Monday, June 8, 2015

Class rules and procedures - laying down the law.

Recently, the topic of classroom management came up and I was asked, "What are your class rules?"

These are the rules and procedures I gave my students in the first lesson of this academic year April 2015, for 9th graders (14-15 years old). The copy I gave the students also had a third column with a translation in their 1L. I have all students glue this sheet into the front cover of their textbooks during the first lesson of the year so it's always there and I can have them to refer to it when necessary.

After going through the rules, I had each class come up with their own rewards and punishments. The most commonly desired reward was to watch a movie, and punishment was extra homework. One class requested a "boring talk" from Ms. Kuiper as a punishment. I'm sure I could come up with something boring, like my sock collection or all the different kinds of cheeses I enjoy and can they name any more types of cheese ...

NB: the bell that starts and finishes class in Japan is called the 'chime', so I just use that word.


  1. Put your textbook, worksheets file, iPad and pencil case on your AB pairwork desk.
  2. Push the desk together with your partner’s desk so you can talk easily.
  3. Sit down before the chime rings.
  1. Silence when the chime goes. The leaders stands and does the greeting.
  2. Once the chime has sounded, you MAY NOT go and get your stuff (unless you have permission from the teacher).
  1. Write the goal down on your learning log.
  1. Ask your partner the questions in English. Help them to answer using English.
  1. Listen without speaking when the teacher is talking.
  2. Raise your hand to ask a question.
  3. Encourage your partner.
  4. Keep the conversation in English - unless you’re explaining an activity to a classmate who doesn’t understand.
  5. Look up new words in the dictionary app, or ask a classmate or teacher.
  6. Pass things. We do not throw anything, ever, either before or after the chime.
  7. Ask permission to leave your seat, raise your hand & ask, 'Please can I... ?
  8. Keep your hands to yourself.
  9. Do not repair broken pens, stationery or any other broken items of any kind during the lesson.


I also gave my students the following criteria for peer evaluations which will make up a small part of their grade. The idea is to encourage good study skills, and the sheet I gave out said:

Working well in a pair is very important in this class. Once or twice a semester, instead of a test with a teacher, your partner will score you on your pair work skills. You can get a good score if you:

  • always trying to speak in English                                       
  •  encourage your partner                                                          
  • seek help when necessary                                                
  • seek to extend your pair work if you finish   

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Links for creative avatar apps.

  • Tellagami 
  • Tom and Ben News
  • Talking Tom Cat 2
  • Sock Puppets
  • "Sock Puppets lets you create your own lip-synched videos and share them on Facebook and YouTube. Add Puppets, props, scenery, and backgrounds and start creating. Hit the record button and the puppets automatically lip-synch to your voice."

Sing 'Frozen' from Let It Go in 25 different languages. If you can!

This multi-language version of the song that parents all around the world just wish they could hear one more time brings a tear to my eye - what a truly international collaboration. 

Very impressive.

Quirky Videos

Use the stop-play technique to elicit language from students with these imaginative short films. 

  1. The Black Hole - dir. Phil and Olly
  2. Signs  - dir. Patrick Hughes *
  3. The Note - dir. Jon Greenhalgh
A few possible questions to ask students:
  • What is the man is going to do next?
  • Is he going to take something?
  • What?Are the man and woman going to talk to each other?
  • Do you think they will go on a date?
  • What will the note say next?
 * In Signs there is one brief moment at 6.19-13sec you'd be wise to skip over if you teach young teens!

Recommended sites for creating web comics.

  • Pixton 
  • ToonDoo

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Free Professional Development in ELT - Coursera x The University of Oregon

I've spent the last five weeks doing an online course through Coursera called Shaping the Way We Teach English, 1: The Landscape of English Language Teaching. It's run by the University of Oregon and the best thing about it is, it's all online, it's collaborative (you get to meet and discuss topics on ELT with teachers from around the world) and it is free of any charges. All you need is a computer connected to the Internet.

Basically with course each week involved:
  • a reading from an academic journal
  • watching a classroom video
  • a quiz based on the reading & video 
  • compulsory posts in discussion forums
  • a two-phase lesson planning project
I have gotten a lot out of the course and in just five short weeks it has already impacted the way I teach. I've started trying out a bunch of new things on my students, like projects (not easy to do in just 45 minutes once a week), silent time, replacement role-plays, and lots more.

The peer evaluations are particularly valuable, the aspects I enjoyed reading in other teacher's lesson plans ended up in my classroom the very next week. Some teachers actually found doing peer evaluations addictive.

I have enjoyed the course so much that I am doing the next five-week course which starts in 9 hours! No rest for me until March 16th.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fairy Tales in ELT

Guessing Game Cards

My students love this activity. I'm posting it firstly as it's part of an assignment, secondly because I really appreciate other teachers sharing resources they've made and of course I am keen to contribute to the ELT community.

I usually do the activity something like this.
  1. Ss. put all the cards face down on a desk. 
  2. The first student takes a turn to read a card out to the group.
  3. If a member of the group knows the fairy tale as it is being read, they put their hand down flat on the table.
  4. When the reader has finished the story, they ask one of the students with their hand down flat, 'What story is it... (Maki)?' 
  5. (Maki) says, 'I think it's (Cinderella). 
  6. She is told, 'That's right.' Or, 'Not quite. Anyone else?'
It would be a great introduction to a fairy tale writing activity. 

The best part of the game is that reticent students get caught up in the fun of it and listen keenly to the speaker, so I look forward to watching my students play this game every year.

These are some ideas on main activities to do after this warm-up. Thanks to my classmates at for many of these ideas!

Have students:
  • modernise the fairy tale - students pick a modern moral to tell, e.g. the dangers of texting and walking, drugs, stranger danger, etc.
  • erase the last few lines of the story and write a new ending.
  • switch the gender roles - for example, The Sleeping Cutie and the princess who wakes him up from his 100 years of slumber. Cinderon, the boy who is treated badly by his evil stepfather and dreams of going to the ball to dance with the princess.
  • put out some props that you wouldn't expect in a fairy tale and have each group choose two that they have to incorporate into their version of the story, like a toy helicopter, a cellphone or some soap.
  • tell the fairy tale from the perspective of one of the supporting characters. For example, retell Cinderella from the Prince's point of view. Or the Fairy Godmother's, Cinderella's father, one of the mice, etc.
  • comparing the fairy tales from different cultures - e.g. what are the similarities between Japanese and Serbian traditions?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Teachers TV - a great tool for professional development

Teachers TV was a free video website funded by the UK government until 2011. 

I loved this British series and wish it had continued because it was a treasure trove of brilliant, practical help for teachers and administrators. 

Sadly, funding was withdrawn for reasons unknown but at least all the videos are still online, some on YouTube or hosted on other sites like TES.

Back in the day, I spent hours every week watching videos from Teachers TV to pick up new tips and ideas. The advice dispensed on a wide range of subjects and school issues was incredibly useful.

As Sir Ken Robinson says, 

"Investing in professional development is not a cost, it's an investment."

And these online video websites are an incredibly helpful tool for professional development (PD), because busy teachers easily watch or listen to videos in their free time, in order to keep on absorbing the huge amount of information, new ideas and techniques that are necessary to do our jobs of keeping our students' minds engaged in learning.

I highly recommend watching it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Advice I gave my students in 2014.

2014 has been a year full of personal and professional growth for me, and as a homeroom teacher getting involved in the pastoral care of my students, at times I found my internal dialogue start up with, 

"Yeah, yeah, Ms. Kuiper. That's all well and good, but to what extent are you following your own advice?". 

So, that's the challenge. As the Argentinean band Los Enanitos Verdes song Solo Dame Otra Oportunidad (Just Give Me Another Chance) goes, 
'They say best advice is that which you give yourself.'
'Dicen que el mejor consejo es el que se da uno mismo'.

So here is a re-cap of some of the advice I gave my students, and I'll try to remember to check at the end of 2015 with an update on how well I followed it myself.

  • Be proud of your successes but more importantly, learn from your mistakes. #GrowthMindest
  • Hone your creative, oratorical and collaborative skills.
  • Get to know your own personality and how it affects other people.
  • Work on building rapport with your classmates, they are your partners in learning and understand your school experience like nobody else. #VisibleLearning
  • Don't cut yourself off from feeling hurt. Numbing your ability to feel sad may actually numb all of your feelings and end up limiting your ability to feel happiness. (From: The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown)
  • Invest in having positive interactions with everyone. Move quickly to sort out issues.
  • Apologize properly - a proper apology has three parts. (This is an invaluable interpersonal skill that everyone, not just students, should learn from an early age.)

So, what advice did you give your students this year?

Ishigaki Island at dusk, Okinawa. By @MsKuiper.

Monday, December 22, 2014

To scold or to laugh it off?

Should we give high school students 'the talk' or just turn it into a joke?

Sometimes a scolding is required, but knowing when to err on the humorous side is very valuable. This is the story of my experience and the lessons learned.

The sleeping beauty.

Many years ago, one of my students kept falling asleep during lessons. She would let her hair flop in front of her eyes and then nod off. What to do in this situation? 

The background. 

It was a small class of high schoolstudents and over the year and a half I had already taught them, we had gotten to know each other well. It was their final year of high school and they were facing university entrance exams, applications and difficult choices and so I knew how exhausted and stressed out they were.

So when this particular student, kept falling asleep, a scolding just didn't seem fair. But allowing students sleep through lessons is not an option either, so, what to do?

Turning it into a joke, instead of a big deal.

Back in the teachers' room after one lesson involving more snoozing by Sleeping Beauty, I made this sign on a whim, which I pasted onto my lesson planning notebook. Then the next lesson when bangs flopped down and eyes closed, I silently held the sign up in protest. The awake students giggled, rousing sleeping beauty to read this sign being held in front of her. She just smiled reticently, but after that she magically seemed a lot less sleepy.
Original Image: Pedro Machuca 

No offense taken.

Towards the end of the year, S. Beauty was accepted into one of the most prestigious private universities in the country. I was so glad for her that when she told me, I burst into tears. As she graduated, she let me know how much she appreciated how;

'[... ] you tried to understand how we were and what kind of circumstances we were in. 
Even though most teachers would have scolded me [...] , 
you made it a funny moment, and laughed it away.

The lesson learned.

Students are tired. Teachers are busy. Endless scolding is just more exhausting and wears everyone down. Turning minor issues, especially when there are extenuating circumstances, into a laugh can help a student correct their behavior and still keep the mood positive and allow the whole class to keep learning in a nicer environment without the finger wagging, hands-on-hips strictness that can cause teenagers to stop listening. Of course, I don't recommend laughing everything off. Eraser throwing, gum chewing, these may be minor issues too, but are dealt with very swiftly by me.

Why be lenient?

I was lucky to have taken my CertTESOL at VUW when Professor Paul Nation was one of the faculty teaching the course. He was a superstar teacher for many reasons. One day, he talked about erring on the side of compassion and had a great anecdote about a student who claimed to have "lost" his essay. Paul thought, "Hmmm...", but he just said, "Alright, bring it to me tomorrow." Later that day as he was walking back to the faculty room from his office, Paul saw some paper blowing in one of the bushes and when he picked it up, it turned out to be that student's essay.

Where have I gone from here?

Well, I still turn sleeping during lessons into a joke. I always make sure it is a joke where we are laughing with, not laughing at the slumbering teenager. Students still attempt sleeping during my lessons, no matter how interesting I attempt to be. My new tactic for the prevention of in-class sleeping is:

- sneak up behind the sleeping student and suddenly roar, 'Raaaaah!'.

Then I laugh much louder that any of the students when the sleeping student has been startled awake. Feigning enjoyment in these situations is a tactic I got from another educator I admire (there are many!) Phil Beadle, but more on Phil in another future post.

One 10th grade student was very startled indeed, gasped loudly and jumped to his feet. He has never attempted even a second of shut-eye again. His surprise was so genuine that the whole class was in stitches for a good minute.

And aim, of course, is to create a positive atmosphere where all students can enjoy laughing, and learning. You do have to be careful and make sure that it is a student you know really well, of course.

As this video on How To Maintain Classroom Discipline from 1947 shows, it's hardly a new idea. The narrator notes, 

"a friendly attitude with a sprinkling of humor goes a long way to winning the regard of the class."

Check out Marisa Constantinides' wonderful edublog where I came across this video - it's a real gem! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

This teacher gets to school by - guess what?

You will never complain about commuting to school again.

Now on the morning train, I smile just thinking of Juvencia's story.

Last December I started volunteering as a Spanish to English translator for, a micro-finance non-profit based in California. This animation explains how Kiva works.
Last weekend I translated this loan for Juvencia and was surprised to read her reason for requesting a loan to purchase a motorcycle.

First of all, Juvencia and I have something in common. She has been a teacher all her life. Now her commute to school is where our life stories start to differ drastically.
[screenshot from]

It turns out that to do her job as the head of a school district in El Sauce, Nicaragua, Juvencia has been riding to all of the schools in her district by horse, and at her age, she's a little tired of it. So she would like take out a small loan so that she can zip around her schools on a motorbike.

I was astounded, especially while translating it didn't occur to me that the second half of the sentence would include any horseback commuting.

So this Christmas I will be thankful that I take a speedy, warm, clean train to school.

In fact if you need any gift ideas for Christmas, a Kiva gift card is a great option.

As of publishing this post, Juvencia's loan is still funding so please consider helping her out.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's the best way to learn Japanese?

A week ago my older brother asked me about the best way to learn Japanese.

Chuffed to be asked for advice, my reply turned into an essay-length email. Having made several big mistakes in my initial approach to picking up the language, I wanted to prevent my dear brother from making the same blunders. Also, I love teaching and learning languages. What could be more exciting or cool than speaking another language?

So now I am using that email as a base for this post.

My brother, I have to point out, has been very busy studying to become a brilliant emergency physician and thus has not realised that I'm not actually a completely fluent, near-native speaker of Japanese. I don't do anything to spoil the allusion though, and I can definitely hold my own in a conversation as long as it's not about something tricky, like the discovery of the Higgs boson particle.

One natural advantage I have with learning languages is a keen ear, imitating what I hear and then having no fear trying it out on someone else to gauge their reaction and figure out how to use new chunks of language. This aptitude helped me learn French and Spanish before I moved to Japan. 

But the more important advantage is that I love my mistakes. Not because I don't care about making mistakes or am sloppy, far from it. It's because learning from mistakes is a valuable way of learning, and the funny slip-ups made when a beginner are some of the best jokes to tell to native speakers in conversation once you're finally able to converse. I definitely approach my own language learning with a growth mindset. 

So here is my advice.

First step is: learn all the kana. 

Master hiragana and then move on to katakana. 

Kana are the building blocks of Japanese, and as they are phonetic (for the most part!) they are really useful because if you can read them, you can pronounce any word correctly. Japanese syllables don't make sense without knowing kana and there's a big difference between, say, ゆ and ゆう. So when you are writing Japanese down, here is a big pearl of wisdom:

Avoid taking notes in romaji. 

Why not? Because Japanese isn't written in romaji. The first 6 months in Japan I wrote new vocabulary down in romaji because I presumed that learning kana was impossible, only achievable by Stephen Hawking or Terence Tao. Now I know that if Japanese was so difficult to learn, many of the Japanese people I know wouldn't be able to speak or write it either. 

When my American friend who arrived with me in Japan mastered kana in the first few months, I realised that writing in kana right from the beginning would have helped me learn faster and just made a whole lot more sense. So, don't make my mistake and write new vocabulary down in kana and kanji as soon as you can.

I'd say on any given page of Japanese text, hiragana is used more often, so learn that first. Some Japanese people think foreigners should learn katakana first because foreign words are written in it, but overall I'd say katakana definitely makes it into less words per page than hiragana. My first Japanese teacher was a one a million teacher who got us to learn them in that order, so I recommend it. 

Start learning kanji right from the beginning.

I recommend learning the kanji actually as you go, right from the start. Otherwise it's double handling and you just have to go back and learn the kanji for words you already know, which is more precious study time misspent. So 1) learn about stroke order and 2) get a good app which has stroke order diagrams and videos, such as Midori which is my favorite Japanese dictionary app, and you are all set to start writing kanji.

So just say you learn the verb tabemasu, to eat.

Write it in kanji, even if your kanji looks like a drunk salariman's. It's good for your brain and you will get better at writing later. Then put the hiragana on top of the kanji (furigana) so you remember how to pronounce it. Like this:


Verb forms: start with ~ます.

It makes sense to learn lots of verbs first all in the ~ます form first because it's polite and often used. Then you can start to learn other forms like past tense, dictionary form, etc.

Get a good textbook.

My favorite textbook as a beginner was 'Japanese in 45 Hours'. Does that sound like a lot of hours? It isn't, really. We got through it in a year or even six months and most importantly, it was funny and had helpful cartoons illustrating the exercises which made it easy to follow. Get the workbook too, and practice away. When you're done, there is a sequel called にほんごつぎの45じかん - Japanese, In 45 Hours and More. The only drawback with the series is that it is all in hiragana, no kanji integration right from the beginning as I advocated above. 

Get a teacher. Get a study buddy.

I took private lessons with my American study buddy for a year and a half. The teacher came to one of our apartments once a week and it was great way to learn for several reasons.

1) Both my friend and I found one-to-one lessons too intense, but group lessons tend to get a bit unfocused. So learning with one other friend took that pressure off but gave us both the right amount of attention from the teacher.  Also having a friend there was a great motivator.
2) Our teacher was awesome - no app or textbook can ever replace having a human being explaining things to you. She was relaxed enough to teach us any words we ever asked her no matter what the topic, and strict enough to give us kanji quizzes at the beginning of lessons to help keep us on our toes.
3) Sensei had great resources. One book in particularly liked that she used was 絵で導入・絵で練習 Practice with pictures, Learn through pictures, a fantastic aid for students because it is all cartoons, which it helps keep the dialogue with the teacher in the target language - Japanese. I liked it so much that I went out and bought it myself, even though I'm not a Japanese teacher.

My last advice is: get a good mindset about kanji.

Don't let kanji intimidate you, or dismiss them as unimportant. They are not scary and they are important. 

For one thing, one big ol' scary-looking kanji is actually just lots of simple kanji squished together.  


木 tree  き
林 wood はやし
森 forest  もり

Without knowing kanji, Japanese just does not make sense. When I learnt that kyou means today but kyonen means 'last year' I got confused and exclaimed, "Why? That makes no sense." to the principal of one of my first schools. He then explained that it isn't the sound, but the kanji that gives the words their meaning.

今日 now day

きょうねん kyonen
去年 gone year

Just start from the beginning with kanji, like a kid.

Learn the kanji that Japanese elementary school kids learn, unless you're learning Japanese for a test which is slightly different story.

If Japanese children in primary school learn about 100 kanji a year, then an adult who works full time, has two kids and spends his working days saving people's lives can do it too.

A kanji practice notebook with the squares and the gaps for furigana is good idea. So just use muscle memory to learn kanji by writing them over and over again - probably 8 times minimum per character. Get one of these kanji notebooks and GO FOR IT!

Good luck on your Japanese learning journey.

*And remember, you can learn anything. #GrowthMindset

*That's from the Khan Academy, but I don't think Sal would mind me borrowing their slogan.