Genkienglish.net is a resource website targeting teachers who teach English to children. While the site originated in Japan and much of the content is oriented towards teachers and learners in Japan, the site offers many resources that would be useful in any number of contexts. So far, most of the websites reviewed by scholars have been language-learning tools, which are generally praised for their immediate availability, up-to-date resources, and authentic materials. Websites for teachers, however, have not received the scholarly interest they deserve. English teachers invest much time and energy in preparing lesson plans and coming up with exciting activities on a daily basis. EFL teachers, who have the additional burdens of collecting authentic materials and exposing students to the target language, may have a harder time making their classes both meaningful and interesting. Therefore, a website like Genkienglish.net, which provides sample lessons, games, and a discussion board, can not only lessen teachers' workloads but also bring fun to their classes at the same time. In addition, considering the paucity of teacher resource websites hosted by native speakers of English with experience in teaching English in EFL settings, Genkienglish.net is unique and worth evaluating.
The main page of Genkienglish.net consists of eight sections, and six of them are relevant for language learning and teaching: Lesson of the Day, Songs, Games, New Stuff, For the Kids, and Advice.
Lesson of the Day is a section where teachers can access sample lesson plans which come with printable handouts, worksheets, songs, and games. Even though many of the songs and handouts are available only by purchasing CDs (US$129 plus shipping for a four CD-ROM pack), some are available to download for free on the website.
The Songs and Games sections provide original songs and games designed to facilitate language learning. Step-by-step instructions and pictures of demonstrations are presented for every game and song.
New Stuff is a section for newly added materials. It provides timely cultural notes about Western holidays, such as Christmas and Halloween, and related games and songs for class. [-1-]
For the Kids is supposed to be a section for children who want to learn English via the web. However, it first leads users to a page for teachers. Even though it provides the link for the actual Kids' page on top of that section, users, presumably children, need to understand English instructions to click on the correct link (Note: Japanese learners can also convert the page into Japanese).
Advice is a section designed to provide additional information for teachers. Listed there are teaching-related anecdotes written by the site owner, newspaper articles about the website, more sample lesson plans, and teaching materials, such as games and video clips.
This website has a number of merits. First, even though its original targets were teachers in Japan teaching elementary school students, many of the materials are useful for teachers of English in other countries as well. Every Japanese page, except the Kids' page can be converted into English and the topics of sample lessons are broad enough to be used in different settings, such as animals, fruits, and sports. In addition, Discussion board is a good section for teachers who want to share their problems and teaching ideas with one another. Teachers who teach younger or older students can still benefit from this website. New activities that are appropriate for kindergarten and junior high school students are being added to the website.
Another merit of this website is that, even though this website is mainly for teachers, a great deal of information is available for parents and kids. From the Parents' page, parents can get useful advice on how to teach kids English at home. The Kids' page is also full of colorful pictures and fun English games including phonics.
Finally, excluding the Kids' page, access and link connections are active and easy. Except for listening to songs and watching video clips, there are no special browser requirements or special software necessary to use this website. Navigational links are clear and the icons that lead to every section are always located on the left side of the screen, allowing users to move freely from section to section.
There are, however, a few caveats. The first problem is the layout. The information provided in some sections flows inconsistently, thus making it hard for users to figure out what is presented. For example, sample lessons, songs, videos, games, and teaching-related articles are spread out in the Advice section without any subcategories.
Another issue is related to the web host's views on language learning. Emphasizing developing listening and speaking skills, he, a former English teacher in Japan, argues, "Teaching kids to read needs a big investment of time, and for this reason, I wouldn't recommend teaching it in Japanese elementary schools." He also criticizes using authentic songs, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle little star," blaming them for teaching students English that they will never use. Considering language skills as isolated entities and teaching them separately goes against recent trends towards more holistic approaches to second language learning and teaching. Besides, using authentic children's songs and exposing students to written language not only has a positive effect on the integrated development of the four language skills, but also helps learners gain a better understanding of the cultures in which English is spoken.
A final problem is related to content. Activities in some sections are irrelevant to learning English, and some section and activity titles are misleading. For example, Hiragana, Katakana and Japanese O-koto in the Kids' page have nothing to do with learning English. Furthermore, Curing Katakana, a fascinating title, explains nothing more than the fact Katakana cannot represent English sounds without providing any tips for how to "cure" it, as the title suggests. [-2-]
Genkienglish.net is a good teaching resource for English teachers. Teachers who have to use specific textbooks and thus have less freedom to use other activities or materials, can still benefit by adopting games related to the content of their textbooks' lessons. Provided that the layout and content of some sections are improved, this website will attract not only more teachers and parents but also kids who want to learn English in an interesting way.
Michigan State University
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