Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, April 29, 2005


by AJ

There is a baby. He walks to the fridge. He takes out ice cream, chocolate, and milk. He carries them to a table. There is a bowl, knife, and banana on the table. He picks up the knife and cuts the banana into pieces. He puts the pieces into the bowl. Then he puts the ice cream on top of the banana. He pours milk into the bowl.

He doesnt have a fork. He doesnt have a spoon. So he eats with a knife. He gets food on his face, his chest, and his arms. He gets food on his shirt and pants. His mother comes into the room and screams. She takes him to the sink and washes him. Now he is a clean baby. The baby is happy and so is his mother.

That, more or less, is a story I used for Monday's classes. Its taken from Blaine Ray's book, Look I Can Talk. The story went reasonably well. Not great. Not bad. Most students listened, but not with rapt attention. But they learned the language and grammar within it.

Blaine Ray and Contee Seely both recommend using exaggeration to boost the memorability of stories. Its excellent advice. I found that a few changes make a big difference.

For Wednesday's and Thursday's classes, I changed the story... added exaggeration:

There is a fat American baby. He has a cowboy hat and two guns. He walks to the fridge and takes out ice cream and milk. He carries them to a table. There is a knife, a bowl, and a banana on the table. He grabs the knife and cuts the banana into pieces. He puts the pieces into the bowl, and puts ice cream on top of the banana. Then he pours milk into the bowl.

He doesnt have a fork or spoon. So he eats with a knife. Suddenly, he cuts off his nose. He screams! His mother comes into the room and screams! She grabs him (and his nose) and takes him to the hospital. The nurse sews his nose back on. The baby is happy and so is his mother.

OK, its not genius,... but the second story is much more exaggerated and much more interesting.

And what a difference. Students were more attentive and reactive. Their retellings were more dynamic. They seemed to remember the story more easily.

This shouldnt be surprising. A good story evokes strong images, and is full of conflict and emotion. The first story had much weaker images and little emotion. The revision contains more drama, a powerful twist (off with the nose), and more excitement.

What Ive learned: Using stories from TPRS books is a great time saver (very important to me at my current job). It also helps teachers new to the technique (like me) guage the appropriate vocab and grammar level. It seems more effective, however, to modify these stories-- inject more exaggeration and personalization, than to use them as-is.

"He cuts off his nose", I yelled. I grabbed my nose and made gushing sounds for blood. Then I moved towards the class and pretended to spray blood onto them. They laughed and recoiled.... absorbed in the story. "Aha", I thought...."Ive got em".


Putting the TPR into TPRS

by AJ

Monday class: As I cruised through my story, I noticed the students. Most were watching, but with blank faces. A few nodded off, or struggled to keep their eyes awake. I upped my energy level and talked louder to keep their attention. At the end of class I felt worn out.

Thursday class: Every student's eye is one me... they are absorbed in the story as I tell it. I jump and act, but feel no need to exhuast myself. At the end of class, I feel more energetic than when it started.

The difference between Monday's and Thursday's class: gestures. Specifically, the students gestured and acted as I told the story.

Ive been telling stories for the past three weeks... using drawings, gestures, and actions to boost comprehension. But I have not physically involved the students. Really, I have not been using TPR Storytelling, but rather, ALG (nothing wrong with ALG, but Im trying to perfect TPRS).

So my task, I realize, is to put the Total Physical Response back into my stories. I did this (only a little) in my Thursday class at Mihara and it transformed the lesson. This time, I had students perform the actions and gestures at their desks while I did them at the front of the class.

The most immediate result: they were sucked into the story, involved in it (instead of passively listening), and thus they were more attentive. This helped them remember the story and retell it later.

So it was a good step, but I need to go farther. I need to teach the key vocabulary and story elements with gestures FIRST.... before beginning the story.

For example, say "walk" and stomp my feet while walking. Then say "walk" and have the students stomp their feet at their desks. I need to do this, especially, with new vocabulary or grammar structures.

So the first segment of the lesson becomes a modified TPR lesson. They acquire the vocab first, before hearing it in the story. By doing this, the story becomes more comprehensible. Also, the students can then focus on the MEANING of the story rather than the language in it (ie. ALG).

My new plan: Go through the story and underline key vocabulary and new vocabulary (and grammar). Develop gestures/actions for each... ones that can be performed while sitting (necessary for Japanese students who are terrified of being in front of the class).

Ill run them through these actions/gestures as a game, before the story. Once they are responding instantly to all of them, I can kick in with storytelling because they will be ready (and should be able to write less on the board as a result).

I strolled out of class on Thursday with a smile. I knew I had a long way to go, but for the first time I glimpsed the full power of TPRS. Id learned a new lesson, and was eager to apply it.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

My second (real) TPRS in Japan

Today, I taught English to Junior 2 students through TPRS. There were only four students in this class. In my first TPRS, I used the story in the textbook. However, this time, I decided to create my own story. The target words and phrases are: collected, went, riveside. And the target grammar is "Did you?"

This time, I followed the 3 steps of TPRS exactly. At first, I taught the target words and phrases through TPR and pictures. I did not do PQA because I'm not good at doing this yet. (I believe I am really good at storytelling.) So, after I assess their comprehension of these words, I immediately moved to the step 2, which is storytelling.

Before I started to tell my story, I explained to my students that they could contribute to making the story. I said, " I need a main character, so can you give me some funny names or names you like?" One student responded "Pooh." I said to her "Great!!" (I believe letting students create the name of main character is really important. In this way, I can make my story more personalized for my students, not for a teacher. Also, a theory of brain based learning tells us that students generated example is very powerful in terms of helping students retain information.)

The story that my students and I created are the following.

Pooh enjoyed his spring vacation. Pooh was very cute but he was very strange. Pooh loved trash. Pooh went to the Niyodo riverside. There, he walked along the riverside and collected a ton of trash. Pooh returned home with a ton of trash. He was very happy. But her mother was very angry. She cleaned Pooh's room. Pooh cried for a second.

I can say that this TPRS lesson really succeeded. The bold words means the words that students created. I had students create the main character of this story, the name of the river, amount of trash that Pooh collected, and the duration that Pooh cried. I believe this story has a very good balance. Even though I controlled the framework of the story, I had students create some parts of the story. In this way, the story becomes theirs, not mine. Yet, I was able to give them enough repetition of target words and grammar. I also personalized really well, especially when I asked circle of questions. I used some students' name when I asked questions. (This is an example. "Class, Pooh loved trash." Students said "Oh no!!" I asked the circle of questions "Did Pooh love trash? Did Poor love Mika?" Students responded very strongly "No!!!!!!!" "Did Poor love trash or Mika? Who loved trash? What did Pooh liked? Why did Pooh love trash?" Some students responded "because Pooh was strange.")

Moreover, I believe I was able to do a lot of students-generated BEP(bizarre, exaggerated, Personalized). It was very interesting that students used "Pooh", the character of animation. I expected that they used the name of cerebritiy. Then, I just realized that they were still junior two students. Also, I found that their ways of exaggerating the length of cry is very interesting. Brain always exaggerated the duration. For example, he used, "He cried for two weeks." However, what my students suggested was the opposite to that of Brain, which is "He cried for a second." I realized that shortening the duration of time is also a way of exaggeration." They laughed so hard that I acted out this sentence. Since they are not familiar to dramatizing the story, I acted out throughout the story.

As I said before, there were only four students. Three students' English is really excellent in terms of comprehension. So, I used one student as my barometer. It worked very well. Whenever I wanted to check their comprehension, I asked her to translate what I said. Actually she answered very well.

Yesterday, when I asked her about some questions in workbook. She was not able to answer with confidence. The questions was about grammar drills. She faced down and had a lot of pause. She did not seem to answer about my questions. Later, I asked her why she hesitated to answer. She told that she had been very afraid of making mistakes. She did not want to be embarrassed in front of her friends.

However, in this TPRS lesson, she was so involved with the story that she could answer my questions without worrying about making mistakes. Moreover, she completely understood the story. I was just amazed by how effectively TPRS can help students lower their affective filter. Also, I reconfirmed that TPRS really helped me connect with my students so that I could find out about my student. I got to know my student more. She is usually very quiet. However, during the storytelling, she really contributed to making story funnier. She is really good at creating funny exaggeration. So, this is why I love TPRS.

After the storytelling, I used the textbook as a extended reading material. It was really exciting for me to see my student understand the target vocabulary and grammar in the little bit different context. They understood all the sentences in the textbook.

One thing that I have to keep working on is how to help my students to match spelling and sound. My baromerter student understand the meaning of "cleaned" if I tell orally. However, she is not able to recognize written word "c-l-e-a-n" as clean. For instance, I found that she could not write the answer. I pointed out the word clean and read it out. Then immediately comprehended.

Even though I still have to work really hard, I am really happy to know that TPRS works really well even for Japanese students.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


by AJ/Skald

The ideas of Krashen, David Long, and Tom Asacker intersect quite powerfully. Krashen and Long are in the language education field, while Tom Asacker is a marketing consultant.

But all three recognize that feelings and experience are THE key elements in learning & motivation. And I agree. The challenge,... the incredible and daunting challenge.. is to trigger euphoric feelings in the target language. Euphoric experiences.

Not good. Not interesting. Euphoric.

That sets the bar much higher than merely aiming for "understandable and interesting" happenings. Understanding and interesting are a good start. Certainly most programs would be doing great if they could hit those two goals. Most don't. Myself, Im just hinting at those two... getting there.

But I aspire to more. Im not satisfied with mediocre... or even "good". I want great... I want to create the best language program in the world.

That STARTS with research tested, authentic language techniques such as TPR Storytelling. But it doesn't end there. Not by a long shot. First of all, TPRS does not guarantee a great experience. Its certainly possible to tell boring stories using language that is of the wrong level. Its also possible to tell great stories in a boring way.

Mastering this technique takes time. Im just starting, and Im teaching myself with the trial and error method. But after each class I learn something more... I identify important distinctions... things to add, things to subtract... here a tweak, there a tweak.

But it won't end there. For I also want to master the Movie Technique... which will involve a similar period of self-training. And then there's classic TPR.

After all that, I will have merely arrived at "good". "Great" requires a thousand sensory touches... something Tom Asacker recently wrote about in his blog. This means putting as much energy into non-lingusitic factors as I put into learning teaching methods. It means a TRANSFORMATIVE classroom environment-- think of a Tibetan temple, an old catholic church, an indoor botanical garden, a zen garden, an artsy cafe.... these are places that instantly alter moods and attitudes. Thats the kind of physical space I want for my classroom. Every sense must be addressed.. including taste (I envision a small, but tasty, selection of drinks and snacks).

That will be a big hurdle for me. Im a dreadful decorator, and so Ill have to contract this out and/or rely on Kristin. At least I know what I like... what Im aiming for.

Next, there is the social realm. I want to create a rich social experience... a program that acts as social catalyst for students. No use learning a language, after all, if you have no one to use it with. This means I've got to ramp up intercultural events and opportunities... get students and fluent speakers mingling.

By addressing these factors, we begin to move beyond merely "teaching language" and start getting at "providing euphoric experiences and feelings in the target language". And that is the point at which effortlessness kicks in. Students don't even realize they are acquiring the language. No striving. No strain.

But, truth be told, arriving at that effortless acquisition point first requires a whole lot of effort on my (and Kristin's) part!


Sunday, April 24, 2005


by AJ

I started to use more gestures during class this week, but not enough. I think Tohru's suggestion of pre-teaching the vocab with gestures/actions is excellent. This is how you are supposed to do TPR Storytelling.

Unfortunately, I didnt do it this week. I tried to teach the vocabulary as I went through the story. It worked all right, but I had to break the flow of the story several times.

So this week I will try to identify potentially problematic vocabulary up front. Then I will list this vocab on the board and teach the words with gestures or actions. First Ill model the gestures, then I will call out the words and have the students gesture. If they struggle to understand, Ill let them use their dictionaries to find a rough idea.

In this way, they will absorb the target vocabulary BEFORE the story begins. I can then tell the story in a natural and authentic way, without interruptions. Their comprehension will be boosted and the story will provide better input and better practice.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Problems with textbook

It has been two weeks since I started teaching in junior and senior high school in Japan again. In junior high school, I am generally happy with this class because I can utilize many things that I learn from my graduate course and experience of teaching in Costa Rica. I try out TPRS and other stuffs. I am able to conduct in English through most of my lesson.

However, the big problem is high school. The textbook is very grammar based and many topics of this book is REALLY boring. There is no personalization. I mean the topics have nothing to do with students' life. Also, the text is composed by many different story for reading. There is no conversational aspects. Students are expected to understand the story in Japanese and that's all about it. Even advanced students expect me to explain the grammar points or words and phrases in Japanese and have them translate the meaning. It takes damn long time to do this. During this time, students rarely speak English nor listen. They focus on writing the translation on their notebook. There are not comprehensible input nor meaningful interaction in English. How on the earth can they acquire English without these crucial elements for learning or acquiring the language. I really hate using this textbook and doing translation. Don't get me wrong. Translation itself is not bad at all as long as it is used for clarifying the meaning. However, when the entire class period is used for the activity for grammar translation, it is just waste of time in terms of helping students develop language fluency.

However, since I am working with other teachers. I cannot abolish translation activity. So, my challenging is how to minimize the time for translation and spend more time to communicate in English. I should work on this more.

Effects of TPRS on teaching vocab to low level students

Last Thursday, in Junior 2 English class, I attempted to teach vocabulary through TPR. The words or phrases were "believe, throw away, and hold on to." At first, I asked the meaning in Japanese and demonstrated the gesture of each words(or phrases). I explained the theory of TPR briefly since this technique was supposed to be new for my students. Then I asked them to show the each gesture. At the beginning, they seemed to be reluctant to show these gesture. Of course, this situation was expected. I gently suggested that they can do gesture in order to find out whether gesture will help them retain vocabulary better or not. Luckily, they started to perform!! After I did "command" three or four times. I used "closed eye" test to check their understanding. They performed very well... However, I could not tell this was very effective for my students to retain vocab more or not in this class.

However, in the next class, when I did gesture with these words and phrases in order to review and see if students still remember or not. All students remembered the meaning of these words. To my surprise, my lowest student was able to answer my question with confidence. " She was able to say "hold on to" when I showed the gesture of it. Usually, she was very shy, and it takes her long time to answer my questions. She hardly answer my question spontaneously. However, this time she answered voluntarily.

Of course, this is just one limited example, but teaching vocabulary through gestures (step 1 of TPRS ) seems to work very well for even Japanese students, especially who have low understanding of English.

Usually, our English teachers teach vocabulary through making list and memorizing. However, many research have already shown that this way does not really work because it does not provide any context and personalization. Students just try to memorize the list of vocabulary for the test and forget after the test because the words and phrases that are memorized in this way do not seem to stick to learners. In other words, they are only stored in short-term memory. Brain research claim that we have three different memory pathways... and TPR(S) utilize all these memory pathways.

I must try to use TPR(S) more so that my students can get benefits from this method. I really hope that my students get more confidence by learning English more easily.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why Stories?

by AJ

My students may wonder, why do I tell stories in class?

Shouldnt we be doing drills?

Shouldnt we be studying grammar rules or "language points"?

Shouldnt we be doing exercises in the book?

Well, no. I use stories in class for several reasons:

1. Stories use authentic (real) English. Most of our conversations are stories or are similar to stories. A story uses language that we use everyday.. in the way we use it. When students listen to and tell stories, they are learning to use conversational English... When they practice drills, they learn artificial language that is not very useful in conversation. Most of my students have studied English for years. They have been doing drills for years. But they have trouble speaking.

I hope to help them speak more naturally by using stories. So far, I am happy with the results. Most students are speaking a lot in class. They are telling long stories with many details.

They dont realize it, but they are also practicing many "language points" at the same time. This week, they practiced the present tense (as it is naturally used). They practiced time expressions such as "on Sunday he goes to a bar,... on Monday he has a hangover,.....etc." They practiced the use of "there is/there are". They practiced idiomatic expressions and other non-obvious vocab such as "each other" and "spend time".

Some classes also practiced switching from the present to the past tense. Most students did these things very very well... and they did not have to think of grammar rules. They did not have to translate. They did not have to focus on only one point while ignoring all others.

2. Narrative (story telling) structure is easier to remember. A story is easy to remember. Research shows that children and adults remember facts, vocabulary, grammar, and other information much better if that information is presented in story form.

For example, most students learned the word "hangover" this week. Some will forget it, but many will remember it because they did not memorize it through translation and study. Rather, they learned it through a story. They saw me acting out a hangover. This is a much easier way to acquire a language.

3. Repetition
Each story was re-told many times. I told it several times. Then they told it several times. Then they wrote their own (usually similar) versions of the story. Therefore, the vocab and grammar was repeated many many times... but without drills.

4. Pictures and Actions
A story is easier to understand than a drill because a story has images. The students can "see" much of the language... especially because Im acting it out. Most drills have no pictures or actions... just words on a page. At best, they might include a drawing on a flashcard. But the language is isolated, and has no meaningful context to students (or the teacher).

5. More Fun
Even if drills and stories produced equal results (and they dont).... stories are still better-- simply because they are more fun. Some students might not have enjoyed my story. But I imagine they liked it more than they would enjoy a series of drills and textbook exercises! Maybe I will test this theory.... do one class of only DEH drills... see which they prefer :)


Storytelling, Second & Third Classes

by AJ

I did more TPR Storytelling with my Mihara classes today and it went well. This time the stories seemed a little more personalized. In two (of three) classes, students shouted out the names of other students as characters.

I feared this would cause embarrassment... and it did, a little. But the students whose names I used seemed to be OK, a little embarrassed but hopefully not too much. And the rest of the class loved it. Of course, next time I won't use the same students... spread the embarrassment a little. I don't want students to dread my class, I want them to enjoy it and I hope they will want to come.

I also exaggerated the story. I made the characters more larger than life-- the boy became a drinking gambler, while the girl became sweeter and more sensitive. This also made the story more interesting, compared to the version I used in my first class.

Another modification: I used more gestures. I tried to convey the basic meaning of each sentence with actions. So if I said "I want to spend more time together", I pointed to my watch to indicate time. This seemed to help, though I should do more of it. I wish I could draw, because that might help too.

Needed Improvements:

I did get the classes ooohing and ahhing, which seemed like an improvement from my first classes. But I did not ask enough questions. Most Japanese students will not shout out answers in my class. If I address a question to the class, no one speaks. And I dont want to call on individual students because that makes them nervous. So Im not sure what to do. Maybe I will try to take a small step by using multiple choice questions.... set the stories up like those choose-your-own-adventure books I read as a kid.

If you want a large class to practice speaking, you feel almost stuck doing pairwork. My choice-- I wouldnt do this much, if at all. But the university classes seem too large for me to speak with directly. I try to move around a lot and listen to everyone, but doesnt feel like enough.

When Im not near them, some students speak Japanese rather than English... so it seems like they get no practice or input at that time. Some teachers force this issue... they demand ONLY ENGLISH... but I dont want to force speech. I consider my mission to relax them enough, give them enough understandable & meaningful input, and give them enough repetition that they feel comfortable trying to speak.

Most students do. But a few dont... and thats my challenge. At least these students get a lot of authentic input from my story repetitions and (sometimes) from other students.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Tips From EFL Press

by AJ

Just found an excellent article on the EFL Press website, titled How To Be An Effective EFL Teacher

Two points that jumped out at me:

"Don't neglect useful vocabulary teaching.
The building blocks of language are not grammar and functions. The most essential thing students need to learn is vocabulary; without vocabulary you have no words to form syntax, no words to pronounce. Help your students to become vocabulary hungry."

Absolutely. The jargonic way of saying this is "language is grammaticalized lexus, not lexalized grammar". In other words, if you've got the vocab, you can communicate... even it its with mangled grammar. But if you've got a ton of grammar and very little vocab, you are out of luck.

Unfortunately, most "conversations" textbooks and schools get this backwards. They are heavy on grammar and light on USEFUL vocabulary (ie. authentic vocab as used by most speakers). Most schools are obssessed with "grammar points"... they insist, for example, that students answer in complete sentences. Of course, no NATIVE speaker answers in complete sentences (most of the time). So why force EFL students into this unnatural pattern?

Also, because their student focus so much on grammar, grammar, grammar,... they have very limited vocabulary. Thus, they can spit out the pattern in class... but can't carry on even the simplest conversation outside of class.

"Don't neglect the teaching of listening.
It is the opinion of many ESL experts that listening is the most important skill to teach your students. While listening to each other and to the teacher will improve their overall listening ability, this can be no substitute for listening to authentic English. As much as possible, try to expose your students to authentic English in a variety of situations. The best way to do this and the most realistic is through videos. Listening to audio cassettes in the classroom can improve listening ability, but videos are much more motivating and culturally loaded."

Amen!! Drs. Ashely Hastings and Brenda Murphy note that listening should be the first skill developed. There are many reasons for this, but one is extremely practical: students need listening comprehension to function in the classroom and outside of it. Its quite hard to conduct a class when the students struggle to understand your directions. And its difficult for them to USE language that they cant hear and understand.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the comment on videos versus audio tapes. See the Focal Skills link for more info on using movies in an EFL (or any foreign language) class.


Involving Students In TPRS

by AJ

Tohru's post reminded me of an important aspect of TPR Storytelling... one that I forgot today: Interactivity.

TPRS is not passive. The teacher should (must) engage the students in an interactive dance. At the most basic level, this means encouaraging sounds and reactions.

For example, get the students yelling "oooohhhhh", "ahhhhhh", "oh no". At first you must prompt them to do so. Model what you want, hold your hand to your ear and wait for their response.

Of course, this is very surface interaction... but its a step in the right direction. With (normally shy) Japanese students... it is, in fact, a very big step.

Next, you want to ask questions and get responses. For example, you say "There is a boy and a girl.... what's the boy's name?" Ideally, the students shout out names. This works well with generally more outgoing Western students,... but is quite a challenge for Japanese students. If they won't shout, you can always use multiple choice questions and ask them to raise their hands.

For example, "what's his name.... Kenjiro, Kota, or Ichiro..... who wants Kenjiro? who wants Kota?... etc." You can use student names. Or, if this embarrasses them, use celebrity names or yourself and other teachers.

The next step is to have them shape the story in the retellings. You ask them for more details and elaborations.

Thus, they are not sitting silently as if they were watching TV. They are hearing and responding to events in the story. They are hearing and responding to questions.

Since this technique is so new and weird for my students right now, I will aim for only the surface level for my remaining classes this week... try to get them oooohing and ahhing at appropriate times.

Ill give this a try on Wednesday and report back on the results.


First TPR Storytelling

by AJ

Today, for the first time, I tried out a full TPR Storytelling lesson. In general, it went very well. There were some problems, but the students seemed to enjoy the lesson and they all participated. They also did an excellent job of both retelling my story and creating their own.

As a result, the practiced the present tense, the days of the week, and other vocabulary without consciously studying or drilling it. They got a lot of practice with the present tense... not in drill form, but in the way the present tense is used in conversation. Yet I never said the words "present tense" one time during the lesson. No drills or fill-in-the-blank worksheets either!!

So I was very happy with these lessons today (2 classes) and am convinced, yet again, of the superiority of TPRS compared to typical drills and textbooks.

Now for the bad news. I had many challenges. Interestingly, they were very similar to the ones that Tohru described in his recent post.

Number One: Bewiderment and Shyness
Tohru wrote
"So, I have to keep trying. I believe the student needs more time to become familiar with this method. The second is that she is very typical Japanese, who is afraid of making mistakes. As I told, she is very shy. She is not used to speaking out in English. I think it is very important for me as a teacher to encourage her to be more positive and active."

I absolutely agree. For one, this method initially strikes students as strange. They are used to textbooks, pattern drills, translation, and that sort of thing. Suddenly the teacher is telling a story and acting like an idiot. They don't know quite what to think of it at first.

Maybe they wonder, "What does this have to do with learning English?" They are trained to think that they must study and do drills to learn the language. Listening to a story probably seems like amusement than learning. They may not realize there are grammar & vocabulary points embedded in the story (in fact, ideally, they should not realize it).

Shyness and fear of mistakes is another huge problem in Japan. When my students listened to the story, they took notes and tried to memorize it. Many thought they had to retell it EXACTLY the way I did. This created anxiety, of course.

So I tried to adjust by varying the story a little each time instead of telling it exactly the same way each time. This helped send the message that they could relax.

Problem Number Two: No Personalization
Again, Tohru wrote, "However, I am not sure it was interesting enough to have students engaged in the story because there was no personalization in this story. In a sense, this storytelling is not PMS [Personalized Mini Story]. It is just MS [Mini Story]. Creating or adapting textbook to PMS is one of the most challenging when I try to adapt Textbook to TPRS lesson."

I had exaclty the same problem. I'm teaching way too many hours and so don't have much time to creaqe personalized stories. Instead, I used one from a book. Well, I got the same result as Tohru. Because the story was not personalized, it was not as interesting to them.

I now see how important it is to follow Blaine Ray's advice and make the stories exaggerated and personal... these are much more fun and interesting. I compensated by exaggerating my acting and this did hold their attention. But in the future I need to create stories using students as characters.... and events which more closely mirror their lives.

Problem Three: Not enough time

Unfortunately, I see each of my classes only one time per week. Thus, it is very difficult for me to pre-teach a lot of vocabulary with TPR or with mini-stories. If I saw the students more often, it'd be much easier to build on each lesson.

My solution was to do a lot more writing than I would normally do. I wrote notes on the board as I narrated the story. Most students read English quite well. Their reading comprehension is much higher than either their listening or speaking ability.

Thus, they may not understand a word when they hear it,... but if they read it on the board too... they get it. The danger of this is that they will try to memorize what I write and view it as a rigid script. So I tried to write only rough notes.. not complete sentences.

This time I didn't try any preteaching of vocab,... just wrote the notes on the board. But next time I think I will try to review the key vocab first: write it on the board, TPR the concrete words, let students look up the abstract ones....

And only then launch into the story. That should boost comprehension quite a bit, and hopefully minimize the memorized-script mentality.

Problem Four: The Textbook
I feel terrible, because all my students bought the recommended textbook and its horrible. I feel I should pull some lessons from it since they all spent money to buy it. But honestly, I think its a waste of time. Its obtuse. Its boring.

While they may be angry with me for having them buy it... I imagine they will prefer to listen to and tell stories rather than do boring drills in the textbook. I've given this blog address to my students, so maybe a few will comment and let me know.


To summarize, the lessons went well overall. However, I need to use personalized stories... I need to give the students time to adjust to the technique... I need to pre-teach vocabulary... and I need to forget the textbook.


Welcome Tohru

by AJ

A new writer-member has joined Effortless Acquisition. Tohru Matsuo is an English teacher from Ehime, Japan. He recently completed a Masters in TESOL from the School of International Training and is now back in his home country teaching English in a Japanese middle school.

Like me, Tohru is a strong proponent of the natural approach... and more specifically, of TPR Storytelling. See his recent post for a description of his first TPRS lesson in Japan.

I found this post very interesting and believe he has many unique insights to offer. I am struggling with similar difficulties with my Japanese students, but because I am American, I often don't know what is going on, what Im doing wrong, or what the problem is.

So I'm looking forward to reading more from Tohru and learning from him !!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

My first TPRS in Japan

I tried out TPRS in my junior 2 last Friday. There are only five students in my class. Three students are very smart. Actually, one student used to live in the United States for many years. So, her comprehension is excellent although she is very quiet. Even though other two students have never been to English spoken countries, their comprehension is very good. And they are very diligent. There is one student whose English is not really good. Also, she is very shy. She speaks very quietly. Sometimes it takes long time for her to answer my questions even in Japanese. So, she and another student are my barometer students. However, it was not so easy to check her comprehension. Even though I used translation in order to check her comprehension, she could not answer my question in Japanese. Well, besides her academic ability, I think there are two reasons.

The first reason is that students are not familiar with this method of teaching English, which is totally different from the traditional method. In most of the time, students are asked to read English paragraph and translate in Japanese. That's all about. They are hardly asked to speak out in English. That's why it took her so long time to think how to answer my questions. So, I have to keep trying. I believe the student needs more time to become familiar with this method.

The second is that she is very typical Japanese, who is afraid of making mistakes. As I told, she is very shy. She is not used to speaking out in English. I think it is very important for me as a teacher to encourage her to be more positive and active. Also, I have to be more sensitive to her feeling and think of the way to assess her comprehension more effectively?

Another thing that I have to keep working on is how to create my PMS in storytelling. This time, I experimented use of textbook story for storytelling. Here is the procedure of my lesson.

In step one, I taught vocabulary (sea, turtle, fall, egg) with picutes and "buy, sell" with TPR. I used little portion of PQA techniques to teach these words.

In step two, I used the textbook story to teach story. The following is a story in the textbook.

Turtles usually live for many, many years. But the number of the sea turles is falling. Every year, many people take sea turtle eggs. Some people eat the eggs. Other people buy and sell turtles for food.

Procedures of storytelling:
Turtles usually live for many years. (students responded Ahaaa!. I checked barometer students' comprehension, but it took her long time to translate this sentence in Japanese. I told her answers and I circled like this).
Do turtles usually live for many years? Do turtles usually live for one year?
Do turtles usually live for one year or many years?
Do turtles live for many years?
What lives for many years?
How long do turtles live for many years.
But the number of sea turtles is falling (students responded "Oh no!!!!!!!" Actually they did well. I thought this is hardest job for Japanese students but it wasn't so hard. I was suprised.Again, I circled this in the same way)
Is the number of sea turtles is rising? Is the number of sea turtles is falling? Is the number of sea turtles is falling or rising. What is falling. .....

I continued this process throughout the story. I think I provided comprehensible input. However, I am not sure it was interesting enough to have students engaged in the story because there was no personalization in this story. In a sense, this storytelling is not PMS. It is just MS. Creating or adapting textbook to PMS is one of the most challenging when I try to adapt Textbook to TPRS lesson.

After the storytelling, I asked students to read the textbook and had them translate. To my surprised, even my barometer student understood the most of the story. She grasped the meaning of the story very well. In this sense, I believe even my bad TPRS is very powerful. As many TPRS experts say, "Bad TPRS is better than No TPRS." I think that I have to work hard.

To summarize my points, I can see some positive effects. However, I have to seek the way to develop more interesting PMS. I also keep working on the step 3, such as pop up grammar and effective ways to conduct reading phase.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Reading Resources

by AJ

The following are good links for English reading material. One of the best ways to improve in English is to read for FUN. That's right, for FUN... not STUDY.

To read for fun, you must read something that is both interesting AND easy. If you need a dictionary to read it, it is too difficult.

Below are possible sources of fun reading material. The first link has information about graded novels. These are English novels that come in many levels. Choose a few levels and find one that you can read easily and quickly. The books are not expensive. You can order from the catalog on the second link.

Also look at The English Zone. This is published in Japan. You can buy it at Kinokuniya and other book stores. I may use The English Zone to create my final exam, so reading it would be a good way to prepare!!!


Basic Informatiion about English Novels

List of Books & Catalog of Novels, by level

Foreign Buyers Club (They sell English magazines & videos)
(Click on the link to the Learning Center)
http://www.fbcusa.com/japan/ (Japanese)
http://www.fbcusa.com/public2/ (English)

English Zone Magazine


The Importance of Social Contacts

by AJ

Communication is about socializing. Its what we use language for more than anything else. Language connects people.

But think of the average language class in school: students sit at their desks individually... little isolated islands. They repeat drills. They watch the teacher diagram sentences. They are alone in a little shell. This is unnatural. No child learns their native language in this way.

Therefore, it is vital for teachers to create a highly social classroom. We must help students connect. We must help them find real (authentic) reasons for speaking and listening.

Students, ideally, should look forward to class as a chance to make friends and connect with other people. It should be a time for them to play, relax, and have fun (in English!!).

Do that, and they will want to come to class and they will want to participate.... because you are filling a REAL need in their life.


Friday, April 01, 2005


by AJ

Create interesting, fun, absorbing happenings in the target language-- thats how AUA?s David Long describes the goal of his program. And it was great.

He also had another great saying, "all education should be kindergarten". He envisioned a school for adults that was structured on the same principles as kindergarten. The "school" would be a giant room with many centers. In each center, a teacher would create happenings around a particular topic. These would not be passive lectures. Rather, they would be hands on workshops. One teacher might teach Thai massage. Another might be taking apart a motorcycle with students. Another would be teaching the basics of SCUBA. Another would be telling stories, while still another would be teaching a class on making SomTam (spicy papaya salad). All of this would be happening in Thai (geared to the level of the students).

Students would be free to wander into the school, peruse the centers, and join whichever one appealed to them. If the teachers did their jobs well, the students would be so absorbed in the happenings they would forget they were occuring in the target language (in this case, Thai).

I got a taste of this in AUAs level one classes and it was great. I learned that when you learn something unconsciously, you truly ACQUIRE it.

For example, I learned the Thai word for "pineapple" this way. I did not learn it by memorizing a translation. I did not learn it from drilling a language point using a flashcard of a pineapple. I learned it by cutting a pineapple, eating a pineapple, and listening to stories that included pineapples.

As a result, if someone asks me in English "Whats the Thai word for 'pineapple'"... I will often pause and be confused. It takes me a second because I didnt learn a translation.

But if you show me a pineapple, I will instantly think "sapparot".... no hesitation. If I want to say the word, I dont first think of the English word "pineapple" then scan my memory for the Thai word. Rather, I picture a pineapple in my mind and up pops "sapparot" instantly.

Ive already detailed my disappointments with AUAs other levels... but those disappointments stem from the fact that they neglected their own method at those levels. The method is sound. Its tremendous fun, its totally stress free, its interesting, and it works. If only they had continued to use it past level one!

I favor David Longs approach: All education should be kindergarten.