Posted by: scottishboomerang | October 17, 2007

EFL Clinic … Getting (and Keeping) Them Talking.

A friend of mine is teaching in a Japanese high school for the first time, part of general discussion on teaching EFL in Asia. I recommended my Casino Wheel Speaking/Grammar Drill as a way to get students using English 70% of the time in the classroom (no easy task with Asian pre-teen and teenage students). 

 I checked out your casino wheel method of teaching.. WOW! I wish my students were that talkative in English! (Yours are so cute!) I want to try using this method, but I’m a little anxious since one of my schools as a commercial high school, and I’m worried it might not be as well received, but no hurt in trying. The statistics shown during the intro of your movie are so very, very, very true – the Japanese Ministry of Education expects the same thing. I know from learning Japanese, our classes involved 90% of communicative pair work – but in my English classes, my students just don’t want to talk to each other in English and talk about what they did last weekend or what they’re going to buy today instead.

The students you see in the movie are pre-teen (not yet inmiddle school) – an age group which are always more talkative in English. My middle and high school students are stressed out, moody, and see no worth in doing anything in English unless it will help them pass the university entrance exam, upon which their entire future depends. The Casino wheel is a controlled speaking excercise – designed to place a grammar drill that would otherwise be chanted in a communicative setting – and is used to get the students used to pair work. Because partners change, if the students don’t like a partner they know they will move on in a few minutes. Later on, when they have internalized the target dialogue, you can introduce a free speaking activity in this formation where one student asks their partner to talk about themselves or something they care about. Speaking activities should never start off free – they should move from controlled to free gradually. In the West we wouldn’t use the wheel so much: it would be a case of “find a new partner!”. Asian students however, need systems and structures – or they will simply refuse to do the speaking activity if they can’t talk with their friends. 

Your school is likely to be suspicious of this kind of teaching method at first. School ain’t school here, if you don’t have the kids chanting listlessly in rows facing the teacher, and all language teaching here tends to be teacher-centered.  Tell your director that you have been learning how to be a better teacher by reading up on how to give a great communication EFL class. My own school has come round to the way I teach only because I have demonstrated that the students use much more English in my controlled activities. I would negotiate the use of it by saying that this method is consistant with the latest research in language acquisition and will enable the students to use more English in the classroom.  Bascially, though, there is nothing more powerfully convincing that your director walking in to your class and finding everyone speaking English (and smiling while they do it).

If possible, move the desks into two parallel rows down the middle of the classroom. If you have many kids (like 30) make four rows. The students can sit next to their friends but their speaking partners will be those opposite. When I do this, my students gel much better as a class.

The casino wheel is great for larger classes – I recently tried it with an adult class of 30 students. They reported that the liked it because they were working with new people.  It’s also great if you are teaching multiple levels in the same class. You also don’t need to use playing cards: you can have different language stations where there is a new activity at each station – a bit like circuits in a gym.  For really large classes (like 30 or 40 students) you can have the desks in a real circle with the students sitting like spokes of a bicycle wheel.

If you try this classroom management, I’d love to hear about the ways you have adapted it to teach new language concepts. Feel free to post them below.



  1. Hi I have been reading your blog and I like some of your ideas.

    I am wondering if you migt want to write some columns about teaching methods for the newspaper.

    Please e-mail me if interested.

    Best regards,


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