Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting students to use English outside the classroom

By Margaret Orleans - Meiji Gakuen Junior/Senior High School, Kitakyushu, Japan

Joe Tomei of Kumamoto Gakuen University (a private four-year school known for its barrier-free campus in Japan) provided a series of well-thought out projects he uses to force/encourage his students to use English with each other outside the classroom.

The work for each project takes up the final twenty to thirty minutes of four consecutive once-a-week ninety-minute sessions. The earlier part of each class period is used for teaching/reinforcing skills/language that will be useful in carrying out the project. (Feedback language, types of questions, etc. for survey project; discussion phrases, postcard writing, etc., for good country project, etc.) The fifth week's class is entirely consumed with oral reports on the projects. Each class having been divided into eight groups, one group is stationed in each corner of the room, while the remaining half of the class is randomly assigned as audience for each of the presenters. After a ten-minute presentation (given without notes but with a prepared poster), the audiences rotate and the groups present again.

After the fourth time through, the presenters and audience switch roles for the second half of the class.

The projects? His favorites over the years have come down to:

1. an interview (conducted in English, the students eventually realize, because it is much easier to ask the questions and get the answers in English than to translate all the questions and answers from Japanese afterwards) of students on the campus on any issue they wish

2. creating a flag, history, and economy for one of the eight fictional countries Joe has carved out of a world map

3. explaining and justifying their plan for spending $2 million on campus improvement

4. identifying problems with accessibility for any building on the campus and interviewing one of the handicapped students at the university.

5. a project that goes over very well in all-female classes is planning a wedding (including the writing of the vows)

The very nature of the projects, as well as the time necessary for completing them, necessitate the students meeting and working in English outside the classroom.

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