How to be impactful on students

Posted on Mar. 03, 2021

“Excuse me. Could you tell me the way to the post office?”

What young person is interested in going to the post office in 2021? Probably not many. Often times textbooks provide the same basic examples which students have already hear a million times.

As foreign English teachers, we have the opportunity to add some variety to the classroom.

1. Choose interesting topics

The beauty of teaching a language is that you can choose from literally any topic you can think of! I try to imagine what my students find fun and exciting. Possibly the new hit manga or anime. How about the K-Pop band that is quickly becoming famous world-wide? If students are interested in what they are learning they will be much more engaged and willing to participate.

It’s also a great chance for us to share what we are passionate about. We have the ability to expose students to things that they never even knew existed. Just recently, I had a boy tell me he wanted to know more about hip-hop. None of his other friends could relate to him but we were able to share our favourite artists and songs with each other. I also enjoyed discovering one girl’s absolute obsession with John Connor from The Terminator. She is at point where she has named her favourite stuffed animal “John” and her dream is to go to America to visit the actor some day. These are the types of things that tell me I am making an impact and what I cherish the most.

2.Be available


I believe that children are natural learners and willing seek knowledge. However, in order to avoid embarrassing themselves by giving an incorrect answer or asking a “silly” question, they sometimes remain silent. I often thought about what I could do to break this barrier. I find that working with them individually or in smaller groups, they are much more open to discussions. Once I build that friendly relationship with them, they may begin to trust me and not think of me as a scary foreigner. There usually is not a huge amount of time to achieve this during class. What works for me is finding time outside of class. Specifically during lunch time, breaks between classes, and while they are doing their club activities after school.

3.The children’s perspective


Consider what we know about different types of learning styles. Some people respond better verbally, visually, physically, or some other method. I find it difficult to engage every single individual in every lesson but I find that using different types of activities to work the best.

In particular, I find that music, songs, and chants work extremely well for retention. They are able to recall and reproduce rather long sentences when they are introduced to it rhythmically. I also find that they pick up natural speaking intonations much easier.

4.Have them express their own opinions


The concept of self-expression is what I usually find most difficult with my students. I think for the most part, everyone likes to be the same as everyone else. They hesitate to be unique or to stand out. This can lead to a huge problem as students will end up all giving the exact same answers or even worse – completely freezing up.

What I have found to be the most effective is to establish a positive learning environment within my classes. However, this is much easier said than done. I always try to reiterate that mistakes are acceptable – arguably the only way to actually learn a second language. Questions are always encouraged. Deep, meaningful questions – not only surface levels ones with students only fishing for the correct answers.

Often students are laughed at by their peers or scolded when they give answers whether they are correct or not. One thing that I found incredible was when I had a class that was extremely disruptive and always misbehaving. They were loud and out of control. They would make fun of others for trying to sound like an English speaker and it led to the whole class purposely using a strong Japanese accent. I watched my colleague masterfully flip the whole situation on them. He created a pronunciation challenge activity where the ALT strictly judged them on their English speaking skills. Poor speakers were quickly eliminated while the ones who gave an effort remained. Everyone’s competitiveness and will to win suddenly emerged. Speaking English was no longer seen as a joke and it suddenly became “cool” to be good at it. This newly adopted ideology lasted the remainder of the school year.

If I am able to create that positive atmosphere where opinions are respected and encouraged, I find my job to be much more rewarding and satisfying.

Michael Lam – JHS ALT