First Day activity with Kit Kats

For the first day of classes in April (the Japanese academic year starts then), teachers need a nice idea to relax the students, break the ice, and help everyone get to know each other. From talking with a colleague about how Kit Kat has taken to community service; giving people inspirational messages; how you can write your own or put your name on them; a new teaching idea evolved. If you have a stationary/research budget, you can do this.

First day activity using Kit Kats.
First day activity using Kit Kats.
  1. Before class get bags of Kit Kats
  2. Write the names of each student in your class on each Kit Kat wrapper as shown.
  3. First, practice a typical small talk or get to know you activity.
  4. Tell your class you’ll hand out Kit Kats, but do not eat them, do not open them, do not give them to anyone else. Just wait.
  5. Then in class, randomly distribute the Kit Kats so there’s one per student, but not their own.
  6. Demonstrate how to find the owner, what to say, and how to transition to small talk, and a short small talk demo.
  7. Then say, find the owner of the Kit Kat, and say “Here’s a little present for you”, and then they are to get to know each other a little. Then change, so that they have another chance to receive their own Kit Kat. Otherwise, find a new partner and get to know them, too.

End of course activity: Final messages

I first heard about this idea in the early 2000’s when I was still teaching in Taiwan. It sounded meaningful, helpful, and potentially the most important thing to come from a class; or rather, classmates. I have since lost the original text; I found it somewhere on the internet, either via email or some website. The original story went something like this:

A teacher in the 1960’s asked his class in their final week of high school to write a one-line message to each classmate. The teacher cut these into strips and reorganised them so that each student would receive all the messages intended for themselves. This was done anonymously, and with one rule: it had to be true. On the last day of classes, each student got a piece of paper with all of these anonymous messages for them. One of these students was a boy, who put his into his wallet and forgot about it. He joined the army and was sent to the Vietnam war. In amongst the horrors of war, at his lowest point in his life, when all hope seemed lost, when death could happen at any moment, with bombs, rockets, grenades, and bullets were a daily threat. He remembered his messages paper. In a lull in the fighting, he took out his paper and began to read it. He began to cry uncontrollably. All of the messages were sincere, nice, thoughtful, and full of admiration for him. He never knew how his classmates felt about him. This changed him. He gained new courage and need for life.

Today, I do something similar to this with my classes with the hope that at the student’s lowest point in their life, this paper could help them out of whatever hole he or she might find themselves in. Let’s face it, everyone will have sunny days, and dark dark nights; we all need a light in times that seem darkest.

A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.
A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.


Final day of class/course.


It takes about seven minutes to set up, and allow about two minutes per student in your class, but you don’t have to complete this (read below for more on this). A class of fifteen students would need about 37 minutes.


  • One quarter of an A4 paper per student.
  • A timer


Of course there are many ways to conduct these activity; this is just one possible way.

  1. Cut up clean A4 paper into quarters, so you have enough sheets for each student.
  2. Have them write their name, date, and class name on it.
  3. Pass it on. Go around to each individual student, and tell them to pass the paper onto the next person. Specify who to give it to. Organise this so that each paper will travel around the whole room to every student in turn. Clearly tell them that it is really super important that:
    • Papers never get mixed up and out of order
    • When the timer goes off they pass the paper on as soon as possible
    • Don’t have any papers pile up on one person (thereby depriving the next few people from being able to write a message)
  4. Concept check: Ask, “Talk with your partner, what do you need to do?”

Point out the rules:

Messages activity: Rules and how. A.Blyth, 2017.
Messages activity: Rules and how written on the whiteboard. A.Blyth, 2017.

The rules are:

  1. Should write something nice.
  2. It must be true.
  3. Must be anonymous.

Concept check: Anonymous.

Funnily enough, I have never had to specify that it should be in English, but students automatically write in English. This might be because in the previous lesson we do a short activity on describing their personal gains in terms of personality, achievements, and any funny or nice memories through the year. That way, they have some ideas and vocabulary to use.

First give three minutes to write something (without the owner of the paper seeing). After the timer goes off, pass the paper and write for two minutes. Then each turn thereafter is about one and half minutes. It takes a few iterations for students to get into the swing of things. They only need to write one or two sentences anyway.

After the first turn on this. Point out that most people probably wrote in the “first person” place. The second person shouldn’t write in the “second person” place, but somewhere different. Otherwise, the paper owner can count around and match the comment with the author. Instead, they should write in various places on the paper, and write on both sides.

As they are doing this, don’t read their messages, and don’t add your own. Keep an eye on how close the paper is to the owner near the end of the activity.

If you have time for each paper to go around the whole class, then you’ve done well. Ideally, it should stop at the final person before the owner. Then you say, “don’t pass it on to the owner just yet. Wait!”. It’s ok if you run out of time and finish early, as long as there’s quite a few messages to act as a sample of the class consensus.

Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.
Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.

Tell them they need to do four things:

  1. Take out their wallets (or smartphone with pockets in the case, like pictured).
  2. Fold the paper three times.
  3. When they receive their own paper, put it straight into their wallet, and look at it tonight. Not now; there may be tears of joy.
  4. When they pass the paper to the owner, they should say something like, “Good luck with your future. I hope this will help you.”

Before returning the papers, tell them the original story above, and the reason / motivation / purpose for this. Then let them give the paper back to the owner. The class has finished, and wish them luck with their exams and futures and to stay safe during their holidays.

How does a teacher spend his holidays?

A lot of people think that teaching is a great job. You work for a while, and then you get long holidays. In fact, the opposite is true. In Japan, the academic year runs from April to January the following year, which means the holidays is but a week away now. During semester, most teachers work nearly seven days a week during semester. We spend our free time marking student work, planning, preparing, and getting ahead on tasks. Actually, for the first few weeks of each semester I struggle to keep my head above water with all the tasks that need to be done. So, what about holidays?

Person holding coffee cup. CC0,
Person holding coffee cup. CC0,

The holiday time is a busy time for me. A point lost on a lot of people. They work Monday to Friday, from nine to five, and when they leave work, they completely stop thinking about work. In contrast, I have research to do. I have syllabuses to prepare. I have exams to mark and submit. I have reading to do (reading about the latest educational psychology theories), and so forth. However, most importantly, I have write my thesis and try to get published. Consequently, when the holidays come, it’s not a relief for me, it’s a chance to catch up on the things I need to do.

I’m back

Sorry for the sudden family emergency. I only learnt that I should return home on Monday night the 14th Nov. Tuesday morning my bag was packed, but could only fly out Wednesday. I got back on Sunday the 27th in the evening and so I’m totally dog-tired today (Monday).

Cathay Pacific aeroplane at Hong Kong airport
Cathay Pacific aeroplane at Hong Kong airport

Regarding my writing class, please submit Topic 7 this week (1st Dec). Topic 8 is your choice anyway, so get started on that. All my other classes, I’ll probably ask you what you want to do, especially as speaking tests are coming up soon. We’ll talk more in class.

We will do probably just one make up class before Christmas. The make up schedule will be discussed in class. Talk to your classmates and decide which day and time is best. Look at the schedule here.

Wombats and koalas in Sydney International Airport
Wombats and koalas in Sydney International Airport

Telling the time

A blog post about a recent topic in my class regarding telling the time. In simple English we might say “It’s eleven fifteen” (11.15am). However, usually we might say “It’s a quarter past eleven”. How does this work?

Key words: Half, quarter, past, to

Key phrases: quarter past, half past, quarter to

Why? “It’s a quarter past the hour” means it’s 15 minutes since this hour began.

Time - Quarter past and half past. Whiteboard photo by Andrew Blyth
Time – Quarter past and half past. Whiteboard photo by Andrew Blyth

For instance:

  • 11.15am is “It’s a quarter past eleven” or “… a quarter past the hour”.
  • 11.30am is “It’s half past eleven”
  • 11.45am is “It’s a quarter to twelve”

Also, we can add and subtract information, and use numbers:

  • “It’s a quarter past”
  • “It’s half past”
  • “It’s a quarter to”
  • “Let’s meet at a quarter past”
  • “I have a booking for half past two”
  • “We’re late. We’ll get there at five minutes to twelve”
  • “We’re late. We’ll get there at five minutes to” (11.55am)
  • “Let’s meet at twenty past three this afternoon” (3.20pm)
  • “The booking is for ten past eight this evening” (8.10pm)

If you have any questions, please ask or leave a comment below.

Typing speed

It’s interesting that many people cannot type in the most efficient way. I learnt to type as a child, and then professionally after university. I wish that I had been properly taught when I was in high school, because I would have been able to get my assignments done a lot quicker. Nowadays, for any job in an office or government department in western countries, you need to show a certificate of typing achievement.  What typing speeds do you need?

  • For typical government jobs: About 25 words per minute (wpm)
  • The average typist does about 41 wpm
  • Men about 44 wpm, women 38 wpm
  • About half of the population cannot exceed 50 wpm
  • Fastest ever was Stella Pajunas in 1946 at 216 wpm on an electronic typewriter.
  • The Dvorak keyboard is about twice faster than the common Qwerty type.
CC Unsplash 2014,
CC Unsplash 2014,


  1. Typing Study, yourself to touch type,
  3. Typing Test English.


World Teachers Day

It’s World Teacher’s Day every year on the 5th October (Wikipedia, World Teacher’s Day.Org). The day in which we don’t necessarily celebrate teachers, but instead, promote education. Fight ignorance and superstition with facts, knowledge, and rational thought. Teach and learn how to sense, analyse, think, and communicate.

We will ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems. ... Incheon Declaration, World Education Forum, 2015 (UNESCO).

World Teachers Day, Nelson Mandela quote.
World Teachers Day, Nelson Mandela quote. Image from,

Voice actors needed

Four voice actors needed to help produce dialogues for classroom materials.
Date: Thursday 15th (9am – 3pm), or Sunday 18th September (11am – 5pm, may be flexible), or Sunday 25th September (11am to 5pm).
Location: Nanzan University.
Role: Voice actors.
Pay: ¥5,000 to ¥8,000 (depending on skills).
Transportation fee: Maximum (about) ¥500 each way.
Others: Additional work may be required in 2017. Voice actors will need to sign an industry standard talent release form (available only in English).

Studio mixing audio board. CC0 by Grupo Glam For 2016,
Studio mixing audio board. CC0 by Grupo Glam For 2016,

Age: 18 to about 29
Gender: 2 Males & 2 females. Preferred: one male and one female native speakers (of any region), and one male Korean and one female Chinese speakers of English with very good or near native-like pronunciation (the female Chinese speaker can be from China, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, etc).
English skills: Very good to native-like pronunciation.
Other skills: Voice acting skills, especially able to use a range of emotions.
Other info: Preferred: people who are likely to stay in Nagoya for more than a year for additional work. May need to meet for a brief interview and script reading on Friday 9th Sept, or Thursday 15th Sept. Contact me for details of application including what voice sample files are required for application.

Deadline:  Applications accepted until positions are filled. Contact Andrew Blyth via the email address here to apply and for more information.

Workshop: Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening


Due to sudden family emergency, I had to return home, and cannot give this presentation. However, I am eager to give this workshop to your group, office, chapter, etc if requested.

I will be presenting a workshop titled “Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening” at the annual Japan Association of Language Teachers (JALT) conference in November this year. I encourage you to come along, or ask questions online (via Twitter is best). Official details:

Conference: Japan Association of Langauge Teachers (JALT) 2016 conference,

  • Event: 42nd Annual International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning & Educational Materials Exhibition
  • Where: Aichi Industry & Labor Center – WINC Aichi, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
  • When: 25 – 28 November 2016
  • Theme: Transformation in Language Education

Day: Sunday, November 27th. CANCELLED (see above)
Time: 1:05 PM – 1:30 PM  (25 minutes).
Room: 904.

Presentation ID #: 619
Presentation Title: Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening
Format: Practice-Oriented Short Workshop
Content Area: Listening (LIS)
Context: College & University Education

Handouts / resources:

(to be added later)


Long abstract:

Often teachers teach listening by playing a CD and providing students with comprehension questions; though this is not teaching listening but testing it (Sheerin, 1987). Also, recent academic discussion has criticised the inadequacy of listening strategies (see Blyth, 2012; and Chang and Millet, 2014). Consequently, new methodologies were developed by the presenter to actually teach listening using bottom-up approaches based on cognitive science theory by Cutler (2012) and Field (2008). This practice oriented workshop introduces these new teaching methodologies which are the outcomes of a large scale mixed methods research project. This project worked with teachers in central Japan to develop and trial methodologies for bottom-up listening approaches that are suitable for their context (considering teaching preferences, class types, and students). Data collection included pre and post listening tests, as well as interviews with teachers and students. A key result is that bottom-up listening approaches, or teaching pronunciation, is an effective means to improve student listening abilities. This workshop will provide only a brief introduction to pertinent listening theory followed by demonstrations of simple activities that teachers can use from Monday morning. The workshop will include demonstrations, audience participation, and a short Q&A. Handouts will include web links to class handouts, audio samples, demonstration videos, and other related materials.

Teaching & researching EFL listening in Japan