" into "let's use this English!".

They also did well at making up dances for the choruses of the songs. The kids can easily think of gestures for the answers, but the question part often needs something totally unrelated to the English to make it fun. It seemed today that Billy's Bootcamp was the biggest inspiration!

Let's hope tomorrow gets them up to speed as I need to move on to the more advanced stuff!

I also uploaded the lesson plans book to the main section of the website. Enjoy!

August 20th 2007 - Okinawa crash & Simpleology

Luckily I flew in to Okinawa yesterday, so avoided the big explosion at the airport this morning.

This week I'm teaching a three and a half day certificated course for J-Shine. So today we had plenty of time for problem solving and Q&As.

I also tried out an idea I got from the "Next Internet Millionaire" reality TV programme, Mark Joyner's "Simpleology" activity.

Basically all you do is to write up a set of goals on one side of the board, e.g. in this case the teachers wrote up what they want their students to achieve after 6 years of lessons. You mark this with a dot.
At the other side of the board you put another dot.
Next the teachers brainstorm a list of topics and ideas for their curriculum.
Then we start from the "start" dot and draw a line as they read out the curriculum ideas. Of course the quickest route is a straight line, so when things were directly related to their goals, the line was straight. when the topics were only somewhat related the line goes vertical or even back on itself. Anyway what we found out was that the teachers had plenty of ideas for their "getting good at English" target, but not so many for their international understanding targets. So that's what we worked on for the rest of the afternoon.

Then after we'd finished at four o'clock, they were getting the room ready for a course on how to teach business skills. I'm very interested in that and although it's a government sponsored workshop, I got myself a seat in the room. In the event it wasn't so much "business" as trying to teach college students communication abilities. Apparently this is the most desired quality that Japanese companies are looking for and the one that's most lacking in new graduates! ( The second is "the spirit of being up for a challenge") The workshop was good, but the abilities they were teaching were exactly the things that kids learn when doing Genki English!

August 17th 2007 - You're welcome!

There's lots of good stuff going on over in the CD Owners Club forum at the moment, we'd love to have you join us!

August 16th 2007 - Curriculum: Save time!

Japanese elementary school teachers are always saying they are busy. They have lots of stuff to do and far too much paperwork. So it always comes as a shock when I hear teachers saying they have to make to make their own English curriculum.

"Wow, you must have so much time free! How long does it take you to make a good curriculum?" I always ask teachers in workshops. Usually there's one teacher who asks me how long it took to make the Genki English Curriculum. The answer? 10 years! And that's working full time and with the support of 100s of teachers who send in suggestions. Of course you can make one in less time, but how good will it be?

Teaching English is quite easy, but making a curriculum is hard! You have to juggle what the kids want to say in English, how much can be taught in 45 minutes, how to progress from theme to theme, how to make the lessons fun, how to balance kids of different abilities etc. etc. etc. Even this week I added in the Do you like animals? theme, but I would have never even considered it if I hadn't seen so many teachers making mistakes.

The reason teachers are asked to make curricula is because they know their kids best. But I think in just about every school I've been to the English is either something adults want to teach but kids don't ever use ( e.g. "abc song", days of the week or shapes) or at worst full of mistakes.

A lot of teachers have worked really hard on the Genki English curriculum over the years, and there's a lot more to choosing the language than first appears, so why not save yourself some time and simply use the Genki English curriculum. After all you don't make a car to take you to school every morning, so why try and make a curriculum when there is already one out there? Especially when you are so busy! It's free, it's flexible and above all it works really, really well. I'm sure the kids would prefer to spend that extra time with you.

I know if you asked me to make a curriculum for history or geography I wouldn't have a clue where to even start!

( PS new "Do you like animals?" and "Where, where, where?" cards uploaded today!

August 14th 2007 - New Cats & Dogs.

Today we have a couple of new pics for the Do you like animals? theme. They're testing very well, so I'll probably officially put them in the theme by next week. But what do you think, do you prefer the old or new ones?

August 13th 2007 - Do you like animals?

If you're still having problems with teachers thinking that "Do you like dog?" is the correct way to say "inu ga suki desu ka?", then I think I have ( finally!) found the cure. Just like with foods, instead of teaching the singular first, teach everything in the "Do you like...?" form right from the start i.e. for animals that means starting with plurals.

So there's a new theme on the website, Do you like animals? You've already got the song on the CD3 remix and now you have plural picture and minicards, and a downloadable illustrated version of the song.

You simply teach the normal food version of Do you like..? then switch it to animals in the next lesson, voila problem solved! It then also makes CD4's Animal Voices song a whole lot easier to teach. In fact if you do decide to do that song, you can simple say the animal and just get the kids to make the noises!

Please let me know how you get on with this theme, it does seem to be working, but last year I tried the Favourite Flavour song to do the same thing and that just ended up confusing the teachers even more!

August 10th 2007 - Nagasaki Day 2

Ah, this is what I like to do, sit back, relax and let everyone else do the work! Just as a teacher should get out of there and let the kids be the centre of attention, today it was the turn of the teachers of the school to practice teaching using Genki English.

Compared with other schools they picked things up very quickly, even after just teaching one theme each they'd picked up on the need to read the lesson plans, sort out who is doing what and to practice beforehand. Some teachers take ages to get that. Since CD7 has come out it's no where near possible to do all the themes in one day, but they got through a heck of a lot of them.

Whilst I give a fair bit of advice on how to teach the songs and games, for the actual introduction of the language I usually leave it up to them. Each teacher has their own personality and techniques, and today they really made the lessons their own. Usually you have one or two "too much sugar" teachers in a school, but today just about all of them had their own ways of doing things which was great to learn from, both for me and the other teachers. One teacher did the "Do you like?" theme in Japanese first ( just to make sure younger kids understood the concept), then seamlessly switched to English, which worked great.

I also figured out I need to do an easy to teach remix of Creepy Crawlies. Since I remixed the others last year, it really stands out as being tough to teach!

But anyway, a really great day and I'm going to pop back next month to do a demo class for the kids. With teachers as good as this I want to help as much as I can.

August 9th 2007 - Nagasaki - Small school, big heart

I don't know what it is about the schools in Nagasaki prefecture, they not only have some of the best kids in the country but the teachers are always super motivated. Well actually, if you think about what day it is today, the anniversary of the dropping of the world's 2nd nuclear bomb on Nagasaki city, I guess that might explain a certain passion for international understanding education.

Today's school is really small, 10 teachers, but they've decided to start English and International Understanding seriously from this year. Unlike many schools it's not just one or two teachers, but they all seemed quite into it.

Today was the basic "from the beginning" session ( the fourth time I've done it this week!), to prepare them for tomorrow's actual practice teaching sessions, which should be fun. We spent a lot of time on the curriculum side of things. They have one they've made themselves, but it is very much in the "things we think we should be teaching" camp, and it was good to go through the themes and actually see if they are useful or not for the kids. Hopefully they'll adopt the Genki English curriculum as there is so much more to it than simply gathering together a few topics and games!

By the end of the workshop they were all totally energised and "quite moved" they said. And as usual they said "We should have invited you to talk to all the teachers in the city!". How can I get that across before I travel to a place?

Then a quick shower and the head teacher hosted a big BBQ party for everyone in his massive, massive house ( what is it about Nagasaki and big, posh houses as well?). That was great though, and a couple of the local ALTs came along which was cool. Actually the school were really wanting to invite them but were a bit hesitant saying "well, but maybe they won't want to come? Or they'll be too busy?" to which my reply was "Invite them, they'll love it!". If you've just arrived as an ALT, the first week is amazing, you're put up in a big hotel in Tokyo, have orientations, get to meet the mayor etc. then in the 2nd week, that's when the loneliness can set in. So if you have a new ALT in your town, don't be shy about asking them to events, they probably aren't too busy, they'll most probably love it!

August 8th 2007 - Kagawa, Miki - The more the better

When I first arrived here, late last night, the train pulled away from the station and it was pitch black. All I could see were stars. This is crazy, crazy inaka, total countryside. I couldn't see where my hotel was, and couldn't ask for a taxi as there weren't any. In fact there was no one around. In the distance I saw a light so walked across to find an old lady in her noodle shop. She showed me directions to the hotel. But then when I went out again I asked the hotel guy where I could eat and he said the noodle shop was the only option "Is everywhere else closed?" I asked, "No, that's all there is. Oh and be sure to get back before the curfew". Curfew? Blimey, needless to say there was no internet in the hotel.

But this morning I woke up to find I was surrounded by mountains and just happened to be right on the edge of town, it's actually really quite big. So today we had a workshop that was impeccably organised by the fantastic CIR ( Co-ordinator of International Relations) in town with every teacher from every school, over 90 people, all together. That's not an easy thing to organise, so full marks there!

The actual workshop itself went great. It was pretty much the same as the rest of this week and the teachers came up with loads of questions, got really into all the activities and did a fantastic job. Even the junior high school teachers came up afterwards asking loads of great questions. This was after I'd spent the last 3 hours getting the other teachers to completely forget everything they ever did in junior high. It's good to see JHS teachers wanting to make a difference as well.

The only dodgy thing was another publisher had turned up handing out leaflets for their training course. At my gig! They didn't have permission so we got them stopped, but the last thing I wanted people to think was that I had anything to do with that particular company! But no big problem really.

Anyway, we'd finished by lunchtime and ended on a big high note. Then out for some udon noodles and a Starbucks ( it's really a big city in disguise I think!). Everyone was really great so hopefully we'll be able to work out something for next year too.

Then I met up with a nearby ALT who had come up with a curriculum for 5th and 6th graders. It's really very good and the main thing is a very cool 2 page summary that makes things really easy to understand. He wants everyone to be able to use it, and has very kindly offered to let you download it from the website, just as soon as we get an electronic version produced. I think he was a little hesitant that Genki English was the best way to get it out to lots of teachers, but then the waitress in the coffee shop came up to us. She first asked if I was an ALT too, to which I said I run a publishing company ( that's the easiest way to explain things usually!), she then hesitantly asked if I had a website. I said yes, and she said "It's not Genki English, is it?" She then proceeded to freak out a little bit. People don't usually recognise me out of uniform, but I think it created the right impression that Genki English is the quickest way to get ideas out to lots of teachers.

Speaking of which I've met a lot of teachers with great original materials on this trip. If you have any yourself then please get in touch. I can either help you make them into products for sale, or if you're cool with letting everyone get them for free, it's really simple to put them on the website so everyone can get their hands on them.

Now I'm back on the train towards Nagasaki, I should get in at a reasonable hour and don't start till the afternoon tomorrow, so it's kind of like a holiday. Mind you I really love being in Shikoku, it's so nice having clean air to breathe!

August 7th 2007 - Shiga - Play and learn

I was booked today by the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education for a 3 hour workshop in the afternoon. In the morning a university professor was presenting. Hence I made sure I was there to check that anything stupid wasn't taught ( e.g. one university guy goes round the country telling people not to teach "What's your name?" it should be "May I have your name please?" - he's obviously stayed in too many hotels and not been to enough schools! Plus it really messes up my workshop when teachers refuse to sing the What's your name song?!).

Anyway the professor today didn't say anything too weird but I thought she was taking the "English Activities" reasoning too far. In Elementary Schools in Japan they don't like to call English English, or Eigo, as that conjures up images of Junior High School grammar, tests etc. so they use other names such as "English Activities" or "Eigo Katsudo". The teacher today was saying that the kids didn't have to learn any new English, just to have fun, like a table tennis activity where getting good isn't the aim, just playing around is cool. She then went on to prove the point by showing a video of probably the worst lesson I've ever seen. The kids learnt nothing new, the teacher had terrible pronunciation ( no computers) and it was just a waste of time. I dread to think that other prefectures will be promoting this as model education in their workshops. Now I can see why some teachers mis-understand what we do in elementary school if this is all they see. The only good news is that it was just "talk & chalk" (without the chalk) and half the teachers were asleep, sorry "concentrating with their eyes closed", so weren't too badly influenced.

There was also a session where the teachers got in groups to figure out the good points and problems of elementary school English. Good. But they didn't offer any solutions. Not so good and not very inspiring.

So I wasn't sure how my workshop would go down, more theory and after lunch so activities where you actually learn something might not go down too well? But no worries at all, the teachers were totally on my wavelength and were the best group I've had all year! We had tons of questions and for many they had never heard of Genki English so were desperate to get their hands on Superpacks.

Activities wise we did: Disco Warm Up, What's your name?, Come on, Come on, How are you? and When is your birthday?

With these types of workshops, though, it's not the English, that's really easy and anyone can teach it, it's the energy and the general teaching philosophy behind it, and it's great to present to teachers who really get what being a teacher is all about.

So another excellent day today, and along with yesterday I'm actually enjoying this week!

Right, now a 4 hour train journey to Kagawa.

August 6th 2007 - Tokushima, Anan - Much, much better

Instead of being organised by a school, today's workshop was sponsored by the city's Education Research Centre. Hence we had teachers from lots of different schools. We also started off with all the formalities, introductions and lots of bowing! Which worked great as everyone was ready to start moving by the time it was my go.

Content wise it was the same "kiso" or basics workshop, with the usual selection of questions from the teachers. Content wise we did Disco Warm Up, What's your name?, Come on, Come on and Under the Sea. The teachers were great, a little quiet maybe, but asking good questions and very willing to try their 100% best.

Then after a very nice lunch it was an optional extra workshop. Only 10 teachers had signed up for this but in the event just about all of them stayed behind, which was great. The comment at the end was "All the teachers in the city should have been invited"....

The afternoon contents were based on requests and we did Do you like?, Time 2, What are you doing? and Genki Korean - which didn't work this time - the ladies today weren't gamers! But we finished off with When is your birthday and they loved it.

So a great day, lots of energised teachers and I'm wondering if it might be better just doing group workshops like this in the future. But for now it's a 3 hour bus ride back to Kyoto to get ready for tomorrow's gig in Shiga!

August 5th 2007 - Tokushima - Funky Pics & Easy Family

Seeing as I have 4 hour train journeys nearly everyday this week I figured I might as well fly up today. This route uses one of the really tiny planes "Aisle or window seat? They're both!". Which is actually really fun being able to look out the window and see everything below. Kyushu and Shikoku look great in the Summer.

Then a quick chat with the teachers who are organising tomorrow, and a check of the room. Then I met up with the ALT in town. He's an excellent teacher and has been sending in ideas and things for ages. Today he showed me some of his suped up Genki English Minicards. Wow, these look nice. So hopefully I'll try and persuade him to let you have a few to download.

Plus I got a load more computer work done and wrote up the new Monkey Family lesson plan. Just a couple of changes have moved it from being the hardest theme to teach, to now being one of the easiest! Enjoy!

August 4th 2007 - Japanese Culture? Transformers!

Over on the Genki Japan site we have lots and lots of people learning Japanese. The main reason for most of them is so that they can experience Japanese culture in real Japanese. Certainly no one in this day and age would say "Right, I want to learn Japanese so I can tell Japanese people about American culture!".

But that's just the situation many primary schools in Japan put themselves in. They see English not as a communication tool, but as a sales point so the kids can explain "Japanese culture" to "foreigners". Apart from the fact that the English comes out sounding really stupid and totally boring ( it sounds much better in Japanese!), many schools try to teach about things that aren't Japanese at all, for example chopsticks ( definitely Chinese), o-koto ( arguably Chinese) or things like "Kendama" - the cup and ball game that even the Japanese Foreign Ministry says isn't Japanese. This is embarrassing enough as it is, but even more so when kids have to read a script to visitors from China on how to use chopsticks!!

Personally I think that we teach English so that our students can learn about other cultures, to let them explore and open their eyes to what else is out there. It's only then that they can look back and appreciate the good things they grew up with.

But if you really must teach "Japanese culture" in English class, then at least think about it from a kids' point of view. Japanese culture is a huge boom around the world at the moment, but it's not the traditional stuff, it's what kids are really interested in i.e. manga, anime, Nintendo. Even Transformers is really Japanese!

August 2nd 2007 - No study? You still know loads!

Sometimes in higher grades kids will have taken on board influences from teachers, parents and TV and sometimes in class will gladly boast "Eigo wakaranai!" - "I don't understand any English". Obviously you need to stamp this thinking out before it spreads.

I've just written up an idea I use that works really well, and involves showing kids ( or teachers!) that they can understand half of an English newspaper without evening studying ( well sort of !).

It's a similar approach to that taken by Michel Thomas, where in the first few minutes of his course you realise you can actually understand hundreds of words of French, Spanish or German, all without doing any "work". Now that's a real motivation booster!

July 30th 2007 - Okayama - Two times? Too much!

I'm getting a bit fed up of this. I've known the teacher at today's school for quite a while and she's really nice. Initially the school refused to let her have the travel expenses for me to come, which of course isn't a good thing. But they came up with the idea of inviting the neighbouring schools and doing everything together. Nice solution! The plan was from 10 AM till 4 PM with of course lunch in between. As this is Okayama, where the teachers have to teach on their own and are hence very motivated, I thought it would be great and we planned to do the basics workshop in the morning, getting all the problems out of the way, the move onto some more funky advanced stuff in the afternoon.

So what happens? This morning I get told there will be 20 teachers from the neighbouring schools in the morning but most of the teachers from this school will now only attend in the afternoon. No, no, that's no good! The teacher here knows that teachers can't just jump into an advanced workshop. Without doing all the motivation and "changing your thinking" stuff, all that would do is alienate the teachers and convince them English was not for them. That's the total opposite of what we are supposed to do!

So basically it meant I had to do the exact same "from the beginning" workshop twice! What a right waste of time ( and my voice!), again they could have just invited me for half a day and let me free the time up for another school!

I started off the morning in a bad mood ( there was no sound system set up either!) but flipped to being genki for the teachers - it wasn't their fault after all. We did What's your name? in German, which sort of worked but took far too much time. I think the false reassurance of doing it in English would have been better. Then Can you kick? and all the usual questions came up. One teacher said "My 3rd graders won't speak". I've never met a 3rd class who don't speak so I asked what she was teaching. "Months" she said. Then quickly thought about it, "ah, I see, I guess I should be teaching something they find interesting?". Which was proved later as the 6th graders outside were dancing along when we did the Come on Soccer song!

Then in the afternoon, I got another message saying that instead of 1PM, they'd changed it to start at 1:30. This is just getting ridiculous. The compromise of 1:15 was reached. I hate having to rush. Even if you spell things out clearly and agree it in writing they still change things!

Anyway I started again doing the same "from the beginning workshop", taking exactly the same questions that every school asks, and the same ones we had this morning. Songs wise there were a few teachers who attended both, so we did the English version of "What's your name?" to which they were "well yes, English is a lot easier". Plus the Sports song. The big problem was the air-con, it wasn't working! So we had over 40 very hot, very tired, very humid and very sweaty teachers! I felt sorry for them so we did the Creepy Crawlies song, which is very slow. The conversation then started turning round to how they can learn themselves, so after the Where is the Mr Monkey? song, which got the comment of, "Ah, so that's how you make it interesting for the kids!", we tried the video game and the Genki Korean food game. It really worked and there were lots of "ooh, now that is very good!" they quickly realised the CD computer games as something that would help them. We also did a couple of hip hop songs and the picture books, which they liked as well, but more for themselves rather than the kids! Then we finished off very sweaty and very tired with the war speech.

So again it worked out OK-ish, the teachers got a lot out of it, but it should have been a whole lot better. How on Earth can I get schools to not say at the end of the day "Well, yes, now I think we should have done it how we planned!".

July 29th 2007 - Kyoto - Pro Rules!

Wow, what a difference when people pay to attend. Today's teachers were absolutely fantastic. We had a ton of questions, tons of attention, lots of activities and a fantastic buzz at the end of the day.

Activities wise we did:
* Write up a list of "joys" of your job ( for the bad days), and the problems ( to work on your good days)
* Wie heisst du? ( to see what it's really like to learn with Genki English songs)
* Korean food game ( to see how the CD games make learning possible, or even preferable at home, how grammar should be experienced, not dissected)
* Soccer + Can you ...? ( to see how themes build on each other) + game
* Time 2 + game ( to see why it's important to practise before the lesson!)
* Where is Mr Monkey? + game
* Where is baby monkey?
* Genki Picture books. ( don't worry about US vs. UK English, this is the only theme it occurs in!)
* Can you do it?

There were also many of the main points of Genki English:
* Teach what the kids want to say, not what the book wants to teach.
* Figure out the aim of your class, why, how, when and to what level will the kids go?
* Activities concentrate on what the kids don't know. If you stick to only what they do know and they don't improve.
* Rule one: Can you do it? Yes, I can!
* Rule two: Losing means try again!
* Rule three: the most important one, and I think you remember it...

Questions wise we had loads for example...

* I'm too shy.
"Shyness is the degree to which you can, or cannot, communicate with other people". Not shy = can communicate with anybody. Shy = can only communicate with a few. It's the opposite of what we are trying to achieve in English classes, don't use it as an excuse. Build the confidence of your students using the ideas we showed in class. Find out what their passion is. Everyone has at least one thing they can talk about non stop. Use lots of claps in class.

* How do we reconcile having to prepare for tests and teaching English?
If you have two masters, you'll get pulled to the left and to the right, but never move closer to either. Choose one or the other. Or have two classes, one for each.

* How to improve things with only one lesson a week?
Homework that the kids want to do. i.e. reviewing with the songs or learning new language with the computer games ( student packs). You saw how quickly you learnt something completely new.

* Then what is the role of the teacher if the kids can learn on their own?
"Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself" - Chinese proverb. The teacher's role then is to check what the students are saying, give feedback and confidence and set challenges and activities to improve themselves.

* What to do when the kids are fed up with an activity?
Change it. If they know the English, move up a level. If they don't, keep the same target language and change the activity. "Stupidity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Albert Einstein

* The parents are always pushing for tests.
Sit them down at least twice a year. Ask them what they want, how and why and what and when. Explain about what and why the tests are as they are. They'll come to the same conclusions you have. If not, fire them. Parent support is essential and your time will be better spent where it will be more effective. When they sign up, set out in the contract what your goals are for their students, what you promise to do, and what they promise to do ( or not do!) to support their child's learning. Parental support is essential.

* How do you speak so loud for so long?
Take a voice training or singing course! It's an investment in your business, because if you lose your voice, you lose your job. I'm only genki when motivating the kids, the new English comes from the computer and in the games I'm just the referee.

* What to do if you're ill and can't do a lesson?
This was the only tough question! The best idea I could think of was to make a contract with several other teachers so that in the event of illness you'd cover each other's lessons. In a worst case scenario you could have your kids join your friends class for the day.

* What do you think of events?
Business wise they are great as they are a chance for students to bring friends who may enroll in your school. Educationally, if you have English based activities it's a great goal for the students to be work towards. Goals are vital.

* How do we teach different kids of different levels in the same class?
Split them up. If the class is too slow or too fast it's not fair on anyone.

* What about reading and writing?
Once the kids can speak most of the things they want to say, introduce phonics. Then a graded readers series. Writing I'll leave to you to decide!

* I have to teach my company's curricula. How can I fit in Genki English?
Most teachers in this situation use it as a magic spice to liven up what they "have to" teach. Adding in the Genki English songs and games can usually make even the most boring textbook a lot more interesting.

* How to link in with junior high school?
Forget it. You can teach to a level way above JHS level in a very short time. Aim low, get low. Aim high, get high. Look at the homework the senior high school students were doing yesterday, basically the same as we did in an hour with the elementary school kids!

The other main things that came up were to do with motivation, kids quitting and getting them to talk etc. Basically things that having the GE curriculum built around what kids do want to say rather than what the teacher wants to teach, helps solve most of these problems.

The other questions I'll get round to writing up as blog posts in the future!

We also went through the "Pro Rules: How to be the best teacher in the World" presentation.

Then we all went out for a meal. The girls who had organised this weekend looked shattered, but they'd done an amazing job. And all the teachers were gushing so much about everything today. Wow, I thought it went well, but even more so after dinner. So today was amazing, gave me a big confidence boost to work even harder and it will be great to spread the word out to even more teachers. If you have a blog or are on Mixi, I'd really appreciate the help in letting more people know for next time!

Thank you everyone, I wish all the teachers in Japan were just like you. Your students are very, very lucky people!

July 28th 2007 - Kyoto - Kids in Kimono

Tomorrow I have a full day 9000 yen workshop for private school teachers here, so today they asked me to do a paid for show for their kids. I haven't done any of these in a long while, but we had hundreds of parents and kids attend today, which is an amazing turn out.

Due to the size of the hall though we had to split it into 3 groups. Usually I'd insist on having everyone together ( it's easier to do and less work for everyone!) but the teachers today had invited me before so I agreed, and it's also a chance for me to try out some new ideas. I was planning on doing the new I like animals 2 song ( there'll be a beta version to download in the CD Owners Forum next month), but the parents chatting at the back made anything new almost impossible.

It's really important to have balance in a lesson, to have quiet and loud parts, fast and slow, pure fun and slow reflection, but you need everyone's attention when doing this. Calming kids down is really easy ( have a look at the Online Workshop Video) but one group of parents were just ignoring everything me and the staff said to them about shutting up. And of course as soon as one person is talking, a few others start, then a few others and it's impossible to do anything slow or reflective as you lose everyone's attention. Plus the room was too jam packed for any games so it was non-stop mega genkiness for 55 minutes! But actually the kids did really well.

We did...

* Rocket Launch ( the long version )
* Genki Disco Warm Up Song
* Rock, Paper, Scissors
* Under the Sea
* Favourite food + family picture books.
* Come on! Soccer song
* and Thank you.

Which for an hour is pretty fantastic. Plus the kids were playing around on the computer games before hand so quite a few parents bought CDs.

Then after lunch it was the same thing again, but this time what a difference! These were total model parents, the best you could wish for. They were quiet when they should, and loud when they should, jumping around, joining in and laughing with their kids. It was exactly the same content, but with hardly any effort from me as everyone was enjoying themselves so much. They really got into shouting out answers for the picture books and it was as close as you'll ever get to a perfect model show.

Then 30 minutes later was the last one, but this time for upper elementary school graders. Now I really, really don't like to do shows for this age of kids and the success rate is pretty low, last time I was here it was just painful for everyone! This time the teachers wanted to do What do you do? and the name card game. So I sort of agreed, but on condition that we could test the kids first, there's no point doing a game like that with so many kids if they either a) don't know the English or b) aren't bothered, as it will just descend into chaos.

So my first test was to see if they were in the mood to laugh or not. So I taught the Genki Disco Warm Up without saying a word. I just pressed a button to get the computer to say the words, then made a face expression as "hmmm, what does that mean?" and the kids did the actions, to which I did a big "Ah, now I see!" face. And they were killing themselves laughing. So test 1 OK!

The next test was to see if they can answer questions quickly. Very often with private English school kids you'll ask them a question and they'll just tilt their head and maybe give you an answer 20 minutes later. Obviously no good for the name card game. So we did the Genki English version of Karuta. And they were good, I could rush round the hall asking anyone and everyone spoke up strong and confident without any hesitation. Good, step 2 passed.

Now it was time to make sure they know all the English for the game,. You usually do this using the song, but of course 5th and 6th graders usually don't like songs! The one exception is when you split them into two groups and get each group to sing louder than the other. The guaranteed always works song for this is Where are you going?, the teacher sings the "I'm going to the beach" line, the first group repeats "beach", then the second group repeats it. Even the toughest as nails, too cool for school group always go full out to beat the other team. And they were great. They did already know the English, I was just getting them genki. Which nicely led into doing the same trick with the "What do you do?" song, the teacher says the line, the first group repeats, then the next. And they were even better. No gestures of course ( I tried but to no avail!), but big loud voices which is the main thing.

The final incentive of a pack of cards to the top three players in the game got the last of the "not bothered" boys into a "I want that prize!" mode and everyone did really, really well. No cheating, great pronunciation and loads of confidence. Nice.

Not that it was a perfect lesson by any stretch of the imagination, but I was just glad we made it to the end and didn't have the parents asking for their money back. But then afterwards the kids' teachers were beaming saying it was the best lesson of the day. So I guess you can't complain!

So there you go, a very tiring, but very good day. Oh yeah, and for some reason some of the teachers and their students turned up in summer kimonos today, which after being out of the country for so long was a very cool thing to see!

July 27th 2007 - Aichi - Another test school...

Instead of seeing today's school as part of the messed up 3 day workshop plan, I simply looked on it as a "from the beginning" workshop for a new school. This is another one of the Ministry Of Education's pilot schools for this year ( are there any schools that have not been pilot schools?) and all the usual easy to answer questions came up such as curriculum, pronunciation, confidence etc. but there were some strange twists as well.

For example as part of my "English is easy" skit I start off by asking the teachers what they would do if a kid was in a swimming competition and half way through said it was too hard and they couldn't go on. In most schools the teachers say they would cheer them on, tell them they could do it, to "Ganbare" in Japanese. Then I go on to say how strange it is that when the same kid says the same thing about English, teachers always say "Yes, it is hard isn't it!". Usually this gets a laugh and lots of lightbulbs going off as the teachers see that motivating the kids for English is just the same as motivating kids at sports and other subjects. But today only one teacher said he would cheer the swimming student on! The others said they would say nothing, if the kid wants to give up that's their problem. Wow, I've never heard that from elementary school teachers before. Isn't that what the role of a teacher is, to introduce the skills and abilities, but also to instill the confidence and spirit to believe in themselves? Apparently not here.

But anyway, there was also a question that the kids couldn't remember long conversations. I sort of misunderstood this at the beginning and started talking about how you have to review and add the previous time's English into the current lessons. But what they were talking about was the school curriculum that has them forcing the kids to remember long set piece conversations for shops and restaurants. That led nicely into how to decide topics not by what teachers want taught, but by what the kids want to talk about! I read through the report of this city last night and they have 38.7% of their 6th graders hating English, and now I can understand why. ( Mind you it's not too far off the national average!).

Anyway we went through things like the soccer theme where you go from very simple things the kids can use straight away ( e.g. kick, throw, etc.), to building them up, just like lego, to include longer things they can also use straight away ( Can you catch?, Can I play etc.). Then onto the projects.

Then there was also a curious thing at the end during the war speech, one of the teachers wasn't making eye contact. Afterwards we had a chat and she said "But another school of thought is that instead of teaching our kids to communicate with other kids in other countries, why not just make everyone here into a good Japanese". To which my reply was, "Well what about all those kids that have parents from different countries or cultures who might not want that?" to which the reply was "That's who I'm talking about". Hmmm... the teacher was quite serious and civil about this, but err.... isn't it better to concentrate on making them good people instead?

Anyway, they are thinking about having me back for a workshop for the whole city next year, so we'll see what happens. Then an hour's standing on the bullet train to Kyoto and now I'm about to head out for the prep meeting for tomorrow.

Oh, and last night we were migrating the site to new servers, sorry about any disruption. And my email has also changed to a new system ( hopefully less spam), the address is still the same and I still do reply to every email, it just takes a couple of days sometimes!

July 26th 2007 - Aichi - A little softer

Well maybe I was a little harsh on the school yesterday, today they actually tried really well. I expected only a handful to turn up, but we had more than yesterday. Work wise they got to present one more lesson each and although not perfect by any means at least in the feedback sessions they were saying things like "right, I need to read the lesson plan!" and "I should have practised the song more first" which should help them out in the future. We didn't end on the "we can do it on our own, we don't need you anymore Richard" stage that usually happens after a three day workshop, but they improved and the war speech at the end ( which was cut the first time I was here due to a guy running round the school grounds with a knife!) got them thinking about bigger targets than they had before.

Now we're off out for sushi.

July 25th 2007 - Aichi - End of the free rides

Yesterday I was seriously thinking of cutting out the free workshops for public schools and charging for them all. The reason being that I've had to spend the last 3 days organising hotels and planes and visits for the upcoming Summer tour. With all the projects underway at the moment it's just not an efficient use of my time. Ironically in Thailand and now in Hong Kong I have whole teams of people who sort everything out. So really I need an assistant to handle Japan, but this person would obviously need to be paid so I'd be effectively subsidising the free school workshops. Now I don't mind doing this in countries where they need subsidising, but not in super rich Japan!

I initially started offering the public school workshops for free so the budget wouldn't be a problem and any school that wanted help could ask for it. Many schools have taken advantage of this and I've worked with some wonderful teachers. But there are also schools like today....

This is the 3rd time I've visited this school. To be honest I was a little surprised when they asked me back as last year they canceled the morning part of the workshop just as I arrived. "A nice holiday for you!" they said, which would have been nice had I not just cut short a university course I was teaching to come here! But this year they, along with the school next door, invited me for a full 3 day workshop. Great, a quick review in the morning then a day and a half at one school and a day at the other where the teachers can practice teaching and really improve. So I was a little suspicious when on Monday they said "Oh, just fly up Wednesday morning". "But there aren't any planes that will get me in for 9 AM". "That's OK, we can cut the morning short". Hmmm, well I agreed ( figuring they just wanted to save a night's hotel fee) and as they already had had two workshops before, an hour in the morning should be enough to get up to speed. In the end it went well.

So in the afternoon I put them in groups, they chose a theme, read the lesson plan and practised and then presented the lesson to everyone else. In most schools the first time through is really bad, the second time is much, much better and when they come to do the third theme they are usually super confident and can teach anything you can throw at them. Today they were taking ages and ages. I was really worried that we were going to end the day on the down point of only having done one theme. So I double checked the finishing time and instead of the usual 4:30 or 5 it was to to be 3:30 instead! Not good. So I asked about tomorrow, and they had decided to only do it in the afternoon. Why did they need to take 2 days of my time? It's peak time at the moment for workshops, they could have simply put everything together in one day and I could have gone to another school tomorrow. Hmmm.

But that wasn't the worst of it. They were taking so long to teach each theme, and lackluster wasn't the word for the total lack of enthusiasm some of them showed. I'm used to teachers not being confident, which we can work on with time, or being confused, my Japanese instructions aren't always super clear, but this was to the point of "we don't want to be here" type mood. After the super gratefulness showed by teachers in Thailand, or the energy showed by the teachers in Okayama the other month I was really quite shocked. So I asked them "what's going on? Is it a case that you had to fill your training quota and instead of a boring old guy from a university you thought you'd invite me for free?" to which one teacher said ... "Well, yeah".

Full marks for honesty, but oh my goodness what cheeky beggars!!! I have a hard time fitting in all the requests for workshops, but I still took the time to fly up here, and I still strongly believe that good education isn't just for the people who can afford private teachers but that normal elementary school teachers are so important as they give the chance of a quality education to every child regardless of income, but this type of "we don't care" attitude is just astounding when they've invited me to their school. Now there were some great teachers today who tried like crazy. But there's no way I'm going to stand there working my best for people who don't even care about their own jobs or their own students, never mind being respectful to a visitor.

If it wasn't for the fact that I couldn't contact another school in time I'd go somewhere else tomorrow. I asked the head teacher whether it's worthwhile coming back tomorrow and he said it probably is worthwhile. And the good teachers deserve a second chance so I'll get genki, smile a lot and do my 100% best again. But if they are like today I think I'll just film the lessons and put them on YouTube!

So I think the days of doing workshops for free are coming to an end. Things are usually worth what you pay for them, so from next year the workshops will be priced at what they are worth. Teachers who need help will still ask for it, and hopefully those that don't care will retire early!

July 23rd 2007 - Handout Discounts

If you're a private English school looking to make some extra income or a teacher wanting to improve your students' abilities, the Genki English Student Packs are a great value.

But in the beginning it can be a bit of a risk if you're not sure how many parents would be interested. So today I've just uploaded a new leaflet to pass out to parents. If you end up with 15 or more orders, you can get the Student Pack discount ( where each CD is just less than half price). But if you don't end up with enough orders, you simply tell the parents the order is cancelled and you, and they, won't have lost anything.

Unlike other teaching systems that charge teachers a percentage of their profits, this is a much fairer way of doing things, and rather than costing you money it can be an exciting extra revenue stream for you. Many schools that order keep adding further and further orders as the parents are wanting to progress through all the CDs!

July 22nd Sunday - Da Vinci Treasure Hunt

If you're looking for a Summer Camp activity, one good one is a simple treasure hunt. You can either review "Where is Mr Monkey?" and have clues that use near, next to, under, on etc.

Or you could make your own Da Vinci Code Game. Simply have the code spell out words like "desk" or "clock" etc. and have the next clue hidden under the desk or behind the clock etc.. Very simple, but lots of fun!

July 21st 2007 - Dumbledore's Army

I don't know if you've seen the new Harry Potter movie yet ( I got to see it in Imax 3D in Bangkok on Monday!), but there's a new Head Teacher at Hogwarts: Dolores Umbridge.

She starts off the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class by telling the students to forget any practical things, that they should just concentrate on theory for the tests because after all "that's what school is for!"

Hmmm... does that sound familiar to anyone?

Imelda Staunton does a great job of hamming up the acting, but this is just the sort of teacher, and teaching, that we have to fight against everyday at Genki English.

Some people may sneer when they are told to make lessons fun, teach in a "hands on" way or to even teach listening and speaking before reading and writing. But these are the very tools we need to combat the stuck in the mud old school ways of teaching.

In no way is it a case of "let's just play around", it's about moving on to a new way of learning, to get away from the chalk and talk styles that worked fine for the industrial revolution, but which aren't going to equip our kids for the 21st century.

Have a look at the movie and see how Harry teaches compared with Ms. Umbridge. That's how we need our classrooms to be!

July 18th 2007 - Genki in Hong Kong

After the success in Thailand ( you can't ask for more than having Genki English in every primary school in the country), this week it's on to Hong Kong to see what we can work out here.

Hopefully, fingers crossed, we should have a big announcement for teachers here too. Watch this space.

July 17th 2007 - Tourist Thailand

I'm really glad that I work with some great people in Thailand. Everybody is so helpful, really friendly and always super polite. But if I came here as a tourist I think I might walk away with a very different image.

At first I thought the Bangkok taxi drivers were bad. A little over charging is maybe to be expected but doubling the price for a trip is not really fair. Then they start with all these excuses about petrol and stuff, today I heard the best one that if the guy took us to the airport he wouldn't be able to get any fairs back! Even if you have to wait a bit, get a metered taxi. Outside the tourist areas it's the norm and although it costs around 200 Bahts to get to the airport, anywhere in the city is rarely more than 100 bahts away. The taxi driver is still making a nice profit and everyone is much happier.

But then we went down to the tourist areas as I was planning to get some work done by the beach. Internal flights with Nok air are really cheap, about 1,000 bahts ( or 35 dollars). But then meals that would have cost 20 bahts in Bangkok suddenly start costing five times more for the exact same food. Plus the people are always nagging you for taxis and tuk-tuks and suits. Plus the roads run by the beach, so if you want to sit down for a quiet coffee or meal you have to put up with all the cars screaming past. So after a while of putting up with this in both Phuket and Krabi ( which was even worse than Phuket), I figured if I was going to get some work done I might as well check into a nicer hotel for some peace and quiet. Thanks to Expedia we ended up staying in a five star resort in the Laguna complex for 38 UK pounds a night, which wasn't bad at all, especially considering what I usually have to pay for a tiny room in Tokyo.

The only problem was that to get out of the complex the taxi drivers were asking for 1,000 bahts or more. Plus the restaurants were ridiculously priced, in one of them a bottle of water cost $10! And the food is much nicer in the back street stalls.

So it was great to get back to Bangkok last night. I was thinking about renting somewhere near the beach next year as most of my Japan workshops are now concentrated in the Summer and if I live in Thailand it's so much easier to get to other countries in the region. I guess I could be moaning too much, but when a meal or apartment in Phuket costs more than London that's just crazy!

As I say I'm really glad I get to work with so many nice Thai people, and if you can get out of the tourist areas ( try the national parks they're fantastic) that's the sort of people you'll meet everyday.

July 14th 2007 - Try, try, try again!

Genki English rule number 2: Losing means try again! And it doesn't half apply in real life as well.. .

Today I was supposed to be filming some segments for the new Genki English TV series. First up the camera battery had mysteriously died so had to be recharged. Then the sound checks showed there was too much wind and the waves were too loud. Then condensation started to form on the tape so we couldn't record. Then finally there was a thunder storm! Plus I also found out that YouTube is still banned over here so I couldn't upload the rushes even if I wanted to.

Eventually I did give up, but I'll try again another day! It's amazing that whenever I start work on this project things go wrong, it was the same during the filming in London, but I can see it in my head and I know it will work, so I'll just keep going. After all you never fail until you stop trying!

July 12th 2007 - New to teaching, what would you do?

I noticed that they were having free Thai lessons on the beach today, so in my break I pretended I didn't speak any Thai ( not too far from the truth!) and popped along to see what they would do. From the start it was pretty obvious that although the lady in charge of the lesson was very nice and a native speaker she obviously hadn't volunteered for the job, was a bit scared and had very little idea of what she was supposed to do. I guess that's a situation many first time native English speaker teachers find themselves in when they are just plonked down in a classroom and told to teach!

Anyway she first of all brought out a big alphabet chart. Needless to say after 3 or 4 minutes she found out that this wasn't either a particularly easy nor useful thing to do! So the next step was to start teaching us a few basic phrases. A good step! But... she also gave everyone a blank piece of paper and a pencil and told us to write down what she said. Needless to say thanks to everyone reading what they had written, everything came out in appalling English accents. Luckily she quickly abandoned that idea and decided to just to ask us what we wanted to know and got us to repeat and practice. If we had done a bit of pair work this could have been quite useful. As it happened we just ended up finishing half an hour early.

For an hour's freebie I guess you can't complain. But if this was your new job for the next few months or years then I would imagine it's worth trying to improve things.

The main piece advice I would give anyone who has never taught before is to simply think about...

1) What are your goals for the lesson? What do you want to teach? What do you want the students to walk away with? ( Remember in practice these two usually aren't the same thing, it takes time and reviews to make things stick.)
2) Then work backwards thinking how ( what activities etc.) you can teach these things.
3) Then think about what order and how much time each will take.

Usually that should get you through the first lesson and you will have learnt an awful lot! From then on it gets a lot easier as you can read up and more importantly practice teaching in front of a mirror before the next lesson. Eventually it becomes easy, but even teachers with decades of experience have to go through these steps when they first teach a new lesson!

July 11th 2007 - Success in 8 words & 3 minutes

One of the reasons that Genki English is successful is not just because of the songs, games and projects, but because of the "I can do it!" and "Try again!" philosophies beneath it.

In high school this becomes even more important. With more and more children in developed countries having a lack of personal goals and a lack of belief in what they can achieve, I firmly believe in using positive English and positive thinking in every class. Sometimes just a few changes of words can make a big impression. For example last month I showed the video of "Why kids? + creativity" ( have a look further down the page), here's another one from the same TED conference, this time focussing on success in "8 words and 3 minutes". How many of these words do your students know?

(Here's a link to the final slide with all 8 words )

July 10th 2007 - New JHS Book + big free sample!

textbook trailI've been working on trying to bring this new book to you for quite a while. It's the "Textbook Trail" as used by Altia Central in their Junior High School ( JHS) lessons. It's basically everything the textbook teaching guides should be, and it's all in English.

To give you an even better idea of what's inside the book Altia have very kindly provided us with a very chunky free sample for you to download. Have a look at the Textbook Trail page.

This means we now have two JHS books on the site, this one and the Team Taught Pizza. So which one to go for?

Well, the Textbook Trail is very professional with very comprehensive coverage, lesson plans and worksheets for the themes in the JHS textbooks. The Team Taught Pizza on the other hand is big a collection of tried and tested activity game and activity ideas. The only disadvantage of the Textbook Trail is that it's only in English ( the Pizza is bilingual).

If your school are paying though, the ideal thing is to get both books, they compliment each other very well, and it's usually just as easy ( hard?) to get your school to pay for one thing as it is for two! Plus if you order through Genki English we can provide all the paperwork your school may need, just ask someone to give Mrs Abe a ring in Japanese on 0898-48-0256 and she'll sort everything out for you!

July 9th 2007 - How do you say ... game?

How do you say ... in English? is one of the most important phrases you can teach your kids. It's so useful. But I've been having a hard time figuring out a good, fast and fun game to go with it.

The idea I originally had was to put the kids in groups, and get them to ask other groups in turn "How do you say + a word + in English", e.g. How do you say poisson in English? The answer being "fish" ( if you happen to be teaching in France.) If the other team answer correctly then both teams get a point. But this very quickly becomes very boring! Plus if the other team doesn't know a really simple word it gets the other team really annoyed. I also tried it the other way round where the asking team gets a point if the other team doesn't know the answer. But then they start coming up with super hard words, which is fun at first but the novelty quickly wears off.

So the only way I've figured out that actually has some skill needed is to involve the teacher. i.e.

1. Put the kids in groups.
2. One group asks the teacher "How do you say ... in English?"
3. If you know, you answer & that group gets a point.
4. Also write the word on the board so you have a record of what's been asked.
5. Continue from step 2 with the next team.

Although being a little too teacher centered for my liking, this does actually work. If you only speak a little of the kids' language it really makes them think about what words you might know, which is a very important communication skill. If you speak really well the kids are always impressed when you answer a tough one, and that's a big motivator for them. The key is to keep the questions coming thick & fast, and because they can't repeat the same question twice the kids enjoy the challenge of coming up with new words ( you can also set a time limit of say 10 seconds for them to come up with a new word).

Of course the actual vocab will only be spoken in English by the teacher, but the main aim is to get the kids to ask the phrase "How do you say ... in English?" as many times as possible and in that aim it succeeds handsomely. I'm sure there must be a better way of doing this, but for the moment it's a great end of year review and is especially good for older grades!

July 3rd 2007 - Lesson Plans Book

One of the reasons I first started this website ( almost exactly 8 years ago), was because I thought the web was the best medium to share game ideas. Mainly because animated pictures make it so easy to see how to do things.

Of course from the very beginning people were then asking me to do a printed version to take into the classroom. But boy is that a tough thing to do! I started the first printed book 7 years ago, but I could never get it right. Problems were space ( on the site you can scroll to see more, on printed page you have far less space), illustrations ( the photos I have work great online but not so good in print), content ( it seems like every month something new is added to GE) and design ( just what info do we need on one page?). Plus a few other things like a couple of the early games being educationally very bad ( I'm lucky these days to have so many people reviewing the site that anything that is dubious from an education point of view gets picked up very quickly!).

Anyway last week we started using the lesson plans book designed for the Thai Ministry of Education. Professional is certainly the word to describe their implementation.

They'd decided to go with a very simple layout of just the lyrics to the song and the text of the game for each theme. Very simple. And you know what, I think it works! So I've knocked up a similar version in English and have put it up on the forum. If you could download it and let me know what you think I can probably get it updated to include all the themes. Plus of course if there are any extra things you'd like to see ( illustrations? feedback / comments boxes?) then feel free to discuss them and let's work out a book that's really simple for everyone to use!

Lesson Plans Book ( English) ( CD Owners Club)

I've also been given permission to put up the Thai version for anyone to download. Enjoy!

Lesson Plans Book ( Thai )

If you'd like a version for the language where you are teaching, get in touch with your Ministry of Education and let's try and get even more countries on board!

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!

Click here for my Diary April, May, June 2007

Click here for my 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

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