The Hot Seat

by Helene J. Uchida

“Hot Seat” Questioning

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. School
  4. Self-image
  5. Hobby


America’s most popular novelist for adolescents, Judy Blume, states the four topics that interest teens the most are: friends, school, family and self-image. (I would like to add hobbies to this list.) I think these interests are the same in Japan. Yet how much of the English we teach in junior high is actually geared to these topics? I fear too little.

From my observation, adolescents want to talk to each other, not the teacher. So why not take advantage of this desire and turn it into an English speaking activity? The following activity generates questions and corresponding answers among teens so they can talk to each other.

“Hot Seat” Method

hotseat.gifStudents sit in a semi-circle. Everyone stands and one student sits in the middle, in the “hot seat.” The students have to ask the student in the “hot seat” a simple question based on friends, family, school, self-image or hobbies. Once a student has asked a question and the student in the “hot seat” has answered, then the standing student who asked the question can sit down. This continues until all the students are seated. The role of the teacher is facilitator, meaning he or she encourages the students, corrects them or helps them ask a question when needed. (Actually, I usually sit behind the students, and they very often forget that I am there.) This activity is non-threatening and rather fun for them. Some suggested questions might be: When’s your birthday? What time do you wake up each day? What’s your favorite fruit? How many people are there in your family? What kind of music to you like? How tall are you? After all the students have asked a question, another student, depending upon time, can be selected to sit in the “hot seat” with all the students standing and asking questions again. Then I can leave the classroom, make myself a cup of tea and return to find them all speaking English to each other during my brief absence. It works! But you have to be consistent on the following points:

  1. Make it clear of what is expected of them.
  2. Teach them how to ask and answer questions.
  3. Let them know you respect them and think they can do it without you.
  4. Marvel at their ability to interact with each other.
  5. Expand upon their questions and answered once they have mastered the initial ones.
  6. Remember your role is as facilitator and enabler. Give them the goods and they can deliver. They can do it!

The ABC’s of a Good Teacher

by Helene J. Uchida

  1. Accept your students for who they are.
  2. Believe in their potential.
  3. Consider their circumstances.
  4. Dedicate your lessons to them.
  5. Empathize with your students as you wish more of your teachers had empathized with you.
  6. Focus on each activity and each student as if they were the most important things in your world.
  7. Guarantee your students that they will do well in your class if their try.
  8. Help everyone; let your students know that you are their biggest fan.
  9. Initiate positive interaction between yourself and the students and the students with each other.
  10. Make a joke once in a while.
  11. Kindle curiosity and interest about your subject matter.
  12. Learn from your students, their response to your lessons.
  13. Motivate your students to be the best they can become.
  14. Nourish the students with positive learning experiences in your classroom.
  15. Open your heart to the slow learners, the ones with a bad attitude, the unpopular ones.
  16. Practice what you preach.
  17. Question yourself from time to time.
  18. Remember everyone’s name as quickly as you can.
  19. Set an example by the way you dress, teach, act and treat everyone.
  20. Treat everyone equally.
  21. Understand each child as best you can and remember that understanding is more important than being understood.
  22. Visualize their success.
  23. Work hard for what you believe in.
  24. Expect great things from each and every student.
  25. Yield to circumstances that are not under your control.
  26. Be zealous as much as you can. Teaching is a noble profession, and zeal should be at its core.

English at the Cancer Center

by Helene J. Uchida

“Each time I go, it is such an enjoyable experience. And while, the children are not always in the best state of health, they always try their hardest. And to see them improving all the time really does put a smile on my face. I just hope they get as much joy out of it as I do.”

— Brooke Jones

I teach English, as a volunteer, once a week to children aged from 2-15 at the Cancer Center here in Fukuoka. Of course, since they are cancer patients, they have good days and bad days in terms of discomfort. On their good days they attend my class.

The patients are not as energetic as healthy children, so we do not move around at all. Instead we sit on mats and huddle around a low table in their recreation room. The younger children often sit on their mother’s laps.

We put puzzles together, respond to flash cards in English and play ABC Bingo. Each child plays with relish, but the children are not competitive.

The junior high students are very patient and helpful with the younger children. Very often, they will hand the winning card or last puzzle piece to a preschool student out of sheer kindness. The group almost always functions as a family.

The children all have a good attention span and are as sharp mentally as healthy children.

I read one picture book each week. The children all peer at the pages as I read and chuckle at the funny parts. They especially like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Carl stories and pop-out-books.

An Australian high school exchange student, Brooke Jones, (who hopes to become a pediatrician when she grows up) accompanies me on the days she can leave her school early. She plays with the younger children.

These precious people have taught me many things about kindness, patience and beauty. When I look into their eyes, I can see the beauty of youth in all its splendor. I find myself looking forward to my weekly visit.

I encourage you to think about making a difference in your own community. Please visit your local hospital and see if you can initiate your own program in your own way.

I promise you that you will receive more than you give.

A Teacher is a Gardener

by Helene J. Uchida

I believe a classroom is a garden, the students are seedlings and the teacher is the gardener. Each time the students step into the garden, it is the responsibility of the teacher to orchestrate nourishing activities which enable the students to grow strong and tall into their natural splendor.

The teacher should be patient with the seedlings because no matter how much water or sunshine they receive, they are all individuals and grow at their own rate in their own way; no two are the same. Some students blossom early and some late; some require extra attention and some grow with a wild will of their own. And once in a while, one refuses to grow at all.

But one thing is for sure. If the seeds are not planted, nothing will grow. I am only as good as the flowers which grow in my garden. Over the years many children and parents have put their trust in my care; this has given me a great sense of worth. Now I take great pride in the flowers from my garden, which are scattered all over the world. I am a gardener; I am a teacher; and that has made all the difference.

Constructing a Curriculum

by Helene J. Uchida

Beginning teachers often wonder how they will be able to develop a curriculum for their upcoming classes. Somehow the word “curriculum” emits a sense of scholarly expertise that novices fear would be beyond their know-how, but this is really a misconception. A curriculum is nothing to fear. It is a yearly plan which should provide for the continuous progress of the students toward understanding, speaking, reading, writing and experiencing the target language. It is the base, the framework, upon which lessons will grow. But best of all, it is a tool to help the teacher become a better teacher.

Writing a curriculum is like writing an outline. Most teachers organize their yearly curriculum according to the month. Since the school year in Japan begins in April, your curriculum should start here. List the concepts that you want to teach for this month and divide your lessons into how many times the class meets that month, taking vacations into consideration. Do the same things for May and the following months until you reach March of the next year. Now look over all the concepts you have planned to cover. Are they organized in order of difficulty? If they are not, then rearrange them so they are. Are these concepts student-centered? They should be. They should center on the child so that he/she can identify things about him/herself, such as name, age, birthday, school, grade, favorite color, favorite sport, etc. Concepts should also focus on how each child classifies his/her own immediate world. For example, young learners have an interest in naming the alphabet letters, numbers, colors, animals, body parts, fruits, vehicles, food, etc.

Teachers who use a children’s text can base their curriculum on the contents of the text, using the suggestions listed above. After all, the text’s author is a professional at understanding and sequencing learning concepts for children. Feel free to lean on the text for curriculum support.

I would strongly suggest that you keep notes on your monthly outline. Then at the end of the year, you can revise your curriculum based on your notes. The second year you can use the revised curriculum as abase for new classes, and it can be expanded from for continuing classes. It gets easier each year. Both you and your classes get better with age and experience!

Mutual Respect in Teaching

by Helene J. Uchida

Even though I was a veteran English teacher before I came to Japan, my teaching expertise dramatically expanded as a result of my doing judo and teaching Japanese EFL students. Now I can say, without hesitation, that the most important element in my classroom evolves around the concept of respect. I have judo and my early Japanese students to thank for teaching me that.

When I initially studied judo from Sohei Uchida at the Waseda University judo dojo, he told me, “You can’t do judo alone; you need a partner.” He also said that since one cannot do judo alone, one must respect one’s partner. In essence, because one has a partner, one can do judo. If one’s partner is stronger, then one learns from that partner. If one’s partner is weaker, then the stronger partner helps the weaker one. This was a revelation for me because I had always been a very independent person; I had never really thought much about partnership or “give and take.” This philosophy changed my life in terms of my adaption to judo (I became a black belt), my international marriage and my English teaching in Japan.

Our students cannot speak English alone; they need a partner. So our curriculum, classes and lessons are all geared to interaction between two people. Just like judo, our classes encourage constant practice, warm-ups, trial and error challenges, and question and answer scenarios between partners. We believe in orchestrating activities whereby our students can experience English with each other. Even though we don’t say it directly, our students know inherently that their partners deserve respect, namely because they could not do any of these fun activities alone.

Respect is a win-win situation. My first job as a teacher is to respect my students in such a way that they will feel it. If I respect my students, like a mirror, they will reflect that respect back to me. And once that relationship has been established, they will almost certainly respect each other, the subject matter and in the final analysis, themselves.

And this is my goal in teaching English, to plant the seeds of self-respect and self-confidence so that students can take the strategic step of speaking English to someone else. Isn’t that what it is all about?

I think respect is the most important element in the classroom. If it is absent, I don’t think any real learning will ever take place.

Your Students are Your Best Teachers

by Helene J. Uchida

When I gave birth to my son in Athens, Greece, twenty years ago, I thought, “Oh, how will I do this? I know nothing about being a mother.” And since I was in a foreign country, I had no friends or family to give me advice. But interestingly enough, my son taught me from day one how to take care of him. I watched him and got all my cues from him in terms of what he needed and what pleased him. If am a success as a mother, it is because I had a good teacher, my son.

I think it is the same with teaching English in Japan. All teachers start as novices. We can read books and newsletters, attend seminars and workshops to improve our skills and expand our know-how, but in the final analysis, it is what happens between our students and us in the classroom that determines how successful we are. That is why I want to stress to you the importance of observing how your students respond to your lessons, your activities, your methods in an effort to improve your teaching methods. In a nutshell, your students may very well be the best teachers you will ever have.

I also think one of the ways of judging how successful you are as an English teacher is to look at your class time and see how much time your students are spending speaking English. I think an ideal situation reflects the teacher speaking English 25% of the time and the students speaking English 75% of the time. They don’t have to be speaking perfect Engish: they don’t even have to be speaking in full sentences. But they should be saying their ABC’s, counting, naming body parts, colors, objects in the room, the days of the week, the months of the year, self-introductions and question and answer couplets together. After all, one doesn’t learn how to play a musical instrument by watching the teacher play it, and one doesn’t learn to play a sport by watching the coach play it. One learns by doing, particpating, trying, failing, trying again until one succeeds. I think teachers who speak too much Japanese or even too much English in class rob students of the chance to experience English.

Your students are happiest with you and with themselves when you orchestrate activities which enable them to speak English. I think pair work is an ideal EFL activity, and I am a big believer in it for three reasons: it demonstrates the point that one cannot speak English alone in that one needs a partner; it gives students a chance to experience English first hand, and it frees up the teacher by allowing you to observe your students to see which activities work best.

Are they speaking English? If they are, then this is the signal that you are doing the right thing! Learn from you students so you can be a better teacher!

12 Teaching Tips for Talented Teachers of Children

by Helene J. Uchida

  1. Make the rules, which should be fair and consistent, clear from the first day of class.
  2. Remember the students’ names the first time you meet them. Encourage all students to remember their classmates’ names. Use their names often when teaching (ie., talking to them, constructing blackboard sentences, making requests, TPR exercises, students passing back notebooks or workbooks, playing games, etc.).
  3. Show your students what to do. Don’t explain. Just do. Just be. They will follow your lead. English needs to be experienced, not explained.
  4. Nourish trust between you and the students with each class. Through your actions let them know that you will never embarrass them for making a mistake in English. (Although you will discipline them for speaking in Japanese.)
  5. Use eye contact to communicate your praise and disappointment.
  6. Create well-planned, consistent lessons with a predictable format which gives the students a sense of security and balance. Students feel more confident if they know what to expect.
  7. Always be pleasantly surprised when students interact with each other or you in English.
  8. Reassure your students that you understand their English and you approve of their attempts.
  9. Show respect to the children (since they are worthy of it) and let them sometimes be the teacher.
  10. Use English as a tool to build their self-esteem.
  11. Be their “sensei,” not their parent.
  12. Remember childhood through your students.

Three Hints for Kids’ Classes

by Helene J. Uchida

  1. Don’t Be an Entertainer.
    Do not feel you have to be an entertainer; this is a mistake all beginning administrators and teachers make (Monbu Kagakusho, formerly Monbusho, included). Yes, songs and dances are an important part of the curriculum but not the main thrust. If you focus on songs and dance, three problems will result: First, your students will expect to be entertained all the time. Second, you will eventually burn out. Third, you are sending the children the wrong signals about English, namely that it is song and dance. When they meet a non-Japanese are they supposed to try to communicate or break out into a song and dance?
  2. Students Should Be Speaking 75% of the Time.
    Do create interesting and fun activities and exercises which enable the students to take charge and try to speak English with their peers 75% of the time. They don’t have to be speaking perfect English sentences; they should just be trying to master mini-challenges you give them, like saying their ABCs, counting, reciting the days of the week, doing their self-introductions, asking and responding to each other in simple English couplets (Can you ski? Yes, I can. Do you like snakes? No, I don’t.) Insisting students speak English 75% of the time offers three benefits: one, the students get experience speaking English; two, the students do not depend on the teacher to listen to their English, they use it randomly with anyone in the classroom; three, the teacher gets a chance to observe the students and see them in action.
  3. Don’t Explain… Just DO!
    Often when I do presentations for teachers I am asked, “If you only speak English in class, how do you explain things to your students?” The answer us easy, I NEVER explain. I just do. What merit is there in explaining? Once you start explaining, you open the door for Japanese. Children are so wonderful in terms of trusting us and just doing what we require of them. Just do your activity and let them take the giant leap in trying to do the same thing.

The Circle of Behavioral Limits

by Helene J. Uchida


When I was teaching in Brentwood, New York, many of my students were notorious behavioral problems. Rather than be a victim of their abuse I decided to tell them what the rules were the first day; this is what I did. I drew a circle on the blackboard and listed all the things that they could do, like be late to class once, forget their homework once, speak without raising their hand anytime, etc. Then outside the circle I wrote what they could not do, like show disrespect to their teacher or their peers, interrupt someone who was talking, make fun of another student, bully another student, etc. The circle concept, with things inside and outside it, made things really clear. I then asked the students if they had any questions. Some did and I answered them seriously. I was very focused on this presentation because I knew it would set the tone for the year, and it did. The students really appreciated having the rules made clear for them from the start, and there was no guess work on what was right or wrong.

I had a good year with those students, and the few times someone did something outside of the circle, it was the other students, not me, who reminded the offenders and kept things in line. I must admit some of the other teachers were envious of me. Why did the students behave in my class and not theirs? The answer was simple; I made the rules clear the first day via the circle explanation.

If you are a native-Japanese speaker, I strongly advise doing this at the beginning of the year in Japanese. If you are a native-English speaker, then you have to do it step by step by setting examples as they come up. It is here the Japanese speaking teachers have an advantage, but the non-Japanese teachers can do it also; it just takes more time.

What is a Classroom?

by Helene J. Uchida

A classroom should be welcoming. It should emit a feeling of a “home away from home.” There should be something at the door, beckoning the students in, elements in the room encouraging them to stay, something intrinsic making them relish being there and encouraging them to linger.

Of course, the human factor is the most important thing: how the students feel about themselves, their teacher and their classmates. But the setting in which the human factors reside to have their English experience is also paramount.

What effort have YOU made to make your classroom inviting? Are there posters on the walls to use for warm-ups? Are there windows allowing sunlight in? Windows are also great resources to rely on when one wants to ask questions about the weather or the seasons. All one has to do is look outside! Is there a CD or tape recorder there so you can play music when the students enter and leave the room? Do you realize that in doing so, you are subliminally announcing to the students that this is your English speaking territory and that they are guests in your room? Since people usually adapt to the mood of the music, you can show ownership in a situation by creating a musical atmosphere. Are there plants by the window or flowers on a desk or table? A touch of beauty adds softness and warmth to any classroom.

Are the blackboards or white boards clean and in easy view of all students? Do you have a student blackboard where students can write their names or answer simple questions? Have you noticed that students love to write on blackboards or white boards? Take advantage of that enthusiasm!

YOU, the teacher, are the orchestrator of creating a classroom that will be a pleasant place for students to visit, a springboard conducive to positive learning experiences and at the same time a place that reflects the relationship that exists between you and your students.

Teacher Presence

by Helene J. Uchida

Believe it or not one of our former Little America teachers is starring in the movie The Matrix. His name is Jeremy Ball; he hails from Australia and has a small scene in the movie.

I learned “presence” from Jeremy. About ten years ago, when my husband decided to run for public office, he held his first campaign kick-off party. About 400 people were invited, and our Little America staff was there to show our support. After the initial speeches, I had to introduce our staff to the audience. I was somewhat nervous and spoke Japanese as best as I could. No one really paid any attention to me since it appeared they were more interested in the food than in what I had to say. I then introduced my staff, and there was polite applause as each teacher said a few words. When Jeremy’s turn came, he stood tall at the mic with his feet apart, his hands clasped behind his back and his chest stuck out. He then breathed in slowly and made a hissing sound as if he were going to say something great. There was a hushed silence as everyone (all 400 people) waited to see what he was going to say and what he was going to do. He had the complete hall in the palm of his hand. All he said was his name, where he was from and a friendly “yoroshiku.” But the audience was enthralled with him. After he finished, everyone went back to chattering and eating. But that incident made a terrific impression on me. How did he do that? He did it with “presence.” He looked at his audience, assessed it, addressed it and won it over.

It doesn’t surprise me that Jeremy was able to land himself a part in a major motion picture. He always captivated his audience here in Fukuoka when he was teaching. All the students adored him. When he walked into a classroom, there was a pause and then silence; and as if he were a conductor about to lift his baton to alert the musicians, he looked at the class and then began. He could always hold everyone’s interest, even if he hadn’t been prepared for class.

May I urge you to think about and develop your own sense of presence and use it to your advantage to captivate and win over your students. And please see The Matrix and look for Jeremy Ball!

Classroom Logistics and Atmosphere

by Helene J. Uchida

Is your classroom welcoming?

The following are positive items that help make students feel “at home” and welcome in your classroom, whether it be in a school or at your own home. We have also included items which the teacher should constantly have on hand to support the flow of the learning in the classroom. How many of them are you using?

Teacher chalkboard or white boards/erasers for grammar points, examples
Student chalkboard or white boards/erasers for students to write names or grammar points
Desks or tables chairs, stools for sitting or writing
Observer’s seat(s) for observer to watch class
Chalk, white board markers (different colors) for blackboard/white board
Waste paper basket for garbage
Scotch tape for dictionary words or workbooks
Glue for dictionary words or workbooks
Scissors for workbooks
Extra pencils and erasers for students who forget or observers
Red pens for teacher to correct workbooks, notebooks
Color pencils for students’ workbooks
Stars and stickers for perfect homework assignments
Clock as a reference or teaching tool
Calendar as a reference or teaching tool
Tissues for running noses!
Thermometer if a student is sick
English to Japanese dictionary as a reference
Japanese to English dictionary as a reference
English to English dictionary as a reference
Extra notebooks or paper for students or observers
Pencil sharpener for pencils and color pencils


Posters (ABC Fun, Daily English, One World) for decoration, reference, warm-up resource
CD or tape recorder, English music recordings for background music, welcome and departure
Vase of fresh flowers for a touch of nature
Plants for a touch of nature
Floor mat for games on the floor
Flag(s) for decoration
Globe for reference or warm-ups
Bulletin board with pictures of students to give students recognition
Bulletin board with samples of students’ writing to give students recognition
Music box background music for workbook completion
Puzzles student activity
Flash cards student activity
Color chips rewarding students who answer
Games student activity
Newspapers, magazines, catalogs outside English reading for students
Musical instrument (guitar, flute, electric organ) for singing in English
Scratch paper to send notes to office
Learning centers and bulletin board exhibits for theme (birthdays, holidays) presentations
Mirror to brighten up the room

Lobby: video, chairs, benches, toys for youngsters, homework chair/desk, photo albums of your school, tissue, English picture books, suggestion box, information on your school.

Seating Arrangements

by Helene J. Uchida


The teacher does most of the talking/lecturing. The students are usually passive. The subliminal mentality of the lesson is me (teacher) and them (students). There is a hidden wall that separates the two groups. All students have desks. The teacher has to walk around the room to get into the flow, and the students have to walk up to the teacher’s desk and wait on line for attention.(Class size of 25-50) seating1.gif


The teacher sits in the middle and coordinates the flow of conversation among members in the group. Students do not have desks. The teacher is “among” the students and in the flow. Paperwork cannot be done in this area.(Class or group size of 2-16) seating2.gif


The students sit at either of two tables. The teacher sits in the middle. The teacher can correct homework and walk around the tables to check written work. The students can do pair practice, turning sideways, facing each other.(Class size of 2-14) seating3.gif

The Four F’s

by Helene J. Uchida

I am happy to share with you the secret to my success in teaching English in the American, Greek and Japanese classroom. I am so confident with this formula that I would venture to say it should work in any classroom, no matter that the subject is. It took me a few years to work it out by trial and error, but it is pretty polished now.

There are four basics to orchestrating and balancing a group of students to create a positive learning atmosphere in a classroom. I call them the Four Fs because they all begin with the letter “F.”

The four Fs are: friendly, firm, fair and focused. If the teacher is only friendly, the students will take advantage of him/her. If the teacher is only firm, the students will resent the strictness. If the teacher is only fair, the class will lack variety and punch. And if the teacher is only focused, the students will lose interest.

But if the teacher can balance friendliness, firmness, fairness and being focused, then the atmosphere in the classroom will support positive experiences. In addition, the students will gravitate to the teacher, to each other and to the subject matter.

Now, what you have to do as the teacher is find how you can make these points clear to your students. If you speak to them in their native language, then you can do an orientation at the beginning of the school year to go over what the rules are, what exceptions are acceptable, what your expectation are, etc. But if you do not speak to the students in their native language, then you need to develop ways of letting the students know about your expectations by showing these four Fs in the way you teach.

For example, you can be friendly when you greet the students and say goodbye. You can be firm by not permitting them to speak Japanese in class or insisting on good manners in your presence. (After all, they are guests in your domain when they come to your class.) You can exemplify fairness by lending students a pencil, a dictionary or scotch tape, but let them know they need to responsible for their own materials and to come prepared next time. And you can be focused by teaching at an even tempo, getting everyone involved and by giving students the right amount of time to succeed in each activity you create. Insist on the attention you need from them to teach and give them the same attention to enable them show you what they can do!

A balanced combination of all four are the foundation of creating good experiences in the classroom for the students and will open the door to the secret fifth F, fulfillment.

Is Something Missing?

by Helene J. Uchida

Teachers often question what they can do to better ensure the success of their students. One of the most important factors in determining the success of our students and the quality of our lessons is the overall environment of the classroom and school. The following are six areas in which we can focus our efforts to fostering the success of our students.

Physical safety. Is the room arranged in such a way that students will not suffer any bodily harm? For younger students this means pointed table corners are not in a strategic position, kerosene heaters (with kettles filled with water) are away from the class traffic flow. For older students it means the room feels safe and comfortable.

Emotional security. Does each student feel that you are not a threat to him/her, that you are supportive and understanding, that you will not shame the student in front of others? (A good rule of thumb is to praise in front of others, and when constructive criticism is necessary, to do it in private.)

Sense of identity. Does each student feel strongly about being in YOUR class or your school? Does the student identify with you and what you stand for? Does he/she feel attached to you?

Sense of affiliation. Does the student feel that he/she is a part of your group, proud to be your student, a member of your school? Do family members also feel this way?

Sense of confidence. Does the study of English in your class build confidence in the student? Do you find good things in your students and let them know you recognize them? Do you use English as a catalyst to trigger confidence?

Sense of mission/direction. Does the student see the bigger picture of studying English? Each student should feel that studying English in your class with YOU can expand the scope of his/her experiences; in essence, there is meaning and a message to your subject matter. And by being able to understand English, he/she will be able to communicate with, understand and enjoy people from all over the world.

These concepts (not the teaching interpretation of them) were discussed on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show in the U.S. We do not know who the original author is.

15 Faithful Promises

by Helene J. Uchida

  1. I will respect my students no matter what their level is. If I show respect to them, they will naturally reflect that respect back to me, to their peers and to themselves.
  2. I will always be prepared for class but will always allow room for changes based upon the flow of the lesson and the energy/mood of the students.
  3. I will remember that no two classes are the same. What works in one class may not work in another.
  4. I will be firm, friendly, fair and focused in my approach.
  5. I will delegate, facilitate and guide my students to take charge with the challenges each class presents to them.
  6. I will use English as a tool to enable my students to become independent and confident.
  7. I will teach English with a message, meaning students should be polite to me, to guests and to each other; courtesy ignites courtesy.
  8. I will create positive experiences for each lesson so my students feel like each class is a special encounter.
  9. I will encourage students to take responsibility for the class, for our work, for our progress, for inter-personal relationships.
  10. I will be strong with my praise and gentle with my criticism.
  11. I will give students signals to maintain my connection with them by pointing, gesturing, directing, smiling, reacting, dipping my head when they speak, pondering what they say, and by genuinely responding to who they are and what they feel.
  12. I will be sincerely interested in what my students have to say. I should ask about family members, clubs, joke, hobbies, vacations, jobs, health, favorite movies, singers, opinions, complaints, and dreams.
  13. I will always seek ways to improve my teaching by reviewing new materials and attending educational presentations.
  14. I will learn from my students. Observing them and how they respond to my lessons is the best self-help training course I could ever take.
  15. I will let each student feel he/she is special in my eyes because it is true. Everyone is special.


Advice for Teaching Adults

by Helene J. Uchida

  1. Be prepared for class with a simple, constructive lesson plan that builds on a weekly basis.
  2. Introduce one new vocabulary word per class. Write the word on the blackboard with a sample sentence. Ask the students to make a simple sentence for homework.
  3. Enable students to help each other succeed in class.
  4. Teach survival English to beginners, such as: How do you say_____? How do you spell_____? How do you say _____ in English? How do you say _____ in Japanese? What do you say when _____?
  5. Orchestrate activities and exercises that encourage students to speak to each other in English as opposed to only speaking English to you.
  6. Don’t condescend to beginners; this is the most powerful group with the most potential. Develop the art of teaching simply in a sophisticated way.
  7. Don’t let intermediate or advanced students become satisfied with their level. There is the danger of langauge fossilization with satisfaction.
  8. Write notes to your students, such as birthday cards or get well cards. Congratulate them on a promotion or a trip abroad. Give them words of support or encouragement as much as you can.
  9. Each time your students leave your class, they should leave with something they did not have when they walked in. It could be a new vocabulary word, expression, idiom, culture point or information. Attending your class should be like putting change in a piggy bank. The more change they have, the happier they will be.
  10. Just as you have helped the veteran or more advanced students, encourage them to help the newer, weaker ones. One cannot speak English alone. We all need each other to create an English speaking opportunity.
  11. Remember that the barometer of good teaching is you. If you enjoy the class, the students do also.

Taking Care of Attendance

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.

Self Introduction Spotlight

by Helene J. Uchida

Being able to introduce oneself in a foreign langauge is quite an exciting challenge. But what does one say after giving one’s name and age? Here is a successful technique, which builds confidence while encouraging students to introduce themselves to small or large groups; it also promotes understanding others’ self-introductions in the target language.

We use the Self-Introduction Card (shitajiki) which is available from the Little America Mail Order Service. The text for this card (shitajiki) is as follows:

Hello. My name is __________.
I’m ____ years old.
My birthday is __________.
I go to __________ High School.
I’m in the _____ grade.
My favorite subject at school is __________.
My worst subject is __________.
I belong to the __________./(I don’t belong to any clubs.)
There are _____ people in my family, my __________ and me.
My favorite singer/group is __________.
My favorite sport is __________.
My hobby is __________.
When I grow up I want to be a(n) __________.
I would describe myself as a __________ person.
I am happy to meet you.

First, we have the students write in all the answers in pencil. Since the information is all student-focused, the students are pretty interested in doing this. Upon completion of this activity, the students show their self-introductions to the teacher for corrections. After they have been corrected, the students can practice their self-introductions in pairs. I always encourage students to lower their eyes to look at the card for reference but to also raise their eyes and look at their partner when speaking. The emphasis should be on communication, not reading or memorization. In addition, the more the students practice, the better they become, reciting the self-introduction almost naturally.

The role of the student who is listening is to listen and comprehend his/her partner’s self-introduction. If and when the partner listening gives visual responses like smiling or good eye contact or nodding in approval, it is a tremendous boost to the speaker.

Once this activity has been repeated many times (like five minutes per class for five sessions), the students are ready for one self-introduction per class. The first time I do my own self-introduction, giving them a model format to base theirs upon. I speak slowly and clearly while glancing at my Self-introduction Card. I also look at the students in the class from left, to center to right to involve everyone with my presentation. Upon completion of my self-introduction, I then make my announcement, that a selected student will be “The Self-introduction Star” for the next class; I then announce who this student will be. (This way the student can practice at home and prepare.) The next class that student is asked to do his/her presentation and the rest of the students listen.

It’s an activity greeted with enthusiasm because the students are all interested in each other, and they are given the chance to hear each other speak English. Also, since they know the meaning of the text, they can comprehend it without the use of dictionaries or translating into Japanese. It’s a strong confidence-building technique for the student doing the presentation and for those listening. With higher level questions, you can ask students in the audience to ask the speaker a question.

This is a pleasant way to start or end a class. Everyone enjoys this activity, including YOU because it’s a wonderful means to learn more about your students in the target language.

Body Language in English

by Helene J. Uchida

All cultures are mostly verbal, but varying degrees of nonverbal communication also exist. The purpose of nonverbal communication is to give visual signals to the other participants in the conversation. If those nonverbal signals which work in one’s own culture don’t work in another culture, one is opening the door for misunderstanding. The following are culture points to help high school students adopt body mannerisms and gestures that support the flow of English in a natural way.

  1. Stand and sit tall when speaking English.
  2. Don’t put your fingers or hand in front of your mouth when speaking.
  3. Maintain eye contact when speaking to people.
  4. Listen with your eyes ad well as your ears.
  5. Don’t close your eyes and tilt your ear to the speaker when listening.
  6. Don’t hesitate when you speak. (It’s okay to make a mistake.)
  7. Don’t spell with your fingers in your hand.
  8. Shake hands standing straight with a firm handshake, good eye contact and a smile.
  9. Do not bow when you shake hands or when you speak English.
  10. Point with your fore finger, not your middle finger.
  11. Speak in a clear, audible voice, not too soft and not too loud. (Women need not to speak in high pitched voices.)
  12. With pair work, don’t dip your head into the book, but lift the book up and employ eye contact with your partner, practicing in a natural way.
  13. Don’t memorize phrases; be natural. (The stress shows in your face when you memorize.)
  14. Don’t cup your hands and whisper to a friend; it alienates others.
  15. Don’t point to your nose when referring to yourself; point to your chest.
  16. If you don’t understand, give a signal that you don’t understand, like shaking your head. Don’t stand/sit in silence.
  17. Be attentive and helpful to teacher and peers.
  18. Act confident and poised.
  19. Select the best mannerisms from the West.
  20. Don’t turn to other people to get their comments before you answer in English. Think for yourself.

Be the best you can be!

Kindergarten Theme Songs

by Helene J. Uchida

Songs are a wonderful vehicle to help facilitate positive feelings about being in an English speaking environment. They naturally create a pleasant atmosphere by virtue of the universal appeal of music with a melody.

I strongly recommend that your preschool and elementary classes have a theme song to associate with YOU and your English class. Playing this song in your classroom is a signal to your students that it is time for their lesson to begin. When youngsters at our school, waiting out in the lobby, hear our theme song, they come running to the classroom with a smile on their face, eager to greet their teacher and excited for class to begin. We also use the same theme song again to signal to them that class is over and it is time for them to leave. Thus, entering and leaving the classroom is always a positive, pleasant experience cushioned by an upbeat tempo and a corresponding happy atmosphere.

Selecting the theme song should be a fun experience for you in that it should reflect your personality or philosophy. If you are Australian, you might select “Waltzing Matilda.” If you are American, you might like “Country Road” or “You Are My Sunshine.” If you are British, you might select, “London Bridge.” Japanese teachers might like Walt Disney’s songs, for example, “It’s a Small World” or “Hi-Ho” (the march of the Seven Dwarves in Snow White) or a nursery song like “This Old Man” or the children’s song “If You’re Happy.” The list is endless, but the point is that this song will come to symbolize you and your English class. And when the child grows up and hears that song, he/she will think of you and his/her memories of English class with you.

If you have an answering machine for your school, you can also use this song as background music to your message. In addition, if and when you have a “happyokai,” this theme song can be used as background music to help relax the students and get them “in the mood” for English.

At Little America our theme song is “Getting to Know You” from the musical The King and I. It is employed in all the suggestions listed above. We also use it for our outside kindergarten classes where the students line up in a semi-circle waiting for us. We put the tape cassette in the tape recorder and walk around the semi-circle, shaking hands with each child and saying, “Hello” as our theme songs plays. We also do the same thing at the end of class: the student line up in a semi-circle to say goodbye and shake hands with their teacher while the music plays in the background.

This theme song concept is an example of how a little thought and a little preparation can be a strong catalyst to help you nourish in your students a positive and happy attitude about you and the English classes you create for them.

Preschool Carriculum Planning

by Helene J. Uchida

Very often beginning teachers wonder how they will be able to develop a curriculum for their preschool classes, and, as a result, put off writing one. A curriculum is nothing to fear; it should provide for the continuous progress of the preschool students toward understanding, responding to, speaking, singing and interacting in the target language. It is the base upon which lessons will grow. But best of all, it is a tool to help the teacher become a better teacher. The following is a sample outline of concepts to help you get started.

  1. Classification(Youngsters are naturally interested in identifying and classifying the universe around them.)
    1. The alphabet (capital & small)
      1. Reading in order
      2. Identifying at random
    2. Numbers
      1. Reading in order
      2. Identifying
      3. Counting
    3. Colors
      1. Identifying
      2. Describing
    4. Animals
      1. Zoo animals
      2. Farm & domestic
    5. Fruits
    6. Vegetables
    7. Body Parts
    8. Action Verbs
  2. Communicating
    1. Self-introduction
    2. Greetings
      1. Hello.
      2. Goodbye.
      3. How are you?
      4. I’m fine, thank you.
    3. Basic statements
      1. I like ice cream.
      2. I don’t like snakes.
      3. I can jump.
      4. I can’t swim.
  3. Activities
    1. Taking attendance
    2. Songs
    3. Games
    4. Flash cards
    5. Marches
    6. Poster reading
    7. Color hunts
    8. Dances
    9. Grab bag

When you write your yearly/monthly outline, keep notes on what worked and what didn’t work. Then, at the end of the year, you can revise your notes. The next year you can use your revised curriculum as a base for new classes, and it an be expanded upon for continuing classes. It gets easier each year. You both (your classes and you) get better with experience!

Childhood Learning Stages

by Helene J. Uchida

Although the learning curve of a child is fairly predictable, it is important to remember that each child progresses at his/her own pace. The child’s drive to learn is awesome, and it is the role of the teacher (and parents) to nourish it. The trap we should not fall into is that of pushing a child too hard, too soon.

3-year-olds: They are pretty interested in doing things for themselves and trying to keep up with older children. Some like to draw with crayons. They have an initial interest in small puzzles and like to dance with with a group (following the teacher). They can begin to deal with cause and effect.

Four-year-olds: Motor skills develop, so they are usually able to put puzzles together with relish. They are interested in colors and identifying the world around them. Singing and dancing come easily. They enjoy interacting with others.

Five-year-olds: They understand counting and can manage to begin writing. They enjoy interacting with others, so group play and approval become important; cooperation and negotiation are possible.

Behavior in general: The adult should encourage child to act responsibly by setting limits on dangerous activities (running), antisocial behavior (talking when another child is speaking) or being rude. Be consistent with rules. Praise child when he/she plays well with others or succeeds with activities.

Source: Newsweek, summer,1997

The following suggestions facilitate language learning with youngsters:

  1. Speak slowly and clearly.
  2. Emphasize or repeat short, simple words.
  3. Make short statements.
  4. Use commands often. (Come in, stand up, sit down, show me, give me, take off your shoes.)
  5. Gesture while you speak.
  6. Respond to child’s English. (Yes, the apple is RED.)
  7. Smile a lot.
  8. Use colorful materials for visual stimultation.
  9. Use music to set the mood, give class a tempo, sing and dance and use as background music for playing games.
  10. Have simple games on hand to play at the end of class and switch every few weeks.
  11. Respect the child as another human being who just happens to be smaller and younger than you.

Leaving the Classroom

by Helene J. Uchida

When class is over, we ask the students to get their bags and line up at the classroom door. The teacher stands at the open door and faces the first student on line. The teacher then asks that student, a student focused question, like: When’s your birthday? or What’s your telephone number? or What’s your favorite sport? The student answers in English and then the teacher smiles and says Goodbye or See you next time, and the student repeats that farewell in English and leaves the room. Then the teacher asks a different question to the next studnet, following the same procedure. If a student cannot answer the teacher’s questions, then that student goes to the end of the line and gets another chance after the others have finished. The teacher can then give a little more individualized attention to the student the second time around. Everyone walks out of the classroom smiling.

How can you utilize this method? If you have small, beginning classes, you can ask all the students the same question. Idealistically, it would be something covered in class that day, like How old are you? I’m __________. When the students line up to depart, they would not only have a chance to interact individually with the teacher but also have a chance to review the day’s concept upon leaving the room. Also, the students standing at the end of the line would hear the question over and over again, which means they would be very confident by the time they stood in front of the teacher for their departure question.

With small, more advanced classes, you could ask various questions (as we do), which would have a wider range and be more challenging. Of course, these questions would stem from syntax covered in class. For example: Can you swim? Do you like yogurt? How many people are there in your family? Do you have a pet?

For those of you teaching at public or private schools with bigger classes, you could stop students at random to ask them a departure question. Or you could ask every 5th student as he/she leaves the room. Those who get stopped by the teacher rightfully feel “special.”

This farewell line-up takes about one minute, and the students always leave smiling, knowing that the teacher is personally interested in them and that they can respond and interact on an individual basis in English. The parents waiting in the lobby are also happy to see their children cheerfully speaking to their teacher in English with confidence. Everyone goes home happy!