Something good is happening… but I don’t know why?


I asked a colleague the other day, “Do you ever have one of those lessons where everything feels right – the students are into it, they are working hard, you’re feeling at the top of your game, and the time just flies by, almost effortlessly?” Of course he could relate, as most of us can…

The problem is… I’m having those kinds of lessons almost every time these days. In no way is this meant to be bragging, because if I knew what factors and dynamics were causing this, then I might want to brag just a little. However, for the life of me, I can’t put it into any kind of clear explanation. Everything seems to have come together, but it is frustrating as hell not being able to describe it in a convincing or intelligible way. Forcing myself to try, here’s what comes out:

  1. The students trust me. They walk into class (junior high and high school EFL classes) and start asking on the way through the door, “What are we gonna do today, Steve?” Maybe they think that it will be interesting or meaningful. I’ve taken to writing things on the board, like, “Dear Y-chan, Today’s menu is: 1. ____, 2. ____ and 3.____” because she always asks the same question at the same time each week.
  2. The lesson is about them. More and more, I’m able to set up lessons, or frame them, as “I need you to help me understand what you think about ______.” Or, “I want you to put together a _____, so I can use it in your juniors’ (or seniors’) class. Or, “You need to be able to (read faster, write faster, talk about yourself, understand Canadian speed English, etc) so we’re gonna ______ so you can practice that skill.”
  3. They are buying into my input/output balanced approach. I regularly elicit and write on the board why we’re doing what we’re doing. For example in Chu 1 (grade 7) I tell them that our 3 goals for the year are: 1) Learn to write quickly, 2) learn to read out loud in English, and 3) Learn to talk about yourself. Therefore everything I do with them must add to one of those 3 goals; they always know which one (cuz I elicit it from one of them).
  4. I negotiate with the students (more and more). They are speaking out more and more about how they want to do something as well as what they want to do. The more I listen to them and allow them to do things their way, the more effort they seem to be putting out. For example, the Ko III (grade 12) final speech last week “My 3/6/12 years at Seibo” had always been a 3-4 minute memorized speech with no paper allowed. This year they negotiated to be allowed to have their paper with them and to be able to read some of it. The result was that I got 7-8 minute speeches with much better content, a better audience reaction, and girls “pumped” at the end of giving their speech – smiling and feeling great satisfaction.
  5. I spend more time with students during class. I find myself spending much less time speaking and just getting out of the way as quickly as possible. I set something up, encourage them to discuss it, then get to work. This frees me up to circulate and answer questions, prompt, elicit and give encouragement and feedback. I have more time to explain things on an individual basis whenever necessary as well.

Well, that’s a start.

Dear Blog, I promise that I’ll try to get back soon to keep reflecting and recording my evolution as a teacher.



6 thoughts on “Something good is happening… but I don’t know why?

  1. This seems like a great way to teach. I like how you hand the control over to the students, e.g., they are comfortable with asking you what the lesson will be about. I find that with my classes I too have the students’ trust and they know that the lesson will always reflect what they would want to study. I let any thread or comment made by the students make the class. In this way the lesson content reflects the reality for the students at that precise time – and it’s all in English. This also means that I take a back step and sometimes pretend that I don’t know what they’re talking about and so they have a purpose to explain things to me in English. I also sometimes jump in and give a few Japanese/English translations and write these terms up on the board. I like your idea of stepping back and letting the students continue with the task at hand. The individual touch is something that goes beyond textbook English teaching and really gets to the heart of what students probably like about your style of teaching. In summary to the lesson that I have done in this style I write it onto my blog (private class blog) and ask the students for feedback. Again, this involves the students in reflecting and hopefully learning.

  2. I have been an English teacher in Japan for about 5 years but have only since last year taught at a Japanese junior high. I want to change my teaching style to better suit my new environment. I have many questions I would like to ask you.

    1. At what grade and point in the year do your students start asking “What are we gonna do today, Steve?”

    2. How did you teach them to say that?

    3. Could you give some examples of what you have written on the board? Dear Y-chan, Today’s menu is:

    4. How do you teach them the sentences you used in #2?

    5. Do you use Japanese to negotiate and talk with your students to find out what they want to say?

  3. Ah. You have uncovered the truth. Conversation creates grammar, not grammar creates conversation.

    Please check out this teachers’ group for like-minded people:
    dogme ELT


    I’m afraid I’m only a lurker in the group but I discovered your blog there. The postings give me something to think about related to teaching most days.


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