In most schools, technology in English classrooms in Japan is not employed properly to help students stay engaged and interested in the topic.
Japan is well known for being a kind of technological hub for the world, but when you work as an English teacher in Japan you quickly realise that this hasn’t yet been passed down to the realm of teaching. Many schools and companies still use tape recorders and fax machines for a lot of the day to day work of teaching through audio or connecting with other departments, and you may think of it as a struggle to introduce any kind of technology to the class.
If you are in a position to at least use a laptop or projector, you have a big opportunity to not only teach a fantastic class, but build your skills as a technologically savvy teacher as well.
Technology and ways to use it
Knowing what you can and cannot use in your school is the first step to planning your lessons well. You don’t want to build your whole class around a PowerPoint presentation to then find out that there are no projectors or TVs you can use to display your carefully crafted lesson. Similarly you’ll need to make sure that what you want to do with the technology is approved by the relevant people at your school. You can do this via the Japanese way of gaining consensus with your fellow teachers and then presenting the consensus to your boss, remarking that everyone has agreed that it will be good for the students, then you can begin. Remember that you’re working in Japan and have to try and go by the Japanese working culture.
iPod or phone music player
Music is a wonderful tool for language learning, and one of the primary ways we engage with our mother tongue as we grow up. Listening to music in class might be a great way to get students to listen to something that will inspire them to learn English better. Maybe they want to know what Taylor Swift is talking about in her songs. Maybe they would love that Rather Be by Clean Bandit mentions Kyoto in the bridge. You never know how you’re going to reach students by playing music.
One time I had a bonus lesson with a class that had a trip cancelled, so I got a few songs from my phone (checked to make sure they didn’t have any themes unsuitable for junior high students) and printed the lyrics to one or two of them with blanked out words for students to fill in. We listened to three songs and the kids loved it! Then the second time listening through I let them listen and try to fill in the blank words that I had taken out based on words I knew they had heard recently. It was a really great class, and even the old tape deck had a 3.5mm jack for my phone to plug into and play the music in the class.
These can be great or terrible based on how good you are at presenting, but I’ve found that having a good presentation with mostly visual aides and reminders of task based learning that students are currently working on can help a great deal to keep the class on point. What you shouldn’t do is just list out everything you are going to talk about. There is nothing more boring for a student than listening to a teacher read aloud from lecture notes that even they can read faster than the teacher can say.
This is an excellent way to get a class’ attention and focus the lesson on a theme. I often started the debate class I was teaching with a poignant video of something that I wanted the students to learn that day. Make sure it’s nothing too long, preferably under two minutes, and at a level that students can at least follow the general idea of even if their English level isn’t very high. You don’t want to get in trouble with the school for being ‘that teacher who just shows the students videos all the time’ do you?
English games to play in their free time
You can also introduce some online English games that students can enjoy in their free time. Something that will help them build vocabulary or practice will be incredibly useful and have impacts outside of your class as well.
You can find a lot of English games by looking online, and a good example would be Barry Fun English Games for some interactive games to play online with students. These are especially good for smaller classes, as research suggests that games alone don’t help anywhere near as much as games with teacher direction and involvement during play.
This one isn’t always acceptable depending on the kind of school you work at, but one of my part time jobs that I found on jobsinjapan.com had me teaching students who would be travelling abroad, who had a lot of homework to complete for the course including groupwork. With the approval of the school, we made a Facebook group where students could ask questions from the teachers, talk to each other about the projects they were working on together and keep in touch after they moved to the countries and international schools they were going to. It was a really useful and effective tool for helping improve the students English not just inside, but outside the classroom.