Activities that have worked for me

Spike Shimodaira - Profile Photo (2)By Spike Shimodaira

As teachers, we all have certain knowledge about teaching. It can be things we learned in a TESOL course, read books on, heard from our fellow teachers, or of course through the Macmillan web site!


Acquiring knowledge is not that difficult in this information age. More than enough information can be found on the Net, and exchanging information and networking have never been easier thanks to technologies such as SNS (Facebook, etc.) and email.


However, putting that information to practice is the hard part. You know something is a good idea but for some reason, be it a matter of willpower, being too lazy to do something new, or lacking the know how to tailor an activity to suit your students; you never seem to implement the idea.


I’d like to introduce some activities that are based on what I learned in a TESOL course, which seem to work with my university students.




Students should be responsible for their own learning;

Incorporate autonomy into the classroom.


Many teachers, myself included, use a text book in our classes. I like to split the class into groups of three to four students. I then ask them to choose expressions from the text book we are using that they feel are useful and important to them. Let’s say we are covering unit one to five of the book in the coming semester. I will ask for two expressions for each unit, in total 10 expressions. Students will look through the units together and discuss which expressions would be useful. I will tell them that they will be tested on those expressions and that that they will be practicing them throughout the semester.


The students usually take part in the activity and the necessary communication. In the end, they come up with expressions such as


“How much water do we have?”

“What are you going to do this weekend?”

“Where were you on New Year’s Eve?”


In addition to a sense of autonomy the following are some added bonuses:

1. Students get to know their classmates.

2. Students find out what they are studying in the course.

3. Students realize there are targets in the textbook.

4. Students think about practical use of the language as they have to choose useful expressions.


Peer Evaluation


Though there are multiple benefits to peer evaluation, I employ it to show the students that our class is not all teacher-centered.


I run a town guide project in which students write an introduction to their favorite shop, restaurant, hair salon, etc. in their town. Each introduction is A5 size and will be a page in a booklet. A typical page will have the business’s name, location, business hours, and a listing of goods or services on offer. Students are encouraged to include visuals such as maps and illustrations.


After the students complete the booklet, they are asked to choose the best works. They are also asked to vote for the most valuable student (MVS), in other words, the student who most actively engaged in the making of the booklet: cutting, pasting, binding, and editing. The results of the voting are reflected in the project grades.


This should be a very refreshing change to the students, who are used to the teacher-centered education that is a feature of most junior and senior high schools in Japan. Most students look excited when they realize they have received high scores in the peer assessments. In addition, there are always some students who think the teacher is not evaluating them fairly. Hopefully, this will help in alleviating such feelings.


Knowing is not enough


Even though I have introduced some things that have worked, there were many that didn’t. As teachers we all know how much energy designing and preparing a new activity can take. However, if teachers do not take the time and effort to put into practice what we think may be good ideas, we will never develop as teachers no matter how knowledgeable and qualified we may be.



Spike Shimodaira teaches in universities and private language schools in the Kansai area. He has taught a wide variety of subjects within English Language Teaching; grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, TOEFL, TOEIC, STEP, IELTS, oral communication, travel English, etc. However, he enjoys teaching speaking classes most as he believes that’s what languages are for. In his free time he likes to jog and listen to AC/DC.