Event Report: Practise, Create, Motivate: English through Drama


Shinshu JALT would like to thank Dr. Sue Fraser for taking the time to present her experiences and activities in teaching English through drama on February the 19th at Matsumoto.

The presentation began with Dr. Fraser highlighting the importance of drama in developing a variety of skills and breaking the monotony of conentional learning techniques. Sue referred to several texts which were published in the 60s and 70s and are still being printed to this day – meaning the material is still relevant for the learners of today.

Moreso than just having fun and pretending to be trees, there are many direct learning benefits for Japanese students. Learning English through drama can help with speech and debate contests, pronunciation, presentation skills, teacher training and paralinguistics.


The majority of the presentation was spent going through numerous activities instructed by Sue. There was an activity where one person was blind folded and had to listen and slowly move towards a person saying a key word.


Another activity involved groups being given scenarios and having to mime the situation without any talking. Everyone was then asked to guess the situation and figure out the dialogue that was taking place.


Sue also distributed several hand outs of situations with missing dialogue, and participants were asked to fill in the conversations and guess what was taking place.

Throughout the presentation all the activities demonstrated a recurring theme of helping learners understand the minute details that go into communicating and expressing meaning while also engaging people to just have fun and enjoy themselves. Sue’s talent for theatrics was evident throughout the lively session and the laughs and enthusiasm from all the participants showed everyone had a great time.


Event Report: JALT National Pre-Conference + My Share + AGM

The pre-conference started with Miguel Mision presenting his Master’s research project on “Mobile Assisted Language Learning for Young Learners” (MALL). While there has been a lot of work on using smartphones for language learning with adults or university students, very little research has been done for young learners. To determine the key learning design features for young learners, Miguel researched a variety of fields outside of language learning: game design, children’s behaviour with technology and multi-modality. He prepared six points of criteria:

  1.   Graphics
  2.   Sound/Audio/Music
  3.   Use of Mobile Technology
  4.   Learning Style
  5.   Target Language
  6.   Narrative

From these six points, Miguel constructed a system using a Likert scale to assess popular applications made for young learners, and to examine how the applications address key design points. What he found was a majority of applications were mostly designed with audio-lingual task based methodologies – simple drill exercises that focus on memorization and recall skills. While excellent aids in study, they are still far from realizing the full potential of smartphone based learning. It appears that most applications are created by programmers with little understanding of current language learning approaches and methodologies.

The second presenter was Gregory Birch, who shared the results of his research into the state of team taching in Japanese junior and senior highschools. The study was conducted via surveys completed by 120 ALTs and 80 JTEs and follow-up interviews.

Gregory’s research focused on lesson preparation and teacher’s reasons for using their own teaching materials (as opposed to the textbook). Some of Gregory’s key findings were:

  • More than half of JHS ALTs reported that team-taught lessons were prepared primarily by the JTE. In SHS on the other hand, 66% of all ALTs reported preparing their lessons.
  • ALTs were shown to use a wider variety of sources for their materials (the internet, resource books, materials from the predecessor). Interestingly, only 28% of SHS JTEs reported providing their own materials for team teaching.
  • JTEs and ALTs reported a variety of reasons for specifically using  materials that they had designed,  the most common being that they felt these materials were more engaging and interesting than those found in the textbook.

Third was a My Share presentation by Damian Gowland who just recently returned from a CELTA intensive course in the Galapagos Islands. Damian shared some of his experiences from the 4-week course, including the steps needed to apply, the that need to be taken while preparing and taching a lesson.

Damian begun his presentation by having an open discussion on what attendees felt about overseas professional development courses. The ideal place people would like to go and the pros and cons of undertaking such a course. After this, he moved on to discuss the input sessions he received while on course , which involved preparing materials, assessing student needs and considering the styles or theories the teacher will draw upon. He then shared some of the CELTA teaching principles – Concept, Checking, Question – a process of steps to confirm student understanding before they use the target language themselves. To cap things off Damian played an animal bingo game with all the attendees and showcased the plethora of wildlife he encountered during his stay.

Shinshu JALT would like to thank all the presenters and attendees for coming and sharing in the day.


Event Report: Teaching Debate


Shinshu JALT would like to thank Mr. Ikegami, high school English teacher and founding member of the High School English Debate Association (HEnDA), for sharing his 20-plus years of debating experience with us in an informative and entertaining workshop on September 22 in Matsumoto.

Mr. Ikegami began by introducing himself and giving a brief overview of the situation of high school English debate. HEnDA is the biggest association in Japan and sponsors policy debates among high school teams. Teams spend months researching difficult topics; this year’s topic is Basic Income. In contrast, the Parliamentary Debate Association (PDA) promotes a style of debate appropriate for English classrooms. PDA was the focus of Mr. Ikegami’s workshop.

In PDA style, there are two teams, Government and Opposition. Each team consists of 3-4 members and, after receiving a topic, has 15 minutes to prepare arguments which will be judged on content and style. There is no time to research the topics, so the arguments are generally supported by common sense and personal experiences. Students are given the structure of speaker order, content and time. Each team presents three speeches, and the total time for the debate is just over 15 minutes.

Mr. Ikegami then divided the workshop participants into four teams (for conducting a debate twice), handed out worksheets designed to help each speaker cover the required content parts, and set us to work on the day’s topic: “It is better for university admission test takers to have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” We enjoyed team discussions of the ups and downs of high school romance, prepared our speeches, and nervously stood in the shoes of students. It was challenging and fun!

This workshop was a very worthwhile two hours for anyone who has tried or thought about trying debate in English language classrooms. Greg noted that although he teaches debate, he had never participated in one. I suspect that most participants thought about how to bring PDA into their classrooms on the way home that afternoon, unless, like me, they were still thinking about ways they could have improved their own debate speeches!

Mr. Ikegami’s talent for clear speaking and passion for debate were clear throughout this workshop. I for one hope he will be come back to answer specific questions and offer advice to those of us who have decided to give PDA a try in our classrooms.

  • Reported by Colleen Dalton

Event Report: Classroom Exercises

Teachers in charge of language classrooms have to consider both the overall plan and goals of a particular course and also the very concrete exercises and activities that will be used to help students move toward those goals. In our July 2 workshop, Terry Yearley of Saitama University and West Tokyo JALT helped us think about both.

Terry Yearly introducing his “Three Interesting things about you” activity

Terry first introduced Nation’s four-strand framework for language courses (meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development) which Nation believes should receive equal time under a syllabus, and then led specific speaking activities, namely “432” and “Talking Zone.” JALT participants used “three interesting things about me” as the topic for the repeated speaking practice in shorter time frames of 4, 3, and 2 minutes. For “Talking Zone, we worked in pairs to match descriptions with pictures.

JALT members practicing the “Talking Zone”

After the speaking activities, we reflected on how they fit into Nation’s framework. There was some discussion about how to distinguish the first two strands (meaning-focused input and output) from fluency development. According to Nation’s definitions, all three strands are meaning- and usage-focused, and all three revolve around familiar topics and language. The key point of fluency development seems to be 100% known vocabulary (as opposed to 95% for meaning-focused input and output) and an attention to speed. However, since most classrooms include students of different levels, a fluency speaking task for one student is likely to be a meaning-focused input activity for the listener.

Shinshu JALT would like to thank Terry for highlighting a framework for creating a well-balanced language syllabus and for raising our consciousness about the differences among speaking activities.

Event Report: Teaching Presentation Skills

Gregory Birch teaching presentation skills

Presentations are a common activity in communicative English teaching in many contexts, ranging from simple in-class activities, to higher stakes speech contests and business presentations. How can teachers develop these skills in their learners in a systematic way? In an engaging and interactive presentation, speakers Gregory Birch and Dr. Sue Fraser shared their comprehensive approach to teaching presentation skills, first breaking content creation into six sub-components, including purpose, audience, and message. Together, they illustrated how these key concepts can be applied in both product and process approaches to teaching presentation skills through three examples: a self-introduction, a tourism-themed presentation for senior high school and college speech contests, and a formal product introduction for ESP learners.

Sue Fraser demonstrating presentation techniques

Fraser demonstrated the stages used to develop the first two presentation types, and Birch used examples of a local company/product introduction presentation, requiring learners to construct their speeches based on a model and analysis of its organization. Performance aspects of presentations, divided into voice, behavior, visuals, and ‘other,’ were then discussed, and a system for marking performance cues on a script was introduced. Finally, issues surrounding giving feedback, clarifying evaluation criteria, and the weighting of content and performance elements were considered. This included ideas for peer evaluation and active listening by assigning specific roles to different students in the audience (e.g. writing advice or asking questions). This in-depth and comprehensive treatment of presentation skills offered expert guidance for anyone involved in helping language learners to engage in public speaking.

Reported by Joe Mecha