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Encouraging Students Talk

Communication in the classroom requires interaction between teacher and students; it is not just a monologue by the teacher. Students can respond in Japanese to a number of classroom situations with just a few expressions even in the early stages. Students need consistent positive feedback in order to build their confidence in speaking, and not to feel embarrassed to make mistakes. It is important to acknowledge students’ efforts when they try using Japanese in class.

Teachers may put up a wall chart of useful classroom expressions for students’ reference.

This section covers some techniques to develop and encourage student talk.

  1. Useful expressions for students
  2. Ideas for reinforcing student expressions
  3. Motivating students
  4. Confidence building

1. Useful expressions for students

Asking questions

I don’t understand.

What is it in English?

えいごで school です。
It’s school in English.


When students talk to the teacher in Japanese, the polite forms ~です, ~ますare used to show respect,
いいですね is used to acknowledge student’s effort,

Additional expressions

  • せんせい、すみません Excuse me, Sir/Miss
  • ゆっくり slowly  おねがいしますPlease (help me)
  • もういちど (いってください)(Please say it) once more

Asking permission

Excuse me.

May I go to the toilet?

Yes, you may.

Expressions for asking permission, ~てもいいですか is used.

Additional expressions

  • みずをのんでもいいですか? May I drink water?


Sit down quickly

Sorry (I’m late.)

Students make a slight bow when apologising

Additional expressions

  • おくれて、すみません。I’m sorry I’m late
  • おそくなって、すみません。 I’m sorry I’m late

These expressions are interchangeable in the classroom situation. おくれてすみません has the connotation of being late for an appointed time, whereas おそくなって has the connotation of causing trouble for keeping people waiting.

2. Ideas for reinforcing student expressions

Students can familiarise themselves with these expressions by learning songs which repeat them many times. Here are two songs for learning student expressions. Students can make up their own verses!

(to the tune of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’)

  1. せんせい ちょっと わかりません   Miss/Sir, I don’t understand
    (repeat three times)
    せんせい えいごでなんですか   Miss/Sir, what is it in English?
  2. せんせい ぜんぜんわかりません   Miss/Sir, I don’t understand at all
    (repeat three times)​
    せんせい えいごでなんですか   Miss/Sir, what is it in English?
  3. せんせい えんぴつわすれました   Miss/Sir, I forgot my pencill
    (repeat three times)​
    せんせい えんぴつかし てください   Miss/Sir please, lend me a pencil
  4. せんせい しゅくだいわすれました   Miss/Sir, I forgot my homework
    (repeat three times)​
    せんせい あしたでもいいですか   Miss/Sir, is tomorrow alright?

(to the tune of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’)

  1. トイレにいってもいいですか、いいですか、いいですか
    トイレにいってもいいですか、   May I go to the toilet?
    はい いいですよ   Yes, you may
  2. みずをのんでもいいですか、いいですか、いいですか
    みずをのんでもいいですか​   May I drink water?
    はい いいですよ   That’s alright
  3. うちにかえってもいいですか、いいですか、いいですか
    うちにかえってもいいですか​   May I go home?
    いいえ だめですよ   No, you may not!

3. Motivating students to speak Japanese

Checklists provide students with a motivational tool by enabling them to focus on expressions that they want to try using. By filling out a checklist they can manage their learning and make their progress explicit.

Another way to motivate students to use Japanese is to give them rewards, such as a NIHONGO- AWARD! This will acknowledge their efforts and give them a sense of achievement.

Sample progress checklist


I can… Japanese I did!
1. I can greet the teacher こんにちは
2. I can get the teacher’s attention すみません
3. I can say I don’t understand わかりません
4. I can apologize すみません
5. I can ask permission to go to the toilet トイレにいってもいいですか?
6. I can ask permission to drink water みずをのんでもいいですか?
7. I can ask to borrow____________ ________をかしてください
8. I can ask permission to ___________ _______てもいいですか?

Sample nihongo award 日本語賞

にほんごのクラスでいっしょうけんめいを日本語をはなしました。 You have made an excellent effort in speaking Japanese.


4. Confidence building - せいとせんせい

This is an activity which develops students’ confidence in using Japanese. It is a scaffolded activity in which students ask and answer set questions in a ‘safe’ environment.

Write about 20 questions in Japanese based on what students have learned so far. Each student is given a copy of these questions and they write down their answers. Check the students’ answers in class. Set aside time at the beginning of each lesson for asking these questions in class. Students become ‘teacher for a day’, and ask their classmates the questions.

きょうは なんようびですか。
What day is it today?

It’s Monday.

Additional expressions

  • ウィークエンドに なにをしましたか。  What did you do on the weekend?
  • きのうのよるテレビをみましたか?  Did you watch TV last night?
  • あさごはんは なにをたべましたか?  What did you eat for breakfast?
Checklist Download
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