Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Suck Zone

by AJ

Forget my blog. Read Kathy Sierra's. That woman kicks ass every time. She's got more to say about Great teaching and great learning in one post... then I typically say in a month... or year. So, for godssake... read her blog.

Here are a few recent gems:

How long do your students spend in the "I suck" (or "this course sucks") zone? Once they've crossed the suck threshold, how long does it take before they start to feel like they kick ass? Both of those thresholds are key milestones on a students path to passion, and it's often the case that he-who-gets-his-students-there-first wins.

For most of us, our student wants to use our tools (English) to do something else (collaborate electronically, learn, find inspiration, build something, meet people, date, read journals, get a job). So we try to think about the thing they want to do, and how quickly we can get them through those two thresholds:

1) The suck threshold
The point at which they stop hating you (your class), the activity itself, or their complete inability to do anything useful.

2) The passion threshold
The point at which they start feeling like they kick ass. While passion is not a guarantee at this point, the chances of someone becoming passionate before this are slim.

That strikes me as, more or less, the exact opposite of what most language programs do. Most are determined to keep the student in the "I suck" stage as long as possible. These programs hit them with impossible grammar rules (that confuse most native speakers). They hit them with impossible exams (confusing, too difficult, designed to yield low scores). They point out their errors publicly.

And so, it was normal... in every one of my classes... for students to tell me "I suck at English". After years of study in High School (Middle School... even Elementary School in some cases). After several courses at University. Still stuck in the "I suck" stage. No wonder they hate English.

Much of Krashen's research can be summed up by Sierra's statement. Krashen puts it this way, "The path of pleasure is the only way". He stresses "real communication from the start". In other words, get the students communicating with and enjoying the language from day one. Move them as fast as possible across the "I suck" threshold.

Race them to the "I kick ass" zone.

A personal example. My efforts at learning Thai continually flounder. Why? Because after months of "semi traditional" study, I still feel like I suck at Thai (and I do). After a while, I get sick of the "I suck" feeling, and stop studying.

But with Spanish its different. Since I started with "comprehensible input" methods (ie. free reading mostly), Ive left the "I suck" zone. Every time I finish a mini-novel in Spanish, I think, "Wow, Im kicking ass".

When I visited Japan, I had another "I kick ass with Spanish" experience. A friend introduced me to a Japanese French teacher.. who is also fluent in Spanish. He engaged me in a Spanish conversation. Very very low level. Very slow. Super simplistic. He's a great teacher... knew just where my level was and kept the conversation there.

After 10 minutes of this, I was feeling euphoric. For the first time in my life, I was having a sustained conversation in a foreign language. I was thinking, "This kicks ass!!!"

My passion for Spanish increased. Im still listening to my mini-book on CD. And still (re-reading) my mini-novels.

A traditional teacher would scoff at this. They'd test me and tell me I was at a "low beginner" level. They'd flood me with material beyond my ability to acquire. They'd flood me with grammar lists and vocab lists and too-fast dialogues. In a short time, Id be right back in the "I suck" zone... and a short time after that would probably quit.

So this is more than an issue of "good feelings" or being "touchy feely". The students emotional experience trumps everything else. Its priority one. Before methodology. Before testing and assessment. Before materials and content.

Forget all that stuff until you've addressed the first and most important question: How will I inspire FEELINGS of confidence and euphoria in my students?

Or, as Sierra puts it, How will I help my students kick ass?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


by AJ

Im experimenting with Google ads at the top of this blog... possibly a way to earn a bit of food money and prevent starvation :) Luckily, by staying in Thailand, I can live very cheap.

Let me know what you think of this... if its too annoying, Ill take them off.


Effortless English Program: "Beta Version"

by AJ

OK, Ive finally worked out a preliminary system of sorts. This will likely change and evolve quite rapidly as I work with students and adapt to their needs (especially the pricing).

Effortless English: Distance Program. $49/month (2-4 students); $99/month (private student)

Will Include:

* A Skype conference once per week. (Conversation and discussion about readings and audio assignments). One Hour.

* Blog Rewrites. Student will write one page per week. Ill rewrite sections of their post using "standard American English". (ie. Focused rewrite technique).

* Articles, 2+ per week. All articles will include an audio version, explanations of key vocab/slang, and hyperlinks to related topics. "Articles" will also include recorded conversations and interviews. We'll discuss (and explain as necessary) the articles during the weekly Skype conference.

* Movie scenes. Each week, students will view a number of scenes from a specific movie. Ill provide transcripts for scenes, with explanations of key vocab, grammar, slang... and also hyperlinks to related topics. We'll discuss the scenes (and language used) during the Skype conference.

* Bookclub book. Students will complete one book per month... with weekly assignments for specific chapters. Ill copy excerpts from the chapters and explain key language usage... and add related hyperlinks. We'll discuss the book chapters during the Skype conference.

* FVR. Students will be encouraged to read for pleasure, and listen for pleasure as much as possible. Preferably everyday. Ill work with them to choose books suitably easy for their level.

* Coming soon.... Podcasts. Students will record speeches every week and post them to a blog. Ill listen to them, then record myself doing part or all of the speech using "standard American English". Ill send this recording to the student for listening and review.

* Coming soon... International Projects. All students will team with other students in different countries to complete projects and mini-projects.

Effortless English: Face To Face $169/mo (2-4 students). $299/mo (private student)

All of the above, plus:

* Two face to face class meetings a week (1.5 hours each). Semi-private.. max class size of 4.

* Completely customized courses. I'll design a unique course for each face to face class, based on their passions, interests, needs, and goals.

* Social programs, once per week+. Every week there will be outings, field trips, parties, etc. for students AND fluent speaking volunteers. The goal is to help students mingle with and make friends with fluent speakers.

* Mentor/volunteer program. Students will be teamed with one or more fluent mentor/volunteers... who will help them with tutoring, social contacts, day to day issues, etc.... whatever they agree on.

That's the bare bones.

"Beta Testing" starts soon !!!!

Great People

by AJ

You hear these cliches all the time:

"The Chinese symbol for 'crisis' and 'opportunity' is the same"

"You often discover people's true character during tough times"

They are cliches for a reason. I've had an encounter with these truths during the last few weeks. Following my firing, I've encountered a wealth of wonderful people. Many bloggers have given me support.. through emails, and by writing about me on their own blogs.

Students have deluged me with supportive emails.

Friends & bloggers have come forward with offers of help, money, accomodation, and support.

Just yesterday, I got an email from EFL Geek. He noticed my struggles with MP3 files and donated some of his own webspace to me! Aaron, in Kyoto, has likewise offered to donate an account for file storage. Recently, Aaron, and Mark White, graciously hosted me during my recent visit to Japan.

I've been inspired by these wonderful people. They have fired my passion and enthusiasm.

And they have shown me that this situation is, in fact, a tremendous opportunity.

Thank You to all the students, teachers, and bloggers who have given me such wonderful support. You are great!

Many Many Thanks!

Great Teachers

by AJ

From Weblogged (via Teacher In Development)

Ive been thinking a lot about what I learned from those three influential classroom teachers I had growing up. Not much of what I remember has anything to do with content. I mean I remember some of the assignments and exercises, sure. But what I remember most, and the reason theyre still with me today, was their passion for learning, their willingness to go beyond the text or topic, their senses of humour.

They were the smartest three teachers I had, not so much in what they knew about their subjects but in what they knew about learning. They were always talking about things theyd read, and about how those ideas had relevance in their lives. They were sincerely interested in what I had to say, to make sure I was "getting it," no doubt, but also because they seemed to want to understand their own learning more deeply. They would challenge me, but even more, I got the sense they wanted to be challenged back. As opposed to the worst teachers I can remember, the ones who knew everything and knew exactly what they wanted us to know, these teachers consistently modeled learning, not teaching.

My favorite quotes from the above:

"They were sincerely interested in what I had to say....."

Thinking back on my very long education, I can identify, MAYBE, two or three teachers who ever seemed interested in what I had to say. Most were obsessed with themselves. Most were crazy about conformity... about making sure we heard and memorized what THEY said. But very rare indeed is the teacher who listens to their students. And still rarer is the teacher who listens and then changes their approach according to what they hear.

.."their willingness to go beyond the text or topic"

This is absolutely essential in the field of language education. Yet most teachers are slaves to the book. They plow through the Oxford/Longman "language points" one by one.

This really hit home in one of my first year classes. There was a textbook lesson on the "passive voice", in which the passive voice was broken into 5 or 6 variations,... ie. "The book was opened by him. The book had been opened by him. The book will be opened by him". Each variation had a chart, a list of rules for its formation, etc.

I looked at my students. Most were struggling to develop a base of conversational competence. Most still had not mastered the simple past tense. Then I looked at the charts, rules, and obtuse examples related to the passive voice. And I thought, "This is goddam insane. No way Im teaching this". And I didnt.

"...their passion for learning..."

Is it a universal law that education must be boring? Was I absent the day they distributed the commandments of teaching? Apparently so.

The worst thing about traditional education, the damn tragedy, is that EVERYONE knows it sucks. The students know its boring. And the teachers know it too. Yet they plod along doing the same old thing, cause "thats always how its been done".

I always got annoyed when I heard teachers complaining about students. Common overheard complaints were: "They can't think for themselves. They are lazy. They won't take initiative. They have no enthusiasm."

Yet these same "lazy" students are often maniacs away from school. They aren't lazy when learning the ins and outs of their computer. They aren't lazy about learning music. They aren't lazy when it comes to experiences that are interesting and relevant to them.

Most students are "lazy" in school because they think most of school is boring and irrelevant. And, of course, they are right.

I got the sense they wanted to be challenged back

This is essential. Teachers improve by being challenged by their students. The great teachers I had in the past (a very tiny group) loved challenge. I still remember my High School Political Science teacher-- what an amazing lady. She loved debate. She believed in free speech and the Bill of Rights and she made that belief real in the classroom. She loved to be challenged by students. She didnt just teach ABOUT democracy, she helped us experience it.

But most teachers, and nearly all bureaucrats, are terrified of this. They talk of "keeping the students under control". They obsess over "classroom management". They seem to think the students are wild barbarians, just waiting for their chance to murder the teacher.

So they clamp down on any sign of dissent. They censor or expel "difficult" students. They simultaneously tell students to "think for yourself" while crushing any sign of disobedience.

After such treatment (for years), can you blame the students for being suspicious? Can you blame them for not cooperating with efforts to "get their opinions"?

The truth is, no matter how nice you think you are... they don't trust you. And if you want to earn their trust, you've got to bust your ass to undo years of oppression.

Its not easy and its not quick. But its worth it.

Which brings me to my own quote:

If you listen long enough and carefully enough, the students will teach you everything you need to know

Put succinctly once again:

Its the students, stupid!

The Carville Credo

by AJ

Recent events have strengthened my conviction. I've stirred a beehive of bureaucrats.. eager to sting me. I've shocked fellow teachers ("he seemed like such a nice guy"). I've inflamed the wrath of an army of administrators, staff, and teachers.

None of this surprises me. But my students have surprised me. There's been an amazing outpouring of support from them. Honestly, I expected them to shrug their shoulders and quickly move on. But they have not done this. Im getting more emails than I can quickly reply to. It seems the students are as positive as the TU apparatus is negative.

And honestly, thats what matters to me. I don't teach for the bureaucrats. I don't do it to bolster their egos or careers. I do it for the students and only for the students. Throughout my teaching experience I aim to adhere to one core credo. I call it the James Carville principle:

It's the students, stupid!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Custom Courses & The Online Course

by AJ

Ive finally figured out how Im going to do both my custom (ie. paying) courses and my online (free) courses.

In short, Im going to let the custom students subsidize the free online course. Each paying student (or small group, if they like) will get a course specifically designed for their needs and interests. Ill work with them to find authentic materials, create unique content, focus on specific needs, develop an individual learning plan, etc...

If they are located in my city, Ill meet with them face to face twice a week, and also have a Skype conference with them once per week. In sum, Ill give them as much individual attention and support as possible.

Once a custom course is developed... or as its developed... I'll add its materials to the Effortless English Intermediate website. Eventually, Ill work to coordinate Skype conferences, meetups, blogs, and international projects for the online students... perhaps in cooperation with the custom students.

While the online students will not get individually cutomized content (as I simply can't afford to do that for free), they will get a wealth of materials and connections.... which they should (hopefully) find much more interesting than commercial textbooks.

This is important to me. While I certainly need to make money in order to eat, live, travel, etc... I also feel a strong commitment to help students who cannot afford expensive courses. The online course will be a work in progress, but over time, I hope to grow it into something great!

PS: Looks like I may have my second student! Will meet with her this week to discuss options.

Just Say "Know"

by AJ

When asked what I would do if I were to become governor (of California) I replied: "As little as possible. Managing a state is like managing a baseball team. The function of the coach is to motivate, tutor, counsel, to promote team work. And, above all, to stay out of the limelight and let the performers be stars"
--Tim Leary

I like Leary's analogy. Translated to teaching it reads: "Let the students be stars". Counsel. Tutor. Motivate. Promote team work.

Thats a nice recipe for a teaching approach- one I more or less follow. Leary is right. In a baseball game, its the PLAYERS who do everything. They have to make the hits, make the plays, run the bases, get the outs. The manager cannot do these things for them. He shouts a little, guides a little, tweaks the rotation a little... and then sits on his ass and lets the players shine.

The managers job is to collect and develop talent... help the players reach their full potential individually, and as a team.

Its a good recipe for a different kind of teaching:

Let students be stars.

Help students kick ass.

Audio (MP3) Hosting?

by AJ

Help! Does anyone know of a reliable, and free, site for storing MP3 files? Ive started to record conversations and speeches for my course, and am trying to use Ourmedia. However, I have had a host of problems with that site.. and continue to have problems.

If you know of a better one, please comment!!!!

Here's a link to the lastest audio file Im having problems with:
AJ's Best Manager

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Star Wars!

by AJ

Marco Polo has made a couple of comments comparing my situation to a Star Wars drama (not meant as a compliment :)

Which got me to thinking about yet another course idea. Why not a course built around Star Wars? Of course, youd need a student or students who were fans of Star Wars.... you wouldnt shove this sort of thing onto students who were not fans of the movies.

But given that, there is an amazing array of things you could do with this topic. To start with, there are, of course.. the movies. Six of them. Thats plenty of authentic material for the movie technique. You could work your way through them one by one.... using them to teach language... and also discussing the various themes, lessons, etc.

Star Wars also offers a wealth of not-too-difficult reading material. There are, of course, books for each movie. But beyond that, there is a mammoth collection of pulp spinoffs.... small paperbacks with stories and characters set in the Star Wars fantasy universe. These books range in level.... and would be perfect for low intermediate and above students.

For natural English conversations... we could use interviews and discussions with the cast and crew. There are a wealth of interviews, "making of" documentaries, etc... to draw from. To supplement this, the teacher could easily discuss the movies with friends, record the conversations, and transcribe them.

Students could engage in international projects and collaborations with the legion of Star Wars fans around the globe. They could find and share links to various fan sites... print out related articles and posts.... and start their own individual or team fan blog (the teacher could do focused rewrites of the posts to help them improve writing).

In addition to in-class discussions, students could discuss aspects of the Star Wars phenomenon with fans around the world... using Skype conferences. They could conduct their own interviews, record them, and podcast them.

If timing and location were right, a field trip to a Star Wars convention would be a fantastic "midterm" or "final"... preferably one with an international (or at least English speaking) fan base.

Depending on student interest, this Star Wars course could eventually spin off in a number of directions. They could explore the actors, their lives, and their other work. They could focus on the topic of special effects. They could focus on cinematic techniques and film making. They could explore the theme of modern mythology. They could explore the films and myths that influenced Star Wars. They could focus on makeup and costumes. They could learn about astronomy.

Theres much much more... imagination is the limit. The point is to start from the vantage point of the student's interest and work from there. Most textbooks and courses do the opposite. They start from what the teacher/author thinks is necessary, then they try to coerce, trick, cajole, or intimidate the students into "being motivated".

A final note about all of my postings, including this one:

One size does not fit all. And that, quite obviously, applies to my approach as well. Will this sort of thing work in a big, formal school.... where grades and exams are required? Maybe not. While I certainly think it would work for the students... organizational rules would most likely prevent this sort of thing from being done (as so clearly illustrated by my recent experiences).

These ideas are best suited for teachers who have a great deal of autonomy... and very few organizational constraints: freelancers, part timers, entreprenuers, community ESL teachers, private tutors,... and the exceptional few who work for vibrant, innovative, creative schools.

For the rest, I offer my ideas in hopes a few of them might "click" and be usable to you.

Interview With Audio and Text

by AJ

During my recent visit to Kyoto, two of Aaron's classes interviewed me. They asked several very interesting questions and were very curious. I had a great time meeting with them.

Aaron has now downloaded the audio of the interviews and the transcripts. So students can read the interviews, and also listen to it to practice listening.

I especially encourage my BAS students to listen to the interviews. The Japanese students were very curious about you. They were excited to learn more about you, and to communicate with you. I hope you will listen to their questions, and go to the Kyoto-Project website and communicate with them.

Of course, this is no longer a "school project". But it is a chance to make new friends in a different country. Several of the Kyoto students showed an interest in visiting Thailand sometime. And theyd be happy to host a visiting Thai friend.

So, why not listen to the interview... and then go to the Kyoto-BAS site and leave a message. Theyll be very happy to hear from you :)

The Interview: http://e-poche.net/conversations/

The Kyoto-Thai Project Site: http://e-poche.net/sandai/login/index.php

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I Drank the Koolaid

by AJ

OK, I admit it. Im a fanatic... a raving fan... a koolaid drinker, when it comes to Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users site. This site has more to say about great education than any education site (or book) Ive ever read.

Id love to go through the entire site... replacing the words "user" with "student", "company" with "school", etc...

Her most recent post begins with a quote from Steve Jobs.... in which he talks about how great, super-cool, innovative ideas get ground down and destroyed in most organizations:

Here's what you see at a lot of companies (schools); you know how you see a show car (course idea) and it's really cool, and then four years later you see the production car (actual course), and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory!

What happened was, the designers (teachers/students) came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers (other teachers), and the engineers (other teachers) go, 'Nah, we can't do that. That's impossible,' And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people (administration), and they go, 'We can't build that!' And it gets a lot worse."

That pretty much sums it up. Sierra uses the term "grind off the sharp edges" to describe this process... whereby super-cool ideas are watered down, taken apart, run through focus groups, debated, criticized, and made "realistic".

But I see a very big positive in this post.... which is, its possible to break this process. The thing is, you dont do it through "reform". I knew better, but I joined a big organization anyway. Frankly, it was my mistake. One person against a giant tradition bound organization is no match at all.

But Jobs shows the way... and the way is to stop resisting and complaining.. or even subverting (my pointless activities, thus far) and get busy CREATING something on your own. When you shift to that approach, a feeling of power (and terror) surges through you. When you strike out on your own... there is no safety net (thus the terror). But there are also no more organizational obstacles. Its total accountability time.

And I love that. I love that I can now focus on DOING something rather than banging my head against a wall... trying to slip occaisional cool ideas under the bureaucratic radar (a skill Im clearly no good at :)

Sierra ends her post with this advice:

So have faith. When you're really really on to something magical, you can guarantee there will be devil's advocates, naysayers, and viscious critics every step of the way. Yes, sometimes those critics will be right, but if we aren't brave enough to fight through it when nobody knows for certain, then everything good will be stuck in the concept stage, and we'll be left with... all of the boring, undifferentiated, or lame products (courses, schools) we have now.

Or as my friend Chris is fond of saying, "Charge on!!!!"

Friday, October 21, 2005

First Student!

by AJ

Rock and Roll, I have my first student! Her name is Tomoe, and she lives in Osaka.

Tomoe is a thirty year old manager who works for a large Japanese company. She has a Masters degree in marketing.

She is now planning to get a Phd, and wants to study in Europe or America. Thus, she needs to improve her English in order to score well on the TOEFL and GMAT, and to prepare for graduate study in an English only program. Another goal for Tomoe is to improve in English in order to better communicate with her international friends.

I sat with Tomoe and together we developed a course outline. The course "title" will be "Visionary Management (English)". It will be formed around a book called "Built To Last" a "visionary management" business book that Tomoe read in Japanese, but wants to read in the original English. Tomoe bought the English version today.

My task now is to build a web of comprehensible input, confidence builders, and communicative activities around the topic of visionary management. As Im not a manager (much less a visionary).. Ive got a lot of hyper speed research to do (starting with reading "Built To Last").

My next step will be to search out related articles. Luckily, Tomoe is a fan of Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, and Tom Peters! (talk about synchronicity)! So Ive got a head start in that department.

Next, Ill look for audiobooks on this topic... maybe including an audioversion of Built To Last. Recordings of speeches by various visionary leaders might also be good sources. Ill transcribe the shorter ones myself.

Next, we'll choose some movies to work through. She said she'd like to start with Patch Adams, as she feels he was a visionary leader who challenged the medical field. Shes seen it many times with Japanese subtitles... a good start as this experience should help to make the English only version more comprehensible (Ill help too, of course).

We will communicate using Skype--- starting with our book/film club discussions and article reviews.

My next job will be to make some original recordings of conversations related to visionary management... perhaps starting with conversations between me and a friend.

Finally, Ill eventually try to get her writing on a blog... or Wiki... and will add my rewrites in the comments section of her posts.

Of course, all this is likely to evolve, but this is my starting plan.

I just hope I can pull off a consistently great course,.... because unlike at a school, there's no room for mediocrity.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


by AJ

A big appeal of the custom approach is that it allows for deep exploration of an issue or topic.

Factory schools are famous for their shallowness. They offer classes such as "Western Civilization".... in which 3000+ years of history are "covered" in one semester! Thats ancient Egypt to World War II in 16 weeks. Ive never understood the point of such courses.

So we'll go the other direction: depth. While customizing a course, Ill work with the student(s) to narrow the topic.

I agree with Dennis Littky, diving deep into a subject is much more powerful and useful than "surveying" a collection of 3000 years of trivia.

"The Beatles", for example, is a good course topic. Its focused enough to allow for deep exploration, and full enough to fill many months. "Western Music", on the other hand, is a recipe for boredom and disaster. Even "Rock & Roll" is probably too broad.

This approach could work for any subset of EFL. For example, instead of a generic "Business English" course, why not classes such as "Apple, Inc", "Ass Kicking Presentations", or "How to squash innovation and demotivate people: The GM story". The same vocabulary and grammar could be "covered"... but in a far more engaging and relevant way.


by AJ

I want to take the custom education approach as far as I can. While Ill continue to develop basic principles, Ive decided to have no pre-set courses.

Rather, I will custom design courses for 1-4 students at a time, based on their unique interests and desires.

How might this work? The first step will be an assessment... an assessment designed not only to measure their English level, but to explore their interests, passions, goals, and desires.

Ill then design a course around these. For example, imagine a couple of intermediate level students whose stated priority is to work on pronunciation. They like movies, hiking, and reading... and they are huge Beatles fans.

So, I design a Beatles course, with an emphasis on pronunciation. Id use Beatles songs for pronunciation and vocab acquisition. Id interview other Beatles fans (fluent speakers), record and transcribe the interviews, and use them for conversation input. Id find audiobooks about the Beatles (Shout, etc.) and we would all listen to them in installments, then discuss them. Id use the movie technique with Beatles movies (Help!, A Hard Days Night,...). Wed read articles about the Beatles, interviews with them, reviews of their albums.... and Id make audio versions of each of these.. either by recording my own voice, or using Talkr software.

Each week, the students would record a podcast speech about some aspect of the Beatles.... Id then record myself doing the same speech (more or less), to provide comprehensible input and standard (American) pronunciation of the speech. The student would listen to my recording several times.

Our tiny group would form a Beatles book and film club. Outside class, wed read books about the Beatles, and watch movies about them (their movies, documentaries, etc.)... then meet once a week to discuss them.

The students would create "fan" blogs (one team blog, or individual blogs). Theyd connect their MP3 podcast files to the blog, write about whatever they wanted to, use Talkr to listen to what they wrote, and comment on other blogs.

If their level was closer to low intermediate, Id create TPR Stories using The Beatles and the students as characters. I might slip difficult pronunciation practice into the story (ex. lots of "r's" and "l's"), but would not draw attention to these points.

Finally, Id work with the students to develop an international project related to the Beatles... help them connect to fans in other countries (using Skype, etc.).

Of course, during the course, Id solicit additional ideas from the students.

There are enough boring factory schools that claim that "one size fits all". I plan to go to the opposite extreme-- total customization.

(PS: And while Ill be operating on a very small scale, it is possible for this approach to work on a larger one. See The Met School for an example).

The Myth of Objectivity and Professional Distance

Without really talking to students the best you can hope for is to meet their expectations. You won't be able to craft that extra special magic that makes them passionate if you don't talk (and listen) to them.
-- Kathy Sierra

There seems to be an unwritten rule in teaching that you must keep a "professional distance" from students. Seemingly the worst possible thing to do in most schools is to "side with the students". You arent supposed to listen to the students. You certainly are not supposed to ask them what they want. And you are NEVER to modify the syllabus in order to give them what they want.

This is one of those models that can only work in academia. Can you imagine a business run this way? Or a non-profit? Ie. "Whatever you do, dont get too close to the customer and dont please the customer!"

Yet, if you change "customer" to "student" youve got an accepted educational maxim.

Is it just me, or is something wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Internal Obstacles

by AJ

I just visited the Wisdom21 English school, in Osaka. Unfortunately, only the receptionist was there when I visited, so I wasnt able to interview anyone. However, I picked up some of their materials-- very interesting. Its clear that they are different... not your run of the mill language school.

Wisdom21s literature states 2 goals for their program:

1. Guide students in overcoming the cultural and internal obstacles to mastering English.

2. Exercise their intellects with challenging, thought-provoking, and in-depth discussions on topics of global importance.

Wait, I thought this was supposed to be a school... what's all this nonsense about challenges and thinking!!

But seriously. Im particularly impressed by their first goal- because "non linguistic" factors are so very important and so very neglected by most programs. I agree that this should be goal number 1, because it is indeed the first factor that MUST be addressed. If students are anxious, bored, unmotivated, disengaged emotionally, etc.... they arent going to learn much. If their confidence is low- they wont attempt communication in the target language.

Therefore, job number 1 is confidence! Before "i+1", before linguistic factors, before methodology... weve got to build students' confidence; and simultaneously weaken their fears, doubts, and anxieties.

And what is THE secret to building confidence? Success!

Blaine Ray puts it this way:

Success motivates students. The teacher guarantees success!

Thats the opposite to what most schools do. They guarantee mediocrity or failure for 80%; of their students.

They destroy confidence with direct error correction (totally ineffective), impossible exams, and obtuse grammar rules that confuse most native speakers. After a few of these sorts of courses, most students are convinced that they are "no good at English". Ive lost count of the number of students who have told me that.

Wisdom21 has it right. We must obssess over our students EMOTIONAL experiences. To be effective, we must "overcome the cultural and internal obstacles to mastering English". More than that, we must inspire euphoric, enthusiastic, bold, confident, and successful contact with the target language.

Creating Passionate Users puts it this way (more or less):

Your job is to help the student kick ass!

and also:

Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.

Interactive Stories

by AJ

My visit to Kyoto has been a great success. I met two fantastic teachers, who have inspired me to try to "up my game".

One of these teachers was Marc White. Marc has developed a technique called Interactive Stories. It has some similarities to TPR Storytelling... and also reminds me of Las Puertas Retorcidas (a book Kristin and I are using to learn Spanish).

Rather than teach using tired old pattern drills, "language point" memorization, and the like,... Marc teaches English through interactive stories. He embeds important language points in the stories, but does not focus on them explicitly.

Marc is currently writing a long story called "Waterworld" to use with his classes. Each chapter of Waterworld contains a stress on a certain language point or points. Each chapter is interactive. Throughout the story, questions are embedded... so that the student helps shape the story.

For example, Marc might say, "There is a Japanese girl. She is in the Andes Mountains, but wants to sail to Japan. She gets on a sailboat. Has she ever been on a sailboat before?" At this point, the student(s) answer.... Marc follows up with more questions, "OK, she has. When was she on a sailboat? Why?"... etc....

Marc ran me through a sample chapter and it was fantastic. Hes very creative, so he's fashioned a very compelling and interesting story, complete with cliff hangers at the end of each chapter.

Once the teacher has taken the students through the story, the students tell it to one another. They may read it, narrate it, ask and answer questions, and shape it to their own tastes.

Unfortunately, I dont have enough time in Kyoto to observe one of his classes in action. But he reports that the technique has worked very well with his Japanese students.

For more information, see English Conversations.

Linguistics vs. Language

by AJ

The problem with most language programs is that they do not teach the target language.

Rather, they teach amatuer linguistics. Students memorize grammar "rules" (many incorrect, from a strict linguistics standpoint), they analyze the structure of the language, they compare the language to their own native language... They draw incredibly complicated sentence diagrams. They learn the names of verb tenses, parts of speech, types of clauses, and various other "structures".

After years of this type of instruction-- their linguistics knowledge exceeds that of most native speakers.

Problem is, they can't actually communicate with the language.

If the goal of schools is to create an army of amatuer English linguists, they are indeed doing a great job.

But the stated goal of most programs is acquisition of and communication with the target language.

On that point, they are failing miserably.

Perhaps teacher education is to blame. EFL teachers typically receive a tremendous amount of linguistics training (especially the non-native speakers). Thats fine, I suppose, but most make the mistake of trying to reproduce this education with their students.

And so we get students whove studied a language for six years, can quote grammar texts, and are absolutely terrified to use the language.

My advice to language teachers (including myself) is to leave linguistics to Noam Chomsky... and focus your efforts on the practical acquisition and use of the target language.

Blogging Perils and Benefits

Top-down messaging is losing its effectiveness as consumers vote with their browser to go directly to the unfiltered voice of people like them.

Simply put, we're starting to trust what executives say less and what employees say more.

Markets are conversations, not speeches. People want to hear from real people, not remote authority figures.

So I got fired for blogging. Some may take this as a cautionary tale. Theyll say, "see, youve got to be careful what you write". Theyll take this as further proof that playing it safe is the best strategy. Theyll decide "its just not worth the price".

I think such conclusions are both wrong and dangerous. For one, the rewards Ive gained from blogging FAR outweigh the "price" of losing a job. Ive learned more about teaching this semester than in the past three years combined... and most of that learning came as a result of blogging consistently.

Through blogging, I vented my frustrations, identified problems, brainstormed ideas, shared disasters, shared successes, reflected deeply on my practice, and... most importantly,... connected with a network of incredibly skilled and innovative teachers/thinkers.

Jobs come and go.. but the skills and ideas Ive developed through blogging cannot be "terminated" by an employer. Im a far better teacher now than I was before-- that increased skill is my "career security". The better I get, the easier it is for me to attract students or other opportunities.

Seth Godin is right... what is truly risky is playing it safe. People who play it safe end up stuck in the same position for 10 years, doing exactly the same thing. They become ordinary, boring, dull. Then, after 20 years of faithful service, they get "downsized" or "encouraged" to "retire" early. Ive seen it so many times...

I lost a job because of blogging. So what. English Teaching jobs are incredibly easy to get.

What isnt easy is to become remarkable. For that is my goal. I dont want to be a "good" teacher... I want to be great. I want to inspire euphoria.

Blogging is my primary means of pushing towards that goal.

Already, Ive gained far more than the "price" I paid.

My message to other bloggers, therefore, is to keep blogging openly.

Be transparent-- and be bold!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BAS Projects

by AJ

BAS Class:
Today I visited your international project team mates and showed them your "hello" video. They were very happy to see you. They asked me many questions about you. And they hope you will continue to communicate, make friends, and do a small project with them. I recorded them on video... I will show you the video when I get back to Thammasat,.. maybe we could meet at a coffee shop.

I also hope you will continue to do a project with them. Please visit the project website every week!!

This week, they will be asking you questions about Thailand, Thai culture, and your personal interests. Please respond to them...

And please ask them questions about their culture and life.

Aaron put you all in groups, so click on the groups and find the one you are in... and post your questions there (and answer questions there). Also, you can continue to post information and questions in the social forum.

Aaron's classes interviewed me today... and we recorded the interview. Aaron and I will edit the interview, type the transcript, and then put both the audio and transcript on the internet.

So you will be able to listen to the questions they asked me... and to my answers!

Good luck. Though I am no longer working at TU, I will continue to help you with your projects and blogs if you want. Ill continue to check your blogs. I will comment to those of you who continue writing. If you want help with essay writing, tell me on your blog... then write one essay a week. I will re-write part of the essay in the comments section (so you can see how I would do it using standard English).

Take care... and keep learning. The projects you do on your own,... and the friends and contacts you make outside of class... will be more important to you in the future than the exams. So I encourage you-- continue with the projects. Continue to make contacts with people in other countries. Continue to read English books (anything) for pleasure.

Good luck!! And stay in touch!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tom Peters on Dramatic Difference

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.
--Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple

If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.
-- General Eric Shinseki, US Army

Two great quotes from Tom Peters "Dramatic Difference" presentation. Very much fit my ideas on the future of teachers as free agents and freelancers.

You have to wonder, how long before the traditional dinosaurs feel the squeeze. Maybe Im wrong. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe schools and language programs will continue to get by doing the same damn thing forever. Maybe they wont become irrelevant.

But I dont think so. Here's what I see on the horizon:

Distance learning opens up a whole new ballgame for schools. Your hometown university now finds itself in direct competition with schools all over the world. Why study English, for example, with the local bureaucracy- when video streaming, free international phone calls (with video and great sound), vast resources, distance learning software, online communities, online libraries, online audio files, one on one mentoring, course customization, and a respected degree can be had from better programs elsewhere... all from the comfort of your own home-- at a cheaper price!

Students will no longer be stuck with the paltry choices limited by local geography. Theyll have a massive array of customized programs to choose from.

Will the traditional bureaucracies fall apart? I doubt it. But I think they will lose a significant number of top students... and increasingly get stuck with the less motivated, less skilled, less autonomous, and less interested (ie. become the K-Marts of education). Doesnt sound like a fun teaching situation to me.

Most educators, for some reason, seem to think they will be immune from the sweeping changes that have rocked the manufacturing, service, communications, and business world. While those folks fight for their lives to catch up and race ahead... education plods along in 19th century industrial mode.

The thinking seems to be, "We've got a monopoly that no one can touch. We've created a system that makes the student completely dependent on us for grades and a degree (in order to get a job)... so we can do whatever we want. Why change? We've got it made. "

But this ignores, I think, some looming challenges.

One: Many businesses,... the ones on the cutting edge of change, are increasingly dis-satisfied with the education system. Read books and blogs by Info Technology folks-- its impossible to ignore the glaring contempt they have for traditional schools. Their field demands innovative, bold, project-oriented decision makers; what they get from education are timid conformists terrified of standing out. How long before these companies look elsewhere for their talent?

And when a degree from Boring U. no longer ensures a great job... how long before students look elsewhere? How long before the only ones applying are those content to work in old-school dying markets (paper shufflers, clock punchers)?

I honestly have no idea.... but my gut tells me, sooner than we may expect.

The Jerry McGuire Business Plan

by AJ

OK.... here it is... off the cuff version 1.0 of my "mission statement":

1. Euphoria and insane quality over standardization and quantity

One student. More would be nice, but ONE is all I need. I will take that one student as far as they can go with the English language. One student, a coffee shop, and a free internet connection. Thats my startup plan. I will eat, drink, live and breathe with one thing in mind... help that student kick ass with English.

2. Coach, not "teacher"

No to: boss, authority, expert, boring lecturer, exams, grades, rules, textbooks, standardization, one size fits all, "teaching", tradition and convention, grammar-drill-translation, pain and boredom...

Yes to: close relationships, custom built authentic materials, custom built learning plans, manic focus on "non-linguistic factors" (emotion, experience, confidence, social ties), extreme individualization, "coaching", mutual learning, research proven, comprehension and communication, pleasure and euphoria....

3. Total Accountability

Traditional education is nearly devoid of accountability. Admin. holds teachers accountable for paperwork, observing bureaucratic rules, appearing "professional", observing working hours, following a dress code, "legal considerations", meetings, etc.

But there's virtually no accountability to students. In past jobs, whether the students actually learned or not, whether they were satisfied or not, or whether they gained proficiency in the language or not were not accountable factors. Amazingly, no one seemed to care. No measures of student expectations and needs. No accountability for increasing their level of language acquisition. Run a boring, confidence sucking, ineffective class... using methods known to be inferior (by the bulk of research, (direct error correction, grammar translation,...)-- and no one minds (except the students!).

Plan-- reverse this model. Total accoutability to the student... and only to the student.

The student pays only if completely satisfied. Most schools require payment up front... Ill accept it at the end of each month's instruction with the following commandment: thou shalt pay me only if you feel you got your money's worth.. only if I delivered on my promises and only if you feel you increased your acquisition of English. If you are partially satisfied, you may give me a partial payment at your discretion. Not satisfied- do not pay.

A viable way to do business? I'll find out. Does it make me accountable (in an "excel or starve" kind of way)? Absolutely.

4. No advertising

Honestly, I have no idea if Seth Godin and Tom Peter's ideas are sound business. What matters to me is that they appeal to my temperment.

Therefore-- no advertising. The marketing plan: create something remarkable! So remarkable that students feel compelled to talk about it. So remarkable that they feel compelled to drag their friends and family to the program.

Ill call this the Vipassana approach. Goenka's vipassana courses do not charge a fee... they ask only that students donate at the end of the course "what they think it was worth" (and what they can reasonably afford). Furthermore, no one asks you for these donations when the course is over... there is a desk, and you go there and make a donation if you like.

There is no advertisement for the course. No magazine ads. No flyers announcing the next one. No billboards. Nothing.

Yet he's built a worldwide network of centers with this approach-- simply because the course is absolutely remarkable.

5. Find amazing deviants

My ideal students... the ones I want, are the super-freaks. These are the ones who have a compelling reason to learn English beyond "the school says I must study it". Focus on learners with an autonomous streak.... potential entreprenuers, independents, those dis-satisfied with the traditional educational system.

Experiences at TU suggest this group is quite large.... larger than many educators believe.

Experiences in America suggest that millions of immigrants fit this description.

6. Never Arrive

Non-stop evolution. Never arrive at THE approach or THE method. Always innovating, always experimenting, always incorporating new technological tools and new research,...

A software development mentality... endlessly putting out new versions of the "effortless curriculum". Forever beta testing.

An open source mentality... students as course developers, students as materials creators, students as teachers, students as business partners.

Total transparency.... it all goes on the blog- failures, doubts, success stories, disasters, genius ideas.... No closed source "secret curriculum". Passionate engagement with excellent teachers and thinkers...

Obsessed with feedback (from students, from teachers, from passionate enemies, from raving converts).

7. Learning, Evoloution, Transformation

Learning, not teaching, is priority number one. Seek strange and wild sources: blogs, books, personal contacts, students, teachers, deviants. Read far and wide outside the field of TESOL (where the best ideas come from). Know the research! Focus on research aggregators (Krashen, Trelease, etc.) to stay aware.

Always and forever a language learner. Always and forever a "student-teacher".

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I'll Be Back

by AJ

Finally, a break. I am leaving on a much need vacation... and during that vacation, I will turn off my cell phone and uplug from the computer. No blogging. No internet.

For Students: Ive added a few articles to the online intermediate course.. if you'd like to get an early start, read through the articles a few times, and listen to each audio a few times. For writing practice, try writing your reactions to the articles in the comments.

This is just a skeleton. Ill put more on the site once Im back. And will start accepting requests to join the E-Club class (max of 4 people).

For BAS class: We DO have class on Monday October 10th. You will give a speech about a difficult esperience. We do NOT have class on Monday October 17th. We DO have class on October 24th (Univ. holiday).

While Im gone, check the Kyoto-BAS project site for homework. Aaron will be putting you into teams... and he will post required activities/homework on the site's calendar. Please check it every 2-3 days.

Keep blogging, at least one page per week. For those of you not posting regularly to your blog, and/or not commenting.... I do notice :) I also notice when you are not in class :)

Monday the 31st is Halloween. Your speech will be about a scary or frightening experience in your life. Remember, start right away with a SPECIFIC experience (There I was....). After the speeches, we will have a Halloween Party! Bring candy, drinks, music, makeup, etc. You can make me up as a monster if you want :)

For everyone: Have a great two weeks. I'll be back around the 24th of October.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Magic of Small

by AJ

There's plenty of research to back it up. Its something we all know intuitively. Its something most teachers and most students want. And yet, no one acts on this knowledge.

What I'm referring to is small classes. (woops, should be "are small classes"... see, even native speaking English teachers make grammar mistakes)! There is one instant & super-simple way to improve education... at every level, in every country, and in every setting: get smaller. Will this guarantee remarkable excellence? No. Has it been shown to increase effectiveness, satisfaction, and quality with absolute consistency everytime its tried? Yes.

In education, small is indeed beautiful.

This really hit home to me this week, as I ploughed throw stacks of exam papers. How could I possibly know each of these students on a personal level-- their strengths, their goals and desires, their work, their challenges? Simply put, I can't. And I don't like that.

So when I set out designing my own Effortless English Online Club (ie. class).. I decided to keep it small. Very small.

I will start, next semester, with a maximum of 4 students. Those four will get my full attention. I will get to know them very very well, they will get to know me very well, and they will get to know each other very well.

Each of these four students will design, in consultation with me, their own learning plan. No one-size-fits-all. No rules. No exams.

They will work together on projects. They will come together for book & film discussions. They will write and comment on each other's writing. They will share contacts, ideas, resources, friends, tutors, mentors.

I don't want to create a "class". Im aiming to create an English-learning tribe.

In the future, Id like to go farther with this. Id like to dress these tribes (or clubs or classes) with a "Tong aesthetic" (to use Hakim Bey's words);... tiny "secret societies" dedicated not only to learning English; but also to collaboration, mutual promotion, subversion of the traditional education system, and whatever other projects the members choose to undertake.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Econ 341

Gibb just emailed the pictures from our last class. Great job Gibb and thanks.

I loved this class. You all were fun, eager.... and had the best attendance of all my classes. I had a great time teaching you. Thank You!

And please stay in touch. In November I will start an online course (students near Ta Prachan Bangkok will also meet in person)-- one I will teach completely my way... without any interference from Thammasat!

I will only be accepting about four students, so interested students must apply (by emailing me). But the good news is that its FREE (at least this semester :)!!

Good luck to all of you, and please stay in touch by email.... or via my blog!

Kyoto-Thai Project Launched

by AJ

Well, our first international project has launched. Students in my Bangkok-based "BAS" class will be collaborating with students in Aaron's Kyoto-based class.

We are using Moodle to host and focus the project; and I am quite happy with the software. Of course, Aaron is doing all the Moodle work, so it is easy for me to enjoy it!

This week, students are joining the Moodle site, uploading their pictures, and entering self-introductions in the social forum. This is the "getting to know each other" phase.

Next, the students (or the teachers) will form project teams. Every team will be international; it will include a mixture of Thai and Japanese students. Because of this, there is no need to make English a "requirement". Rather, English is the most practical and useful language for the students to communicate with.

The end goal for each team will be to research a topic of their choice and then create an online presentation about it. Every project must be capable of supporting comments, so that other students can provide feedback.

Possibilities include: Wikipedia pages, Team Blogs, Our Media projects, Podcasts, etc.

Students will communicate and collaborate via Moodle forums, email, chats, blogs, and Skype (free international calls).

There will be challenges adn learning experiences, but I am very excited about the potential of these kinds of projects.

After all, isn't this EXACTLY the purpose most of them state for studying English? Isn't this how "World English" is used in the "real world"? To communicate with people from other countries. To collaborate on multi-national projects.

Isn't this far superior to memorizing "language points", doing "group work" with students in the same class (and of the same nationality); and taking exams?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


by AJ

This blog finally has audio. I found a very easy way to create audio files of all my blog posts.. Im using a site called Talkr.

So now students can practice listening by clicking on the audio link at the bottom of each post. The voice is a computer voice, so there may not be much emotion. But the pronunciation is clear.

I suggest the following system: print a post, read it a couple of times, look up any unknown words which seem important to understanding, then listen to the post a few times.

If you feel your listening skills are low, first try listening and reading at the same time. If your skills are higher, just listen, without reading.

Good luck!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Super Students

by AJ

Today we had our midterm presentations and award ceremony for the BAS class. Many students are doing a great job.

Here are the award winners:

Best Student: Hiroshi (1st), Ploy & Ploy (both, tie, 2nd)

Best Midterm Presentation: Tong (1st), Ploy (not real name) (2nd)

Most Improved: Hiroshi (1st), Tip & Pum (tie, 2nd)

Best Reader: Nice (1st), Hiroshi (2nd)

Best Blogger: Tip (1st), Tong & Hiroshi (tie, 2nd)

Best Project Team Member: Pum (1st), Blue (2nd)

Best Listener: Jenny & Tong (tie, 1st), Ploy & Koy (tie, 2nd)

Most Enthusiastic: Ploy (real name, 1st), Nice & Ploy & Job (tie, second)

Congratulations to all of you!! Great job... thanks for inspiring all of us!

Individuality Rules!

by AJ

That's an image copied from a great Creating Passionate Users post.

And here's a quote from the same post:

And we can all have our own interpretation of the word "team"--at what point does a reasonably small, synergistic group building and adding to one another's strengths turn into an idea-crushing, groupthink team? That depends... very few good novels are written by more than one person. Perhaps for novels, two is the maximum, and even that's pretty rare. And we all recognize that indie films today tend to be of much higher storytelling quality than the watered-down major studio films where there's often a huge gap between "the director's cut" and the final release edit.

I agree. Teamwork is tricky. And the trick is creating a team that draws on the creativity and intelligence of the members... without demanding that everyone think and do the same. Good teams are full of crazy... and sometimes disagreeable.. individuals. Bad teams are full of people who are all the same.. in which everyone agrees on everything.. and everyone is forced to do the same thing.

And some pursuits, such as writing, simply work best when done individually. I think teaching is one of those.... I would never want to teach with another teacher in the classroom. And I HATE to have ideas imposed on me from "the department" team, or the "university" team. Those are bad teams.

However, there are other ways to do this... to take advantage of the good aspects of teamwork in teaching. My "team", for example, includes my best friend Kristin, and a handful of teacher-bloggers scattered around the world. I draw on their intelligence. They sometimes draw on mine. We comment on each other's ideas and make suggestions. But nobody imposes anything (indeed, no one could even if they wanted to). Our "team" is a connected network with absolutely no authority or control. It is, essentially, a big brain we can all plug into whenever we like. And just as importantly, we can unplug from it whenever we like.

My department at "work" is the opposite. They impose rules, syllabi, exams, and other bullshit... and there is little to no exchange of ideas. Its completely based on authority and control (though luckily the control is quite loose). If I joined that team... shared my ideas with it.. I would not benefit. Rather, I would be crushed. My enthusiasm would be drained. My creativity would be killed. I would be forced to "morph" into the groupthink... in other words, forced to teach like everyone else.

Mediocrity would be the result. Boredom would be the result.

It is paramount to avoid those sorts of teams....

The best teams are those that are self-created &/or self-chosen... and which have no authority control mechanisms.

Big bureaucracies-- No! Big brains-- Yes!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Worn Out

by AJ

Id forgotten how much energy it takes to teach a beginners class. Ive grown lazy with my Thammasat students... who usually understand well if I slow down and explain only the most difficult vocabulary.

But today I taught an outside adults class.. for beginners. I taught two three hour classes back to back and I am worn out! Damn.....

Of course, Im not content to sit there and read out of a damn textbook. Instead, I used TPRS (TPR Storytelling).... the "language point" (how I detest that phrase) today was supposed to be giving directions. So I first ran through the basics with drawings and TPR... ie. "Turn left. Turn right. Go straight. Intersection. etc. etc. "

Once the students understood the vocab, I launched into a two part story. I am (very) slowly getting better at TPRS.. (progress is slow because I rarely use it with my TU students). I used to just make up a story myself, then tell it to them (more or less) word for word. Id act it out, and retell it several times.

This time, I did a much better job. I asked lots and lots of questions to a)repeat the key vocab alot, and b) let the students shape the story. This way is more effective and its easier too... as I didnt need to think of a story ahead of time. I just set a scene and see where we go with it.

I set the scene as follows: "There is a guy. His name is AJ. He is riding a motorcycle on the street......"

I then ask questions to repeat the vocab/grammar in different contexts. For example:
"Is there a girl?" (Students shout-- "No). "Is there a guy"... "Yes!". "Is the guy named Bill?" (No). "Is his name Jim?" (No). What is his name? (AJ)

Is he riding a bike (No). Is he driving a car? (no). Is he riding a motorcycle? (Yes)..... etc,.....

Notice that I try to start with Yes/No questions.. which are the easiest.... then work up to more open ended questions (such as "What is his name?").

Then I ask questions to move the story ahead:
"Is he driving fast or slow?" (a student yells, "slow"). OK, AJ is riding a motorcycle slow. Where is he riding it? (On a road). Is he riding on Ratchadamnern Rd? (NO!). Is he riding on Samsen Rd? (NO!). What road is he riding on? (On Nut Rd!, someone shouts). OK, AJ is riding a motorcycle slowly on On Nut Rd.

And on and on. In this story, students described my route to a bank (He turns left, he goes straight, etc....). I then broke into it and robbed it. Police came and I pulled an M16 on them. But I got scared and ran. Students then described my getaway route (He runs straight. He goes through the intersection. He goes to EGV. He goes up the stairs... ). In the end I jump off the roof and break my legs and arms. But a beautiful Japanese nurse mends me back to health.

In addition to constantly asking questions.... I act out the action. In classic TPRS the students act out the story. But Ive found that most Asian students are too embarrassed to do this... it seems to work much better if I do it.

This was a long story, so we told it in two parts. After we finished part one (with me, the macho American, pulling out my M16)... I retold it several times (constantly asking questions to prompt them for what happens next). Then I had the students tell the story to each other. Then they elected two "star students" to retell the story in front of the class (sometimes with their own embellishments and variations). After all this, we moved on to Part II to conclude the story.. and repeated the whole process again.

And so they practiced "giving directions".. but never had to resort to "repeat after me" drills, or reading from a textbook, or other asinine and boring routines.

And the thing is, I had a better time too. I love creating and acting out the stories with them. I love running, jumping, shouting, and hamming it up.

The only "downside".. if you could call it that... is that its damn hard to sustain this for six hours in a row. Luckily my normal teaching schedule is much lighter!

Now please excuse me... I need a nap.