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Japanese High Schools. Get em to talk

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The articles I've read by Japanese high school teachers (quite rightly) refer to how the students are generally silent and try to avoid standing out. I'll certainly take on board the ideas I've read for livening them up.
To get a little motivation going, I devised a system which has worked really well for me these last few months.
I hold a weekly 3-part competition open to all students in my class.

1) Student of the week. I keep an excel spreadsheet record of all my students (broken down class by class) and I rate them out of 5 for a) ability, b) effort, c) progress. The outstanding student of the week (with the highest total marks and at my discretion) receives a prize. I usually make it around 1000 yen - it doesnt break the bank, but it makes the prize worth winning. This also shows the weaker students that they can still win as long as they are making an obvious effort to speak in class and I can see that progress is being made. To add a competitive element I also list the top 5 students in each class every week to show them how close they came to winning (and hopefully encourage them to work hard the following week). Students are also welcome to view my spreadsheet to see what areas they need to work on to have a better chance of winning.

2) Best e-mail. With their katakana pronunciation and alphabet, Japanese students often have a peculiar way of spelling, and also their reliance on electronic dictionaries can give them some odd vocab and expressions in every day situations. To remedy this, I gave out my e-mail address and encouraged the students to send me a small mail - either from their home PC or from their cellphone. The best and most accurate e-mail wins (for example) a 400 yen bag of chocolate. For students unable to send a mail, I ask them to write me a short letter

3) 1 minute English speaking. A lot of my students attempt to initiate conversation with me after school, only to panic about two words into their sentence and fall back on Japanese. I now tell students to speak to me for just 1 minute in only English (stressing this is a conversation not a presentation) after school. The best speakers win a couple of bars of 100 yen chocolate.

Blatant bribery? I suppose so, but I've found it very constructive in motivating the kids and it really doesnt cost much at all. Making sure that the results are pinned up every week maintains the students interest and shows them that EVERYBODY has a chance of winning if they just put in that little extra effort and (horror of horrors) opens their mouth. Works for me, and my company boss gave it the thumbs up when he came to observe me. Its also a great way to build up a personal rapport with the students during, between and after lessons

Simon George. Tokyo

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