Motivating Japanese University English Students

Maintaining the Motivation of Japanese University Students

If you teach English in Japan, motivating Japanese university English students can be a real challenge to say the least. To teach in Japan well, there are many things you can do though. If you let them know, that you are not out to bust them or embarrass them, they will sometimes come around.

If you give a little, they often will give a little too.

(Pictured: a Mitsui built apartment building in Tokyo)


"Maintaining learner motivation is a challenge faced by most teachers in the classroom. In an EFL context, one way of meeting this challenge is trhough proper application of CALL technologies in support of pedagogically-sound approaches to language learning. In recent years, researchers have demonstrated how CALL, can positively affect L2 learner motivation (Egbert, 2003; Fotos, 2004; Warschauer, 1996);moreover, other research has examined how Web 2.0 technologies, in particular, have helped to create motivating learner environments (Alm-Lequeux, 2004). For example, the inclusion of Blogging software into an L2 writing curriculum can help stimulate and narrow subjects of discussion into appropriate topics for writing assignments. Video posting sites, such as You Tube, can help showcase students` original work, as well as create an opportunity to dialog with others about their work; thus as Alm-Lequeux has argued, these technologies can help balance and promote notions of learner relatedness, competence and autonomy to create a more motivating learning experience."

--Charles E. Robertson, veteran university English teacher in Japan

Motivating Japanese University English Students with Robertson`s project just mentioned above, the students must write, narrate and create a 3 minute video slideshow that explains their hometown.

I think this is a great idea, not only for its creative approach, but for its practical applications. If Japanese are going to need to speak English, they will invariably be asked about what is it like in Japan? They will then talk about what they know - their hometown.

If we can give our students more confidence about speaking English, maybe this will change the attitude of Japan, which at times appears to be akin to negative group think about their ability to speak English.

A Variant - On Robertson`s Project Above

I am a blogger and writer online. So my inclination is to have students make a blog or free website about their hometown. If you decide to do a project like this, just be sure to have your students use nicknames. As in this internet age, many are concerned about keeping personal information safe.

Motivating Japanese University English Students - Diary Writing

Increase your success by using a diary about what motivates Japanese students. If you are like me, over years, and yearsof teaching you may come to forget what has worked and whathas not with certain students. For that reason, it is a great idea to keep a diary about teaching English in Japan.

Motivating Japanese University English Students -- through Media

(Motivating Japanese University English Students Photo: the Japanese dish, Monja, photo by Paul Canosa)

Almost everyone enjoys music, movies, reading books, drawing,or playing and watching sports (or any one of these). I try to bring some of these activities to the classroom. I do it in ways as outlined by Robertson above and other low tech ways, such as simply bringing in an English boardgame into the classroom.

At the start of the class term, I ask all of my university students to write a self-introduction. In it they write about their favourite hobbies, sports, and other activities. This gives me an idea of which activities to do in class.



Motivating Japanese University English Students Sports Newspaper Project -- The Classroom Olympics

Once per term in a classroom full of students who enjoy sports,I bring in various table top sports games such as: table hockey,table top baseball, electric football, foosball (table soccer) and I even have a table top bowling game. The students love it! We have a tournament in which I divide them into teams of 2-4 students depending on class size and how much time we have to get through the tournament. As they play they take notes on the results of the games and important events that happened, ie) Who scored, or what interesting things occurred during the tournament.

Motivating Japanese University English Students -- Pre-teaching Vocab

I pre-teach sports related vocabulary and give them a list of sports related words with Japanese translations. Dictionary use is encouraged as well.

It is amazing to see previously unmotivated serious faced students come to life, with smiles as they see the Tokyo Giants on the field of the table top baseball game. They enthusiastically take notes about what happened in the third inning. The quality of writing they produce about this tournament is surprisingly good. Enjoyment does seem to stimulate and lead to better quality work.

If your students are advanced enough you could turn this activity into a TV broadcast with students filming the sports and reporting live (while recording) the broadcast. They could interview the players. Or if not advanced, you could scaffold the activity with pre-taught phrases the students could use in the broadcast.

Motivating Japanese University English Students: Class Art Project

Some of my students are not so skilled at speaking nor writing in English, but they are artistic. I try to find some way of motivating and rewarding the less skilled students. Repeatedly getting a "C" is pretty demotivating and bringingout some of the other ways people learn is always a good idea.

I send the students outside to draw something they think is beautiful. I usually do this in my writing classes, but you could do it as a pairwork activity after they draw their pictures.

I want them to know that studying English isn`t just studying from some boring textbook. We can do interesting things.

The students write about why they picked the scene they drew. Where is it? Why do they like it? What feelings does it bring out in them?

This activity like others I feel, helps students to realize that nglish isn`t about textbooks, it is about communicating feelings. It is a way of sharing with others.

Motivating Japanese University English Students: Group Music Project

Almost everyone likes music.

I put the students into groups of 5 or 6 and they write about some of the singers and bands they enjoy listening to. Once finished their writing, they make a presentation to the class.I do this activity in both speaking and writing classes.

Each group member takes a turn telling us about their favourite singer. Then we listen to one song from each band (timepermitting).

Graded Readers Activities

Many publishers including Penguin, Oxford and Cambridge offer graded readers for students. I have slowly built up my own collection for students to borrow. As well, the university and high school I work for have large collections of them in their libraries.

The students borrow and read a book that interests them. I try to emphasize that the book should be interesting and easy to read. The students (hopefully) will comprehend that reading English books is fun, and not so difficult. It is a real thrill for some students to finish a book and realize they have read their first English book!

I have found in over twenty years of teaching English to Japanese that the students that enjoy reading English books are the best in all skills of English. They are always the best speakers!

15 fun ways to switch students on to graded readers (easy readers)



Motivating Japanese University English Students: Read more about teaching at Japanese universities at our university teaching page.

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