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What’s the oddest place you’ve found a lesson or lesson resource?

I just ran across an old Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. Trader Joe’s is a specialty grocery chain where I do a lot of my shopping, and they send out a newsprint newsletter/magazine/ad every few months, with four or so products per page, illustrated using only altered Victorian clip art and described in chatty, often pun-filled prose.

On one page, they describe their “Spicy Thai Style Pasta Salad with Chicken” in a way that I thought might be useful in a rhetoric/composition/writing/reading/media etc. class. It’s two paragraphs, and among other things, they write “And while some of our Thai style foods are incredibly authentic, others are simply our twist on the taste and textures that we love most about the cuisine of Thailand. This is where our Spicy Thai Style Pasta Salad with Chicken fits in. We can’t recall ever tasting a pasta dish just like this one in Bangkok, but we think it would blend in well with the local dishes … with a spicy dressing that evokes Thai cooking with its flavors of peanuts and ginger.”

Assuming your students are at a level where they can understand words like “authentic” and “evoke,” if you asked them whether the entire passage claimed that the salad was authentic or not, what would they say? Many of the students I’ve known, even advanced ones, would think it was supposed to be authentic. What are the signals in the passage that it is not authentic? There are specific sentence patterns, contrasts to other items that are authentic, and other subtle and less subtle cues that the pasta salad is not really Thai food at all. Marking up a paragraph like this could be a useful activity for an advanced class.

(Using ads as source material isn’t appropriate in every class, but it’s very appropriate in some classes.)

Eight Quick Tips

Something new: guests! Two friends are joining us tonight: T., who’s currently teaching in Korea, and Chris, who teaches in Japan (and also is the force behind The Labyrinth Library, where you can either read reviews of writers from Jim Butcher to George Carlin, or you can download podcast/audio versions to listen to on your commute–nice!). Thanks to both of you for dropping by!


Here’s an assembly of eight relatively simple tips for teaching; concrete and practical suggestions that have worked well for us. If you have counterpoints (two of the tips are slightly juxtaposed, actually!) or your own quick tips to add, please join in the “panel discussion” in the comments!

Get Vertical
: At a training for Berkeley GSIs (graduate student instructors) that I was sitting in on, an experienced PhD student instructor had a tip that I never would have thought of, because I can’t watch myself teach. When you erase a board, particularly during class, use an up-and-down motion instead of side-to-side movements. This reduces the hip-and-backside waggle that’s otherwise induced by your haste to clean the board and write the next thing on there. You don’t really need the class watching your hypnotically swaying derriere, right? The demonstration of the difference was pretty convincing. (Also, kneel to pick up things you’ve dropped! It’s better for your back, and you can avoid waving your rear end in the air.)

Countdown: Language learners (and math learners, says my husband) need time to process a question, get past any possible fear of speaking, muster an answer, etc. When you’re waiting for an answer, time seems to speed up and you probably feel as though you’re losing the class’s interest, they’re getting bored, the student has given up and is waiting on you, etc., but all of this is an illusion. Count 5 seconds off in your head before you prompt the student, modify the question, ask another student, or anything else. I can think of situations where this wouldn’t be appropriate, but it is amazing what great answers you can get if you just slow down and wait patiently.

The Secret Sign: I have an awful tendency to talk too fast (even for highly fluent speakers). Most students won’t hold up their hands to get a fast speaker to slow down, and it’s not always easy to read their faces. What I finally hit on having them do is casually a single finger in front of their chests if I’m going too fast. I demonstrate this; they can do it very discreetly and not catch the attention of the whole class. If they’re more secure, or it’s a listening class or something, you could give them red, yellow, and green cards, but the “one finger” method is simple and always available. I remind students of it several times and sometimes have to really urge them to start using it, but it makes a difference once they do–both for me (because I quickly get out of my bad habit) and for them. (I was going to post “the secret signal to shut up,” but apparently while Channel 4 is cool enough to not make people take down their IT Crowd clips from YouTube, the price is that they can’t be embedded.)

Use a Whiteboard: Chris says “I write in lessons. A lot. More than I should, actually, but that’s a whole other issue. I used to go through piles of paper every week because not only would I write out words, sentence structures and the occasional semi-competent drawing of a shark, but the students would always ask if they could have the notes at the end of class. While this was a great way to teach polite requests (and why ‘Please give me the notes’ is NOT a polite request), it started to get on my nerves. So I bought an A4-sized whiteboard and some markers. The advantages are twofold. First, it’s a money-saver and (if you care about such things) slightly greener.” I’ve started doing this in tutoring/one-on-one instruction, too. I have both a small 8×10 hard whiteboard and a flexible plastic whiteboard that rolls up. It’s great for spontaneously drawing things that can’t be expressed verbally, and has a million other uses.

Chris adds, “Secondly, and more importantly, it forces the students to take their own notes. Even if they don’t plan to review at home, just the process of writing things down can help cement an idea in the mind. Indeed, an entire lesson can be devoted to the process of note-taking, in which the teacher can introduce several notation tactics, and students can outline and describe their own.”

Contrariwise, though, I have another tip….

Don’t Use a Whiteboard: A suggestion I received from an experienced college ESL instructor was to think hard about when to use a marker/chalk board and when to bite the bullet and prepare transparencies or presentations. If you’re spending a lot of time writing static information on the board rather than dynamic information, you’re probably wasting class time with your back to the learners scribbling away. Static information is the stuff that you knew was going to come up and doesn’t really change whenever you give that kind of lesson. You wind up writing it over and over if you teach that class more than once. Dynamic information is the fun, fascinating, interesting stuff that just pops up. Analyze your patterns and see if you would be better off with a projector some of the time (if that fits your situation). And yes, you can refuse to give them copies!

Example ad absurdum: Chris suggests, “When practicing grammar patterns, don’t hold yourself to the ordinary! Adding unexpected information to the exercise can help create a more relaxed atmosphere, as well as demonstrate the open-endedness of language:

T: Have you ever… been to New York?
S: Have you ever been to New York?
T: …driven a motorcycle?
S: Have you ever driven a motorcycle?
T: …gone SCUBA diving?
S: Have you ever gone SCUBA diving?
T: …robbed a bank?
S: EH?

When setting an introduction task (especially with higher levels), my patter usually runs: ‘You can talk about anything – your job, hobbies, favorite food, criminal record, last vacation…’ Very few people get it, but those who do can be complimented on their listening.” I do this too, and it takes some judgment to know what your students will think is funny (and what’s appropriate), but it’s very rewarding for both you and them! It bombs if you push it and you’re not on the right wavelength, though (and oh, I’ve seen teachers do that!), so watch their reactions and stop or change tactics if they’re uncomfortable, annoying, or doing that embarrassed laugh.

L1 Counter-Examples: Chris also says, “I just had a beginner student who couldn’t understand how there, they’re, and their could sound the same while having very different spellings and meanings. When I pointed out that Japanese has hashi (bridge), hashi (edge), and hashi (chopsticks), which all sound the same but have different kanji and meanings, she immediately understood. Finding examples in the students’ native language that are similar to or analogous to a difficult idea in English can be a good shortcut to understanding. It does require more work on your part, though – unless you can build a lesson around it.” It seems to be kind of unfashionable in the US to note the advantages of including students’ L1s, but this kind of thing has worked wonders for me in the past. It’s simple and effective on topics that are causing an emotional barrier to rise as a student gets frustrated with something in English. It’s pretty hard to do if you aren’t familiar with their home language. If you’re working in a 14-language classroom, of course, this probably seems impossible, but if your students share a language background, you can benefit from using their language in class even without ever translating or speaking to them in it if you don’t want to.

Dandy Bell: My friend T., who’s been teaching high school girls in Korea, points out that “if you’re teaching a language class or any kind of class where you have student discussions, pair work, etc., it’s helpful to have a bell or some other sort of noisemaker to get their attention.” She feels it’s less than ideal to try to get students’ attention by yelling, and something that can be heard clearly over a classroom full of students talking can be really helpful. One of her French teachers in high school, she says, had a singing bowl that she used to get students to quiet down and reconvene; the bowl gave out a “clear, loud, pleasant sound when tapped.” A whistle, we agree, is not that great–I have another friend who’s in graduate-level education classes now, but the teachers blow shrill whistles and flash the lights to reconvene the students. Ugh! Pretty obnoxious–I didn’t like that much as as a kid, and I’d hate it as an adult. I once had a teacher who’d play a snippet of a record, so these days you could play a bit of an English-language song if your classroom has a computer hooked up to a sound system.

Thanks again for your contributions, Chris & T.!

Comments? Controversy? Your own tips?

Words about Words

“Euphemism” is a pretty big word, but it’s so useful that it’s part of a set of words I generally wind up teaching to my students if they’re at least intermediate level. These “words about words” belong to a vocabulary set that’s above or outside of the level of the other words they know. However, I think these words make it easier to talk about English and in English with them. (For that matter, they can explain terms from their own languages better in English once they learn these words.) These words save time once the students know them. I think my students find these words useful, because they use them back to me and go right to “Ah, okay!” when I use them for explanations.

Of course, I mostly work with adults in a one-on-one setting where I can judge their readiness and comprehension individually, so I’m not sure that these would be suitable for a group or younger students. If you’ve successfully used these kinds of words or similar words with a class or with K-12 students, I’d love to hear about it.

Here are some of the terms I use:

  • Euphemism: This is especially useful when students are reading news articles, which are full of phrases like “passed away” and “had an affair,” but generally it’s useful for a variety of words.
  • Jargon: Sometimes I need to explain that a word has limited use outside of certain occupations, and “jargon” does the trick. It’s especially useful with Japanese students, because several English loan words that are used as ordinary words in Japanese are considered jargon in English (such as “LOHAS,” marketing jargon). Students generally love this word, and I think it’s their favorite and most-retained of this set, although I think “connotation” is the most important.
  • Connotation: Eventually you have to explain to a student why a word (like “foreigner” or “fat” or “childish”) isn’t appropriate even though it means exactly what they think it means, or why their electronic dictionary is not their best friend. The concept of connotations versus basic meanings is really useful (I usually use “childish” vs. “childlike” as an example), and I show them how a good learner’s dictionary includes connotations and can save them from embarrassment. And no, I don’t teach “denotation”; it’s not very useful by itself.
  • Root, prefix, and suffix: Powerful vocabulary-building terms that are a real revelation to students who haven’t learned them. These are very interesting to Chinese- and Japanese-background students, who can draw parallels between roots and radicals (basic components) of Chinese characters (hanzi/kanji), and Japanese students can connect suffixes with okurigana. Since many European languages share roots with English, students from those language backgrounds may already be familiar with these terms.
  • Abbreviation, short for, and acronym: These all come in handy not just when explaining slang and abbreviated speech, but also when explaining why lexemes that Korean and Japanese students perceive as English loanwords (like “aircon” and “OL”) are not comprehensible or acceptable in English. And no, I do not get into the difference between an initialism and an acronym–99% of native English speakers neither know nor care about the difference.
  • Genre: Not in the linguistics sense, but mostly in the fiction sense–I wind up teaching this word because it’s useful for getting students started with extensive reading and listening. An important note here is that genres are differently divided, different genres do and don’t exist, and individual works are categorized differently within different cultures. This goes for everything from comic books to music, so it helps to familiarize your students with descriptions of genres in whatever medium, plus give well-known examples of that genre.
  • Intensifier: I hesitated over teaching this one because it’s linguistics jargon itself, but it’s better than saying “it doesn’t really mean anything” over and over again for the prepositions in some phrases, the funny use of words like “insanely” and “ridiculously” to expand the already large class of words that mean “very,” and so on. Lots of languages already have a large class of intensifiers, so once you explain the idea of “words that reinforce the meaning,” this seems to be a good hook for students. But you must include the caveat that 99% of other English speakers will have no idea what an intensifier is.
  • Collocation: Another one that I warn students about, because ordinary English speakers don’t know it. Teaching them about the idea of collocations is more important for raising language awareness than for talking about grammar, but I think it’s a useful idea. Get students to be aware of “words that hang out with other words” so that they can build their vocabulary in chunks.

I’m probably forgetting some, but I think those are the ones I use most frequently.

I introduce each word by saying that it will make it easier for us to talk about language, although the word itself is an advanced word. This makes some students a little worried, but most students are intrigued or excited. Of course, this assumes that the students already know the parts of speech and that you’ve already negotiated a common ground on anything with multiple names like “present continuous”/”present progressive” (argh!). However, much to my surprise, there’s a sort of middle ground between the parts of speech and the above special language, a sort of forgotten realm that many students have never learned…

This neglected area is somewhere between grammar and culture, and contains really useful, fairly basic words that are apparently not frequently taught in many EFL curricula. I had been using the word “rude” in explanations with some early students and language partners for quite some time before one of them let me know that she had no idea what it meant. When I checked with the others, they didn’t know it either. Oops.

Here are some of these basic sociolinguistic terms that every student should know, but many haven’t had a chance to learn:

  • Polite: This is essential, right? You need to be able to explain polite language and behavior.
  • Rude: Some students knew polite, but virtually none knew “rude.” Some words are more than not polite; they’re rude. In order to understand the difference, students should know this word.
  • Formal and casual: As students start to learn enough English to handle different registers and connotations, they need to know the difference between formal and casual speech. However, there’s a tendency among many students to equate “casual” and “rude,” so it’s useful to make sure they also know the next two words…
  • Friendly and unfriendly: So that you can explain when “casual” would equal “friendly” and “formal” would be “unfriendly,” such as with classmates and so on.

These can involve value judgments, so I have to tread carefully here. But I think it’s important, and it also opens things up for students to tell you about their language, and ask how they can sound more friendly or more formal if they feel a need to.

What do you think? Too much peripheral vocabulary? Did I leave some important ones out? Is there a better way to go about this? Am I projecting too much about the way I learn onto my students? Some certainly take to it more than others, and those are the ones where I return to it more often. So I think there are students for whom this clicks.

(EDIT: Oooh, I forgot one–pun! It’s the only way to explain so many brand names, movie names, strange lines from TV shows, lyrics, and so on.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: The Internet TESL Journal

On the fourth day of Christmas, I’ll be introducing to you something I’ve mentioned a couple of times, but have never fully introduced. I hope that you won’t mind if I count this as a full entry, because if you don’t already know about it, or if you’ve forgotten about it, it’s worth discovering. If your binders full of lesson plans are letting you down–or if you haven’t yet built up binders full of lesson plans–and you’re interested in free activities and lesson plans, keep reading!

nicubunu_Box_with_folders from

The Internet TESL Journal (ITESLJ) is a free online journal that is different from other online journals because of its focus on short, practical, useful articles. I mentioned its existence very briefly when I posted a roundup of free online journals last year, and also when I noticed that you can download computer-generated mp3s of their articles. I never said why it was great, though, and the reason is that ITESLJ offers lesson ideas, games, and activities, as well as teaching techniques and reports on teachers’ own research projects, in an easy-to-access format that’s free to everyone.

As you know if you’ve tried to use a search engine to find lesson plans, the internet is cluttered with ESL and EFL sites that are only partially free, sites for which you need to register–only to find out they have almost no resources, sites for which you have to register–only to find out they’ve copied all of their materials from another site, and sites with low-quality materials that are unsuitable for your students.

ITESLJ has a good range of materials and ideas, and no registration is required. Many of the suggestions are aimed at EFL learning situations, although they can be adapted to various classrooms. If you don’t see something you like right away, just keep searching back: they’ve been around since 1995. There are specific lesson plans for every possible language skill, lessons focused on specific films, unusual lesson plans involving the use of cell phones, craft-based lesson plans, games with songs and physical movement, and lessons focusing on specific L1s. Here are some examples:

There are lots more, including ideas for working with children.

By the way, if the above is old hat to you, then may I encourage you to write something short and submit it to them? It looks like they need more submissions. Even a single activity that you’ve had work well would be an excellent thing to submit so your fellow teachers can benefit, and although I don’t think they qualify as a “peer-reviewed journal,” it’ll still look great on your CV.

Next? Well, I have no idea! Anybody out there? Let me know, especially if you like something!

Word Games

A year or two ago, a CSUEB classmate and I presented a workshop on using word games with student writers. There is research that word games are connected to a higher degree of language awareness, which is correlated with better language control. We made a PDF with a couple of references, some game recommendations, URLs for free games, and more. You can download it: Creating Play from Work: Word Games for Student Writers (PDF).

However, I also think that playing in English is valuable. Although it’s not exactly a word game, I’d like to recommend Fluxx, a card game with very simple rules that change as you play. Most of the rules are written right on the cards. It’s difficult to explain how much fun and how easy Fluxx is to play, but I think you’ll like it once you try it. I played it today with a Japanese client who has been in the US for about a year and a half, and who previously did not use English. He was able to understand almost all of the cards’ instructions, but had to concentrate pretty hard to try to put it all together. He was having so much fun after the first round that he asked to play again (and again–we played three times and ran over our lesson time by 40 minutes!). For intermediate and higher students, this is a great way to get them talking, reading, and concentrating in English. They’ll also learn some useful vocabulary–we frequently use card-game terms like deal, hand, shuffle, deck, etc.–and a bunch of collocations/phrases like “milk and cookies,” “time is money,” “all you need is love,” “baked goods,” etc. Trust me, it’ll make sense when you play the game! Best of all, it’s compact and you can carry it with you for a game at any time. Your fellow teachers will find it fun, too. (You can also get Fluxx in several other languages. I may get Japanese for my own practice!)

Let me know if you try Fluxx or if you have another game to recommend.

Comparisons and Politics

Sorry I’m still not blogging much. Some family health issues have popped up and I’m very short on time and energy. In a couple of weeks, things should clear up.

Briefly, though, if you have students who are interested in American politics or if you’re teaching compare-contrast writing, now’s a great time! I’ve had a couple of Japanese clients ask me for some insight on the current elections. Our system and our political reality is very different from theirs. One client remarked that he finally understands why Americans get so worked up about politics: because our presidential election is likely to result in direct effects on our lives. He doesn’t feel that the Japanese elections do much of anything, and for that matter, their prime ministers aren’t elected by the people. They’re appointed by the party in control–not to mention that the last two have resigned after only a year in office! Right now Japan doesn’t have a prime minister at all.

Because of these big differences, I guess, some of my clients are pretty interested in the process. One asked me to explain Obama’s and McCain’s positions simply. That’s a tall order! I directed him to the Summary Chart at, but many of the questions are hard to explain. Some I don’t quite understand myself. Today’s USA Today had a nice comparison of the candidates’ energy positions, though. Each subtopic is written in a classic mini-essay style, complete with a thesis statement. I rarely recommend journalistic writing to students–for some reason, many teachers use newspaper articles as models for students who are learning to write academic essays. I think this is a terrible idea because most newspaper articles are written in a style that simply does not match up to the style of essay that students are expected to produce. (Students should get to see expert student essays as models, but that’s a rant for another time.) This article is also not a perfect model for student essays; for example, one introductory paragraph includes the sentence “But Obama’s plan is more aggressive.” Most academic writing instructors wouldn’t allow this kind of sentence.

Anyway, “To Win The Race, It Takes Energy” is available online. The comparison part really starts under the subheading “Oil Drilling.” I hope the other topics are online and are as useful! I’ve underlined the thesis statements and paragraph topic sentences, so we’ll be talking about that today.

Since I have my own tutoring business and am not in a classroom, I’m totally free to talk about my own politics. I try not to emphasize that, and I don’t try to convince students that I’m right. However, my clients know that I have political opinions and that I will share them if asked, since they’re sometimes curious. I make sure to preface my statements with phrases such as “In my opinion…” and “I think…” and “It seems to me…” I also remind them that many other Americans have totally different opinions.

I agree with critical pedagogy theorists who feel there is no such thing as a politics-free classroom. Even if you try to avoid all explicit mention of politics, your politics and the surrounding politics will manifest one way or the other. (For example, teachers who spend a lot of time unquestioningly teaching pure test preparation are endorsing a certain political attitude. Other teachers subconsciously choose readings that only reflect their own worldview.) Although the discussion on this topic got very heated and angry in my MA course, I feel that politics are unavoidable to some degree, and thus are better if they’re somewhat out in the open. This lets students know you’re human; that these are real issues; and that it’s normal to be informed and have an opinion. It’s also easier for students to reject a position if the teacher acknowledges that she has that position, rather than trying to conceal it–does that make sense?

Of course, this assumes that a teacher can make herself be fair, and won’t really push her own views or punish students for expressing different views. It’s a delicate subject, but when handled carefully, I think it’s fine for politics to come in one way or the other. You can always leave it up to the students to decide, such as when my husband gave a word problem to his math students in which they examined the initial cost and possible future savings in buying a hybrid car. He encouraged students to take into account all possible factors, not just purely numeric ones–would they need to then buy a second car because they need more cargo space? Would it be different if they mostly drive in town as opposed to their classmates who commute long distances over the highway? What if the cost of gas goes up to $5/gallon next year? This semester he’s also assigned a graphing problem in which students look at when women’s wages for equal work will be exactly the same as men’s if past trends continue. This lets students look at information themselves. If they ask him what he thinks about these topics, I expect that he’ll tell them. But I don’t think they’ll be intimidated into changing their positions because of his answers, because he has established an open and safe classroom environment (unlike a couple of my undergrad professors, who were definitely doing the politics thing the wrong way!).

Okay, back to preparation for me! Feel free to leave your thoughts on this thorny issue in the comments.

Attempting to Explain

Recently, I’ve made a couple of posts over at Readable Blog, my blog for English learners, in which I attempt to explain sticky grammar or word-choice problems. One is about “almost” vs. “almost all,” and the other is about the use of “funny.” Both are frequent problems for Japanese learners of English, and for good reason–they’re really confusing and hard to explain. I hope the examples I used are useful, although I think the explanations still need some refining. However, if you think my explanations are useful at all, please pass the links on.

One reason I’m grateful for my TESOL certification and MATESOL training is that these things are easier to explain now. This is why untrained native English speakers are not ideal English teachers: they can probably use these words correctly, but they don’t have much training or experience in explaining why or how. (I’m trying to convince my students and clients of this important difference between trained and untrained teachers, so that they’ll share that knowledge with their friends and family looking for language schools back home. Disclaimer: I know there are some untrained teachers who just naturally rock, but they’re few and far between!)

That said, these kinds of slippery differences are still really, really difficult to explain in useful ways. I sometimes accidentally leave out something important, or I include way too many details and just confuse my students. Sometimes, of course, the reasons can’t really be explained. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve truthfully said “There’s no rule for that” or “It’s idiomatic” or “You just have to pick this up by reading a lot” …

I hope I’ll improve as I get more experience. Got any encouraging stories of your own success? Please share!

English with “Father Ted”

Since my current work is entirely one-on-one tutoring, I get to try crazy things because I only have to deal with one student. It’s pretty easy for me to judge the student’s receptiveness to whatever unusual approach in mind, especially once I know the student well. This is a lot harder to do in a class. As a bonus, I don’t have to worry about whether the administration feels something is inappropriate for the classroom. If I think it’s okay and my client thinks it’s okay, then anything goes!

I’ve been using Clear Speech with a couple of different clients from Japan. Chapter 5 includes a bit on “off-glide” sounds that often appear when there are vowel sounds at touching word boundaries, such as “my eye” or “she isn’t.” An example in the text was “go on,” which is pronounced something like /gowan/.

If you’re a fan of British comedies, as I’ve become since meeting my partner, you may have immediately thought of the same episode of “Father Ted” as I did. “Father Ted” is a well-known comedy about the misadventures of three bumbling Irish priests (including Father Ted), their crazed and put-upon housekeeper (Mrs. Doyle), and other oddball characters. In this episode, the housekeeper and Father Ted attempt to convince a reluctant guest to take a drink of sherry (a very bad idea for everyone concerned). You can clearly hear the /w/ sound in her repeated exhortations to “Go on, go on, go on!” and take a sip of sherry.

The introductory part was too hard to understand for one of my clients, and about 50% comprehensible for the other, but the “Go on!” bit made both of them laugh fairly hard. I’m pretty sure they’ll remember that glide for a while! Ah, I really love the freedom of being a private instructor sometimes.

(Remind me to tell you about our use of LOLcats for vocabulary later on.)

What kind of unconventional tactics have you used successfully? (Or, for that matter, unsuccessfully!)

“Tadoku” Means Extensive Reading

TESOL professionals with training in communicative language teaching methods often complain about the state of foreign language teaching in Japan, where grammar-translation, usually called 訳読/yakudoku is still the dominant method. Yakudoku, though, is not the whole picture, even if it sometimes seems that way. In fact, various Japanese groups are working to supplement or replace this outdated way of teaching with more modern teaching approaches.

One technique that has active, passionate supporters in Japan is 多読/tadoku: extensive reading. Extensive reading is something I’ve been very interested in ever since I read Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading (2nd ed.). The research on extensive reading matches my experiences: reading a lot for fun increases your vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and writing skills in your first and subsequent languages. The key for second language learners is that they should read books that are easy to understand, so they can enjoy the story while painlessly acquiring language patterns.

This approach has caught on with many educators around the world. I was really pleased to discover that the Extensive Reading mailing list has several active members who are working in Japan, including both Japanese and non-Japanese educators. There are several good websites in English and in Japanese about ER in Japan, including this overview of ER in Japan by Furukawa Akio.

It was through one of the ER ML members that I found out about 英語多読完全ブックガイド [改訂第2版]/Eigo Tadoku Kanzen Bukkugaido Kaiteigai 2/Complete English Extensive Reading Book Guide. This book has about 12,000 book titles in it, organized in several different ways including level and genre. It’s an amazing resource, and I’m totally appalled that there is no equivalent resource published in English. I’m still learning Japanese, so I can’t take full advantage of this book. However, book titles are given in English, and the reading levels are listed numerically, so the most essential information is understandable. All you need to do is look up the level of a few books with which you’re familiar, check the ra and then you have a baseline for how their system works.

The books selected include Oxford graded readers, children’s classics (from Dahl to Rowling), nonfiction, and some adult fiction. There’s quite a variety represented in the 12,000 titles! Some even have short excerpts exactly as printed in their books, which is a great way to get a feel for a book. Don’t you wish we could get something like this in English? (Publishing companies, are you listening? A translation of this book or a whole new book along similar lines is something that countless English teachers would love to get their hands on!)

I do recommend this book, but with the obvious caveats. I had to buy this book through mail order from the Kinokuniya in San Jose, and it was only cheap by comparison to textbook prices. If you want to get a little more information about the book, let me know in a comment and I’ll try to scan a couple of pages to give you a better idea of what it’s like. I’m currently out of town, so it’ll be a while before I can do that.

(Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes in the Japanese in this post. More later about how I’m trying to practice what I preach when it comes to my own learning of Japanese!)