Sunday, April 12, 2009

Conducting a Workshop on Using English Picture Books: Teaching the structure of a picture book lesson


Last Thursday, as part of the Working with Picture Books Project, I went to the primary school affiliated with my university (hereafter, School A) to give a workshop about using English picture books. A Japanese colleague in my department accompanied me. The 研究主任 (lead researcher) of School A also helped me facilitate the workshop.

We have planned to give two workshops of an hour and a half to the School a teachers about using English picture books. The first workshop, which has already been completed, was supposed to help teachers learn about the structure of a lesson using an English picture book and the second workshop is designed to give teachers confidence in reading English picture books. Starting in June, teachers will start conducting lessons using English picture books which will have been conceived in these workshops.

In this post, I will summarize the first workshop. As a facilitator I would give myself a grade of a C -, and I am being generous. I hope that this post might give readers ideas of some "dos" and "don'ts" when conducting workshops.

Workshop 1: Planning and Conducting Lessons Using English Picture Books
The aim of this workshop was to give teachers as many practical ideas as possible for using English picture books and help them understand the structure these kinds of lessons. The outline of the workshop was below, it was supposed to last 90 minutes.

1) Introduction (Lead Researcher) 5 min
2) Advice for using English picture books (me and my colleague) 20 min
3) School A Teachers design a rough lesson plan using a picture book (divided into 4 groups) (35 minutes)
4) Each group presents their lessons (20 minutes)
5) Comments about the lessons (my colleague and me) (5 minutes)

I prepared a 7-paged print in Japanese which discussed
1) The reasons for using English picture books as well as three primary uses of English picture books (teach about language, culture, or just to enjoy the story)
2) Secrets for giving a successful lesson
3) How to prepare for a lesson using English picture books
4) The structure of a lessons
Stage 1: Pre-storytelling (The goal of this stage and various activities)
Stage 2: Storytelling (The objective of this stage and various techniques for reading)
Stage 3: Post-Storytelling (The goal of this stage and activities for language study, activities that involve reading the book again, activities that involve discussion, activities that involve cultural learning)

I am putting the file of this handout on-line. The print does not have a reference list so I will describe which sources I referenced for each section and include a bibliography at the bottom of this post. For 1) my reference was the Japanese translation of Brewster & Ellis (2008, in Japanese) and my own research (Hall, 2008). The secrets for giving a successful lesson came from my own observations and opinions of the lead researcher for School A. References for 3) came from my own observations, Ellis & Brewster (1991), and Wright (1995). Ideas for 4) came from myself(ホール, in press), Wright (1996) , Ellis & Brewster (2008), and Ur & Wright (1992).

First, it was my turn to speak. I told the School A teachers that I was so happy to be able to collaborate with them and that I was going to summarize what I had learned about using English picture books over the past year. I also told them that I was looking forward to expand the content of the handout by working together with them. There was a lot of information on the print and I told them that I would only highlight the important parts. I had also prepared a DVD to show them scenes of teachers conducting pre-storytelling and post-storytelling activities.

I HAD planned to tell them that I hoped that they would use the handout as a reference when making their lesson plans but I forgot! I was a little nervous. I was dressed in a suit, something I am not accustomed to, and the participants were dressed in much nicer attire. While I was talking, the lead researcher was kind enough to write notes in his computer about what I said. His notes appeared on the screen behind me as I spoke. His notes have been a valuable way for me to know what I actually said. His notes were much more eloquent than what came out of my mouth. My Japanese is not bad, but my wife tells me that when I speak publicly, I speak with a stronger foreign accent and make more grammatical mistakes than I usually do. I was feeling a little self conscious about my Japanese. I always enjoy the opportunity to give workshops in Japanese because it enables me to understand how my students feel when I put them on the spot and also improves my foreign language skills. However, my inability to relax probably made my presentation a little difficult to understand for the listeners.

I finished my presentation in 25 minutes. Given the amount of material I had, going 5 minutes over time was not bad. However, I now realize that I gave them too much information and this might have prevented the teachers from understanding my main message: "English picture books are a wonderful way for children to make discoveries about the world around them as well as the English language and I want to give you tips for conducting classes that children can understand and enjoy". If I could do the presentation again, I would know what information to include and what to not include. Unfortunately, the only way for me to learn this was to appear on stage and give a mediocre performance.

After my presentation, the teachers were divided into groups. We asked teachers to give a proposal for a lesson using an English picture book and then present their ideas. The teachers were asked to discuss the following in their presentation:
1) The focus of their lesson: language, culture, or the story
2) The number of periods they would need to conduct their lesson
3) Possible pre-storytelling, storytelling techniques, and post-storytelling activities.

The teachers were divided into four groups, each group with a different picture book:
Sixth Grade teachers (Yoko, for a description see CCUP)
Fifth Grade teachers (Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs, for a description see CCUP)
3rd and 4th Grade Teachers (Tulip Sees America, for a description see CCUP)
1st and 2nd Grade Teachers (Suddenly)

I rewrote the text for Yoko, Nana and Tulip to make the stories shorter. According to Wright (1995), stories should not last over 10 minutes because children's concentration will not last longer than that. Each group devoted a fair amount of time to reading the story and trying to understand it. I sat with the group who was preparing a lesson plan for Yoko. I tried not to interfere and only spoke when they asked me something. When they were preparing their presentation, they did not discuss any of the points they were asked to nor did they use the print I had made to help them think of activities. These teachers were veterans who had their own ideas about how they could use the book. I was not offended that they did not use any of my ideas because when I am a participant of a workshop doing a group task, I also tend to produce something different from what the facilitator plans. I guess that is what makes us educators human: We are all unique and we each have different ideas for handling the same material.

After about 45 minutes, each group gave a presentation. I was in deep thought during the group presentations. I realized that one problem with this workshop was that we had chosen the books for each group. I think that for an English picture book lesson to work the teacher herself must be interested in the book. If the teacher believes that the book contains a message that children will find appealing than she will work very hard to use the book in such a way that children understand the appeal of the story. It felt like one of the groups did not see how their story would appeal to the children. If this is indeed true, I would have no problem with them choosing another book.

After the presentations, my colleague and I were supposed to give the presenters advice. My colleague gave the presenters good advice about the importance of linking the story with children's own experiences and the importance of determining what skill in children you want to build through English activities (imagination, listening strategies, etc.)

I, on the other hand, was surprised about how the ideas of each group were different from each other and from mine. I basically felt that I had no advice to give, I was just interested in knowing how the lessons would turn out and seeing what kind of discoveries about using English picture books these lessons might lead to. Speaking in Japanese, I said that I realized how many different ways there are to use English picture books. I should have shut up after that but then I actually tried to give some advice when I should have just said what I really felt (I was interested in seeing how the lessons turned out).

What did I learn from this experience? First, of course, it would have been better to have more time and it would have been better to ask the groups to read the books before the workshop. However, Japanese elementary school teachers are very busy and I think workshops should be as minimally demanding of their time as possible. Therefore, workshops need to be short and to the point. For this workshop, I prepared a handout that I could have used for an entire 90 minute lecture. If I could have done this workshop all over again, I would have given them a much more condensed version of the handout.

I also learned the importance of being yourself when speaking publicly and not giving advice for the sake of giving advice. I am looking forward to the next workshop with the teachers where we will practice reading the books.

  1. G.エリス & J.ブルースター (松岡洋子訳) 2008.『先生、英語のお話を聞かせて』 玉川大学出版部.
  2. Wright, A. (1995). Storytelling with Children. OUP.
  3. Ur, P. & Wright, A. Five Minute Activities. CUP.
  4. Ellis, G. & Brewster, J. (1991). The Storybook Handbook.
  5. J. ホール (2009). 小学生の理解と興味を高める英語絵本の効果的な読み聞かせ方. 『教材学研究』 第20巻
  6. Hall, J. M. (2008). Selecting and using English picture books in Japanese elementary schools. In K. Bradford Watts, T. Muller, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT2007 Conference Proceedings. Tokyo: JALT.


Andy said...

I thought this blog had died. Glad that you're posting again about EFL in Japan.

There's a load of information in this post to digest and best of all it might actually help me with my job!

Benjamin said...

Hey, Jimbo! Great blog. I'm an English teacher in Vietnam and looking to move to Japan to teach in August. Can I email you a couple of questions? I can't find your email on the blog but mine is



Mehdi Firouzi said...

Hi there, I usually read you blog,and specially I like that post about shy students. that was great. How about exchange links?

Andy said...


Thanks for getting in touch. As you may have noticed from my blog, I'm an ALT working at both elementary and junior high schools.

As far as training goes, it is a small part of my job. We have about 4 days a year where either Japanese teachers come to watch our lessons or where we hold a workshop.

Also because of the new curriculum that's coming in for elementary schools I'm planning lessons that we will teach together rather than running the show myself.