Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Good and Bad Discussion Topics for English Class

The other day, I taught an English class at a junior high school. To show how to use the auxiliary "does" I had students ask each other what their favorite television show was and then had pairs team up and ask questions to the interviewers about the interviewee's answers ex. "Does so and so like __?" The activity did not go well as well as I would have liked. My experience in Japan is that quite often students do not like to talk about themselves. These questions are not deeply personal; sample topics are "what is your favorite school lunch?, what is your favorite television show? what do you usually eat for breakfast?". My experience has been that students are more interested in doing information gap activities where the information they share is about a fictitious person or factual information. Has anyone had any similar experiences or is this just me?


gami said...

I had similar experiences when I did teaching practice. Some students could enjoy asking question about themselves each other but some hated talking about themselves with their next students. I thought there were some reasons why they hated asking each other.
① They were shy.
② They hated each other.
(There were some pairs who could not do their activity well in each class.)
③ The atmosphere of the class.
(When I did 研究授業, my students could not do activity well. Because there were many teachers aroud them. So they became nervous.)
(④ The topics of questions.)
(There are some students who can not eat breakfast these days. And there were some students who are fordid watching TV.)
I think to ask each other is good activity for students. But we have to know them well for doing this activity. Especially, It is difficult for them to talk with their friends in front of many teachers, so we have to make good atmonphere bofore doing this kind of activity.

Eri said...

I had not such a experience as a English teacher, but I had one in my techer training.
First, students are so shy. I think they are shy to a teacher who meet first time. Especially they are nurvous to meet foreigner, because they are happy.
And Perhaps they may care adamn what people think of them. I might be so when I was in Junior high school.
And then I agree with gami's idea. It depends on atmosphere of a class. I think it's so dificult to make atmosphere that students can relax. So I was looking forward to do games and activities with ALT.

Christopher M Palasz said...

I teach conversation in South Korea... so it's a different country but it is influenced by Japan. My experience here is that they enjoy talking about themselves -- then again maybe it's the age group. I teach adults, generally.

João said...

Hi, I've had situations like this as well. I live in Lisbon and have taught Japanese study abroad students (ryugakussei) by from companies like Edu Japan. They mainly come here for 2 weeks intensive conversation lessons. The previous contact they've had with English is based on, as I've read on your blog, filling information gaps and solving grammar exercises. Japanese aren't used to discussing things, even if random, openly as we're used to in Europe. It's not part of their culture to discuss just for the sake of it. I've had lessons where we had a list of debatable topics. The topics were presented in questions, such as "Better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable", not anything really meaningful. The student would give the answer and move on to the next topic question. Nevertheless the demand for ALT teachers seem to show an attempt to change learning English.

I have Portuguese and Japanese nationality and want to go to Japan and work as an EFL teacher from March 2009. Do you have any advice?

João Sodebayashi

JH said...

Hello Joao,
Thanks for your comment!
I think that "discussion" in the Japanese context is possible but the ground rules are a little but different from the western context. I think that sometimes Japanese struggle to debate in English because they have not studied the kinds of expressions one needs to express agreement or disagreement in a nice way.
If you are interested in talking about teaching in Japan please e-mail me. My username is james.gandai and I use gmail.