Soon after I started studying for my MA in applied linguistics (language teaching) at the University of Queensland in Australia in 1995, I began to teach Japanese as a part-time teacher at two universities. My trial and error style of teaching started that day and has continued in my Japanese and English classes ever since.
I remember one class for beginners which influenced me as a language teacher. I was supposed to teach how to tell time in that lesson. After students learned the basic expressions, I changed the exercise in the textbook. The existing exercise, which asked students to describe the daily routine of a Japanese office worker, seemed to be boring for my students. Instead, I took a risk, which, as a new teacher, I had never done before. I decided to deviate from the textbook and make my own task. I was not sure at all about doing that, but decided to try it. I said to them, “This is pairwork. You will be tour guides for a group of Japanese tourists who are visiting the Gold Coast. You have to plan a one-day bus tour to show the group around. I will give you 15 minutes to prepare for this activity. Then, I would like you to present your plan in front of the class.” I showed them an example of how to say what to do at a certain time. They worked in pairs, enthusiastically.
The presentations were good. The students introduced their own insider information about the Gold Coast, such as good, little-known spots and special foods. There were moments filled with surprise, laughter, and applause. I was impressed by their creativity and enthusiasm.
From that day on, I decided to make my own tasks to replace those in the textbook, and this became an important part of my teaching. Gradually, I gained confidence in developing tasks and using some original materials. It was a risk at first, but encouraging creativity in my classes has been a positive experience for me and for my students ever since.
Kazuyoshi Sato teaches at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. He holds an MA and a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Australia. He has written several papers on communicative language teaching and teacher development. His research interests include teacher development, second language acquisition, and curriculum development.