by Helene J. Uchida
Taking attendance is a very strong method of pulling a class together and sending signals to its members that “now” is the time to speak English. Students are naturally quiet when attendance is being taken because they are waiting for their name to he called. In addition, taking attendance is also a subtle way of getting students to know each other’s names.
When the teacher takes attendance, it is a cultural dip into a foreign custom because in English, the first name is called before the last. This is a natural way for students to notice that this is how names are called in English. In addition, the children should be taught how to say here in English as opposed to yes, which is a direct translation for the Japanese hai. When a fellow student is absent, the class members can say, He is absent or She is absent in unison which also helps them differentiate between he and she.
There are many variations of how the teacher can take attendance. For beginning students I would recommend that the teacher use the procedure described above. For a step higher level class, the teacher can say to each student, How are you? after calling his/her name. And the student would reply I’m fine, thank you.
With a higher level class, after calling the student’s name, the teacher could ask the student a question, such as: How old are you? When’s your birthday? What’s your favorite color? to which the student would reply and the other students would listen.
With yet a higher level class, a student could take attendance and ask his/her peers these questions or other ones. Elementary school students who have been studying at our school for several years can easily do this. They have lots of English questions/phrases in their heads as a result of doing the United Kids Challenge Book every month.
Also with higher level classes, the teacher can write some questions on the blackboard which reflect the grammar points you have done in class. And the student can chose from those questions. For example, Who is tallest in your family? Do you have your own room? Can your mother drive a car? Do you have any brothers or sisters?
The point is that taking attendance is more than meets the eye and should never be overlooked. It can be used as a way to document who is in class for the teacher, but it can also be used as a warm-up and an ice-breaker to ease students into the English speaking mode. Students thrive on asking simple questions of each other at the beginning of class, which in turn helps them acclimate themselves in the transition from the Japanese world to the English speaking one. Taking attendance can work as a catalyst to achieve this goal. Please use it to your advantage.