Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

November 22, 2014
by leesensei

Inspiration and Validation…ACTFL 2014

2014ACTFLImagine going to a conference on your own. Imagine trying to figure out who is key to listen to and who you should seek out. A daunting task at best. Then try going to a conference as someone who participates in the #langchat PLN. You may not have met these people in the flesh – but faces are familiar and everyone is so darn happy to meet other people – its like you’re there with a crew! My first ACTFL – WOW.  I was talking to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell before she started her session and I said “Inspiration and Validation” and that’s what it’s meant to me. The chance to see, listen to and talk with so many great people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on ACTFL 2014:

Inspiration  – Shelter the Vocabulary – Not the Grammar – the awesome Carol Gaab continued to build upon ideas that Amy Lenord has been sending my/our way (no Vocab lists) by pounding home the idea that we should be sheltering the vocabulary – not the way to express it that they need. Carol said to focus on high-frequency vocabulary and use an appropriate text to keep reintroducing those words to allow students to make connections. But – if they need the grammar to communicate – give it/use it. After all, who ever said to a 4 year old  “sorry but you can’t learn/use that until next year and I’ve explained how to construct it!”?  If they need it, can use it – let them have it!  I’ve already taken this idea in a new unit with my Yr 1′s and concocted 3 mini-stories for my students to use in exploring their current unit – using a class character that we love to put into interesting situations.

Inspiration  – Throw Out the Vocabulary Quiz – When a room is packed out at 5:15 on a Saturday you know this is a hot topic. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (a #langchat moderator) challenged us to think about the usefulness of the traditional “Here’s a word now write it in the Target Language” quiz. Really – how many times has a kid been able to produce it on the Friday quiz but never really use it/learn it after that. It is, Sara-Elizabeth emphasized, the myriad of connections to a word that makes it meaningful and useful to us. Instead of asking for the word for black – give a more open question “what colour is a panda?” I tried this already with my Yr2′s on various town locations. I asked “where can you hang out with friends?”  – and got responses that were meaningful to my students. I have a full post coming on my first experiments with this!

Inspiration  – Untextbooking - This was a recurrent theme in more than one presentation and,  judging by the attendance, a movement that is growing. I even tweeted that I wouldn’t be investing in textbook futures if I had seen the enthusiasm in many rooms for this. Why? Those who advocated for it did not shy away from the fact that leaving the textbook can initially mean more ‘work’ for the teacher. But the benefits  – flexibility, choice, relevance and more – seem to far outweigh what it takes to convert. I will admit that many of my units, and initial structures I taught, came from textbooks – but ‘untextbooking’ seems to be a way to go beyond someone else’s definition of ‘what a student should know. I’m getting there!

Validation – Focus on Summative Learning -  a fast paced presentation from Sam and Steve in  Alpine SD in Utah. They snuck in a clip of comedian Gerry Dee’s show (who was a teacher) and his ‘marking system’ for good measure – loved the home-grown Canadian touch (honestly I dare you to watch the clip and not see a bit of yourself in it). What was the validation – that the key and the goal should be “can they do what I want them to be able to do?”. They score a lot but only grade the summatives. Their freedom to innovate in their  middle school environment is enviable but there are definite take-aways for me. I note that this year there is most of my weight on the summative evaluations and not much weight on the formative – I liked their rationale – I’m on the right path.

Validation – Focus on Interactive Purposeful Communication – Carrie Toth, a nominee for Teacher of the Year, made even more impressive for me with her admission that her district/school has no tech – and that their tech guy doesn’t want them to use it (think computers with floppy disk drives!). What her presentation validated for me is the focus on communication – and the ‘real’ student to student interaction. One example that she used was that of a debate. It was the way that she structured the time – similar to how I do in my debate unit. She provided many examples of how she has her students use the language to accomplish a task – not just to ‘speak it’. This is also my goal in class – ‘language to ‘do’ rather than to ‘study’ – an awesome presentation (link here)

langchat team in action

The #langchat team selfie!

Validation – #langchat – When ACTFL Board Member Thomas Sauer crashes your session, stands up before the group and says “#Langchat – listen to these people” – you know that you are on to something good!  What a privilege to actually meet and interact with almost all of the #langchat moderators and thank them for the role that they have played in my teaching. We presented to a great group – sharing the ‘why’ and ‘how-to’ of belonging to the #langchat community. The other validation #langchat provided wasn’t about the presentation itself. I don’t know if this conference would have been the same without #langchat – the PLN. Although I traveled to this on my own, I got the chance to connect with so many fellow #langchat-ers that it felt like I was attending with a whole group. It was so awesome to put real faces to Twitter profiles and get a chance to meet (and thank) those I share with daily on Twitter. If you are thinking of attending a big conference such as this you’ll be surprised how many #langchat-ers you will get to see (and wearing the Tshirt doesn’t hurt!)

Finally I leave you with 2 of my other biggest lessons learned at ACTFL 2104. One – Comfortable shoes! You will walk and walk and walk – and run sometimes – to sessions to get into the room! Be prepared! Great shoes will be a necessity in your bid to make it to a workshop on time. The second lesson? Twitter rocks! I found people, shared ideas and learned about sessions I couldn’t attend all through the great tweeting of so many attendees. Many are part of the #langchat PLN (see above!). Twitter – get on it and get using the #langchat hashtag – you won’t regret it!

I may not make San Diego (budgeting etc) but I am aiming for a return visit ASAP. Thanks ACTFL!


November 17, 2014
by leesensei

Opportunity, Advocacy, Connecting: My First ACTFL Conference

actfl_newOkay – I’m excited and a little bit nervous. Why? Well I’m off for my first big, really big, languages conference ACTFL 2014 (American Council on the Teachers of Foreign Languages) in San Antonio Texas. It’s the largest teaching conference I’ve ever attended, and my opportunity to hear and learn from some amazing teachers. Nervous also as I am helping to present the benefits of the #langchat PLN on Saturday (10am) to people who are interested in learning how Twitter can be a great source of Pro-D. I’m not nervous about presenting the information but I’m excited/nervous about the opportunity to meet my #langchat co-moderators in person. They are people who I look up to and respect but have never actually physically met before. What are they like in person? Are they taller than me or not? What do they sound like? Questions Questions! It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Opportunity – I’m so excited to be able to attend workshops to learn. One of the thrills of a conference is to be able to hear and ask questions of someone who is doing something that you hope to one day be able to do. It’s the energy and the confidence of presenters that often help to carry me into a new way of thinking and doing. Information I get at any time but it’s the personal input, the stories and the ‘cheerleading’ that makes all the difference and a conference is a great way to charge the batteries!

Advocacy – It’s no secret I am a big big #langchat fan. It has revolutionized my teaching and made me a way better teacher. I used to think I’d be content with a textbook, a workbook and some master copies – but nope, not any more. I’m making big changes in how I approach teaching, in small manageable ways, because of what I learn. The #langchat hashtag is my go-to for the latest ideas, problem sharing and food for thought. The #langchat chat is my go-to for diving into specific topics in a more detailed way. Both are essential to me as a professional.

Connecting – This year I was so lucky to be able to take a Pro-D day and drive 1 1/2 hours south of Vancouver to visit with Catherine Ousellin in Mt. Vernon (@CatherineKU72). When the border agent asked me how I knew the person I was going to meet in the US I replied sheepishly “I met her online”.  Ultimately I was allowed through and spent a morning with Catherine and her French classes – what a treat. There are many #langchat peeps who I will have the opportunity to meet in person – to actually speak to. They are the people who have supported me, laughed with me and provided me with inspiration and resources and more. I look forward to meeting them and thanking them – thanking them for being so willing to share and grow as part of the #langchat PLN!  I’m even going to seek out Joe Dale, the first person I ever followed on Twitter and my first resource for technology ideas for the language classroom.

meSo look for me at the conference, I’ll be wearing my #langchat T (red or black) and hopefully will get to say hi. If you see me – tshirt redplease say “Hi” too. If you know of any teachers who are curious about what #langchat is, or how to follow the chat etc., come see us Saturday at 10am. If you are a #langchat regular watch for tweets about our ‘in person’ meetup on Thursday night.

I look forward to reporting out what I’ve learned. See you in Texas y’all!








November 10, 2014
by leesensei

Saying “I Don’t Understand” With Confidence…

CWatching my Grade 11′s work the other day on their 50 minute Target Language oral (Club Decision), I marveled at their ‘ease’ with each other. They were engaged, animated and talking – most importantly – they were willingly engaging with each other. I know we’ve all seen it – the student who won’t/can’t/doesn’t want to participate until they know they won’t say something incorrectly. Or maybe you’ve had the one who won’t work with others because they’re afraid they’ll use a word they don’t know. How do we teach for communication and not for understanding? How do we help students to not fear a word – and to carry on a conversation confidently and without fear?

Teach “Assisting” from the Start – In Year 1 we practice many ways to say “I don’t understand” and in fact we make it a ‘game’ – saying it in many ways (cartoon voice, scary voice, super high pitched voice, anime voice) – so that the word is familiar – and ready to use when needed. Then helping begins with a simple (what I call)  “Repeat/Act & Give an Example” strategy. When your partner doesn’t understand first – repeat. The room is noisy and maybe they didn’t hear you. So repeat in a normal and calm voice adding hand actions if you can. If they still aren’t sure then start to pull out examples. Give your own answer and ask again. Given an example and ask again.  If its still not working then call me over – we’ll conference on a way to get your meaning across (without resorting to English).

Practice “Not Understanding” -  We practice a sport before we play a league game, we practice our music before we play a concert – why don’t we practice not understanding? It is something that, after all, will probably occur for everyone one at some point in using the language. So we make it part of our interpersonal practice routine. While switching up partners I will often cue students – “take one thing your partner says and purposely don’t understand”. They love it, and they relax and practice both not knowing and the assist. It’s a treat to see students as they help their partner. And its also a handy way to see if the partner is paying attention!

Encourage “Inclusiveness” – Often in language classes you see students who are confident not want to work with a perceived ‘weaker’ student (and vice versa). Why? I think its because they fear that their partner won’t understand them – and that they won’t get to show what they know. I’m big on ‘making your partner look good’. Facilitating and including everyone in the conversation is a part of every rubric that I use – and one that I stress in class. After all, as I remind my classes, using a language is about communicating, it is not about making a speech.

Affirm “The Journey” – I talk a lot about the ‘journey’ with my students. We stress in class that communicating is about teamwork – working together to get a meaning across. And learning new words, new things to say requires practice – just like any other skills. So, not understanding, or making an error, is a natural part of this process. Now,  not understanding everything isn’t – but missing a word, mishearing someone is going to happen so let’s take it in stride. And if you do find yourself in that situation – relax, let your partner know and let them help you out.

Reducing fear and encouraging risk is a key tenet of language learning. How do you help your students to ‘not fear not understanding’?


November 5, 2014
by leesensei

“The Club Decision” Interactive Oral Activity

Teenagers JumpingThis is a post focusing on one of the summative interpersonal oral activities that I do in my class. 

One of my challenges in units is to come up with interpersonal orals for students to actually ‘use’ what they have learned. Typically I start at the end – what I want students to be able to do and then look for a ‘real life’ situation that utilizes what they are learning. I have blogged about others including a taste test, a travel fair and more.

For a 3rd semester class unit that focused on Sumo (and individual pursuits) I wanted students to be able to articulate, in detail, one or two activities they love to do – and to do that beyond a superficial level. I also know that I am heading into a ‘school’ unit. (I know – many don’t look at it – but the cultural comparisons between Canada and Japan make this a great ‘hook’ for language). And so, knowing that many students extend their passions in their choice of school clubs – the “Club Decision” oral was born.  The class had already done a short activity involving reading personal profiles and deciding what club/activities might suit a person – including ‘why’ that might be a good fit.

The Overall Idea – a 60 minute class in which students initially individually interview 3 students about their favourite pastimes/passions. They then pair up with another student and decide what an appropriate club choice may be for them.  But, there’s a twist. There is only limited space in the clubs they can choose – so that if 4 people love music – but the music club only has 2 spots – where would they place the other two? This means that, in finding out about their peers’ interests students would have to ‘dig deep’ probing people’s history with, and attachment to their pastimes.

The Preparation (1)  – We used 2 periods to prepare for this – and students were given a prompt sheet to help brainstorm about their passions. The sheet asked them initial questions about two of their pastimes including what, why they like it, where/when they practice/participate in it, who they participate with, how long they have been involved, and who/what inspires them to do this. They would not be using this during the oral but as they practiced asking/answering questions. My students had their basics down quite quickly… too quickly for me. When I checked for vocabulary needed they said ‘we’re okay’…and that led to…

The “Push” -  I saw the ‘cursory’ answers/notes in the 1st class of preparation and was not satisfied. This is their 3rd semester. “Because it is interesting” was not going to cut it. So I talked about the ‘push’ – about going beyond an answer they could have given in their 1st semester. I challenged them to push and grow – to express their ideas in a more detailed way. I also reminded them that there was a good chance a student might not get into their choice – so they would have to have a lot of information about them to make an ‘educated’ choice.  Language learning is about the ‘journey’ and we want a quality journey – not just a quick trip.

The Preparation (2) – Now with more focus, and extra details etc the vocabulary push, and depth of expression was way better. As part of the second preparation class we also explored how we could ‘negotiate’ – what language we already knew/could use to negotiate with someone about who to put where. Surprisingly (for them) they already had what they needed – and we found a few extra phrases that would assist them. We also reviewed skills we used helping someone to understand when they said they didn’t.

The Oral Day – Part 1: On the oral day students were given a table of 4 to sit at. They had 30 minutes to interview the 3 other people at the table. All oral talk was to be in the Target Language(TL) – and any notes taken were to be in English only . And they were off. What a noise in the room. Some students completed their interviews with 5 minutes to spare and others were still talking when their time was up.  Part 2: After 30 minutes a list on the screen identified their ‘pair’ for part 2. They were given a club sheet with 7 clubs on it (Sumo, Music, Anime, Reading etc) each with only 1 spot available. The rules – all speaking in the TL  – you could only talk about who you had interviewed, what club they should be in/why. You could not show your notes to your partner (so they just couldn’t read the information that you had) They had 20 minutes to put students into the club and tell me why. (written in English).

The Evaluation – After the process they self evaluated based upon their perceived ability to answer questions, add details, probe for understanding (follow-up questions) and not resorting to English. My job was to circulate, listen in and very occasionally offer language support. As is my custom, I also asked them to complete the sentence “Well, that was….” (and tell me why). Their comments revealed a great deal – some of the highlights were (note – the majority actually wrote ‘fun’):

“Well that was extremely really fun. It was interesting to learn so much about my fellow classmates’ interests..”
“Well that was fun because I was able to solve problems and figure out solutions with reasons for club placement – all in Japanese!”
“Well that was fun to describe my favourite activities in Japanese – I enjoyed it”
“Well that was fun because we really had to think and talk in-depth to pick a club for a person”
“Well that was fun. I really enjoyed it…by the end I wanted to keep talking in the interviews”
“Well that was better than I thought it was going to be…it became easier and easier to get my point across”

Not all of the orals that I do are self-evaluated. But this one, with its emphasis on communicating and understanding, is great for students. The side-product is almost 50 minutes of work in the target language – and that is awesome!


PS If you want more information – here’s some of the handouts I use for this!

October 24, 2014
by leesensei

Using Stations In-Class – A collection of “how-to’s” and “don’t forget to’s”

titlependingI have blogged several times about my experience  in using stations. For a recent professional day a couple of colleagues asked me to share how I use stations. Because the only reason I am even comfortable in using stations is due to the generous sharing of others I wanted to pass it on. The link to the 6 page ‘idea’ book is here. If it is useful – great! If you have questions – please ask. If you have additions – I’d like to know!

Thanks again to #langchat colleagues  Catherine Ousselin (@CatherineKU72), Candida Gould (@candidagould), Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@secottrell) and Kristy Placido (@placido) for their sharing/support.


October 20, 2014
by leesensei

Reading & Understanding – The Question Challenge Activity

Girls doing schoolwork.It’s always a challenge to construct activities that engage students – especially about a reading piece. I try a variety of ways to both help/determine if my students understand a piece from  group Q&A to discussion to drawing and more. My Year 2 class is a case in point. After 1 semester of Japanese they hover around the Novice-Mid range but they are eager to ‘talk’. My challenge was to give them a reading and then, get them to discuss it. Enter the student to student “Question Challenge” activity.

Day 1 – SetUp: The students were given a reading constructed by me, with key points that they had been learning embedded in it. They initially read in their pairs using what I call “2 and talk” – each student reading a sentence then stopping to talk about what it means. In this round I offered no ‘comprehension’ questions at all to see how well they had understood it themselves. However for a longer piece I will have a few questions from a section of the reading with their questions to come from another portion.

After students had read and debriefed with their partner they were given the challenge of constructing 8 questions concerning the piece. 3 were to be of the True/False variety – where answers could be found easily in the text. The next 5 were to be “open” questions about the reading – the only stipulation is that the answer could not be “yes” or “no”. This forced them into constructing questions along the line of our ‘follow up’ questions we often use in speaking. “Who did Nonki meet with?” “When on Saturday did they meet?” and so on.

This also required me to provide some key ‘phrasing’ that they had not already learned. For example “Who said…” or “Who is a person like…?”. We also reviewed what to do if someone didn’t understand them and how to say what you ‘specifically’ didn’t understand. I believe  that “I don’t understand.”  and “What does …mean?” are not negative phrases in my classes – but rather an opportunity for the speaker, a responsibility, to help in understanding. We reviewed what to do in this case – generally ‘repeat’, ‘give an example’ and, when appropriate, ‘give a sample answer’.

Day 2 – Question Day:  Students initially practiced asking each other their questions. We stressed eye contact and also had one partner ‘purposely’ not understand to review how to assist. We also reviewed cultural phrases/activities they could use as they ‘stalled’ to think of the answer. Then on to the challenge! The pairs had to challenge 3-4 other pairs to answer their questions. To increase the ‘fun’ we devised a point system. If students got the answer right away (no looking at the text) – 1 point. Giving right away and being wrong -1/2 point. And if they had to go back to the text to find the answer +1/2 point (note that a wrong ‘guess’ plus finding the right answer is 0!). I allotted about 20 minutes for the questioning. They had a ball. Lots of laughing, rephrasing and interaction and, most importantly for me, really good work on asking/answering key questions.

Debrief: I debriefed the activity using my “How Did That Go?” rubric. As usual the students first had to write – completing the phrase “That went ____because……”. Many cited the ability to talk and interact easily with their peers as a reason it went well. Almost all of them said that their groups actually went beyond the questions they had and started thinking up spontaneous questions to get more points! Students also asked for some key phrases that we had not reviewed such as “more slowly please” and “Did you say…?”. My students are very used to this rubric from their first semester with me – but if they weren’t I would have gone over the rubric (and what expectations I have) with them prior to setting them on their task.

I won’t go overboard in using this but I did love to hear the loud voices, laughing and groans (at wrong answers) during the time. Its going to be another tool in my ‘comprehension’ toolbox. What do you do to get kids talking about what they read?




October 14, 2014
by leesensei

Sentence Building with the Unit Slide Show – Easy, Fun and Effective

MP900177844I love visuals for learning. I have blogged in the past about using visual slide shows in my classes. Today – yet another fun slide show and also an extended activity. On my recent summative assessment I was still noticing errors in constructing sentences – common errors that I felt needed to be addressed again. And so we did – with the aid of the slide show. For my Year2′s it became a great review activity for both vocabulary and sentence construction.

The recipe for today’s review?

Start with – A slide show – a pdf of today’s is attached – thematic pictures of Japanese engaged in a variety of activities.  I had mine set up automatically to change every 7 seconds but if I felt that I needed more time I would do it manually.

Add in – Round 1 – just let it play as they enter….

Then -  Round 2 – I ask “What are they doing?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

Next – Round 3 – I ask “Where are they doing this?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

Then – Round 4 – I ask “Who are they doing this with?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

And – Round 5 – They try to describe using all of the elements.

Finally – Round 6 – They ask their partner if they did that yesterday….

Adjust ingredients as desired! You can see that you the content, questions and desired output can change with your students’ needs.

It was a great review for my students, who also learned some new vocabulary (what do you call a sumo wrestler?) and reinforced great sentence construction. Even better – it was reinforced in a safe group environment – and no worksheet! More uses and ideas to come.





October 5, 2014
by leesensei

Thoughts/Considerations On Starting a “Class” Twitter Account

4786110042_43c31cc235Many teachers are making the foray into using social media with their students. I am at the point of ‘dipping’ my toe in. There’s a number of things I’ve learned, and found out, as I have started tweeting to students and wanted to collect my thoughts on keys in beginning this path.

Set up a dedicated class account - I am an active user of Twitter in my professional life. But I do not want to have my students involved in my PLN and the learning that I do online. So I have a separate identity for my class account. I recommend that you talk to students about it and the boundaries that you have established. I know that when a couple of my students tried to follow my ‘professional’ account, I had to speak to the groups about this. I talked to them about my personal PLN, and why I had blocked them from that account. At the same time I extended the invitation to follow the class account. So if you are already on Twitter and, like me, feel strongly about separating your professional and in-class life – I recommend that you do the same.

Don’t make joining mandatory – I am loath to require students to sign up for social media. And I know that there are parents out there who would be concerned. In addition Canadian privacy laws also require parent approval. So following my class account is not required – if I post a picture or info my students can ‘search’ it under the established hashtag. Right now I have a whole 2 student followers but I know more have checked out posted photos etc. Early days yet…and fine by me.

Establish a hashtag – and use the school one too -  In order for students who are not on Twitter to locate items you post – establish a consistent hashtag. For me it is #ptjapanese (Pinetree being the name of my school). All of my ‘tweets’ include it. If I post photos of class activities or other interesting things that happen in class I also include my school’s hashtag as well. It gets the word out about what we’re doing – both to those who follow the school and to one of my administrators who administers it.

Start with key ‘student-friendly’ TL and TL-related Follows – If students are going to see who I follow then I have to be comfortable with what they see. So I am careful to comb the feed for inappropriate posts. For example, Time-Out Tokyo looked great for city interest but the repeated beer-related and adult-level tweets meant I couldn’t follow them on the class account. I follow a couple of pop stars, some language related accounts and – most popular – fast food/international items with lots of visual posts. I’m also careful to check the feed occasionally to block any ‘promoted’ but inappropriate accounts.

Get permission to post pictures of class activities  - In my district, parent permission is required to show pictures of any student in a public way. Before I began posting pictures of class activities I obtained permission – signed by the parent and student to do so. I don’t publish names and try not to publish close-ups. I also maintain a list of who has not given permission which I check before posting photos.  And don’t forget to link your phone to your class account – I like to quickly upload photos once I’ve taken them. When I started the new account I forgot to add it to my ‘phone’ so that I could easily and directly upload to the class account. Don’t forget to do this – you will always be asked which account you are posting to so you won’t make a mistake!

Tweet a variety of things -   I do post to a website as well but have started tweeting out the homework. I’m always looking for another way to ‘meet students where they are at’ and tweeting out the homework is just another way to ‘get the word’ out. Sometimes I even tweet out a preview of the next day’s class, or next week’s song of the week. I am also big on taking photos of my ‘whiteboard notes’ as well – and often post those so I am starting to add those pics as well to the tweets.  When I’ve posted pictures I tell the class (I try to take them when they are ‘actively’ learning and don’t notice) to check the hashtag to see if they are ‘in the picture’!

I am looking forward to the evolution of my class account – and where it will take us, as a group, in the future.


September 30, 2014
by leesensei

Baskets on the Table: Supporting Students and Easing Transitions

basket Last year I made a big step and modified my classroom setup. The tables of 4 was a push for me to change the focus in the room – and I am happy to report that the ‘atmosphere’ is working. Students quickly focus on communicating with others – and are less focused “on the board”. It means though – that having items on a back shelf, especially with 30 bodies in the room, and easily moving can be challenging. After a few shares by other members of the #langchat PLN I am looking to push that ‘central’ idea a bit further this year. Enter the extremely low-tech ‘centre of the table basket’ – bought at my local dollar store. What’s in the basket?

Learning supplies for students - Never again the “I don’t have a pen”. I took my basket of left-behind pens, pencils, erasers etc and added some to each basket. Along with it there is a glue stick, some paper clips, a small post-it note pad, dice for games, scissors and a ruler. Amazingly they are used as needed but I haven’t had a wholesale loss of anything yet. I’ll have my volunteers who come to do my bulletin boards every 2 weeks check the baskets and replenish as needed.  The other constant in the basket are the white envelopes. Inside – a copy of my ‘follow up’ questions – on small cards in both English and Japanese. Whenever I ask students to speak they are there as a resource to spur on conversation.

Supplies for the day’s class – You can see some brown envelopes in the basket as well. They are there for my next class – the Year 1′s who are learning their characters. For my Year 2′s in 3rd period I’ll switch those out for different orthography cards, as well as a deck of cards for a game we are playing. Under the basket are a game sheets – I”ll be using those later with the Year 3′s. It makes quick work of getting out and returning supplies for me – as the items students need for that class are there and ready to go.

Easing transitions and improving the “flow” in my room help to make my classes a bit more organized. I know I’ll find more uses for the “baskets on the table” as the year goes on!


September 22, 2014
by leesensei

Fun, Team-building & Reinforcing Learning: Using Kahoot! In Your Classes

kahootI’ll admit that in the past I have shied away from online class games. Our school is limited in WiFi availability and I have not wanted to either single out students who didn’t have phones, or ask them to use data to play. But the #langchat community is big on the Kahoot! – and I just had to join in. Basically you create a multiple choice quiz. When you start the game students see a ‘game code’ – they go to the web site and enter that code – create a team name – and you begin. I’ve tried to use it in my classes to both increase teamwork and minimize data use. Why do I like it and how do I use it in my classes?

We play on a variety of devices – Kahoot! does not just rely on phones. It can be played on a variety of platforms. Although they are common – not all kids have phones and I don’t want to assume that they do. With 4 computers available to me in class – that’s 4 teams that don’t need to rely on data. In one of my classes I even had a group opt for the computers as they felt that they had minimal data left on their phones. Sometimes I’ll even bring my iPad to increase the ease of access for students.

We play in teams – I’ve always asked that students play in at least pairs. When there are 30 students in the room then I only need 15 devices and students can pair up with someone to have a game partner. The talk that goes on during the game is often more key to me than the game itself. When we’re going over a grammar issue – I find that they need time to discuss so I often allot the maximum time for answers to give them time to talk. I will warn you to allow several minutes for the most important team-building part – the user name. My grade 10′s spent more time trying to think up their team name than anything else (and if any names are inappropriate don’t worry – you as the owner of the game can remove the team from the list of players)

We play to both reinforce language points and to just ‘educate’ - Last semester I was seeing a lot of errors in a particular use of verbs in Japanese. We’d use it in context, we’d practiced it explicitly but I was not sure that they really ‘had it’. Kahoot! let me set up a way to check for learning – in a fun and relaxed environment. Playing in teams, and allowing 30 seconds for an answer, also meant that they could talk about the particular answer prior to ‘ringing in’. I also use Kahoot! to ‘learn’ about items. My first years do a Kahoot!, with partners, in English at the start of the year to see what they know about Japan and also begin to build class connections. It’s a passive way to see test prior knowledge as well as clear up some common misconceptions.

We play for ‘speed’ and ‘skill’ – Questions in Kahoot! quizzes come with a point value associated with it. After each question the top team names are displayed – and there’s a lot of hooting and hollering as teams work to overtake the teams at the top. In Kahoot points are alloted based on a combination of speed of answering/correctness.  My students think it’s all about the ‘winning’  but I know it’s all about putting something in front of them that they have to discuss, and find an answer to. They are reviewing, teaching and reinforcing learning during the game.

We play occasionally – I don’t want to overuse this ‘game’ – in part because I like variety. I also don’t want to be relying on student devices that much – and taking a lot of data minutes for an in-class activity.

If you haven’t already Kahoot!-ed its fun to try. For me the value is in the team-building that goes on – and the learning that it reinforces. Eventually I’m going to have my students make them for each other…!