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troubled 
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Post troubled
Hello, I am a private, free-lance tutor in Tokyo, Japan and I have a problem.

Right now, I'm teaching English to a 7 year-old boy named, Takeru. I teach in his own home. I have been since November 12th. The trouble is, his mother hired me to work every weekday for 2 hours each day.

At first, things were fine... but slowly things are getting more and more difficult. It is already hard on a 7 year-old to have English lessons everyday for 2 hours... but besides me teaching him he also had golf lessons and school. So I come in the evening until near his bedtime, which is at 9. The reason why I'm teaching him is because he is going to America by himself for 3 weeks to complete a golf tournament. Yes, at 7. He leaves in mid December, and so my lessons are done on December 11th.

He is losing his focus on my lessons, unlike when we first started. I'm trying my best to think of new games to do everyday, but it's also hard on me to find new and exciting ways for him to learn for every lesson. So I do a mix of games and worksheets... and then some homework because his mother asked me to.

His English level is at a very low beginner level. From my lessons he so far learned Feelings, I like/don't like, ABC and 123, and hard consanants and short vowels. He can't read though... and he can't converse in English. Right now I'm trying to teach him body parts, There is/are, and Can and can't... Additionally, his mother wants me to teach him golf terms but in English. She gave me a list to use.


Please help! I don't know if I can tell her that this is too much for a 7 year old without getting fired. And i'll feel guilty if i quit...


Tue Nov 27, 2007 9:35 pm
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I used to teach a 5 & 6 year old for one hour and thought it was difficult. One game I found that worked was a game I call 'Lava Room'. Kids are curious by nature. When they see that you are trying to keep a secret from them, they naturally want to know. This game is quite simple and can be used for any topic. This is how it goes...

Send the kid out of the room you are teaching in and close the door. Tell him not to come in. He will most likely peek inside. Lay down construction paper on the floor around the room to represent bricks. On top of each piece of construction paper, put your target vocab.

Presenting the game is everything. When you bring the kid back into the room, stop him before he goes inside and tell him that the whole room is lava and he must leap from brick to brick to get to the goal. But, before he can step onto the brick, he has to shout out that particular target vocab.

Be very strict! If even the smallest part of his foot or any part of him touches the floor, he dies and must start back at the beginning. Make sure you put the bricks far enough apart where some of the leaps are quite challenging.

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 8:27 am
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Well, my main thought on this is we're talking about a 7 year old and only one month. It doesn't matter if he was flown to America and taught for 8 hours a day. He's not going to learn to read or be able to speak within a months time. You didn't really say what your goals are or what the parents' goals are but it sounds like the parents' expectation may be out of reach (not an uncommon situation :P )

If you set your goals for the month and can explain those and why to the mother, she might be able to except a reasonable target. I'd explain that yes we can move on and I can teach new things but if her son can't remember the stuff from before, then we're gettting nowhere. You can't give him new vocab and target sentences every day and expect him to retain them. So, in the beginning you'll see lots of growth but you have to spend most of the middle and last lessons reviewing and practicing what you've taught. Show her what you plan to teach, how he'll be able to use the language, and how you think that will help him.

As far as reading goes, kids can memorize rules but if they don't practice it's really hard for them to internalize and be able to use those rules without thinking. If you add more rules on, but the student isn't ready, you'll find yourself in a big mess.

I'd say hard consonants and short vowels are really all you need to teach. (When he goes to America, they won't be expecting a 7 year old to read anything.) Practice those and build confidence. It's better to send him to the States with a sense of confidence rather than send him off in confusion. And again, I don't think they'd expect him to be able to read.

I'd focus on every day vocabulary associated with daily actions. Imagine what he'll be doing and go through a normal day. Select what you think he'll need to know and teach that.

As far as target language, I'd focus on helping him express wants, feelings and desires.
'I want ...' / 'I don't want ...'
'I can ...' / 'I can't ...'
'I'm hungry, sad, tired ...' / 'I'm not ...'
'I like ...' / 'I don't like ...'
'I need ...'
'My ... hurts.' (this is pretty important if he's truely going alone.)

And I'd work on some language for obtaining information.
'Where is ...?'
'Do you have ...?'
'Can I have ..?'

The thing is you only have 1 month. You could teach him loads of stuff but if he doesn't practice and review it, he won't be able to use it. So, I think a handful of useful expressions is best and teach him how to use them in different environments.

I think you can make some good progress and remember to have fun. He may be a serious and dedicated golf player, but that doesn't mean he's a serious and dedicated English student. I think a good part of lessons could be just playing together and interacting. Teach him some simple communicative expressions as you go and try to replicate the senario several times but slightly different if possible.

Tough job all around I'd say. Are you looking for lesson ideas? Or just support? :D

If you want ideas, let us know what you plan to teach in the next week(s). It's easier to give ideas based around some target vocab or target language rather than just general ideas.

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Last edited by mesmark on Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:00 am
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Maybe it's just me, but considering there is only one month to teach, I would say beefing up the vocabulary would be the best. Like Mark said, no child is going to fully learn random grammar points and if they can, it doesn't guarantee that they will be able to recall the points at the right times. However, if they can at least get one word out to express the object what they are trying to say, that would be at least a starting point.

However, considering this kid is 7 years old, he had better be surrounded by people who can speak his native language. Those people are the ones that need to be able to speak English.

That being said, "LAVA ROOM! LAVA ROOM!"

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:19 am
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After, I hit send I was thinking along the same lines.

You might want to teach the child how to communicate effectively with a few simple gestures, American gestures. That would go along with what Patrick said about having at least the one word and being able to express via simple gestures what he wants.

And, why not....

LAVA ROOM! LAVA ROOM! :smt026

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:31 am
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Better yet, seeing that the kid is going to be spending most of his time on the golf course, why not teach him English golf terms? I know in Japanese when you sink a putt, I have only heard "nice shot". But in English, there are lot of varieties: nice putt, no way!, great job, etc.

Teaching the child golf terms, all in itself, could capture the kids attention, considering 'golf' is the whole reason he is even traveling to begin with.

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 12:39 pm
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Post thank you!
thank you so much for your extensive and creative replies!

About setting a goal. She actually set the goal for me, which made me feel stressed and unsure about my teaching ability. She told me, "I want you to teach on the assumption that it will happen at playing golf. And the golf rule. Of course, he understand the rules. But I want him to know it in English." And then she emailed me a PDF rule book of 198 pages from the Professional Golf Association as decided in 2007. Hmmm.. don't think that will happen... I guess he should learn to read first.... was my way of thinking. I also forgot to mention that when he leaves for America, he is going alone. She said, "He will join the junior golf tournament in America next month. No caddy. So I can't help him. He must do everything by himself in English. Nobody speaks Japanese. He must fight alone in the situation that everybody speak English except for him."

In any case, today went better. We did mostly games today. Only 30 minutes on worksheets. The game he liked the best was the game with the cards out on the table and taking a said card asap. His mother was the opponent. Though... he cheated a lot... i think he learned. It was about body parts. I hadn't thought about "My...hurts" before... so I was able to incorporate it into the game "My hand hurts!" and he took the hand and had to repeat after me.

The other game I tried was "Can you...? show me!" and if not he should say "No! I can't!" He liked it because he got a good work out. I did try the lava game today, using golf terms as his vocab. It wasn't as fun as the other games apparently... I changed the rules up a bit. If he didn't know a word I took a piece of paper away. If he touched the Lava, he died and i took two pieces of paper away. If he got an answer right I put one paper back. But, he ended it early.

So yes, he now knows, for the most part, short vowels and hard consonants. I think that is all he needs to know. I was thinking about teaching him about phonics such as "oo" and "ea" etc. But perhaps it's good enough.


So I will plan to review within his last week. Though I might have to miss two days because of my own studies. I have a practice thesis to write in Japanese!

I think what I'm looking for are just some good ideas to help him learn in a fun way. Another game he likes is Bingo. He also like Pokemon, Gundam and drawing. He also likes it when I bring my laptop with me and I use it for Sesame Street videos on You Tube or online educational games. I don't want to make him do worksheets all the time, but whenever I run out of ideas I seem to turn to them.

Do you think I should read an easy reader book to him too? I bought him one so far to borrow. Should I buy more? He said he understood everything I read which was similar to "This is Jon, he is a boy. Look at his hand! Is it white??" Any other suggestions would be great! He's my very first student.


Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:07 pm
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Hi there, I read what you are looking for and I was thinking that I have a great site for you, even though you are running out of time, you can use phonics excercises at the end of the presentation you will see them............good luck.
know what ,you better send me your e- mail and I send you all the great activities and stories on line cause I guess i can´t send them to you here...........o.k...............bye


Fri Nov 30, 2007 5:05 am
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I sent you the e-mail, hopefully it will help you...............bye.


Mon Dec 03, 2007 12:28 am
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Post Thank you everyone again!
Thanks you everyone again. I have more confidence in my teaching now and I feel Takeru has learned much under my guidance and his mother's help.

However... today did not go well not because of my student... (actually today he was especially pouty, but i set him straight in Japanese... :roll:) but the mother has me concerned today! I'm sure someone here understands Japanese mothers better than I do. Please advise on what she is thinking.

Last week, on Wednesday, I let the mother know that I will have to cancel the next day's lesson because of my thesis (which i have to write in Japanese, even more difficult!). But I also let her know that I might have to cancel the following week's (this week right now) Tues and Thurs for the same reason. But I wasn't sure, and would be sure until Monday (today) and would let her know then. Thursday passed by, and then Friday came...then today.

Today, I sent an email (by cell phone) to her saying that I think I will be able to teach all five days this week, however, because of my studies and also Takeru has learned a LOT (almost all he needs to know for the three weeks he'll be in America), to have Tuesday and Thursday be only one hour instead of the usual two. Her reply surprised me... at first i thought i mistranslated. "Please teach this Monday and Wednesday. (Tues, Thurs, and Friday is yasumi). Do your best on your studies!" I asked her about it today, I didn't get a clear answer.


While teaching I didn't use worksheets today. Just games. I taught him "Do you have.." "Can I have..." and "I want...". I also used Lava Room to teach him golf terms. I taught him "Do you have..." by playing "Go Fish" (with an alphabet deck of cards). For "Can I have" and "I want..." I played a tweaked version of Simon Says. "I want an apple! Can I have it? ...I like it!" or "I don't like it!" and he asked me too. He had a lot of fun. I gave him a worksheet with "I want..." and he will do the "Perfect Park" presentation this Wednesday.

(Sorry I know this is long.... I'm almost done)

While I had fun with him today and he did as well while learning... the mother looked exceptionally unhappy watching him play around with me. I followed her directions and spoke mainly in English, and only in Japanese when he didn't understand my explanation. And if he didn't understand a golf term I did my best to show him with actions unless he really didn't know (even though I didn't know some of the terms myself... she had an english explanation prepared for me). I remember her telling me about a week or so ago to be more kibishii (strict) with him. That was after her watching me play Pokemon bingo with him (at first i did japanese with English, but i did switch right to english under her instruction). Now as all children of his age will do (about 8 years old)... they will get distracted and want to do something new. He will run to the fridge and get a drink without saying anything... and usually I will wait for him to return because he does return on his own....

Yet, my confusion is does she really want me to be with him for the whole two hour lesson at the table doing only worksheets and no games at all??? Or does she just want me to make him pay attention to me asap as soon as he gets distracted?? :? She seemed the most unhappy while i was playing games with him. Is this why she canceled on me? I have canceled on her before as well because of my own studies and being just plain exhausted (Takeru as well was getting tired of seeing me everyday).


Sorry for the long post!!!!


Mon Dec 03, 2007 8:26 pm
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I think you should talk to the mother in a more straightforward way. Ask if she's unhappy about the games and probably explain why you're doing them (because they are fun, and because of it you can teach a lot).
I really can't say what the mother is thinking and the easiest way to learn it is by asking her :wink:


Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:38 pm
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hansi20 wrote:
I think you should talk to the mother in a more straightforward way. Ask if she's unhappy about the games and probably explain why you're doing them (because they are fun, and because of it you can teach a lot).
I really can't say what the mother is thinking and the easiest way to learn it is by asking her :wink:


What I've seen working 5 years within the public education sector of Japan is that 'fun' and 'education' aren't often found in the same place. :roll:

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Tue Dec 04, 2007 8:41 am
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Well, ... she didn't cut you loose completely, so I'd say you're not doing too bad of a job in her eyes. His mother doesn't know how to teach English. All she knows is how she was taught and how she learned. When you do something different from that, it may seem wrong to her. Given the short amount of time, she may not be that open to 'alternative' methods. (I wouldn't take it to personally.)

I know what it's like to want to do a good job and to want others to acknowledge that, but there are some people that just aren't that nice. You just have to walk away knowing you did your best, you did what was best for the student, and that you did a good job.

If you needed the cash, I'm sorry to hear about the hour cut. If not, it may be best for both you and Takeru. It sounds like Takeru has two paths before him - greatness! ... or burnout at 11... Let's hope for the first one.

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Tue Dec 04, 2007 9:20 am
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Hi there, listen, for me what it counts is that your are teaching with passion ,doing a great effort , thinking about games and stuff for him so he enjoys a good and fun class , I know what she thinks is important but don´t let that interfere with what you are doing,keep up the good spirit....


Tue Dec 04, 2007 1:41 pm
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Post well
Since she cut me loose.... I only have 3 more days to teach him. So no use in changing my ways. I would have liked the money, since I'm running out here.... Tokyo is so expensive!!! Plus I'm saving up to move to my own apartment. I live in a dorm now.

Ironically.. it was going to be too much teaching! She originally had me planned for Dec 3 to the 11th (last day) and each day is 2 hours! No weekend for me or him! So i asked her to cancel Sat and Sun for both our sakes.

I did talk to a friend about it who's a language education major. She's also Japanese. She told me the mother is just strange because usually mothers want their children to learn English through songs and games. :?

But, only three more days left of teaching. I don't think I'll be doing this kind of intensive job again. I'll still tutor but if it's a child, it'll be only twice a week at most.


Tue Dec 04, 2007 8:29 pm
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