Three Wise Monkeys - Background
Ed Edgar

The Three Wise Monkeys collection of teaching ideas was produced by Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) - in Japanese public schools. ALTs are native-speakers employed on year-long contracts (mostly renewable only twice), mostly as part of the Japan Exchange Teaching Programme.

ALTs, who do not necessarily speak Japanese and in most cases do not have teaching qualifications, usually "team-teach" with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE). The best lessons are genuinely team-taught, with full involvement of both ALT and JTE, but in practice it is common either for the JTE to teach as they normally do but with the ALT substituted for a tape-recorder, or for the ALT to lead the class with the JTE occasionally acting as a translator.

These activities are centered around students' twelve years in compulsory education, aged 6-12 at elementary school (shougakkou), 12-15 at junior high school (chuugakkou) and 15-18 at senior high school (koutou gakkou or koukou). Japanese is very different from English, so the students' level is usually much lower than we would expect at the same age in most Western countries. They are often considered less mature than Western students of the same age (at least out here in the country...) and get excited at activities which their cynical Western contemporaries would probably turn up their noses at.

There are usually around 40 students in a class, so even JTEs do their best to develop speaking abilities (which is not always the case...), most students have little opportunity to speak. Since few schools have more than one ALT, and most share an ALT with other schools, most students are only taught by the ALT between one class in five and one class in twenty. In those classes, most ALTs concentrate their efforts on getting their students speaking, and wherever possible creating genuine communication.

This often requires a complete change in atmosphere; Many of the activities in this collection are aimed at getting the students to lose their inhibitions, get excited about English and, who knows, actually say something.

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