An eikaiwa (英会話) is a English conversation class, usually for adults. Some ALTs run eikaiwas at a community center.

The main difference between adults and children in a classroom environment is experience. Adults likely know more than the ALT about a variety of subjects. To take advantage of this worldly knowledge, it’s a good idea to create lesson plans that prompt adults about their opinions and experiences. Not only does this make the content of their English relevant, it levels out the authority structure so that adults don’t feel like they’re being forced into class activities by someone who may be half their age.

Sample free discussion questions

These questions can be asked in a free discussion portion of a class for adults with moderate to high-level conversational ability.

  1. What is the cheapest/fastest/safest way to get to Tokyo/Hokkaido/Korea, etc.
  2. Where I can I get reliable snow boots/a cheap haircut/a mountain bike, etc.
  3. What’s the weather forecast for this week?
  4. Who are some popular Japanese musicians? Which ones do you like?
  5. Which bag should I use for each kind of trash?
  6. Why do students wear uniforms on Saturday and Sunday?
  7. Why do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?
  8. When I visit a person’s house, what might be considered rude behaviour?

Most of these questions put the students themselves in positions of authority because they will be using English to give the ALT advice. This takes the burden off of the ALT to be a "wise figure", which is a quality that may be appropriate in a classroom of children, but not so much here.

Things to avoid

Generally speaking, but not always, these things can be problematic.

  1. Asking questions that draw too heavily upon your own expertise. If you have the definitive answer to a question, you’ll probably be the one who ends up answering it. Students may venture a few guesses, but after awhile they’ll quickly learn that you’re not really interested in their thoughts on the topic and only asked the question as a prelude to giving them a lecture.
  2. Asking questions that call for very brief answers. If your questions call for a “yes” or a “no,” that may be all you get. Students will get much more practice if they are explaining who, what, when, how, and why to you.
  3. Interrupting students who are formulating answers. There are many reasons why it’s tempting to interrupt adults (perhaps you want to correct their grammar or you have something you want to add), but it’s important that students get as much time as they need to put together what they want to say or they may quit trying.
  4. Lying in response to questions. It’s easy to make up a grammatical rule out of thin air, but if you don’t honestly know the answer to a question, just say so. Students rarely lose respect for a teacher because he or she doesn’t know something. They do, however, lose respect for teachers who make a spectacle out of their insecurity by never admitting ignorance.

Deciding on a syllabus

As for grammar lessons and other non-discussion activities, it doesn’t hurt to give adults some agency in the planning of lessons. The ALT, for example, can ask them what they want to learn next, what they think should be reviewed, how an activity can be improved next time, and what facts about English the ALT can investigate (if he or she doesn’t know on the spot). Given that most ALTs are not experienced teachers, a democratic classroom is at least as good, and possibly better, than a single novice dictating every pedagogical detail. As the teacher, it is important for the ALT to make the final decisions, but adults probably know how best they learn subjects, whether through drills, discussions, or games, and their feedback is valuable.


See also