Thursday, 30 July 2020


School’s out for summer! Phew. It was a tough one but I’m so glad we made it to the end of the term, the crazy challenges notwithstanding. 

COVID-19 changed the dynamics of teaching and learning as we know it. For example, there weren't opportunities for team building/ group tasks and students had to sit a few meters apart to maintain social distancing. Never mind that students broke the social distancing rule from time to time. Of course, we also had to wear masks 24/7 to prevent the spread of the virus. I found that teaching EFL with a mask over your mouth is nothing short of annoying and frustrating. Needless to say that modeling proper pronunciation was difficult to achieve. 

Owing to the fact that I started working at this school at the time when the pandemic was beginning to gain momentum, I have no idea what my students look like without masks. Towards the end of the term, students were beginning to get antsy and “maskadaisical” and occasionally they would slip down their masks for a breath of fresh air and it was always a pleasant surprise! They looked nothing like I’d imagined. It was almost as if their masks came with “open for a surprise” labels.
One of the biggest moments for me this term was when I had the opportunity to attend a mini-sporting event between two arms of the first grade and all participants had their masks off. I didn’t know who was who and it was exciting to identify them by distinct features like their height, hairstyle and attitude. They had a good laugh every time I gasped and called out “——- is that you!” I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I wept, literally! 
This experience helped me appreciate the seemingly little things that we take for granted- braces, freckles, dimples and crooked dentition! I really hope that a vaccine is discovered soon. We can never go back to “normal”- surely not, but I hope that the lessons of hygiene, compassion and consideration for others and their personal space, among others, remain with us after this is all over.

As schools are just being re-opened in some parts of the world, I wish all the teachers who are just about to start work a successful school term as well. As far as this pandemic is concerned, we can never be too careful thus hand washing and sanitizing are very important, and also keep the masks on by all means. 

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post. 

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Saturday, 11 July 2020

Pair Check

Hello, it’s been a while! How’s everyone been holding up in these trying times? I hope we are all well and keeping safe. As for me, I’ve recently moved to a new city and taken up a new role as a 4Skills Support teacher to support the CPD needs of Japanese teachers of English (JTE). It’s been a wild ride till now but I have definitely learnt a lot. 

From here on out, I’ll try to make my posts more regular- at least once every month. Also, in a couple of blogposts, beginning from today, I would be sharing some best practices I learnt on the CELTA course and how I am using them in my current teaching. I will start with the importance of pair checking.

 Pair checking is a key part of recommended practice on the CELTA. After almost every activity, it is important to get students to check their answers with other students around them before you do feedback. Last week, I taught my first lessons of this school year (won’t be teaching so much this year) and again I was reminded how much students’ confidence get a boost when they see that they’ve got almost the same answers with their mates or that their friend also did not know know the answer to the same question! Helps them feel less stupid.

If your students are hesitant to speak up and volunteer to answer questions, especially during whole class feedback, a pair check might help. Once students cross check their answers and confirm with their classmates that all is well, they’re more likely to speak up in class with almost no fear of getting it wrong.

Also, while cross checking answers, students are able to notice some areas that need clarification and clear confusion around that area. Some may argue that students might completely erase their answers and copy their partner’s during pair check therefore rendering it ineffective.  On the contrary, this is ok because they would have learnt from their peers and peer-to-peer instruction is a great way to facilitate and deepen learning. I usually take note of students who do this and try to nominate them to answer questions when I  take feedback.

One thing to be careful of though is that once students are aware that you would always do pair check, some might do nothing and lie in wait to copy from their peers during pair check. This is an ineffective way to learn and different from actually doing the work and correcting what they might have got wrong. Ensure that you monitor during tasks to find students like this and encourage them to try. Also, try not to do it ALWAYS, so they don’t know whether it will be done or not. It’s ok to skip peer checking and feedback altogether in favour of, say, giving them the answers to read and check in order to save time. 

If you’ve never tried this, give it a try and let me know how it goes. Otherwise, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by. See you next post.

Photo credit: kiss clip on Google images
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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

What Does "a" Mean?

Anticipating problems that may arise and proffering solutions to them was one of the highlights of my CELTA training. While planning your lesson, for each stage you need to predict and note down how you would respond to learner needs. Obviously, this is to give you an edge and keep you prepared and it’s always a good feeling if you have predicted something rightly.
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Thursday, 12 September 2019

A For Self-Awareness

Today, after my lesson with Year 2-2 (the second arm of the Second grade), the JTE commended me for what I’d always considered a flaw in my teaching skills. 
Lesson planning is one aspect of teaching I enjoy so much. Putting together the slides and activities tailored to each of my students' needs gives me so much joy.  My greatest lessons have been birthed at this stage however, sometimes I fall below standard due to one reason or the other- mostly the lack of time, and it shows greatly. Often, the first class I go in to teach are the scapegoats who take the fall. The poor students in Year 2-1 were the victims this week. 
So here’s the backstory. While planning the grammar lesson on the subordinate conjunction “If”, I thought the activity in the ready-made lesson plans wouldn’t cut it for my students but I also had a hard time coming up with a better one. I finally settled for some kind of practice game where I spilt 10 sentences into two colour-coded, blue and orange halves.

The blue and orange made a pair and the students had to work in groups of five where each group receives a bundle of 20 strips which the selected group leader shuffles and gives each student two blue and two orange strips each. The first player puts a blue or an orange strip on the table reads the sentence/phrase out loud while the other students check to see if they have the pair to complete the sentence. Whoever had the other half read out the complete sentence and gets to keep both strips. The student with the most strips wins. The demonstration stage went ok but I didn’t anticipate the problem and possibility of one student having the two halves that make a pair, one student’s four strips were all matching pairs! If you know Japanese students, they follow instructions to the letter, so they didn’t see this coming since it didn’t come up during the demonstration. From that point onward, the activity didn’t make sense any more and the Year 2-1 students got very confused. I tried to salvage the situation by stopping the activity to point out that some students could have the complete pair, but it didn’t help much. Needless to say that the aim of the activity was defeated.
The Year 2-2 lesson was the very next period and I had only 10 minutes in between to muster all my creative juices to fix the mess.  I had a last-minute idea which I hoped would work. So, instead of making them play a modified card game of some sort, I had them work in groups to arrange the strips in the right pairs and informed them that the first group to finish wins. As I monitored, I noticed that some groups found the task a bit challenging and I told them to send spies to see how the other groups were doing. At the end of the activity, we had a feedback session to check answers and I collected all the blue cards and had them turn the orange ones over. They then had to randomly pick one orange card and complete the sentence using their own ideas. This wasn’t in my lesson plan but it worked really well as a production activity.  
As we walked out of the class after the lesson, the JTE who is a rookie teacher was in awe, told me he admired the way I completely switched the lesson around. I smiled and took the compliment graciously but I told him that in reality, I’m not usually proud of these moments because it shows my lack of detailed planning and more so, I feel bad for the students who did not get the best because I’m really not sure if I’ll have a chance to re-teach. I agreed with him though that it would take some experience and skill to be able to pull that off. 
We ended up talking about three types of teachers- the self-aware and reflective one, the one who can’t recognise a failed lesson plan even if it smacks them in the face, the one who is dogged and determined to stick to the lesson plan even when it’s obvious that it’s not working. Which one are you?

Thanks for stopping by! See you next post. 

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Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Happy Tears In The Classroom

Last week, I was reminded again of how much of a cry-baby I am when responding to my students’ achievements in the classroom. I am so sure that every good teacher has stories to share about precious moments like this.

So, there is no special needs class in the other school where I teach and learners with learning needs are mainstreamed with the other students and usually, these special students of mine just basically do their own thing and sometimes they sleep through the lesson. I've toyed with the idea of creating extra or different tasks for special students but the JTEs didn’t really buy the idea. In fact, one JTE specifically told me that she’ll “take care of the student” herself. I guess this might be because Japan is a group-oriented society and differentiating by task may make the student feel totally different and isolated, disability irrespective. One of the things I don't like about being an ALT is not having total control to make decisions about my students' welfare and learning, as I always have to get an OK from the JTE. The struggle I go through when I’m teaching in a class with students like this is real. I feel bad for them and I’ve always wondered what I could do to help them learn and I keep trying different ways in the hope that I'll be able to reach them somehow.

A miracle happened last week. One boy who usually sits and stares into space and does nothing even after I've asked the girl beside him to work with him and help him, surprised me and the JTE. 
So, in that class, the students learned how to use the target sentence “There is…/There are…” Students got into groups of five after I modelled the game and they started playing a board game to practise using the target language. As I went round monitoring, the JTE called my attention to the table of my boy whom I’ve been worried about. My heart did a flip as I saw him throw the dice and make a very correct sentence using the target language. In the JTE’s words “this is the first time I’ve seen his smile since I started working in this school” of course at this point I couldn’t hold back the tears and I had to quickly step out into the hallway to comport myself. At the end of the activity, as we took a roll call of champions, guess who won one round of the games in his group? Yup! My boy.
Like I told the JTE, there’ll definitely be more of board games in that class because we’ll be foolish not to use this newly found key as often as possible and hopefully, we’ll find out other ways to help him learn and participate in class.

In other news, school’s out! The summer holidays officially begin today. It’s been one great ride of adventures, fun, bonding with my students, learning, unlearning and relearning. I'll be doing a lot of reading and research on more ways to reach out to special needs students in regular classes. I am new to teaching SEN so please I'll appreciate ideas and links in the comment. I would like to appreciate you for coming on this ride with me so far. Thank you for every time that you took time out to read my posts. Thank you for every time you read and left me a note, I really appreciate that. 
I might also have some kind of online training for Nigerian teachers coming soon I’ll keep you guys posted, please watch this space.

Thank you so much for stopping by, see you next post!

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Thursday, 20 June 2019

Backing Up Your Backup Plan

How’s it going? Hope everyone is having a great school-week so far. It’s almost Friday and I  can’t wait! Gosh, I am so super teacher-tired!
This week has gone well really and there’s nothing much to report except that my laptop almost did the unthinkable on Tuesday morning, sending me into a state of panic because I had no back-up plan!

In fairness to my faithful, soon-to-be 5 years old Samsung laptop, it has been showing signs of tiredness but I’ve been coaxing and urging it to take one more step because I’m not ready for a new one yet. But on Tuesday morning when I got to school and tried to turn it on in preparation for my four back to back lessons which I had from first till 4th period, it just didn’t come on. Instead, I got an error message that the system was “scanning and repairing Drive C” and this was about 25 minutes before the start of class. After what seemed like forever, it finally rebooted just about 5 minutes before class time. Phew!

At that moment, I was reminded of the importance of having a plan B. I mean, technology is great and often 99.999% reliable but you never can tell when the 0.0001% error will show up. It goes without saying that you should always have a backup plan as a teacher.

To be honest with you, I haven’t learned my lesson yet. I still haven’t created back-ups since Tuesday because the laptop has been working perfectly after that episode LOL but maybe next week I will! So, my plan is to upload my slides and materials for each week on Google drive so I can access them from anywhere if something goes wrong. I could also back up my back-up plan by printing out hard copies of slides and materials but that would mean having a lot of paper to throw away after a while. Anyways we’ll see.

Do you use technology in your classroom? If you do, how do you back up your plans for the times when technology acts up?   

This has got to be the most boring post ever but I’m glad you made it up to this point.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Sunday, 16 June 2019

Bloopers For The Week Ending 14/06/19

Hello! Starting with this post, every week I'll share the things that didn't go well in my class for that week, partly for reflection purposes and mostly for other teachers to learn from my experiences.
This week went well generally except for card games! My students love card games. I love them too but I had issues with modelling the game and giving proper instructions.

For year 2, I taught the grammar point "What do you think of.../ I think (that) ..." and I decided to use a card game activity. The idea was to have cards with different pictures and words like natto, tennis, TV, books and so on and have students ask and answer questions using the target language. So, the game is played by four to five players, the cards are shuffled and everyone gets 5 cards each. The first player picks a card, for example, tennis and asks " What do you think of tennis?" and students with tennis card drop their card and say "I think (that) it is..." any player without the said card picks one from the extra cards in the middle. And next player asks and so on and so forth until one player exhausts all their cards and wins. Sounds easy right? But this game flopped right from the demonstration stage for so many reasons. 

Firstly, I struggled to find the simplest English words to show how this game works, even though I demonstrated with a few students still it didn't go smoothly. I had to go from table to table re-explaining the game to individual groups and that was really exhausting to do and of course, that amounted to lots of teacher talk. In order to avoid this next time, it's best to script my words before class. I mean write out exactly what I need to say. Though I learned this trick during my CELTA course, I still didn't put it into practice, but lesson learned! 

Also, in retrospect, I think I should have done the game differently. Though the aim of the game was for everyone to practice the target language not everyone got equal chances to say the sentence. So, if you didn't have the card asked for by the player then you just picked a card from the extra pile of cards without saying anything and this happened a lot of times. Next time, I would have the first player ask the students in their group the question; for example, "What do you think of tennis?" followed by the other students' answers "I think it is..." even if they didn't have the card then they go on to drop the card or pick an extra card. That way everyone will get more opportunities to use the language.

Hopefully, I'll do better next week. Please leave ideas and suggestions on how to make this game more effective.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Importance of Being Extra

Teaching style depends on personality type. Some teachers are quiet and cool, they speak slowly, get their point across and manage to keep the students interested. My goodness, I’ll never know how they do it, they are the real MVPs. You see me, I am extra. No, scratch that- I’m extra- extra LOL. If you pass by my class you’ll hear a lot of productive noise and above all, lots of laughter. My class has to be fun; otherwise, I’d bore myself to death, not to talk of my students. In my opinion, to successfully get young people engaged in learning, you’d have to be crazy, humorous, cool and innovative all at once. Let me tell you about my typical lesson.

In real life, to those who do not know me well, I seem introverted and shy but I kid you not, the moment I walk into the class the let's-run-this-show spirit comes upon me and I immediately transform into this energy goddess no matter how bad I was feeling before class time! I walk into the class mouth first, chat the students up, and sometimes I dance to invisible music in my head as I set up my computer. Note that the class hasn’t started yet, the students still have about five minutes prep time so, they’re looking at me and already laughing, wondering what this crazy teacher has in store for them today, I make sure I never disappoint. I try to bring in something new that they’ve never seen before. 
One thing that has worked for me this week has been the use of Bitmojis to spice up my lesson. Bitmoji is an app owned by the same company that runs the Snapchat app, and it allows you to create a Bitmoji character that looks like you, just like the "so extra" picture in this post. Imagine the excitement and surprise when “I” showed up on the screen LOL. You can use Bitmojis to spice your lessons in any imaginable way and I'm thinking of making stickers from them too. Sometimes I use hilarious GIF images that move around on the screen when I’m running my slide show. I can’t stand “normal” lessons, you guys.

Today I wore extra big, star-shaped glasses that made the kids laugh out loud, they didn’t see it coming. Amidst good mornings and laughter, the students who bumped into me at the entrance tried to make comments about my glasses in English. While teaching the grammar point “What do you think of ….?” / I think (that)…”, during the introduction stage, after several examples using pictures, I turned my back to the class for a minute then I put my glasses on, turned around, struck a pose and asked: “What do you think of my glasses?” ”Ha-ha, I think they’re crazy”, “I think that Lola is cute” “I think it’s funny”. See? Target language used, lesson aim achieved, we all laughed, end.of.story.  Look, a little silliness never hurt anyone.
Sometimes my silliness is spontaneous, in response to the tempo in the class; most times it begins at the planning stage. I have a good time planning my lessons, especially when creating resources and visuals. I imagine how it’ll play out and make necessary adjustments. By the time I’m done, I’m so pumped up and excited and this translates into my lessons. I know I’m blowing my own trumpet but hey, it’s mine!

Oh, I enjoy my students, genuinely laugh at their jokes, and I am very generous with praises, and sometimes I get so emotional when they have done very well as a group and I put my hand to my heart and tell I love them. Of course, there’ll always be those naughty ones who try to hijack your lesson, I dramatically roll my eyes and bless them with a look that says “really!” and they adjust immediately. Balance is very important.

I realise that not everyone can be energetic and extra like me and I’m not asking you to become who you’re not but no matter your personality type, enthusiasm is one ingredient that you can never do without. Don’t be dull and never sulk no matter what you’re going through at that time; nobody likes a teacher who shows up in class sucking lemons. Do all you can in the best way that agrees with your personality to let your students know that you’re interested in them and that you’re happy to be their teacher.

Phew, this week is almost over! Tomorrow I'll tell you about my bloopers, all the many things that didn't go so well this week and how I handled them. 
Please leave a note and let me know which part of this post resonates with you the most.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Saturday, 8 June 2019

A Great Teacher Makes Puzzles

My finished product

Azul Terronez’s TED Talk, “What makes a good teacher great?” inspired this blog post title. In the talk, he recounts how every time he would ask his students this question and he shared a few of the interesting responses he’d collected over time. One that I really like that has stuck with me, which I now use is “A great teacher sings” but hey, this post is not about that talk so go and look for it and have a listen- right after you’re done reading this post of course LOL!

Anyways, “A great teacher makes puzzles” wasn't part of the responses Azul spoke about but I’ve added it because I successfully created jigsaw puzzles for an activity this week. Yayyyy.
So, this week the JTE asked me to plan for a lesson which wasn’t part of the topics I’ve been scheduled to teach and which was also kind of boring to teach. I took up the challenge, happy that she trusted that I could make something out of it and I put my thinking hat on and set to work. You see, I’m never one to shy away from lesson planning, though I work in a setting that has already-made lesson plans available for teachers still, most times I find myself tweaking and making my own stuff not because those plans are not good but because they weren’t designed specifically for MY OWN students.
So back to the lesson which was about the present perfect continuous tense with focus on Japan’s World Heritage sites! Wait a minute, I couldn’t understand why such a complex topic was included in JHS 3rd graders textbook when they clearly didn’t have enough English yet to grasp this but anyways. After much deliberation, I decided to make a jigsaw puzzle activity to keep my students interested especially because one of the classes was scheduled for right after lunchtime when the food is travelling around their body and making them sleepy.
The process
After making my lesson plan game tight, I began to wonder how to successfully make this puzzle business a reality. I searched all over the internet looking for apps or websites where I could create downloadable and printable puzzles but I didn’t find any. I knew I could’ve just printed the pictures and just cut them into jigsaw style pieces but I wanted actual, traditional jigsaw patterns. I finally got an idea and downloaded a 16 puzzle-piece pattern, printed it on one side of the paper and the picture on the other side, laminated and cut along the jigsaw pattern and that was it! It was very tasking to cut the pieces out as I had to do a lot but seeing my students actively participating and enjoying the activity made it worth the while. The activity woke them up and they worked in groups, competing to be the first to complete the puzzle. I realise that my method may be a “no-brainer” for very sharp-witted teachers but for someone like me who overthinks and over plans, it was a big deal, a kind of “Eureka” moment LOL! So, I’m putting this on here to make the job easier for overthinking teachers like me who might want to do a jigsaw puzzle activity. I hope you find this tip helpful.
I should also add that completing the puzzles wasn’t the main goal, it was just a fun activity I used to achieve my main aim. After completing the puzzles, they had to write four sentences about their picture, one of which was written in the present perfect continuous tense. Of course, I gave them questions to guide them and a model of what they were expected to do. 

To reiterate a very salient point, don’t do an activity if you have no way of using it to achieve the goal of the lesson. Can you justify why your students are drawing in an English lesson when they're supposed to be learning about “Imperatives”? And after they’re done drawing then what? 
Yes, a great teacher makes puzzles slash any other fun activity and uses it as a means to an end. I hope this post makes sense. Leave me a note to let me know if it does and please do share other ways of creating jigsaw puzzles if you know any. 

Ok, you may now go on YouTube and listen to the TED Talk I mentioned earlier! I would've posted a link on here but for copyright issues. 

 Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Monday, 3 June 2019

Why You Should be Teaching Special Needs Students

My special needs students are the sweetest souls to teach. Unlike most JHS Japanese learners of English, they’re not shy to learn or speak English, they cheer me on loudly with their eagerness to please and participate.

When I was first assigned to teach them I was very apprehensive because I had little or no experience teaching SEN students but the teachers did well to introduce me to the students first during lunch time right before the English lesson. Oooh, that has been my best lunchtime engagement to date. One student was at the door to receive me, another pulled out a chair for me in a very gentlemanly way that put me totally at ease. At first glance, it was difficult to tell just how special they are, except for the very obvious ones of course, but interacting and spending time with them has shown me just how lucky I am to have these ones as my students. They have my heart and I'm letting them keep it. 

So far I’ve had three lessons with them. The first one was when I had my self-introduction lesson where only three students actively listened to me talk about Nigeria. However, the enthusiasm of those three totally made up for their classmates who were not in the mood that day. During the second lesson, I learned not to introduce a “competitive game” as one of the students had a bad meltdown when she lost.

The third lesson today got me feeling all kinds of happy. I reviewed colours and we played the “Find something (insert colour)” game where they all had to go round to find something in the class, that colour. Their eyes found the colours in all the places I could never have imagined!
Find something brown...
Some of the kids ran to grab and hug me tightly. It was such a sweet emotional moment for me.
Find something red...
Rinku held his breath till he turned red 😮 😂 😂
Find something white...
Rinku pointed at his teeth.
Find something yellow...
Rinku touched his teeth again 😂
And my darling Takeru was the smartest of them all. While every other kid ran around frantically looking for an object in the right colour, he simply found a pack of coloured pencils and put them in front of him, bringing out the right colours one after the other like a boss.

We ended the class with the “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes” song and I made a beautiful discovery that Yuta loves songs, he never speaks and it was exciting to see him try the action as he did his best to move to the song.

For beautiful experiences like this, I would choose to be a teacher over and over again. 

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

Image Credit: special-needs.png  accessed via google images
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