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.


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.

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

By Hyuga Higuchi

The inspiration for this post

Fellow hardworking English teachers across Japan! Greetings!

So, early last week I was asked by a colleague of mine to sub one of his special “exchange program prep” classes at the university he works at. He gave me a brief description of what his class was like, showed me a student roster, told me briefly about his students and how their levels are different and mismatched within the class, how them students come from different faculties and basically have little to no connection with one another. He went on to tell me how most of them either sleep, or simply look at their cell-phones all the time during the class, how many of them just want to enjoy the experience of going abroad rather than learning English…you know, the usual problems ESOL teachers face when teaching students that were simply brought together for a short, non-credited, course.

無題I carefully listened to him, took notes on what he was telling me, asked about students that he thought were problematic, and tried to absorb as much as I could in order to face the challenge of trying to give these kids an unforgettable sub-lesson on class day.

A few days go by and the time to teach these students finally arrived. I did my usual set up: got the lesson ready on a power-point projector; had background musing playing; got over some jikko-shoukai with them to have them get to know each other; had a few ice-breaking activities and BOOM! I had all students communicating in (basic) English with each other. We have a fantastic, high-energy, lesson and all students high-fived me before leaving the classroom: “Are you teaching us next Thursday too?” some of them asked with bright smiles on. “Who knows, maybe if my friend, ‘teacher B’ (let me call him teacher B for the sake of this writing), can’t come again next week…maybe?” I responded trying to avoid negativity (in the form of a “no” answer) after having an amazing lesson with these great group of students. Next thing you know, we parted ways as I wrapped up the classroom and did my usual post-class meditation, pondering about some of the pros and cons of the lesson that day.

A few more days go by, I get a LINE-call from teacher B—who is a talented Australian ESOL instructor by the way—that goes along the lines, “Bro! What did you do to my students? They are all friendly now! They are talking with one another a lot more than before…anyways, what is your secret? Please don’t tell me is only your Brazilian charm” “Hahaha…” I burst laughing, “of course it’s ‘cuz of my Brazilian charm. What are you talking about?”

“Come on, tell me, seriously, how did you do it?” He insisted.

“All right, I will let in it but, only through my blog,” I said. “If I can share some classroom management ideas with you, why not make it ‘open-source’ and share it with all other teachers out there as well?”

Hence, the inspiration for this blog entry. Here are some of my tips for unraveling the true energy potential of your ESOL university classroom.IMG_4104

The Rationale: why did I decide to transform my classroom into a more “entertaining” environment?

Many of the ESOL teachers I meet in Japan are frustrated when it comes to teaching English at the tertiary level here. Reasons being some of the ones mentioned above and:

  1. University students in Japan are very different than university students in Western universities. Most of them go to university as part of a “life-stage:” “all Japanese people go to university, and so should you!” Type of mindset permeates academia in Japan—especially when it comes to the humanities. Thus, most students do not attend university to acquire the skill they need in order to perform the job of their dreams…they do it out of social duty toward their family and the community around them. Furthermore, until very recently, most companies in Japan were hiring based on the rank of the university their employees-to-be attended, not based on the type of degree they had acquired. This meant that you could become a manager of stock-brokerage at the Sumitomo brokerage firm by graduating with a history degree from Waseda University. Looking at college education from this perspective, in turn, can easily generate students who are passionless about their studies—who attend college with the only intent of taking a break before the hard “salaried work life” begins (things have been changing rapidly in recent years and I do plan to write comprehensively on current tertiary education trends in Japan—please stay put for that).
  2. Institutions tend to spend little time investing in their ESOL programs. Courses have very little, to no stream-lining, which creates a lot of difficulty in tracking students’ level of progress during the first 4 semesters of required ESOL education that most university students must compulsorily take in Japan. This leads to not only the “mismatched” levels of English in the same classroom I mentioned above: it also causes students to lose interest in the monitoring of their own progress. Besides TOEIC standardized testing, Universities do very little in terms of giving their students a clear outline of the ESOL goals students must aim for while in college—leading to further lack of motivation in the study of the English language.
  3. Japanese students have mostly been battered with drills on how to “dissect” the English grammar, translate it, and memorize it since (at least) their very first year of Junior high. By the time they get to university they either: 1. hate English to death for all the horrible experiences they had with it in the past; 2. want to learn how to TALK in English and have very little concern for conducting grammar related exercises, listening, reading and any other “book-focused” activity.
  4. A college classroom in which your students are not engaging with the lesson content is, in plain and simple terms, a horrible place to be. I am sure some of you have already experienced (just as I did), the horrors of having to constantly tell students to pay attention, to stop looking at their smart-phones, to wake up and so on. I strongly believe it is much better to have a classroom that might be a little unconventionally loud, but in which the students are excited to be a part of, rather than the former.

For these reasons, it became very clear that Japanese University students need all the motivation they can if they are to generally enjoy their experience in the college ESOL classroom. If you think your classroom could get an energy boost from some of the following ideas, why not give them a try?

The environmental changes: it all starts with the right atmosphere

Have you ever thought about the kind of environments that are used by stores we often go to promote an atmosphere that facilitates communication and comfortability? Think of your favorite coffee shop, for instance. Have you noticed how the seating is set up within that coffee shop? How about the musing playing? Doesn’t it make you feel at ease to build a conversation with that right person of interest just by being seated in a locality like that?

The “environmental” suggestions I have to offer pretty much follow this same “Starbucks-like” model: focus on creating an atmosphere that facilitates people interaction—use lights, music, media, food, everything you have at your disposal to make your classroom more conversation/discussion/debate friendly!

It sounds more difficult than it actually is. Just follow some of the steps below and you IMG_0585will have the right ambiance within your ESOL classroom in no time:

I. Greet your students with a bright smile!

A bit of a cliché, but it is extremely important to have a very strong first impression on your students. I would hate to go to Starbucks if the Senoritas at the counter would greet me with a frowny face and tired look—and yes, this rule also applies when you are teaching that 5th-period class followed by the 4 others you had before it.

II. Have yourself a pc with some “party” music playlist ready!

You know what they say, “a little party never killed nobody…” And NO, this does not mean that there has to be any dancing or singing at the classroom—this is not the set up for a High School Musical movie, it is still an accredited college class. What is meant by this entry is that you could use your laptop as the entertainment center of the classroom, as well as its knowledge base. I already had some music from iTunes ready on my machine, all I needed to do was to hook up the right cables to the classroom’s PA system and, voila! I had myself and entertainment center ready to go! From my PC I can have either PowerPoint, videos, as well as all sorts of music for all sorts of moods thanks to YouTube!

You might be thinking, “but I don’t have a laptop…how do you suppose I get started?” Not to worry, when I started I did not have a laptop either. I had a USB with all that information and I would usually borrow the school’s laptop and use that as my entertainment center (nowadays with cloud services such as OneDrive, you can have your classroom with you anywhere you are by just having access to the internet). I also always requested for rooms that have this sort of technology hooked up to them (most universities in Japan have these—I have thought in 7 different universities and all of them had a room or 2 with this kind of technology available). So, all it takes is a bit of effort and creativity to create the classroom atmosphere of your dreams.

As for music selection—I have tried a bit of everything. I have tried “Bossa Nova,” instrumental rock, classic, straight out hip-hop and rave music, “epic music (featured on youtube in channels like Pandora Journey @,” game music, etc.: Anything that would fit a particular mood I wanted to create during a particular activity within a particular class. Use your creativity, know your students and selecting music that fits your classroom should come naturally.

Oh, and here is the last piece of advice concerning music: avoid things that are overly popular or mainstream at the moment—it will get your students to focus on listening/singing to it and take their attention from the class entirely.DSC_1094

III. Use PowerPoint and videos in class for both information and décor

Just as mentioned above, go wild on visuals! I usually have a PowerPoint with the entire lesson plan and PLENTY of discussion questions to be used for the particular class we are having. Usually, my ESOL classes are thematic and based on each weekly theme we will have a different Ppt ready. If you use a textbook, you can still have some extra discussion questions, vocabulary or a grammar point ready on the Ppt. Your students will be more willing to take in grammar presented to them that way.

I will wrap this post right here because it is getting a bit too long. I have plenty of more classroom environment hacks and will be posting them soon. Stay put until the next post!

Getting some training before your arrival

ITTT will help you acquire the teaching skills you will need if you want to become an ESOL instructor here


Hey guys! Interested in teaching English internationally, traveling around the world and meeting people from across the globe?

ITTT is a gateway for you to go that. Getting a TESOL certificate allowed me to teach ESOL in 3 different countries and it has given me the opportunity to visit at least 16 countries on business, teaching English to locals wherever I went.

Sign up for a course today and get a 15% discount with the links below. Come and join me in spreading the knowledge of the English language to people all over the world.


Fusing Economics and ESOL

Using of Supply Decision Rules to Improve English Classes

Hyuga Higuchi

Some of the benefits of studying economics

Class of 2018

There were many things about the studies of economics that I thought I could never apply to my daily life unless I became an economist. Understanding the rules of supply and demand, graphing a demand curve, learning how price can affect demand and influence suppliers to produce either more or less were topics that I believed could never be effectively applied in managing an English conversation class. For example, my concept about economics was that this was a topic to be used by those who work in the stock exchange: business people that need to constantly read the signs of the economy in order to increase their companies’ revenue or to help their corporation avoid serious financial trouble amidst an economic crisis. Language instructors, I thought, could never really benefit from understanding the complexities of the economy around us.

Studying economics has helped me realize the opposite of what I just stated above. Upon studying economics, I finally came to realize that the economy is like a living organism. It is part of everyday life and not simply a system that involves the graphing of data and some out-of-reach number analysis. In fact, just by studying the basics of such, I enjoy my shopping “dates” with my wife a lot more than I used too because now, like Neo could see the “coding” taking place behind the “virtual matter” on the movie The Matrix, I can perceive the amount of labor placed behind bringing a dress into a store, understand how the supplier feels by placing only 10 units of that dress at that specific place in the store and I can even somewhat understand why the manager of that store decides to have only 5 sales representatives working on the main floor of that store instead of 6: all of these decisions are supply decisions related to the rule of capacity—rule which pin-points the constraints our (labor) capital place on a store’s potential output. Before studying economics, I would have never been able to look at a clothing store from an angle as analytical and academic as this. All this wonderful information would have passed me by without me even notice it.

Thanks to such study, I can now spend over 5 hours of window shopping with the wifie without suffering any brain-spasms from the boredom (she will kill me if she reads this!) of just looking at different clothes sets: understanding how supply and demand work makes me think of the entire process involved in bringing a certain item at a particular price to the store—and that, my friends, is where the true fun in shopping for (most) males begins.

This same shopping advent I was able to experience with my wife led me to think: would it be possible to use the economic principles of supply and demand in order for me to provide my students with better English courses at our school? Recently, I was glad to find out that the answer to this question is: “yes.”

How did Economics help me improve classroom management

Class of 2014

First, I decided to research a little bit more about utility* so that I could draw the pattern behind the kind of utility my students get from classes. My classes are fully discussion based, which means that students spend more time talking about themselves and their own ideas (in English), rather than listening to me teaching them about English grammar. I noticed that students get a tremendous amount of total utility from discussion based, rather than lecture-based classes: but also, that marginal utility will tend to go down quite fast if the discussion is maintained between the same small group (without allowing the students to constantly shift groups within the same class).

How can I help marginal utility stay positive for longer within that 1hour and 30minutes period I am with my students per week? It was when asking myself this question, while I read a book about economics, called Principles of Microeconomics, that an idea stroke me: “If I am able to allow the students to share some of the same ideas they have with as many different people as possible, I might be able to maintain their marginal utility positive for much longer than I currently could.” Before making any changes to my classroom organization, I used to have the students sitting in small groups of 4-7 people and they would be given a theme of discussion that they could use in order to share their thoughts about how the topic personally related to them. I usually have different questions on a PowerPoint slideshow to help them formulate conversation about the topic in a more fluent manner. Students would then talk for a good 30-40 minutes about the issue; which is followed by a game that helps select a few individuals to share their ideas with the whole class, which is sometimes followed by a mini-grammar lesson, with some written activities and a listening/video activity. This is then topped by some more discussion—which is supposed to be held all the way until the end of the lesson.

Since the groups, in this situation, would stay static, the amount of ideas students could discuss would be somewhat limited. Some students would start the activities really energetic but after 20 minutes in, they would start yawning. Though my course evaluations would stay always very high (an indication that total utility acquired through my class was high), I felt that marginal utility within my class time was falling too fast. Principles of Microeconomics briefly mentions that diminishing the amount of a good, or service offered will have some effect on how many “servings” of it somebody can have (Rittenberg and Trigarthen 2009). Thus, I decided to help my students diminish the rate of decrease they got in their marginal utility by making the group activities I used less of a group effort: now students would stay seated in pairs and every 5 minutes or so they would be shuffled around (meaning they would get a new pair) and would have to talk as much as possible about the (same lengthy) topic(s) within the limited amount of time they now had (of 5 minutes—which compared to the previous 30 minutes they had before is a huge difference).

Making these tweaks in classroom management has greatly improved the dynamics of my class. Right now, I am able to see my students smiling and excitingly talking with each other for a much larger time span (the yawning problem has definitely been solved)! It seems that this principle of marginal utility has greatly helped me in better preparing my students for their English communication endeavors. It has also caused an improvement in the overall utility they are deriving from my course. This much classroom movement, however, has brought to me another issue that I think economic theories can also help me solve but that will be my next challenge from now on: moving students around in this frantic manner works great if you have between 20-30 students: I am having the hardest time doing that in classes that have more than 50 students because of space constraints I have within each classroom. My next mission is to find a way to deal with capacity issues within the supply line of my English class.

Final thoughts


In conclusion, understanding economics has given me an entirely new point of view when observing how economics actually affect me in one of my areas of expertise, that being TESOL. I encourage all educators out there to do the same and try to “fuse” different kinds of knowledge bases with their ESOL curriculum. It will not only help you become a more versatile educator, but it will also assist you in finding out ways to stay innovative in an industry where monotony is simply cannot be present. Let me know how ideas like this could help you, ESOL instructors, in developing your academic content.

Extras for those interested

Here is a short documentary about my classes. It is up on my YouTube channel. Feel free to check it out: (this documentary is in Japanese but translation for it will be up soon.

For those interested in becoming teachers: Interested in teaching English internationally, traveling around the world and meeting people from across the globe?

ITTT is a gateway for you to go that. Getting a TESOL certificate allowed me to teach ESOL in 3 different countries and it has given me the opportunity to visit at least 16 countries on business, teaching English to locals wherever I went.

Sign up for a course today and get a 15% discount with the links below. Come and join me in spreading the knowledge of the English language to people all over the world.

*find out more about utility at

Recommended reading

Rittenberg and Tregarthen. Principles of Microeconomics, Flat World Knowledge, 2009 (find it @