Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

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!


April 7, 2014
by leesensei

Background Music and Avoiding the Awkward “Silence” in MFL Activities

Teenagers - Whispering a SecretLike most MFL teachers I like to use music in class. I source and find a “song of week” from the iTunes Japan chart every 10 days or so. As I’ve written about before – I use the music (legally purchased!) in many ways – and have discovered even more via the summary of the #langchat discussion on music last year.One of the most unlikely uses is something that I stumbled upon. Or rather – noticed while I was busy trying to get other things done.

Have you ever set up an activity, a great chance to practice or use a concept orally and then had the dull ‘thud’ of silence. “Let’s get on with it” you think. “Why is everyone sort of muttering? Don’t they get it? Why aren’t they using it?” After careful observing, and some asking, I realized that, yes, my students were getting it – they were just a bit hesitant using a new concept. Maybe they wanted a second chance to clarify with their partner? For whatever reason it takes them a little bit to settle in and get comfortable with what they are doing.

And they needed a chance to do that. Enter the role of the ‘song of the week’. I have it on a loop in the iTunes of my computer. It plays at the start of class but suddenly I started to play it as they students were beginning their activity. And something interesting happened. Under the cover of the music (not loudly played but audible) my students had a chance to take a breath, check in with their partner, collect their thoughts and begin. The music – the lack of ‘silence’ in the room – actually seemed to help them get underway. Several of my students have commented on the use of the music this way – and they say it’s easier to get into talking when it isn’t so quiet. They stop being worried or embarrassed that others can hear them and get into the activity more easily.

You know that sound that tells you that “it” – whatever it is – is working? I love that sound. It’s hard to force. But for me the ‘bridge’ that the background music creates is useful in getting my students to dig in and connect orally. It’s a use for the song of the week I never would have thought of – but am grateful for what it brings!


October 1, 2013
by leesensei

A Picture for 1000 Words (or Situations)!

Medium Format CameraAs a world language teacher a picture or visual is key for me. In the past that meant finding, cutting out and preparing pictures for a variety of uses.My cupboard is packed with laminated photos – of items, places and more.

The most useful pictures, I have found, are those of people, especially people ‘in the news’ or ‘of the moment’. But staying relevant in today’s world is difficult. Sadly many of my collected and coveted photos are of people unknown to my students.

Enter the usefulness of a ‘photo’ Keynote or Powerpoint (or whatever program you like); a collection of photos (no labels needed). Mine is not long – but it contains photos of people relevant to my students. This may mean an iconic person (in Canada – Terry Fox) or one who dominates the news (Justin Beiber or Psy of Gangnam Style).  Of course it also means including people who are famous in Japan (my Target Language) The ease of use and changeability make it key. For me it is also an ‘authentic resource’.

My picture slideshow is useful in all grades and levels. While my first year students have seen them in context of “where are they from” or “what nationality are they”, my 4th years used them to discuss “what do you think this person has done/not done in the past”.  The students love seeing who is on the slides and often give suggestions of who should be added. Pictures, for me of famous Japanese people, are also a way to extend learning in a topical ‘cultural’ direction.

Quick to make, and easily changeable, the ‘famous person’ powerpoint is one of my most useful ‘tools’ in my teaching toolbox. Who would you put in yours?







April 30, 2013
by leesensei

“Song of the Week” Part 1: Sourcing & Using

Music is a powerful tool in world language learning. As an ‘authentic resource’ it’s accessible to students, timely and full of language that speaks directly to students. I don’t allow students to use headphones and listen to their own music at any time during class so a music collection for me is essential. This year I have made a concerted effort to add more music to my class experience.

Sourcing: On a matter of principal I won’t use illegal downloads for this. Granted I have used music ‘supplied’ by my students without question in the past. However, as I am featuring these songs, I make a point of getting them legally. While songs for some languages are easier to find, for others it may a bit tougher. As a Japanese language teacher I make good use of iTunes for this. Japanese iTunes cards can be easily bought over the internet from reliable sources. Opening an iTunes account in your country of choice just requires an email address and any local address. Each song costs me $2 but for me its worth it.

Selecting: Each week I go to iTunes and scroll down the “Top Singles” section. Sometimes I do this by myself and at other times with my classes. It is motivating for kids to recognize artists that they know on the list. Equally bonding for us as a class this year  was  “Call Me Maybe” that doggedly remained on the Japan Top 10 list (groans all around)! Then the name of the song/artist and a QR code to the band’s website is put up on the board. Also a copy of the lyrics – in the Target Language only – is posted on my site, and on the board as fast as I can get to it.

Playlists: I have a master playlist of my entire collection of songs (about 500) that we also listen to. However I also keep a separate playlist just for “Songs of the Week”. When I want to I can use it to have students revisit past songs from the semester. If I have time I also project the cover as the song plays – providing students with a visual reminder of it as well.

Using as a “Cue”:  I use the song of the week as before class music (set iTunes to ‘repeat’) as well as during time at the end of class. I have started using it during activities as well as ‘background music’. Once students start on an activity it plays  – quietly – in the background. I find that a bit of noise seems to encourage students to talk with each other more. When I need their attention it is turned off. After a few weeks of doing this I see that they are noticing when I need their attention.

It’s great to know that we are listening to current language in the songs we hear. And I am enjoying seeing how much my students like to listen as well. In my next post I plan to expand on how I use musics in class…Oh – this week ? It’s “Spark” by 三代目JSoul Brothers!



March 12, 2013
by leesensei

Authentic Information as an “Authentic Resource”

What is ‘authentic’? According to the Oxford Dictionary it is something that is  “genuine”, “accurate”, “based on facts or reliable”.  There’s a big push for ‘authentic resources’ these days in the MFL classroom. And there should be. I want my students to be using Target Language (TL) ‘real life’ information and sources in their language class and am making a big push to do that. Last year, during a unit on travel, I was stymied trying to find data – specifically data on travel trends among youth. And then it struck me – that authentic data was right at my fingertips and that data is, by its definition, an authentic resource. When I need it I now generate authentic information for use two ways in my classes.

As a Source for a Task (Google Docs Form Surveys)- in my senior Travel unit, as previously mentioned, I was looking for real data on travel preferences and trends. When I couldn’t find it – I went about generating it. I created a Google form survey in the TL and posted it on my site. Then, for homework, students were asked to fill in the survey. Armed with the responses my students set out on their task – to create an optional tour in the TL country  for young people who were visiting the major cities.  Student ‘buy-in’ is great as they know they are working with real information. After the oral students then select the tour of their choice – and write about why it appealed to them.

As a Task Itself  (Student Interactive Surveys) – in my senior Food Unit our final task is to do a taste test comparison of 3 brands of the same product. The goal is to advise the school cafeteria of possible choices in what to serve. On taste-test ‘day’ student pairs spend 50-55 minutes, in the TL, gathering data/information from their fellow students. Each student is responsible for administering the survey for half of the the time, and for being a participant in surveys the other half. All exchanges are in the TL but all information is written in English – to ensure comprehension. After the taste test students complete a self-evaluation of their oral performance. Then they have 45 minutes or so to work with their partner to discuss – in the TL – the information. The next class they come in and write their report – using the information gathered to justify their recommendation.

The best kind of resource is one that is current, valid and generated in a realistic way. Using your students to generate that resource can be an alternative as you expand your knowledge and use of authentic information.




March 6, 2013
by leesensei
1 Comment

The Value of Being “Forced” to Make Lemonade

What happens when your ‘traditional’ way of doing things in class doesn’t “fit” with the times or the situation? I confronted that this week. In prepping my Japanese 12 students for a debate on the value of a school uniform I traditionally take a few days to introduce and practice the patterns/structures that they might need.

Unfortunately this year’s unit (or fortunately!) begins 3 days before we start a 2 week spring break. What to do? Compounding the time frame my class of 18 is being reduced to 9 next week due to other school programs and trips. How did I react? Well it was a classic case of the 5 steps of ‘grief’ – there was denial it was happening, there was rage at my program being inconvenienced, there was bargaining with the teacher taking the majority of my students away, a bout of depression and then finally accepting it was going to happen – so what was I going to do about it?

I finally realized that I had been given a gift. I was being forced to face my ‘previous’ style of teaching and could use the tips, tricks and tech that I have gathered from my #langchat PLN to do what I needed in a much more modern way.

So now…on Day 1 we’re using #authres (authentic resources) to gather information on uniforms. The ‘grammar’ we’re needing will be woven into the project – and the key concepts introduced via video the night before in ‘flipped’ lessons. Comprehension will be checked via student ‘decided’ homework. Finally on Day 3 students will use a ’round table’ format to discuss scenarios and reasons to explain their choices – with a twist of adding some 21st century features. My absent students can also complete the activity and, instead of  participating in the round-table can narrate (using a 2.0 source) the visuals.

So thank you teachers for taking those students out of my class. I may not have been a pretty sight as I worked my way through the process but my students are certainly going to enjoy the lemonade we’ve made.




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