Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Going Beyond “Teaching English” In English Language Classrooms by Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow

by Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow

Bio: Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow is a researcher and academic tutor. He facilitates lectures and workshops on qualitative research and data analysis in NVivo, develops self-study courses and provides free academic support through his Qualitative Researcher Dr Kriukow website and Facebook.

He was awarded a PhD degree by the University of Edinburgh for his mixed methods research into Polish migrants' English Language Identity.

His research interests include: Non-native English speakers' self-concept and self-esteem in relation to English, the implications of English as a Lingua Franca research for Educational Psychology, post accession Polish migration to the UK, links between ELT (English language teaching) and language learners' self-perceptions as well as TESOL.

Forward by David L. Hayter,
ALTTO Community Media Manager

As ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) in Japan, I think a lot of us are often focused on the nuts and bolts of teaching lessons like creating fun activities for our classes and making quality materials. However, we may sometimes forget to investigate the finer nuances which drive our students’ attitudes towards learning, our JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) attitudes towards teaching, and how they both perceive themselves in a global society.

Dr Kriukow’s work focuses on the concept of self-identity within social-science. Oxford Dictionary defines this self-identity as, “The perception or recognition of one's characteristics as a particular individual, especially in relation to social context”.

When thinking about this concept of self-identity as it relates to Japanese English students and teachers, we must take into account that if they are not actively shaping their own identities within an English speaking and global communication context, then an alternative, often negative, identity is being shaped for them. This “English Language Identity” that Dr Kriukow describes can have a dramatic effect on how students learn languages and how teachers expect them to perform.

From my experience, much of the confidence that Japanese students, and sometimes teachers, lack comes from a culture where they have been told that anything but perfection is not good enough and that the ultimate goal is to speak like a native speaker of English. This creates an environment where English is purely a measure of one’s academic ability and intelligence as opposed to a tool for people to use to communicate their ideas and gain new information.

Along with many of the changes prescribed by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for improving English education in Japan in 2020, the shaping of this “English Language Identity” must be addressed to effect long term change in the country’s attitude towards teaching and learning English.

As you read through Dr Kriukow’s work dealing with Polish migrants in the UK, try to keep your own students in mind and think about how we can support our students and teachers to shape a positive, realistic “English Language Identity”.

Going Beyond “Teaching English” In English Language Classrooms

In this blog post, based on research into English as a Lingua Franca, as well as research in Social Psychology and my own study of Polish migrants’ “English Language Identity”, I argue that, in an English language classroom, the students’ self-perceptions and beliefs about the language and its users are just as important an issue as the language itself. Subsequently, I make suggestions for classroom practice that would foster the development of desirable self-perceptions and conclude with a call for the current practitioners to conduct their own classroom-based research.

Research into English as a Lingua Franca

With the global spread of English and its use as a lingua franca, or a common means of communication between speakers of different first languages (Seidlhofer, 2011), as well as with Non-native English Speakers (NNESs) outnumbering Native English Speakers (NESs), the language no longer ‘belongs’ exclusively to the latter, but to everyone who speaks it. Early research into the structural aspects of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) communication revealed that the ways English is used are often at odds with those promoted by ELT practice, which views NES speech as a benchmark of achievement (Dewey, 2012). It also showcased the common structural aspects of NNES use of English that do not affect mutual intelligibility during communication, despite it differing from the ‘traditional’, ‘standard’ variety taught in the classroom and modelled by Native English-Speaking Teachers (NESTs). ELF researchers perceive many of these differences as proof of an adaptive nature of NNES’ use of linguistic resources during interaction and often as a tool for expressing identity and culture (e.g. Baker, 2012). They put forward the notion of multi-competence, or the “knowledge of more than one language, free from evaluation against an outside standard” (Cook 1999: 190), as a concept beneficial for NNES identity construction in light of the global use of ELF. Rather than viewing NESs as the benchmark for measuring their language proficiency, it has been argued that language learners should recognise their own potential of being multi-competent language users (Cervatiuc, 2009). Cook (1999) argued that, by continuously comparing their pronunciation with native models, NNESs are likely to perceive themselves as “deficient native speaker[s]”, or an “imitation of native speaker[s]” (ibid: 195), rather than thinking of themselves as being successful, multilingual speakers who are fully legitimate members of a global community of English users.

Language, Self-concept and Self-esteem

At the same time, an extensive body of research within Social and Educational Psychology suggests that a person’s self-concept, being the sum of “beliefs (…) about oneself” (Hamlyn, 1983: 241), as well as self-esteem, or the evaluation of that self-concept (Rubio, 2015), are factors that influence people’s behaviour and decision-making in their everyday life (Ryan and Irie, 2015). As it is through language that people first internally conceptualise, and then express, that sense of self to others (Park, 2007), language is believed to play a central role in both self-concept and self-esteem formation. It has also been suggested that NNESs develop their self-concept by comparing themselves to those whom they believe have expertise in a domain relevant to a particular communicative situation (Mercer, 2011). ELF research adds to this, by arguing that, at least with regard to English competence, NNESs tend to both view NESs as such ‘experts’ and measure their own achievement in terms of proximity to their unrealistic and irrelevant goal of achieving native-like pronunciation.

The study of Polish migrants’ English Language Identity (ELI)

I kept the above claims in mind when I conducted a study of Polish migrants’ English Language Identity (ELI) which I defined as the relationship between the English language and the migrants’ self-concept, or beliefs about themselves. The setting was Scotland, where Poles constitute the largest, and fastest growing, migrant community. A goal of the Scottish Government is to attract and retain these migrants in the country, not only to promote cultural diversity, but also to counter the issues of Scotland’s aging population and insufficient workforce. Research suggests, however, that Polish migrants tend to not integrate well with the local communities and to work below their education level and skill set (e.g. Bielewska, 2011). Suggested reasons include some migrants’ low English language skills, their willingness to apply for unskilled jobs because of a short-intended stay in the UK, or employers’ discrimination. However, my background as a Polish national living in Scotland and therefore frequent interactions with other Poles led me to believe that other factors are also likely to be at work. I believed that in their migrant experience in which they have been rapidly immersed in a new linguistic environment and the way they perceive themselves as users of English vis-à-vis NESs is likely to affect their sense of self. My impression was that their general understanding of English as an exclusive property of its native speakers brings about their low self-confidence in speaking the language. This, I believed, would lead to their low self-esteem in general and affect their understanding of what their skills are outside the language, which could result in them choosing jobs below their skill set.

The findings of this study revealed that, in fact, the participants’ beliefs about the English language and its speakers (including themselves) were, ultimately, the main factor influencing their ELI. Their understanding of the notion of “correct” English, for example, paired with, or arguably stemming from, their limited awareness of the variety of forms that English may take in light of its global spread, resulted in them perceiving themselves as having a limited English skill, as opposed to the “superior” and “expert” NESs. This ultimately led to feelings of frustration, stress and anxiety. In sum, it appeared that their overall beliefs about English and its speakers ultimately led to lowered self-esteem and affected their everyday decisions, including them avoiding socialisation as the site of communicative encounters, opting for less linguistically demanding jobs, or, in some cases, deciding whether or not to stay in Scotland.

For those who had been taught English in Poland, this educational setting appeared to have an influence on shaping their overall “language ideologies”. This was evident in the participants’ critical statements about their English learning experiences, which accorded with research on the ELT practices in Poland that revealed that British English and American English are often the only varieties students are exposed to, and the message conveyed to students in ELT classrooms is that these are the only ‘correct’ and ‘legitimate’ varieties (e.g. Janicka et al., 2005). The participants of my study criticised the English education in Poland for a lack of exposure to the different accents spoken worldwide, a lack of training in communication strategies, not enough opportunities to practice speaking and over-reliance on grammatical accuracy. They felt that having been taught in a “don’t say anything because you’ll sound like an idiot, because you won’t say it grammatically” (Ewa, Interview 1) manner, that conveyed the message that ‘Native English’ is the only inherently correct English, grammatical accuracy is the most important aspect of successful communication and the only varieties of English you may encounter abroad are British English and American English, they formed a set of unrealistic and irrelevant beliefs about English and its speakers. These beliefs further influenced their beliefs about English competence (e.g. what it means to be able to ‘speak English’) and their beliefs about people’s perceptions of migrants that were revolving around the migrants’ status of mostly being “failed” NESs (Jenkins 2011: 284). These negative assumptions negatively affected their ELI and resulted in behaviour and various decisions that would ultimately determine their whole migration experience. Furthermore, expecting to encounter only the “marked” versions of English (e.g. ‘British’ or ‘American’ English) on arriving in Scotland also contributed to their initial shock, resulting in their negative self-evaluated English competence and widening the distinction between themselves and the local community.

Incorporating ELF-awareness into English language teaching

The findings supported the previous claim that awareness of the global spread of English with its consequences, including the ways in which the language is used and the different forms it takes, the “fluid” notion of language correctness and the implications of this spread for the “status” and (self)identification of its various non-native users, who are in the majority and may exercise linguistic “power” equal to their native counterparts, could benefit learners’ self-esteem building. Most importantly, instruction that involves this kind of awareness raising, as proposed by various ELF scholars, could, ultimately, transform learners’ perceptions of the language, from seeing it as the “property” of expert NESs into a language that belongs to everyone who speaks it (Cogo, 2012). The feeling of ownership of English and awareness of it having different varieties could enable learners to value their own “version of English”, free them from pursuing the unattainable native accent and ease their future transition into an environment where a variety of English accents are spoken. It could also help them to address the view held by the participants of this study that they speak incorrect English and that they are constantly being evaluated by NESs.

There is a growing body of literature on how to incorporate an ‘ELF perspective’ into English language teaching. Raising awareness of ELF-related topics, for example, can be achieved through direct instruction about the global spread of English (Galloway, 2013), through increased exposure to English varieties (Hino and Oda, 2015; Galloway and Rose, 2013) or authentic encounters through ELF (Galloway and Rose, 2013; Hino and Oda, 2015). The topic of the global spread of English could be incorporated into listening and reading exercises, oral debates or written assignments that would encourage reflections on, and learning about, this topic. Exposure to ELF and various varieties of English, in turn, may be achieved by using materials that include encounters in English between speakers from different backgrounds and in various settings where English is used as a common lingua franca. This would not only prepare learners for the variety of accents and varieties of English they may encounter in the future, but also encourage them to reflect on the ambiguity of the notion of ‘correctness’ in, and, arguably, the ownership of, English. This could, potentially, encourage learners to reconsider their own English competence and their interlocutors’ status as “experts”, which has been shown to affect their ELI, as well as the notion of English as being “NESs’ language” that requires native-like fluency and grammatical correctness.

The importance of practitioner research

All of the above leads to a point that I would like to make. As English teachers, we need to be aware of our students’ needs, beliefs, goals and personalities. As I argued above, these various characteristics not only influence their language learning and performance but may also have a crucial role in their future experiences when using the language. Furthermore, as no teaching/learning context is the same, apart from being aware of the existing research, it is also important for the teachers to conduct their own research to minimize the long-existing gap between research and practice.

This does not have to involve publishing in peer-review journals (although I love to see this kind of papers coming from practitioners), but rather conducting small-scale, ‘local’ research for our own purposes. Conducting a needs analysis among students, using questionnaires to gather their evaluations and feedback, or conducting interviews are only a few methods that may help us understand our students’ needs and beliefs. Nobody understands the students better than the teachers themselves, and it is this teacher perspective that I feel has still not received enough attention in academic literature.


Baker, W. (2012). From cultural awareness to intercultural awareness: culture in ELT. ELT Journal, 66 (1), 62-70.

Bielewska, A. (2011). National identities of Poles in Manchester: Modern and postmodern geographies. Ethnicities, 12 (1), 86-105.

Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8, 254-271.

Cogo, A. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca: concepts, use, and implications. ELT Journal, 66 (1), 97-105.

Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (2), 185-209.

Dewey, M. (2012). Towards a post-normative approach: learning the pedagogy of ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 1 (1), 141-170.

Galloway, N. (2013). Global Englishes and English Language Teaching (ELT) – Bridging the gap between theory and practice in a Japanese context. System, 41 (3), 786 – 803.

Galloway, N. & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. London: Routledge.

Hamlyn, D.W. (1983). Perception, learning and the self: Essays in the philosophy of Psychology. London: Routledge.

Hino, N. & Oda, S. (2015). Integrated practice in teaching English as an international language (IPTEIL): A classroom ELF pedagogy in Japan. In Y. Bayyurt & S. Akcan (Eds.), Current perspectives on pedagogy for English as a lingua franca (pp. 81-111). Berlin/Munich/Boston: Walter de Gruyter.

Janicka, K., Kul, M. & Weckwerth, J. (2005). Polish students’ attitudes to native English accents as models for EFL pronunciation. In K. Dziubalska-Kołaczyk & J. Przedlacka (Eds.), English pronunciation models: a changing scene. Bern: Peter Lang.

Jenkins, J. (2011). Accommodating (to) ELF in the international university. Journal of Pragmatics 43. 926-936.

Mercer, S. (2011). Towards an understanding of language learner self-concept. Dordrecht: Springer.

Park, J. (2007). Co-construction of nonnative speaker identity in cross-cultural interaction. Applied Linguistics, 28 (3), 339-360.

Rubio, F.D. (2015). Self-esteem and self-concept in foreign language learning. In S. Mercer and M. Williams (Eds.), Multiple perspectives on the Self in SLA (pp. 41-59). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Ryan, S. & Irie, K. (2015). Imagined and Possible Selves: Stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. In S. Mercer and M. Williams (Eds.), Multiple perspectives on the Self in SLA (pp. 109-126). Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Monday, October 1, 2018

English In Japan In 2020: A Reality Check For Elementary and Junior High School ALTs by Craig Hoffman

by Craig Hoffman

Bio: Craig Hoffman is a novelist, writer, blogger, and Social Media guru living in Japan. He spent years as an ALT-CIR and consults with ALTs and school boards on a variety of English teaching issues. Craig can be found at @craighoffman11 on Twitter and at https://craiginjapan.wordpress.com/blog/.

Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) rejoice! English education in Japan is changing in 2020. It is about time. I mean; after all, Japanese people love English.

In modern Japan, there seem to be conflicting views over how the Japanese people view the English language. On one side, it appears that there is much interest in acquiring a working knowledge of the English language, which can be demonstrated by the annual rise in STEP Eiken applicants and the number of Japanese media outlets that have begun to incorporate English-language programs into their repertoire, in order to participate in the global economy and international community. While at the same time, writers such as Henry J. Hughes and Mike Guest point out that Japan maintains itself as one of the most independent nations on Earth due to its geographic isolation and amazing translation industry which results in hardly any need of English in daily life. (Wikipedia)

The Japanese government loves English. Well, they love English enough to change the English language curriculum in schools. And, it is happening just in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

English will be a mandatory subject from the 3rd grade (elementary school) for the entire nation. Currently, municipalities decided to study, or not to study, English as an integrated subject or as conversational English. English has only been mandatory starting from the 5th grade from 2011 or so. English will be taught using immersion and other modern methods in junior high school. Currently, English is grammar-based but includes some communicative elements. (EK-Go)

Elementary school ALTs have nothing to worry about since the Japanese homeroom teachers will be teaching English. Those licensed teachers must be qualified to teach English. After all, Japan is the land of certificates.

According to an education ministry survey in fiscal 2015, only 4.9 percent of elementary school teachers were licensed to teach English. Many didn’t even learn how to teach the subject because it wasn’t necessary to acquire their teaching licenses. (Japan Times)

Certainly, this will not be a problem at the junior high schools. There is a Japanese English teacher with the ALT in the classroom. That has to be a cake teaching job for the ALT. Right?

The blueprint also calls for English classes in junior high schools to be “basically” taught in English with the goal of nurturing the “ability to understand familiar topics and exchange simple information as well as express simple thoughts.” (Japan Times)

Unfortunately, there is not enough qualified Japanese English teaching staff to put in every elementary and junior high school in Japan. In fact, there is a significant teacher shortage in general in Japan.

The number of teachers working at public elementary and junior high schools in Japan was at least 357 short of the necessary quota at the start of the 2017 academic year. (The Mainichi Shimbun)

There are elementary and junior high schools across Japan scrambling to put a warm body in front of students. There are a number of Japanese teachers who are not fully qualified to be teachers let alone English teachers.

“Do you really believe the temporary Japanese teacher is going to be ready on the first day to teach English with you?”

Japanese test-takers ranked 40th of 48 countries in 2013 on their average score on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), organized by Educational Testing Service, a private, nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization. (Wall Street Journal)

That is not to say one needs a teaching qualification or even a high TOEIC score to be an effective English teacher. Some of the best Japanese English teachers I worked with over the years have degrees outside of English. In this day and age, young Japanese people spend time overseas on homestays, as university exchange students, and working holidays.

Those aged between 26 and 30 scored the highest with an average of 616 points. Those under 20, the youngest bracket, scored the lowest with 492. (Wall Street Journal)

“Is it a reasonable expectation that an older, certified elementary school teacher you are working with is going to have enough English ability to carry a year’s worth of English curriculum?”
Probably not. The older generation of Japanese teachers did not have as many opportunities for English immersion experiences. Unfortunately, the English education Japanese college students get in school is of little practical value. This is according to a recent case study on the matter.

The findings in this study also revealed that students have not had significant opportunity to practice the use of English with other students. The fact that 66% of the students in this study did not believe that their prior English learning experience was meaningful was similar to research by Mack (2012), whereby students also complained that they felt uncomfortable with other students because they had not had much experience speaking in English. (Grant L. Osterman)

“Is it likely your junior high school is staffed with Japanese English teachers who can conduct English lessons completely in English for the entire year?”

The teachers themselves — most of whom were taught in the same way as they now teach — do not have adequate enough English communication skills. In fact, more than 70 percent of junior high school English teachers have a TOEIC score lower than 730. (Japan  Today)

This is unlikely in most junior high school English classrooms. I do not believe all is lost despite the above gloom and doom. This English curriculum transition provides a unique opportunity for ALTs to redefine their roles in the classroom. ALTs in 2020 can support Japanese English-teaching staff like never before in the Japanese school system.

A flexible and well prepared ALT in an elementary school can lead English classes while allowing the Japanese homeroom teacher to interject where and when they feel comfortable. The ALT should lean on the Japanese elementary school teacher’s pedagogical expertise. There must be a commitment by all involved to work together if these new changes are to be given a chance to succeed.

A fostering of a symbiotic teaching relationship between the elementary school ALT and the Japanese homeroom teacher will be necessary as the Japanese education system seeks to make English a tested and graded subject. A balance between the ALT teaching real English and the unavoidable fact that most of that practical communication will not be on the real English tests is going to be a problem.

The ALT must weigh increasing English communication skills against the sobering reality that tests still matter in Japan. This presents a different challenge for an ALT teaching at the junior high school level. The MEXT has decided junior high school English classes should “basically” be taught in English.

This change necessitates more communication between the elementary and junior high school Japanese teaching staff (and ALTs) than exists at present in Japan’s school system. In addition, the transition will require more preparation and teamwork with the Japanese English teacher inside the classroom. There is no doubt many Japanese junior high school English teachers will struggle to adapt to an all English teaching-learning environment.

The ALT is going to be invaluable in helping with lesson planning and presentation. It will be imperative the ALT instills confidence in their Japanese English teachers they can teach in English. The ALT should not be expected to do everything alone. It is still team-teaching after all.

The Japanese English teacher and the ALT should create clear lesson plans with easy, student-led activities promoting the use of English only in the classroom. The ALT’s days of winging it and being a human tape recorder are coming to an end. There will be bumps in the road for both ALTs and Japanese English teachers in the classroom, but there is a silver lining for foreign English teachers.

It is a fortunate time to be an ALT in Japan as these English curriculum changes come in 2020. Finally, there is a chance for students to learn and use English, and for the ALT to be an integral part of the process. If everyone involved is committed to working together, English education in Japan will improve in the future.

And, so, I say again, ALTs rejoice!

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Vocabulary in Textbooks: What Our Students Need and What They Get by Isra Wongsarnpigoon

by Isra Wongsarnpigoon

Bio: Isra Wongsarnpigoon is a learning advisor in the Self-Access Learning Center at Kanda University of International Studies. He originally came to Japan on the JET Programme and taught as a senior high school ALT in southern Chiba prefecture.

After his JET stint, he continued working as an ALT for the board of education in another city in Chiba, teaching in junior high and elementary schools. While at this job, he earned his M.S.Ed. from Temple University, Japan Campus. 

Aside from L2 (second language) vocabulary learning, his recent research interests include learner autonomy, learner motivation, reflective practice, and positive psychology.

Note: In this entry, I loosely describe a study that I presented at the 2017 JALT national conference. For a more detailed report, please read my paper (Wongsarnpigoon, 2018) from the post-conference publication.

Are any of these experiences familiar to you? 

  • Students asking the meaning of a word when you know for sure that they’ve already learned it and have had to be reminded of it before.
  • Looking at the textbook, questioning whether students really need these vocabulary words at this point, and wondering who makes these choices.
  • Wondering how effective it really is for X Sensei to bombard students with drills for every word in a unit at once and never go back to them again.

These all happened to me more than once and helped inspire my study. I was also motivated by another experience from a few years prior: When the 2012 editions of the English textbooks were published, I remembered my Japanese teacher of English (JTE) colleagues lamenting how much more vocabulary they needed to teach. The textbooks conformed with new MEXT guidelines, which set a vocabulary learning target of 1,200 words for junior high school—an increase of 300 from the previous guidelines (MEXT, 2008).

These various concerns made me curious about the textbooks’ contents, especially considering that they are a major source of vocabulary input for junior or senior high school students, many of whom intensely prepare for entrance examinations. I checked MEXT’s guidelines and discovered that while there was a set target number of words, the actual vocabulary selection was entirely left to individual publishers! It made me wonder: How useful were the words in the textbooks? Did the vocabulary suit students’ needs?


Before continuing, I’ll briefly mention some principles of L2 vocabulary learning that serve as the underlying foundation of this article, although I’m sure David Coulson’s vocabulary module will cover them also. First, a learner’s comprehension of a text greatly depends on the amount of known words in it. Laufer (1989) found that when learners knew 95% of the words in a text, they could achieve adequate reading comprehension. More recently, knowledge of 98% of the words is considered a more appropriate target for unassisted comprehension (Hu & Nation, 2000). This 3% difference can be visualized like this: When students know 95% of the words, one out of every 20 words, or one word every two lines, is unknown; when 98% of the words are known, one out of every 50 words, or one out of every five is unknown. That makes quite a difference.

These thresholds therefore underscore the importance of knowing the most frequent words in English. In a landmark study, Nation (2006) calculated what size vocabulary was necessary in order to comprehend various kinds of texts. The most frequent 2,000 words (generally known as high-frequency vocabulary) tend to make up about 80-90% of authentic texts. As such, beginners should focus on learning high-frequency vocabulary first.

The final major concept is that repetition is crucial in learning vocabulary. Students need to encounter a new word multiple times in order to learn it. Some researchers have written that seeing a word in context 10 times leads to learning (Webb, 2007), while others like Nation (2013) believe that at least 20 encounters are necessary. In any case, it’s clear that the more times students see a word, the better!

My Study

I built on these theoretical assumptions to investigate the vocabulary in the New Crown junior high school textbook series (Takahashi, et al., 2012). Since high school exams were often my students’ ultimate targets, I also wanted to look at actual exams, so I could see how well the textbooks’ vocabulary prepared students for them. I thus also analyzed the English sections of the public high school entrance examinations for several prefectures from 2015 and 2016.

For my study, I followed Webb and Nation’s (2008) procedure for analyzing the vocabulary in texts and used the computer software Range (Heatley, Nation, & Coxhead, 2002), which is available on Nation’s website. Range analyzes texts, provides various data about every word in the file(s), and also sorts the words according to preset base lists, usually lists based on levels of frequency in English. With this data, I checked the textbooks’ and exams’ vocabulary levels by determining what size vocabulary would allow students to reach those crucial 95% and 98% thresholds.

For the combined three volumes of New Crown, knowing the most frequent 2,000 English words would cover 95% of the books’ vocabulary, and the first 5,000 words covered 98%. These levels varied for individual volumes, though. In Volume 1 (for seventh graders), the most frequent 3,000 English words allowed 95% coverage, while the 98% threshold was reached at 6,000 words. In Volume 3 (for ninth graders), however, the first 2,000 and 4,000 words were needed for 95% and 98% respectively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Volume 1’s vocabulary was more difficult; it may just reflect the kind of topics and grammar used in each book.

For the entrance examinations, knowing the most frequent 2,000 words allowed 95% coverage, and the first 3,000 words covered 98%. This result shows that the vocabulary levels of the exams were lower than that of the textbooks, so knowing enough vocabulary for the textbooks would conceivably be enough for the exams.

I then looked at data for repetition and recycling of vocabulary (i.e., how often students would see words and therefore learn or remember them better), focusing on the high-frequency first 2,000 words. New Crown contained 996 high-frequency words, but only about 37% of them appeared in every volume. In contrast, 171 high-frequency words (over 17%) were introduced in Volume 1 or 2 but never reappeared in later volumes. For instance, jump, from the most frequent 1,000 words, appeared in Volume 1 but was in neither Volume 2 nor 3. Another 42 high-frequency words (e.g., far) appeared in both Volumes 1 and 2 but not in Volume 3. Thus, for many valuable words, students might see them in a given unit but wouldn’t have later opportunities to strengthen their knowledge or memory of those words.

Next, although 321 of the most frequent 1,000 words were in every volume, only 58.6% of them appeared more than 20 times, as recommended by Nation (2013) for learning. Another 17.8% of them didn’t even reach the minimum 10 times that Webb (2007) recommended. Of the 47 words from the second 1,000-word level appearing in every volume, only 34% occurred over 20 times, and another 34% had fewer than 10 repetitions. In all, only 204 of the most frequent 2,000 words appeared in every volume and had a suitable number of occurrences. Conversely, over 51% of the high-frequency words in the textbooks appeared six times or fewer, so students would see them very few times and be unlikely to learn them from textbook input alone.

High-frequency words represented over 95%, of the overall vocabulary, so New Crown appropriately focused on the most useful words first. In an earlier study (Wongsarnpigoon, 2017), I tested some target learners and found that they were still in the process of learning those most frequent 2,000 words. Thus, the textbooks would make a good learning target. The entrance exams had slightly easier vocabulary than the textbooks and contained fewer total words than MEXT’s target figure, so conceivably, there might be few words on the exams that students had never seen in the textbooks.

Students didn’t have enough opportunities, however, to learn vocabulary through repetition. High-frequency words tended not to appear in multiple volumes and often were not recycled in later ones. Even though it’s possible that the exam takers might have seen all the vocabulary at some point in the textbooks, that doesn’t mean they learned them adequately. The textbooks aren’t enough to carry the students’ learning burden for these words.

What This Means for ALTs

There are several things ALTs can take from these findings. First, you can supplement textbooks by providing some of the repetition and recycling of vocabulary that is lacking. Of course, students don’t read through a textbook chapter once and move on as if reading a novel; they usually go through a chapter multiple times in class. Still, those repetitions are all in the same context, and once students finish that unit, they might never see some of those words again. If you use your own original materials or tasks in class, you can take the opportunity to recycle some older vocabulary. For example:

  • Include some previously learned vocabulary in example sentences or on worksheets.
  • In communicative activities such as interviews or roleplays, use topics from previous units or situations where previously learned vocabulary might be necessary or useful.
  • If you have a few extra minutes in class, do some review activities that revisit older words. I once had a JTE that would always give me 10 minutes at the end of class to do whatever I wanted; that would be a perfect situation to use some previously learned vocabulary.

Next, as an ALT, I tended to use communicative or meaning-focused activities in class. Researchers like Nation say, however, that learners need deliberate, explicit vocabulary learning along with the incidental learning that might happen through communicative activities. If you have a lot of freedom in class or teach with open-minded, flexible JTEs, you could work together to teach students about practical ways for deliberate vocabulary learning, such as the effective use of learning strategies, dictionaries, flashcards, or mobile applications. We can’t assume that JTEs know these things already, either. I once gave a workshop about effective vocabulary learning and spaced repetition to junior high school teachers, and it was clear that many of the principles were new to them. It might be educational for your JTEs as well to collaborate on sharing these ideas with students.

Finally, this kind of analysis can help you find out which words students might need more exposures to. For instance, a simple analysis of your own materials might show that certain valuable words don’t appear enough times, so you could use them more often in your activities to bring them to students’ attention. On the other hand, if you find that certain words appear often enough in the textbooks or are less important to students (for example, mid-frequency items), you might choose to use them less frequently and focus more on other, higher-frequency words.

Research like this not only allows us to look critically at published materials, it also helps us think about how we can support our students better. ALTs rarely have much control over the textbooks they use, so learning about what’s inside them is an important step in knowing how to supplement them. This will be even more crucial when the next MEXT guidelines are fully implemented, as the junior high school vocabulary target will rise again, to between 1,600 and 1,800 words (MEXT, 2017). With textbooks’ vocabulary input being insufficient and the burden on teachers high as it is, ALTs will have many opportunities to expand their roles in helping students’ vocabulary learning as well as develop their own professional practices.

Further Reading

Aside from my references, you might find these helpful:
  • If you interested in this kind of research, Webb and Nation’s (2008) paper and Chapter 9 in Nation and Webb’s excellent Researching and Analyzing Vocabulary both provide helpful explanations.
  • If you want to know more about vocabulary learning and research, Paul Nation's website itself has many useful articles and resources.


Alberding, M. (2006). What’s in your textbook? An analysis of the vocabulary in a second language learning textbook. In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.) JALT2005 Conference Proceedings. Tokyo: JALT. Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/archive/proceedings/2005/E114.pdf

Beglar, D., & Hunt, A. (2005). Six principles for teaching foreign language vocabulary: A commentary on Laufer, Meara, and Nation’s ‘ten best ideas’. The Language Teacher, 29(7), 7-10. Retrieved from http://www.jalt-publications.org/files/pdf/the_language_teacher/07_2005tlt.pdf

Fujimori, J. (2005). The lexical composition of two oral communication I textbooks. The Language Teacher, 29(7), 15-19. Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/files/pdf/the_language_teacher/07_2005tlt.pdf

Hu, M., & Nation, P. (2000). Unknown vocabulary density and reading comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 13(1), 403-430.

Laufer, B. (1989). What percentage of text-lexis is essential for comprehension? In C. Laurén & M. Nordman (Eds.), Special language: From humans thinking to thinking machines (pp. 316-323).

Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Laufer, B., Meara, P., & Nation, P. (2005). Ten best ideas for teaching vocabulary. The Language Teacher, 29(7), 3-6. Retrieved from http://www.jalt-publications.org/files/pdf/the_language_teacher/07_2005tlt.pdf

MEXT. (2008). Chuugakkou gakushuu shidouyouryou kaisetsu: Gaikokugo hen [Explanation of the junior high school course of study guidelines for foreign languages]. Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/

MEXT. (2017). Chuugakkou gakushuu shidouyouryou (heisei 29-nen kokuchi) kaisetsu: Gaikokugo hen [Explanation of the junior high school course of study guidelines for foreign languages: 2017 notice] Retrieved from: http://www.mext.go.jp/component/a_menu/education/micro_detail/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2018/05/07 /1387018_10_1.pdf

Nation, I. S. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(1), 59-82. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.63.1.59

Nation, I.S.P., & Webb, Stuart. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston: Heinle.

Takahashi, S., Hardy, T., Negishi, M., Hidai, S., Matsuzawa, S., Saito, E., … Parmenter, L. (2012). New crown English series (Vols. 1-3). Tokyo: Sanseido.

Webb, S., & Nation, P. (2008). Evaluating the vocabulary load of written text. TESOLANZ Journal, 16, 1-10.

Wongsarnpigoon, I. (2017, February). Analyzing the vocabulary of an EFL textbook for young Japanese learners. Paper presented at the 19th Temple University Applied Linguistics Colloquium. Temple University Japan Campus, Tokyo.

Wongsarnpigoon, I. (2018). Vocabulary in junior high school textbooks and exams. In P. Clements, A. Krause, & P. Bennett (Eds.), Language teaching in a global age: Shaping the classroom, shaping the world. Tokyo: JALT.
Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/articles/24363-vocabulary-junior-high-school-textbooks-and-exams 

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Monday, August 20, 2018

Communicative Language Teaching by Lina Gordyshevskaya

by Lina Gordyshevskaya

Bio: Lina Gordyshevskaya graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2015 earning an MA with honors in Scandinavian Studies. She obtained a TEFL certificate in 2015 and a CELTA in 2016.

Throughout her career, she has taught YL (young learners), teenagers, and adults of various levels in different contexts. Currently, she teaches EAP (discussion) at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and loves her job. She writes regularly for her blog, Side Notes on ELT.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is self-explanatory: the underlying idea here is to develop learners’ communicative competence and provide them with an opportunity to communicate in their target language. CLT should be as student-centered as possible, and all new words and structures have to be contextualised (learnt in the context). Finally, the focus should be on fluency (how fast and effortlessly students speak) rather than on accuracy (how accurate their grammar and word choices are).

Now, in Japanese schools, students rarely have a chance to communicate in English since it is believed there that language learning is about grammar and vocabulary. While these two are undoubtedly essential components, it is obvious that language learning loses its meaning if learners have no chance to communicate in their target language.

What do Japanese students do in a typical English lesson? They keep silent and listen to the teacher. English grammar is explained in Japanese, and students end up doing endless grammar exercises (so-called grammar drills) and translations between their mother tongue and English. Accuracy is the only virtue cherished by Japanese schools. Students also have to memorise an impressive amount of English word lists taken out of context. The primary goal is to prepare them for the end-of-year exam, which typically consists of reading and listening (both of which are receptive skills). Therefore, communication is out of scope. Its value is diminished since a speaking component is not in the test, so why would they need to spend their time on it?

However, the huge number of so-called eikaiwas (English conversation schools) demonstrates the flaw of English school education: recent graduates realise that without being able to communicate in English, their grammar and vocabulary knowledge is almost useless to employers. The high demand for communicative lessons among working people is the reason why Japanese schools try to implement some communicative lessons with the help of Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs).

So what do you have to do? How can you implement CLT in your lessons?

First of all, I would recommend starting with tuning your students into thinking what communication is. They need to understand its importance. Ask them to brainstorm this word in groups and see what they come up with. Most likely, they will talk about various features of effective communication (e.g., eye contact, clarity, etc.) – that is a good start! Tell them about other features they might not mention as developing a conversation by asking follow-up questions and the need to check to understand (“Do you understand?”). It is hardly possible to teach your students how to be effective communicators without explaining what effective communication is. Since we are trying to follow the principles of CLT here, making students brainstorming the topic in groups could be an excellent way to create the need for interaction and teamwork.

Okay, your students understand now how to carry successful and effective communication. What is next? There is only one thing you can do: give them an opportunity to try it out! Make them communicate and let them learn from their mistakes. Let them develop and progress. Below is the list of some communicative activities you can use with your students. All of them are suitable for older elementary school, junior high school, high school, and university students.

1. Any kind of pair work. Ask your students to discuss something in pairs. Typically, pair work creates less tension since it is more intimate than group work. However, you have to be careful when pairing students up since if a talkative student is paired with a shy student the latter one will most likely end up keeping quiet. I often use pair work at the beginning of a lesson when I want to tune my students into thinking about today’s topic. For example, when we discussed social pressure, I asked them to talk in pairs and discuss how they would define ‘pressure’.
2. Any kind of group work. This is the same as pair work but can help students to develop their teamwork skills. My favourite kind of group work is a discussion. However, keep in mind that before asking students to discuss something in groups you need to prepare them for this kind of task. Ensure they understand the topic, give them an opportunity to exchange opinions in pairs first to generate some ideas and rehearse before the big task.
3. Concentric circles. Suitable for classes of 10+. Students stand in two circles, inner and outer. They have to discuss some questions or ideas. After each round, students in the outer circles make one step left; therefore, each student in the inner circle gets a new partner. It is also a type of pair work, but in this case, students have a chance to discuss the questions or ideas with different partners that might help them to widen their understanding of the topic.
4. Lines. Same as concentric circles, but in lines.
5. Fluency Activity. If you want to add some time pressure, consider trying out the so-called 3-2-1 Fluency Activity. It can be done both in circles and lines. The idea is that each round is shorter than the previous one: 3 minutes -> 2 minutes -> 1 minute. Students take roles of speakers and listeners. Speakers have to repeat the same ideas in each round, but faster each time. Listeners only have to listen and react (i.e., “yeah”, “I see”, “mhm”, etc.). After the speakers complete the 1-minute round, change the roles and repeat the procedure.
6. Gallery Walk (aka Stations). Can be done both in pairs and groups. The ideas are to prepare some posters with the questions you want your students to discuss. Put these posters on the walls or desks. Students walk around and discuss the questions. They have the freedom to stay at each station for as long as they want and move in any direction.
7. Role-play. I am not a big fan of role-playing and have hardly implemented it in my lessons, but it is a good thing to do if you have to work with some dialogues. However, it depends on the students. Japanese students are generally a bit reserved and might not be keen on acting. Although if you do it in pairs without asking each pair to perform in front of the class, they might feel less pressure.
8. Brainstorming. Brainstorming can be very student-centred and communicative! I have some groups that enjoy this kind of activity, so we always devote some time to it. Typically, I ask them to come to the whiteboard, give each student a marker, and then they write down everything that comes to their minds discussing it meanwhile. They might ask each other about the exact meaning of their ideas, develop each other’s ideas by adding more examples, etc. The only thing I have to do is just to stand behind their backs and watch how the whiteboard is getting covered with dozens of interesting ideas. However, if you have to teach big groups (8+ students), doing this activity as a whole class is not going to work. In this case, divide students into groups and give each group a blank A4 sheet.
9. Reporting. Another CLT-style thing to do is to ask your students to report to you after they finish the task. However, Japanese students tend to feel shy when put under the spotlight, so I found reporting not being as successful as I wished. I have some groups where it started working after some time, but the majority of groups still finds it challenging and stressful.
10. EFL/ESL Games. If you are teaching elementary or junior high school students, pay specific attention to various EFL/ESL games. One of my favourites is the board game with conversation topics. You can find a template online. Fill some cells with conversation topics (e.g., “favourite musician”, “ideal summer vacation”, etc.). Students play in groups; they have to roll a dice and move their tokens. The group that gets to the Finish cell first wins. Make sure to add some unexpected elements (e.g., “roll dice – go back”, “miss a turn”, etc.). You can adjust the topics to your students’ age and level.
11. Resource Packs. Finally, you can always find many other communicative activities in various activity books or so-called resource packs. For example, Discussions A-Z series can be a good source of multiple topics. It is graded so you can select the appropriate level. Other helpful sources are 700 Classroom Activities, 60 Activities and Games for Pairwork, Conversation Inspirations, Speaking Extra, Instant Discussions, Timesaver series (e.g., Speaking Activities, Personality Quizzes, etc.), and many others.

I hope these guidelines help you to make your classroom as communicative as possible. Keep in mind that communication, like any other skill, needs to be practised and developed. Be ready to face difficulties both at the beginning and on the way, but do not let them discourage you. Support your students and be enthusiastic – they will appreciate it. Many of my students appear to be anxious and stressed in the first weeks of the course, but as they progress, they start feeling more relaxed, and the necessity to communicate in English stops scaring them. Being there for them is one of the crucial parts of our jobs as teachers, as well as ensuring that they leave our classroom feeling that they can communicate in English.

Good luck!

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Friday, July 20, 2018

(Extensive) Reading in Japanese Elementary Schools by Chris Cooper

by Chris Cooper

Bio: Chris is from Yorkshire in the UK. He has just started working as a lecturer at Himeji Dokkyo University (April 2018), teaching a range of English classes from 1st to 4th year students. Before that, he worked as an ALT in Okayama Prefecture for 8 years for Interac and as a direct hire.

Contact: cooperchris17@gmail.com
Website: https://cooperchris17.wixsite.com/englinks (English Links for Language Learners - still very much a work in progress!)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-cooper-95589b47/
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher_Cooper22

The Teaching Reading module is being written by Rob Waring, who is one of the world’s leading experts in the field of extensive reading. You will learn a lot more than I can tell you working through his module, but for now, this is my little story of how I got into teaching reading and extensive reading at elementary school.

I was an ALT, teaching mainly in elementary schools, from 2010 to 2018. During that time, I completed my masters in TESOL, which got me interested in Language Acquisition, particularly researchers like Stephen Krashen, who is famous for his work on comprehensible input and ‘i + 1’ theory (Krashen, 1982). In basic terms, he said that learners will naturally acquire a language by understanding what is said to them and what they read. Ideally, their input should be slightly above the level they understand. I think this is what set me on the road to extensive reading.

Until recently, and possibly still the case in some schools, there has been a fairly strict speaking and listening only policy in the Japanese elementary school English classroom. We know the alphabet exists, we will learn the names of the letters in order, but don’t show it to the kids too much, it might scare them, and for god’s sake don’t let them try to read the words.

I can see the logic to this policy. Children learning their first language (L1) listen and speak before they read. This is preceded by an 18 month to 2 year ‘silent period’ from birth. Some approaches, such as the original form of Total Physical Response (TPR) (Asher, 2012) even advocate transferring the 18-month silent period to second language (L2) learning.

Also, if you speak with local people in Japan from an older generation, they often describe junior high school English of the past negatively, wishing they had more communication in the classroom as opposed to reading and writing only. The recent elementary school policy may be a reaction to this (although I have no real evidence to support this!).

Some researchers suggest teaching reading from day one of L2 learning (Furukawa, 2008), and whilst this may not be appropriate for very young learners in kindergarten or elementary school, the tide seems to be changing towards a more balanced approach including literacy from an earlier age. Recent materials from MEXT have included alphabet writing worksheets, phonics jingles and two digital picture books, which have now been incorporated into the 3rd and 4th grade textbooks. My concern is, this is not enough.

Most teachers of young learners would probably agree that some form of phonics is a good idea. The new We Can textbooks cover the main letter sounds from each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, plus /ch/, /sh/, /wh/ and the two /th/ sounds. This is a start, but there are around 44 sounds in the English language (Underhill, 2008) and other approaches are more attached to these sounds than single alphabet letters. Jolly Phonics, using the synthetic phonics approach adopted by UK primary schools, teaches the 42 main letter sounds of English (Jolly Phonics, 2018) in an order which enables learners to read words from the very early stages.

Whilst English could be described as phonetically opaque, meaning some words have irregular spellings, according to Adams (1990), around 80-90% of English words do have regular spellings. For me teaching phonics is essential, but how exactly should we do it? The door is wide open for more research into what kind of phonics is suitable for Japanese elementary schools and how it should be implemented in the curriculum.

We know that children learn language by focusing on the meaning (Cameron, 2001; Moon, 2000). Whilst learning how to read individual words can be helpful when reading road signs or shopping, both of these points are covered well in the MEXT textbooks I think, the goal or meaning of reading is surely reading longer texts, like articles, letters or especially for children, stories. The We Can textbooks include ‘Story Time’ and whilst some include rhyme, and may be like poems, they miss out key characteristics of stories, like being genuinely interesting, or having a twist at the end (Cameron, 2001). Whilst their redeeming factor is they may be easy to decipher, I doubt children will enjoy them.

In my last three years as an ALT, I found myself teaching at a ‘Special English Zone’ school, which was a normal public school, but had more English lessons than usual, as the rest of the country will from 2020. It also had a bit of an English budget and as I sat at my ALT desk, contemplating holes in MEXT textbooks, how I could get my students reading and other things, one of my colleagues asked me for any recommendations about materials we could buy...and my answer was graded readers.

I have always liked the use of picture books and have found that if you are friendly with the school librarian and ask nicely, they will sometimes get you some nice books, which you can read to your students, but this was the first time we had purchased books for the students to read themselves.

My approach to introducing the books was very top down, simply handing them over to students, initially having them read in pairs and telling them it doesn’t matter if you can’t understand all the words as long as you can just about understand the story. As books at this level have lots of pictures, most students could do this. I found the following rules to be helpful and popular with my students (based on Furukawa, 2006):

1. There is no need to look at a dictionary while reading.
2. Difficult to understand parts should be skipped over.
3. If a book is uninteresting or too difficult, stop reading.

These rules seemed to relieve pressure and allowed many students to enjoy reading English books. During reading sessions, I would walk around to allow students to ask me how to read words they were struggling with, and I would encourage them to help each other too. I would observe if students seemed to be reading books at the right level for them, which was helped by checking the reading logs they were keeping, logging the titles of books, dates, a comment about each book and a rating from one to four on how much of the book they understood and how interesting they thought it was.

In the two years I tried extensive reading in elementary school, I found the level most appropriate for my students was level 1+ of the Oxford Reading Tree series and level 1 of the MPI Building Blocks Library. Some students were able to read slightly higher levels than that, around levels 2 and 3 of the same series.

Handing over books to students in this way can be quite a steep learning curve for them, and with this in mind, at my school we also did other activities to try to ease the path into reading. One was phonics, which I have already discussed, and another was getting the 5th and 6th grade students to read texts they were already very familiar with orally.

Specifically, one was the monthly song. Most elementary schools will sing a song every month in Japanese, but my school sang one in English, which the kids would learn by heart by the end of the month. We would always put a big illustrated print out of the song lyrics on the whiteboardwhiteboard, without drawing too much attention to it. Then at the end of the month I would prepare individual copies of the lyrics for the 5th and 6th grade students to read, fill in the missing words, or I would cut the lyrics up, to be rearranged like a puzzle. Here are some examples:

We had a similar approach with stories learned orally by heart from doing Joint Storytelling (Allen-Tamai, 2013), an approach where students learn a simple dialogue-based version of a story by doing gestures and initially repeating after the teacher, but eventually being able to tell the story as a class together. Again, we would hand out the written version of the story at the end for students to read, here is an example from part of Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

I always remember this one, because one student pointed at the word ‘knock’ and said, ‘Chris, Chris, this word is k-n-o-c-k, right’. Even though he knew the word orally from the story, he was reading the /k/ and /n/ separately. This was probably related to his phonics knowledge, but it made me think this kind of approach was helpful because there is less reading pressure when you read something you know, like a very young L1 learner might start reading a nursery rhyme or picture book that has been read to them many times. Where there is less pressure, there is possibly more room for noticing things about how the words are written. In this case, it was a good opportunity to share with the class that in English, when words start with ‘kn’, we don’t pronounce the /k/.

In March 2018, I asked students who had been reading graded readers for almost two years three questions (answers in brackets):

Did you enjoy reading graded readers?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (5) / 3. Quite enjoyed it (7) / 4. Enjoyed it (3)

Do you think reading graded readers is useful for your English education?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (5) / 3. Quite useful (1) / 4. Useful (9)

Would you like to continue reading graded readers in junior high school?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (6) / 3. Quite (6) / 4. Yes (3)

Whilst my sample was very small, only 15 students in this class, I think what these results show is that these learners thought reading graded readers was beneficial for them. Also, none of them were completely averse to reading English books, which I thought might be the case when I started using graded readers. I would like to see more teachers try reading in their 5th and 6th grade classrooms around Japan, to see if their learners find them to be beneficial too. Linking elementary school to junior high school reading with the interesting reading material that graded readers provide, could make more learners interested in reading, rather than only reading the textbooks’ often dense and difficult to decipher texts.


Adams, M.J. (1990) Beginning to read: Learning and thinking about print. London: MIT.

Allen-Tamai, M. (2013). Story Trees. Tokyo: ShoPro.

Asher, J. J. (2012). Learning Another Language Through Actions (7th ed.). Los Gatos, California: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Furukawa, A. (2006). SSS Extensive reading method proves to be an effective way to learn English. Retrieved from http://www.seg.co.jp/sss/english

Furukawa, A. (2008). Extensive reading from the first day of English learning. Extensive Reading in Japan 1(2). 10-14.

Jolly Phonics. (2018). Teaching literacy with Jolly Phonics. Retrieved from http://jollylearning.co.uk/overview-about-jolly-phonics/

Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and Practices in Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Moon, J. (2000). Children Learning English. Oxford: Macmillan-Heinemann.

Underhill, A. (2008). Interactive phonemic chart: British English. Retrieved from http://www.onestopenglish.com/skills/pronunciation/phonemic-chart-and-app/interactive-phonemic-chart-british-english/

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html