Trial Lessons:  What to Do / Not to Do

After 12 years in business, Dave and I think we have hit upon the best way to do trial lessons.     Before I outline what we do, I will say what we don’t do and why.      All of what we DON’T do, we DID do for years.    BUT we changed to our current system 5 years ago and haven’t gone back.


  1. We don’t allow trial lesson students to join in in existing lessons, with Moms/ Dads watching because:


  • It disrupts the class.   My responsibility is first and foremost to my paying students.  When a trial lesson student joins in, the lesson is disrupted as you accommodate the new student.    And of course, if Mom brings younger siblings, your lesson can be VERY disrupted.  



  • without a level check, you have no idea of the child’s level and the child can try a lesson that is too easy or too difficult.  


  • And finally : WHATEVER class the trial student joins, the Mom will think it is TOO EASY or TOO DIFFICULT for their child (even if it is actually the perfect level).    And even if you explain that you have lots of lessons and of course, we have a lesson to fit their child, they often are not interested after seeing the 1 lesson.   




2.   We don’t allow children to join in lessons for 1 or 2 months for free or at a reduced rate because:


  • again, it disrupts the lesson.


  • we want students to hit the ground running.   Learning and Leveling up.   If they are not even sure if they are in the lesson or not, how can they fully participate, doing weekly homework, wanting to challenge themselves?


3.  What we DO do is trial lesson lessons (either solely or with other trial lesson students of the same level) .    This is the way it works:


  • New students call and I get information from the Mom:   Name, Age, What experience with English they have had (as detailed as possible), and then I sign them up for a trial lesson.    


  • If a child is a beginner elementary student or a beginner elementary student and we have other beginners, then we will make a group kinder trial or a group elementary trial.    Up to 4 in 1 group.     We normally have 6 in a lesson, but for the trial, I like 4 max because:


  • it’s not just the student.  It is a family day out with Mom/ Dad/ siblings…. (I even had a 3 month old baby one time) so 4 times 3 or 4 is 12 to 16 in your room—that is enough


  • even though you have screened with the experience question, 1 child can really throw off the entire trial if they are not actually beginner and the other Moms think, oh this is too difficult because 1 child is answering everything and their child is answering nothing.   With 4 kids, I can usually control the situation, explaining that there are 2 different levels and that we would recommend 2 different classes: one for the beginners and one for the child who have studied before


  • If a child has had experience with English, we do a level check and then a trial lesson with just that trial and parent:


  • In the level check I check the child’s speaking, reading and writing levels.
  • When I know the child’s level, then I can do a lesson for their level, showing what we would normally do in the lesson.


In the trial lesson, I will:

*   Greet the child/ parents warmly and direct them where to sit // put their bags.

*   Check names, ages….

*   Give them a list of lessons that they can join after the trial.    Include on the list how many spaces in the class are available (1 space left—-better join now)   Showing parents the list before the trial is super important.    Have the parents thinking straight away about what day/ time they want to join.   Many times, parents have already decided they want to join our school and when I give them the list, they say (before they trial has begun), Airi will join the Monday 4:00.   And if they don’t already know which class they want, then they can be thinking during the trial when is good.  

  • Do a mini lesson.
  • Explain what I am doing and why in Japanese as I do the trial lesson.   I want the Moms and Dads to know the reasoning behind why we do what we do—-basically the philosophies of your school.      Of course, I begin the trial lesson by saying—-in normal lessons, there is no Japanese, but for the sake of the parents, I will explain what we do and why in Japanese.
  • Finish, ask any questions and explain about joining.   You can join today.    This month’s fee is ____.   From next month will be _____.     
  • Give joiners bags, books, homework…..


A few notes:


This individual treatment does take time—-but the benefits are:

  • I meet every new student.
  • All Moms/ Dads know how we teach and why.   They help me by employing the same philosophies at home during homework time.


We don’t offer discounts for joining on the day.   I want students joining because they want to join, not because they feel pressured to make a decision.    I find 90 % of trial lesson students sign up anyway.     Most do sign up on the day, but a few will think about it and call in the next week. 


If you have any questions or comments, please write.   



Amy (Dave and Amy)

Appropriate Use of Touch in Class

Touching students in class is an area of some controversy. What is appropriate? Is it ok to use it to create a bond with and encourage students?
Recently I observed a new teacher and noticed that the discipline problems that had been causing problems might simply have stemmed from an over emphasis on establishing discipline at the expense of warmth. I have noticed how eye contact, smiling and a little nudge on the shoulder seem to foster a bond with students that doesn’t exist with a strictly hands off approach. Obviously this style of teaching should be approached with caution. I think appropriate touching should only involve the hand, arm, shoulder and possibly back. If a student is very young and doesn’t answer a simple question such as how old are you? I find the merest touches on the hand of a neighboring student and asking the same question brings a correct response. I go around the table asking everyone and return to the original student who will invariably answer correctly.
If I quickly check written homework at the table and I see a mistake, I will circle and give the student a gentle arm nudge, smile and say well done, now fix those mistakes. 
If a rambunctious very young male student who is often failing starts doing well,  I’ll give him a little squeeze on the shoulders and say well done. If a student is having real problems remembering a letter when writing, I will ask her neighbor to write the letter with a finger on the students back. Kids love this. A student might begin to get rowdy as we sing a song, I find a gentle squeeze of the hand or wrist is enough to bring the student into line. When very young students leave the class I try to give them a high or low five, they enjoy this.
The areas I think are out of bounds are not to touch girls on shoulders {George Bush style with Angela Merkel, ] Obviously with boys and girls, lower body is out of bounds and extreme gentleness and respect at all times.
I strongly believe if we treat our students with love and respect they will respond to you so much better than if we constantly say don’t do this or that.

How to Organize your Classroom

Organization is really important.   A well organized classroom helps teachers quickly locate level appropriate activities/ flashcards…     There is less wasted time searching for a good activity.    And less teacher mistakes:  choosing too easy or too difficult activities for the class.   Your students will learn more and be more confident in a well organized classroom.     


At Dave and Amy English School, our classroom activities are organized by level and color.   Level is the child’s reading level.    So kids on My English Book and Me 3  (a single letter book) might be doing activities from the 3L section because they can read 3 letters and longer (despite only being able to write single letters).    Likewise, the higher level kinder might be doing Single Letter activities because they are preparing for reading and writing.     


Kinder activities are pink (same as My English Book and Me 1) labeled Kinder.   In this section, we have puzzles that we use at the beginning of class, picture bingos and picture books (lots of movable parts Maisy books) to read as a whole class.    


After the Kinder Section, we have the Single Letter area: colored yellow (to go with the My English Book and Me 3) and labeled SL.    In this area, we have alphabet puzzles, alphabet books (like Alphabet Starters) and single letter flashcards.    We also have question cards that correspond with the question and answers in the MEB1 book.   


Next is the 3 Letter section: colored green (to go with My English Book and Me 4) and labeled 3L.    By 3L, I mean Consonant Vowel Consonant words, such as cat, fix….   as well as longer phonetic words like hospital, batman… Again, we have corresponding puzzles, books, flashcards, bingos and question cards that are appropriate for the 3L area.   


After that, we have the Blends area: colored purple to go with MEB5 (coming soon) and labeled BL.    And then the higher level sections:  Red for MEB6 and Blue for MEB7.   We are in the process of making these books.   However, we already know the words, grammar structures and questions/ answers that will be in the books, so have filled these areas with level appropriate materials.   


Finally, the texts, question cards and reading books for the high level returnee, Jr High School and High School kids.     This section is not color coded.   But we have each text, CD and accompanying files in their own boxes.    With higher level kids we use the English File series.   


Not only does an organized classroom help teachers choose appropriate activities quickly, it helps with quick clean up because every activity is color coded and labelled.   Teachers can quickly locate where each activity should be placed.  



How to Handle Criers in Your Class:

How do you handle criers?

Let's begin with my first experience with criers.  20 years ago, when I first came to Japan, I had naively/ optimistically/ stupidly (call it what you like) agreed to teach 10 new 3 year olds with no Moms, no other teachers.    It was a disaster.    As soon as the Moms left, 3 children burst into tears, crying loudly.    2 others soon joined.    1 even wet his pants.    But the other 5 children were fine.    I decided that I could do nothing about the criers on my own.   But I could keep the other 5 from joining the crying group by singing, dancing, playing games.....     And it worked.     The 5 non criers never cried.    And some of the criers saw that we were having fun and joined us.          

Over 20 years of teaching at Dave and Amy English School (, we have developed a few policies to pre-empt/ handle criers:

Prevention is the key.     Hopefully, with the following 2 points, you can pre-empt any crying:

  1. Greet all kinder kids at the door with a warm, friendly ' Hello, Risa.    Come in.   Let's sit  here.'        Most your criers will be young kinders.   So it is important to get them in the door and where  they need to be in the classroom as quickly as possible.   Hanging around, feeling confused, might make them realize they are missing Mom and start crying.  
  2. Get the children doing something as soon as they come in.    In our classes, the children will come and in a do a puzzle at the table.    They are busy right away.     Hopefully having fun and not tempted to cry.   

But, if your prevention techniques did not work and you have a crier, try these steps:


  1.  Get Moms/ Dads away as quickly as possible.      A child will cry much longer if the good-bye is long.   Make the good-bye short and sweet and get the child in the door, away from Mom as quickly as possible.    And by away, I mean Mom out the door and out of sight.    Be wary of Moms who are waiting behind the door---so that when another child comes in (opening the door), the child can see his Mom and start crying all over again.     In our classes, I will take a crying child from Mom's arms, open the door for Mom to go and carry the child to their seat (taking off shoes myself).     Without Mom hanging around, most kids will stop crying in 5 minutes.  
  2. Allow the child to watch from a safe distance.    If the children are doing a puzzle at the table and 1 child is crying VERY LOUDLY, we will move the child to a chair in the corner of the room (the room is not that big so they are still fully able to see/ hear all that is happening).   This is good for 2 reasons.   One, they will not disturb (as much) the other children who are not crying and trying to learn.    And two, from the chair, the child can see what is happening.    Hopefully, they can realize that the other children are having fun.     And that the teacher is not a monster, but actually quite nice.     And will calm themselves down and stop crying (more on integrating the child back into the lesson later).
  3. Don't try and console, reason with the crier.     This advice is for if you are a teacher teaching on your own.    Of course, if there are 2 teachers, 1 teacher can try and console the child.    But if you are own your own, you have all the other students to take care off.   If you spend time consoling 1 crier, you might find you have more criers joining the crier.    And if you are a foreign teacher who looks different to anyone the child has seen before, YOU are most likely the reason the child is crying.     Consoling, reasoning won't work when the child can't get past your brown hair and green eyes.    The only consoling I recommend is calmly saying shhhh, shhhhh and gently rubbing their heads every once in a while as they sit in their chair away.
  4. When the crying stops, bring the child back into the activities.       We find that most crying stops after 5 minutes and the child is fine for the rest of the class, subsequent classes.    If you have placed the child away from the activities because of loud crying, when they stop, let them join in with the other students.   Of course, if they start crying again, it is best to place them in the chair away until they stop again.  

We have found that with the above policies, most children DO NOT CRY.      And the ones that do, will stop in 5 minutes.      Good luck, 

Dave and Amy