Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

A New “Sense” of Direction….Street View


As part of my travel unit for Japanese 12 I do a quick review of direction giving. In the Japanese 11 class we use a static map for guiding around. But bringing that same map back for the Grade 12’s just didn’t seem to cut it. I don’t work in a school with 1:1 or even the wireless capability to support BYOD but our labs are reasonably quick so I have a pair share a computer there.

SetUp – Student Input:  Many of my students dream of visiting Japan and Tokyo is the first choice for them. So  2 days before the activity I ask them where they would like to go in Tokyo if they had a chance – and draw the inspiration for my activity from their information. I use a quick written exit slip. It is important that I don’t suggest where. Using the student’s information, I search Google for images “free to use or share” from each of the locations my students identified. Then I choose an ‘iconic’ location from that area as the target of the activity and a label for it that allows them to zero in on the general area.

SetUp – An Expectation of Language Use: My Grade 12’s are used to the expectation that an activity will be done using the TL (target language) only. I build this via informal and formal reinforcement after class activities. Sometimes it’s a quick ‘stop-light’ slip – Green (only the TL), Yellow (few words of English) or Red (1/2 the time or more in English). At other times I use a more detailed rubric for self and partner evaluation. The result is students who do use the TL – even without a teacher hovering over them.

The Task: Students are given the picture “quest” sheet and use Google Maps to go first to the general area. From there it’s into Street View and they work together to try to get to the location in the photo using the TL. It’s fun to hear them “No – don’t go left, go right at the next street” – as they work to find the spot. I make if very clear that they don’t have to go to every location on the page – but rather to pick one or two – find the spot and then explore the area.  Some do like to find all the picture spots while others take up the exploring challenge.

The Wrap-Up: After the activity I use a rubric for self and partner evaluation of their use of the TL – including a written justification of their choices.  I also ask them to provide any TL words/phrases that they felt they needed (for the next time I do this).

My students loved the chance to visually explore an area they are interested in and more than one commented on how proud they were that ‘they didn’t use any English’ in doing so. As for me it put me in the role I like best – supporting my students in their learning – not leading!




  1. I really like the stop light idea and have seen your rubrics that make a lot of sense. However, I think I might be missing a part (or few) of a puzzle. My students get a lot of encouragement, help and praise when they use TL in class. However, it does not prevent them from switching to English when working in a group or with a partner.

    I feel an urgent need to develop a system that will help me to insist on TL in class by making students accountable for it. As I grade for proficiency, points for participation are out of the question. From your posts, it seems that you have well articulated system that works for you. How does it work? How do you keep track of your students TL use in class? What are the consequences if they do not meet your expectations? I thank you in advance for your time and patience!

  2. Hi Natalia,
    Don’t get the wrong impression – I still have kids who insist on slipping into English. There are a couple of things that help me. One is that we practice a lot of ‘incidental’ chatting. I wrote about it in a “Ask your partner” post. The key is the ceaseless hounding on ‘follow-up questions’ Almost every class starts with a ‘ask your partner….’ so that after a focused activity is done they have other things to go for and a way to ask for more details. Another is that I tell them that I expect it – often saying ‘so if you finish I still expect TL even if it’s about pets or family’. They also have a ‘conversation sheet’ with key phrases/vocabulary that I ask them to pull out. I think the result is that they feel that they can communicate and not just ‘do’ the language. As for the rubrics – I could easily remove the grades from them (and thinking about it). We also go over expectations a lot as I put in the “I gave myself this mark” post. Summing up they feel like they can communicate. (And I’m not above a little ‘calling out’ when I see it being ignored!). Does this help?

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