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Joined: 12 Feb 2003
Posts: 31
Location: Japan

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2003 8:03 am    Post subject: Textbooks Reply with quote

Hello All,

I wanted to start a thread about a topic which with which we are all very familiar and is rather central in "what we do" (I would say in "our profession" but I have seen the stir that this word has created in some other threads Wink).

What I would like to hear your opinion about is textbooks. Specifically, textbooks in conversation/communication/speaking/fluency classes. My questions are these:

What do you think makes a good textbook? How do you feel about what is currently available on the market?

Personally, I think that a good textbook would do the following (in no particular order):

1) Meet my curricular goals as a teacher.
2) Expose students to new material presented in a stimulating fashion.
3) Be easily adaptable to the characteristics of any individual class.
4) Foster learner independence.
5) Provide students with skills that are easily transferrable to outside of the classroom.
6) Give me (the teacher) freedom to go outside of the "boundaries/ordinances" of the textbook and adapt it to my own teaching style.

My opinion is that there has been very little new in the textbook industry over the last 5 years. Far too many textbooks are task or theme based. They concentrate on giving students the skills necessary to deal with very simple and predictable speech situations. I think we have all taught more than enough lessons in our day dealing with "Asking for Directions" or "Meeting a New Friend". And if I'm tired, I can only imagine the boredom and lack of interest our students must feel about these topics considering they appear in almost every oral communication class in junior high school, senior high school, many of the language school books, and a good number of the books being used in junior college/university courses. I am not saying that there is anything terribly wrong with task/theme-based driven textbooks in and of themselves, just that there is too many of them and they don't meet all of the students' needs.

I am not sure why this lack of variety has become so prevalent. It may have something to do with the merger trend in the industry, a dearth of new thinking, textbook writers who ignore 2nd language research, Monbusho screening (if you work in the public school system). Or perhaps the theme/task based formula has been found by teachers and students alike to be the textbook panacea which will vault all students to quick and easy mastery of the English language and I am the only one who sees things differently... but somehow I doubt it. At any rate, it isn't the causes that interest me.

Again, my questions are: What do you think makes a good textbook? How do you feel about what is currently available on the market? Again, I am most interested in conversation/communication centred coursebooks.

The reason I am posting in the Japan forum is because that's where I teach and I think that Japanese learners have some unique characteristics which pose unique challenges in teaching conversation/speaking/etc.

Have a good day!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2003 8:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


Sorry if I dont add my own thoughts but I have been in front of my computer for the past 8 hours and Im starting to see things.

Just thought Id show you a recent Language Teacher article about textbook writers writing for the Japanese market. Hope there are some pearls of wisdom in there for you

Each fall, dozens of new texts are launched in Japan to the bells and whistles of extensive promotion campaigns. Some become long term hits. Others have a respectable life of a few years with decent sales. Others soar first season, only to die the second year once teachers discover that, despite the pretty pictures, they hate the book. And, of course, some newly launched books never fly at all.

The question is "Why?" What makes a book work in Japan? Clearly there is a complex mix of authoring, design, editorial input and promotion--not to mention timing and luck. When approached by the editors of this special issue about an article on writing for Japan, I thought it would be a great opportunity to reflect and share ideas. The problem, however, is that there are few "rules" and no "formulae" for writing ELT textbooks. (Not entirely true: many textbooks are written to a formula; if you're teaching one, you have my sympathy.) As Prowse (1998) points out, most ELT writers employ their own intuitions, writing textbooks much as they might write fiction, albeit in the service of a syllabus. So, were I to write my version of how writing for Japan works, it would simply be "The Gospel according to Marc" rather than truths generalizable for your own teaching and writing. Instead, this article follows a format used by Prowse in Tomlinson's (1998) Materials Development in Language Teaching, a book I highly recommend.

What advice would other Japan-based authors give? What opinions do we share? How do we incorporate our views and experiences into our books? To see if there was consensus, I sent questions to several authors. A sampling of their responses follows.

Just how different is Japan?
A travel writer supposedly suggested that "Japan is the most foreign country in the world." Teachers living and working here often hear about Japanese uniqueness. Interestingly, while everyone recognized the importance of making books appropriate for the target audience (culture, age, interest, classroom realities, etc.), most questioned the idea that Japan is totally different:

"I think there's a certain amount of myth-making involved in this statement. We do a disservice to learners here by perpetuating the myth of difference."

"Judging from reactions from audiences at workshops in other countries, EFL needs seem to be similar in at least Taiwan, Korea, and Thailand. I think their needs for interactive texts are the same as Japan's. Sales show good results in Latin American countries, too, I understand."

"I don't think writing for Japan is so different. Of course every regional/national/cultural/institutional context is unique. However, one way the markets are similar has to do with general educational and/or language learning traditions (teacher centered, grammar translation background, rigid exam-based curriculum, bias toward memorization, certain accepted language learning strategies, text focused learning, etc.)."

Most other countries mentioned are Asian, where we share both traditions of hierarchical educational structures (it's no accident that sensei could literally be rendered as "born before") and practical considerations such as large classes and exam-focused learning. Of course, the culture of each country differs and authors need to balance references to countries--in the same way that one counts male and female characters to ensure they are equally represented. Awareness of cultural norms is also essential. In Thailand, for example, the Thai royal family is so respected that any negative reference to any royal family is considered very bad taste. (Would-be authors, don't worry that you don't know these bits of information yet. Your publisher will have your manuscript reviewed in potential markets and "cultural mistakes" will come out then.)

The usefulness of material in other markets doesn't imply that the teaching situations are the same. A course book that is used over a year in Japan maybe be covered in one term in Taiwan, where classes often meet more frequently. The same book may last only a month or two in Korean language institutes (similar to conversation schools) where classes meet daily. The students' focus can also be different:

"Students here spend only the time actually in class on English and do very little outside of class. The majority just squeak by with minimal English ability even after years of so-called study of English. The learning curve here is a very gradual incline. To write for Japan is to write for the gentle incline. Most of the rest of the world seems to follow a much steeper curve, increasing rate as the student's language ability progresses."

Authors of children's books were very specific about differences in the teaching situations.

"One big difference is that English is taught from a younger age in these countries (first grade of elementary school in Thailand and third grade of elementary school in Korea). Another difference is that students at language schools in Korea often study 3, 4 or 5 times a week, and, in Thailand, students at language schools often have much longer lessons, especially in Bangkok; otherwise it wouldn't be worth their while spending hours in the traffic jams getting to the school.

"Kids get more contact hours outside of Japan. Teachers, too, seem to be getting more training. What does that mean? I think it means a book has to be different than it appears on the surface. For the Japanese market, it needs to be fun and slow, but for other markets, it has to have more depth."

The authors' secrets
The people who contributed to this article are all successful authors. The obvious question, of course, is how they got to be that way? Not surprisingly, experience is a key point:

"The key for me is always to write from the perspective of an experienced classroom teacher. I am a teacher first and writer second. And if I ever doubted that, my bank manager would quickly remind me!"

"I teach a lot (30 hours a week), and I only write for the kinds of students I teach. I also try to make the job of teaching easier for the hectic lifestyle most teachers have in Japan."

"I guess that all boils down to one word: experience." Yes, that one word, plus a few related ones."

"I have used over 60 textbooks during my teaching career in Japan and have gained some experience in what works and what doesn't."

"I worked with editors and advisors who have also worked here for a long time."

"I try to write books that I would like to use myself. Writing a textbook is a very similar process to designing one's own course materials, and many of the 'classic' EFL textbooks were directly based on materials authors developed for their own classes. But there is one major difference: a textbook (if it is to be successful) will be used by teachers with different teaching styles, different amounts and types of experience, and of different nationalities. It should also be adaptable to different teaching/learning contexts and student needs."

Oh, yes. One other thing--the wild card:

"Another secret is being lucky--an author is not always in a position to choose the type of book, publisher, editor, co-author, or designer. But they are all crucial; it's a team effort. It's a little bit like those Oscar acceptance speeches: 'First of all, I'd like to thank God ...."'

In publishing, to some degree you make your own luck. There's the image of a teacher having a great idea, sitting down, drafting a manuscript, submitting it to a publisher . . . and the rest is history. It rarely happens that way. In many cases, the publisher knows the kind of book or series it needs to complement its list. The publisher then goes searching for authors.

"One editor told me that most ELT texts are commissioned, not submitted and accepted. That told me I needed to build my reputation so someone would ask me to write for him or her, rather than try to write a text and then get someone to publish it."

"I spent several years doing reviews for various publishers, and in that process not only had the chance to make my voice heard, but much more importantly, got a sense of how to look carefully and critically at texts with an eye to how they could be made better. While this may seem a long backdoor approach to becoming an author, I'm quite glad I took my time and had this experience, for I probably learned more from doing this review work with the authors and editors I worked with than I did in, say, graduate school."

"I was doing JALT presentations. My to-be editor came up to me and asked me if I was interested in reviewing a book she was working on. I said, sure. A month later, she contacted me and said uh, the book wasn't ready to be reviewed yet--in fact, it wasn't even written yet, as the writers didn't work out, would I be interested in authoring? And we went from there."

Changes in publishing
Publishing, like most industries, is experiencing major changes. One cause is technology:

"Technology has made tremendous changes to the way textbooks are produced. As far as writing is concerned, it is now possible to communicate easily with co-authors and editors wherever you or they may be by fax, email, and phone. It is possible to exchange files and make changes to a manuscript extremely quickly. Word processing and page layout programs enable an author to produce near-professional drafts, which facilitate piloting in class, although most publishers prefer a final manuscript that is not 'over-designed'."

Many of us feel that, for all the talk about technology, the real changes that affect the students and the industry have hardly started.

"There are wonderful opportunities, but the expectations from new technology are often way ahead of the reality. In the past, we saw this with under used language labs. We've seen it with educational CD-ROMs, which are a wonderful learning tool, but which just haven't taken off in Japan."

"CD-ROMs and the Internet have great potential but few have really tapped into that potential yet. The early CD-ROMs were mostly words on paper turned into words on screen. They are getting better but there's still a long way to go. The same can be said for the Internet--lots of potential but most of it untapped."

"My gut feeling however is that jazzy technology still does not replace good pedagogy and well-structured book-based activities and tasks."

"It will be quite interesting to see how web-based publishing, for example, will change the way we think both about writing and about purchasing books."

Another major change in publishing has been merger mania. In 1990, JALT had 102 associate members, mostly publishers. Now there are 66. Macmillan swallowed Heinemann. Pearson grew out of AddisonWesley, Prentice Hall, and Longman, which had previously taken over Lingual House, Nelson, Harrap's, and a list of others.

Authors have mixed feelings:

"Generally, when a company becomes larger, it becomes less flexible and more bureaucratic. It has more problems making decisions on a local level. They waste a lot of time in the decision-making process, which hurts authors, teachers, and students. Material becomes old before it ever reaches the students. Give me a speedboat any day over a luxury liner like the Titanic."

"On balance, I think (the mergers are) bad. There is a bigger gap between those who are already established and those who are not, and fewer opportunities for newcomers. There seems to be less happening at a grassroots level. Perhaps, in time, there will be a reaction to all this, and many smaller companies will start up.

"It all smacks of monopolization of the market, decreased competition, potential sameness of the products, overly conservative and cautious publishing agendas."

Some authors do see positive aspects:

"Perhaps (there will be) more rational consolidation of resources between the relatively fewer publishers, perhaps bigger marketing budgets for promotion of the books, perhaps more budget resources for teacher development seminars/workshops, perhaps less reliance on the mythical 'blockbuster' so that the publisher can concentrate more on smaller, regional/country-specific projects."

One person, ever the optimist, went so far as to say the following:

"In theory, fewer companies means fewer chances for new authors, and fewer new ideas. In practice, I'm not sure. On the other hand, if an author has a successful title with a large publisher, he or she stands to sell more books, make more money, and descend into a life of debauchery a tad quicker."

Right, this despite the fact that royalties usually work out to something well under 100/hour.

Horror stories
All of the authors involved in this article are positive about the publishing process. However, like any endeavor, there are negatives. A couple that are telling:

"The publishing world can be incredibly arrogant. An editor may have spent one year teaching on the JET program and then become the Japan expert for a major international publisher. Other publishers who have never worked in Japan are often so confident in their armchair theories about the Japanese market. Most of the courses which didn't come out of the Japanese classroom but became best-sellers here did so by accident, not because some publisher in the UK or US deeply understood the Japanese market."

"(I've had) impossible deadlines--writing a text, workbook, and Teacher's Manual in six months, which included writing the TM before the book was even edited. THEN to have the publishing date pushed back, first 6 months and then 18 months. And then to have the main character in the text changed a year after final submission! It's almost enough to drive you over the edge! I felt kind of like (Gone with the Wind author) Margaret Mitchell would have felt if her editor had said, 'Wonderful book you have there. I know it's finished, but after talking with some focus groups, we've decided we'll have much more chance of selling the book if Scarlet O'Hara were a man instead of a woman. And if you had her living in Vermont...'."

Our best advice
The authors involved in this article are assuming those who read it do so for one of two reasons. Some readers may be teachers with a general interest in how books are written and how, in the authors' views, Japan-appropriate books get to be that way. Others, perhaps the larger group, are teachers who have thought about writing a book themselves. To that end, the participating authors each offered bits of advice. We hope they help.

"Work with a co-author. It is so much more fun to write with others and to bounce ideas off of each other and to keep each other honest when an idea really doesn't work. I have had more painfully hard belly laughs when writing and working with my co-authors than any other time I can think of. It makes the difficult writing experience fun. Someone once said that writing is easy. Just stare at a blank sheet of paper until blood forms on your forehead. This is true only if you write alone; when you work with others it's great!"

"Work backwards. Have an idea of where you want an activity, page, unit or book to go before you sit down to try to get there. You start with the final 'product' and work backwards from there. Though in fact, you may never wind up getting to that point (because something more interesting happened along that way) it's a form of poetics which works quite well for me."

"Always be honest in your dealings with publishers. Apart from the question of basic morality, one reason for this is the high incidence of takeovers and publishing employees changing companies!"

"Offer to review textbooks for publishers--they are always looking for reliable, informative reviewers. Offer to write workbooks or teacher's books for courses; they can lead to other work."

"Teach as many classes as possible for some years. Record what you did in class. You might stick to one book, strictly stick to it to the point you do exactly what the teacher's book tells you to. Teacher's Books teach you a lot more than the student book itself.

That's where the author talks to the teachers who use the book. By the time you finish one year following one author, you find yourself with your own ideas because your teaching situation is different from the author's."

"Question the assumptions behind methodology and ideas imported from teaching situations in other countries. Just because somebody famous said something, it doesn't mean it applies in the same way in Japan. There may be fundamental differences between the situations in which experts formed their ideas and the Japanese classroom."

"Don't be afraid to throw away what you've written. It is, in fact, sometimes helpful when one reaches a major block to simply crumple the paper or delete the file and then start over again, after, of course, a good break away from it. The fresh perspective and the clean file is often just what's needed."

"Get out there and do things--present workshops, volunteer in JALT. Get a good reputation regarding your specialty. Get your name out there as someone who has ideas and is willing to work."

"If you are dissatisfied with a textbook you are using, don't just bitch about it; rewrite exercises so that you think they work better.

If you develop your own handouts, think of them as pages from a textbook. Think about layout, illustrations, white space, clear and concise instructions (rubrics)."

"They say every teacher has a book in them. I think reality is that teachers have first drafts in them. If you can make it through the changes that come after that, then you've got a shot."

"Advice? Persistence, tenacity, flexibility, belief in your ideas, willingness to adapt, more persistence, tons of coffee (and beer), willingness to give up lots of weekends, ability to take massive quantities of criticism without getting too bent out of shape, more persistence, thorough research of the published material that's already out there, and a well-placed connection or two in the ELT publishing world. Oh yeah, and more persistence."

"Be yourself. Don't pattern yourself after the success of others. Be original. Don't pattern yourself after other textbooks. Do something different."

"Having a good time with what you're doing. Writing books is hard work. The chances that it will be a major hit are minimal. Make sure you're having fun while you do it."

Prowse, P. (1998). How writers write: Testimony from authors. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials development in language teaching (pp. 130-145). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Thanks and Acknowledgments to Contributors
Everyone invited to contribute to this article lives in Japan and has had at least two successful books or series published. Some of the authors involved write primarily for the adult market, some mainly for children and two write for both. I tried to invite authors for all major international publishers active in Japan.

To keep.the article focused, however, I didn't contact people who write exclusively for Japanese publishers. While an important market segment, it is a very different kind of publishing. As one of the participating authors (who writes for both types of publishers) pointed out: "Editors' work is very different between ELT publishers and those Japanese publishers. You're much more of a team member in ELT publishing but tend to be treated as BIG sensei at Japanese publishers. I'm not saying which is better. It's just different. "

These are the authors who were able to contribute to this article, listed in the order of response (publishing rewards speed). For reasons of space, I did not list co-authors or full bibliographies. The participating authors wrote far more than could be included here. If you'd like to read the entire text (and know who authored each quotation), visit the JALT Material Writers SIG website:

http://www2.gol .com/users/bobkeim/mw/ mwcontents.html

The document is entitled "ELT author-raw material" and can be found at helg.html

-Marc Helgeson

Steven Gershon, OnLine series (Macmillan Heinemann), Sound Bytes series (Prentice Hall [Pearson]).

Dale Fuller, Face to Face, Airwaves (Macmillian LanguageHouse).

Toyama Setsuko, Journeys Listening/Speaking 1, SuperKids series, Development Editor (Prentice Hall [Pearson Education]).

David Harrington, Speaking of Speech (Macmillian LanguageHouse), Street Talk (Calson Books).

Aleda Krause, SuperKids and Supertots series (Prentice Hall Asia [Pearson]).

Roger Barnard, Fifty-Fifty series (Prentice Hall [Pearson]), Good News, Bad News (Oxford University Press).

Chuck Sandy, Passages series, Interchange video (Cambridge University Press).

David Paul, Finding Out, Communicate (Macmillan/ Heinemann).

Nakata Ritsuko, Let's Go series (Oxford University Press), Koushite Oshieru Kodomono Eigo (Apricot).

Marc Helgesen, English Firsthand series (Longman [Pearson]), Active Listening (Cambridge University Press).


Article copyright 2000 by the author.
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Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2003 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


I may take the time to answer your question at length later, but for now, I'll just address what you cited as good textbook issues.

Personally, I think that a good textbook would do the following (in no particular order):

1) Meet my curricular goals as a teacher.
2) Expose students to new material presented in a stimulating fashion.
3) Be easily adaptable to the characteristics of any individual class.
4) Foster learner independence.
5) Provide students with skills that are easily transferrable to outside of the classroom.
6) Give me (the teacher) freedom to go outside of the "boundaries/ordinances" of the textbook and adapt it to my own teaching style.

1. This goes without saying, but such goals differ widely. Universities, language schools (eikaiwas), corporate classes, kindergartens, high schools, all have different agendas.

2. The key word here is "stimulating". One size does not fit all, and with the plethora of authors out there, I'm constantly amazed at how UNstimulating 99% of the textbooks are. They seem to present things in one of two formats: too much text, too many pictures.

3. This is the hardest feature to put into a book, unless you index the various activities to different levels (and even then, one author's opinion of levels may differ from another author). Still, flexibility is very key.

4. This is probably the second hardest feature. Some texts try to do this with supplemental workbooks, others with tapes/CDs. Who knows how to do this best? What works in one culture may not in another.

5. Absolutely! There's nothing worse than students parroting a dialogue because that's the way they learned it. If they can't learn English as a tool, what's the point?

6. This goes along with point 3.

I get rather nauseated seeing a lot of politically correct material in various texts. Some students get confused with it. It may be ok at the higher levels, but when you have to explain some things to lower level students, it gets difficult.

One specific complaint I'll air here concerns New Interchange, volumes 1, 2, and 3. If these were meant to be continuations of each other, they really missed the boat in my opinion. Each one starts out at a fairly decent pace, but the last 4 chapters (out of 16) escalate in complexity at a geometric rate. Volume 3 should be burned because of the useless language they expect students to learn, and its subsequent lack of grammar, especially in the last HALF of the book. Moreover, these do not flow from one volume to the next easily. The difficulty level of the last portions is much higher than the opening chapters of the subsequent books.

Change of topic. I find a couple of books fairly interesting for my high school classes, but only in that some (certainly not even close to all) of the material is relevant to my needs. Also, the authors have designed questions and other material to suit Japanese culture. This poses an obvious problem if the books were to be used for other cultures.

Don't even get me started on tapes or CDs. Besides the horrific problems with accents (added, I presume, as a touch of realism?), the speed and slang are far above students' needs/capabilities.

Bottom line. I have yet to find a book that suits more than 50% of my needs, whether for eikaiwa or high school students. I always end up cutting and pasting and breaking copyright laws to create my own supplemental materials even to fill a short 45-minute class, let alone an 80-minute one (both of which I have taught).
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2003 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have taken a break from teaching at the moment (I am a fulltime mom now) but when I was teaching, I usually taught upper intermediate and advanced level adults. My school's core program is based around all 4 skills so we didn't just focus on speaking, but it was a big part of the program. At the higher levels we didn't use textbooks at all--just authentic (usually news-based) materials--newspapers and videos. This was partly because our students hated using textbooks and partly because we had real difficulty finding anything we were happy with. A lot of what is available seems to target university kids, so the texts tended to be a bit patronizing and too "young" for our students. They also didn't like the usual functional/notional type syllabus that you mentioned ("Asking for Directions" or "Meeting a New Friend").

So what we do instead is create our own materials specifically designed for the needs of our students. We take topics from the news, social, economic and political issues and develop the lessons around them. Some of the speaking activities we work on are: role play simulations, discussions, debates, prepared and impromptu presentations. We try to develop skills like how to organize ideas/information, summary making, paraphrasing and logical development of thought.

So after years of teaching this way, I find it really hard to use a textbook. I much prefer developing my own with the use of a newspaper or a short video clip. Sorry I didn't really answer your specific questions but I hope my response could help you in some way.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2003 5:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses. Good of you to paste that Language Teacher article as well Paul, although I had already read it.

"I find a couple of books fairly interesting for my high school classes, but only in that some (certainly not even close to all) of the material is relevant to my needs. Also, the authors have designed questions and other material to suit Japanese culture. This poses an obvious problem if the books were to be used for other cultures."

Which books are you talking about Glenski?

"I have yet to find a book that suits more than 50% of my needs, whether for eikaiwa or high school students. I always end up cutting and pasting and breaking copyright laws to create my own supplemental materials even to fill a short 45-minute class, let alone an 80-minute one (both of which I have taught)."

I think that most of us probably have had this experience. Sherri mentions that she doesn't even bother using textbooks anymore and just creates her own materials. And all of us create some supplementary materials. So, it would appear that there isn't a book that meets all of our needs. Which leads to the question of whether it's possible to write a text which sufficiently meets one's needs. I'm not sure.

In my last post I talked a bit about the lack of variety among speaking texts. In my opinion, the best speaking text, once students reach a high- beginner/low-intermediate level of proficiency, or dare I say a 400 or so TOEIC score, is one that teaches them conversation strategies that can be exported across the infinite number of conversations in which learners may find themselves immersed. Please no posts on the misuse of the TOEIC test in Japan or its lack of validity as a measure of speaking proficiency. Mad

Much has been written in the field about the efficacy of teaching conversation strategies. People like Bialystok would say that there is no point because Ss use them in their first language and therefore do not need to be explcitly instructed in their use. Others would say that there is a place for them in the classroom and I would agree... especially in Japan where spoken communication is less important than it is in most other countries.

By the way, by conversation strategies I mean all of those strategies that we use to overcome gaps in our linguistic knowledge of a second language (mime, rephrasing, approximation, etc.)

So, my next question is this:

Do you think there is a place for the teaching of conversation strategies in Japanese classrooms? If so, have you come across any books which do so? If no, what kinds of things do you think speaking/conversation/communication textbooks should be stressing?

Thanks for your thoughts,

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2003 6:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do think there is a place for teaching conversation strategies in Japan. Whenever I have a class that has difficulties with one aspect of conversation, I pull an exercise or two from one of my favourite textbooks: Conversation Strategies by Kehe & Kehe (Pro Lingua Publishers). These units teach strategies such as use of rejoinders, clarification questions, follow-up questions, interrupting, correcting someone, etc.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2003 9:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree, you need to teach conversation strategies to Japanese students, no matter what their level. There are lots of things like this that I have found Japanese learners need that my European and Latin American students didn't--like how to make an outline and make a summary. We have experimented with this a number of different ways. For example with lower level learners we showed them a video of a group of people talking and had them keep track of the gestures and other non-verbal signals used to keep the conversation going. More advanced levels can watch the same video and keep track of the verbal techiniques as well.

I have also found it useful to make a diagram of my students' discussion to show them things like who spoke the most, who asked the most questions, who replied to questions (dividing the people who responded only when their name was called and those who just spoke out). It is also useful to go over why discussions are used in English classes (what students get out of them language-wise) and the roles of the participants (discussion leader etc), and what makes a good discussion. That way you can give them concrete feedback on how well they did afterward. I also did a lot of video taping of their discussions for feedback and analysis.

I am not a big fan of texts for teaching communication skills either-at least not a text that you would give students. I think a teachers' resource book would make more sense as it would allow you to tailor the course to what your students need. I should add that another BIG reason I don't like using textbooks is that they date so quickly. I would much rather use a newspaper article or a recent video clip that matches the interests of my students. I can adapt the skills/tasks etc easily enough (I've been teaching for almost 15 years!).
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Teaching Jobs in China
Teaching Jobs in China