Thursday, November 22, 2007


Cross Cultural Understanding Using Picture Books

On Friday, November 22, I presented at the JALT conference about Cross Cultural Understanding Using Picture Books (CCUP). CCUP is a two year project conducted by the Education Development Center (EDC) in Boston and the Iwate University Faculty of Education. The project had been sponsored by the Japan Foundation's Center for Global Partnership (CGP). The project uses 15 English picture books to teach different aspects of the US culture to Japanese elementary school children during the period of integrative study. The objective of the prject is to not only teach students about the US culture but to help them understand their own culture better by considering the similarities and differences between the two cultures.

In the first year of the project, EDC selected books and created teaching guides for the books. In the second year of the project, Iwate University recruited teachers across Iwate to do pilot lessons. So far, there have been about 24 pilot lessons conducted in 18 schools. In this post I am including the link to my powerpoint presentation as well as links to all 15 teaching guides which are available for anyone to use.

Here are the titles of the book and its guide in zip format.

1. Yoko (guide with lesson materials)
2. Corduroy's Best Halloween Ever (guide)
3. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (guide with lesson materials)
4. Covered Wagon, Bumpy Trails (guide with lesson materials)
5. Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King (guide)
6. Sector 7 (guide with lesson materials)
7. Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs (guide)
8. My First Thanksgiving (guide with lesson materials)
9. Too Many Tamales (guide with lesson materials)
10. The World Turns Round and Round (guide)
11. Tulip Sees America (guide)
12. Let's Play Hopscotch, Let's Jump Rope (guide with lesson materials)
13. The Goat in the Rug (guide with lesson materials)
14. Parade Day (guide)
15. The Story of the Statue of Liberty (guide with lesson materials)
16. Tips and tricks for using the guides(ガイドの使い方について)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Task Based Lesson at a Junior High School

On October 1, I gave a task based lesson at a junior high school in an Iwate city. The following definition of "task" guided my lesson planning:

" A task is an activity in which a person engages in order to attain an objective, and which necessitates the use of language."
(Van den Branden, K. (Ed.) (2006). Task Based Language Education: From theory to practice. CUP.)
The goals of the class were the following. You can see the lesson plan here (in Japanese).

  1. Listen to an easy speech (actually, it was more like an interview) and understand the general meaning without worrying about words that you do not understand.
  2. Give a simple speech without memorizing every word but by using key words to recall the content.

Description of Students and Class
This was a kenkyuujugyou or open class. I taught 20 first grade students (12- 13 years-old) who I had never met before. There were also 30 English teachers watching. I was asked to do this by the municipal board of education. They asked me to teach page 55 of the New Horizon text book. It was a listening exercise where students had to listen for the nationality, age, residence and other information of 2 fictitious foreigners living in Japan. Another teacher did a demonstration class after me using the same page of the textbook with different students. The objective of the 2 open classes was to compare and learn about different teaching styles.
Before I had met the students, their homeroom teacher had told me that they were hard working and motivated to study English. They had all been studying English for about 6 months, or since entering junior high school.

The Class
I decided to make my own content for the class rather than use the textbook page, because I did not think that anybody cares about fictitious foreigners living in Japan. I decided to introduce to the students a real non-Japanese person (other than me) living in Morioka.

Task 1
The objective of the first task was to watch an interview of a researcher at Iwate University and learn 1) where he is from, 2) his occupation, 3) the languages he speaks 4) and his likes. I tried to chose someone with an interesting background: he came from a country that students did not know well, spoke 5 languages etc. After watching the interview, students were then asked to confirm the answers in English. The real world language use necessary to attain the objectives was 1) listening for specific information 2) using language that you hear in your speech and 3)confirming the answers to a problem with a partner. The interview that students watched is below. I had videotaped the interview the day before and burned it onto a DVD.

The handout that students used is here. In the handout (see exercise A) students attempted to circle the correct answer for each question. Because the students were not familiar with the a lot of the vocabulary, (Slovakian, chemistry, etc... ) the multiple-choice questions were in English and Japanese.

After introducing the video to the students, I played it for them twice. I then asked them to make pairs and confirm their answers in English. I knew that students had the ability to confirm the answers in English but they did not know how. So, before they confirmed the answers, I played them a video of a colleague and myself doing a similar task and using English that was at about the level of the students. I told students that they should watch the video carefully and write down any English they think would be useful for confirming the answers with their partner. In the video, I used subtitles so students would know exactly what was being said.
The video is below:

Overall, most of the students got all the multiple choice questions correct and 11 the 16 students who completed a simple questionnaire after the class reported that they were able to use English to confirm the answers after watching the above video. I had originally budgeted 20 minutes for task 1 but ended up using about 26 minutes. This meant that I had about 20 minutes to do task 2. This would mean that I would have to make some modifications so that class would finish on time.

Task 2
I asked the students to write a simple speech using part B of their handout. To write the speech they simply had to fill in the blanks of a prewritten speech. The objective of this task was to say a simple speech in English using keywords to recall the content rather than memorizing every single word. The real world language use was giving a monologue in front of people using key words to give. After students wrote their speech, I put the following key words on the blackboard (in Japanese):

  1. Name (名前)
  2. Residence (住まい)
  3. Age (年齢)
  4. likes (好きなこと)
  5. day (you do what you like) (何曜日に好きなことをするか)

I asked students to prepare to give a speech in front of the whole class. I told them that when they give the speech, they should not read their speech from the handout. Rather they should look at the keywords on the board and use it to give their speech. I added that quite often when we are asked to do public speaking we do not have time to memorize a speech. So, one thing we can do is use keywords to organize the speech in our heads and then we can give a speech. I told students to take 5 minutes and practice their speech by themselves. After the 5 minutes, I had originally planned for students to give the speeches in pairs and then have individual students perform their speech in front of the class. Unfortunately, because time was limited students did not give the speeches in pairs. Rather, I called on students to give their speech in front of the whole class. A total of 8 students gave their speech in front of the class and they were all able to do it without looking at their prints.

Wrap-up of my experience: Considering how to facilitate task based language learning more smoothly and the use of the L1 in a communicative class

This was my 5th time doing this kind of "open class" in the past 2 years. My first open class was a miserable failure, my second open-class was a failure, my third open-class was mediocre, my fourth open-class went fairly well but students did not speak, and this class went well and students DID speak! The reason why my classes have improved is because I have slowly learned to put myself in the shoes of the junior high school students and imagine how difficult they might find certain activities or the anxiety they might feel. I think the key to planning good language learning tasks is to give students a task that is challenging so that they have to overcome a little anxiety to succeed but not too easy. I also think that when conducting task based language teaching, a key to having a successful class is to be able to change the lesson plan as the lesson proceeds depending on how the students' are working. In other words, to attain the learning objective of a task, teachers might have to add an activity, take away an activity or modify an activity as the class progresses. I have become more comfortable with this.

After the class, the teachers who observed me commented on how much I used Japanese. I explained the rationale of each activity in Japanese, gave tips in Japanese about how to do activities, introduced the rationale of the class in Japanese, and helped individual students who were stuck in Japanese. If I had done the class only in English we would not have been able to finish the lesson. Using Japanese saves time because you only have to explain something once or twice while in English in can take a lot of effort on the part of the students and teacher to understand one particular point. If I had not been under so much pressure to finish the demonstration task in the 50 minutes of class time, I would have used more English.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Experimental Task at a High School

Next week (October 1) I will be doing my annual Kenkyuujugyou (open class) for 20 jr. high school students I have never met and then I will give a 90 minute lecture to English teachers observing my lesson about Task Based Language Teaching. It just so happens that last week I was asked to give a 90 minute lecture in Japanese about "university life" to two groups of 87 and 29 high school students, respectively. The first group consisted of first and second year students (US equivalent is sophomores and juniors) and the second group consisted of 3rd year students. As a warm-up for my task-based lesson at the junior high school, I decided to give a 20-minute "mini demonstration lesson" at the ending of my lecture at the high school.
The task that I had students do was similar to the global education activity I introduced a few months ago. After doing the task, I gave students a short questionnaire to fill out. Through giving this questionnaire, I wanted to know why students who talked to their partner and completed the task were able to do so and why students who could not communicate with their partner were not able to do so. I was hoping that identifying some factors of why students failed and succeeded in language learning tasks would help me plan my task-based lesson for next week.
Here is what I did for the task:
A. Pre-Task: (Preparation for the Main Task)
Step 1. Students were given page 1 of the following document. In the document the world is divided into 11 regions. It asks students "if the world only had 100 $1 bills, how many dollar bills would be in each region? " The teacher explains in English to students what they should do.
Step 2. Students individually write the number of dollar bills that each region should have. (5 minutes)
Step 3. Students watch a video of the teacher and a colleague doing the Main Task (see below)
B. Main Task
Step 4. Students compare their answers with a partner and agree on how much dollar bills should be in each region They do this in English. (7 minutes) . The outcome of this task is a completed chart whose figures both students can agree on.
C. Post-Task
Step 5. The teachers calls an pairs to give their answers and ask why they gave such answers. (5 minutes).

I knew that step 4 would be very difficult for students to do, so I had them watch the below video of me and a colleague doing the same task before doing pair work.

For the first group of 87 students, we had little time to do the task but for the second group we had more time and also the number of students, 29, was much fewer so I was actually able to help students that were in trouble. Anyway, after the task I asked students to write whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the below statement. I was interested in learning why students were either able or not able to interact with each other in English for the Main Task (Step 4).

I talked to my partner about how many dollar bills should be in each region.
In the first group, 25 students wrote that they either strongly agreed or agreed while 3 wrote that they disagreed.

In the second group, 45 students wrote that they either strongly agreed or agreed while 35 wrote that they strongly disagreed or disagreed. You can see all the data here. I was surprised that so many students were able to do the task successfully.

I then asked students to give reasons why they agreed or disagreed. I organized the responses into categories. Below are the categories, the number of responses that fell within a category, and a description of the category.

Categories for Responses of Students who were able to communicate in English
(Please click on the above link to see the actual responses)
Attitude (10 responses): Respondents were positive about doing the activity and did not feel any anxiety.
Effort (10 responses): Respondents communicated meaning by any means possible: gestures, words etc.
Fun (2 responses) : The activity was fun and the respondents wanted to participate
Knowledge (11 responses) : Respondents were able to use the English that they knew.
Motivation (3 responses) : Respondents had a strong desire to speak in English
Pre-task (13 responses) : The video demonstration of the task was helpful
Teacher (4 responses) : The teacher's explanation was easy to understand or the teacher helped individual students
Teamwork (17 responses): Respondents were able to work well with their partner to complete the task.
Japanese (1 response): Respondents used Japanese to complete the task.

Categories for Responses of Students who were not able to communicate in English

Attitude (1 response): Respondents were not positive about engaging in the task.
Cannot understand the activity(19 responses): Respondents did not understand the English directions, the activity was generally too difficult, they had no idea what to do, or the chart was confusing.
Knowledge・ability (8 responses): Respondents felt that they lacked specific knowledge or ability to do the task
Performance Anxiety(9 Responses): Respondents were embarrassed about speaking English or just shy in general, they did not know how they should speak during the speaking activity.

My Analysis
The Successful Students
Students who successfully communicated with a classmate to fill out a chart were able to do so because they did not feel much anxiety, had a good working relationship with their partner, communicated their thoughts by any means possible, were able to use the English knowledge that they had, or took advantage of the video demonstration to help them do the task. These students were able to accomplish the task with their friends, using clues, relying on their own knowledge or communicative strategies. In other words, these students found a way to get the job done by themselves in a variety of manners rather than relying on ad nauseum explanations from the teacher. I think that an effective task enables students to use the knowledge that they already have but also try to experiment and use new language like the language that they saw from the video. It is ideal for students to be interested in the task, have enough confidence in their English ability to use it, have a good working relationship with their peers, and be willing to use communicative strategies.

The Unsuccessful Students
Most students reported that they were unable to do the task because they were lost from the beginning. Students also reported that they were not successful because they lacked the abiltiy to do the task or felt nervous or awkward using English with a peer. It was my impression that many of the unsuccessful students froze and felt very anxious from the beginning. They felt awkward asking for help or asking their peers what they should do. In the second group, I was able to help some students who were in trouble and they were able to complete the task. In the group of 87 students, I was too overwhelmed.

Many of the students wrote that they were not used to this kind of activity and I believe that a lot of students who have been able to do a similar task if given the opportunity to try again. Usually, the first time you try a new activity with students, many do no understand what is going on. When they have the opportunity to try the task again, though, they usually do much better the second time. Thus, I think that experiencing success can help relieve students of the anxiety and stress they feel when doing tasks that require them to follow directions in English and work with a peer in English.

Concerning group work and pair work, I think that the teacher has to a little careful in putting students with peers who they will be comfortable working with or whose diverse abilities or personalities would make the group dynamic and exciting.

When I teach my class in the junior high school next week I have decided that I am going to take my time introducing the task and making sure that students understand what they are supposed to be doing. Last week, I rushed through the task because it was just supposed to occupy the last few minutes of a lecture. I think that if I do not hurry learners they will do better and be able to overcome the anxiety they feel.

Lastly, a lot of students answered "I just didn't know how I should speak English" during the communicative activity even though I showed them the video beforehand. I think that many students are not familiar with using communicative strategies. so, when I teach at the jr. high school next week one of my goals will be to help students learn communicative strategies.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Doing Task-based Teaching: A Book Review

I recently read Dave and Jane Willis's "Doing Task Based Teaching" and found it immensely helpful in getting me to generate a lot of different kind of language learning tasks. They divide tasks into the following categories based on a classification of cognitive processes
1) Listing
2) Ordering and sorting
3) Matching
4) Comparing
5) Problem solving
6) Sharing personal experiences
7) Projects and creative tasks
and also give concrete examples for each kind of task.

So far, I have found this taxonomy helpful for planning tasks with advanced learners (high school and university). In other words, I think that their tasks will work well with learners who have some linguistic knowledge but do not know how to use it.

I have even found this taxonomy helpful in planning workshop discussions in Japanese. Today, I went to a high school and gave two 1.5 hour workshops in Japanese to 87 and 29 students respectively about "University life". We had a discussion about effective language learning methods where I had the high school students do a listing task and then discuss the results with each other. I think discussions work best when participants have some kind of concrete outcome to attain (for example an individual makes a list, he then compares his list to another person's list, they then make a new list and then share their results with the rest of the class).

I also found their suggestions for how to facilitate certain tasks as well as accounts of real tasks from teachers across the world to be very helpful. For example, one thing that I learned is to always have students do a task individually at first and then work with others after they have made some progress by themselves and understand the task.

For me, one drawback of this book is that Dave and Jane Willis fail to show that their teaching methodology can be used with beginning learners in EFL contexts who have very little knowledge of English or exposure to English outside of the classroom.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido (Part 4)

Day 4: Oshmambe to Date (60 Kilometers)

I woke up at about 6AM, had breakfast with the family which had given me dinner the night before, played badminton with the daughter of the family and left Oshamanbe Park at about 8:30 AM.

Before I left I met a university student who happened to be camping next to me. He was in the university cycling club and took a keen interest in me and my trip. He had arrived to Oshamanbe by train from the main Island and was planning to cycle Hokkaido for the next month with his college buddies. I marvelled at the guy's state of the art equipment and wondered how much it had cost him. It seemed like he had spared no expense in preparing himself for his trip. He was surprised that I had gone such a far distance on such a crummy bicycle while carrying a backpack. I told him that when you become 30, you become careless, start doing any kind of endeavor haphazardly and stop caring about whether or not you have the right equipment. He told me that my trip would have been much easier if I had used smooth-surfaced tires rather than the rugged mountain bike tires and I agreed with him. Here is a picture of Mr. Tour-De France. What I learned from him will help me in my next bicycle trip.

The first 10 kilometers after Oshamanbe were easy riding but the pain that I had been feeling in my right knee was starting to become a little more acute and I was not able to ride this section in the time I wanted to. Why did I want to ride the first 10 kilometers so fast? After I had cycled the 10 kilometers I would have to tackle 45 kilometers of mountainous road between Shizukari(静狩) and Abuta (虻田). The greatest challenge would be traversing the Shizukari Mountain Pass (静狩峠) and the Reibungei Mountain Pass (礼文華峠). To the left is a picture of the mountains that I would be cycling through.

Surprisingly, once I started ascending the first mountain, my body responded to the challenge and my knee felt fine. Of course, I felt physically tired but I did not feel any other kinds of aches and pains which made the ride rather enjoyable. I had driven this route by car many times but never imagined that I would some day be cycling it.

One thing this route had was many tunnels, a total of 7. The longest tunnel was almost 1 kilometer. To the left is a picture of one. Before I went on this trip I looked on the Internet for rules of etiquette on how to go through a tunnel on a bicycle but could not find anything. Going through tunnels can be a little intimidating. First, although there are lights in the tunnel, it is still dark. Second, most tunnels do not have a walk way wide enough to ride a bicycle on with confidence and do not have any kinds of breakdown/bicycle lanes. In other words, at any given part of the tunnel, if the 2 lanes from both directions have cars there is no room for a bicycle on the road. Third, the noise of a vehicle is greatly magnified in a tunnel so that even a mini-car sounds like a bullet train. Lastly, the wind generated from a passing vehicle in a tunnel is quite strong and when you are riding in limited space it can be a little daunting. Anyway, I don't want to scare you too much. Going through a tunnel really isn't that bad. My advice would be to not do anything you are uncomfortable doing. For example, if you are uncomfortable riding your bicycle on the road, don't do it, walk it. Most of the times I rode my bicycle through the tunnels but there was one tunnel that had very heavy traffic and I walked my bicycle half the way. When riding through tunnels cyclists have the following options:

1) Ride your bicycle on the walkway if it is wide enough or you have enough confidence to ride your bicycle on a narrow space while withstanding the wind from the cars.
2) Ride your bicycle on the road.

3) Walk you bicycle on the walkway.

4) Walk your bicycle on the walkway when there are cars and ride your bicycle on the road when there are not cars.

Anyway, my experience riding on the roads of the tunnels was that the cars respected me. However, at one point when the traffic was very heavy I did decide to walk my bicycle and not test the etiquette of the drivers.

At the Reibungei Mountain Pass, I decided to take a detour, get off the mountain pass, and cycle along the Reibungei coast. I am glad that I did it. Cycling through the Reibungei town felt like riding through a ghost town. Although Reibungei is still inhabited I did not see a single person. I saw no food stores but several beauty salons which made me wonder about the priorities of the Reibungei folk. Of course, there were a few farms; maybe that is where they got their food. Reibungei also had a beautiful beach which was packed with people and tents as the beach also served as a camp site. If anyone is interested in camping for the night on a beach I recommend the Reibungei beach. I think you should keep in mind though, that there are probably very few food stores near by. However, if you would like to get a perm before or after you camp this would be a good site for you.

I took a rest on the Reibungei coast and took the above picture. It was at this point that I decided to meet up with my wife in a town called Date and go back to Kuriyama that day rather than spend one more day riding. Past Date, I did not think the ride would be so interesting as I would follow the coast for about 50 kilometers through Muroran and Tomokomai, two major industrial cities, and then go about 60 kilometers on rt. 234 inland from Tomakomai to Kuriyama. My body also ached, but the primary reason was that I missed my family and wanted to see them. So, at this beautiful spot where I took the picture, I called my wife and asked her to pick me up in Date. From Date, I would put my bicycle in the car (this is where the expensive bicycle bag came in handy) and we would drive the 120 kilometers back to Kuriyama.

When I was cycling to Date, I realized I had made the right decision as my pace was slow and my back and knee were really starting to hurt. On my way to Date I met someone who was cycling the perimeter of Japan on a 3 speed Mama-chari (Japanese basket bicycle) and felt embarrassed to be complaining about my aches and pains as I had only been cycling for 4 days and on a 21 speed bicycle. At about 3:00 PM I arrived at the Date michi no eki which also featured a "History Village" rekishinomura and waited for my wife to pick me up. To the right is a picture of me at the ending of my trip.

To give one last final reflection on my trip, I was a woefully inexperienced cyclist/camper and had I known what I was doing and been properly prepared I probably could have made it to Kuriyama. Nevertheless, traveling Northern Japan by bicycle enabled me to see that part of the country and interact with the people like I had never done before. I think that a heavily accented, smelly, sweaty and funny-looking guy such as myself must have been an intimidating sight for those who encountered me. Nevertheless, I was treated with respect wherever I went and also received help when I was in need even when I did not ask for it. This trip made me appreciate greatly the relative safety of Japan and also the generosity and thoughtfulness of so many people. Frequently Japan receives a lot of criticism from ex-pats (including me) for its treatment (particularly policy) towards foreigners, but this trip served as a reminder to me about how open-minded and hospitable so many Japanese people are.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido: Part 3

Day 3:Hakodate (Ono) to Oshamanbe (75 Kilometers)
After arriving in Hakodate on August 11, where I lived for 2 years, I spent the day eating and relaxing. My friend Bill let me stay at his place and was a great host. In the morning I ate at the morning market. I then took a nap and in the afternoon I ate a huge burger at Lucky Pierrot, a fast food chain that can only be found in Hakodate. After lunch I went to a hot spring and then appeared in one of Bill's English classes as a guest. The class was for children from one-parent households and Bill taught it as a volunteer. The night of the 11th, Bill and I went out and I was able to catch up with another old friend, Rintaro. The next day, I would regret staying out so late the night before. On the morning of August 12, Bill and I went to his in-laws' house in a town called Ono which is right outside of Hakodate (I actually lived in Ono for two years and not Hakodate). Bill rode my bicycle out to Ono and I drove his car. (Bill is riding my bike in the picture below to the left. The picture below that is a picture of Hakodate Mountain.)

Bill and I ate breakfast at Ono and then Bill's father in-law and brother in-laws were nice enough to oil my bicycle chain and give me a tire pump that would work for both woods or American valves (see my last post for a discussion of bicylce valves). Bill's father-in-law used to have a bicycle shop and was extremely generous in giving me some of his unsold merchandise.

At the time, Hokkaido was in the middle of a rare heat wave. The temperature was about 32 degrees celcius (90 fahrenheit). At about 11AM, Bill and I put my bicycle in his car and we drove about 7 kilometers North of Ono (there was a nasty hill and a long tunnel that I wanted to avoid). At about 11:30 I was back on the road. My destination was Oshamanbe (長万部)where I planned to spend the night at the campsite in Oshamanbe Kouen (Park). When I started, I was about 75 kilometers from Oshamanbe and, despite the heat, I was feeling fantastic. The breeze I felt while coasting on my bicycle kept me cool. I knew that there would be no mountains to travel over or serious hills before Oshamanbe. I looked forward to an easy ride. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes my knee started to hurt and as I approached the coast the wind got stronger and I had to pedal against it all the way to Oshamanbe. Again, my pace slowed down and it was not an easy bicycle ride.

Despite not feeling my best physically, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Unlike the first day, I was in no hurry. My goal was to make it to Oshamanbe before dark (75 kilometers) and I knew I could do that easily. I was traveling down a road, route 5, I had driven by car many times when I lived in Ono and would visit my in-laws in Kuriyama. Route 5 runs along the eastern coast of the Oshima Penninsula. When driving down route 5 to Oshamanbe, the bigger towns that you pass through are Mori and Yakumo. There are also a lot of fishing villages in between.

When I used to drive to Kuriyama, I would take route 5 from Ono to Oshamanbe and then get on the express way at Oshamanbe and drive to Kuriyama. Going from Ono to Oshamanbe, I would drive as fast as possible because I thought that there was nothing but lonely fishing villages, small towns, and barren coasts in between. This time, though, on my bicycle, I was excited to see what actually lied between Oshamanbe and Hakodate. (Above is a picture of me in Yakumo with Mt. Komagatake in the background).

One of the interesting things I discovered was a place to get natural water from its source for free in Yakumo (see the picture to the left). I also stopped at a store in a small town called Kunnui which was about 11 kilometers from Oshamanbe. Kunnui consisted of a post office, a general store and houses. I sat on a bench outside the general store, drank a soda, talked to the clerk of the store, and watched some people walk out of their houses and greet each other. I know this seems strange, but I felt very happy to actually be able to meet and observe people in this small town I had driven through so many times and ignored. I realized that when we drive cars quite often we are completely oblivious to everything between point A and point B. Traveling Hokkaido by bicycle made me appreciate the towns, sights, places, houses, stores and people in every kilometer of the road.

I arrived in Oshamanbe, a town of approximately 7000 people, at about 5:45. As I am a terrible navigator, I struggled to find the Oshamanbe Park campsite. When I reached the dead end of a rural road, I knocked on the door of a house and asked a surprised elderly woman if she knew where the park was. She instructed me to go back the way I came, take a left, cross a bridge, take another left, and then knock on someone else's door and ask. I did as she said and eventually found the park at about 6:30.

The park was beautiful, I was surprised. (To the left is a picture of my bicycle, Sheila, at the campsite). There was a river running through it, a nice green lawn for tents, bungalows for renting, hiking trails (I think), a place to have a barbeque, a playground for kids, and most importantly clean bathrooms and nice sinks which were outdoors. It cost 500 yen per person to use the campsite for the evening.

I was excited to use the tent that a colleague at work had lent me. He told me that he had not used the tent for about 10 years but that it was very easy to set up. I unpacked the tent and checked the contents of the bag. There was the tent canvas, a cover for the tent, and a plastic sheet to put under the tent. There was also a long poll, there was a shorter poll, and there were many pieces of what seemed to be for a third poll. Here, I got a little confused. I was not sure if there were supposed to be 2 polls or 3 polls. Also, I was not sure if the shorter poll was missing some pieces and supposed to be the same size as the longer poll. I struggled to set up the tent for about 15 minutes when I noticed that it was almost dark. Near my tent was a family of 4 who were getting ready to have a barbeque. They had pitched two very nice tents and had a lot of nice camping equipment; they looked like they were very experienced campers. I was tempted to ask for help but was too proud. When it was almost dark, the father and eldest son approached me and asked me if I needed help. I swallowed my pride and said yes. We worked out the problem with the polls and set up my tent in about 10 minutes.

After we had finished, the mother of the family told me that I could bring my dinner to their area and eat dinner with them if I wished. I told her that I would be very happy to do that but would have to go to the local convenience store first and buy dinner (it was about 2 kilometers away). I think she felt sorry for me and invited me to eat dinner with them. I said yes and was treated to a wonderful barbeque with a wondefully nice family from a city North of Oshamabe called Muroran. The son was a high school student and the daughter was an elementary school student. The son had a girlfriend and spent much of the dinner text-messaging her on his cellphone. When he was not talking to his girlfriend, he was very social and a lot of fun to talk to. I drank beer with the father and mother and learned about Muroran, camping, and the son's girlfirend. After dinner, we went to a hot spring in the family's car and enjoyed a bath. That night I slept very well. In the morning, I ate breakfast with the family and played badminton with youngest daughter. (To the left is a picture of the family.) Throughout the trip, every time I had experienced a problem such as a flat tire, getting lost, or a defective tent, I was fortunate enough to get help. I was one lucky guy.

In my next post I will talk about my last day as well as my experience cycling through tunnels.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido: Part 2

Day 1: Morioka City to Aomori City: 200 kilometers (August 10)

There isn't actually so much to write about this day. I rode 200 kilometers in 16.5 hours. It was brutal and I did not do anything very fun, I just rode and rested. I am writing about this so any novice cyclist can learn from my experience or any somewhat experienced cyclist can laugh at me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had originally planned to go from Morioka to Aomori City in 2 days leaving Morioka on August 10 and arriving on August 11. From Aomori I planned on taking a ferry to Hakodate. Because the ferries were going to be completely booked from August 11 and I would have a very difficult time getting my bicycle onto the ferry I decided to get to Aomori city on August 10.

I planned to leave my house at 3:30AM on that day and figured I could do 200 kilometers in about 12 hours averaging about 20 kilometers an hour and using 2 hours for rest. I imagined myself arriving in Aomori at about 4PM and being in Hakodate that night drinking beer and eating sushi with friends. Boy, was I wrong.

I got out of bed at 5 AM and it took me about an hour and half to get ready for the journey. I left my house at 6:30 without eating breakfast. My plan was to take route 4 all the way from Morioka to Aomori. In a little over an hour I had gone about 20 kilometers. I was not going as fast as I wanted but I was happy with my progress I stopped off at a Daily Yamazaki convenience store and ate breakfast and then was back on my way. In not so much time I was in Iwate-cho, 40 kilometers from Morioka. Soon after passing through Iwate-cho I experienced the 奥中山高原 or the Okunaka Mountain High Plains. The sign on the right marks the highest point on route 4, 458 meters above sea level. At this point I thought that I had overcome the hardest stretch of the trip. That was not to be the case.

After passing through Okunaka Kougen I arrived at 一戸 or ichinohe. "Ichi" means one and "he" means "door". Interestingly, there also exists a "2 no he" a "3 no he" a "5 no he" a "6 no he" a "7 no he", an "8 no he" and a "9 no he". I would have the honor of passing through all the "no hes" except for "8 no he" and "9 no he". Throughout the day, I wondered what the founding fathers of Iwate Prefecture and Aomori Prefecture were thinking when they were naming the towns. There must be some interesting history there.

At Ichinohe, the rain changed from drizzle to downpour. Because I was in a hurry to get to Aomori, I decided to go on in the pouring rain. As I was cycling up a hill I saw a cyclist standing under a tree waiting for the rain to stop. We made eye contact and he looked at me as if I was an idiot for cycling in the pouring rain. In this pouring rain, my feet and undergarments became soaked and would remain damp the rest of the 16 hours. When cycling, bring good water-resistant apparel as well as wear water resistant shoes or avoid cycling in a downpour.

After Ichinohe I passed through Ninohe (2 no he). As I was leaving Ninohe, I had gone about 80 kilometers and it was 11AM. I was feeling confident that I would be in Aomori city by 5PM. Unfortunately, 5 kilometers outside of central Ninohe I had a setback. As I was cycling up a hill, all of a sudden the back of the bicycle felt heavy. I looked down and realized that I had a flat tire. I got off my bicycle, tried to pump up the tire and realized that the hole in the tube was too big for any air to stay in the tire for a period of time. I took my spare tube out of my bag but soon realized that the valve of my spare tube was incompatible with my pump. According to the Japan Cycling website, most bicycles in Japan use a "Woods valve" (in Japanese the notation for this is 英) while the international standard is a "French" (仏)or "American valve" (米). The tube on my bike was an American valve so I had bought a pump compatible with that kind of valve. The lesson I learned is that when cycling in Japan bring a pump that can do Woods as well as French and American valves.

I was closer to Ninohe than Sannohe (3 no he), but did not want to walk in the oppostite direction so I decided to walk towards san no he and pray that I find a bicycle store along the way. After walking about a kilometer, I came across a gas station in the middle of no where. I explained to them my predicament and they told me that the nearest bicycle store was 10 kilometers away. Of course, they did not sell bicycle pumps. I asked them if they could pump up the tire and they said yes. I then asked them if they change the tube and they said yes. So I got to sit in the waiting room of the gas station and have a coke as the attendants fixed my bicycle tire. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw the cyclist I saw under a tree in Ichinohe pass the gas station. They also patched my tube for me and informed me that it had been punctured by a nail. Getting my tire fixed cost me 1050 Yen. It was money very well spent as I felt well rested and ready to cycle the remaining 118 kilometers. Later, when I recounted the story to a Japanese friend he said that the reason why the gas station helped me was because I was a foreigner and they might have blown off a normal Japanese. I don't know, though, these people acted like cyclists had come to them before when they were in trouble.

I left the gas station at close to 12PM. About 45 minutes later I was leaving sannohe (3 no he) when it started to pour. I was fortunate enough to see a michinoeki or "road station" which is similar to a highway rest stop. I stopped in the michinoeki, parked my bicycle and saw the cyclist who I had seen in under a tree in Ichinohe and pass me at the gas station between ninohe and sannohe, sitting under the porch of the rest area house sipping tea. I sat next to him and introduced myself. He lived near Morioka and was on his way to Hachinohe, a city about 30 kilometers from our present position. When I told him my destination and plan he called it 無謀 (mubou) which means foolhardy. A woman working at the rest area house overheard our conversation and gave me a cup of green tea. After about 10 minutes the rain stopped, and I felt good and ready to go the remaining 95 kilometers. It was about 1:30 PM.

After 10 minutes of riding the sun came out. I soon left sannohe and entered gonohe (5 no he). There is no 4 no he because the pronunciation for 4 sounds like the character for "death" and thus it is considered bad luck. At gonohe I encountered hills and mountains that went on for many kilometers. It was at about this time that I started to feel extremely fatigued. It seemed like everything was uphill and it never ended. I could have stopped in central gonohe but decided to continue. I thought that I could make it to Towada city which was about 20 kilometers away. The hills, though, became mountains, and my progress became agonizingly slow. At about 3PM I pulled into the Towada michi no eki barely able to stand. I ate a quick lunch and fell asleep for an hour. I woke up at 4:15 PM and left the michinoeki at 4:30 PM. I still had 80 kilomters to go to Aomori City. Between 6:30 AM and 11AM I had manage to cycle 80 kilometers. Between 12PM and 3PM, though, I had only managed 40 kilometers. My pace was slowing down and I was feeling tired even after my hour long nap. I had 80 kilometers to go, it was 4:30 PM and it would be dark before 7PM.

To make a long story short. The remaining 80 kilometers were hilly but not mountainous. I had to rest about 10 minutes for every hour I rode. Also, once it became dark my pace slowed even more. I made it into Aomori City at about 10:30 and then got lost. Route 4 approaching Aomori City is not bicycle friendly and I would recommend that cyclists try to find an alternative route into the city if possible. After asking for directions at a police box I was able to find the ferry terminal at about 11:30PM.

I had made a ferry reservation for early morning (5AM) for myself on August 11. They told me that I would be unable to take my bicycle so I had bought a bag (輪行 - rinkou)to put my bicycle in so that I could carry it on the ferry as luggage. When I got to the ticket booth at the ferry terminal I asked the agent if I could change my reservation and ride on the 1AM ferry. He looked at me as if I was crazy and informed me that the 1AM ferry was completely booked and that all the ferries leaving the next day and the day after were completely booked. He told me that if I wished they could put me on the wait list for the 1AM ferry and that I should go to the "waiting list" line. When I spoke to the agent at the waiting list line he told me that I could ride on the 1AM ferry with no problem. I asked him if I could also bring my bicycle on the ferry and he said no problem, I could put it together with the motorbikes. At that moment, I wondered why in the hell I had spent 12,000 yen for a bicycle bag. (The bag turned out to be very useful when I packed the bicycle in my car.)

Boarding the ferry was pretty interesting. I boarded the ferry together with the motorcycles, pedaling my bicycle into the ferry while the other bikes motored in. My bicycle, Sheila, was tied to the wall of the garage as the picture to the right shows. Disembarking from the ferry was a little unpleasant. About 20 minutes before the ferry docked, all drivers, bikers and cyclists were instructed to go into the garage and wait in their cars or on their bikes. When I got into the garage, all the cars and trucks had their engines running and I felt like I would die from carbon monoxide poisoning. I took a picture of the scene and you can see it on the left. Eventually, the garage doors opened and I pedaled off the ferry between one big white truck and one dark one. I had made it to Hakodate. It was 5AM and my friend Bill was there to greet me. I decided the first thing I would do was go to Hakodate's Morning Market and eat sushi.

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cycling from Morioka City to Kuriyama, Hokkaido: Part 1

Ever since I moved to Morioka (Iwate Prefecture) from Hakodate, Hokkaido, I had wanted to bicycle from Morioka to my wife's hometown Kuriyama which is right in the center of the Island of Hokkaido. After 4 years of putting it off, this year I decided I was going to do it. My wife and son went to Kuriyama ahead of me and I was to meet them there. My plan was to bicycle from Morioka to Aomori City (200 kilometers) take the ferry from Aomori to Hakodate. Cycle from Hakodate to a town called Oshamanbe (93 kilometers) and then from Oshamanbe to a city called Muroran (about 90 Kilometers). Lastly I planned on cycling from Muroran to Kuriyama (about 100 kilomters). In Kuriyama, I would stay with my in-laws and then put my bicycle in our car and drive/ take the ferry back to Morioka with my wife and son.

I left Morioka on August 10 and had made it to Date, Hokkaido, a town 30 kilometers from Muroran city by August 13. In Date, I called it a trip and had my wife come pick me up. I was about 120 kilometers from Kuriyama. Although I did not make it to my final destination, it was a fantastic journey and I would recommend traveling around Japan by bicycle to anyone who is game for it. In the following posts I will talk about my journey and I hope that anyone interestecd in taking a cycling trip in Japan will be able to learn from my mistakes.

Preparing for the Trip

On August 1, I had asked a local cycle shop, Nakahata Cycle Shop (サイクルショップナカハタ), who I was friendly with whether or not they could find me a bicycle that I could use to go on a long road trip. At the shop they only had the prototypical Japanese urban basket bicycles (Mama chari) but the proprietor asked me what my budget was and said that he would make me a mountain bike out of a used frame he had in the scrap yard at his house. By August 5, I had a mountain bicycle complete with a bell/compass, rear blinking light, front light, front basket, a rear mount which I could tie a tent and sleeping bag onto, and a speedometer. I had originally told the repairman that my budget was 20,000 yen but when I saw the bicycle I assumed that it would be more because they had thrown all these accessories onto it. I was surprised when they only asked for 20,000 yen. Here is a picture of my bicycle resting at a campsite in Oshamanbe Hokkaido. As you might tell, I became quite attached to it. As it was originally a women's mountain bike, I think I will call her Sheila.

On August 8, I bought the Touring Mapple (ツーリングマップル) map of Hokkaido and Tohoku (Northeast Honshu). These maps also provide information about road conditions, restaurants, camp sites, youth hostels, rest areas and tourist sites for their regions. They proved to be immensely helpful.

On August 9, a day before I was to leave, I borrowed a tent from a colleague and intended to go shopping for gear that I would need for the trip. Here are two web pages that recommend what kind of gear to bring for a long cycling trip: Adventure Cycling Association: "How to pack and what to take"; REI: "Cycling Expert Advice".

Before I left my house to go shopping, I suffered my first setback: I learned that the ferries from Aomori city to Hakodate were completely booked on August 11! My original plan was to take two days and one night to go to Aomori city from Morioka. The people at the ferry terminal told me that I, myself, could ride the ferry but it would be impossible for me to take my bicycle. Bicycles are classified as motorbikes and must ride with the cars on the ferry. Although they are classified as motorbikes they only cost 900 yen to bring on the ferry which is considerably less than a motorbike. When I was told I could not take my bicycle on the ferry I panicked because my trip to Hokkaido was now in jeopardy. In the midst of my panic, I remembered that I had read something about a bicycle bag called a rinko (輪行) on the Cycling Japan website and immediately called the ferry company asking them if I could carry my bicycle on the ferry if it was put in a bag. Their answer was yes and my next challenge was to find out where I could find a rinko in Morioka.

I decided I would kill two birds with one stone and buy my camping goods and rinko together. A friend of mine recommended that I buy my camping gear at either Homac, Takeda Sports or Sunday. Homac and Sunday are big home amenity stores that sell everything from hardware to wood to bicycles to camping gear. I ended up buying a 1000 yen sleeping bag at Homac and a flashlight. At Takeda Sports I bought running shoes and something close to cycling shorts. Takeda Sports also had almost the exact same camping gear as Homac for the same prices. I learned that you can get a lot of cheap camping gear at big stores such as Homac or Takeda Sports. I was disappointed, though, to find that these stores had a very poor selection of bicycling gear and I worried that I would not be able to find a decent cycling helmet or the rinko. I asked the clerk at Takeda Sports what the biggest bicycle shop was in Morioka and he told me that it was Sasaso Cycle Shop (佐々宗輪店) on chuuou doori (chuuou road). When I went to the cycle shop, I was happy to find a rinko and a good helmet (Although combined they cost more than my bicycle!). With the rinko, sleeping bag, tent, and bicycle I was now ready to begin my trip!

Because the ferries were going to be so full on August 11, the beginning of Japan's Obon holiday, I decided I should make it to the ferry terminal in Aomori by August 10. There were 200 kilometers between me and Aomori city. I thought that if I left my house at about 3:30 AM, August 10, I should make it to Aomori city by dusk (about 7:00 PM). I had cycled 50 miles with my father with relative ease when I was in high school. I reckoned that 200 kilometers was about 125 miles and I thought that if I could cycle 50 miles with ease then adding another 75 miles would not be so bad. Of course, Japan is a heck of a lot more mountainous than my home state of Massachusetts, and I would soon learn that mountains are much more difficult to tackle than long distances.

The night before I was to leave I was awake until about 1AM trying to take care of some last second work and did not get out of bed until 5AM. Along with my tent and sleeping back which was tied to the back of my bicycle, I had originally planned to take a small backpack, place it in the front basket of my bicycle and tie it down with a cord. When I attempted to put my belongings (a change of clothes, rain gear, maps, spare tubes, a bicycle pump and tools for my bicycle) into my small backpack I soon realized that it would not all fit. So I abandoned the small backpack idea, took out my big camping rucksack, stuffed my belongings into it and strapped it on my back. I knew that it was not wise (very dumb) to carry such weight on my back for a 200 kilometer trip, but I was in a hurry to get out of the house and any more delays would prevent me from reaching Aomori city that day. Besides, the rucksack was designed for trekking and had all kinds of straps that kept most of the weight off my shoulders. To the right is a picture of me wearing the rucksack and standing by the bicycle with an empty basket in Yakumo, Hokkaido. It was a big mistake not buying side carriers for my bicycle but I did the best I could carrying the backpack.

At 6:30 AM I left Morioka for Aomori city. In my next post I will talk about my 200 kilometer adventure and what happened to me along the way. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Getting Strict: Changing my teaching style

It has been a long time.

I got a little burned out from sitting in front of the computer and reduced my computer time. For the past couple of months, I have used the internet only to keep up with my beloved Red Sox. At work, of course, it seems like I spend the majority of my day writing e-mails and when I get home at night I prefer not to look at a computer screen.

Well, a couple of months ago I had a very shocking teaching experience which has affected my teaching and personality in the classroom. First, let me give you a little background. I teach full time at one institution, a teacher's college, and part-time at a liberal arts university and a nursing school. At the teacher's college and liberal arts university I am pretty much myself in the classroom: I don't get angry at my students for not doing homework or skipping class and sometimes will share things about my personal life such as news about my son, what I did over the weekend etc. I find that this approach works well and for the most part the students are very diligent. If I was a tougher teacher who got angry at students for falling asleep in class (I tease them instead), punished students for being late or missing homework, or did not flash a smile in class I do not think I would get any more effort out of these students.

I had tried this approach at the nursing school where I teach a class of 40 students. About 25 are girls and most students are either 18 or 19 years old. A couple are in their mid twenties and one or two are close to my age. The content of this class is English for nurses. We study some medical English and dialogues to use with English speaking patients. I started teaching this class in April of 2007 for 1 and a half hours a week and the first few months went well. The students seemed interested in the class and always participated enthusiastically. Their quiz scores were also decent which meant that they were studying outside of class. There was one student who openly rebelled and went out of her way to show me that she was not going to try but I was confident that she would eventually change because I knew that she was better at English than she was pretending to be.

Well, last July after a few bad weeks I had one terrible class with this group and it changed the way I conducted class with them. Because I had missed a previous week's class, the nursing school asked me to teach two consecutive periods (about 3 hours). I thought that this would be a great opportunity to focus on speaking because it seemed like our speaking activities were always rushed. I designed a slightly redundant speaking activity that was supposed to take about an hour where students would do a role play. One student would play a clerk at a registration desk in a hospital and the other a patient. The clerk had to ask the patient about her insurance policy, etc. and write the information on a form. For these students the grammar for asking questions in English is incredibly difficult. Most of the students can ask questions using the be-verb (ex. Are you sick?) but struggled to ask questions using the do-auxiliary (Do you have a fever?) or wh-questions (What is your temperature?). I had designed this task so students would be asking a lot of do-auxiliary and be-questions so that they could get used to the difference. I has planned the pair work so that each student would do the role play about 5 times with a different partner. I realized that 5 times to do the same role play was a lot but I thought that students really needed the practice and that changing partners constantly would make the activity more fun for the students. I planned on giving the students 5 minutes to do the 1st role play and then to reduce the time limit for each ensuing role play. I was hoping to build on students' fluency. Before the task we reviewed how to make questions in English and had done some exercises. Let me tell you what happened.

From the very beginning about half the students acted like doing such an activity was about as exhilarating as a colonic exam. Like after you have run 15 kilometers and every step is a burden, for these students every time they opened their mouth was a tremendous effort and every time they moved their pencil on the paper to write a piece of information required extraordinary strength. As I have to wake up at 5:30 AM every Monday morning to catch the train to go to the city where this gosh darned nursing school exists and I had not had much sleep the night before so I could plan the day's activity, I was ready to throw these miserable students out the window and relieve their suffering (I am just being literary). To make a long story short, most of the students did not do a damn thing. The class became more like a social hour and after 40 minutes I called on a couple of random pairs of students to perform the role play in front of the class. The students who were called on looked at me with an expression that said, "How dare you?!" Their effort and performances were pathetic. I called on a second pair who did an even worse job. I stopped the second pair and told everyone in the class to shut up. At this point I was very frustrated. I told the class that I could not bear to watch them any more. I added that I considered them adults and not children. I told them that I am a busy guy and did not want to waste my time being their baby sitter. I then said that I was very disappointed with them and if they were not going to give me any effort I would not give them any effort. Then, I left the class (there was 20 minutes remaining).

I departed the nursing school as fast as I could. The nursing school teachers asked me how class was and I lied and said fine. If I had told the teachers what had happened, I am sure that they would have disciplined the students severely but I wanted to keep this matter between me and the students. I returned to my full time place of employment and was surprised that day to receive a class from the homeroom teacher of the nursing school students. She apologized and told me it would never happen again. One of the students had told the teacher.

The next week I had a class at the nursing school which would then be followed by a month-long summer vacation. I went to the class and did not prepare anything. Usually I had students use name cards in the class and I would call them by the nicknames written on their name cards. For this class, I did not use the name cards. Rather I used the seating chart to identify students and called them by their last names. For boys, I added the suffix -kun onto their last names and for girls I added the suffix -san. I did not smile once. I entered the class and told them to open their textbooks. We did the textbook and a handout I had made for that chapter a year before. I did 95% of the class in Japanese. I only used English to read the textbook. I called on individual students to translate certain sentences from English to Japanese or from Japanese to English. The class was quiet and everyone worked hard. Even the perennially rebellious girl had brought her textbook and was actually writing in her notebook. In this class there was no pair work, it was a teacher-centered class and English was not used communicatively whatsoever. Also, there was a great distance between the student and teacher in this class. Instead of me being Mr. Hall, the father, husband, wanna-be sportsman and diehard Red Sox fan living in Morioka, I was Mr. Hall, the teacher. The students were also just the students I did not care about who they were individually; I just looked at them as names on the seating chart. At the end of the class I asked students to write what kind of class they liked better. Did they like the style of the previous classes or did they like the style of today's class?

15 students said they liked the style of that day's class. 10 students said they liked the old way better. 15 students said they wanted a combination of both lessons. I was very interested to read the reasons of the 15 students who like the strict class the best. One student wrote that she liked the strict class better because she did not have to worry about working with other students or fighting with other students. Another student wrote that she felt nervous in that day's class but she liked that feeling of nervousness. Yet another student wrote that she felt that day's class was best because all her classmates could pay attention. Even one of the more energetic students wrote (in English) "I am sorry. I like today's class the best."

What does this mean? I interpreted this to mean that most of these students preferred to have a stricter teacher. They want to be taught more and want everything explained to them in Japanese. Many of them don't care about me or my personal life so I should not talk about it. Also, I should probably not ask them questions about their personal life.

Before I end this post, let me just say that I had been already using a lot of Japanese in this class and this class already included a lot of metalinguistic explanations (grammar rules) in the students' native language. I also felt that interaction, listening to a lot of English, and experimenting with using what you have learned was important for learning English. So, I had tried to make a class that gave students 1) a lot of exposure to English, 2) the opportunity to use English and a comfortable environment to use it in, and 3) the support they need in Japanese to be able to use and understand English.

Well, I did not succeed in doing the above. From now on I have decided to be an all-powerful teacher when I step in the classroom and forget who I really am for an hour and a half. I will use more Japanese and provide more explanations. I will do mostly the textbook and make supplementary handouts but not spend so much time planning activities. Perhaps for 10 minutes in each class students will have some kind of very controlled pair work activity where they have to read a dialogue or translate something into English or Japanese. For this class, I think it will work the best. I do not think it is the best way for these students to learn language but it is better for them to learn something than nothing at all.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Simple Lesson Idea for Showing Students the Living Conditions of our World Inhabitants

This is a lesson that can be done in small or large classes. I have done this lesson in the cross-cultural understanding class I have taught the past 2 years. The goal of this lesson is to get students to think about how their standard of living compares to other of people's standard of living and also to teach them vocabulary related to global studies. This is a rough outline of the lesson.

Time: 90 minutes

I Introduction
Today we are going to investigate the different levels of standard of living that we can find on this earth. >
II <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_0">Excercise 1: How much money do people have?
Using the following map for reference, students fill out the following worksheet (Answers are on the second page). In the worksheet, students guess how much money each region in the earth would have if there were only 100 dollar bills, how many people each region would have if there were only 100 people, the number of dollars per person in each region, and what the area of each region of the world would be if the total area of the earth was 100.
This is based on a lesson from a Japanese Global Education group.

III Exercise 2: What is the standard of living of people on this earth?

Part 1
Students fill out the following worksheet (html version) (pdf version). This worksheet is taken from the popular "If the World were 100 People" book. The work sheet looks something like this:
If the World were 100 PEOPLE:

There would be:
____________ Asians
____________ from the West Hemisphere
____________ from North America
____________ from South America and the Caribbean ____________Africans
____________from Oceania
___________ non-white*
___________ white*
etc... There are a lot of items.
Depending on how much time you have, students can guess the number for each item or you can have students read the items in groups and confirm that they understand each item (there are some difficult ones). The teacher goes over the meaning or explains difficult words.

Part 2
Students watch a movie called Miniature Earth which presents the "If the World were 100 People" data. It can be viewed freely on the internet or you can download it onto your computer for $5. Students fill out the blanks in the worksheet. Some of the items in the worksheet are not in the movie. You can have students guess these items and then tell them the answers. The answers for the worksheet can be viewed here.

Part 3
For homework students write what about the movie surprised them and how representative their country is to the global village of 100 people.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New English Teaching Methodologies Blogging Project

My English Teaching Methodologies Class and I have started a new blogging project.
The class consists of 30 students; some of them plan on being English teachers, others plan on being elementary school teachers, and others plan on entering the private sector. Above is a picture of some of them doing a practice elementary school English class last year.
We started this class on April 12 and we will finish the first week of August. AStudents will be blogging about their experience as language learners and teachers as well as be using these blogs as a means to exchange ideas and opinions about teaching English. Please check out the class blog for links to the students' individual blogs. We hope that you can join us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Advisee makes an Elementary School Teacher Blog

One of my advisees who graduated last March, Olive, was employed as an elementary school teacher this year and is currently writing about the challenges and rewards of teaching at elementary school on her blog. It is a good reference, please check it out!

The Importance of Being Organized and Singing the Burnt Out Blues

It has been a long time since I posted. The past month and a half have been perhaps the busiest of my up to now not so busy life and I had a difficult time keeping up.
There were some good things: Last month I was promoted from lecturer to asscociate professor(准教授). It was an overwhelmingly time consuming task to apply for promotion as I had to submit every single paper I ever wrote as well as write and abstract in Japanese for each paper. I also summarized each presentation I had ever done and provided evidence that I had done the presentation. In addition to this I had to submit 4 other documents. What made this task phenomenally time consuming was my complete lack of organization. I literally spent days going through all kinds of documents etc. that had been collecting dust in the corner of my office for a couple of years. I also spent quite a bit of time tracking down those journals and short articles I had wrote that I had misplaced. Thanks to some good friends who are highly organzied people, I was able to submit everything I had to. My advice to anyone interested in working in a Japanese university is to make a concious effort to hold onto every paper you write or any artifact of a presentation you made (not just to throw everything into a space in your bookshelf). Also, I recommend that you write an abstract of your paper in Japanese or presentation soon after you finish it. One of the reasons the application process took me so long was I had to write abstracts in Japanese for some papers that I had written years ago and whose content I had forgotten about. Also, writing a concise abstract in English is not easy for me so writing one in Japanese is extremely challenging and usually has to be proofread. Somehow I was able to get everything together by the deadline, but I hope that this encourages people not to follow in my haphazard footsteps.

I was also involved in a couple of fairly big projects in February and March which included helping to produce a textbook (I primarily managed the accounting side), redesigning the Faculty of Education's website, contributing a few short essays to a book and a non-academic publication, grading tests and reading papers and writing reports for a few trips I took (Thailand & China). I also try to devote a lot of time to my family. So, I was feeling a little overwhelmed in February and March. The end result was that I did not do as well as a job with my classes as I would have liked and was not able to finish two papers about using vocabulary notebooks. I have realized that I cannot be an administrator and an educator/researcher at the same time. Unfortunately, this year administrative work took too much time and I have been left feeling a little inadequate as an educator/researcher.
Classes started tow weeks ago and I still had a backlog of administrative work form the previous academic year that I just finished. I like to try new things in my classes but this was the first time I had not been able to plan anything new before classes began. The past week, I have not felt my normal amount of energy when getting ready for the new semester. However, I am not completely impervious to the excitement that comes with the beginning of a new academic year; new students, and a rested, refreshed and enthusiastic returning student body. Also, reading the Autono Blogger and the Japan Action Research in EFL today gave me some new ideas and rekindled my motivation a little. Once the weather warms up I think I will be more back to normal and back to feeling like an educator/researcher.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seminar with Paul Nation

On February 27 and 28 I attended a two day seminar with one of the world’s foremost experts on vocabulary acquisition theory and pedagogy. The seminar was held at an Onsen(hot spring) outside Sendai and coordinated by Sendai JALT. I had felt absolutely overwhelmed by work and completely burnt out but the seminar managed to reinvigorate me. At the beginning of the seminar Paul talked about 4 essential strands that should compose a foreign language class syllabus. Teachers should devote 25% of class time to each of the following strands:

Strand 1 - Meaning focused input: There is overwhelming evidence that comprehensible input with a few unknown items to the learner is essential for language acquisition. Paul recommends that the learners understand 95% - 98% of the words in the input with 98% being preferable. Meaning focused input can be accessed through extensive reading, communicative activities or listening to stories.
Strand 2 – Language Focused Learning: This denotes a focus on grammar and vocabulary as well as training in vocabulary strategies and intensive reading (reading involving translation).
Strand 3 – Meaning Focused Output: This is output in which the learner is trying to relay a message and is not worried about accuracy. Learners should use some unfamiliar items (at least 95% of their speech should consist of familiar items) to help them learn them.
Strand 4 – Fluency Development: Learners should read, write, listen, speak language that they already know (they should understand 99% of all items). The purpose of this strand is for learners to learn to use the language that they already know. Many Japanese, for example, know a lot of language but do now know how to use it.

For me, these 4 strands offer a good framework to use to plan English language courses. These days my mind is so jumbled that getting back to the basics and looking at the big picture of course planning was just what I needed.

Paul, of course, talked about the 4 strands in much more detail and offered many concrete examples for activities in each strand. If you are interested in learning more, please go to his website.

In the seminar, Paul also talked about learning words from cards, ways of giving quick attention to words, good and bad language learning tasks, teaching vocabulary, and word frequencies. I am writing this post on the bullet train on my way back home. I have another few deadlines coming up next week. When or if things settle down, I would like to write about using vocabulary notebooks versus using word cards and what Paul revealed about the vocabulary size necessary to read a novel in English.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

I was asked to write an essay for freshmen students about how to give presentations in English. The essay will appear in the university class guide book for freshmen. I tried to write it in as simple English as possible so that students might actually be able to understand it. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone will really read it so decided to copy and paste it into my blog. Would anyone out there give any different advice that what I have given?

How to Give a Speech in a Foreign Language

Giving a speech in a second language is not easy. When we speak in our native languages we can sometimes improvise while we are speaking and add information or reduce information. When we speak in a second language it is much more difficult to improvise because a lot of our attention is devoted to the language itself. Since it is more difficult to improvise, it is important to prepare thoroughly before giving a speech in a second language.

How should you prepare? First, write out what you will say in your speech or take notes of what you will say. When I first started giving speeches in Japanese, my second language, I would write out everything I planned to say. After the experience of a few speeches though, I started giving speeches from notes. I recommend that you do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. If you do not have much time to prepare, I think that giving speeches from notes is the most efficient method.

When writing out the speech, remember that the speech should be in your own words. The worst speeches in English I have seen were when students wrote their speech in Japanese and then used a translating program to put it into English. When they gave their speech, they simply read the computer translation. In these cases, the audience and even the speakers themselves did not understand the speech! When you put your speech in your own words, your personality is revealed because you have ownership of what is being said. Regardless of whether or not you are advanced in the second language, your personality and interest in the subject will maintain the listener’s interest in your speech.

Also, when preparing your speech consider who your audience will be. Will your audience be familiar with the topic of your speech? If your audience is not familiar with part of the topic, for example the fall of Ayutthaya in a topic such as “The Effect of the Historical Fall of Ayutthaya on Present Day Thailand-Myanmar Relations” you will have to explain about the fall of Ayutthaya.

The second part of preparation is practicing the speech. Even though I am fairly experienced at speaking publicly in a second language, I would never speak without practicing and always find the time to practice. Do not feel embarrassed about speaking out loud when no one is in the room or when other people not related to your speech are in the room. I have practiced for speeches in such places as my car outside the speech venue, a bullet train, a plane, a hotel room, a hotel lobby, a park bench, my office, and, of course, my house. In all these cases, the speeches I gave were successful because I took the time to practice.

When you practice speaking remember that maintaining eye contact with the audience during a speech is essential. If the speaker is staring at his manuscript or notes the whole time he is speaking, it will be harder for the audience to concentrate on the speech. Thus, when preparing for your speech, stare at a wall pretending that it is your audience, and try to say as much as your speech as possible to the wall while occasionally taking quick glimpses at your notes or manuscript.

Another thing to keep in mind when practicing is time. Time limits for a speech can be from 5 to 30 minutes. Even 5 minutes can seem very long, but when you practice you will realize that you do not have enough time to finish your speech! Usually when I practice, I find that I have to remove a third of the content from my speech to finish in the allotted time. Finishing on time is extremely important. For example, when a speaker finishes his speech in 20 minutes when it was supposed to be 15 minutes, it is rude to the next speaker who is waiting and the listeners find it annoying too because it extends the time of the event they are attending.

Although finishing on time is important, your speech should not be hurried. Let’s say that you have to speak as fast as you can to give what should be an 18 minute speech in 15 minutes. If you do this, I can guarantee you that your audience will not understand what you said. If you have 15 minutes to speak, make sure that you can finish your speech within those 15 minutes speaking at a moderate pace that is not too fast or too slow for your audience.

Lastly, when you are preparing for a speech it is a good idea to have someone look at your manuscript/notes or listen to the speech. The person could be your teacher, a classmate or a friend. The feedback that you receive from this person will help you give a better speech.

In conclusion, to give an effective speech, prepare thoroughly and, regardless of your ability in the language, give the speech in your own words. Enjoy yourself while you speak and your audience will enjoy listening to you!