Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

October 30, 2015
by leesensei

The New Cultural Station Activity – Part 2 – Connecting/Using What We Learned

The new Sumo Cultural station activity was my attempt to step beyond language stations and use them to explore a cultural area in greater detail. It is also the first time that I planned ‘summative’ activities using what we learned. I thought I’d post, in a bit more detail, what we did.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS – I drew up some discussion questions about the readings that we did. These were in the Target Language (TL) and designed to make them think beyond the ‘answers’ to the original questions they were asked. That is – they weren’t just about ‘information’ in the reading. Questions were things like “Do you think having 6 Sumo tournaments a year is too many, too few or just right? (and why?)” and “A sumo wrestler’s daily life is hard/easy? What do you think?”. Students first went over answers in pairs using the notes that they had. Then they discussed as a table. Finally we took this up with the whole class. This is the first time we have done something like this. Next time I will quote the ‘reading’ that I am drawing the question from to help them find the information/support their ideas better. I am going to work to polish this for next time.

INFOGRAPHIC DAY – I have done variations on this kind of day before and it worked well. The infographics were spread out on the desks – and I put a number (on a post-it) on each. Students worked with their table partner. I asked them to visit all the posters and take time to read the information on them. Yes some of the information repeated poster to poster but they understood/saw repetitions of a lot of new vocabulary (which was part of my purpose in doing this). When they were all done they were asked to see me. Each of them was then handed a response sheet. They had to go back to the posters, as individuals, to complete the task. They had 3 categories: “Best Use of Graphics/Statistics to Support Information”, “Best Use of Information Available” and “Most Overall Useful – Information/Graphics/Statistics”. I also asked them to make up their own 4th category “Best…..”. For each category they chose the poster that they thought best fit that criteria and had to provide detailed (point form) reasons why they selected that one. They couldn’t just say “nice layout” but had to tell me ‘why’ the layout worked so well for them.  Amazingly almost every poster was cited in a “category” and the student-choice category included “Most Easy to Follow”, “Most Eye-catching”, “Most Unique” and “Best Use of Humour”.

sumo 1sumo2

It’s my goal to get at least one of these ‘in-depth’ cultural exploration station activities for each level…




October 24, 2015
by leesensei

A “New” Cultural/Target Language Station Activity Day…



This post seems at first just to be for Japanese teachers – but I believe that the ideas – not the content – make it useful for anyone contemplating adding more ‘station’ work in their classes. I have written before about my quest to put more into my units. This was my first “not at the end of a unit – review & extra items” station experience. No this was all about a visual/audio/reading work focused on one topic: Sumo wrestling. Students would be exposed to both authentic resources, adapted resources and TL/English videos.

My class has 30 students in it – so I had 8 stations on the go. We were at each for 15 minutes.. and if they ended early they worked on a station activity (reading) that they might not have finished – or they talked. This took just over 2 whole periods to do  (or you could space this out and do a couple a day while doing other things.)

Each station – has a table number and resources for the station. The viewing stations used my 3 class computers and my laptop. They all had a headphone splitter and extra headphones (dollar store) if students didn’t have their own. The reading stations had extra copies of the vocabulary needed for the readings.

Each student – received a readings package, a handout booklet – with the activity/instructions for each station. Students moved sequentially from table to table with their current table partners.

Video Stations – Each station involved viewing with questions before or after in the English or the TL.  One station called on them to answers questions to test their prior knowledge of Sumo (in English) and then watch a short history video to see how correct they were. Another showed an actual match with Japanese commentary – students viewed the match and answered questions in English about various information that appeared, in print, on the screen (the wrestlers, their rank etc). Another station showed a short National Geographic piece about the daily life of wrestlers and asked them to reflect on what they found most interesting.

Audio Station – an “interview with a sumo wrestler” taken from an older textbook resource I no longer use. It’s a nice piece with TL and cultural content so I continue to use it. Students listen/read along and answer questions in the TL.

Reading Stations – I had 4 TL-related reading stations all together. Two stations were short readings in the TL about Sumo’s history, rules, requirements to be a wrestler and daily life. These are ‘adapted’ pieces taken from graded readers designed for those learning Japanese. They are accessible, written by Japanese and in my books ‘authentic’. Students completed reading comprehension Q’s in Japanese.  The third station was a ‘catch up’ station for any readings that they had started by not completed. A fourth station was another TL reading that had them looking at a sumo-related recipe for  the high calorie/high protein stew – Chankonabe; finding the ingredients that goes into this famous dish. Then they watched a short video on the making of the dish.

Using the Information Gathered – Students have two activities designed to tap into what they learned during their station work. One is an oral discussion day – a conversation circle activity based upon questions that they answered at the reading stations. The second is an infographic produced in the TL by the partners. They can only use the information gathered during the sumo day and any ‘new vocabulary’ they encountered there is okay as well. The assignment is mostly in Japanese but the rubric gives a good idea of what I am looking for. They will have time on ‘graphic’ day to read/view the infographics. I just included an updated post on the activities in my latest post.

This was my first move to use stations to really explore/introduce a topic. It will undergo ‘refining’ in the future I am sure but I am pleased to have made my first foray into this ‘cultural’ target language learning activity.


December 19, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014: No. 2 Review in 7 Minute Stations

Hand Displaying Peace SignThe use of stations in class is an ongoing project of mine this year. I have committed to developing 1 station day per unit in each of my Yr 2 & 3 classes. I learned a lot about using them – as two follow up posts – a follow-up post on station management and one outlining my tips for implementing the idea pointed out. This is the post that chronicled my first foray into stations…This post was the second most popular of 2014…

A class of 30 Grade 9′s can be difficult to keep motivated so for a ‘review’ I decided to try stations. I’ve been wanting to try them and the review time seemed like the easiest to do this. I opted to incorporate an aspect of our study method – the ‘Power 7′ idea.

The Basis – The “7 Minute”  Drill –  I have previously blogged about helping students to learn to study using what we call the “Power 7″ method. The idea of short powerful bursts of study – repeated 4-5 times a night – instead of a long study session, prone to distractions, seems to bring results to those who find concentrating difficult. As students get better at this method they increase the time – up to 20 min/session. Many use it now in other classes for review. Keep in mind they are not memorizing lists out of context – but this is a way they use to review vocabulary etc. prior to reading or to work on their vocabulary for writing (always marked holistically – the aim is to minimize high frequency errors).

How Many Stations?

  • For a class of 30 students – 65 minutes I set up 8 stations – you could do more – that the students would rotate through.
  • 4 desks in a square for a station with room for 4 students (2 pairs) at each station

What Goes on the Table?

  • Flashcards (2 sets – 1 per pair): I use flashcards a lot in class. Often they are a set consisting of a Japanese word and a picture. They are used many ways – from concentration matching to fun ‘who can name the object first’ competitions with their partner. I had flashcards for 1/2 the stations already ready. But for the first few units I was missing them – until I thought to use my Quizlet files. All of the unit information is loaded into them for study opportunities for students. So I printed out the early chapters in the large size – copied them onto paper/cut out the cards and I had ‘English-Japanese’ ones.
  • “I can statements” (2 pages – 1 per pair) – I have a set of “I can..” statements for each chapter – I also printed up a list of these and put them at the table. If students finished their cards early they could quiz each other by asking “Can you….?” and seeing if their partner could do the task.
  • Unit ‘sheets’ with the answers on them  – that is the phrases/words in both the Target Language and English (note: my students had their own unit sheets so I didn’t need to provide these)

How Long?

  • Initially I was not sure how long to give the students at each station. Ten minutes seemed a bit long – so we started out at 5. I think its best to underestimate what is needed and in fact, at the end of the first station time, my students requested that we go to 7 minutes per table. It is true that for some groups – with students who typically achieve above expectations – they were done well within the 7 minutes. For other pairs this was not long enough. But it is enough to start reminding kids of what we had covered.

Focus of Review –  Given that there are both English and Japanese (or a picture) for each this lends itself well to using the stations different ways at different times. In my initial 65 minute period I only used it for Reading Comprehension.

  • Listening Comprehension Round –  look at  the word in the Target Language – read it out loud to your partner – do you know it in English? Then your partner takes a card and reads it to you.
  • Reading Comprehension Round – look at  the word in the Target Language – read it with your partner – do you know it in English?
  • Written Practice Round – Look at the English or picture card – write it out in the Target language – check with your unit sheets – did you write it correctly?


  • Reconfirmation of how to review/study – this serves to underscore the idea that effective study (short/concentrated) can be more useful than a longer period where people are easily distracted.
  • Reconfirmation of how to help someone understand – without asking them to do so I saw a lot of partners not giving the answer but actually miming, acting out or giving hints rather than just tell the answer. This confirmed to me that my message of how to assist someone who doesn’t understand has been received.
  • Partners helping each other in a relaxed  way – there was high energy and lots of laughter – two great things to see during an activity that could have been a boring run through previously seen material

As a chance to dip my toe into the station world this was a good first experience. I’ll do more of them again not just for review but also for variety in the class. More to come!


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.


June 15, 2014
by leesensei

Quick To Make & Ready for Any Activity: Pre-made Table Signs…

go signThis year, I have changed my class setup to pods of 4 desks (here’s why) – and am really pleased with the energy and interaction in the room. I made my first set of signs (numbered 1-8) as I waded into ‘stations‘ – and, as I introduced new activities, I began to see how convenient they are to have, and am adding more sets to my “ready to use” collection.

What are they made of/Where are they?  In this day of easy technology I like the ‘old school’ feel of the paper sign. I chose bright yellow card-stock – regular 8 1/2″ x 11″, folded in half, that can stand independently in the middle of the 4 desk pod.  They are clipped together and hung them from a push-pin beside table signsmy white board. Easy for me to see and grab when needed.

What’s on them? My first set is simply a set of numbers. I have 7 ‘pods’ in my room so they are numbered 1-8. 8? With students away, or a different focus for activities I find that I can need more than 7 groupings – and so I always have an extra ready to go if needed. I have used these for review stations, for seating charts for kids to ‘find their table’ and for groupings for everything from review to pre-activity planning.

photo 1

“I think so…”

My second set says “I think so…” on one side, and “I don’t think so..” on the other. I’ve used them for discussions for readings, debate practice and anything where students can express an opinion on a point of view/topic. Last week they were used for the Yr3 “recycling is/isn’t important” debate as students moved table to table practicing arguing for either side with different partners.

My third signs are very basic – and used for my ‘split’ class that I teach. I see my IDS (Independent Directed Study) Group – a post-Yr4 class –  in class every 2nd week. As I’m often changing how I set up for any given activity – the signs set out where they will be sitting in the room.

My newest set is with one of the first three characters of one of our TL scripts  – “あ” , “い” and “う” .  If I taught a non-character language it would be “A”, “B” and “C”.  I have 3 of each – which allows several tables to be part of the same group. These allow me various grouping options. For example, it can let me easily set my students into groups for those I know “get” a concept (and can move into an activity) with those that may require some review prior to moving on.

Quick to make, easy to see and available whenever I see the need to group – my ‘sign’ collection is sure to grow! Do you use this kind of table label and what works for you?


March 6, 2014
by leesensei

A Few Thoughts on “Station Management”

MP900387586Call them “Stations”, “Roundabouts” or “Carousels” – they are a hot topic with the #langchat crew. A recent #langchat devoted to the ideas of the ‘station’ led to all sorts of ideas for use and management (summary here). I have been privileged to visit with Catherine Ousselin (@CatherineKU72 ) – the only member of my PLN I’ve actually met – to see her classes work in their stations. There are some great posts out there currently – like this awesome one from Candida Gould  (@candidagould) and a promised one from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s Musicuentos blog (@secottrell).

Having now used stations a few times – I’ve been thinking about how to actually set-up/use them – things that make it easier to actually get a ‘station class’ running (and ultimately use the idea again). These are some of my considerations:


Table Number Cards – I’ve made up some ‘numbered’ cards – folded card-stock – that I keep to quickly number tables for station setup. They are easy to grab and set out – and on clipped together/pinned on my bulletin board for quick access.

Station Instructions – Mine are on plain sheets of  paper and afterwards all stored together in a large envelope. The paper tells the students what is to be done in point form – so hopefully they don’t need me there to ‘start them off’

Notes for me – When you do stations you are typically pulling a number of resources – so I have a written sheet in each envelope for what supplies/resources are needed for that station day. It’s a handy checklist when I have 5 minutes to change classes.

Changing Stations:

All Together – In One Direction – With a big class the motion to change stations may create more chaos than needed. If I have my students change ‘en masse’ then we rotate in a clockwise fashion.

Go Where You Want To – I have typically been doing this at the end of a station session – inviting students to return to a station that they feel they need more work on. In future I can see a ‘free movement’ with a requirement that you visit all the stations at least once during the time

Station Moves to Them – In my class of  30 sometimes it’s easier to move the station to the students. In that case everything is grouped together and numbered (eg – hand over package 1 to the next table). Natalia Delaat (@natadel76) says she likes to use this format.

Number/Length of Time:

Multiple stations/Multiple repetitions – I like to hit several skills at one time – so I find that having only 3 stations – with a couple repeated (if your class is large enough) works best for me. Typically students in my class are at tables of 4 so they can work together with a partner if it is called for.

Start Short & Let Them Expand It – I like 7 minutes and with multiple stations (that repeat) that means about 20 minutes per skill in a 65 minute block. Sometimes I have started with only 5 minutes and let them ask me for longer time (reverse psychology!)

The ‘station’ train has clearly left the station for the #langchat/#mfltwitterati group! All Aboard!


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