Jenny F. is one of our most popular tutors. She gained many loyal students thanks to her amazing children’s lessons, where she teaches Japanese children from all ages. Her youngest student is just 1 ½ years old! In this interview, she shares some of her secrets on making her lessons fun and learning English natural for kids.
- Teaching online since: 2015
- Category taught: English, Chinese
- Jenny F. speaks: Chinese, English and Japanese
- Total number of lessons taught on Cafetalk: 3993
Hi Jenny, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with us. First of all, can you tell us a bit about how you started out on Cafetalk?
Hi! Yes of course. I think I signed up last year in February… or the beginning of March? In the beginning, in the first few weeks, I only had one or two students. So I tried a lot of things: I gave out coupons, I wrote into the Tutor Column and… I was stalking all the teachers’ profile pages… (laughs). A few of those things worked for me, and a few didn’t really work for me… but checking out other tutor’s profile pages definitely helps a lot.
So which tools ended up working out for you?
The coupons really worked for me! At first I gave out 100%-off-coupons, because I wanted to raise the number of lessons and students on my profile. Of course, it was a little bit hard, but I just wanted to raise the number of lessons and students displayed on my profile, so I thought it was alright.
After the students took one of my lessons, I would tell them: “It would be great if you could write me a review, and if you do, I can give you another coupon!” And with that, some students would come back and stick with me.
That was before you really started to get into teaching kids. If I remember correctly, that happened during our yearly Summer Campaign, right?
Yes, starting from summer, there was the summer campaign. And from that summer campaign I got a lot of new students, mostly kids. From the summer campaign onwards, the moms took notice of me, and I gained a lot of numbers in terms of lessons and students, and gradually I gained a lot of students.
And then I asked you, the staff, to recommend me to parents who are looking for teachers for their kids.
So you started focusing more on teaching kids. In your experience, what are the most important things to keep in mind when teaching Japanese children?
One of the most important factors, which the parents check as well, is that you have to be available from 3pm to about 9pm (Japanese time). Because that’s when the kids finish school. They will come back home, and then they can take the lesson. Another thing is that a lot of the moms are looking for tutors who can speak some Japanese. It’s not a must, but some of the parents can’t speak English fluently, and if there’s something important to discuss, some of the moms prefer to talk about it in Japanese. But of course, they want you to use only English in the lesson, so as long as you can communicate with the parents, speaking Japanese is not a must.
And did you ever adjust or change your lesson prices?
(laughs) In the beginning, when I didn’t really know the average, I made them waaaay too expensive! I charged like 2500 for a 30-minute lesson. But after a few days I noticed my mistake and changed it to 1500, and haven’t changed it since. However, I do offer discounts through lesson packs, where the parents can buy four or eight lessons a month.
I haven’t considered going cheaper than 1500 per 25 minutes though, because for a while Cafetalk used to be my only job and my only income, and with these prices, that worked out well. And the package sales also work really well in making sure I have an idea of how much I will earn within a month.
I think a lot of new tutors wonder how to structure their lessons, and what kinds of materials to use. Can you tell us a bit about the lesson plans and materials you are currently using?
I sort of started to separate my students into different levels, as I figured they have different needs, and that led me to prepare different contents for the different groups. One of those groups are beginners, and really small kids, like 3-4 years old – sometimes as young as 2 years old! They take one of my 25-minutes kids classes, and the really young ones, 2 years and younger, take my 20 minute “Mommy and me” class. Elementary school kids upwards often take two lessons in a row, so all in all a 50 minute lesson.
The way I found my lesson plan… I actually just googled “Lesson Plan” (laughs). And then I did some research and put what I found together to make my own lesson plans.
Now, I use different lesson plans from “Everybody Up”. Maybe you’ve heard about it, it’s from Oxford. Their lesson plans also come with complimentary textbooks, which I ask the parents to buy. I don’t always use the books in class, just sometimes. It gives you suggestions for exercises or topics to talk about with your students. For example when they’re a little older, we talk about science, like plants! And I ask the parents to buy the book if possible, because then I can give the writing exercises in the book as homework, which would take a long time for the kids to do during the class. So I do the interactive part in class, and the writing I ask them to do as homework.
And for really small kids, you use different materials?
Yeah, for the 3 year old kids, I use these small alphabet books, where they can colour really simple pictures with basic vocabulary, and put fitting stickers onto the pages. And when they already know the alphabet, there’s another book from “Everybody Up”, which comes without the writing exercises. It has really simple exercises, like circling and connecting words and images. Some of the young ones can sit down and listen to me. If they can’t do that, I will leave out the workbooks and just do some games.
Can you tell us a bit more about these online games?
Definitely! I mostly use ABCya.com. Maybe you’ve heard about it, it’s a great website that you can show to the students by sharing your screen on Skype. The website has all kinds of games for children of different ages. For young kids, as in pre-elementary school, I use the alphabet matching game or the numbers game, or the colors game.
Then there’s tons of other games you can use to practice numbers, or simple vocabulary. I always try to find a game where I can make learning new vocabulary fun and interactive, so the kids don’t really get the feeling they are learning or studying. I just try to find a subject or game they love, and then they can learn naturally. You can use one of the games I suggested [note from Cafetalk: list at the end of interview], but the way I find new games, is actually just googling it (laughs). So if I want to teach the kids about animals, I type into google: “Animals, learn, kids, game”, and then usually something good comes up. Especially when you are using the lesson plan, the lesson plan may give you a topic, and then you can search for games to complement the lesson plan.
So you mentioned giving homework is a good thing for teaching kids?
Actually, it depends. I give out homework for them to review, but it’s not a must. I usually tell them that we can do it during the lesson, but if they do it at home, we will have more time for games. Some kids like to write into the workbooks, but some don’t, so homework can be the workbook, but also other things like crafts, reading, etc., with a variety of content
So what do you ask the kids and the parents to prepare for your lessons?
Well, the textbook, if they bought it, and of course some paper so the kids can draw, and crayons and pencils. But these are for the kids who can sit down nicely and listen to me and do their work. For some kids, who are really small, like 2 or 3 years old, I use different materials, as I explained before.
Alright, so with 3 year olds, you can do the alternative lesson plan. But how do you handle lessons with 2 year olds, or even younger kids?
Well, some of the 2 year olds don’t even understand Japanese yet (laughs), so I’ve created a shorter, 20 minute lesson that involves the moms. Basically, I will involve the mom in the lesson, and talk to the kid in English. For example I’d go “Can you draw an A with mommy?”, and then the mom will playfully write out an A with the kid.
As for singing, I generally don’t do it in my classes. Because I think it takes a lot of time, and I’ve made the experience that it just makes the kids too hyper, and they just run away… (laughs)
But in some instances, I will do it. I actually have a student that is only 1 ½ years old… the kid sits in front of me in her baby chair, and with kids this young, there’s really not much I can do besides singing, and sometimes drawing. That’s why I created the “Mommy and me”-class, which involves the mom or dad.
What else can you recommend in terms of materials to keep the kids focused?
Oh, first of all, I just keep up a fast pace! You have to try and find a talking speed which is not too fast, so they understand you easily, but also not too slow, or they’ll lose interest. I will start asking them some questions, and if they don’t reply, I’ll move on.
Using things that they like and are interested in is usually a good way to capture their attention as well.
Especially for boys, using some pictures that involve topics that they like (Youkai Watch, Dragon Ball or Pokemon are really popular in Japan right now) is really good for keeping their attention. So I’ll show them a picture of Pikachu, for example, and they’ll laugh and recognise it, and then I can say things like “Yes! Pikachu is happy!”. Then I could show them another picture and go like “Oh, Pikachu is angry”, or sad, and so on. That works really well.
For the girls, I will take a princess, for example Elsa. Again, I will look for different pictures of Elsa (one where she’s happy, one where she’s angry, and one where she’s sad!) and show them to the girls. And then of course you can use the same pictures to teach them more vocabulary, like colours and so on! Some kids, however, are really active and just want to move around. In that case, I tell the mom that it’s okay for them to move around and play with their toys, but they have to play in front of me. Then, I can keep the communication with them flowing, and ask them to show me what they are doing, and take it from there.
The first lesson is probably crucial. Do you have any tips as to how you introduce new kids and their parents to your classes?
I do trial lessons. One of my trial lessons is 25 minutes, and out of those I spend about 15 minutes dedicated to the kids and do a real trial lesson. For the remaining 10 minutes, I will ask them to get their mom and talk to the mom. I will ask the mom about the kid’s experience with English, their personality, what they like… then I’ll explain the lesson plans, and talk about the textbooks.
We talked about how to capture active kids’ attention. Do you also have some tips how to handle kids that are really shy?
For kids who are really shy… this is my tip, and I think it’s really important: don’t ask them questions! Because they will not answer you. Ever. And it will just make everything awkward, so… if it’s the first time I’m doing a lesson with them, I will ask the mom about their name and age. Then, when I already know the answer, I will ask questions, like “What’s your name”, or “How old are you?” - but instead of letting them answer, I will answer for them. So I’ll go like: “What’s your name? Is it Eri?”, and then I’ll ask them to repeat the answer. If they don’t repeat after me, I will just move on, and try out one of the other activities.
And after the lesson, how do you handle feedback?
For the feedback, I always summarise what I did that day with the kids, so I would list up the topics that we covered to give the parents an idea of the new vocab that we learned. Of course, if something important or noteworthy happened I want the parents to know, I will write that in the lesson review. For example if the kid seemed a bit sleepy, I will inform the parents about it, and then they can switch the lesson time.
I don’t write too much, however, because for students who continue with me, I will just send the parents the lesson plan, and that already gives them a pretty good overview of what we’re doing. That way, even if I don’t type anything into the lesson review, the moms already know what we’re going to do.
So you always try to stick to the lesson plan?
(laughs) No, not really! It really depends on the kid. You know, sometimes when they look tired or bored, you just have to change it up a little. In that case, I will switch to doing some crafts or drawing, and just continue with the lesson plan the week after or during the next lesson.
Then let us ask one last question before the wrap-up: How do you get the students to repeat the new vocabulary after you?
Oh well, that really depends! But usually, I have to get creative and use a lot of hand gestures (laughs). So for example holding your hand to your ear and leaning with your ear towards the screen, or using your hands to make a speaking gesture in front of your mouth works. If the kids really don’t get it, or sometimes if they are very young, I will involve the mom! I will go like “Mommy, can you repeat it?” and then the kids will usually imitate their mom and repeat after her.
Thank you Jenny! Can you once more summarise the most important points for aspiring children tutors?
Alright, let me summarise the most important points. If you want to teach Japanese kids on Cafetalk, make sure that
- You are free from 3pm-9pm Japanese time
- You don’t just introduce yourself on your profile, but write about what kinds of lessons you’re going to teach and your experience in teaching kids
- You always keep a lot of materials around you! The online games, flashcards, google images… etc. (I also always keep my ipad, so I can show them pictures even if Skype’s screen share doesn’t work)
And then, you just have to make the lesson fun!
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