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!




March 10, 2016
by leesensei

Mash-Up: Interpretive Reading Meets Interpersonal Activity!

Photo via White Rabbit ExpressInterpretive reading is a new ‘push’ of mine and I’ve been making full use of my supply of graded readers for this. My Yr4’s are currently working in a food unit and I tapped the “Sushi” reading for this purpose. It is from a lower level than my students can handle but perfect for this read/use activity.(Just a note that due to extensive kanji (Chinese character) use in ‘real’ authentic resources, and a class composed of 50% character readers, I’ve been using the ‘created by Japanese/adapted by Japanese for language-learners’ stories).

Day 1 – the pair ‘Interpretive Reading/Question-Making Activity’: I designed a series of questions designed to tap their prior knowledge (and in our area of the world it is extensive) about sushi. They worked in partners for this – with a mind to the ensuing activity. The rule in the reading activity is, of course, no dictionaries but rather using picture and word clues to find the information.  They tackled this quite easily but it did require careful reading. I noted partners correcting each other’s answers/ideas and pointing to parts of the text to make their point. Well done! We did not go over the answers in class as I checked in with each group and prompted changes when needed. Everyone had the information they needed to proceed to next part of the activity.

Now on to the key part of the interpretive reading – the ‘Challenge Quiz’ questions! Students were asked to come up with 10 questions/answers (in a variety of formats – multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank) about the sections read, in the Japanese.  From the assignment: You will challenge other teams – but you will ‘read’ your questions so they should not be long/complicated.  Answers must be ‘easily’ found in the text and not based on the ‘fine print’ or knowledge of kanji. Your questions must not require dictionaries to understand – they are to be understood by your classmates. Students worked hard on their questions (in fact I dropped the requirement to 8 due to time constraints) and came to class ready for Day 2.

Day 2 – the ‘Interpersonal’ Pair Challenge – I gave the students some time to review their questions as well as become familiar with the phrases for question types (how do you say “this is a multiple choice question” in your target language?).  I also introduced them to the points system they would be using. Essentially a team got a 1-point for answering correctly without using the text, 1/2-point for having to find the answer in the text and 2 points if the answer the questioning team gave was wrong! We also reviewed potentially useful language like ‘guessing’ (“I’m pretty sure the answer is…”) and ‘you’re right/wrong’. Then they paired up opposite another team and began. There was lots of intent listening and laughing (as well as a few well placed insults).  They spent about 35minutes in the TL asking/answering and many were upset they didn’t get more questioning time.

Student Feedback/What I Will Do For Next Time – I asked my students for feedback on this activity specifically on how they liked it/didn’t like it, what they needed that they didn’t have to do it and if we should do it again. They loved the activity for the ‘spontaneity’ it required in asking. For next time I will include ‘debrief’ time as many students wanted to hear ‘the most interesting questions’ that teams asked. Students asked for ‘arguing’ phrases (and mild ‘joking’ ones) to use against their partners. I only used parts of the reading for this activity and many wrote that they wanted to read the whole thing (yeah!)

I like the idea of this kind of ‘mash-up’ and the noise, laughter and ‘arguing’ in the room tells me that it was an effective way to encourage speaking/listening. More please!



December 1, 2015
by leesensei

The “Read & Think/Respond” Class-Generated (& Targeted) Reading Activity

readingWe all get students to write things. We all take the time to read things. But how much to we tap the benefit of students reading each other’s work? Especially when we are trying to hit a targeted structure/vocabulary and have them see it over and over. I have gradually been including more and more of the ‘we read/we look/we ‘evaluate’  opportunities.  I use it with written ‘messages’, infographics they make, pamphlets and other student produced text.

The Set-Up: Here is the example from my Yr2 class. The targeted structure is ‘want to do/don’t want to do’ and “want/don’t want’. To start the students read a text message between a recurring character and his on again/off again sweetheart. They loved it. I quickly abandoned the boring ‘game’ I had for practicing the structure. Instead I asked them (in partners) to create a text message between two characters of their own. But I hadn’t prepped the assignment. Again I turned to them. I asked them what I would want to see in the piece. They generated a better list of ‘elements’ than I could. Then they set to work. They were so into it and so involved in their message that I gave them 2 periods on it. Some wrote on paper, a couple did text message screen shots – every group decided on ‘how’ they would produce this (we are NOT a high-tech school).  New words are allowed (up to 5) as long as a glossary is provided for the readers.

Reading Day:  We set out what is to be read on top of the desks. I ask the students to step out of the room for instructions (because in my space I can). I ask them to move from piece to piece with their partner and to read thoroughly. This is NOT a race to read all. Quality reading is expected.  I find that pulling them out and then sending them back in ‘sets the stage’ for the type of activity that I want and focuses them on their in-room activity a little more than just giving instructions in the classroom. Then they enter the room and begin.

Students move from table to table with their partner. They record their names on a post-it on the table to note that they have been there. In this case it was a text message so they each read a ‘part’. If it isn’t a message then they take turns reading the text and talking about what they are reading.

They have about 45 minutes for the reading. They move from place to place as they open up. I don’t specify how long they have to read – they take the time they need. For some readings I expect them to read them all (infographics etc). For others – with more detailed text I don’t. So sometimes they go to all of the tables, sometimes they don’t finish.

The Post-Read Activity: The KEY for me in this is the post-reading task which requires them to evaluate/use the content. This means that they have to comprehend what they are doing. For the Yr2’s I asked them to read for the required content “We saw…” and then to give their impression of the overall piece. This is quite ‘target structure’ specific but for this – it was my goal. Each team is asked to read 4 pieces in this way. (The sheet they got for this is here). For my higher grades I ask them to do things like choose something to fit a category and use the information on it to defend their choice (in the TL or English). A link to this style of post reading (from the Sumo Cultural Activity) is here. Generally the reading/post-reading happens in 1 (80 min) period although asking them to read for specific targeted content in text-heavy pieces may take longer.

My students like the class because they move/work freely with their partner. One Yr2 told me that “It’s fun and interactive – I like reading all the messages and its great because I understand what I am reading!”. I like it because they see the same structures over and over and, best of all, are creating with the language that they are learning.






March 9, 2015
by leesensei

“Who Killed Him?” An Interactive TL Murder Mystery


Image Source:

The origins of this activity come from the textbook Yookoso (by Yasu-Hiku Tohsaku) – a text we own as a school but which I am not using as a ‘class text’ any more. In a daily routine section there is a listening activity about a dead rich man and suspects who are being interviewed. Students are asked to listen to where the suspects (the wife, daughter, son, lover, chauffeur and brother) were during the evening and then determine who killed the man. But I wanted more…and I wanted it be interactive and wanted the use of the ‘daily routine’ to be realistic (and to me an interview by authorities was). So I added and fleshed it out and it became a class favourite – the ‘murder mystery’.

Why Do I Do This?: I do a scaffolded revisit of ‘daily life’ in Yr 4 as our first unit of the year – and it allows students in my semestered school a way to ease back into using Japanese via a topic (their lives) that they are familiar with.  Essentially this summative oral activity asks my students use this information in a ‘real-life’ context to solve a problem using the target language hitting their interpersonal and presentational (written) skills.

How many students?: I have “detectives” work in pairs and can vary the number of people that need to be interviewed. The detectives will get to interview the dead guy himself  as well (although he has no idea who killed him and can’t tell them that!) So, in a class of 28 I would have 8 interview stations (7 suspects/dead man plus a station to chat with the chief (me) and then a station for the them to chat on their own/discuss how its going in the TL.

What’s the ‘setup’ for the mystery?: 

 Preparation: It take 2 class periods (65 min each) to prepare. The volunteers playing the suspects/dead guy each prepare in a different room. The week before we begin to prep for this I ask for volunteers to play ‘a role’.

Backstory: I use a mock-up of a newspaper article (and visual Powerpoint) to introduce the characters. We all read it as a class and work out who the main players are. Essentially I used the idea of Mr. Hasegawa from the listening activity and fleshed it out. For the oral it revolves around a tech entrepreneur found dead in his garden. There are 7 suspects each with a motive to kill him (note: depending on numbers needed I drop the younger brother, first wife as suspects). The key is that every suspect has a motive:

  • – the younger brother who started the tech company with him then was cut out of the business
  • – the sweetheart he married, had 2 kids with & then divorced to marry a younger woman
  • – 2 kids who hate the new wife and who both have no jobs & various expensive habits
  • – the new wife who is insecure & scared of being dumped herself and losing access to money!
  • -a lover who fears he is tiring of her and needs money for her karaoke business
  • -a chauffeur who hates him and secretly fancies the second wife

Suspects get a basic individual back story of age, whether they are right/left-handed, possible motive, a few opinions on the dead guy/other suspects, any other information that could be suspicious. They also get a basic outline of what they did on that day (they can have this with them in English on a note card for the interviews – I’m not asking for memorization). They get a ‘map’ of the house/gardens where the crime was committed. Finally they get a list of ‘ideas’ in English of the types of questions that they might be asked. Their job in preparing is to be comfortable with who they are, practice answering the sample questions and be able to describe their day. They know that they can’t lie if they are asked a question but they won’t admit guilt either. They don’t see the autopsy report.

Detectives get the same sample questions, an autopsy report (he was hit from behind, stabbed with a sword and found to be dying of cancer) and a map of the house/garden. They also get a blank ‘grid’ that they can use to construct the questions they want to ask and put in answers. Their job in preparing is to use the information they have to generate & practice questions they want to use on interview day. They know that, on the interview day, they have to get to motive/opportunity in very limited time.  For this reason they can note their questions down in English and take notes in English – but can only converse in the target language.  They are often working off 1 copy so at the end of interviews I take their notes and copy them for them – so that each will have their own set of notes for the summative write.

On the Day:

What’s the setup: I essentially use my interactive oral setup. Circular desks with detectives moving in a clock-work fashion from suspect to suspect (no random moves!). Detectives sit at a desk (they have no idea who will be at it) and when they are ready I bring the suspects in.

Timing?: My school has a 1:45 min afternoon class but if timing doesn’t work I do this over 2 days…typically I give 7 minutes per station (this requires efficiency) and at the end a 10-min “ask anyone” free-for-all for detectives to question people again.

Bring a Prop!: Suspects are expected to come with a prop or two to help them get in character – and give hints to the detectives about who they are. Detectives are expected to come dressed as detectives (minus the guns) with a badge, ball-cap or whatever else they think works!

But Who Did It?: Everyone always wants to know if there is a correct answer – and, just like real life, I remind them all that the police ‘recommend’ charges only – which is what they will be doing. There are two keys to this as an activity. ONE – the time of death is not given on interview day. They won’t get this until the day of the summative write. TWO – Both the motives and the daily routines I give the suspects are set up so that any one of them  (alone or working with others) could have done it. The outcome often depends on the strengths/choices of the students playing the roles.

How Does It End?:

Post-Interview Self Evaluation: At the end of the interviews I ask students to tell me how it went for them – how well they asked questions, answered, provided follow-up information and stayed in the target language. As is my practice they start with a written response. This year I choose “That went __because…”. Students wrote that they loved the problem-solving aspect, the challenge of coming up with extra questions, or answers to new questions, on the spot – and it gives me feedback on what worked and didn’t.

Written Report (Recommending Charges/Defending or Blaming): For me it ends the day after the interviews in the summative writing time. Finally just as they go to write, I put the time of the murder on the board. Students have 60 minutes to write who did it based upon what role they played. Detectives (using their notes) say who they would charge with the murder and why. Suspects (using their bio/daily routine) have to give a defense of why they weren’t the murderer and who they think was (& why) or, if they confess, a detailed reasoning as to why they did what they did.

Results: I may not have marked what they wrote yet but a quick read lets me see who they favour as the ‘murderer(s)”. So the day after the written evaluation, I post the results – who voted to charge which suspects and why! The class loves to discuss, in the TL, if the ‘correct’ person(s) was/were charged!

The preparation may seem like a lot but really it isn’t once you have your characters set. Then it just requires some tweaking year to year to keep it fresh. My students look forward to this in their final year – and I enjoy watching them stretch their language skills to do it…


PS I’ve added some ‘samples’ of the kind of information given to students. Detectives get the newspaper article, sample question ideas, the autopsy, plans of house&garden. Suspects get the newspaper article, their own profile and house&garden plans.


February 15, 2015
by leesensei

The Interactive “Fair” – An Idea for Group Orals in the MFL Classroom

women-handshakeOne of the mainstays of my teaching is the belief that language should be used by students to ‘do something’. As a result there are very few ‘stand in front of everyone and speak’ opportunities for my students, and many ‘talk with many people’ ones.

As I have moved along in my teaching I have used the concept of the “fair” or ‘group oral’ as a pretext for student interaction (and evaluation). In a recent post John Cadena outlined how he used the fair idea for his fairy-tale retelling (an idea I am going to use for my classes as well). He mentioned that he based this upon some of the ‘interactive fair’ orals that I do. I thought I would pull together several posts outlining examples of those that I have done. I use them in all levels of language learning – especially in Yr 3 and 4.

There are several keys for me in using these types of orals.

Pairs Work Together To Prepare – But Individually to “Present” – On fair day the desks in my room are in a circle. One partner sits on the ‘inside’ of the circle and the other on the ‘outside’. The outside partner runs the booth for half of the time (generally 20-25 min) while the other is out finding out information from other groups. Depending on the complexity/detail of the information they are getting students can visit as few as 3 or as many as 7 other teams during their time. Then they switch – even if one is in ‘mid-explanation’ their partner is expected to slide in and replace them on the spot.

Students Understand The Expectation of Target Language Use – All oral interaction is to be in the Target Language. We work on self-evaluation skills a lot during my classes and my students  are very aware of how well they could do what I asked them to.

Speaking in the TL/Writing in English – Generally students are filling in an information sheet as they go around – one that is done in English and not the Target Language. Yes this can bring up a fear of not understanding something. However, my students regularly practice ‘the assist’ – helping someone when they don’t comprehend and are fully aware that they are allowed to say “I’m sorry but I don’t understand (vocabulary).

Self-Reporting of Success – The fairs are ‘self-marked’ – for the students’ ability to complete the task as required.  They are asked 2 exit questions (such as “how did that go?” or “a challenge for me was…”) that they must answer prior to completing the  oral evaluation rubric. I feel very strongly about this – that personal reflection must precede ‘filling in’. One part of the rubric always touches on the amount of English or non-TL used during the time.

Linking the Oral to the Written – As much as possible I try to link the information gathered in the oral – to the piece of writing they will do to show summative knowledge. In my Yr1 class, after the Club Oral, this can be as basic as outlining what various clubs they liked and why. In the Yr 4 Taste test this takes the form of a marketing report – using the data they collected. After the Travel Fair students write as a bored teen using one of the tours as the basis for “The Trip My Parents Forced Me To Go On”.

Adaptable for Any Year & Many Types of Themes/Content – I think the basic premise of the interactive fair can work for a wide variety of language levels, and themes. The examples below all take the basic premise – and all draw on different themes/levels of skill:

The “Club Decision” – students prepare and present their club activities

The “School Fair” – students construct and sell their themed schools to classmates

The “Taste Test” – students conduct blind taste-tests of products and analyze results

The “Travel Fair” – students research and construct tour packages to lesser-known areas of the TL countries

Next up for my Year 4’s is the “Murder Mystery” – where pairs of detectives ask questions of suspects in the murder of a wealthy Japanese Tech entrepreneur. Their fellow students play the suspects, and, in a twist, one student plays the ‘dead guy’ (and detectives get to interview him as well. It’s a fun way for students to test their language skills (and in the written test – they get to say who they think ‘did it’.)

What themes, language situations do you have in your classes that might lend themselves to an interactive fair?










November 5, 2014
by leesensei

“The Club Decision” Interactive Oral Activity

Teenagers JumpingThis is a post focusing on one of the summative interpersonal oral activities that I do in my class. 

One of my challenges in units is to come up with interpersonal orals for students to actually ‘use’ what they have learned. Typically I start at the end – what I want students to be able to do and then look for a ‘real life’ situation that utilizes what they are learning. I have blogged about others including a taste test, a travel fair and more.

For a 3rd semester class unit that focused on Sumo (and individual pursuits) I wanted students to be able to articulate, in detail, one or two activities they love to do – and to do that beyond a superficial level. I also know that I am heading into a ‘school’ unit. (I know – many don’t look at it – but the cultural comparisons between Canada and Japan make this a great ‘hook’ for language). And so, knowing that many students extend their passions in their choice of school clubs – the “Club Decision” oral was born.  The class had already done a short activity involving reading personal profiles and deciding what club/activities might suit a person – including ‘why’ that might be a good fit.

The Overall Idea – a 60 minute class in which students initially individually interview 3 students about their favourite pastimes/passions. They then pair up with another student and decide what an appropriate club choice may be for them.  But, there’s a twist. There is only limited space in the clubs they can choose – so that if 4 people love music – but the music club only has 2 spots – where would they place the other two? This means that, in finding out about their peers’ interests students would have to ‘dig deep’ probing people’s history with, and attachment to their pastimes.

The Preparation (1)  – We used 2 periods to prepare for this – and students were given a prompt sheet to help brainstorm about their passions. The sheet asked them initial questions about two of their pastimes including what, why they like it, where/when they practice/participate in it, who they participate with, how long they have been involved, and who/what inspires them to do this. They would not be using this during the oral but as they practiced asking/answering questions. My students had their basics down quite quickly… too quickly for me. When I checked for vocabulary needed they said ‘we’re okay’…and that led to…

The “Push” –  I saw the ‘cursory’ answers/notes in the 1st class of preparation and was not satisfied. This is their 3rd semester. “Because it is interesting” was not going to cut it. So I talked about the ‘push’ – about going beyond an answer they could have given in their 1st semester. I challenged them to push and grow – to express their ideas in a more detailed way. I also reminded them that there was a good chance a student might not get into their choice – so they would have to have a lot of information about them to make an ‘educated’ choice.  Language learning is about the ‘journey’ and we want a quality journey – not just a quick trip.

The Preparation (2) – Now with more focus, and extra details etc the vocabulary push, and depth of expression was way better. As part of the second preparation class we also explored how we could ‘negotiate’ – what language we already knew/could use to negotiate with someone about who to put where. Surprisingly (for them) they already had what they needed – and we found a few extra phrases that would assist them. We also reviewed skills we used helping someone to understand when they said they didn’t.

The Oral Day – Part 1: On the oral day students were given a table of 4 to sit at. They had 30 minutes to interview the 3 other people at the table. All oral talk was to be in the Target Language(TL) – and any notes taken were to be in English only . And they were off. What a noise in the room. Some students completed their interviews with 5 minutes to spare and others were still talking when their time was up.  Part 2: After 30 minutes a list on the screen identified their ‘pair’ for part 2. They were given a club sheet with 7 clubs on it (Sumo, Music, Anime, Reading etc) each with only 1 spot available. The rules – all speaking in the TL  – you could only talk about who you had interviewed, what club they should be in/why. You could not show your notes to your partner (so they just couldn’t read the information that you had) They had 20 minutes to put students into the club and tell me why. (written in English).

The Evaluation – After the process they self evaluated based upon their perceived ability to answer questions, add details, probe for understanding (follow-up questions) and not resorting to English. My job was to circulate, listen in and very occasionally offer language support. As is my custom, I also asked them to complete the sentence “Well, that was….” (and tell me why). Their comments revealed a great deal – some of the highlights were (note – the majority actually wrote ‘fun’):

“Well that was extremely really fun. It was interesting to learn so much about my fellow classmates’ interests..”
“Well that was fun because I was able to solve problems and figure out solutions with reasons for club placement – all in Japanese!”
“Well that was fun to describe my favourite activities in Japanese – I enjoyed it”
“Well that was fun because we really had to think and talk in-depth to pick a club for a person”
“Well that was fun. I really enjoyed it…by the end I wanted to keep talking in the interviews”
“Well that was better than I thought it was going to be…it became easier and easier to get my point across”

Not all of the orals that I do are self-evaluated. But this one, with its emphasis on communicating and understanding, is great for students. The side-product is almost 50 minutes of work in the target language – and that is awesome!


PS If you want more information – here’s some of the handouts I use for this!

October 20, 2014
by leesensei

Reading & Understanding – The Question Challenge Activity

Girls doing schoolwork.It’s always a challenge to construct activities that engage students – especially about a reading piece. I try a variety of ways to both help/determine if my students understand a piece from  group Q&A to discussion to drawing and more. My Year 2 class is a case in point. After 1 semester of Japanese they hover around the Novice-Mid range but they are eager to ‘talk’. My challenge was to give them a reading and then, get them to discuss it. Enter the student to student “Question Challenge” activity.

Day 1 – SetUp: The students were given a reading constructed by me, with key points that they had been learning embedded in it. They initially read in their pairs using what I call “2 and talk” – each student reading a sentence then stopping to talk about what it means. In this round I offered no ‘comprehension’ questions at all to see how well they had understood it themselves. However for a longer piece I will have a few questions from a section of the reading with their questions to come from another portion.

After students had read and debriefed with their partner they were given the challenge of constructing 8 questions concerning the piece. 3 were to be of the True/False variety – where answers could be found easily in the text. The next 5 were to be “open” questions about the reading – the only stipulation is that the answer could not be “yes” or “no”. This forced them into constructing questions along the line of our ‘follow up’ questions we often use in speaking. “Who did Nonki meet with?” “When on Saturday did they meet?” and so on.

This also required me to provide some key ‘phrasing’ that they had not already learned. For example “Who said…” or “Who is a person like…?”. We also reviewed what to do if someone didn’t understand them and how to say what you ‘specifically’ didn’t understand. I believe  that “I don’t understand.”  and “What does …mean?” are not negative phrases in my classes – but rather an opportunity for the speaker, a responsibility, to help in understanding. We reviewed what to do in this case – generally ‘repeat’, ‘give an example’ and, when appropriate, ‘give a sample answer’.

Day 2 – Question Day:  Students initially practiced asking each other their questions. We stressed eye contact and also had one partner ‘purposely’ not understand to review how to assist. We also reviewed cultural phrases/activities they could use as they ‘stalled’ to think of the answer. Then on to the challenge! The pairs had to challenge 3-4 other pairs to answer their questions. To increase the ‘fun’ we devised a point system. If students got the answer right away (no looking at the text) – 1 point. Giving right away and being wrong -1/2 point. And if they had to go back to the text to find the answer +1/2 point (note that a wrong ‘guess’ plus finding the right answer is 0!). I allotted about 20 minutes for the questioning. They had a ball. Lots of laughing, rephrasing and interaction and, most importantly for me, really good work on asking/answering key questions.

Debrief: I debriefed the activity using my “How Did That Go?” rubric. As usual the students first had to write – completing the phrase “That went ____because……”. Many cited the ability to talk and interact easily with their peers as a reason it went well. Almost all of them said that their groups actually went beyond the questions they had and started thinking up spontaneous questions to get more points! Students also asked for some key phrases that we had not reviewed such as “more slowly please” and “Did you say…?”. My students are very used to this rubric from their first semester with me – but if they weren’t I would have gone over the rubric (and what expectations I have) with them prior to setting them on their task.

I won’t go overboard in using this but I did love to hear the loud voices, laughing and groans (at wrong answers) during the time. Its going to be another tool in my ‘comprehension’ toolbox. What do you do to get kids talking about what they read?




June 9, 2014
by leesensei

“The Travel Fair” An Interactive Oral Exploring Lesser Known TL Places

Hands touching a globeWhat do you think of when you think of your Target Language country/countries? While you may have spent some time there – and traveled to various spots – your students may have not. As a Japanese teacher it seems that Tokyo is the number 1 ‘want to go to’ place for my students. However, as I spent my first 2 years in Japan in smaller more out of the way places,  I want my students to learn that there’s more to Japan than the big urban areas. And so the Year4 travel fair  – a summative activity at the end of a 2-week unit – was born. It allows students to utilize key words they will need if/when they visit Japan – and also allows them to research and introduce key areas to their classmates during an interactive oral.

For me the fair takes a week  – with time spent planning/preparing for the ‘fair’, running the fair and then using the information for a written ‘summative’ evaluation. (My handout – for my Yr4 Japanese class including is here)

The premise: Design an optional tour for a visitor to Japan – one that is outside major urban areas (I list the ‘no go’ places). This can be a 2 or 3 day tour.

Day 1/2: Research and Preparing the Information Pamphlet:

I send students to the national tourist website to begin their quest to find an area to represent. Some choose cities, others choose a ‘state’ or region. They have to pass their choice by me – and I get the final say as to whether its a go (sometimes they choose a satellite city of a major one – and that’s a ‘no’ from me). Note that I say that the tour cost is 30,000 yen – all tours will be the same price. Okay – it’s not ‘realistic’ for some but my goal is the for them to promote their tours solely on the tour and not the cost. Then they research – what to do, where to stay/transport etc. in their place of choice. This usually involves a combination of internet searches as well as guidebooks that our librarian gathers for 1

Preparing the Info – This is the time when they are preparing their ‘tour brochure’. They must include an itinerary as well as create a ‘blurb’ for the start of pamphlet – something to help sell their tour (Eg “Do you like sitting in hot springs? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to do that in winter? Well..have we got a tour for you!”). They add in visuals as well as 4 FAQs for their tour. I ask that any information they provide from sources be credited (including photos that must be sourced from the public domain.)  Students also prepare a “sign” for their tour which can only have their travel company name, their destination and a visual  – the idea being that all information shared must be done so orally.

Day 3/4 -Preparing/Practicing for New Vocabulary/Practicing What to Ask/Answer

We continue preparing the information pamphlet with students determining what their homework is based upon the travel fair date. They know that Day 4 will not be a ‘making’ day but rather a ‘practicing’ one.

Specific areas may require specific vocabulary – and how do you know if someone will understand you? We take 1/2 a class during preparation to set this up. Students put up any words that they think are key to their tour – in both the TL and English. Then we spend about 30min figuring out – as a group – how we would explain what these words meant. For example a ‘waterfall’ becomes a ‘river that falls from a mountain’. All of the students work on all the words. At travel fair time it becomes easier to explain a word if someone does not understand what it is ( my students are very comfortable when they don’t understand a word in saying “What does __mean?”)

Students also practice asking/answering questions about their tour. They know that during the fair other students will visit their booth to find out about their tour. I give some sample questions to help them – many have not travelled on their own so don’t know what to ask. They also practice asking questions of the potential customer – so that they can sell their tour to them!

travelfairDay 5 – The Travel Fair

On fair day the desks in my room are in a circle. One partner runs the booth for 1/2 the time (generally 20-25 min) while the other is out finding out about various tours. They are given a tour sheet to fill in that has space for the basic “Who, What, Why, When, Where” information to be recorded. All interaction is in the TL. All writing is in English (except the tour name). Students usually get to 3 or 4 tours during the allotted time they have. Halfway through the class they switch and take over the booth so that their partner can go tour hunting.  The tour fill-in sheet is collected after the travel fair. (They don’t know it but they will get it back for the written test.)

The fair is ‘self-marked’ – for their ability to complete the task as required. We work on self-evaluation skills a lot during my classes and my Yr4’s are very aware of how well they could do what I asked them to. For me the ‘second check’ comes during the writing piece.  Keep in mind they are asked 2 exit questions (such as “how did that go?” or “a challenge for me was…”) that they must answer prior to completing the rubric.

Day 6 – Summative Written Piece

My check-in with them comes during the summative evaluation. For this they are given their tour sheet back – I’m measuring how well they communicate – not their ability to remember what the tours had to offer. The ‘twist’ I throw in is to have them write, not about “What Tour I want to Go On (and why)”  but to write as a ‘bored teenager who has been dragged on a tour by their parents’.  They love this chance to take something fun and write with a sense of ‘ennui’!

The Travel Fair gives my students the opportunity to find out about less well-known places in Japan, see what it would take to visit their and use their language skills to promote the area to classmates. My hope is that it gives them a new place to see should they ever visit the country!





May 27, 2014
by leesensei

“If I Had 1 Day in…” A Webquest/Google Docs/Discussion Activity

Pagoda Surrounded by Cherry BlossomsWhat if you only had 1 day in a famous city/area in your Target Language (TL) country? Where would you go, what would you do? This is the premise for my “Visit to Kyoto” activity with my Yr 3 Japanese class. This is a 3-class activity that introduces my students to some iconic Kyoto sites – and hopefully gives them ideas should they plan a trip in the future!

Day 1 – Webquest/Google Docs Survey – In order to establish a common basis for discussion, I ask that they visit the National Tourist site for Japan – and in my case (as I’ve outlined my authres challenge before) in English.  I want them to see the specific country’s site, the extent of its offerings and, as I have a high population of students who don’t have English as their first language, the variety of languages offered to explore the site . For Kyoto I identified 5-7 top sites in the city. For the assignment the students are asked to go to each site and complete the following information (in English and on paper):

What is it?
Where in the city is it?
Why do tourists go there?
What would I see if I went there?
What could I do if I went there?
Why would I personally want to go there?

At the end of assignment, and to ensure they’ve gone to the site I want them to,  I also ask the students email me to respond to the website in particular – telling me what their initial impression of the site was and one improvement that they might suggest for the webmaster and why. I’ve sometimes even sent their suggestions along to the organization.

Google Doc Survey – Once students have completed the paper survey I ask them to enter the info into the google docs survey.  This survey just asks them to rank each site for the ‘visit’ preference from 1st (most want to go to) to the last. I don’t do this Day 1 work as an all on-line google doc activity as I want students to have the hard copy for class work – and I really only want the info to generate the rankings.

Day 2 – Vocabulary Crowd-source – Generally I put up the 6 spots on the whiteboard and ask the students to talk to their partner and answer the ‘questions’ that they had to when they did the webquest. They do this as a ‘mindmap’ on a larger sized piece of paper. For the first 10-15 min. (or so) I don’t allow dictionaries – in the hope that I can tap into their circumlocution skills. Then students source out the TL that they would need of they had to answer using dictionaries. Finally they take turns adding information to the whiteboard. If it’s a ‘looked-up’ word they put the English beside it. The last part of class allows them to borrow any words seen on the board that they might want.

Day 3 – Summary Discussion – Prior to class I go to the form response data and generate a “Summary of Responses” and a series of TL questions about the place in general and their specific responses.  I use conversation circles a lot and students are used to answering questions as a group. The questions can range from “What is Kinkakuji?” to “Why do you think the Gion was the ‘least’ popular site among students”. They get 10 min or so with their partner (and notes) to work through answers to the questions. Then they move into tables of 4. They can have notes with them if they need them still but they are there really for ’emergency’ purposes only. The discussion generally lasts 35-40 minutes and we change groups once half-way through. The discussion is self-evaluated with the written response prompts being “Today I was proud that I…” and “For next time I’m going to …”

It’s a great activity for students that makes use of their real data, and incorporates reading, listening and speaking. If your class went to an area in your TL country – where would that be and why?


April 8, 2014
by leesensei

The “School Fair” – Interactive Oral

sports schoolI like the concept of school life – in my country and the target TL – as the basis for a unit. It incorporates a cultural learning opportunity – especially for my students who regard the Japanese school system as quite different from their own. It also mirrors what happens in real life in Japan – as Japanese parents and students attend “School Fairs” to decide which middle or high school to try to enter.

On the language side it’s a great way for my students to use particular constructions – especially as they pertain to ‘rules’ and activities. My Year 3 summative oral for the unit is an interactive one. Students create their own themed schools – from sports to anime and even the ‘lazy’ school, then devise some rules (how the school operates), subjects, clubs and even the uniform. On the day of the oral students divide their time between giving information about their school and gathering information from other schools. It’s also a great chance for them to practice the culturally relevant ‘niceties’ that would be involved in this promotional situation.

Prior to the Oral Students Have

– explored school life/rules/expectations in Canada/Japan, uniforms, reading/discussion on a day at a school in Japan, discussion of types of clubs/subjects,
-explored/practiced language including “you may..” “you must..” “you may not..” “we’d prefer that you..” etc built from their knowledge of their own school
-practiced oral interaction including how you communicate when you don’t understand something and strategies to use to help someone to understand
A Prospective Student at the "Reading School"

A Prospective Student at the “Reading School”

What Students Prepare/Practice (in pairs) For the Oral:

– a ‘sign’ for their school (name/pictures only)
-information about their school – they can have notes in English (if they forget something) but not in TL
 including: name, theme, various rules, subjects taught, clubs, the uniform, other interesting facts
-asking questions to get information about a school
-cultural ‘norms’ in this conversation – greetings, gestures, opening/closing phrases
Gathering Info from the 'Awesome Manga/Anime' School

Gathering Info from the ‘Awesome Manga/Anime’ School

How It Works on the Day

-recording sheet with ‘prompts’ (“rules” “uniform” etc) for recording information
– desks in circle – one partner behind/one on the ‘inside’
-sign stand(picture stand)  – I bought mine at the dollar store – I use them for all sorts of orals
-inside partner visits at least 3 other schools while other gives info
-students move on their own from school to school as tables open up (you may have to facilitate the first few times)
-if they are waiting  – they stand in the middle of the circle until a chair opens up
-1/2 way through total time they switch (even if their partner is in mid-explanation – they can slide in)
-all oral language in TL – all written info in English

Evaluations – Students hand in their oral evaluation/recording sheet at the end of the time.

Oral – I ask students to self evaluate for their communicative interaction and support the choices
with a written piece. The evaluation is an “always/often/sometimes/never” choice for:
– perceived ability to get their ideas across
-degree of comfort asking/answering questions
-how much they may/may not have used English
-ability to facilitate communication
Written –  The next day students are given their oral sheet for their summative written test. They are asked to:
-identify the school that they would like to go to (not their own)
-tell why using supporting details from their sheet
-relate the details of  the school  to their interests.


There is a lot of “buzz in the room” during this – and many opportunities for students to use practice the full range of their interpersonal communication skills. It’s an easy setup and the meaningful use of the information gathered is the reward for me.


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