The Happy Prince: a graded reader review

Reviewed by Raymond Hoogenboom

Title: The Happy Prince

Author: Oscar Wilde (retold by Liana Robinson)

Xreading level: 7 (1000 headwords)

Length: 1087 words

The Happy Prince tells us that real beauty is inside our hearts, and the power of doing good transcends materialistic possessions, self-focused endeavors, and even flesh and blood itself. 

The story tells of a symbiotic partnership between a self-absorbed swallow, migrating south to warmer Egypt, and a gold-covered statue of a “happy” prince. When alive, the prince lived a “perfect” sheltered life in a “beautiful castle.” After death, his statue was placed on top of a hill above the city, where he now witnesses sadly the pain and poverty of the city’s people.

The swallow, at first reluctant, agrees to help the statue deliver his valuable decorative “gems” — a red one from his sword, and two blue ones from his eyes — to help a poor family, a struggling writer, and a young girl with an abusive father. When the swallow returns from his flights, he feels warm inside, and the statue assures him that it was doing good that caused him to feel warm.

Emotionally overwhelmed that the Happy Prince sacrificed his own eyes to make poor lives easier, the swallow becomes converted and vows to stay through the winter to help the him give away all his gold to people in need. By the end, the Happy Prince is stripped of his external beauty and the swallow lay dead at his feet. An angel finally brings both to Heaven.

The Happy Prince is as relevant today as it was when it was published 135 years ago. We now live in an age when many people in the world struggle financially while billionaires fly to the stars in expensive toy rockets. Although these very rich sometimes give to charity, The Happy Prince tells us that the most powerful charity is anonymous and given with significant self-sacrifice.

This graded version, simplified in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and content, was pleasant to read, even from the perspective of a native speaker. Short paragraphs flow into each other cohesively with a naturally structured mix of simple and brief complex sentences. Eight enchantingly colorful illustrations, some depicting what looks like a 19th century northern European city, accompany the text. Seventeen vocabulary items are introduced in a glossary, and there is a wonderful drama activity in which students can act out a scene and imitate the language in spoken form.

Jojo’s Story: a graded reader review

Reviewed by John Larson

Title: Jojo’s Story

Author: Antoinette Moses

Xreading level: 6 (800 headwords)

Length: 9498 words

An extremely powerful story of a young boy caught in the middle of tribal warfare, Jojo’s Story opens windows into many global issues for readers to explore.

Jojo is the only survivor of an attack on his village. A young boy, he doesn’t understand the reason behind the violence that has taken everything from him. His emotions run the gamut from shock and despair to confusion about why he is still alive and what life means without his family. In the aftermath of the attack, he meets a British photographer who is kind to him, but who ultimately can do nothing for Jojo but listen to his story, take his picture and use them to publish about the warfare in Jojo’s country. Before he has mentally recovered in a makeshift hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, he steals a pair of boots and joins a group a young men, hoping he can become a soldier like them and fight.

The genius of Jojo’s Story is the use of Jojo as its primary narrator. A young boy, Jojo’s impression and feelings are comparatively simple. This perspective allows the story to be told in a way that lends itself to a limited vocabulary. And this in turn makes Jojo’s Story sound genuine, which is a problem for many graded readers. Also, Jojo’s limited vocabulary and experience allow him to beautifully express his experiences and emotions using simple yet poetic phrases such as, “…fire has eaten the village,” and “I don’t have any smiles anymore.” It is no doubt this brilliant utilization of a limited narrator is one of the primary reasons Jojo’s author Antoinette Moses won the Extensive Reading Foundation’s LLL Award in 2004 for this masterpiece.

Among the many social problems addressed by Jojo’s story are poverty, tribal warfare, rape, survivor’s guilt, conflict minerals, child soldiers, and the manipulation of third-world disasters by first-world mass media. If there is one glaring misstep, it is the attempt to include all of these issues in one novel – let alone a graded reader aimed at beginner-level English learners. Many of these issues are hidden; not easily accessible to students without some explanation and guidance from a teacher.

100 Days at Sea: a graded reader review

Reviewed by Anna Husson Isozaki

Title: 100 Days at Sea

Author: Kris Ramonda

Xreading level: 5 (600 headwords)

Length: 6626 words

Junko Yamanaka spoke to Gunma JALT in Kusatsu a few years ago and mentioned the importance of “home-run books” – books which the students reliably enjoy, and which can spark a desire to read more. I’ll share the most reliable home-run book I’ve found. Kris Ramonda wrote it a few years ago and on the Xreading site it is in the ‘Special’ section of the publisher’s list – and be sure to look it up by using its numerical title ‘100’, not ‘one hundred’.

This short novel, at mid-level graded reading, is in the sweet spot after getting through the basics, when students can enjoy a more involving story. Thanks to being written in Japan, familiar touches, locations, and even some phrases will resonate and lower the barriers students might feel about a longer book in English. The world is brought to the readers and the main character, a Japanese university student named Daiki, through his joining a voyage on Peace Boat after working and saving money for some time. He makes friends and enjoys lectures, salsa lessons, and seeing new places. In the early part of the trip there are stops in Taipei, Manila, Singapore, and then while heading toward Kenya, they head into some trouble…

Peace Boat is, in fact, a ship belonging to a Japanese-based NPO which goes on regular educational and humanitarian voyages worldwide, and is itself worth showing to students if possible, at least via the Internet. Meanwhile, however, sketch illustrations in the book further add to comprehension and enjoyment. The audiobook performance accompanying the e-book deserves special mention. It was not originally included, but some pleading from unknown sources resulted with the author, Kris, doing the reading himself and once started, one does not want to stop listening. The recording hits the right notes, understated and calm, but with expression that brings the printed story to life and conveys the intended meaning. Daiki’s love interest, Sophia, for example, is approached by another passenger, a handsome man who tells her on first meeting that she is the most beautiful woman on the ship.

He’s a flirt, Sophia thought.’

This may not be in the academic word list (Coxhead, 2000), but many will agree that it could be useful, and the tone of the audio performance helps make the humorous meaning clearer than context alone, as well as the follow-up: 

Uh oh – this isn’t good, thought Daiki.’

Perhaps because the story, fictional, has some realistic touches, as well as travel (obviously), adventure, romance, danger, and heroism, it has been popular with students across all the gender, age, and major interest demographics I have tried it with. Another plus for teaching and for the students is that though there is a sense of background, and potentially thought-provoking characters and situations, it stays light enough that the closing response is almost always, ‘That was fun.’


Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.

Rebuilding an EFL Classroom Community with a Project Based Unit of Work

By Sylvain Bergeron

As teachers and students prepare themselves to return to the classroom and to face-to-face learning after nearly three years of online teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic, classroom dynamics may require the need to integrate a new approach and methodology during this period of adjustment and transition. Recalling this author’s own pre-pandemic classroom experience with an approach such as Project-Based Learning (PBL), the author was reminded of how the interactive and communicative nature of PBL may hold the key to rebuilding a sense of community following an extended period of online learning and separation from peers, school life, and a traditional classroom environment. Based on the author’s observations and guided by the work of Boss, Larmer, & Mergendoller (2015; 2018) respectively, this article will introduce a framework designed to encourage the use of PBL for the purpose of reestablishing a sense of community, collaboration, and connectedness in the post-pandemic EFL classroom.

Keywords: Community, interactive, online learning, post-pandemic, Project-Based Learning

According to Palmer (2007, p. 118):
Community, or [a sense of] connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching.


Recognized as a highly respected humanist, author, and a teachers’ teacher, Palmer’s aforementioned quotation encapsulates perfectly well the message at the heart of this article. After all, when it comes to utilizing good teaching as the medium to help bring about a sense of community or connectedness in the [EFL] classroom, Palmer subsequently and fittingly states that “different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly different ways, using widely divergent methods” (p. 118). Furthermore, as we attempt to better understand the true definition of community, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.” According to this author’s experience, the divergent method that led to the creation of community in his own classroom, occurred unexpectedly following the adoption of a PBL course of study within his institution’s newly formed English curriculum.


Moving beyond the sole purpose of sharing one person’s teaching experience, this two-part article has been written in the hope of reaching, encouraging, and perhaps even inspiring fellow college or university EFL instructors, who may be considering incorporating a PBL-based approach and methodology in their own classroom following a return to on-campus teaching and learning. 

In the first section of the article titled Introduction to Project-Based Learning, the reader will be introduced to the definition of PBL, and to some of the challenges, possible solutions, and rewards associated with a PBL-based approach and methodology, and how lessons learned as a result of integrating PBL may hold the answer to restoring a sense of community and interaction within the EFL classroom after nearly three years of remote online learning.

In the second section of the article titled Classroom Application, readers will be introduced to an overview of an interactive and multi-skilled PBL-based unit of work that was used effectively within a large, mixed-level, and face-to-face (pre-pandemic) EFL class of second-year university students. 

Section One: Introduction to Project-Based Learning

I. What is Project-Based Learning?

According to Boss and Larmer (2018, p. 1), PBL is described as: 

…a proven framework to help students be better equipped to tackle future challenges. Through academically rigorous projects, students acquire deep content knowledge while also mastering 21st century success skills: knowing how to think critically, analyze information for reliability, collaborate with diverse colleagues, and solve problems creatively… When done well, PBL fosters self-management and self-directed learning. These are precisely the competencies that will enable students to thrive in the future they will help shape.   

Based on my own experience with PBL so far, I would further describe it as an instructional approach and methodology that takes student-centered learning to a higher level of engagement and interaction to promote, in agreement with Boss and Larmer, the development of transferable real-life skills. Also referred to as “21st century success skills,” these skills can be integrated suitably and put to practical use in any learning or working environment where effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving abilities are needed to successfully accomplish the shared assignment, task, or project at hand.  

II. Task-Based Learning Vs Project-Based Learning 

To avoid any misconceptions with the terminology and the definition of these two learner-centered approaches, I think it is important at this point to contrast and highlight some of the differences that exist between Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). These are two terms that are often used interchangeably despite the fact that they represent two different ways for learners to experience the second/foreign language (L2) in a more tangible, interactive, and practical way. 

For the purpose of clarification, Willis and Willis (2007, p. 1) define TBL as follows: 

Proponents of task-based teaching (TBL) argue that the most effective way to teach a language is by engaging learners in real language use in the classroom. This is done by designing tasks – discussions, problems, games, and so on – which requires learners to use the language for themselves.

Unlike PBL however, the amount of time it takes for students to complete a TBL task may require no more than a single lesson, or depending on the complexity of a specific task, a unit of work comprised of more than one lesson may be needed. In contrast, a PBL task may require students to take part in a series of separate, yet integrated activities and mini projects that will ultimately lead to the preparation, production, and presentation (e.g., including but not limited to focus groups, data analysis & report writing, PowerPoint, and poster presentations) of a final project requiring one full semester or an entire academic year to complete.   

III. Challenges & Rewards

Although PBL offers an excellent method to create lessons that are interactive, collaborative, and communicative, as with any other methodologies, there will be certain challenges to contend with. However, teachers will also discover that the rewards and benefits that students can gain as a result of having been exposed to PBL type activities are also many. To illustrate this point, the following section, although not an exhaustive list, will provide some examples of the challenges, possible solutions, and rewards that teachers and students may likely experience while engaging with a PBL approach and methodology. 

The Challenges

  • Large classes: Some teachers may find it daunting to have to deal with large classes and a high number of students, especially when the evaluation method incorporated within a PBL-based program includes a variety of assessment items with which to grade the students.  
  • Group work & task sharing: For students who prefer to study independently, the idea of group work and task sharing may initially require the need for careful group assignment adjustments on the part of the teacher to – as much as the situation allows – respond to student needs by attempting to bring about a certain level of balance and harmony within the group.  
  • Mixed-level classes: Unless a college or university has a system of streaming students based on their respective levels of language proficiency prior to the start of a new academic year, the EFL classroom will be composed of students with mixed levels of language ability. In this context as it relates to group making and student distribution, teachers would do well to obtain a record of the students’ placement scores to best bring a level of balance to each of the groups. As it pertains to classes that have been streamed based on similarity of levels and ability, group making, and student distribution should become an easier task for teachers to manage. In an ideal situation, whether classes are streamed or not, it is hoped that students will ultimately, regardless of their respective levels, be in a position to help and learn from each other. 
  • Language Acquisition: Last but certainly not least, due to its strong emphasis on autonomous learning, some would argue that L2 language acquisition during PBL-based activities is minimal as some students have a natural tendency to rotate towards the use of the L1 during interactions that are absent of immediate teacher supervision and intervention. In response to this and the other points of concern listed above, the items appearing below have been included in the hope of providing some tried and tested tips that may be helpful within your own teaching context:  

Possible Solutions & Suggestions

  • Language Needs: Teachers may wish to highlight, emphasize, and revisit key words, phrases, and expressions at various stages of the lesson. Additionally, to focus on what is common to all students’ needs e.g., the four macroskills, grammar, idioms, content-related vocabulary and terminology, etc. may prove to be effective. 
  • Personalization: As suggested by Brinton (2001, p. 461), teachers may do well to conduct interactive, learner-centered lessons “by bringing a slice of the real world into the [EFL] classroom.” This could be achieved by personalizing the subject matter and by inviting students to actively discuss, research, and propose viable solutions to real life problems including current local and global issues of particular interest and concern to students. 
  • Learning Environment: In line with a PBL approach and methodology, teachers would do well to create a safe space and encourage students to use their imagination, creativity, and self-expression. By creating a learning environment where everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a student, this will in turn, according to Palmer (2007), lead to the making of a “community of trust” and the creation of a “Great Thing” as it pertains to classroom dynamics, interest, and the level of enthusiasm expressed by learners towards the topic being addressed during a lesson.

The Rewards

  • Students learn how to communicate through group discussion activities, exchanging ideas, and as mentioned earlier, offering solutions to issues of concern and of interest to them  
  • Students learn how to collaborate with others in the preparation of PowerPoint presentations, poster presentations, and scriptwriting 
  • Students learn how to take initiative in the making of materials, research, data analysis, report writing, and presentation of findings
  • PBL leads to the development of real-life skills (or transferable skills) – refer to the list of “21st Century Skills” listed in Section 2
  • PBL prepares students for collaborative interactions in the college/university classroom as an introduction to future workplace dynamics 

Section Two: Classroom Application


This PBL-based unit of work composed of four separate, yet integrated lessons were conducted at the author’s institution during the 2019-2020 (pre-pandemic) academic year. Through a series of group-based tasks including problem solving, product design in response to the need to solve a specific problem, product and data analysis, and finally, in conclusion of the unit of work, students prepared a final end-of-semester poster presentation to share their “best” product idea/s and report their findings to their peers. 


  1. Location
    A large classroom with desks and chairs placed in island formations to best accommodate group work activities and discussion
  2. Frequency
    One 90-minute lesson per week for a total of 15 weeks 
  3. About the learners
    Twenty-eight EFL second-year university students belonging to the Faculty of Engineering 
  4. Level
    TOEIC 450-500 level (approximately)
  5. Materials
    Coursebook, students’ individual laptops, classroom audio/visual equipment, viewing screen; poster-sized paper; coloring materials 
  6. Procedure
    An overview of the unit of work representing four distinct, yet interrelated 90-minute lessons is presented in the table below: 

Overview of the Unit of Work: The following description includes an outline of lessons 1-4 which are equivalent to lessons 6-9 out of a 15-week (in-class) course syllabus. 

Note: Content of lessons adapted from the following coursebook: Benevides, M. & Valvona, C. (2018). Widgets Inc. (2nd Ed.). A task-based course in workplace English. Tokyo: Atama-ii Books, 16-32.

LessonContent of the Lesson
1Objective: Ss will be introduced to a project-based task requiring them to think of a common problem that they encounter in everyday life, for example, forgetting their keys or cell phone. Individually at first, Ss will brainstorm and then identify four everyday problems and four solutions to those problems. In the next stage, Ss will select two of their “best ideas” out of four and finally, following a section of the class dedicated to information sharing and discussion, Ss will select their own “best” and original product idea.  
Key vocabulary and expressions: useful; safe; original; possible; solve; convenient; problem-solution. “I am always losing/forgetting my…” / “How can I solve this problem?” / “I know. I will design/create/invent/develop a/an…” / “It’s a kind of…”/ “It’s made of…”/ “It looks like…” / “It’s used for…”
2Objective: Ss will continue from the previous lesson by announcing their best product idea to group members. Group members will listen attentively, ask questions, and record each Ss’ response concerning the product idea. In the next stage, Ss will make use of their own best product information to create a “Product Proposal Form” based on the following information: Std name; Team name; Product name; Product illustration; Purpose; Description of product and other information; and Example message. This stage of the unit of work is very important as the Ss’ Product Proposal Form will continue to serve as the blueprint/master plan throughout the course. 
Key vocabulary and expressions: product idea; product proposal; description. “Do you have trouble with…?” / “Do you often find yourself…?” / “Your problem/s will go away / will be solved / will disappear / when you…” / “So why don’t you…?”/ “Give … a try today and make your life easier / safer / healthier / more convenient.”
3Objective: To maximize on the information already included in their Product Proposal Form, Ss will be introduced to a method of data analysis known as SWOT. By way of SWOT, Ss will be able to identify, reflect on, and describe the (S) Strengths, (W) Weaknesses, (O) Opportunities, and (T) Threats associated with their own product idea. Ss watch a video to understand how conduct a SWOT Analysis on a sample product. Along with the video, Ss will take part in a SWOT Analysis by examining a sample product, comparing answers and exchanging their comments and views. 
Key vocabulary and expressions: T will Introduce concept and importance of SWOT; (S) Strengths; (W) Weaknesses; (O) Opportunities; (T) Threats; analysis; internal forces; external forces; helpful; harmful; characteristics, specifications; quality; created by; introduce the concept of “kaizen” (process of improving, changing, modifying a product to best meet consumers’ needs, standards, and expectations).
4Objective: Following the video example shown in the previous lesson, Ss will conclude the unit of work by conducting a SWOT Analysis and simultaneously, an assessment of each group member’s Product Proposal idea. Once the SWOT Analysis of all group members has been completed, Ss will determine which Product Proposal within the group is projected to become the most successful and/or popular to future consumers / end users. 
Key vocabulary and expressions: team decision; agree; disagree; undecided. “This product is… clearly the best / useful / attractive / going to be successful / going to be popular with consumers (end users) / easy to make / attractive / expensive / affordable / reasonable / environmentally friendly.” / “This product has many good points / serious weaknesses / many good opportunities / serious threats.” / “I think that… / “I would (not)…” / “People will think / say that…”
5~9Looking ahead: Moving beyond the fourth and final lesson of the unit of work, Ss would then proceed with the making of a poster leading to a final individual or group-level poster presentation based on key information, data, and images (illustrations) originating from the Product Proposal Form. As the poster presentation will represent the culmination of the first semester, Ss must be reminded to save a copy of their Product Proposal Form as this document will continue to be referred to throughout the second semester.

T = TeacherStd/Ss = Student/Students

Future Classroom Implications

In relation to the issue of future classroom implications and the question of transferable real-life skills as students transition from the classroom to the workplace, a set of 12 skills known as the “21st Century Skills” are being gradually introduced in school curricula as these particularly important abilities or aptitudes are being increasingly sought after by employers in search of promising, talented, and productive new members of their team and future workforce. 

The 12 “21st Century Skills” are the following: (Stauffer)

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Productivity
  • Social skills

Although composed of the 12 skills appearing above, for the purpose of this paper, the four skills considered increasingly important for today’s students to succeed at school and in the workplace known as “The 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills” are listed below: 

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

“The 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills” are skills and aptitudes that are deemed as valuable and necessary in today’s interactive classroom as they will be in tomorrow’s collaborative workplace. As it applies to this author’s institution, these skills have already become part of the students’ Can-Do Surveys and Student Portfolios to help them monitor their progress and learning process throughout the duration of their university career. 


Based on my experience over the years, I have come to realize that communication as a skill in any language, represents much more than the ability to express ourselves well. In fact, the ability to communicate effectively is an invaluable gift that we offer others when we stop the world long enough to create and open up a space of trust by truly listening and understanding what the other is conveying. As a member of any community – be it at school or in the workplace – by offering a high quality of presence and positivity to those around us, we intentionally infuse a sense of hope, optimism, and possibility for a meaningful outcome – whatever the intended task, project, or endeavor may be.  And so for these reasons, I believe that the level of positive interaction that can emerge as a result of integrating a PBL approach to help support a return to face-face lessons may be the key, or at the very least, the catalyst to help restore a sense of community and collaboration in our post-pandemic classrooms.


Benevides, M. & Valvona, C. (2018). Widgets Inc. (2nd Ed.). A task-based course in workplace English. Tokyo: Atama-ii Books.

Boss, S. & Larmer, J. (2018). Project based teaching. How to create rigorous and engaging l learning experiences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Brinton, D. (2001). The use of media in language teaching. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd Ed.) (pp. 459-464). Boston: Heinle, Cengage Learning, 461.

Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., & Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning. A proven approach to rigorous classroom instruction. Alexandria: ASCD.

Oxford Dictionary. (2022, July 1). Website retrieved from 

Palmer, J.P. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (10th ed.). San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 188.

Stauffer, B. (2022, October 31). What are the 4 C’s of 21st century skills? CTE Curriculum for Middle and High School Teachers. cs-21st-century-skills/ 

Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

An Innovative Approach to Business English

By David S. Andrews

For many students and teachers of EFL, the term “Business English” conjures up images of the TOEIC examination, test-taking strategies, and specialized and often difficult vocabulary in marketing, finance, and other fields of business. Often, Business English classes are offered to professionals already working in one or more of such fields in order to make them more attractive candidates for promotion, or to prepare them for a work assignment abroad.

Several years ago, one of my universities asked if I would be interested in designing and teaching a Business English class for their third- and fourth-year students. I was more than thrilled at the prospect, and, given that I had experience both teaching Business English to company employees and actually working as an employee myself in the intellectual property department of a large corporation here in Japan for many years, I was sure that I could come up with something. The only problem was that I was used to teaching people who were already professionals, who already knew their field as well as all of the necessary lingo in their own language. Now, I was faced with teaching Business English to people with no actual business experience and no particular field of specialty. This meant that much of the vocabulary I would be introducing, and oftentimes the very concepts the vocabulary represented, would be foreign to them. As the university already offered traditional TOEIC classes, I decided to introduce students to not just the language, but to the corporate culture in which it is used. To this end, I came up with what I call “Business English with a Twist: a crash course in practical English as it’s used in the workplace.”

I designed the class to cover a myriad of topics, including body language in business, which includes business etiquette such as the art of shaking hands, body position, stance, distance, and so on, though since the advent of Covid-19, shaking hands is only discussed, not practiced, at least for the present. I cover phone skills in a professional setting, resume writing that focuses on the differences between Japanese and English resumes, and business correspondence, in which students learn how to write and format various types of business letters and emails. But the real fun part of the course is a fictional internship program designed to give students a taste of what it’s like to work as part of a team in a corporate setting. The internship program is loosely based on the textbook Widgets Inc.: A task-based course in workplace English by Marcos Benevides and Chris Valvona (2018 Atama-ii Books). The textbook is filled with a ton of material and activities – so many that I found it a little impractical to use as is. I designed my class around a slimmed-down version of some of the ideas presented in Widgets Inc., with a few modifications from my own corporate experience. This way, I reap the benefits of Benevides and Valvona’s great concepts, and can inject my own ideas into the class, expound if necessary, and tailor lessons to the level of the students.

Though there have been as many as 40, the class usually consists of 18 to 24 third- and fourth-year students with an upper-intermediate to advanced level of English. Most of the students are highly motivated, and many are interested in living abroad or working for a company in a position that utilizes their English skills.

The classroom is a typical classroom, with desks that can be rearranged according to the task at hand. For the internship program activity, the role of the teacher is that of facilitator rather than lecturer, initially explaining the overall program and then making sure the program stays on track and providing assistance when necessary. Student learning is assessed through a series of individual and group written assignments, as well as individual presentations given between groups, and a final group commercial-style presentation.

At the outset of the internship program, I divide the class into an even number of teams, each consisting of three or four students that play interns in a fictitious company within an R&D department, a marketing research department, and a marketing department. The program consists of three phases. Each team starts in R&D: phase one, transitions to marketing research: phase two, and ends up in marketing: phase three.

Phase One: R&D

In phase one, each R&D department team brainstorms to come up with a list of real problems that people face in their daily lives. Then each in turn imagines three hypothetical innovative products or services that solve those problems. Products that students have come up with in the past include a tumbler with separate compartments for drink and snacks that a student could take to class, a cosmetic sheet that enables you to put on all of your facial makeup at once by simply pressing the sheet against your face, and a never-be-lonely subscription-based app powered by AI that will help curb depression. Team members then work together in English to develop each idea, discuss advantages and drawbacks of the product, and identify each intern’s strongest idea. Each intern then writes up their idea and submits it as an assignment, as well as prepares a short presentation about it.

Team A gives its presentations followed by a Q&A session to another team, Team B, which acts as management. Management then discusses and determines which of the three or four ideas presented it thinks is the best and notifies Team A of its conclusion. The roles of the teams are then reversed so that each team has a chance to both give presentations and act as management. Team A then holds a meeting with Team C, which will act as a marketing research team in the next phase, and describes to that team in detail the idea that was selected as the best by Team B. In this way, the ideas are communicated from one team to another. Now on to phase two: marketing research.

Phase Two: Marketing Research

In the marketing research department, Team C takes the idea from Team A and creates a questionnaire to obtain useful information regarding the demographic, possible modifications, price point, and general interest with regards to the product. The team then gives surveys to students and teachers at random throughout the university to gather statistics. Team C writes a report based on its findings and submits it as an assignment. Team C then meets with Team D and explains the product and what it learned from the statistics. Then on to phase three, marketing.

Phase Three: Marketing

In phase three, Team D, which acts as a marketing team, takes the statistics and uses them to market the product, coming up with a compelling billboard and a commercial in the form of a group presentation. After each group has given its presentation, everyone in the class votes for their favorite product by ballot, and the teacher announces the winner.

Does the classroom internship program have a lot of moving parts? You bet! That’s its beauty. Each group serves as a cog in a wheel that works to produce a finished product – very similarly to how things work in a company. The students get a feel for what it’s like to be part of several large projects, and are able to see the finished products that they contributed to when they’re unveiled in a commercial presentation. No matter what product is chosen in the end, the winners are not just the teams that gave the final presentation, but rather everyone who worked on that product at any point, from concept to commercial.

I have incorporated this program into my Business English class for several years, and only encounter difficulty when a number of students are absent. There are ways to overcome this problem, however, such as changing the sizes of the groups, reducing intergroup work, or even omitting phase two, marketing research.

I’ve found that the benefits of this program far outweigh potential problems. It incorporates listening, speaking, reading, and writing, as well as collaboration, cooperation, and compromise. During group and intergroup meetings, the students must be able to clearly describe to other members of their group exactly what their product is and how it works. Students must also present written reports of their ideas that the others read. As the role of each group changes, everyone in every group is involved with both presenting and receiving information. In addition to learning vocabulary and expressions related to R&D, marketing research, and marketing, students acquire summarizing skills and presentation skills, and the skills of persuasive communication, collaboration, leadership, and self-management. In addition to – or maybe because of – this, the program has been well received by my students, who noted that it was “a lot of fun” and gave them “a different type of learning experience.” It brings the best attributes of the corporate world into the classroom, and – I hope – will help students bring their best to the corporate world.


Benevides, M. & Valvona, C. (2018). Widgets Inc.: A task-based course in workplace English. Atama-ii Books.

Joey’s Journey: a story of hope and joy in the middle of a pandemic

By Joël Laurier

The coronavirus and the resulting pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Our lives were changed forever. Volumes of news reports, studies, and books accompanied the confusion, anxiety, pain, grief, and tears that symbolized this period in history. It was, and for many people still is, a dark period. And through it all, most of us just wished we could witness a glimmer of hope to show us that we would be ok. Here is one such story. 

This story retells how one simple phone call triggered an avalanche of good deeds that gave a new life to one of our members. It is a story that is so unbelievable with twists and turns that only a Hollywood sitcom script writer could come up with, but didn’t. This is a true story so unbelievable, that if I was not part of it, I wouldn’t be able to believe it. This is a story of how Heather McCulloch, our dear Gunma JALT president, set off a chain of events that brought people from around the world together to help give a man a new kidney. That man is me. And this is more than a thank you letter. This is a testament to the amazing work done by one person and over 200 others who joined her to give support to her friend. It is a story of hope that involves a divorce, a wedding, a budding romance, five operations, a call for action and an overwhelming response to it. This is a story of hope and, in the end, joy that shows how a group of JALT members helped give me a new life.

Like most people involved with Gunma JALT, it did not take long for me to like Heather. Her soft-spoken manner, sympathetic listening ear, and 1000-watt smile make her so approachable and a joy to be around. Over time she and I became collaborators and close friends. Like most people, we talked about our working environments and the institutional, local, prefectural and federal COVID protocols we had to follow since the onset of the pandemic. One night, a different topic popped up.

June 18, 2021 will forever be one of the most important days of my life. Just as important as the day each one of my sons was born and even the day of my kidney transplant almost one year later. It was on this day, during the above-mentioned telephone call, that our fearless leader Heather shared with me her altruistic plan to donate one of her kidneys to me. Without fanfare, bravado, or even a lead up to the topic, she offered me the gift of life. It was such a huge gift that it appeared too good to be true. Truth be told, I had just lost my first donor and another false hope would have crushed me. To say I approached this great news with apprehension would be an understatement. 

On this otherwise uneventful night, Heather had a surprise for me. Knowing that living organ donations in Japan can only be done by family members, Heather came up with an idea. She offered to marry me so that she could donate one of her kidneys to me. I could not believe my ears. This came from out of the blue. For Heather, it had been eight months of deliberation. She had been researching her material and looking at the effects of a donation; for her, as well as for her daughter Sophie. It was so sudden and so detached from the reality I had known before that day. I could not get my head around the fact that anyone would want to help me in such a way. I could not understand why a single mother would risk being able to care for her daughter, and potentially ruin her own health and life for me. I wondered if it was a fantastic dream. I wondered if she was serious. I wondered if this would ever become a reality. Much to my amazement, it did. My biggest prayers had been answered. Little did I know that this was only the first of many angels that would come to save me on this journey. 

So, from that night, the journey began for Heather and I, and a kidney named Patty (whose name was later to be changed to Joey). I quickly finalized the divorce my ex-wife and I had been working through, and Heather and I were married six days later. This allowed Heather to fulfill the first requirement of a donor, being a family member. 

Even with a marriage certificate in hand, there were no guarantees that Heather would be accepted as my donor. But she promptly convinced the doctors on our first visit to the hospital. She was more excited than I was to do this. There, we found out that we were the same blood type and that because it was a living-donor donation, that everything else could be arranged by the doctors during the transplant. After more than six months of travelling to Tokyo to have every part of our bodies tested, our mental states evaluated, and countless medical examinations, we were deemed a match for a kidney donation.

I had been dealing with polycystic kidney disease for six years at the time of this fateful call and had been diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure in 2020. At this point, my kidneys were functioning at about 10%. Like many kidney disease patients, my symptoms were not visible. In fact, at the time, I had no pain at all. Many kidney disease patients deal with swollen legs, fatigue, brain fogginess, and much more. As my kidney function deteriorated, I worked harder to maintain my good physical condition, knowing the success of my recovery would depend on the work I did prior to the operation. I was fortunate to be able to maintain my normal pace of life. Ironically, as the pandemic adversely affected most people’s lives, the forced transition to online teaching allowed me to balance my work schedule with an increasing amount of hospital visits. In preparation for a potential transplant, I also increased my savings to be ready for the high costs of this journey. 

Without a word of complaint or a hint of regret, Heather made this journey with me. Having her by my side made this an exciting journey. Every step of the way, she made it fun. I know this is something not many transplant recipients can say. Her Olympic-level focus on this mission left nothing to chance. In her quest to reach the next goal of being approved as a donor, she quit smoking, changed her diet, and even reduced the already very limited amount of drinking she did.

A transplant is no simple thing, and the costs are great. The recipient incurs great expenses. Similarly, the donor does as well. And to make things even more difficult in our situation, our transplant center is in Tokyo. With once-a-month visits eventually leading to once-a-week trips, sometimes even more, transportation costs rose precipitously. As the recipient, I gladly paid all her costs. As time went on, the costs of transportation, medicine, and all the other incidentals, rose beyond my means. Once the hospital started asking for deposits for our rooms and medical fees, the savings I had amassed quickly dried up. My insurance was not able to cover everything. And as reality set in, I saw that my biggest concern to getting a new kidney would be financial. To cope with my situation, I turned to Facebook to put a positive spin on it. This is where my second angel appeared.

In early January I posted a message telling people about the great gift Heather was giving me. It was read by hundreds of people, many of them JALT members. The outpouring of positive messages was overwhelming. And for one person, words were not enough. On January 10, 2022, Steven Herder, a well known JALT figure, called me to tell me he had set up an online funding campaign to help me deal with the financial burden I was going through. Steven is known for his big dreams, and more importantly for meeting and surpassing them. He set a goal to raise one million yen in about five weeks. I remember being shocked (and very much doubtful) that he thought he could reach that figure in my name. Despite my initial hesitation to accept money from friends, this was a helping hand I was in no position to refuse. And that’s where the journey got even more exciting. As Steven dealt with the money and the donation site, I followed the Facebook page comments people were posting. I cried every night that month. Seeing all the kind and supportive things that people were saying about me was extremely humbling. It’s only when we lose someone, or feel we are losing them, that we say these nice things. And sadly, at that very moment, people were dying in significant numbers around Japan without having heard these types of messages. It weighed heavily on my conscience. People I knew and people I had never met were donating. I was so relieved when the campaign ended with great success. The feeling of joy I had inside me was met with a sense of obligation. It was like I had to make the transplant succeed for all my supporters. I knew this was all in my head but this was nevertheless my feeling. 

So it was with a successful funding campaign that Heather and I were able to pay our deposits and enter the hospital on March 16, 2022. We were so excited. Heather hit an even higher level of excitement. It was as if she was the one receiving the new kidney, aptly named Patty in recognition of the day of the transplant – St. Patrick’s Day. But our excitement was short-lived. When we entered the hospital, Heather’s body temperature was 37.0º C, the demarcation line between viability and non-viability for a transplant. We were sent home a few hours after being admitted. While we understood the process, we were disappointed. No one more so than Heather. So it was with heavy hearts that Heather (with her kidney Patty) and I returned home. 

After we returned to Maebashi, our journey experienced a bigger setback. With my kidneys now functioning at 5%, I needed dialysis immediately if I were to be reinstated on the transplant waiting list. Reluctantly, I agreed to undergo dialysis treatment. I was allowed to do the dialysis at home upon completion of a one-week training program in the hospital to help me learn how to operate the machine. Luckily, the money given to the hospital for the now-canceled transplant was used for the week of training. Sadly, I was now back to being penniless.

Soon after starting dialysis, we learned that the doctors had rescheduled us for a May 19, 2022 transplant. The brief period of gloom was replaced with euphoria. This was great news; except I had no money to pay for it. And with the few weeks left before the operation, there was no hope that we could find this money. Then, just as suddenly and as remarkably as the first two, my third angel appeared. 

Like many of my friends who followed the saga on Facebook, Louise Ohashi sympathized with Heather and I. We were so close to realizing this life-prolonging dream. Just like Steven Herder, Louise stepped up and started an online funding campaign. The odds were very low that this one would succeed, and I was very apprehensive knowing that the people who would see the requests for money would be the same people who had generously given money the first time, a few weeks before. But, knowing Louise to be a great networker and a person focused on any task she sets her mind to, I was confident she would meet her goal. And she did it in truly remarkable fashion. She raised more than a million yen in ten days! 

On May 19, 2022 the kidney now named Joey (May 19 is Joey Ramone’s birthday) left Heather’s body and came to its new home – in my body.

Thanks to these three angels, and to the army of people who joined them to support my journey to getting a transplant, I am now able to live a beautiful, happy life. This army I call Joey’s Angels is a life-saving group of people of action. Among these people are several Gunma JALT members who gave more than money. They gave of their time by helping me move to Maebashi, translated for me when I needed paperwork filled out, brought me shopping when I was not so mobile, took me home from the hospital, and most importantly, prayed for and supported me throughout this ordeal. To those who showed so much patience in dealing with me before the operation, when my memory was not at its best, I am forever grateful. Words can never fully convey my thankfulness to you. 

This was a long journey, with amazing twists and turns, but I wrote this article for one reason. I am thankful for all the love and support I received throughout this ordeal. More importantly, I am overcome with amazement at the snowball effect one lady had on a sizeable community of people who themselves decided to jump into action to help a friend. In several cases, these donors were helping a complete stranger. Heather’s offer amazed all those who heard of her altruistic offer. This led to people showing support and joining the cause. And in great numbers and humbling fashion they did. 

These people, Joey’s Angels, exemplify the community of practice we often talk about in our professional development meetings. They came together for a cause. And I am proud to say their efforts led to the successful outcome they committed themselves to. More than that, they offered hope. In a period of time where an infectious virus was transforming all of our lives as it spread fear and paranoia, our president, Heather McCulloch, fought the good fight and spread hope. And she did it in such style and joy that it not only changed my life for the better, but that of so many others who witnessed the journey. May her kindness and determination in the face of long odds be an inspiration to us all. She brought out the good in many of us who were sadly losing hope. May her example be replicated in our classrooms, in our communities, in our lives. 

When obstacles seem insurmountable, know that there is someone nearby waiting to jump in to help. As Joey’s Angels have proven to me, it only takes one great friend to build an army of hope.

Developing a Digital Learning Resource: ESL speed readings, the app

By TJ Boutorwick

The idea for the app 

From 2014 to 2019, I taught on the English Proficiency Program (EPP) at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. EPP is a 12-week intensive English course aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students who are planning to begin their respective degrees, but who do not meet the university’s English language requirements. Classes meet five days a week, for a total of 19 hours of in-class time each week. One strand of the course is focused on fluency development. During this strand, students engage in activities which allow them to practice the language that they already have in their repertoire, in order to become faster at retrieving and using it. One activity practiced daily was speed reading. Speed reading can be considered a fluency activity because the purpose of the activity is for students to use language that they already have more efficiently, instead of learning new aspects of language – e.g., learning new vocabulary. 

Speed reading took place each day in the following manner. The speed readings were organized into binders, with each binder holding 20 stories. All stories in a binder were written at the same word level. For example, one binder had 20 stories written using the 500 most frequent English words according to the British National Corpus. Each day I would take the appropriate binder with me to class. The binder I took to class depended on the students’ proficiency level. All students take the Vocabulary Levels Test (Schmitt, Schmitt & Clapham, 2001) at the beginning of the course. Their scores on the Vocabulary Levels Test were used to decide the best level for the students to read. When it was time for speed reading, I would pass out a copy of the day’s reading to each student. The reading paper was doubled-sided; one side had the reading, and the other side had the comprehension quiz for the reading. The students were to keep the reading face down until they were told to begin. While doing this, I would typically ask one or two students to pass out progress charts to each student. This was a separate sheet of paper that each student used to track their speed reading progress. On it was a chart in which they would mark the time it took them to read each reading. Below the chart was a row of boxes. In each box they would write down the score they received on each quiz. On the reverse side of the progress chart paper was the answer key for all of the readings in the binder. After each student had received a copy of the reading and their progress sheet, I would return to the lectern and open up a stopwatch application on the computer which projected onto a large screen that everyone could see. I would then tell them to begin reading and start the stopwatch. Once a student was finished reading, they were to note down the time it took them to read the story on their progress sheet, and then flip the paper over and answer the quiz questions. When they were finished with the quiz, they checked their own answers and wrote their score at the bottom of their progress sheet. This was the process that repeated daily for the speed reading strand of the course. 

Around 2017, I remember thinking that the speed reading strand of the English Proficiency Program could somehow be optimized. I knew that there was nothing wrong per se with the manner in which speed reading was done in the course. However, it felt odd that out of the approximately 15 minutes the activity took, from handing out the materials to collecting everything back, only a fraction of the time was spent on the activity itself. This seemed like it could be optimized. Additionally, it seemed to me at the time that the activity created the opportunity for human error. For example, students have to write down their time manually. It is possible that the student could misread the time it took them to read, write the time down incorrectly, or forget to write it down altogether. Similarly, a student could score their quiz incorrectly, record the wrong quiz score, or forget to do it completely. 

Another thing I remember thinking about at the time related to the speed readings themselves. There are currently over 150 stories which have been written and edited over many years by Sonia Millett, with help from Paul Nation and Emmy Quinn. In fact, Emmy Quinn and Paul Nation wrote some of the original stories in 1974. These readings are thus a great resource for students; however they were only available for use by downloading the PDF copies of them, and then using them in a similar manner to the one I described above. I wanted to help promote this resource to teachers and learners in a way that would make it easy to access them. I realized that developing an app would help to get this resource out to others who were looking for speed reading materials. This was the situation that led me to begin development of the speed reading app. 

The initial design 

At the time I decided to develop the app, one of the first decisions I had to make was which programming language to use. I had studied computer information systems as part of my undergraduate degree, so I had some background knowledge regarding computers and programming. That being said, I had no experience with mobile app development and so began researching for different languages to use to develop the app. I learned that Android and iOS apps use different languages to develop them. I did not want to learn two new languages, so began looking for ways around this. I found a cross-platform framework developed by Meta Platforms (2022) called React Native. Essentially, this framework would allow me to use the same code in both Android and iOS devices. I decided to use this framework for development. 

The life of the app began with a prototype. Sonia Millett, who I was lucky enough to be working with at the time, helped me put together a proposal for a learning and teaching grant. The grant was for 144 hours of development time, a time that I decided on with the assistance of Angela Joe, Director of the English Language Institute. The purpose of the grant was simply to get a working model that could be used as a proof of concept, with no fancy bells or whistles. More specifically, the proposal was for the creation of the app with one reading packet, including 20 stories and their quizzes, and the progress chart. The proposal was accepted and I officially began the project. 

The design of the prototype was perhaps less time-consuming than it could have been. This is because unlike starting a project from scratch, I had the benefit of adapting an existing resource. To that extent, I designed the user interface to mirror the speed reading process. The app is explained in more detail below, however the interface of the prototype was as follows. The first screen that a user was greeted with was the bookshelf screen. This is the screen where the reading packets live. When a reading packet was selected, the user was taken to the stories screen. This screen displays each story contained in the reading packet. When a story was selected, the user was taken to the reading screen, a scrollable screen that displayed the reading. At the bottom of the reading screen was a finish button. When the user finished reading, they pressed the button and were taken to the quiz screen. When they finished the quiz, they would press a finish button at the bottom of the screen to finish the quiz. Once the user pressed this button, they were then taken to the progress screen where they could view a graph of their reading history, as well as information for each reading including reading speed in words per minute, quiz score, and reading time. 

After the successful completion of the prototype, the research grant was exhausted, and the project sat for months. Over these months, I thought about the project and also how to best continue developing it. However, what bothered me was that as it currently was, the app was tied to Victoria University of Wellington; one of the conditions for the grant we received was that whatever was made became university property. Victoria University of Wellington is a great university, and I have no issues with the university itself. However, I knew that it would take many more hours of development in order to produce a full version of the app. I also knew that I would not be able to receive any money from the university to do it. Were I to spend as many hours as it would take to develop a full version, without pay, I wanted to have full ownership of the app. It was for this reason that I decided to create the full version, taking what I learned from the development of the prototype, and start from the ground up. That being said, the foundation of the app had already been coded in the prototype, meaning I had already gone through the process once, so was confident it would not take as long to code these parts as it had for the prototype. 

My initial goal with the app was not to get a perfect app with every single feature that I wanted. Rather, the purpose was to get a version that was stable and had all of the features that the prototype did, and also a few more features including more reading packets, a settings screen, and a way to login so that users’ data could be saved on a server and used for research purposes. This took a lot of work, and was a fairly steep learning curve. The learning curve revolved around two things: the first being developing a back-end – a server where the data lives – and having the back-end communicate with the front-end, which is the program the user sees. I knew that once I overcame this and got an initial version running, it would only be a matter of time before I added more and more features. In other words, it was more important for me to get a version released than it was to have a completely polished, feature-rich app from the beginning. Additionally, at the time I was working full-time as a learning advisor at Te Taiako Student Learning, Victoria University of Wellington. This meant that any work I did on the app would have to be either really early in the morning, or at night after work. I spent a fair amount of what free time I had working on the app. I spent anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours a day working on it. 

After many months, I had gotten to the stage where I was ready to upload the app to the app store. I learned that this was more time-consuming than I thought it would be. The first thing to be done was to create a developer account. Android and iOS each have separate developer accounts, so I needed to create two. Creating these accounts included entering personal information like my name, address, and credit card information, and then paying for the accounts. At the time of writing this, Android developers pay a one-time cost of 25 USD. For an Apple account, there is a yearly membership fee of approximately 100 USD. After successfully creating the developer accounts, there was some setup that needed to be done in order to actually get the app up on the app store. This included creating a name for the app in the developer dashboard, a short summary of the app, a detailed explanation of the app, screenshots of the app, and a set of icons of differing sizes for the app store. Once this was completed, there were more decisions to be made including whether or not to charge for the app, and which countries to release the app in. The work that is needed to get the app up on the app store is not difficult to do cognitively, however it does take time to go through the process. 

App features 

As of writing this, the app has become much more than it started out as. The app is free to download and use; all that is needed to create a free account is an email address. There are currently 120 short stories included in the app. These 400-word stories are graded into four levels of difficulty, according to the frequency of words used to compose the stories. The levels for each story were determined based on information from the Extensive Reading Foundation (Extensive Reading Foundation, n.d.). The first level, the elementary level, includes stories written using the 500 most frequent words in English. There are currently 20 stories written at this level – i.e., one reading packet. Next, the intermediate level includes stories written using the 1000 most frequent words in English, currently two reading packets. The upper intermediate level includes stories written using the 2000 most frequent words in English, currently two reading packets, and the advanced level includes stories written using the 3000 most frequent words in English. There is currently one reading packet written at the advanced level. Furthermore, each reading packet focuses on a theme. For example, one of the intermediate-level reading packets is titled ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’. This reading packet has twenty stories about New Zealand, including ‘Arriving in New Zealand’ and ‘New Zealand Food’. 

Each story has a comprehension quiz that learners take after they finish a story. This quiz is multiple-choice and includes eight to ten questions depending on the difficulty level. After finishing the comprehension quiz, the learner is taken to a line graph which plots their words per minute chronologically. Here the learner can view information about each story they read including the title of the story, the level, the date they read it, their score on the quiz, and more. The app also computes statistics for the user that they can view including: 

  • total stories read 
  • total number of words read 
  • average words per minute 
  • average score on comprehension quizzes

The newest feature that I have added to the app is the Updated Vocabulary Levels Test (Webb, Sasao, & Ballance, 2017). This is a general-purpose, multiple-choice test that can be used as a placement test for users of the app. There are four levels of the test, each level corresponding to the aforementioned reading packet levels: 500, 1000, 2000, and 3000. If a user passes a level, a badge appears below the reading packets in the bookshelf screen to let them know that they have vocabulary knowledge adequate for reading at that level. There is a screen where the learner can view their badges, and by pressing one of the levels, they can view their history including their most recent attempt and their best attempt. There is also a feature to email Vocabulary Levels Test scores to users’ registered emails for sharing their results with their teacher. 

The app has addressed the areas that I thought could be improved with regards to the original, paper-based implementation. First, the app takes away almost all of the administration duties. With the app, there is no need to pass out readings and progress sheets to each learner. Similarly, there is no need to start a timer because this is done automatically in the background when a user starts reading. Additionally, quiz scoring also happens automatically, removing both the need to score manually and the possibility of human error. As a result, there is much less wasted time than the paper version. 

How much time is spent updating the app

I stopped keeping track of how much time I spend developing the app after it was released to the public, however I do continue to update. This time consists of fixing bugs and adding new features. On average, I spend about 30 minutes to an hour most days updating, however I think about the app more than that throughout the day. Of course, the amount of time I spend on it depends in part on how much time I have to devote to it, but also depends on what I am working on in the app. For example, adding the Updated Vocabulary Levels Test was a big task. Accordingly, I spent more time while I was working on this. 

The revenue model 

The revenue model of the app has changed over time. In earlier versions, only one reading packet was available for free, and each additional packet cost a small fee to purchase. However, as I continued to develop the app and think more about it, I realized that the target audience for this app is school-aged children, most likely around university level. I felt that this target audience was generally not well off financially, and any money they did have would likely be spent on other things. This, coupled with the fact that one purpose for creating the app was to provide another medium to enjoy the speed readings, I decided to change the revenue model into an ads-based one. This way, the app can be free to use, and there is still a way to earn income. That being said, I currently make next to nothing from the app. It turns out that education-based apps tend to make less revenue than games. However, I am fine with this because the main purpose for developing the app was not to make money. 

Conclusion: Is it worth it?

In conclusion, is it worth it to take an idea you have for an app and make it a reality? The answer is it depends on your purpose. If your purpose is to create an educational app to make money, then perhaps it may not be worth it, at least in the short-term. If you are confident that your target audience will be willing to spend money for a paid app, or if you have students and will require them to download it as part of their course, then you may be able to make a stable income. Similarly, if you conceptualize the app as a long-term investment, then perhaps it may be worth it. On the other hand, if the purpose for developing the app is to learn a new language, build something useful, or allow others the opportunity to learn English using materials that have stood the test of time, then yes, I believe it is worth it. I am still learning new techniques regarding app development, I have the freedom to edit the app as I see fit, and each update I make has the potential to further assist second language learners of English on their language-learning journey. This process has been very rewarding, and I have learned so much about the things that go into such an endeavour. I continue to develop the app and plan on continuing to add readings and more features. Currently, I am building a learner management system. This system is for teachers and practitioners, and will be a way for them to login and view their students’ reading histories. I am currently on track to release the learner management system in the first half of 2023. If you would like more information about the app, I have developed a supplementary website which has more details about the history of the readings, the mechanics of the app, and pedagogical tips for conducting speed reading. 

The apps can be found at the website


Meta Platforms. (2022). React Native (Version 0.64.3) [Computer software].

Schmitt, N., Schmitt, D., & Clapham, C. (2001). Developing and exploring the behaviour of two new versions of the Vocabulary Levels Test. Language Testing, 18(1), 55–88. 

The Extensive Reading Foundation (n.d.). The Extensive Reading Foundation: Promoting Extensive Reading in English as a Foreign Language.

Webb, S., Sasao, Y., & Ballance, O. (2017). The updated Vocabulary Levels Test: Developing and validating two new forms of the VLT. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 168(1), 34-70.


By Kirsten M. Snipp


Daphne felt the thin fibers of nylon disengaging themselves, felt the run creeping across her foot, dribbling up her leg. Unknitting, like a thousand toes of centipedes scuttling towards her crotch.

“Damn.” She thought, knowing the students would notice, knowing the girls would whisper behind their texts, staring, as if a run in one’s stocking were the scandal of the week. She felt the offending toenail scratch against the interior of her sensible black pumps. She imagined the black leather dye stains under the shell-colored polish, the blister forming, hovering over the knuckle of this little roast beef-less pig. 

To her deepening trepidation, she noted the classroom door stood ajar. Not even the comfort of a private, centering breath behind a closed door before stepping across this foreign threshold.

She heard her new charges talking, her heels clicking, her book bag straps creaking. Her lungs shrank to the size of turnips and clamored in her throat. Attempting to mask the single stripe of nude flesh from the assemblage of suspicious eyes, she scissored her legs and stepped inside. Closing the door, she heard the latch slip into the frame.

“Good morning,” she tried to say, but her voice caught against her truncated lungs and sounded more like “Good more.” The students stopped talking and appraised her in silence, waiting. Had they known to expect a new teacher, or are they surprised?

“Good morning,” she began again. “I’m sure you are all surprised to see me. Ms. James had to return to her home country, uh, unexpectedly. She’ll not be returning this term.”

Did they except this explanation? Did they even care? Daphne knew little about the circumstances of Ms. James’ sudden disappearance. 

Daphne cautiously eyed the eyes evaluating her. The girls wore pastel sweaters and tweedy skirts, expensive shoes. Their hair was cropped and styled to the latest fashion. Daphne felt dowdy in her sensible, sturdy shoes and shirtwaist.

“I’m Daphne Kerr, your new teacher. Nice to meet you.” Daphne paused, hoping for a mirrored, “nice to meet you, too.” Nothing. Silence. Twitching. The boys fidgeted in button-downs and t-shirts, heavy eyebrows brooding, gazes chary. Trepidation nagged. Do I belong here? 

“I’ll try to pick up with the same textbook you’ve been using and I’ll do my best. After all, Ms. James was English and I’m American, so I won’t punish ‘u’s’,” she smiled, pausing again, awaiting recognition, affirmation. The students watched her in soundless speculation. “First, let’s see who’s here.” 

Daphne felt safer at the podium, hiding her exposed flesh behind its girth. Extracting the roll sheets from her bag and adjusting the microphone, she began to blitz and butcher her way through the list of names. The roster spooled and spiraled in front of her, the sea of twenty-five seemed to multiply into an ocean of millions. Students tittered at her pronunciation; she worried that those absent might be present if only she could decipher their names. With each name she read, with each voice of acknowledgement, she swam nearer the surface, until at last her lips breathed air again.

“Wataru?” No response. “Mr. Wataru Furuyashiki?” Daphne sensed movement in the back-left corner of the room. A head, embedded with silver studs and topped with sharp hobs of black hair lifted from a nest of folded arms and nodded towards the podium. Why hadn’t she noticed him before? This student was a raven in a flock of pigeons. 


“Uhn,” he replied, focusing eye and iris upon her. Girls twittered. He shifted in his desk, unfolding and refolding his legs like umbrella spindles, like spider’s legs. He was dressed in black: a leather jacket garnished in silver chains, stove-pipe jeans pierced with studs, biker boots supporting silver buckles. His tight black T-shirt bore an image of a skeletal creature waving a guitar.


“Yeah, Wataru,” he replied, blinking. He yawned and stretched and dropped his head back upon the desk again so quickly that Daphne doubted what she’d seen. The guitar-brandishing skeleton sported a grotesque, rigid penis, extending nearly to its breast-bone: the swollen, fleshy glans an inverted heart. A cadaver with a hard-on.

A shiver of revulsion and a sharp piercing of panic seemed to animate the breech in her stockings: she felt the unstitching of a few more inches. Contorting her face into a mask of professional calm she did not feel, she opened the textbook, bade the students to do so also. She marveled at the steadfast hands of the wall clock.

After an interminable 90 minutes, Daphne emerged from the classroom as if from an abattoir. She could almost smell the blood on her hands. As she had been advised by Mr. Noguchi, Daphne reported to the teacher’s lounge at noon and introduced herself to the receptionist in faltering, stilted Japanese. The receptionist cooed and fawned in tones Daphne couldn’t fathom and retained her at the desk while she summoned Nat and Dave. 

Daphne watched as Indianapolis Nat and Springfield Dave approached, jostling in 60/40 tweed blazers under thinning hair and pinkened scalps. Daphne thought that the two of them seemed to be box-cuttered out of their normal habitats and pasted into this peculiar scene. She saw the ragged holes in Midwestern skylines that their silhouettes must have left in the tableaus of their towns when they upped sticks to head for Japan. As she stood at the desk, shifting her weight from foot to foot, she envisioned them wearing gold signet pinkie rings and jangling Ford truck keys in overall pockets. Instead of gripes about grain prices and back-forties mumbled from behind Marlboros, they now twaddled in soft-spoked voices about the curriculum, the new crop of students, their publishing struggles. She could almost hear Nat lament the lack of real coffee, dreaming surely of watered-down and re-constituted truck-stop excuse for coffee as he slurped his cup of instant. 

“You must be Daphne,” Dave said, extending his pale hand. “I’m Dave Duncan. Mr. Noguchi asked me to take you under my wing,” he said, shaking her hand vigorously. “Wish these wings could fly: I’d pay less in air fare,” he added, flapping his arms.

“Nat,” Nat said, nodding.

Dave continued, “I understand you’re taking over Rebecca James’ classes, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “Everything is so new to me.”

“Becky was a cracker! We’ll miss her around here. Weird sense of humor on that one. Sometimes we couldn’t tell what she was getting at.” 

Nat said, “Nor, as we now discover, what she was leaving out.”

Dave gave Nat a secret, perishing look and said, “How was your morning class?”

“Okay, I guess. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to Japanese students … I mean, everyone is always so quiet.”

“Let’s eat, I’m starved!” Nat said.  “Care to join us?”

“Mystery meat surprise,” Dave said, stabbing his chopsticks into a glossy tidbit and raising it to his lips. 

“You’re not dead yet,” Nat said, chopsticking a mouthful of rice.

“No, I’m not, and damn if I’m not putting on weight to boot.”

They chomped in silence until Daphne volunteered: “Uhm, do you guys know what BlackBlack is?”

BlackBlack? Isn’t that that peel-yer-face-off, blind-you-in-both-eyes chewing gum?” Nat asked.

“Oh, yeah! My nephews back home can’t get enough of the stuff, always begging me to send care packages. They like to use it to mess with their friends. Test of manhood or something. Why do you ask?” Dave said.

“There was this student in my class, he was eating – well I guess chewing – it all period long. It seemed so strange, I guess I thought it was… well, contraband.”

“Contraband?” Dave asked.

“You know … Drugs.”

Both men laughed and Nat said, “next thing you know, you’ll be buying crack at the local Seiyu!”

Daphne felt her embarrassment rising.

“It’s only chewing gum,” Dave said, “But if you’re really curious, I’ll let you try a piece after lunch. Hang on to your hat, it’s strong shit.”

“I’m not much of a gum-chewer, but I am quite curious.”

As Dave had promised, the gum was indeed strong shit. Daphne could smell the mint from beyond the wrapper. As she chewed, her eyes watered and her sinuses cleared with the potency of it. She wondered how anyone could chew a whole piece of this stuff at once, let alone stick after stick. She surmised that Wataru must have a mouth of steel; the floor around his desk had been littered with the black and silver wrappers.


“Realia,” the teacher’s book claimed, “is what separates a good lesson from a memorable one, a ‘student-friendly’ instructor from a mere lecturer. Students prefer real objects to pictures in a book.” 

Daphne looked up from the text, watched the boxy buildings thwack past the train windows. The sky was aching, heavy and crampy, pressing against these battered rooftops complaining of PMS and bloat. The concrete and slab structures refused to yield, refused to loosen the band of restraint. 

The train pulled into a station, pulled away, smearing the glass panes with more oppressed concrete and steel. A woman clad in a tan cape shuffled into the car and, jolting with the uneven trajectory, ambled towards an empty seat. One gloved hand rested, tentatively, on the top button of her wrap. It seemed prosthetic, disembodied, until it jerked to life and skittered into the slit of the cape. She stumbled and plopped herself on a seat across from Daphne. 

“Realia,” the teacher’s book prompted.

A leather bag appeared from beneath the folds of the cape. The suede brown gloved fingers, edged in orange stitching, crept over the folds of the handbag, spindly, sinister, the legs of a poisonous spider. 

“Unit 8, Prized Possessions,” the teacher’s book stamped its foot. “In this unit, students will discuss their most important possessions.” As the spider hunched in leather folds, Daphne closed her eyes and surveyed her cache of “real” objects: a battered Swatch she’d received from her mother and step-father upon graduation, a pair of 14-carat gold earrings she’d gotten for a birthday, a four-leaf-clover, encased-in-Lucite key ring she’d found one summer at the beach. Silly, these objects. The students would prefer a lecturer to an instructor with such paltry offerings. She could hear the derision in their vague mummers of acquiescence were she to offer such a paltry piece of junk. She could already sense the distance this might create, further alienating her from their tight ranks of coolness.

The spider stretched and flexed, weaving guilefully against the stretches of leather and wool. 


Possession: a Romance. “For Daphne, With best wishes. AS Byatt.” A hard-bound, first edition, signed and personalized copy of my favorite novel, she thought. Relief flooded through her as visions of Rebecca James’ collection of royal family memorabilia were exorcised. Possession.


The air in the teachers’ lounge was close, confined, barium-heavy. Professor Ogura with his proud hair was at the tea machine filling a cup and sucking loudly from under his misfit plates. Daphne knew that wherever he sat with that cup, she’d hear him slurp from it and chew his lunch, smacking his lips in open-mouthed abandon. Miss Hitch, a simpering, sallow woman, waited behind him, dutifully, holding her teacup between the lanky fingers of both hands. She stood as tall as her 5’ 2” stature would allow, not shifting or fidgeting in her grosgrain-ribboned patent leather pumps and pleated black skirt. Her brushstroke eyebrows were painted on, as was the rest of her face. She nodded and bobbed obsequiously as she accepted her turn at the tea. Nat and Dave were huddled over a laptop, and Daphne hoped not to have to enter a conversation with them. Creeping and cautious, she settled fitfully into a seat at a table in the far corner and began to organize materials for her next class, trying to ignore the strains of Chinese and Japanese and English braiding into an indiscriminate plait of sound. She thought about the far-left corner of the coming classroom, she thought of Wataru, absent from the last two classes, a stretching erection of defiance. There was something unsettling about that student with the pierced face and sharp hair. Something creepy. To her embarrassment, she felt relief at the thought that perhaps he might be absent again. Where do these students go to skip off school, she wondered. She unzipped her book bag and fished for her pencil case, removed it and opened the lid. 

There it was: a crumpled piece of trash. A wrapper from a piece of BlackBlack chewing gum. Startled, she flung the wrapper to the floor and stifled a scream. How the hell had that got in there? 

Needing to breathe and to calm herself, Daphne retreated from the dissonance of the teachers’ lounge to the square in the central quad. She chose a bench under a ginkgo tree. The leaves, uniformly yellow cloven fans, muttered and fidgeted, griping. The complaints of the leaves were soon drowned out by the squeals and gnashes of electric tools; the construction crew had resumed work on the new medical center building directly across the square. A disused office block stood to her left. In its windows, against chalky, dusty panes, blinds splayed and tumbled like a Las Vegas loser’s poker hand. Daphne checked her watch, willed her breathing to lengthen, her heart to decelerate. Fifteen minutes until third period began. A droplet of sweat trickled down between her breasts. The cardigan had been advisable in the morning, an ungainly mistake now under this oppressive October afternoon. From somewhere inside the new building, girders clanged as Daphne shimmied out of the woolen garment, closed her eyes and settled on the bench under the leaves.

The chimes for third period sounded and Daphne lifted her head. The clock in the square stated 1:20. “I’m late!” Daphne snapped as she jumped up from her perch. In a second story window of the abandoned building, she was sure she saw a face, topped by a crown of spiky black, peering out at her. Thrusting her bookbag over her shoulder, she crossed the quad and clipped down the corridor to the classroom. She could see the face looming out of the window, feel it bearing down on her as she rushed towards the room, breathing heavier behind her as she climbed stairs. Her heels clattered on the linoleum, her palms were dampening, she felt a hand reaching for her shoulder. As she rounded the corner past the main auditorium, she bumped headlong into Dave. The scream leapt from her throat, clawing past her teeth.

“Dang, Daph, you’re in hurry. Where’s the fire?” Dave said, smiling.

Blinking, Daphne managed a quick and hoarse, “Sorry, Dave,” and brushed past him, ducking into the women’s room across the hall. Dropping her belongings, she ran cold water over her hands, bringing cool drops to her cheeks and throbbing temples. 

“Shit, Daphne. Fucking hell,” she said to her reflection. “Shit.”

That evening, Daphne double-locked her doors and closed and locked the shutters and windows. She pulled closed all of the curtains. She jammed a chair under the doorknob of the front door and, still unsure, she placed the drain plug in each of the drains and put a stack of books on the lid of the toilet. When at last she fell to sleep amidst thoughts of shadowy figures creeping in hallways, she dreamed of a silver-studded mouth, gaping open and filled with steel-capped teeth. The lips moved mechanically, exaggerating syllables, even while the jaws chomped and enclosed her. “It’s real,” the voice said and took a bite of her flesh. “It’s real and you must make it more real.” The tongue had a silver stud which clapped her about the neck and shoulders. The full force of its breath rushed around her and surrounded her in a cloud of overpowering mint.

On Monday morning, over unusually strong coffee, Daphne reviewed her lesson plan. She checked and double-checked that Possession was in her bag. Glancing at the clock, she felt a sense of uncertainty creep through her. Monday. Wataru day. “You are what you wear,” she told herself, using the almost forgotten Cosmo quote as a fetish to ward off evil. Right. She’d dress safely, yet confidently. Her clothes, like her lessons, would exude professionalism. She chose slacks, flat shoes that wouldn’t hinder running and … She spent 10 minutes looking for the sweater before remembering the gingko tree and Friday’s sweating afternoon sun.

Wataru, of course, was absent again. The lesson had been successful, and the students had participated by bringing in some precious objects of their own. Ryu, a shy, quiet boy, brought a pencil that his high school English teacher had given him. Mari brought a lunchbox cover that her mother had embroidered for her, and all of the students seemed dutifully impressed with Daphne’s hardcover book.

Relieved and triumphant, Daphne opened the door to the teacher’s lounge. “Just drop off this paperwork and skip,” she told herself. “Time for sweater hunting.”

“Daph! No party without you,” Dave called.

“No show without Punch,” echoed Nat, in a failed attempt at a cockney accent. “Come on over and join us.”

“Just a minute,” Daphne said as she opened her locker and gently placed her precious volume on the shelf.

“What’s that, Daph?” Dave joked. “Victorian porn?”

“More like the Bible,” Nat countered. “Daph’s rewriting it, knowing her.”

“That’s right,” Daphne said. “In Genesis, I’m having God give man a sense of humor. It should catch up with you two in about 2,000 years.” 

Nat flinched, a little taken aback by Daphne’s bitter sarcasm. Dave laughed and said, “First time I’ve ever seen the lamb snap at the lion.”

“Baa-a-a-a,” said Daphne as she walked over to where they were gathered. A large cardboard box stood on the table between them as they motioned for Daphne to come view its contents. Packed with orange and black tissue paper, bite-sized bars of chocolates: Butterfingers, Snickers, 3 Musketeers nestled in the box.

“Happy Halloween, Daphne. Take a couple. My mom can sure pack a care package,” Dave said, beaming. 

“I’ll say. I haven’t had these since I was a kid. Thanks, Dave,” Daphne said as she took a few candies. Making small talk and gazing out the window, Daphne thought of her abandoned sweater as she watched the sky grow darker. 

By the time she was able to return to her bench on the quad, the campus was nearly deserted. Shadows had melted from the trees, dripping into deep spaces, oozing and congealing on surfaces, sucking breath from girth. The bench was there, under the gingko, staunch under the weight of seething dark. She looked beneath it, behind it, around it, but the sweater was nowhere to be seen. It was … absent? Frustrated, Daphne cut a path across the quad toward the bus stop and paused to drop a pocketful of candy wrappers in the bin. Gloom spun webs against the stew of discards, and Daphne saw a corner, a buttonhole, a swatch of sweater. Relief salved her spine as she reached in to retrieve her garment. In her fingers, the knit was coarse, but hers. An expectant chill hovered over her shoulders as she pulled her sweater from the trash, but it felt too light, too insubstantial. And then she saw it. Her sweater, or rather what was left of it: only the bottom half, rent by tears and guts, frayed strands made black and wicked by flames. Daphne flung the tragic garment back into the trash and started to walk away. Just then, her cell phone began to ring. She stopped, patted her pockets, and realized she’d left her bag next to the trash bin. Retrieving her bag and her telephone, she opened the object and shouted “Hello!” into the receiver. No answer. The caller, “user unknown,” had already hung up. Fear leapt up her spine like a forest of flames. She’d had the phone for less than a week, and no one knew the number.

Determined to gain some insight on the recent, uncanny events, Daphne headed for the teacher’s lounge at lunchtime the next day. As she’d expected, Nat and Dave sat at their usual table, poking at bento boxes, engaged in discussion.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Have a seat. How’s it going?” Dave said.

“All right, I guess.”

“Daphne, are you okay? You’re white as a sheet. Something wrong?” Nat said.

“Well, actually,” Daphne began, “I’ve been having a bit of trouble with one of my students. He’s really creepy, and it’s starting to get to me.”

“He probably has a cool complex,” Dave interjected. “I once had a kid who, with a totally straight face, told me that the reason he’d been absent from my class that morning was that he had to go and pick up his friend from jail. Like he’s really impressed me with his heavy friends, or even like I would think that a reasonable excuse. Students!” Dave laughed.

“I remember that kid,” Nat added. “Wonder if he ever graduated. I know I failed him a couple of times, too.”

“Well, it’s not that – I mean this student is absent a lot too, but it feels like he’s stalking me or something. There’s been a strange sequence of coincidences that just don’t add up and I’m really starting to get a bit freaked. Did Rebecca ever say anything?”

“Becky? I don’t recall anything specific, though most of us don’t just pull a runner in the middle of the night for no reason at all,” Dave said.

Absently, Nat added: “I read the other day this article about some Aztec or Inca tribe that was so scared of eclipses that they actually sacrificed virgins to prevent the sun from dying. People tend to get weird when things happen that they don’t understand.” 

“The sacrifices must have worked, the sun’s still going strong,” Dave said, then seeing Daphne’s distraught demeanor added: “Seriously, Daph, I’m sure it’s nothing. If you really think that this is something that needs to be looked into, go to Noguchi. He’s a great guy and he listens.”

“Does he?” 

Daphne left them and opened her locker. Four text books fell out, thumping on the floor. As she picked them up and restacked the shelf she froze. Her book, her prized Possession, was missing. 


Sleeplessness and acetone anxiety twisted among those assembled in the teacher’s lounge. December darkness began sealing in ever closer, each day shorter. The copy machine shrred and kafluncked, the scent of warm toner and glass cleaner slithered into the knits and weaves of heavy winter clothing. The lounge was dense with intent. Tock, tock, tock, the neighborhood fire brigade had begun its vigil the night before, warning against the folly of untended flames, intoning, Buddhistly, the dangers of the dry cold and the intoxicating, lulling fumes. Daphne steeled herself to the environment, quelling her mounting apprehension with a studied composure.

She poured a cup of tea and went to her locker. Among her other belongings was a paper sack with the words, “to Kerr-sensei.” She tore it open to discover a worn, dogeared  paperback copy of Possession. Paperback? Her heart thumped in her throat, filling her ears with rushing waves. The inscription read, “for Daphne Kerr, with best wishes.” Her fear was uncontrollable now, nipping at every extremity. She stuffed the sack and book into her bag and headed for Mr. Noguchi’s office. Fear and fury gripped her, and in her haste as she flung herself down the hall, she ran into Wataru. “Kerr-sensei,” he began. 

You!” Daphne managed and she pushed him away with both hands. “You.” 

Wataru gazed at her through thick lashes and blinked. “Nani ka yo, Sensei. Gomen.”

The words might have been apologetic, the tone was not.


“These are very serious allegations, Kerr-sensei. You should know that, while the administration will review your complaint thoroughly, the accuser is sometimes found to be more … questionable, shall we say … than the accused. I’m not at liberty to discuss previous cases, but be assured we’ve encountered these problems before.” Mr. Noguchi’s pupils pierced the center of his thick glasses as he regarded her from across his desk. “You may wish to rethink this before you request we continue.”

Daphne felt the panic, a raging thirsty beast 15 minutes ago, slink away into stifled shadows. 

“The winter holiday is approaching,” he continued, “perhaps with a bit of rest?” The corners of his mouth sutured upward: a patronizing smile.

“Yes, well, perhaps you are right,” she said, clutching her bags and standing. “I appreciate your time on his matter. I’ll let you know.”

Stepping outside, Daphne felt the winter chill pinch her cheeks, resurrecting the flush of anger and … shame? She half turned, casting her gaze back towards the windows of authority when she saw the moon, its dismembered Cheshire Cat grin mocking the pale, blazing fury of the enfeebled sun.


The voice cast across the quad, trolling. The banished panic salivated and barred its beaten fangs.

“Daphne!” It was Nat, waving from the bus stop. “We’re going for a Christmas drink, care to join us?” By his side, Dave waved in tandem.

She stalled, checked her watch. “I’ve got piles of exams. Raincheck?” she called back. Her words were swallowed into the retreating bus.


The teacher’s lounge was solemn. Miss Hitch and her skeleton crew sat finishing the pre-break paperwork and sipping cups of steam. Daphne removed her texts from her locker and retrieved her coat. 

“Daphne,” Miss Hitch said, “I hear you’re leaving us. You’ll be missed.”

“It depends on who does the missing,” Daphne said, leaving a bemused Miss Hitch staring after her. 

For the last time, she checked her mailbox. Among flyers for the 31st annual Speech Contest and a seminar on sexual harassment, publishers’ catalogues and comp textbooks was a typewritten note from the head librarian. Terse, tight and annoyed, the characters spindled across the page:

To: Kerr-sensei,
We are holding your book. Please come to claim it as soon as possible.

The librarian was a Hollywood caricature: her widow’s peak striped in white, the chignon at the nape of her neck tight and as unyielding as her thin lips. Her threadbare cardigan was clenched at the neck with a tarnished jeweled brooch. Her bloodless hands were unadorned with rings, her shoes were pathologically sensible. “Danvers,” Daphne thought. “Manderley is missing you.”

“Sensei,” she said, disapprovingly, glancing at the silent clock, “you’re just in time.” 

Duly admonished, Daphne accepted the proffered book, opened the cover, and nodded. 

“Yes, it is mine. Thank you so much for having your eyes open. I’m very glad … grateful … to have this back.”

“You should be more careful, sensei. Sign here.”

The campus was nearly deserted, and as Daphne crossed the asphalt, a nibble of wind trickled around her ankles, slapping her coat into her calves. Late December afternoons are mere snacks for encroaching night; the close darkness seeks meatier prey. Daphne boarded the bus and sat, spent and cold. She removed the prodigal volume and fanned its pages, refusing to imagine a life without this book. It was then that a page of paper, torn from a spiral bound notebook, dropped onto the seat next to hers. She retrieved it and cautiously opened it. The message, written in a slanted, sure hand, read like the lyrics of a death-metal anthem: 

You cannot breathe without my skin,
I am the doctor, you are the need.
You cannot kiss without my eyes,
I am the doctor and you are the need.
Merry meet, merry part, merry meet again.

Daphne held the page in tremulous hands and wept.

(Try to) Keep It Professional: Dealing with a Naughty Cat While Teaching Online

By Duangsamorn Haruyama 


“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” (, 2022) One of the most well-known cat lovers and famous writers, Ernest Hemingway stated that. That is why some humans choose to be in the company of cats instead of other kinds of pets. Not just puffy, cute, and fun to be with, domestic cats have a long history as friends to human beings. According to National Geographic (2011), domestic cats, or Felis catus, have been seen since ancient Egypt. They were domesticated in the beginning about 10,000 years ago, for the purpose of mice hunting. 

Since the spread of COVID-19, remote working is more common worldwide. Until now, in the year 2022, some are still working in an online setting, including me. This writing explores the rollercoaster-like experience of dealing with a naughty cat while working as an English teacher at home online. The experience of working and dealing with a unique cat at home will be shared, as well as some suggestions from experts for Working From Home (WFH) with cats will be discussed in the latter part of this writing.

“P” The Cat

My cat is a typical Japanese tabby cat with three colors; black, white, and brown stripes. He has been a member of our family since 2020. After he turned four weeks old, my ex-boss asked me if I wanted a kitten. It took a while to discuss about it with my family, but finally we accepted him as our first pet – with a big loud vote against from my mother who owns a dog at her house. We went shopping for important stuff for the cat such as a litter box, wiping tissues, litter sand, cat food, cat milk, snacks, and toys at a home center to prepare beforehand. My daughter named him after the alphabet letter “P”. I guessed that it was the letter of the week that she learnt at that time. P hissed and hid in the carriage box once he arrived at our home. It took a whole night until he surveyed our house. The second night he followed me to the bedroom, then slept in my arms making strange noises. At first, I thought he had a disease, breathing like that, but later I found out that it is a sound called purring made by cats when they are happy or feel safe. P is a wild and active cat. Now, time flies so fast, he has been with us for over two years.

Needy Behaviors

Even though cats sleep almost 70% of the day, from 12-18 hours, they need their human attention just like, or even more than, other pets. For example, they need their owners to play, snuggle, cuddle, brush, feed them snacks, and so forth. My cat is no exception, but rather even more, extra needy. Since he was a kitten, he cried that he wanted to go outside by standing in front of the front door. It took hours before he got tired and stopped. We ignored it at first, but nothing got better so we thought it was caused by his male drive to want to mate, but from 2 months old…? Conversely, after being neutered, he cried even longer and made it wet around the bed. The worst case of wanting to go outside was him trying to open the door by himself while we were out. He ended up locking the door from the inside which could not be opened by a key. In the middle of the night in winter, we called a locksmith and spent 15,000 yen to get the door unlocked. Even now I have no idea how he did that. 

Again, even during classes, his need for food and snacks turned out to be strange. Cats communicate with their human by meowing. He complains when water or food is not fresh, or when it is half empty. I had an interesting idea to buy him a cat fountain, but not even once did he drink from it. What’s more, he preferred my decorative plant’s pot water to the sink. To solve this problem, before working each day, I clean his water bowl, prepare his food, and clean his litter box. This is the routine that I have to finish before working. To be frank, it is nice to work at home and feel free to be accompanied by your favorite pet, but sometimes it is stressful if your pet distracts you while working and constantly is extra needy. It is understandable that, because he loves me, he gets bored and needs extra attention, and it is understandable that ordinary cats get FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Thinking this helps me feel better. 

Everything is Mine

P thinks everything in the house belongs to him. From my pillow to the futon seat. My working chair to my daughter’s new doll. If we are using these things, he will jump up, sit, gaze at us, then start his annoying meowing. He will stop if we leave him the things he wants. The funniest part was when he decided to claim my daughter’s new doll. He grabbed it with his teeth and began growling like a dog. We were so shocked to hear that. He tried to hide the doll from us, too. We found it in his litter box. The cute rabbit doll turned out to be full of teeth holes. That caused my daughter to have a big crying fit. 

One day when I was teaching freshmen, my cat suddenly jumped up onto the chair. He looked at the camera, tried to occupy my chair by sliding down from my back to the seat then squeezed and pushed me with his butt. I tried my best to prolong my poker face and keep teaching. If it was not during the lesson, we would had a great fun butt-fighting match over the most comfortable chair in the house. In reality – try to keep it professional, just keep teaching like nothing happened – was what I awkwardly thought. Finally, because of the space problem between us, I let him sleep on my comfortable chair and I changed to a normal chair.

Bringing Some Gifts

After trying so many ways to protect myself from his meowing to go outside or coming in to disturb me while teaching, I decided to let him play outside for a few hours a day. He seemed to be happy and ran around our house and vegetable patch areas. Because our house was not built to have cats, we do not have a small cat door. I kept the master bedroom’s windows narrowly opened for him to come back to drink or have some snacks and keep playing. He loved it, and looked so chilled and relaxed. He played with butterflies, grasshoppers, birds, and even earthworms. 

Everything went smoothly until he started bringing me some ‘gifts’. Starting with a huge green and brown mantis. Not being a big fan of bugs or insects, I screamed loudly. It was my first time seeing such a huge mantis. He dropped it right in front of me, then looked into my eyes proudly. One of cats’ love language is to bring their human some gifts. Luckily, for me, it was during the prep time before class started. I was able to clean up before lessons. However, my loud scream led to the nice and kind neighbor who always waters her backyard plants becoming worried after hearing my outburst. I apologized and nodded embarrassingly. She smiled back and replied, “Your cat is so cuuute.” A few days later, P broke her flower pot while trying to further mark his territory. That was also another problem that we had to take responsibility for. We do our best to prevent him from annoying our neighbors as well.

Luck, however, is not always on my side. One day, while teaching, he came up with a big fat colorful caterpillar. Again, caterpillars rank number one on my scary animal list. I could not even scream because we were having class. I held my breath and kept calm while he tried to show me a wiggling scary worm next to my feet. At a glance, that creepy creature would surely become a beautiful butterfly someday. To be honest for me, those red and yellow stripes with black spots on its green body look deadly scary. I cannot imagine what my face looked like. I could not even rewind the Zoom downloading VDO to see it, but I remember feeling goosebumps all over my body at that time. Fortunately, there was time to let students work on their own for few minutes. I apologized to them for turning off my camera for a while to take care of the problem. It was not easy to find a proper tool for cleaning up the green gooey worm’s blood, but finally, I was able to do it in a short period of time. P looked disappointed when I put away his worm. I felt sorry for him. 

The last straw for me must have been in the late summer this year. My husband and daughter witnessed him attempting to bring a snake but could not drag it into the house because the window is too narrow, so the snake escaped. Lucky me, who was taking a bath in the house at that time. After that, my husband tried to chase the scary snake away from our house. And also, away from a kind neighbor who again was watering her plants outside. We have learnt from this incident that our cat is a great hunter. So in the aftermath, I have kept the window closed until he, without any special gift, calls to come in.

Suggestions for WFH with Cats

As mentioned above, I am not alone in those who are facing a bittersweet experience having cats as colleagues at home. When I go surfing online, numerous people are sharing tons of experiences as well. Such as feeling guilty from getting annoyed with their cats, cats jumping and joining VDO calls, knocking down glasses, and more. Luckily, where there is darkness, there is light. Here are some suggestions to keep WFH peacefully with cats by vets and experts found online. 

Dr. Chris Roth (2020) recommends three suggestions to deal with a needy cat when WFH. He suggests to create a cat-friendly home office with a hammock, bed, or comfortable spot around you, to keep the cat busy by enriching the home environment, and to be patient and flexible; people understand that we are at home with our cats. Also, International Cat Care (2020) recommends that the most important thing is to maintain a routine such as feeding, playing, and going out as regularly as possible. During work, when cats try to distract you, ignore needy behaviors and keep working until your cat gives up to show them you are the boss. In addition, WFH Wins (2022) advises that to determine a cat’s needs should be your first concern – hungry, thirsty, wanting to go outside, etc. – and suggests the use of catnip in order to keep the cat stimulated.


On the whole, this article shared some parts of my experience teaching online with my beloved naughty cat. I admire people whose cats are tame and controlled. Especially they who are able to control situations well while working with cats beside them quietly. However, the context of each person, cat, relationship, and case are unique and different. In my case, I am still working on it. My goal is to be able to work online as an English teacher as smooth as possible. Beside preparing lesson materials and devices well enough, taking care of pets is one of the important issues that should be kept in consideration. I hope this article entertains those who have cats and face some common problems. It would be great pleasure if it is useful as well. Finally, this article will not be complete without one more mention of my little furry pet P-kun who is not just a pet but the soul of our house. Thanks to him with lots of love. And now, it is time for a cat treat! 


Ernest Hemingway. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2022, from Web site:

International Cat Care. (2020, March 20). How to work from home with a cat.

National Geographic. (2011, May 10). Domestic Cat.

Roth, C. (2020, March 26). 3 Tips To Keep You Focused While Working From Home With A Needy Cat. Pet Best.

WFH Wins. (2022). How To Work From Home (WFH) With Cats.

Successfully Using Peer Review for Listening Exercises in a Japanese EFL Classroom

By Claire Ryan

In my work as an English language instructor in Japan, I meet a wide variety of students every day. High school students learning English at the behest of their parents, housewives studying as a hobby or because their husbands will be transferred overseas, final year university students hoping to brush up their skills before they enter the workforce – these make up a small section of the students who walk into my classroom each day.

However, working in the business district in Tokyo means that the vast majority of my students are businessmen who are learning English because their company has overseas customers, or who are anticipating their next business trip, or who work at a company that has decided English should be their internal language and they now have to catch up to the skill level of their colleagues. For many of these students, attending their English lesson can become a box-ticking exercise. “I’m here because my company said I have to learn English,” is a refrain I hear quite often. For these students – and all the others – I try to find ways of making the lesson more active, more interesting, and more worthwhile.

One technique that I find useful in getting students to engage with the material and each other is peer review. However, I have noticed over the years that this method can come up against some difficulties when being used in a Japanese EFL classroom. In this article, I’d like to share my experiences and suggest some useful methods of utilising peer review successfully in a Japanese EFL classroom.

What is Involved in a Peer Review System for Listening Exercises?

First of all, let’s look at what is meant by the term ‘peer review’ in a classroom setting. In general, peer review involves evaluation of work by others with a similar level of experience. In a classroom, this means students who are at a similar level of English ability can review and correct each other’s work and provide feedback following the correction. To apply this for a listening exercise, I use the following steps. Firstly, students should read the listening exercise questions by themselves before the listening track is played. This helps students to prepare for what they should be listening out for during the task. Students can try to complete the answers while listening, or in the time directly following the end of the track. When the instructor has observed that students seem to have completed their answers, they can then be paired or grouped with others in the class to collectively compare their answers. Students then discuss what they heard and try to justify their answers to each other.

For a moment, let’s consider an alternative approach. The students are set a listening task. The instructor plays the recording. Students choose their answers, and the teacher then lists the correct answers, with students allowed to correct their work by themselves. There is little chance for clarification in this scenario, especially if students are afraid to speak up and admit they got an answer wrong – a requirement if they are to query why it was wrong.

By utilising a peer review system, students are encouraged to talk about their answers openly. If two students working together have different answers, immediately it becomes clear that one of them is wrong, but it reduces the discomfort felt by each student because they don’t know which of them it is. As noted by Raba (2017) in The Influence of Think-Pair-Share (TPS) on Improving Students’ Oral Communication Skills in EFL Classrooms, “working in pairs also reduces stress and embarrassment. If they give a wrong answer, for example, they won’t feel shy because the embarrassment is shared”. This also encourages discussion as they each try to explain why they chose their answer. If students are unable to agree on the correct answer, it is useful to then play the track again with a focus on the section in question. This gives students who chose the incorrect answer an opportunity to recover control by pointing out the correct answer when they hear it.

It’s Not Always Plain Sailing

While it is a very useful tool, the system is not without its challenges when it comes to implementing it effectively in classrooms. These challenges can be broken down into two categories. General difficulties that can occur in any classroom, and the specific difficulties that present in Japanese classrooms.

The first hurdle can arise when trying to encourage students to use the technique. Many students may fail to realize they can learn a lot from their peers at the same level of ability as them, and often make the mistake of thinking that they can only learn from the instructor. This results in a feeling that they are ‘wasting time’ checking answers with a peer when the instructor could simply tell them if they are right or wrong directly. Students should be reminded that the discussion time with their partner provides valuable speaking practice.

The particular mix of students in a class can also make interaction difficult. In a university class setting, for example, where students are roughly the same age, or in a workplace group where they are used to interacting with each other each day, all class members are on the same level and can converse with relative ease. This becomes more difficult when faced with private students taking a group class together sporadically; instructors must control a different mix of ages, backgrounds, and experiences.  

One problem that I have noticed only in Japanese classrooms is the issue of loss of face. Fear of giving the wrong answer and facing embarrassment among classmates is prevalent among both children and adults alike, and often causes students to clam up if they are not confident in their work. Similarly, I have seen cases where students do not want to cause others to lose face either by correcting them. This apparent lack of confidence can also make students too eager to agree with others and change their own answer – especially in a workplace setting where they may defer to the group “leader”. There are a number of steps that the instructor can take to help students overcome this way of thinking, including reminding students that making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn, and praising students who offer an answer, even if it is not correct. A simple “thank you for trying” can be enough to ensure students feel encouraged enough to continue offering answers in future tasks.

Further Skill Development

While the main focus of this technique is to develop students’ listening skills, there are other areas that can also be improved through the peer review process when used in listening exercises. As noted in Listening Strategies for English Learner Comprehension, “listening comprehension is a skill that allows students to better understand all academic information” (Ruiz McLafferty, 2015). Let’s examine the other areas that peer reviewed listening exercises can have a positive effect on.

Speaking skills – students need to be able to express their own ideas and answers clearly and articulately to the other students in their group. This need to make themselves understood in English helps them to develop their fluency. If their partner cannot understand a word used by a student, they may need to rephrase or express their thoughts in a simpler manner. When comparing their ideas, each student will have a chance to speak in a less pressured environment than when speaking to the instructor.

Social skills – as well as the obvious improvements in the core English skills, students also benefit from the social aspect of peer review. Being able to listen to feedback from a peer and accept it as constructive criticism is a valuable life skill that can also be applied in their working lives. Similarly, being able to correct mistakes in the work of others in a helpful and practical way can be an essential management tool. Working together to combine their individual answers to fully complete an exercise encourages team-work skills and reflects the Japanese ideology of working for the good of the group rather than the individual.

Successful Implementation

As noted in Peer Review of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, any peer review process is only as effective as the people who are taking part in the review (Sachs & Parsell, 2014). Thus, the process must be modelled for the students and carefully monitored by the instructor to ensure it is used to its full potential. The peer review session should be observed closely by the instructor, for a variety of reasons. First of all, you can ensure that students are using the target language to discuss their ideas with each other. I have seen countless examples, especially in lower-level ability classes, where students automatically switch back to Japanese when speaking to another Japanese person. This can be eliminated in two effective ways – remind the students just before they begin their peer review that they should converse in English or set the classroom as an “English-only zone”, something I prefer to do for longer courses and which I find students will adhere to strictly.

Encourage students to expand on their answers. if the listening activity has a true or false section, for example, encourage students to explain to their partner how they know the answer is false; what did they hear in the track that led them to that conclusion? Did their partner hear the same information? By being encouraged to expand on their answers in this way, students will become more effective listeners in future as they learn to listen out for the details that will help them to solidify their answers.

Consider carefully how to group students before the peer activity. I make sure to always set the groups myself as it removes the awkward – and often time-wasting – situation of students trying to find a partner. I also try to mix the groups up regularly so students have the chance to talk to many different people. If a student is struggling more than others it can be helpful to pair them with a stronger student who can help them more – this can also help the stronger student to improve as they develop a “leader” role in the classroom.

Set guidelines beforehand for what constitutes acceptable feedback, by modelling statements that could be used effectively. A kiss-kick-kiss method where praise is offered before correction can be most rewarding for learners. Students could offer encouraging feedback, such as “you gave the correct answer to many of the questions”, before then pointing out “however, it seems your answer to number 4 may not be correct” and finishing with a general praise for the effort shown.


In conclusion, the use of peer review techniques in listening exercises can benefit students in a variety of ways. It enhances their listening ability as they become more aware of how to listen for detail. Students show renewed confidence in their speaking abilities and become more eager to engage with their classmates and instructor. This improved assuredness in their English ability is a skill that can then be carried over into their working lives, where they will become more effective members of their teams who can use English in many real-world situations. It also benefits the instructor – monitoring the discussion allows the instructor to notice any mistakes or gaps in the students’ knowledge that can then be addressed and corrected later in the lesson. When combined, these improvements create a more effective classroom for EFL students, where the use of English can be an enjoyable and fun experience for all.


Bailey, K. M. (2005). Practical English Language Teaching: Speaking. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Fauzan, U. (2016). Enhancing Speaking Ability of EFL Students through Debate and Peer Assessment. In EFL Journal. 1. 49.

Nilson, L. (2003). Improving Student Peer Feedback. College Teaching Journal. 51. 34-38.

Raba, A. (2017) The Influence of Think-Pair-Share (TPS) on Improving Students’ Oral Communication Skills in EFL Classrooms. In Creative Education, 8. 12-23.

Ruiz McLafferty, A.M. (2015). Listening Strategies for English Language Learner Comprehension, a Teacher Resource Guide. Retrieved 2020/03/01 from

Sachs, J. & Parsell, M. (eds). (2014). Peer Review of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Australia: Springer.