Activities used in the “no more shyness classroom:” keeping your students talk time high and yours low – Part 1

Activities for the “no more shyness” classroom:

After reading about the no more shyness classroom, many of my readers might be wondering what exactly were some of the activities and games I mentioned in that article and how they were used in the classroom in order to maintain the classroom filled with student talk time (STT). The reality is, the no more shyness classroom only works if you can keep your students communicating at all times. It is only when constantly interacting with each other that students can fully develop the boldness needed to interact with any human being without psychological constraints to their communication ability.1501558079298

It is for this reason that I have developed the activity curriculum described below. The core intent of the same is to maximize student talk in a way that gets the most communication out of every student in the classroom at the same time. These ideas are far from perfect and there are instances in which depending on the group of students you have, it might be difficult to execute them without proper explanation of the activity in Japanese. To the teachers who cannot speak Japanese at all, or to those that find it philosophically wrong to use Japanese in the classroom, using some of these activities can become a tad problematic. Nevertheless, since there is a variety of activities in this roster, I say choosing the ones that best fit your students, classroom environment, and teaching style will help you make the most use of the ideas in this blog-post and, hopefully, help you in increasing the level of energy and student participation (as well as STT) within your classroom.

A final foreword of advice/warning. Some of these activities are very unorthodox and, depending on the school/institution in which you teach, they might not be welcomed. Moreover, many of them will work wonders for classes with a large number of students, while some may not fit in well with small/1-on-1 classes, so choose them wisely. Since I hold no copyright on the activities themselves, there is no issue whatsoever in trying some of the activities out and then changing them over into a format that better suits your style. I do hope that those who have read the article and tried the activities themselves would, later on, comment on this blog and let me know what activities they found out to be really useful, which ones they had problems with, and which ones needed changes so as to improve their usability. That way, we can keep building upon this knowledge of activities and hopefully get a database of teaching ideas put together.

Finally, most of these activities will work with Japanese university students and international students studying in Japan but I am not certain if they will work with ESOL students from other countries studying either at their home country or other nations besides Japan. With all of this out of the way, let’s get started.

Communication and discussion based activities: pairs, groups and the 5W 1H method

Pair work is the lifeblood of my classroom. It is the simply the easiest way to keep all the students involved simultaneously in a discussion topic and a fantastic way of maximizing STT per student unit (ideally, at least 50% of the class is always talking in English when this activity is on). In classes with 16+ students, this might be one of the only ways to truly have all of your students benefiting from the discussion-based ESOL lessons I promote on this website. Discussion in small groups of 3-5 still take place—for the most part, I leave these group discussions for a “whole classroom quiz” type of activity (described in detail below). For the most part, I choose pair discussion as an option for in-class general discussion/speaking activities since, as previously mentioned, it keeps all students simultaneously engaged with the topic. Further, it also helps students stay awake, interested in one-another and away from their smart-phones.


Now, it is important to properly set up every communication activity in a way that students are encouraged to use the TL (target language: English) as much as possible. For that reason, students should have been taught in their first lesson how to make their answers longer than a 1-word answer.

The concept is pretty simple. For instance, if the question is “What’s your name?” the student must be encouraged to answer in a full sentence (i.e.: My name is Keita), while giving others details about the answer (I like my name because it means “great wisdom” and I want to be a smart person one day. My grandfather gave me my name and I always remember how nice he was to me when someone calls me by my first name…etc). To “map” these extra details about their answers in their own minds, students use my “thinking in 5W 1H” method to help them create the content that goes in their answers. Japanese students find it hard just to create small talk about anything they are asked so this system helps them how to think through other ideas to increment their answers.

Let’s use the same question as the one above: “What’s your name?” To get the extra ideas about his name, Keita would have thought within his mind about 2 extra questions starting with 5W 1H: “What does Keita mean?” “How did you get named Keita?” Due to their ability to ask themselves these questions, students in my class can provide at least 3 extra details about every question they answer if they are beginners, 5-6 if they are intermediate, 8-10 if they are advanced). In the occasion their levels are mixed, I usually encourage the more advanced students to provide some support to the less prominent ones. This creates small learning centers within the same classroom and increases the level of friendship they have toward each other.

It is important to note that I ask students to use “the English they can, not the English they want.” This means that, if needed, for the sake of STT and practice, students should “fabricate” their answers if needed. The idea here is sharing a good story following the question asked. With this policy, students have no excuse for saying things like “I don’t know,” and cutting the answer short.

So, here is a list of the pair and group activities I use with a short description next to them. I will also describe implementation methods, as well as pros, and cons with each activity below.

  1. Pair warm-up discussion: there will be a few questions—all based on the topic of the lesson—ready for the students to use for their warm-up discussion (on either a power-point slideshow or a worksheet). The level of language difficulty increases from question to question. Questions are numbered from 1 to 5 and they are usually simple in format (for the warm-up, I usually make only the last question into an open-ended one—the others could be yes/no direct questions. Students still need to give reasons for their answers so that even direct questions should carry somewhat bulky answers with them. I also change/rotate partners as needed to increase STT. I recommend usually spending about 10 minutes on this activity.
    • Pros: this is the best way to get students to take ownership of the topic right from the get-go, depending on how you word your questions, you can get the students to talk about personal experiences they had that are related to the topic which can further enhance the students level of engagement with the topic.
    • Cons: you need to think your questions right and you must guide the students in the answer creation process. If you get students answering with single-word per question, there is no way to make the activity interesting enough for everyone—and you will soon run into students looking at their phones/speaking Japanese which defeats the purpose of the activity. Also, it can be difficult to monitor classes of 25+ students, which can also lead to the use of L1 (Japanese) in the classroom.
    • Setting it up: Make sure your students are paired up in a way that makes them comfortable at first. On the “no-more-shyness” post, I recommended making students comfortable with one another during the first lesson by introducing ice-breaking games and by making sure students learned each other’s names so that the level of comradery needed for this kind of activity would be accessible right from the following class. However, not all students can connect with one another in just one class. Some might need more time, so it helps if you try to give them a chance of pairing with students of similar personality traits first—especially during the first round of the warm-up. After the first 2 rounds, most of them should be comfortable with talking with anyone in class…but by taking this small precaution, you make sure the activity is not set for failure and that your students have enough time to really warm up.Class 2017 B
  2. English konpa time: If you know what a konpa is in Japan, it will be easy for you to visualize this activity. In a konpa, which is similar to a blind-dating event in the west, the guests—who are usually young singles—try to meet as many potential partners as possible within a limited amount of time. Guys usually rotate different tables and have about 3 minutes or so to get to know about the girls in the konpa. Usually, a bell goes off indicating the times to change partners. In my classroom version of this activity, the purpose is not finding a date, but to talk as much as possible about the topic of the lesson with the limited time given. Students MUST continue to talk until the “bell” rings (depending on the tech available in the classroom, I might have an electronic buzzer. If the tech is not at hands, then clapping or calling the word “stop” loudly might work). This is an activity to be held at maximum levels of intensity and you must keep the pace fast in order to get the most benefit out of it. After 2 or 3 partner changes, I ask a student for feedback on the answers he/she is hearing from the others and if they agree with their peers’ opinions. That way, we can make sure students are listening, as well as talking to their classmates.
    • The set up: You can have questions ready on a PowerPoint for the students, or you might just work with themes/keywords the students must use to discuss the topic. This can be a semi-controlled practice activity if you have the questions ready for your students. It serves more like a wrap-up activity if you are having them create the questions themselves. I will use a variation of this activity at least once in all of my classes. I use it twice during classes I think I am losing my students because the topic chosen might not have been of interest to them—that way we can branch away from a textbook topic and into something that better relates with the students’ interests. First, I have all the students stand and come to an open area in the classroom (usually the area where the teacher podium is located at). Then, we make 2 lines with the students (if we have 16 students, 2 lines of 8) right next to each other. The students then face one other and I will give them a signal to start the “English konpa time” activity (if it’s their first time doing it, I try to explain it with a quick demo to make sure they understand what they are doing). Once they get going, I rotate one of the lines of students so that everyone gets a chance to talk with (most of) the students in the other line. If we have an odd number of students, the line with the largest number of students stay static, and one of the student-units in the activity won’t be a pair, but a group of 3. Students may also be seated in a way that facilitates the shuffling of pairs so that way, the activity can be set up in different styles—which gives the students the impression that they are doing something different during every class English konpa time is on. Be a good host and excite your students about learning English while getting them to know each other’s opinions even more.
    • Pros: if set up correctly, this should be one of those activities that will wake up any group of sleepy students. Everyone will suddenly develop a deeper interest for each other’s stories and, for the reason that students are naturally more interested in listening to their peers, and not a chatty teacher, this is the easiest way to get them loving your class.
    • Cons: Organization can get messy and tricky, depending on the classroom space you have and the number of students. This activity is really hard to monitor for L1 usage so you have to trust your students will use English (If they were taught the “no ore shyness” philosophy and if you have been good in encouraging them to stick with English in the class, they will most likely stick with English instead of using Japanese. I try to monitor it as best as I can, listening to possible mistakes to correct later with the whole class, as well as for L1 usage. But it can’t be guaranteed that they will be using L2 only—and if you are really pedantic about having an “English only” classroom, this might make using this activity more difficult.無題
  3. Pair role-plays: role-plays are another pair activity in which I give students the chance of using a “script” (which might also be extracted from the textbook) to enact as 2 different people who either have a problem to solve, or must convince the other person about a given point (both related to the topic of the lesson). This activity can take place in 3 stages:
    • Students pair read the script 2~3 times: This time students are just trying to make sure they can read all the words in the script properly. If they can’t, or if they have any questions, they must ask you here and now. Difficult/new vocabulary should be introduced by the teacher during set-up. Reading the story once with the entire class to double check on pronunciation is recommended.
    • Changing partners and committing the story to “memory:” students then change partners and look at each other as much as they can while reading the lines to their partners. This means that students should: a. check their lines before reciting them to their peers; b. recite the lines bit by bit instead of full sentences; c. try to act like the people in the story would be acting when confronted by the situation at hand. Students must not just read the words in their script by at this stage, they should try to own the story and somehow commit the same to memory. I will have students rotating partners at this stage to give them as much practice as possible. This will make the memorization process less tedious as well.
    • Try the same story from memory/in your own words: here they will have a chance of having a crack at roleplaying the story either word by word or in their own way. Students can change the name of the characters in the story to their own names to make the story more personal. I usually set this stage of the activity out by throwing my own copy of the hand-out on the floor somewhere, and ask the student to do the same (once the activity is finished, we do recollect the papers!). Then we change partners one final time and they janken for the role they are playing. The purpose is not to have the students memorize the activity perfectly but, to have the use of as much of the language practiced in the class as possible.
  4. Group role-plays: in this instance, students are given groups a class or 2 prior to the class in which you want them to perform the activity. They must create a skit/drama piece that highlights the topic of the lesson in which you want them to perform. 4~5 students per group should be enough for this activity. If you want the presentations to have variety, assign different aspects of the lesson topic to each student group and you should have several different role-plays taking place.
    • The set up: it should be quite simple, have students seated within their particular groups and give them some time to rehearse their role-plays before the actual presentation. Once they are comfortable, either randomly choose one of the groups, or choose a group that you believe is confident and can perform the task well. Students watch their peers perform and between each group we will have a few minutes to discuss each presentation.
    • Pros: this group role-play allows the students to be creative and to use the English they have learned in class in an entertaining way. Students usually have great fun with it and take great pride once the presentation work is done. If used as a milestone, this class can be very encouraging to the students because it allows them to know how well their English has developed since they started studying with you.
    • Cons: the activity itself is very time consuming and depending on the number of groups you have in class, It can easily take between 40 minutes~1 hour to complete the entire session. This poses a problem to the way you organize the curriculum for the class, which means that having this activity more than 3 times per semester can be very damaging to your course’s deadlines. Moreover, unless this activity carries heavy weight grade wise, students won’t bother remembering their lines and challenging themselves to do a good job with the activity. For that reason, your grading may also get confusing if you use it more than 2 times in a semester.IMG_0585
  5. Classroom quiz-game: this is a group-discussion based activity and it runs like a quiz show on TV. This activity must have a class theme that gives room for it to happen. For instance, class topics like travel experiences, celebrities, food, and sports are a few examples of themes that allow this kind of activity to take place successfully. It is pretty straightforward: students are divided into groups, questions are on a PowerPoint slide, groups are given time in between questions to discuss the answer and each turn a different student takes a turn in answering the question on behalf of his/her group—just like in Family Feud on TV.
    • Pros: this activity will help you have variety in the types of discussion activities you bring to class. This was the last activity I needed to have students saying things like, “his class is so exciting, it’s like we are doing something different EVERY CLASS.” There is also an element of individual presentation with an in-group discussion at this activity—each student answering for this group gives the answer for the question on the group’s behalf and must also answer following that 5Ws 1H model I presented above. This way students are discussing things in English within their groups while also presenting in English to the whole class.
    • Cons: obvious issues with this activity are difficulty in monitoring for sole use of L2 and cheating—some students will just look answers up on their smart-phones which will take the discussion aspect of the activity right out of it. Having a no smart-phone policy during this activity can be helpful to minimize issues.
  6. Phone call activity: as the title suggests, this activity revolves around students making a call to each other using their messaging app (like LINE, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) to discuss a topic, or emulate a call center role-play, over the phone. This takes away the body language from the conversation and forces students to pay more attention to what their peers are saying in order to properly understand the talk—turning it into a discussion-listening activity hybrid.
    • Pros: great way to have more interactive listening activity especially in case of a customer center role-play in which the script is ready for the students. Students will be excited about using their smartphones in a proactive way in class as well. Since half of the students in class must leave the classroom for this activity, it can be a great way to reset their levels of energy by giving them an excuse to move from the classroom while doing class work.
    • Cons: there are many difficulties with this activity especially during the set-up. If you find that one student who is still in the 1990s and does not have a smartphone, you are toast. There are students who do not want to exchange personal contact information with their classmates, in this case, you are toast too. If the exit to the building you are teaching at is not close enough and students have to call each other on the hallway, their actions will most likely disturb other classes and you will be in trouble. Nevertheless, although these are critical problems, I have only met them twice in my 10 years of teaching, so you should still be okay in giving this activity a go.

There are plenty of other activities on the way and we will continue to discuss them in the blog. For now, allow me to end this blog entry right here and we will continue this discussion on part 2 of this article.


What is the best part of living in Japan?

What is the best part of living in Japan (from my Quora post–check the original question and answer by clicking here)?

This is a great question and it is very hard to provide an accurate answer when the country being discussed is Japan. As many of the other writers here have mentioned, Japan has so many incredible aspects that it is almost mission-impossible to point out “the best thing” about it.


If we gotta choose one element that makes Japan amazing, it gotta be its people. I have lived in 3 different countries besides Japan and I came to find out that Japanese people are simply the easiest to befriend (if you can speak the language). It is very hard to randomly meet someone in New York on a Saturday afternoon and: go out for lunch, get your Purikura taken, hit a Karaoke, have a small dinner at Yoshinoya and wrap the meeting at the local HUB, all on the very same day you just met the person. I have pulled out this feat at least 3 times near where I live in Osaka! Try doing that in Brazil, and you might be mugged (it is unfortunate that such a beautiful country can be so dangerous), in the US, and people might constantly doubt your intentions (what is this person trying to sell me?), in New Zealand, and you will run out of things to do…only in Japan there is enough of “big city” life and “public safety” to make this kind of thing work.

TRUST as key

In my opinion, the capacity to have these kinds of meet-ups I experienced here in Japan derives from the trust people here tend to place on each other—which I think is a characteristic unique to the Japanese people.

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on

This characteristic can be best understood by looking at the yoroshiku expression commonly used by Japanese people. Usually used after meeting someone for the first time or when making a request, yoroshiku cannot be properly translated into English because of its many different nuances. It does come close to “I entrust such and such to you”—where such and such could mean a project/work-related issue, or someone’s wellbeing (when the case is after self-introduction, that would mean your own). This circle of trust built right from the get-go in Japanese relationships allows people to become more open to one another. This “I trust you, you trust me” backbone to most Japanese human relationships is what I believe accounts for their high level of hospitality and friendliness.


That isn’t to say that Japan does not have its problems when it comes to the same relationships. The tatemae vs honne culture that Japan is infamously known for is a problem that can plague most Japanese-foreigner human connections. However, if you are culturally enlightened enough to navigate around such issues, Japan will prove itself to be one of the best places to build some meaningful and long-lasting friendships.

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Photo by Pixabay on

People and trust: a combination of these 2 makes up the best part of this country.

Thinking outside of the box: finding different ways of coming to Japan besides JET – Part 1

Choosing Japan as a place to live

Many people, once they decide to come to Japan, try to use some of the conventional ways of doing that: for those coming from English speaking countries, that would mean either coming to Japan while in college—as an exchange student—or through the JET program.


In this blog post, I would like to share some other ways in which a successful arrival and survival in Japan could be accomplished. For many, coming to Japan might be a dream: but teaching English as a second language all their life isn’t. So, through this post, I hope to give all my readers a few different approaches on handling Japan to allow it to give you the opportunities needed for you to do what you really want in your stay here. That way, you don’t have to become a long-term eikaiwa teacher by default.

Before moving forward with the writing, I would like to point out that I am not against becoming a full-time English instructor in Japan. I have, obviously, chosen that as my major career path and believe it is a very honorable and rewarding trade. This blog is just to assist those interested in doing something different than teaching get started here in J-land.

A quick look at the challenges facing those foreigners willing to do something different in Japan

The very first barrier foreigners trying to do something different in Japan will find is that of acquiring a VISA. Though there seems to be a movement in Japan toward changing laws to make the entry of newcomers more feasible in the Land of the Rising Sun, it is still one of the toughest countries to acquire the documents needed to do any kind of work. The easiest way to get a VISA—that is, if you are somehow illegible to come here under a Working Holiday VISA scheme ( click here for details)—is to find sponsorship through work in Japan. For that reason, coming through programs like the JET program, or an eikaiwa school like GABA, become the easiest doorway into Japan.IMG_0575

Having dedicated so many years of my career to full-time teaching, I don’t think coming here through those doors is a bad idea. However, for those interested in doing something unique in Japan (and for those whose first/natural language is not English and are, therefore, unable to come to Japan through the eikaiwa system), having only this pathway becomes quite restrictive: what if you are an Indonesian person with a fantastic skill set and a passion for Japan, but, simply because of VISA related bureaucracy, you must give up on your dreams of living here? That would mean a loss not only to the person who is unable to come but to Japan also who could greatly benefit from your qualifications.

To overcome this barrier, I have developed a set of steps that could help you in your quest to come to Japan. These steps apply, independently of the country you are from and independently of your age/gender (which can be crucial for those of you who are 31 and above and not willing to go back to university, just to become exchange students in Japan).

Please notice that there are many other different approaches than this one—I plan to write some of them in this very same blog in the near future. This is just to serve to give you a way to get things started by providing you guys the basics of finding ways to come to Japan.


STEP 1: Start by studying the language

If you have some money saved, I strongly recommend investing some of that in studying Japanese. Many of the people I have helped settle in Japan acquired both the language and the VISA by applying to a Japanese language program (which grants student VISAs that can be later changed into a work VISA for those who are able to find a job after completing their studies—2 birds with one stone type of deal). Depending on how old you are and of your willingness to put in the hours needed to learn the language, you can most likely master spoken Japanese in about 6 months to a year of full-time study. Here is the breakdown of what to do:

ECC photo credit to the ECC homepage
  1. Apply to study Japanese at a JSL school near the place where you want to live in Japan. If you are coming to Kansai—I recommend living in Kobe and studying in Osaka. ECC Gaikokugo Semongaku in Umeda is a fantastic school—very serious about their language teaching and it is the place responsible for making me fluent in 4 months’ time! Teachers were very professional—the classes were so very difficult—but it was worth every penny invested. It is about $7000 (US) for the year of study and they also provide very affordable housing so, why not check their website and give it a thought? (
  2. Start studying the lingo and go really hard at it—full-time commitment—no English while in school and with friends and there are plenty of ways of making Japanese friends at the same school. Since ECC is a “Polytech” institution (like a 2-year college in the US), there are many Japanese students there as well. Hangout at their facilities after hours looking for like-minded Japanese people to befriend. This will help you create that very first circle of local allies who will, in turn, assist you in the process of assimilation one must go through in order to become 1 with Japan.

STEP 2: Find some work to get used to Japanese working culture


If you are from an English-speaking country, the easiest work to find will be doing some teaching assistance at the very same school where you study Japanese at. Many of these schools also offer English classes to Japanese people, so teaching there while you learn Japanese can be a way to quickly acquire some capital flow while studying. Many of these part-time positions usually have jobs that you can do with a student VISA (just make sure you acquire the right permits at the Japanese immigration that allow you to work up to 20 hours as a student—once again, immigration laws tend to vary depending on the country you are coming from—but most will still give you some opportunity to work here as a student. The money you make here will probably only be enough to pay utilities and your food–but it’s a start.

Now, I don’t mean to contradict myself here. If you start teaching English, yes, you will begin speaking English during the hours you are working and that goes against what I just said about “Japanese only” while studying. However, making an exception only for work is still acceptable. When I first started, I used to teach English part-time at Berlitz and as soon as my work was finished I was using Japanese, even with students and staff. I was ruthless in my mastering of the language and did not care how “forcing” other to use Japanese with me would make them feel. I didn’t even care if it was some sort of accepted cultural norm to use English with students after teaching hours! That’s how serious I was about the language! Thanks to that tenacity in studying Japanese, many of my students acquired a certain level of respect for my efforts and, believe it or not, would gladly use Japanese with me if we met after class for a dinner or something.

In saying all of this, I do hear of people that get hurt/burned with this kind of mentality—some Japanese people, unfortunately, see most foreigners as incapable of speaking Japanese no matter how good they are at it. For that reason, they will speak English only to you, no matter how fluent you sound. Some want to show off and will use English when they see you out of pride. Some will even reject your friendship and/or complain about you to the school because of your use of Japanese after school hours. For these reasons, you must be really confident and comfortable with this level of boldness in using Japanese before you decide to put this advice into effect—therefore, do take this piece of advice with a grain of salt.


Finally, finding part-time work at a restaurant, bar, internet café among other similar places will not only help you make some money, they will also help you learn how to provide customer service like a hospitable Japanese person. Moreover, this line of work can assist you in the mastering of keigo (or polite Japanese) which you will need in order to work for prominent Japanese companies in the future.

I worked at Kaikatsu Club ( internet café for about 8 months after my first 6 months of Japan. In all honesty, it was a really hard job to do because there is so much explanation you have to do to customers who come to the café for the first time—and all must be done in proper keigo. I still have recollections of being scolded by our tencho so many times for not speaking politely to our guests. However, by putting myself under so much pressure, this experience did help me speak Japanese more naturally and at a level of politeness that has granted me praise from many Japanese people—even those in the higher echelons of society—as well as the ability of speaking in hundreds of different occasions in Japanese to a varied audience of academics during University conferences and the like.


STEP 3: Find your dream in Japan! The job hunting process


Once your studies are about to complete, you can ask your school to help you with the job hunting process. If your Japanese is really good (N1 level), companies have recently become more and more keen to hire foreign staff with strong communication ability and fluency in 1 or more languages besides Japanese. Especially trading companies and companies in the IT sector seem to be searching for the globalized human resources they need to tackle overseas markets.

If things don’t work out with the school, there are a few job-seeking Facebook groups that will help in the process as well. Jobs in Kansai/Kanto (, are a few good places to get started. If you find it hard to get a job that will provide VISA sponsorship, applying for the eikaiwa jobs first will grant you the VISA extension you need to get the extra time necessary to find your dream job here. I have met foreigners who started with schools like BERLITZ and moved on to work for major corporations like Marubeni and Itochu. Others, eventually, started their own companies here and are currently very successful. Do everything you can to extend your stay until you can get permanent citizenship. Once you have that and the Japanese fluency, the doors will open and you will be able to work in the field of your choice.

I hope this helps—The ideas above are hard to follow and it takes time, sometimes years, to see them blossom. But everything worth doing in life should take time to build so go ahead, start planning and make sure once you come to Japan you come with the drive needed to make your Japanese life come to fruition.


No more shyness! Combating students’ inhibition to communicate within the ESOL university and high school classroom – Part 2

To read part 1 of this blog post, please access it @

20141017_182938_AndroidThe influence of “no more shyness” on your students

Upon the completion of a “proper” “no more shyness” initiation, your students will be ready to demonstrate the highest levels of inhibition you will ever see in Japanese college-aged students! They will be proactively seeking ways to communicate in English, interested in getting to know their classmates and truly befriend them, talking with people boldly (even the people they met for the first time), happy to use English in front of their peers, trying to use their newly acquired confidence to talk with international students in the campus and, above all, they will be unashamed of using English as a means of communication—even if that means making a fool of themselves for their lack of proper grammar usage.

Results will tend to vary depending on your students’ age, gender and level of spoken English—but in general, they will all be more willing to proactively communicate in English than they normally would before going through “no more shyness.”


Last word for the day: “can this silly ritual really work?” Support systems for “no more shyness.”


“No more shyness” has helped me get the most out of my students in terms of communication and many of my students, even years after taking my class, still proudly claim to be part of the “no more shyness” family. In fact, I have taught students who then went on to become teachers themselves—and the same have decided to use the method in their own classes as a way to motivate Japanese students to be freed from their inhibition and to perform at their true potential in class. I write all of this to say that even if you think this method is a bit silly at best, Japanese students might actually take it very seriously. And if it can help them improve their mastery of English, why not give it a shot?

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Of course, this method requires a set of support systems to be “reinforced” during a given semester of classes. I call the following set of activities “no more shyness activities.” Due to the fact they require students to be bold enough to perform in front of others. Performing these on a weekly basis will be a good way to help students master the “no more shyness” way of life.

  1. In-group presentation

After students have discussed enough about a topic, break them up into groups of 5-6 students and then do a small-group game activity (more on these in future articles). The ones that lose the game round have to answer one question related to the topic in front of the whole group (or give their personal opinion again about it)

  1. Group presentations

Get the students in groups and give them a chance to present their ideas as much as they can to the whole class. In small classes (16-20 sts), all students have the chance of participating in at least 2 group presentations for the entire semester.

  1. Individual presentations

As students understand more about “no more shyness,” they will have the confidence needed to perform individual presentations for the whole class. These presentations must be conducted without the help of memos and students are encouraged to adlib throughout it. They are given a theme they must talk about and they need to study the topic, but for this presentation (unlike the group ones) there is no need for too much preparation. The goal is, once again, to provide the students with that “no more shyness” bravery that we have been discussing throughout this blog-post.

  1. Whenever students are presenting, others are asking individual questions

The listening students must be actively listening to the presentations. They are in charge of transforming these presentations into discussions—for that reason, I select students to make questions to the presenter while the same is still presenting his/her ideas to the class. This will keep listening engaged and will give them a chance to speak up their questions in front of the whole class, once again, reinvigorating the “no more shyness” culture.

  1. Have game activities ready that promote self-expression in front of others

I like to have students sometimes conduct team role-plays (skits) in front of the class to promote self-expression and boldness. Certain games require students to stay in circles within their respective groups and, whenever this is the case, those who lose the game get to do a circular presentation in which they rotate facing each person of the group telling them their opinion about the topic.


I final word of warning in regard to the activities mentioned above. If the “no more shyness” system is not properly set up, you will have some students complaining about you to the schools’ academic affairs department because they feel pressured or forced to do these activities. This happened to me only in 2 of the hundreds of classes I have taught throughout my career (back in the day when I was starting to try “no more shyness” out), but it happened only because I did not inform the students properly of the reason for doing these activities. Even the shiest of students will try these activities out if they know that:

  1. These activities will help them to build the confidence they need to talk in English
  2. They will help them acquire the boldness needed to try out new challenges and consider new ideas and cultures throughout their life
  3. The activities will give them the same level of confidence they will need in a job interview, when asking someone out on a date, when doing any sort of public speaking/performance in front of an audience, etc.

As long as the above are clearly communicated, your students will be ready to join the “no more shyness” ranks—for the benefit of their future ESOL ability, careers and lives in general.



No more shyness! Combating students’ inhibition to communicate within the ESOL university and high school classroom – Part 1


Introduction to “no more shyness” 

Hyuga Higuchi


In this next series of articles, my goal is to provide a process that will assist all prominent ESOL instructors in Japan to get fantastic levels of motivation from their students. I have tried it for about 10 years of teaching and it has helped me build solid rapport with my students as well as all the perks that come with being admired by the same: high student evaluations, great/fun classroom atmosphere, election to best teacher of the year awards, thank-you cards from every graduating student and job security.

This method is simply called “no more shyness.” The name derives from the fact that it was created with the intent of helping students build up their confidence and give them the courage they need to speak their ideas out in front of others. I have primarily used this method with Japanese students, but the same was very effective with students from other parts of Asia and the Middle East as well, so I can comfortably recommend it to ESOL teachers teaching other nationalities besides the Japanese (NOTE: the focus here, though, is in using the method with Japanese students only due to the nature of this blog).

In this first article, we will take a look at the definition of the “no more shyness” method while taking a look at how to implement it. In other articles, we will look at the structures that need to be in place to reinforce the development of the “no more shyness” culture in the classroom.

(I will be writing the reasons why it is necessary in Japan to go through the hardships of building a classroom culture like the one I am proposing here in different posts – if you have taught classes composed of European and South American students, you understand that it is hard to keep them away from just talking in class and drifting from the main purpose of the lesson. However, the opposite is true with most Japanese students and it can be challenging to keep their talk time high because so many of them struggle with voicing out their opinions in English. If you have a high level of interest in this topic stay put for my future blog posts.)


Concept: what is “no more shyness”

As the title of this section of the blog-post implies, “no more shyness” refers to the fact that students who have mastered this lifestyle will be able to confidently speak English without being shy. In order to achieve that, there is a series of small classroom rituals that are conducted to allow the students to develop shy-free characteristics.


Before the rituals: how do Japanese people differentiate “learning” from “mastering”

In Japan, there are 2 words used to describe the process of learning something. One of them is manabu and the other is the expression minitsukeru. Japanese people tend to use manabu when they are referring to imputing knowledge in the mind and committing it to memory. This verb goes hand in hand with nouns like “history,” “social-studies,” “accounting,” “law” and so on. Minitsukeru however, is used differently and focus more on the idea of mastering something to the level in which it becomes natural to you to perform such new knowledge or skill. Most often, it is used to describe learning things like the performing arts, martial arts and sports. It has recently become a keyword in academia to refer to the mastering of new languages.

It is important to let your students know that they are going to be minitsukeru English in your classes and to do that they must minitsukeru “no more shyness.”


The set-up:

The very first day of class is crucial for the “no more shyness” technique to work. Students must know the next 3 things about the class you are about to provide them during the semester:

  1. Your class is going to be different than any other class they took before
  2. Your class is going to help them communicate in English and they WILL communicate better after taking it
  3. Your class will help them change their lives!

It is very important to use this opportunity you have been given with your students to give them more than just ESOL knowledge. As soon as that bell rings and the students are seated in the class, I let the students know that my classes are going to teach them how to think and act like a person who is not from their country: the purpose of this class is to teach them English as a means to promote their personal internationalization. Setting the class up this way will help the students know, right off the bat, that this is not just any other English class: this is, perhaps, the only chance they will have of ever mastering the necessary social and language skills to adapt to the rest of the world.

Be very positive and energetic when conducting this setup—use your charisma and start strong. This is the very first impression your students will have of you and, as we say in South America, “the first impression is the one that lasts”—so make sure you make it a good one.

 Know your role and make sure the students know theirs


Students must know that they are in charge of the class. They must understand that they are the “heroes” of their own life-stories and that you are just one of the mentors they happened to bump onto while living such stories. I like to make things visual so I usually will have a PowerPoint slide show with the following, or similar, pictures:


I have other versions of this slide which I use to make sure all students understand what I mean by it. But in a nutshell, if you know a thing or 2 about Naruto, you understand what I mean by the picture above.

The fable is about my students in the class—as the main characters of their own epic, they must be present and act out their role for at least 70% of the time, ideally 80%! If you are not able to keep your students engaged for that much time in class, continue to follow this blog and here I will give you more ideas on how to do it.

Remember, your role is still very important—as the educator you are Kakashi after all! However, let your students take ownership of their learning—don’t spoon feed them—challenge them to become the language and communicator champions you know they can be.


Conduct the “no more shyness” initiation ritual

It is recommended that you use at least some Japanese to describe what you want from the students. According to most recent ESOL research, using the students’ native language in the classroom is not as bad as most ESOL educators thought previously. However, if you are really stoic about using “English only” in the classroom that’s perfectly fine—all you will need is the knowledge of the Japanese word hazukashii, which can be translated as “shyness” or “a feeling of embarrassment or shame.”

Upon concluding my self-introduction and letting the students know how important the course is going to be for them, I set them up in pairs and ask them to ask each other about their names and to talk with each other about their hometown and hobbies in English. Since they are still not used to my method of teaching here, I expect answers to be really short or semi-non-existent—the idea is just to have them connect with one another from the get-go. After waiting a couple of minutes (a few seconds depending on the class), I let them know that they will need to accomplish something very important in order to be successful participants in the class. Then I pause them and ask them to ask each other the following question, “how do you say the word hazukasii in English?”

You will hear some of them whispering the words “shy?” Or “shame?” After waiting a few extra seconds, you start calling on them: “What do you think it is? You…what’s your name?” “Me…? I am Toru” “Yes, very nice to meet you Toru. How would you say hazukashii in English?” And eventually, I guide them, with the help of my current student assistant to see it as the word “shyness.”

After all the students have made the connection hazukashii = shyness, then I let them know that this word is always going to be their worst enemy when learning other languages, and a powerful enemy when trying to accomplish different things in life. I lecture them on that while writing the word on the whiteboard with large, bold letters:

“And it is for this reason that from today, you will ERASE this word from your lives. From now on, ‘no more shyness.’”

Then I have students take a blank piece of letter paper and write the word “shyness” also very large on their papers (hopefully filling the entire sheet).

Finally, I let them know that to get “purified” from this word, we will put a big X mark on top of the word while chanting “no more shyness.”

Students will, at this moment, start laughing—they can’t believe you are serious about this—but that is the entire point. Japan is the country of kata*, and the simplest of motions can sometimes cause the most powerful mind/attitude changes. Let them know that this will help the entire class in acquiring the unity they need to work together in your class without being shy—having the boldness needed to express themselves in (even if broken) English to one another. After that model the chant to them—I usually just say “no more shyness” loudly while “X-ing” the word on the board. Then I prompt them “let’s do it together!” Ready, 1, 2, NO MORE SHYNESS!” And after doing that 3 times together as a group, I let them know that they have been “initiated” into the “no more shyness” family.


If you delivered it properly you should notice 2 things:

  1. Students look bright and seem inspired to tackle on the knowledge your class is about to impart
  2. Students should be smiling and in full agreement with what you have first mentioned about your class (that it is completely different than any other classes they have taken before)

It is just so very important to get this delivery right. You can’t be shy or unexcited about introducing the concept of overcoming inhibition to your students. You have to become the physical materialization of “no more shyness” to them for this to work. Trust me, it can be hard to perform this stunt like activity in front of 40+ university students. But the results of doing something like this are simply astounding and are definitely worth the extra effort. More on how the results play out in the coming up articles.

Transforming your ESOL college classroom into an “educational entertainment center” Part 2

1This is a continuation of the post located at feel free to read it first before proceeding.

By Hyuga Higuchi

Ideas continued: creating the perfect ambiance for your classroom

  1. Chose classrooms that allow student mobility—avoid fixed desk classrooms at all costs. This point is self-evident and does not require much explanation. Basically, you want to have a classroom that can be easily rearrangeable in order to fulfill a particular classroom need you and your students might have. To create study/discussion groups, conduct debates, have presentation competitions and role-plays/skits within the classroom, it is necessary to have a classroom in which desks can be moved around and chairs set aside. The extra space will also help your students get away from the classroom environment while within the classroom—which breaks many of the classroom communication inhibitors that most J-students have had encoded in their brains after years of indoctrination in the “no talk allowed” Japanese education system.
  2. Games of all kinds are always welcomed. Most research says that learning better takes place when it is “gamified.” I couldn’t agree more. Make sure you have an arsenal of game-like activities at your disposal will definitely help you become a more versatile instructor. Especially when you must deal with the introduction of difficult grammar points, it is important to have some games handy. This will help break the monotony and get students re-engaged in communication activities once the game is properly introduced right after a Teacher-Talk-Time heavy part of the lesson. I have a comprehensive list of games and I will be writing more comprehensively about them and how I use them to complement my class in future articles in this blog. Stay put.
  3. Have sound effects available—having a microphone and other sound equipment ready to be used will also be very helpful in improving classroom dynamics. I have a tablet attached to a sound box that I usually use for sound effects. I will have a “pin-pon” sound for answers students answer correctly and a “fail trumpet sound” for students who say things that are funny/silly/unrelated to the topic. Those will play with the click of a button on the tablet’s screen and will just enrich the classroom environment. Students usually get a good laugh out of some of the sounds and it helps them enjoy their class a little more.
  4. Work with printouts rather than books—this is just another small little tweak that can assist you in getting the students mindset away from the bind of the traditional classroom. If they are not bringing books to class, in their minds, it means that they are coming to a learning center rather than a simple class. Please, don’t get me wrong at this point: I still believe textbooks play an important role in the ESOL classroom. But I simply don’t see the necessity of bringing them to class every single class. Teachers should be able to find out ways in which they can customize their classes’ contents to give space to a larger variety of teaching tools, rather than just using the same textbook every week.

Classroom practice changes: implement core teaching principles to improve your lesson’s content

As you could see, all of the ideas mentioned in this short blog-entry series were really focused on the aesthetic aspects of the classroom, instead of teaching methodology. Rather than advising teachers on how to teach, this was an expose of tools teachers can use, no matter what teachings strategies they have, in order to enhance the atmosphere of their classroom and make it livelier. All the ideas here do not need to be introduced simultaneously for their benefits—so long as they are implemented with the students’ best interest in mind, they will be an effective way to upgrade your classroom.



It is extremely important that teachers find ways to motivate their students to be passionate about their learning. If students are being properly encouraged by their instructors, they will be motivated to do anything to support their learning. They will be proactive in welcoming these changes in the classroom environment and will, overall, develop a greater sense of respect and affection for their teacher and for the efforts of the same.

To accomplish that, I usually have an entire first session within my curriculum dedicated to helping students understand the importance of the English language in their lives. As I mentioned in the first part of this article, giving them clear language goals will help them visualize how to use English in their future and create the spike in interest in the English language they need prior to starting language learning. This is what I mean by having a solid “core” in which your lessons, in the mind of the student, are based.

In the next coming up articles, I will be writing about my specific approach to creating that “core.” I hope it can serve as a basis to help new teachers develop their own insight in helping students understand how important it is to learn how to communicate in English.

EA cafe (8)

Good luck to all my readers and may your classrooms be the most exciting classrooms present in your respective schools.