Practical Teaching Ideas

Netflix for Extensive Listening

With Netflix now available in Japan, at ¥650 a month (¥950 for HD), one should consider recommending it to students for extensive listening. One of the highest and simplest correlations for language learning is time of exposure to the target language. With a wealth of material, Netflix allows for plenty of listening time and choice.


As teachers, it would be wise to give some specific recommendations, depending on the students. Master of None is the hottest new television show in the US. It Aziz Ansari, previously in the hit comedy Parks and Recreation, is a 20-something Brooklyn resident with parents from India. It deals with race and human relations in a sweet and funny way, without making fun of people. It does, however have some rough language and a few sexual innuendos, which would be advisable to warn people about if they are sensitive to such things. Best, though, to show students how to read reviews of the TV shows so they are aware of the content before they watch. They could use Netflix, or IMDB, or Common Sense for parents, or choose from another 10 sites. You could even contrast reviews with sites like Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

The best TV series in the last 10 years is Black Mirror. Netflix allows people to watch many episodes in a row (called “binge watching”) without commercials. Not recommended for Black Mirror as it is so intense, a series of near-future science fiction dystopias. But for something light, a sitcom like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one could watch the 20-minute episodes alone or in a bunch. Netflix allows you to watch on your desktop, laptop, mobile.  With an adaptor like Google Chromecast or Apple TV, you can watch on your regular TV.

Language support is in the form of English Closed Caption subtitles, and for most foreign content, Japanese subtitles. Sadly there are few English subtitles for Japanese content for those learning Japanese.

There are also thousands of movies available. This could conceivably entice students away from their traditional two hours a night of Japanese prime time TV, the quality of which we are all aware.



A teacher could even start a movie discussion group by buying a class set (Premium Subscriptions can be used by 4 people at the same time. See above.) for a short time (minimum 1 month, but you can quit any time), and giving the student the login information. You might think of using a release form or other to protect yourself from accidental exposure of material to sensitive students.

Tech for Teach


grammarly-logo-580x136I check a lot of my EFL student’s writing, especially the stuff that goes up on a blog and out to the world at large. I used to spend about half my correction time with students on articles, a common difficulty here in Japan. Now I just get my students to use grammarly, and that helps a lot.

Grammarly is a grammar-checking application on the web, free for the basic version. It works very well for many of the errors students are prone to, but can give false positives or miss some pretty common errors. It is not a replacement for sitting down with the student at their laptop and going through the text in question. (Correcting and sending errors to the student does not improve their writing.)

Once the student sets up a free account, they see a very simple interface.Grammarly



Students can upload documents to get checked and archived. I have done this with a couple of samples here. Notice the numbers of errors, we can immediately see who needs the most work, Student 1 is a pretty good writer, with only 65 errors, Student 2 needs a lot more correction with 222 errors.


Articles top the list of Student 2 errors, and clicking on the carat opens a small window to explain, if needed. She needs more than grammar help, and would benefit from another check after a rewrite. Student 1, though, is ready to use the program, with only a few errors to deal with.


The suggestions Grammarly makes are usually spot on, but students start to trust the program too much, accepting the changes without considering them. That is why it is important to sit down with them and go through the texts, at least on one or more passes, to show that Grammarly does not catch everything.

The biggest help for students is the Extension, a little software that you can add to your browser, so that grammar checking is integrated into anything you write on the web, including email. My students use it with Google Docs.

If you you want to use Grammarly with Microsoft Word, you have to get the premium edition ($135 a year). It also catches many other errors (noted in the free version with each check). I have a premium edition that I load student documents into to speed checking with the students.

Tech for Teach

Bibblio and curated search

If your  students are overwhelmed by search results at Google, you may want to give them a set of training wheels in the form of a curated search engine. Teachers and other students select results so that the search engine only returns the best. They also are the safest, if that is important to you or your younger learners.


Enter a search term and Bibblio returns a list of sources tailored to classroom research. You can select which kind of media you want (Video, Books, Visuals, Audio, Articles), and you can sort by Top Rated, Most Visited, Most Shared and Most Recent. Your search terms end up in a small window on the top right, with suggestions for narrowing that search.Bibblio___Search

Bibblio* is just getting started, a new beta, but a promising one. Right now, the content is skewed toward videos, and there is a distinct lack of articles and books. I would expect this to be resolved quickly, but for now, it looks like the selection is still mechanical. They are depending on crowdsourced selection, which will vastly improve the results. So please, keep checking in until it is ready for class.

I just want to echo back to two related posts here. The first is Choosito! a search engine for K-12 that allows you to set the difficulty of language of the results. The second is InstaGrok, a mind-map with attached resources like video, articles, images and concepts. You can also add notes and save your searches, which makes this the best writing tool.

Check them all out and decide which is best for you.

*Notice the extra B in Don’t use .com, the autocorrect dumps you at a different site.

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