How can I get my Japanese students to want to interact more in my classes, and how can I use this interaction to help them develop their English?

I have a lot of introverted students in my eleventh and twelfth grade classes. Part of this may also be a cultural thing, since education in Japan is very teacher-centered and the students are taught to remain quiet and focused on the teacher. The other issue is that Japanese culture discourages people from standing out too much – my students are explicitly taught that it is better to fit in and maintain group harmony. So they tend to not want to speak up and have everyone staring at them while they take that risk to answer a question. Whatever the reason, my high school students are so quiet, and it can be difficult to create the energy I would like to see in my classes.

This term I am really focused on this issue because I am doing a research project for a distance education class I am taking, and I have decided to research class participation and student interaction. I have struggled to get my students more active in my classes, but this term, I am taking direct action by seeking out methods I can use and trying new strategies to get them speaking.

I intend to blog about some of the things I find out and report on how it goes. The class I will be using as my guinea pigs are my eleventh graders – I have been their teacher for the last two and a half years, I know them very well, and they have been my guinea pigs before and they are used to it. And they are also an extremely quiet class, but a class with a lot of great minds and creative thinkers. There really are a lot of introverts in that class – by introverts, I mean people who prefer to think first, act later. They are very thoughtful kids, in the sense that when I teach them, can see the wheels turning and the spark is there, but they keep it inside and muse on things and then their interesting ideas tend to come out in their writing.

So I am going to try to get this class more active by making them more willing to open up and share their ideas. I don’t intend to try and change them into extroverts; I just want to teach them about the positives that can come from working in a group and being willing to share our great ideas with others. And also I want to use interactive activities to help them continue to develop their English, since they are all English language learners.

I plan to read up on some of the fundamental philosophies that are relevant to this type of social education, such as Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language” and Piaget’s constructivism. I am also reading a more current book called “Content-Area Conversations: How to Plan Discussion-Based Lessons for Diverse Language Learners” It focuses on the idea that content classes should include lots of time for student discussion, and that raising the bar and encouraging a higher level of academic conversation in the class is a great strategy for promoting learning, especially for English language learners.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all the ways I can get this class speaking and interacting more, and I am going to try out some new strategies. From time to time, I’ll report here about how it goes.

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