It seems so obvious now – but I will admit that it wasn’t as ‘planned’ as it appeared. Returning to teach the Grade 9 course this year, after 5 years of not running it, allowed me to tweak how information is introduced. Grade 9 Japanese is a combination of oral work and learning script for the first time. In the past I had students write the Japanese words in ‘roomaji’ (or English letters). Then as we learned script I would ‘redo’ the words in the their proper form.
I’ve come a long way in my teaching though and I wanted to mimic what happens in real life – oral language coming way before the written. So instead of a written question/answer I had to find a way to ‘cue’ students. Enter the simple clip art picture. Using free clip art I found 1 key picture for each piece of information we were learning. The pictures range from a collection of numbers (“How old are you”) to a globe (“Where are you from?”) and even a Japanese school uniform (What grade are you in?). )For some reason, and to my students’ benefit, I had hit on the idea of a key visual.
Each day I would use the pictures as cues as students learned and practiced their oral language. Then as the characters came – so did the words. The visuals stayed at the top of the whiteboard – easily seen and reinforced. I used them daily as they switched from partner to partner to cue conversation. On their writing quizzes I again placed the key oral picture beside the question/answer that I was testing.
But there is a more powerful force at work I discovered. In our first formal oral of the year they are asked to talk with a partner – using the 7 or 8 questions that they know. They had the questions in English on a page – and available to them during the oral (I’m testing their ability to ask questions and English prompts are fine in my book). However during the oral I watched as students repeatedly cast looks at the board. My two students with identified learning issues of recall tipped me off as to why. “Sensei – I know the words are there but when I see the picture then I know what to say”. Given the number of glances from several students it is apparent that this works for many learners – not just those who have memory difficulty.
I have learned that oral language – taught first and reinforced through key visuals – creates confident learners – and confident learners are, for me, great speakers.