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.

The aim of Genki Learning is to have all subjects in all countries taught in a fun, engaging and effective way. There are already a few million kids benefiting from this, and even a whole country where the government has put it in all their schools. But there's still a long way to go!

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.

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

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November 7th 2007 - Make money with Genki English Part 1: If you have a website or blog

Teachers and school owners are always looking for new income streams. If you have a website or a blog then you can actually make money from Genki English. And it's really easy to do.

All you have to do is to tell people about how much you love the Genki English songs (you know you do!) and put up a special link. Every time someone buys a download pack from your link I pay you $20.

It's all done through our affiliate programme at http://payloadz.com/affiliates/gen_1.asp?id=315137&merch_id=19983

The only other thing is that you need to be a member of the CD Owners Club to take advantage of the offer, I wouldn't want anyone recommending the pack who hadn't actually tried the songs!

It's a great way to make your website or blog pay for itself and if you do a good write up and PR it well it could bring you a very nice income, just look at all the Internet Millionaires out there who do it with affiliate programmes just like this one!

And of course if you need any help then let me know. Good luck.



PS New newsletter out today with the funky Super Hero game.


November 5th 2007 - Bonfire Night

When you think of fireworks, what month comes to mind? Americans may say July 4th, in Japan many people would say Summer.

Over in the UK, mention fireworks and most people think of November, more specifically November 5th. Everyone puts on big coats, hats and scarves and braves the cold to not only see fireworks but also a massive bonfire. After all if they did fireworks in the Summer it doesn't get dark till 10:30 at night so you wouldn't see much!

The reason for this particular date? 400 years ago someone tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He failed so every year people burn him on a bonfire. Religious terrorism isn't such a new thing in Europe.



November 2nd 2007 - Which is the best DAW?

It's that time of year again when all the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation i.e. software recording studio) companies update their products. It also nearly always coincides with my computer starting to die. I don't think laptops are designed to run an internet company and be a music studio everyday. This post is more for my benefit than anything else, but somebody might get something out of it: here is my guide to the top DAWs at the moment.

Apple Logic Studio - This must be the best package out there, tons of great instruments, really popular, no dongle and now half price. If I had a Mac. Which I don't. Last year I looked at one and Logic crashed every time I tried it and Flash and Photoshop didn't work. Luckily this last year things have really improved and if I was buying a new machine for music, either laptop or desktop, I'd probably go for a Mac just because of Logic. But for the moment I don't have so...

Cubase 4: Cubase sounds lovely, it's really easy to use and hardly ever crashes. I've been using a really old version for ages and upgrading this is maybe one option. But it has a few problems. The first is the horrible "dongle". It's a plastic box that takes up a USB port for no other reason than that you paid for Cubase rather than buying a dodgy cracked copy. Really annoying as you can guarantee it's never in my bag when I need to record something or I end up running out of USB ports. Plus Cubase doesn't include any really interesting virtual instruments and costs nearly double all the other packages, so it's not an automatic upgrade option.

Ableton Live 6 (free upgrade to Live 7): I also really like this one. You can link up a turntable, spin in some beats and have a track with filters and faders all linked up to a keyboard or MIDI desk. It's easy and fun. The only problem is the audio quality. Many times I've started a track on Live but when it comes to the final mix it just sounds harsh and distorted. All the experts and on the forums everyone says "Oh no, Live has perfect sound quality". So what's the latest update? An improved audio engine and fixing MIDI "jitter" i.e. going out of time and not playing back what you play into it. This basically forces you to buy the new upgrade to fix these bugs. I don't really like that. Plus the built in effects are pretty bad and the virtual instruments costs a fortune to add.

Pro Tools : On paper this would be a no brainer. It's the industry standard and is available in very affordable packages. It has lots of great sounding effects built in and is supposed to be crash proof. The problem? Well, it just doesn't sound very musical. It's great if you want to record a project you've got planned out in your head, but not that good as a launch pad for new ideas. It also doesn't accept VST instruments. The major problem for me is that you have to carry around the Mini Box audio interface everywhere you go. They have just released a Micro version which is nice and small, but that has no audio input so is practically useless. I don't really fancy carrying round another audio interface when I already have a fantastic one in my laptop (Panasonic Y5 ). Oh, and it won't work with my Samson CO1U Mic.

Cakewalk Sonar : This is the one that's getting my attention at the moment. It has a very nice upgrade package for users of other sequencers (e.g. this one from Dolphin Music) and it contains some fantastic plug in instruments. The drums sound great and the Roland V-Vocal looks brilliant. The only problem is that it's PC only so if I did upgrade to a Mac in future it wouldn't be too easy to bring in my previous projects. This is actually a serious problem if your business is music because very often you need to change a project from a few years ago and if you don't have the software to do it it can be a real hassle.

In the past I've also tried Sony's ACID Pro 6 (used to be really great but now too bloated) and the MAGIX Music Makersoftware ( amazing features for the very small price, but crashes like crazy).

Anyway, I'm still deciding which one to upgrade to. With over 100 GE songs out there, coming up with new ideas is pretty tough and a good sounding, quick & easy to use, inspirational package is something I need, but no one package seems to have them all.

To be honest even though I'm very much a computer person I much prefer music hardware to using software. All computers crash, take a while to load up and when you hit a key they have a think about what they should do before they play the note (something called latency). With hardware you hit the note and it plays straight away and is just a lot more fun.

When I was a kid I would walk in a music store and just want to buy everything, but of course could afford none of it! Now I'm lucky to do this for a living I could actually buy everything in the shop, after all if it helps make some tracks quicker it will pay for itself pretty quickly. The problem I have now is weight! Not the slim fast type problem, it's because for the last 7 years I've been pretty much always on tour and have no home base, so any added weight takes me over my airline baggage allowance. In fact I'm now over in Europe without a coat because I decided to pack a microphone instead! Anyway, if I didn't have the weight problem, here are some of the hardware I'd go for...


Akai MPC500: If you've heard any hip hop records, you've heard the MPC sound. This is a portable battery powered one you can take anywhere. You simply hit the pads and drum sounds pop out. And they sound fantastic, almost anything you play sounds like an instant record, amazing.

Novation XioSynth: A mini keyboard, audio interface and synth all in one. This is also great. I would have bought one but it came out 3 days after I bought my Korg K25 controller. The only problem I could find with the Xio is that although it has 2 audio inputs, one is line and one is microphone, hence you can't record a stereo line signal, which is a hassle.

Novation ReMOTE 61 SL: I usually just use normal synths as controllers, but if I had to buy one from scratch this is what I'd go for. The automap feature is so good, you simply select a VST and all the controllers are mapped up. Great.

Line 6 Spider Guitar Amp: I'm also very impressed with these amps. When I used to play guitar you had to save up for an effects pedal and put up with just a few sounds. With these amps you have hundreds of amazing sounds at your fingertips, and they all sound really good.I spent last Saturday at the music store trying out guitars on this amp. I'd love one, but I don't think it would fit in my backpack!

DJ decks: Actually I've just bought one of these! I just got the cheapest one from Amazon ( "Ministry of Sound") as I'll have to leave it when I move on. But just adding in a few scratches and breaks live from vinyl makes a huge to difference to a recording, it's like giving it CPR and bringing it to life!

Well, that was quite a long post and probably totally useless to most of you, so sorry for that! But it's got a few things out of my head so I can hopefully start planning which DAW route to go down for this year. Although computer music has come on in recent years, it's still not as easy as it should be. If anyone has any comments or advice, I'd love to hear them!






November 1st 2007 - Now that Halloween's over...

Now that Halloween's over and out of the way ( hope you had a nice one), what themes are you thinking of for November?

I'd love to hear, either by email or on the forum.


October 27th - Getting Genki With It Podcast

A couple of weeks ago I recorded a podcast (basically a half hour radio show you can download) for EslTeacherTalk.com. The host was Mark from Mes-English.com (and www.123certificates.com) and we seemed to have packed a lot of stuff in, from how I started teaching, to how Genki English came about to a load of teaching hints and ideas, especially about songs.

It was very interesting to hear Mark's questions, especially about how to teach songs and things. Plus my games of the month were "Mingle" and "Gorilla". If you want a recap on the Genki English story, how to use the songs (and why it's probably better to be a bad singer rather than a good one!) or just want a fun half hour's listening then check it out at EslTeacherTalk.com!


October 25th - How to Speak & Learn Italian

Italy is fantastic, everywhere you go there are famous buildings, the food is fantastic and people dress so well. If you go over there you'll probably want to pick up a bit of the lingo...

So, how to learn Italian?


For any European language the course I always 100% totally most absolutely recommend is Michel Thomas Speak Italian for Beginners. It is that good. As I've mentioned in previous reviews his 8 hour system does take some will power to get through, but amazes you as so come out with super mega long phrases in a very short time. He tells you not to try to learn anything, just relax, all the responsibility for learning is with the him, not with the you. Then he shows you how you already know thousands of Italian words, and adds in things like "I think that ..", "but", "and" etc. so you can make some impressive long sentences.

The only slight problem with Michel Thomas is the lack of vocab, he very often gets you to make sentences like "I think that I would like to try it but I don't think I am ready yet", using "it" instead of words. The easiest way to fix this, I find, is to pick up the Living Language Italian series. I bought the Italian one in Milan a couple of years ago and I used the Japanese one a lot. It's cheap and cheerful, and although not much use on its own, it's a nice way to get the basic Italian phrases out of the way. I play it on my iPod on a night as I fall asleep. Again highly recommended.


The other big main course I always recommend is the Pimsleur series. It works just as well for learning Italian, and has lots of really useful content. The only problem I had was that I used the Spanish version a few months before and as it is exactly the same curriculum my head got them a bit confused. Also if you're looking on a price basis, the Michel Thomas Italian is probably a better deal. They are very different though, so you might want to try both and see which you like best.

In university we used the BBC's Italianissimo series. That was OK, but had the usual textbook faults of being too "bookish" and not really a wonderful way to learn. If you do decide to do it, get the videos as they are probably the best bit.

This year I also bought the Michel Thomas Speak Italian Advanced Course, which was OK, but at a much slower pace than the regular series. It probably is the easiest way to learn all the advanced grammar though.

There are also lots of other "learn on the plane" style phrase books around, but as someone who learns a lot of languages I'd really recommend the courses above as they are really do seem magical in how quickly they get you speaking, and speaking well!

One of the other great things is that unlike a lot of other places I found that even if your Italian isn't perfect many people in Italy will answer back in Italian, rather than English, which is great for letting you try and try again till you get it right.

So pick up a few of these, put in the time before you go to listen (on the way to work or before you fall asleep), pluck up the courage to use them in Italy and you'll have a great time. I always said that Italian was my favourite language as you just can't help but smile when you speak it!





October 24th - Just back from Rome

I've just got back from Rome, amazing place, amazing time. I'm way behind on my emails, please be patient I'll try and get caught up by the end of the week!

October 15th 2007 - Halloween Special

It's newsletter day today, this time with a Halloween special. The "Game of the Month" is "I saw a scary ..." for vocab + memory practice, and there are a few simple games including the "Pesky Hound - Build a Skeleton" game!

If you haven't signed up for the newsletter yet it's a great way to get a new game every month plus you get to keep up with what's new in the world of Genki English. Mind you it's probably quicker to if you just keep reading the blog everyday!


October 13th 2007 - Guarantees Don't Work

I was on the plane the other week listening to a podcast with Joe Sugarman. At the end he was asked the single most important piece of advice he could give. He said the best thing a marketer could possibly do is to offer a 100% guarantee on their product. Straight away I figured I could really easily do this on the Download Pack page. People could try it in class with no worries, then in the unlikely event that their kids didn't like it and they wanted their money back it's easy to do and there's no problem with sending CDs back etc. So I tried it. And you know what, sales went way down!

Today I took the guarantee off the page and sales are back up to normal. Very strange!



October 12th 2007 - New Doctor Doctor Mummy game

I like it when people change games in a good way, natural evolution!

For the Lesson Plans book I re-wrote the Doctor, Doctor game to make it so the kids speak more English.

Then in one of the Summer workshops one of the teachers changed it again to get in even more English, and have less preparation work - always a good thing for busy teachers!

First of all do the Doctor, Doctor! song then ...

1. Give each kid a load of toilet paper.
2. The kids go round and make pairs.
3. They "rock, paper, scissors"
4. The winner then asks the loser "Are you OK?".
5. The loser replies with "No, my .... hurts".
6. The winner then wraps up this body part on the loser!
7. Continue from step 2.

The way you get everyone motivated to try many, many times is to say that at the end there will be a prize for the best mummy in the class! It works great, I tired it myself as a student and it is really fun, and you really have to use the correct English.

In step 5 the kids have to say a body part that hasn't already been bandaged. For more advanced classes you can add in left & right for "My left arm hurts" etc.

Some people have expressed that they feel this game is a waste of toilet paper, but as was mentioned on the forum a while back, what better use could anything be put to than making kids happy and helping them learn. It certainly beats what toilet paper is usually used for!



October 10th 2007 - Dream English

It seems there are more and more people out there recording songs for learning English. One new one is Matt from Dream English. We met up for a chat in Fukuoka last month and he's very kindly blogged about it.

Again Matt's songs are a lot slower than the Genki English style, and you can check out demos (with videos) on his site. He also has some new Halloween Songs that you can hear.

One other group I just learned about are the "Learnettes" with their Sing it in English CDs. I haven't met the girls yet, but their Days of Week song sounds interesting. They have an interesting tagline of "more grown up than Genki".



October 9th 2007 - Festival Videos

Over on the GenkiJapan.net website I've just put up a Japanese Festival Foods video. It's like a mini TV show where you can learn the names of some Japanese foods.

I would love to do the same thing for learning English, unfortunately nobody seems interested in having English ones!

I've also put up a Japanese version of the "What food do you like?" picture book ( English - Japanese). If you've been uncertain about whether to use the picture books in class, have a try of this one and I'm sure you'll change your mind! It works especially well if you speak no Japanese at all!




October 8th 2007 - Games In Video

One of the cool things about the Super Simple Songs site are all the great YouTube videos ( click through from the discount page). There are also lots of great videos of ESL games etc. on the net, but the trick is finding them. So I've linked up to a few videos on the games pages of the Genki English site. We currently have:

Gokiburi Game
Mr Bump Game
Kanji Making Game ( days of the week)
Hammer Game
Harry Potter

I'll mark up any more games that I find videos for with a mark on the games page. If you have found any other videos online, then please let me know.

Or even better, if you have any video of your kids playing the Genki English games, it'd be great if you could share them with everyone. Either put them up on YouTube and let me know, or get in touch and I can help you upload them. They'll really help out lots and lots of teachers!



October 1st 2007 - Super Simple Discount

Seeing as I was in Yokohama today I caught up with Devon and Troy of Super Simple Songs.

It was great to hear about the success they are having with their CDs, and YouTube. If you teach younger kids (like 1 or 2 year olds) or want a smoother, slower tempo to your classes, they make a very nice addition to your collection.

Plus they've very kindly offered Genki English readers a discount on their CDs. Click here for the super Genki English discount.


Devon also blogged about the meeting ( thanks for the photo!)



September 30th 2007 - Yokohama & danger

Today was a workshop at Yokohama's Yashima Gakuen University. There were quite a few people on the bill, including a couple of big stars. The first one was Oosugi Sensei. He's famous from NHK TV and radio and had a huge fan base crammed into the rather large room. He's a nice guy, but his speech wasn't the most riveting in the world (lots of people "concentrating with their eyes closed") and the content really wasn't there. But everyone seemed very happy to be there. The effect of being on TV, eh?

Then it was my workshop which went really well. I was asked to speak about elementary school stuff, but none of the teachers there were from elementary school (not surprising, seeing as it was a Sunday). Usually these types of gigs go down really badly if people don't empathize with the problems. But one of the themes of today was how to build a curriculum from elementary school right up to university, so they were all very much into what I was saying and they were really, really good. Actually everything I said today is applicable right up to university level, that's something I might have to PR further for future gigs. Content wise it was really cut down to the elementary school FAQ (Japanese) along with Come on and Genki Disco Warm up to warm things up.

The next big speech was by Koike Sensei, again another big name. His speech was very interesting as he was presenting the new data that has been collected regarding Japanese business people's communication abilities compared with Taiwan, China and Korea. Basically he was saying it's a "dangerous situation", because without international business communication Japan basically stops growing. His numbers also totally blew away the myth that although Japanese people can't speak they are good at reading and writing, as the data showed that compared with the other countries the Japanese level was way, way, way below in every skill, even in such areas as vocabulary. If you ever visit Korea or Taiwan then people's English isn't really that hot, but yes, it does really beat Japan where I don't think I've ever been able to do real business only in English. Koike sensei was saying that whatever the politicians think about English education, reality is going to come up and bite them pretty soon, so a real improvement in English education in Japan will come about no matter what. All very interesting, especially from such a noted professor!

I also attended another couple of workshops and met a whole lot of new people which was great, then an evening out in the posh bayside area of Yokohama.



September 29th 2007 - House things picture cards

Rosebud very kindly put a message on the request forum for individual A4 picture cards of the background items in the "Rooms of the House" theme. So here you go, 49 brand new picture cards!

You can either use them as vocab practice on their own, or link it in with the "Where is baby monkey?" question from the song by asking things like "Where is the sofa?" and the kids have to shout out "It's in the living room!" etc. The files are saved in pdf format which means you can enlarge them with no loss of quality or put several on one sheet of paper.

The names of these items often varies between countries (or families even) so I've left them without any text:


saucepan, casserole dish, microwave, toaster, tin, oven, washing machine, kitchen sink, cup, widescreen TV, video game, banana tree lamp, sofa, bath, bathroom sink, window, toilet, shampoo etc., toothbrush & toothpaste, bunk beds, wardrobe, cupboard, pillow, teddy bear, books, make up, clothes, doll, CD player, dining table, dining chairs, light, saw, hammer, garden spade, garden fork, spanner, screwdriver, rocking horse, a green box, mirror, pictures, a red box, tree house, lawnmower, a snail & a slug, bunny rabbit, worm, flowers.

More requests to come next week!



September 27th 2007 - Now on DVD!

DVDToday I'm very happy to introduce the DVD version of "Kids English". It's been a huge request and we now have a limited number of sets available to buy in Japan.

Kids English is basically a DVD version of 12 new Genki English lessons, plus there are hardback printed picture books, narration & song CDs and games for each theme. There's also a ton of support for Japanese parents & teachers, especially ones who aren't 100% confident with English.

Although there has been a slight price increase, the new DVD version is still amazing value and should make English a whole lot more fun! Click here for more.


September 25th 2007 - Kids English star in "House"

The big news today is that Leo Vargas, the star actor in our Kids English series, is appearing in tonight's US season premiere of Fox TV's "House".

The big things that Genki English can lead to eh? ; )

The other big news is that we're preparing the DVD version of Kids English. Check back later in the week!






September 21st 2007 - Disney Genki English

If you live in the States you might still be able to check out Genki English in Disney's Family Fun magazine.
It's the Summer issue though so it might be out of stock. ( Sorry, I only just got my copy).


I've also got a regular new monthly column for you in ALC's "Kodomo Eigo" magazine, starting with the Halloween issue!





September 20th 2007 - Favourite Easy to Teach Remix

To help make the "What's your favourite ...?" theme a lot easier to teach, I've just put up a new version of the song. This time the chorus is a very simple "I like ...". It's much better than ".... is my favourite" which can cause problems when answering about foods or pets.

"I like ..." works with everything (especially if you have done the Do you like food? and Do you like animals? themes) and is a much more natural English expression.

Anyway, have a listen to the remix and please let me know what you think!


September 19th 2007 - Can I play? & Halloween Picture Books

Here's a new picture book, to use with the "Can I play...?" theme. As usual do the song first, then your kids will be able to understand all of the story ( and a get a great sense of achievement from it!).

The narrated version is free online for your students to listen to and teachers (or parents) who are members of the CD owners Club can print out a copy for your class.

I've also added in narrations for the Happy Halloween picture book. I know a few people asked to keep that one with the flippy pages, but it seems the narrations are more in demand!

New picture books are in development, and as usual if you have any requests then please send them in, you never know I might have just what you are looking for sitting here on my hard drive!



September 18th 2007 - Even smart people don't always get it

Seth Godin is a very clever guy. If you own your own business you should read all his books or at least his free blog.

When it comes to languages though, like many, many people all over the world he doesn't quite get it. For example in today's post he talks about the 'Two kinds of "don't know"'. One is a more factual thing that you haven't been taught yet, and the other is based on "fear or lack of interest." and he has the great line "You don't learn how to cook from a cookbook."

But he includes speaking French and playing the piano in the first category, not the second!

I also noticed this the other week in an interview he did for UXPioneers ( I'm a big Seth Godin fan!).

Here's the thing. I failed Spanish in high school. It was the only course I ever came close to failing.

If I have to learn the lingo of CB radio, or the Internet, for example, I start with a construct I'm familiar with, and then piece-by-piece I can add stuff. I can figure out the difference between "10/20" or "10/4", or the difference between IRC and AIM.

In Spanish, all bets are off. You don't know anything. There's no foundation to start with and it's almost impossible to bootstrap it.


You see how he misunderstands what languages are all about? How he described the lingo of CD radio is exactly how you learn foreign languages! It doesn't matter if you aren't perfect straight away, you start with a simple "hello" then work up from there.

Plus if you speak English then you already know several hundred (or thousand) words of Spanish, this is the whole beginning of the Michel Thomas method, if you speak English you even already understand several hundred words of Japanese ( and vice versa).

Languages belong in Seth's second group of "don't know":

The answer lies in trial and error and motivation and in overcoming the fear that makes us avoid the topic in the first place.






September 17th 2007 - Irregular Verbs

One thing I really hate, whether it's languages or history or chemistry, is when teachers boil lessons down to just being lists of things to remember. "It's for the tests" is the usual excuse, but I just feel sorry for the kids!

In Junior High School the lists of irregular verbs ( run, ran, run etc.) are something that many teachers want their kids to learn, so to try and make it at least a little bit more enjoyable I've put up an illustrated dance track of the first set of irregular verbs you'll find in most Junior High School courses.

I hope it helps the kids with their revision, but what do you think? Will it help? If you think so (or not!), please let me know and I can think about making some more ( or not as the case may be!)



September 15th 2007 - YouTube Japanese

Last night I put up another YouTube video on the Genki Japan website, this time for hot, cold, fun & interesting ( words you hear everyday in Japan!). The crazy thing is that by this morning it had already been viewed over 100 times and had 5 comments, all before I'd even linked it up to the main site!

Actually, I'm just wondering, would any songs like this be useful for your students if I made some English ones?



September 14th 2007 - Countries Card Game

The animals card game has been a huge hit with the kids (just make sure you stick to the original rules though!).

One of the side effects is that you end up learning a whole load of facts, because that's how you get good at the game. Mind you in the animals game it's not the most useful data the the World that you end up learning. But in 5th and 6th grades kids start learning about other countries, and although you can say to them "The US covers an area of 9,826,630 sq km", it is pretty much useless to the kids as they have no frame of reference. Is that big? Is it small?

Enter the new countries card game!

Here you effortlessly learn the values of things like population size and GDP simply by playing the game. If your kids have already studied the categories in social studies class then give this new game a go, it's very addictive!

The data comes from the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia, so if you do spot any errors then please let me know!



September 13th 2007 - Do you like strange foods?

As promised, here are some cards of "strange foods". You can use them with the Do you like..? theme to easily introduce "Yes, I do!" and "No, I don't!". The cards were designed for Japanese kids, and although all the kids get a reaction, in some classes they actually like the weird stuff, and in some they don't, which is quite fun. Needless to say the last card isn't liked by anyone!

If you're a CD Owners Club member, click the picture above to download the pdf file and if you're not yet a member, buy yourself a download songs pack and once you have your password you can download it too!



September 11th 2007 - Nagasaki - Favourite 5th graders

The teachers at this school were so good in Summer that I promised to pop back in term time to do some demo classes for their kids. The teachers were already aiming high and I wanted to see just how good the kids could get. Obviously this is a fantastic school ( even though it's in the middle of nowhere) but the 5th grade demo lesson was as close to a perfect model as you could hope for.

As the kids already had some experience it was great to try something that builds on what they know, rather than just doing basic things. The theme that was chosen was "What's your favourite...?". I was quite happy about this as it's something we've been talking about a lot in the CD owners forum, and I wanted to make sure my faith in how much the kids like it wasn't misfounded!

The warm up / review was to be "Do you like...?" But first of all I had to figure out how genki the kids were.

There was no problem, they were so genki we went through the "Good Morning" song as a greeting - complete with all the jumps. After a week or so of computer work I think I needed the exercise myself!

Then into Do you like...? which they already knew and reviewed very easily. The only tricky, but good, thing was that these kids were all fine with expressing their opinions and were quite happy to have a mix of "yes"s and "no"s. Luckily I'd prepared some "weird food" cards so we could all practice "Yes, I do!" and "No, I don't" together. ( I'll put these on the blog later this week)

One main point is to show the kids an item and ask them "How do you say ".... ga suki desu ka?"" and they give you the question. To practice this I had a run through my version of the "Gorilla Game" ( as they were so genki!).

Gorilla Game

1. The kids gather at one side of the room.
2. The teacher holds up one picture card and the kids have to make a "Do you like...?" question out of it, e.g. "Do you like fish?" and shout it out together.

Again, as it was a review they already new it. Then I usually say to the kids "Is this fun?" to which they usually say "Not really" as we haven't got into the game, but today they were all saying that just asking me questions was fun in itself. Now that's the sort of class I like! Eventually I did introduce the "gorilla" card ( or actually it was a shark as that's all I had with me).

3. When the shark appears the kids all rush to the opposite side of the class.
4. The teacher runs through the kids to touch the wall at the side where they were previously standing.
5. If any of the kids take longer than the teacher to touch their wall, they are out. ( But you rarely need to enforce this rule as the kids usually just enjoy the running part without needed extra motivation)

This gets them very genki, and really enthused about going through the picture cards to make more questions.

This all took 15 minutes which gave us a nice 30 minutes for the main "What's your favourite...?" lesson. So first of all it was to point out that they can say "..... suki desu ka?" in English, but how do you say "suki na .... ha nan desu?". This is the question kids ask the most, but some classes don't always get the distinction. But no problems today, these are very bright kids and it was easy to introduce "What's your favourite food?". As usual the word "favourite" causes a few problems the first few times as it's brand new, but if it didn't there'd be no point doing this lesson - the whole idea is to teach the kids things they don't know, not just ones they do!

Then once I'd introduced the sentence and they had roughly got it I introduced another couple of words such as "movie" and "sport" and asked them, in a puzzled looking way, "Well, then how do you say "suki na eiga ha nan desu ka?" to which they had a minute of funny looking expressions ( where it is important to leave them time to think) and then a few of them said "What's your favourite movie?".

Very good, lots of praising, then another question "Well, what about suki na supotu ha nan desu ka?" to which a little more thinking time and the answer appeared. Not all classes can do this, sometimes you'll have kids who've learnt it before and just shout out the answer, or teachers who aren't patient enough, or sometimes classes that will just tilt their heads and go "eh?". But today these kids fully took advantage of the time to think and used it well. After we'd gone through all the topics from the song ( using the CDROM for picture cards and sounds) and asking them how to form the questions they had the English well worked out and the "favourite" word perfected. Challenges such as this are very important to get the kids thinking, breaking down the language and rebuilding it to say new things.


The Song

Next was the song, and for that you need to figure out some gestures. So I simply asked "What's your favourite movie?" in English, to which most classes would simply "repeat after me" but these kids knew it was a question and answered it. It took a few moments, but they came up with "Hero" ( a new Japanese movie), but as we couldn't think of a gesture it became broom flying for "Harry Potter". Sports was baseball ( the baseball team kids shouted out first!), the cartoon was one I hadn't heard of, which had another baseball gesture. Video game was initially playing a Playstation to which I suggested doing a wii instead as you move more ( they liked this). Pet was a lion ( I showed them my picture of my "pet" lion - always a favourite). Food was just eating. Comic book they went for the shuriken throwing action of Naruto, and for TV Show they simply mimed my pose from the picture card ( the advantage of having your own TV Show I guess!).

Then we went through the CDROM mini lesson ( i.e. the acappella version of the song), then straight into the music. They were great!

Some teachers complain that there is no "repeat after me" in this song and the kids have to quickly figure out what's next, but that's the whole point, to get them thinking. With just one run through the mini lesson they did the song no problem, loved the music and got hyped up with their own original gestures. The only thing I did change was to edit the chorus to be "I like..." instead of "... is my favourite". I'll have the edited version for you in the CD Owners Club next week.

Anyway, usually I only spend around 10 minutes or so going through the new words and teaching the song, but these kids were really into it, full on concentration and loving all the problems I threw at them. As it was so much fun I spent more time on it and had only 5 minutes left for the game. I had planned on doing the "What's your favourite...?" Game, and had I had the picture cards I should have re-done the "Gorilla Game" with this new theme, but went instead for the lines quiz where all the questions were "What's your favourite ...?" questions. The fantastic thing here was that the kids who were out were coaching their team mates with "Say "I like..." etc. Very nice. There was a slight drop in the kids' spirits when one team lost, but a quick rendition of "Losing just means "Try again"" and they became well genki again.

So overall an absolutely fantastic lesson. A nice review, new target English and lots of thinking on the part of the kids.

The school also took some video so if it turns out OK I'll hope to have it in the CD Owners Club soon.

The Show

In the afternoon I had a basic show ( rock, paper, scissors, Come on!, What's your name?") for the whole school which was, as expected, really good. Having two projectors really made it feel like a big event and the best thing was seeing the Special Needs students who had the biggest smiles and most exciting faces you could possibly imagine.

But I was very happy with the "What's your favourite...?" song. Although I probably went overboard on the Good Morning warm up ( you wouldn't want to do that everyday!), the kids just loved the favourite theme. They were really wanting to say the English and tell me what things they liked. The song they did great at and even without a game they loved the lesson.

A bit down?

After the Ministry's announcement the other week that English won't start until at least 2011, many of the teachers I've been in touch with have been down and a little disheartened, and I guess I was a little myself. But seeing today's school really lifted my spirits. Yes they are a smallish school in the middle of nowhere, yes they do have one of the best head teachers in the country and hence some of the best classroom teachers, but they are a model of how good and how much fun Elementary School English and especially Genki English can be. If you're in a school like this yourself, enjoy it and let everyone know just how good your students are!





September 9th 2007 - Fukuoka CD7 party!

I usually do the launch of a new CD at the Maruzen book store in Fukuoka, but this year decided to do it as part of the ACET teachers group as they have always been so good to me.

Usually it's a very relaxed vibe, but today we had lots of new teachers who were very much in the "caught in the headlights" mode when I went straight into the activities without any introduction or warming up! Luckily a few jokes in Japanese got them relaxed and although we ran over on time ( sorry about that!) I think it went pretty well.

The lesson plans you can find online on the CD7 page ( click the song titles) or in the new printed lesson plans book.

I also took some video, once I've had chance to look it over I'll see if any of it is worthwhile putting on the site.


September 8th 2007 - Eikaiwa Class + JHS

Today I was asked to help out at a teacher's "eikaiwa" or private English class. I usually don't do these types of classes ( please don't write in asking me to visit one - I just don't have the time!), but the teacher today has been really helpful and as I was in town I popped along.

I thought it would just be a small class that I could just sit on in and maybe just chat with the kids. As it happens there were 40 kids, 20 primary school and 20 junior high - not what I was expecting!

The primary school kids were all mixed ages and mixed abilities, so I was a bit worried as you can't actually teach anything new to that sort of group. For example what interests the 1st graders doesn't interest the 6th graders and vice versa. So I just did the general Genki English style show with Rock, Paper, Scissors and rules of Genki English and they were really good. I just hope the teachers who were watching didn't think that was how a real lesson should be as it was far too "tekitou" or made up as I went along!

Lots of the kids were shouting out questions, often cheeky stuff at first but as soon as you flip their questions round and get those kids on board it makes the lesson run really smoothly. They actually want to learn, and enjoy themselves doing it.

Then it was the junior high kids, again 20 kids of mixed ability. Now that was tough! They were nice kids, but once you get to 12 or 13 you don't really want to communicate with anyone really, never mind in front of everyone else in a foreign language. Instantly we also had the boys all way over on one side of the room, and the girls all way over on the opposite side with no intention of either side even looking at the other, never mind talking. There's no point fighting that, so I simply made them into boys and girls teams!

We did the hammer game, the lines quiz ( to test their genkiness and English level) and the Where is Baby Monkey? game. Although the teacher and parents were quite happy that the kids enjoyed themselves, and they did get sort of genki-ish and the end, the huge, huge gap between learning English in junior high and elementary school is just so obvious.

Whatever the experts may argue about whether you can learn a language just as well later in life, and the fact that learning grammar translation style of languages is probably easier in high school, when it comes to communicating in English it's so, so, so, so much easier to teach when the kids are younger. I almost felt sorry for the junior high kids, it's almost criminal that their parents wait till they get to this age to let them learn English. They really should do languages from kindergarten, get it out of the way ( i.e. speak really well) then spend the junior high years learning business or science or other things that are more suited to what the kids want to do.

As I've said before the people who say that English education should start at 5th or 6th grade instead of earlier have obviously never ever set foot in a primary school classroom. Well, except for when they were kids of course!



September 7th 2007 - What do you think of easy bugs?

At the moment I'm working on a couple of "easy to teach" remixes for you. One is for CD5's "What do you think of ...?" and the other is "Creepy Crawlies". If you'd like to try them out in your class or would like to send in some feedback, you can find them as free mp3 files in the CD Owners Forum.

The bugs theme I've genkied up the music ( the Hawaiian feel was great for straight after lunch, but not at 10AM!), and I've also taken out the "What's this?" and "What's that?" lines, so it's now basically a simple genki song for learning the bug names.

The next one is the "What do you think of ....?" song. This is really, really popular with the kids, it's a phrase they always want to ask. But as it's kind of abstract you don't find it often enough in lesson plans. I probably didn't help things by having the original song combined with a game straight away, which meant the kids had to be really good to do it. So now I've added in a "get stuck in your head all day" melody and now hopefully any class can learn the phrase with the song, right from the very beginning.

I'm going to be testing out these re-mixed demos myself this week, but if you have any thoughts or requests then I'd love to hear them!



September 6th 2007 - Lots of Free Games!

This is a bit of a risk for Genki English, but hopefully, with your help in spreading the word, it's going to help a whole lot of kids; 12 lessons worth of online games, all free to use in class.


There's the full teacher's guide online, but the beauty of these games is...

kids love computers and will love English time even more. ( especially upper grades and junior high)
everyone learns at their own pace ( great for mixed level classes)
their pronunciation is perfect.
students learn to make mistakes, not just losing their fear of mistakes, but actively wanting to learn from them.
in normal class time you can concentrate on learning to use the English, rather than learning the words ( each game fits perfectly with the normal lesson plans)


The trick is for the kids to try the computer games before you do each lesson in normal ( i.e. song + classroom game) class. That way everyone starts at the same level, i.e. understanding all the target vocab.


How to use them?

In private English classes...
Set the kids the game for the next class as homework. They have to play the game at home until they can do it 3 times in a row without making any mistakes. Just one game per lesson is fine ( but of course some will rush ahead and do more!).

In elementary school...
* Get the kids in the computer room, 2 kids per computer.
* Give them 5 or 10 minutes to play around on today's new theme.
* Then the teacher says "go!"
* All the kids start together and see who finishes first.
* Do this 2 or 3 times ( or more if they are still having fun.)
* Repeat with another theme for a full 45 minute class.


Your students can get access from the "games" part of the "for students" section on the main menu.

Or if you want to see how they really work yourself, try the Korean or Japanese versions!

OK. let's see how this all works out...


September 5th 2007 - Curriculum: You or me?

questionSome people who have a look at the Genki English curriculum simply say "It's full of questions!" Well, yeah! That's the side effect of basing it on what kids use when they talk to me, they're always asking questions.

You can of course take the opposite view and instead of teaching what the kids want to ask, you could always concentrate on language that lets the kids express themselves. After all in this day and age it's not who you know, it's who knows you!

But if you read any of the books about getting on in life, especially classics like "How to make friends and influence people" or anything by Larry King etc., one of the key bits of advice is to ask questions and be interested in the answers. Everyone's favourite topic is themselves. If you ask anyone a question that allows them to talk about themselves, they'll jump at the chance and love you for it. Don't you think?

And of course we all know people who never ask any questions and never take any interest but just go on and on and on about anything and everything. A guaranteed way to send anyone to sleep!

So that's why I'm quite happy having so many questions in the curriculum. It's stuff the kids really want to say and if it helps them gain an extra social skill or two then I'm very happy!


PS. I've just updated the video on the Japanese curriculum page, it's now a lot easier to understand for classroom teachers!





September 4th 2007 - "Heads and shoulders, knees and toes"

Maybe your higher grade kids might prefer this version of the song!

heads and shoulders



September 3rd 2007 - Teaching Videos

If you read about a lesson it can be a bit tricky to see how it works in class. But once you see it in action the lightbulb goes off with a "ah, now I see" moment.

You already have "How to ..." videos of the first 30 songs on the Teaching Guide Videos CDROM, but I've spent the weekend converting them into videos you can see right from the songs pages ( just click on a song title) on the website. You'll need your CD Owners Club username to get access.

Or you can buy the Download Songs Pack to get a password instantly.

Please let me know what you think, and if you like them I'll see about maybe making newer ones for the newer CDs. For the time being along with the Japanese versions, you have 2 hours of new video on the site to enjoy!


September 1st 2007 - In the media

Seeing as it was my second time in Nara this week I got quite a bit of press attention. Here's the TV clip, which didn't really say much, but let's you get a feeling for the smaller 30 person practical workshops where teachers get to present themselves.



And here's the Nara Shinbun newspaper article which is much better ( the reporter stayed for quite a while). It's great to help persuade your school if you are thinking of planning a workshop. It also includes the very important 3rd rule of Genki English, which the TV company obviously didn't understand a word of! How many times did they say "igirisu jin"?








Click here for my diary July, August 2007

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

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Click here for my Diary July 2004 - Apr 2005

Click here for my Diary Jan - June 2004

Click here for my Diary June - December 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary Jan-May 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary 2002!




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