Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

May 26, 2016
by leesensei

“Three Days In …..” – An Exploratory, Target Language Online Field Trip….

file5791299869525We are exploring travel in Yr4 – travel to our Target Language (TL) area of Japan. I have taken what was a one-day experience of street view (that I used to use to revise ‘directions’ – no, don’t do that any more!) and expanded it to a target language exploration of Tokyo. Now your language may not be Japanese but the ideas are applicable (and your access to resources probably similar). Please note that my school is not heavily tech-friendly so I had to rely on using a traditional ‘computer lab’ for this plan!

It begins with….Tokyo Neighbourhood Pre-reading in TL. I use the White Rabbit Express level 4 reader about Tokyo called “東京歩こう”. Students are asked to select 5 areas of Tokyo and read/find information. This is a graded reader resource (for reasons outlined in many previous posts), written by Japanese for Japanese learners. Most importantly it  provides a super overview of Tokyo in the TL. Students had 2 – 80 minute classes (with some time taken for our on-going Music Mania – post to come). They read in pairs utilizing strategies developed in their just finished story unit. As they read they answered questions in the TL about the neighbourhood including “What ‘type’ of neighbourhood is it?”, “Where in Tokyo is it?”, “If you went there what things would you see/activities would you experience?” and “If you went what would you want to go see?”

Once the reading was done – off to the online field trip. Students are encouraged to have their own online resource (we did this in a lab because we’re a low-tech school) with a partner nearby to ‘consult’. It is designed to be done in any order – except that I think the Trip Advisor reading piece should be done before the ‘using’ activity. I sourced all of these online with the idea of giving students a chance to see and hear Tokyo and it’s adaptable to any place/language. (A link to their handout is here: Trip Handout.)

Street View – Iconic Tokyo Places: I love Google’s street view – because it puts students ‘on the ground’ in the place. I give pictures of 5-6 iconic buildings/areas in Tokyo and asked students to ‘go there’. Then once there – to go exploring. What do they see, what can they read, what’s there? This is the only requirement – nothing to write or record…just experience. (Note: some students had never used street view before…so it was a real learning experience).

Street View – Neighbourhood You Choose: Using the reading exercise we did I ask students to go ‘find’ some of the places they selected as “I want to see…” from their neighbourhood reading. That’s it…go explore and experience. They really enjoyed this – going to places, going into buildings, reading/viewing and ‘seeing’ the various areas…

Trip Advisor Hotel Information in TL: On to some more reading – I printed out the information on one hotel from Tokyo and ask them to use the information to complete a few questions. Some had not heard of Trip Advisor or even knew what you considered in booking a hotel – all good skills to acquire. This was done with a ‘paper’ printout and gives them a good first look at what this site is like. They answer questions in English based upon the information.

Trip Advisor for Your Neighbourhood in TL: Students are asked to go back to their reading and select one neighbourhood. Then, using Trip Advisor’s Japanese site, find a hotel, a restaurant and 3 things to do in that area. Note – for Japanese online the Chrome add-on Rikaikun (Rikaichan on Firefox – is a ‘game-changer’. It allows a student to roll over Chinese characters on a site and gives the reading/meaning. Essential for my students as they do not learn all 2000 characters Japanese use in class!). They waded in finding hotels, exploring menus, commenting on the prices (!) etc. Great experience and ‘real world’.

Tokyo Metro/Tokyo Neighbourhoods (in TL): I found 4 commercials online from Tokyo Metro that promote 4 areas of Tokyo. Note that I ‘download’ from YouTube so I can have future access to them. I then uploaded to Dropbox (providing a quick link) and also had them on USB to load onto a device. Students are to watch the 4 commercials and answer specific (and more general questions) for each. General questions are designed to encourage them to really look/listen at the pieces such as “3 things I observed or noticed in the commercial were…” and “I wonder….”. I also included a link to the audio of one of the ‘theme’ songs for the commercial and students listen and comment on how well it ‘fit’ the commercial and what ‘words/phrases’ they may have recognized from listening to it.

Inanimate Alice Journals…an interactive visit to several areas in Japan: There is an amazing on-line interactive episodic story called “Inanimate Alice”. It is produced in various languages including Japanese. The site also links to 3 ‘journals’ that document the main characters trip to Japan. It is written in a combination of Japanese and English. For this piece I ask the students to go through each of the journals and read, view, listen and even take the embedded language quizzes. They then send me an email commenting on what the most interesting thing they saw was, and where they would like to go that Alice went. It’s a great resource for this and the first time I have used it in class. It also introduces them to the episodic story that they can experience on their own time!

Debrief...after the field trip is done we will spend a portion of the class sharing our findings/thoughts/observations with others. This can be done in the TL or not – I think it’s a preference of what you going for – reaction and/or language use.

After the field trip we focus on ‘travel’ as we build to our Travel Fair that explores lesser-known areas of Japan. I’m excited about where this activity is, and more importantly, what tweaks and extending activities I can build into it!




January 4, 2016
by leesensei

The #authres Infographic & Digging for Information On Cultural Practices/Attitudes


xmas600It starts with an authentic resource…and this one from Yahoo Japan about the top 20 Keyword searches related to Christmas via (an awesome source for Japanese language infographics!). Yes we have touched on the typical “holiday in (fill in country)” but I want them to use the information to infer about what the Japanese really feel about this celebration (a non-holiday) in the country. The lesson is applicable to any county/celebration. Key note – This was a ‘first day back‘ after holidays activity and we used the information to guess/infer in English about what we learned reading the infographic. For other times/units we would use the target language. Here’s how I set it up.

Pick the ‘meatiest’ part: I decided to concentrate on one specific part of the infographic – the actual top 20 terms as searched for on home-based and mobile devices . It’s easier to print out part of the graphic and is the piece of information that I found the most relevant.activityChristmas

Step 1 – Establish some prior/new vocabulary knowledge. This is where any new vocabulary (or in my case ‘characters’) was placed. Students read over the list with their partner first (no dictionaries) and guessed/filled out words that they already knew. Then they used resources to find ones they did not. We then discussed this as a class – which allowed me to clarify meaning and identify any cultural implications of using the word.

Step 2 – Reading/Understanding the Information. I gave them the ‘actual’ piece of the infographic in Japanese (above/right). But the small print is hard to read and so I replicated the lists on another – typed out (and with furigana reading for the Chinese characters). Their instructions were to read through the lists and NOT to translate them.(That is not to write the English meaning directly beside the Japanese). If they had a word they had to look up they could write that out there (as they are using the lists for later questions). After reading with their partner they should be able to understand the words/phrases on both lists.

Step 3 – The “Deeper Thought” Exercise. I didn’t want a ‘list’ or a ‘regurgitation’ of the information. So they were asked to answer 5 questions (with their partner) in English about what they read. The KEY for me were questions 1 and 5 – with questions 2, 3, 4 setting them up for the final one.

  1. If you went only by internet searches given here …what are 5 key elements/components of a Japanese Christmas (and why did you choose them)?
  2. Is there anything in the top 1-10 for home computers that is not there in the 1-10 for mobile devices?
  3. Is there anything in the top 1-10 for mobile devices that is not there in the 1-10 for home computers?
  4. Is there anything in the 1-20 lists for the home computers or mobile devices that is NOT there for the other at all?
  5. Why do you think there are differences in the rankings between the two? What about when/how each device is used might influence that?

As I indicated the key questions are the first/last ones. We discussed as a class what emerged as the key elements and how it related/didn’t to the Canadian Christmas experience. When it got to ‘why’ the home-based/mobile device searches might be different students came up with great ‘thoughtful answers’ that touched on demographics, timing, personal privacy, convenience and more. The students told me they really enjoyed the exercise because it used something ‘real’ and they especially liked the ‘deep thought’ questions as opposed to just ‘find the answer’.  Several tables even ended up in spirited discussions about ‘why’ the lists were different.

This was a great ‘first day back’ activity for me, meaningful for the students and a way for them to use real authentic information to learn about the TL country and ‘culture’.

A win! Welcome Back!


January 18, 2015
by leesensei

Confession Time…(Or Don’t Think You’re The Only Teacher Who…)

We were in the middle of a #langchat last week and I found myself responding to a colleague:confession

Sometimes Twitter is not the easiest place to learn from others. When you are limited to 140 characters there’s a tendancy to be so to the point that subtleties and ‘explanations’ are lost. So I wanted to reach out to all of those teachers out there who think that they are the only one on #langchat NOT doing/being/teaching like some of the more awesome members of our PLN.

Don’t think you’re that you’re the only teacher who…

Still gives ‘vocabulary quizzes’: I do. I want them to know vocabulary to interact with their peers. BUT I am trying to vary it up. Sometimes I do pop-quizzes that are like the kind that Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell espouses. Quizzes that are designed to see what resonates, what is sticking, with a student. I don’t ‘mark’ them for points – but I do to assist a student to see what they have and where they are ‘lacking’. I’ve taken a vow to take two vocabulary quizzes a unit and turn them from ‘written’ to ‘listen’. I want them to be able to recognize as much as produce – and matching what they hear to a picture is a good way to know if they know it.

Doesn’t do 90% TL all the time: I don’t. What the 90% discussion has done is make me more aware of what language I am communicating in and how much I am doing it. I am finding that, as I move towards more ‘comprehensible input’ in what my students get I am able to stay more in the target language. The unit slide shows I am making for each unit are also a way to allow more target language use – as we use, and reuse language to discuss the pictures. But I still use English – perhaps more than other colleagues do. What I have with this target is the realization that 90% is possible – and the goal of that down the road.

Doesn’t use Authentic Resources for everything: I don’t. I have issues with authentic resources in my Asian language classroom – mostly due to the composition of my student group and a concern for equality of access. But I am working to use more and more ‘authentic based’ documents in my classes.This past week I chose to use an authentic resource for a unit project. It required a lot of ‘character support’ for my non-Chinese character readers. Afterwards we debriefed what it felt like to use the piece. I was thrilled to hear the strategies that they employed to attack the reading – and know that the judicious use of authentic documents will continue.

Still uses a textbook and/or a workbook: I do. I used to do a textbook/workbook ‘march through the chapters’ type of course. It was a real help when I started teaching to figure out what/how to teach (I’m usually a department of 1 as a Japanese teacher). It was great – until it wasn’t. These days I still use my old textbook units – but use the textbook readings (they are adapted for limited character use) if they work (and increasingly I am writing my own stories instead). I also continue to use some workbook exercises to reinforce learning – even (gasp) as assigned homework. But my use of the workbook is much more controlled and specific – and way less ‘I’ll use it because it’s there’.  As for what units I teach, I see that some units I did ‘because they were in the book’ no longer work and I’m dumping them…..but some do and I will continue to use them!

Assigns Homework: I do. I don’t do it everyday and I’ve found that, since I stopped handing out a workbook I am not inclined to assign something just because they have a workbook in hand. I have also moved to more ‘show me what you know’ homework, more reading comprehension and no more ‘translation’. Homework for me is more purposeful, more ‘real’. For example when we were working on ‘opinions’ this year my students had to construct “3 Truths and 1 Lie” about themselves as homework – and used them in class to see if others could guess correctly. Homework for me is now more about setting up an activity for the next day rather than trying to ‘reinforce’ learning at home.

Hasn’t totally 180-ed their teaching: I haven’t. I realized that, for me, a total 180 for every class I’m teaching would quickly lead to burn-out not to mention a breakdown of my marriage due to neglect! So I try to allow myself to move slowly, and forgive myself for doing so. What I like is that I am not satisfied with how certain things go – it makes me realize that I am moving. And, like a glacier’s slow pace, I might not notice it at first but I will over time – and so will my students.

Is not like “those” teachers on Twitter: I’m not. I am trying, I am pushing forward but sometimes I feel so inadequate compared to the amazing people I share and learn from in the #langchat PLN.

Whew – they say that confession is good for the soul. It is. I hope that you, if you sometimes feel like me, will allow yourself to be content with where you are now. And if,  like me, you are changing up the when/where/why of how you do things in your classroom – you give yourself permission to move at a pace that works for you…and realize that you don’t have to get to where you want to be tomorrow.





August 18, 2014
by leesensei

Lose The Word “Chapter” – Gain a World…Freeing Yourself Up to “Change”

losing chapter word


It started with my Evernote daybook – I was editing and reviewing my classes and I thought “Why do I have units by ‘chapter’ and not theme?” Indeed – why? If you’re already here, and this is long gone in your teaching then these musings may cause more nostalgic thoughts than insight. If you are like me and gradually, sometimes it feels glacially, making lasting change in HOW you do things – then perhaps you have found what I found. What have I learned as I organized by ‘thematic unit’ and NOT by ‘number? Well…

You’ll See What Your Focus Has/Hasn’t Been – Wow – does my Yr 2 class need work. When I erased the chapter titles I saw that what I thought were ‘themes’ weren’t. Instead I had disparate grammar points held together by previous textbook/workbook support. Did I feel awful – all this talk about meaningful learning and it sure wasn’t here in this course. But – what I did have were some great interactive inter-personal orals – that I can see are the ’emerging’ themes for this Yr2 class. For my other courses I did finally “see” my thematic units – now without a meaningless number in front of them – and it shows me that I am on the right track. I’m even abandoning a thematic unit I attempted in my Yr4 course in the past because I see how it no longer fits with my other units (and frees us up to spend more time on them!)

You’ll Open Yourself Up to “What They Really Need AND When They Need It” – So if you are no longer ‘bound by the book’ then you can give students what they need – when they need it . This is a great ‘aha’ moment when it happens and I wrote about it last year with regards to vocabulary. But this year it really allows me to look at all the incidental language my students asked for in a unit and work in pop-up grammar lesson points when needed. I started doing this last year as well but now with the words gone I’m free to add as it works and finally answer the question “Why can’t my students express an opinion until Ch. 7?”!

You’ll Find New Resources to Enhance Your Theme – So no more textbook to march through. I will still use some of the dialogues or stories in my teaching – in part as they provide reading with equal opportunity for student access in my character-based language (something Authentic Resources are challenging for as I’ve written before). But I’m now able to supplement with other visuals, video clips, infographics etc. It allows me to ‘step sideways’ from what the unit focus was dictated by the text to be – and really find the ‘hook’ that the unit should be.

You’ll Find More Meaningful Ways to Check For Learning – No textbook – and therefore – no workbook. Okay – there will be some use of some of the exercises, especially as my students learn any of the three orthographies we use in Japanese. I may also find some readings or listening parts that are ‘authentic’ and fit a theme but I decide when/how to use them – the ‘number’ doesn’t! It also means that I, okay we as a class, can get more creative, and more varied in how learning is demonstrated. Imagine a class where we decide as a group, or small groups, how understanding of something will be shown, do that, and share. Wow…and I’ll not need to write “Workbook Chapter 4 Exercise 2, 5, 9” on the board ever again.

If you are moving along on the road to no textbooks, or workbooks, as I am – it can be an unsettling thing. Certainly the encouragement and leadership of the #langchat PLN has helped immensely. I look forward to the day when all of my courses, and classes, are where I want them to be. In the meantime I am revelling in, and feeling a little bit of ‘good nervous’ in erasing the word ‘Chapter’ from my class vocabulary. Onward!


PS – I work a lot with an Evernote and my daybook in the cloud. I’ve put together a collection of my posts on using this to organize my teaching life if you are curious!

May 23, 2014
by leesensei

Start With Meeting Them Where They’re At: #Authres to Comprehensible Input…

uniqloIt was a great #langchat last night. Amy Lenord (@alenord) and Kris Climer (@krisclimer) led us through a structured discussion on using Authentic Resources (#authres) for Comprehensible Input. I was happy to be a participant, and not a moderator, on this one as I am still expanding my #authres use. This is partially because accessing #authres is complicated in an Asian language when students’ character knowledge does not fully meet what is used in regular communication in the target language country.

#langchat last night inspired me to rework the introduction to ‘large’ numbers – that typically we do in Yr2 (along with the Chinese characters for them). Suddenly the ‘old way’ was not my preferred way and I looked for #authres I had on hand to use.

The #langchat discussion had for me several key points

1 – Meet Them Where They are At – Without access to a computer lab and Japanese store sites I took advantage of  the flyers for hip clothing company Uniqlo that I picked up on my last trip to Tokyo. The visuals hooked the students well before we even began.This is stuff they’d actually wear! Then we moved on to…

2 – Use to Inspire/Reinforce Learning – After a song to introduce the numbers students were then invited to find items for sale and ask their partner  “How much”. We started with hundreds and moved up gradually to entire prices. For really high prices/numbers I put up a couple of pictures of expensive cars and airplanes with prices underneath them.  After more practice with prices, and students making up their own to quiz partners we moved on to…

3 – Extend the Activity – In Context –  “If you were shopping how would prices come up?” Well – when you went to buy. So my students were introduced to basic shopping phrases – “I’ll take this and this” “How much is it all together” “It will come to (amount)” etc. Not a lot – but enough to keep them interacting in an authentic way.

The journey to #authres starts with the willingness to look for the ‘real’ to bring the language learning into an appropriate context. I always ask for pamphlets, brochures and store flyers as souvenirs when I know people will be visiting Japan. As a side note I use the Uniqlo site in Yr 4 in another situation – to actually look at more complicated shopping/bargaining interaction – so this is a great ‘preview’ for them.

Thanks for the inspiration again #langchat!


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