Italy Demo Lessons, Vienna to Slovakia & Why all English is a terrible idea!


Even though it’s my last day in Italy I seemed to have been roped into doing a series of demo lessons in the morning!

Which is fine, after a day off at the beautiful lake Garda and then a day full of computer work yesterday it is actually really nice to actually do some teaching!

The first lesson was really good with two classes of first year kids put together.

As always with a new class I need to set up some sort of discipline – so it doesn’t descend into chaos! – and I usually do that with the Disco Warm Up.

Which also lets me get the “easy or challenge?” question in – i.e. whether to do song 1 or 2.

When I first flipped on the new menu they were all shouting “basketball!” So asked them “What do you want to do?” which they didn’t understand, so that was the perfect chance of the next part of the lesson, starting of course with Eat! Drink! Dance!

Why “all English” is a terrible idea!

Of course in primary schools some teachers are still stuck in the crazy idea of “all in English” lessons.

And if ever there was an obvious reason why this is a bad idea, it was today.

After we did the “Eat!” word, and several times so they were listening and then saying “Eat” instead of “Eata”, I pointed to the picture and said “In English?” and they all said “Eat!” and then I said “And in Italian?” to which they all said …..


Spaghetti!! 🙂


So definitely, always, every-single-time, even with easy stuff, always ask the kids what they think each item means and make sure your local language is good enough to pick up when they think it’s something else!

Otherwise you are just basing your course on a whole series of misunderstandings.

Anyway, once they guessed correctly they were cool and we whizzed through the song and then into “What do you want to do?

Here again the same thing came up, I got the computer to say “I want to dance.”  and the kids thought it just meant “ballare”, to which I of course shook my head and in a joking way said “Nope!”

Then the key is patience………

Lots of it for them to guess what it could mean.

Don’t tell them, get them to guess!

It takes a while, but they eventually figured it out and once they had the pattern they were cool and we could do the song.

So finally we had that out of the way I could put back on the main menu and ask them “What do you want to do?” to which half said “I want to play basketball” (the sports theme!) and half said now they didn’t want to do it! 🙂

Well, we did it anyway, and they did great and we ended with a version of the How are you? Monster game with the question as “What do you want to do?” and the monster phrase being “I want to eat!”

Very cool, and actually quite a lot for the kids, but they were great, very, very good kids.

( And to be honest I sort of chicked out doing something easy, I should have done something more challenging like  The 3 Bears but it completely slipped my mind!)

Lesson 2 & Leo!

Then straight into another lesson this time with 9 year olds, and again a class with another great teacher.

And of course they took the chance to ask me all the questions they know. Bizarrely the first question they asked was “What’s your name?” to which I said “Guess!” and they all said “Richard” So then I said “Why did you bother asking then?” which got a nice laugh and they were actually really cool kids.

As it was Italy we did the “Come on, Come on!” song which was cool.

Again always ask them what they think each item means.

For example when we did “kick”  which they said in English and did the gesture with no problem, I asked them “And in Italian?” to which they all said ….


Which is of course the word for football or soccer, not “kick!”

And these are 9 year olds with quite a bit of English under their belts, so make sure you do check!

Even “Come on, Come on!” they didn’t get the meaning of straight away, even though they were singing it and waving their arms in the air.

(They thought it just meant “come here” so we had to ask them to guess again.)

Kids are really cool, and one thing that totally surprised me was that I was asking them what is happening in Brazil next month. They figured out, in Italian, that it is the world cup, and eventually, after racking their brains, they figured out how to say it in English.

So to get them hyped up for the song, I said to them “Who is going to win the world cup?” They had super concentrated faces, and I thought they were trying to understand the English, but … they started saying things like “Argentina!” “Spain!”

Which I thought was rather strange for soccer mad Italian kids.

Then I realized…

“Ah, OK then, not “Who will win?” “Who do you want to win?” and they all said…

“Italy of course!”

Kids are smart aren’t they! 🙂

Anyway the song was cool so the teacher wanted to bring in another class to join us, this does tend to happen a lot!

This time we did “Superhero” which was good as always.

When I asked them if they could do it, they all said “Yes!” except for one kid at the back who was shaking his head. The teacher was explaining that he had only joined this year so couldn’t do it.

Not in my class – everyone can do it!

So I did the teamwork exercises from the workshops, and asked all the kids to help me in supporting him, because we’re all on the same team.

To which, completely on their own, they all started chanting “Leo! Leo! Leo!” – and dude his face lit up, he loved it – I don’t think he’d ever had so much support from his friends since he’d been there!

So after making them promise me that from now on they’d always act as a team and be superheroes for all their friends whenever they think they can’t do something, we did the song and they aced it!

Very cool.

So that was really good. Good for me in that I learnt where the Italian kids have the biggest problems (the extra vowels at ends of words being one big one if you don’t keep an eye on it), good for the kids and hopefully great for the teachers too.

And of course it’s never perfect, you just go with the flow, get the nearest you can to the lesson plan, and try and pick up where you can on what the kids are into.

So a really cool morning, then a walk through the park and now I’m sitting in Milan airport waiting to take the plane to Vienna and then a bus to the Slovakia workshops arriving at 1AM tomorrow morning!

Thank you again to everyone in Italy, it really has been a wonderful experience.

Everyone who came to the workshop, everyone who invited me to dinner, everyone who organized everything i.e. Monica! and everyone who made my week here into such a wonderful stay.

Thank you all!


Richard Graham

I'm on a mission to make education Genki—fun, exciting, and full of life! Genki English has now been researched by Harvard University and licensed by the British Council around the world. The results have been magical! Now I'm here to help you teach amazing lessons, with all the materials prepared for you, and to double your teaching income so you can sustainably help many more students in the future!

9 Responses to “Italy Demo Lessons, Vienna to Slovakia & Why all English is a terrible idea!”

  1. Deena

    Ahh Richard your energy, creativity and wonderful sense of humor are so inspirational.
    All I can say is “Thank You”!

  2. Julia

    Hi Richard!

    It was so nice to read such a lively post. You pictured your demo-lessons so well, that I nearly felt attending them, too. And I liked them so much!!! 🙂
    It’s really amazing to see you finding a way out from difficult situations!

    Wishing a good luck for your workshops in Austria and Slovakia!

  3. Susan K

    Thank you for answering my questions in this detailed lesson report! I can explain in their native language that they’re on the same team and they can cheer the more reserved students on and get them to join in. I also asked one student to make a sentence which he thought was going to be difficult but had a try anyway. The answer was nearly right so I just said, ‘Yes, it’s sunny! Very good! Clap!’ They all clapped and did the same for all students’ answers. The next time he eagerly put his hand up to do another sentence. What a turn around! My students have lost those worried expressions they had at the beginning and always come to the lessons smiling! I know they can all do it – they’re kids!

  4. Barbara

    I still can’t believe that I finally met you! Please, come back soon :)! Italian teachers and kids really need you! We’ll really miss you! But… thanks to internet, we’ll be in touch!

    P.S.: And, about this subject… no, Internet is not the devil! It’s how people use it that can be evil. It’s always difficult to explain it to parents.

  5. Martin

    Agh, your lesson stories are always so great. I still have a hard time getting the Genki portion of my lessons to go over well with the kids. In a couple of my classes it works pretty well. In the others it just falls into chaos with some kids refusing to take part, others just running around, and only a few really trying. Some of the kids are just bored and disinterested in everything that isn’t fooling around and speaking out of turn in their own language (these are 6-9 year olds). I don’t know what the problem is.

    So jealous of your success.

  6. Stefania

    Richard, I would have loved to see you in action with ‘real’ kids and not just ’21-year old’ ones like us!!!

    Thank you for your Italian very genki workshop

  7. Richard

    Hi Stefania,

    I think in Kiev next week we’re going to try and have a kids’ demo session as part of the pre-conference on Friday!

  8. Richard

    @Martin: Don’t worry, it’s all just practice, practice, practice. It’s taken me 23 years to get this good, and I’ve still got a loooong way to go!

    One tip I’d give is to concentrate on the Warm Up Game and the Disco Warm Up song, really copy what I do in the videos to get the kids to stand up & sit down really quickly whenever you want, and really practice so you can get them loud and then quiet with the claps. It can take up to 10 minutes in some new classes – still keep it fun, but keep going through it till it is automatic. Then once you have that discipline in place the whole rest of the lesson is on a solid foundation and becomes much, much simpler.

    And the one time I had a class failure in China? It was when half the kids joined late so didn’t get the warm up and it was a disaster! So really get the warm up down smooth and you’ll have half the battle won!

  9. Martin

    Yeah, I’ll need to run that warm-up stuff again.

    Today I decided to finally just COMPLETELY overhaul the “lesson – curriculum plans” the school provides for our classes. I’ve usually rewritten them a little, adding in some Genki things but generally keeping the pattern the same and not really clearly designing a lesson that is teachable. The original lesson plans basically involve introducing and drilling and somehow playing games that introduce grammar in 1.5 hours, but I’ve never been able to adequately cover it all. Obviously, the key to covering VOCAB and GRAMMAR is to use the vocab in the grammar point. Unfortunately, the vocab is just vast swaths of flashcards of many topics and the grammar targets usually don’t apply to any of the NEW words or the old review words.

    So, I finally just blew up the whole thing. The lesson I was changing introduced eight words (strong, weak, light, heavy, move, help, carry, pick up). The tricky part here is that half the words are adjectives, while the other half are verbs.

    The kids struggle mightily with the Pronouns and to be verb, so I decided to stick the I am, You are, She is hungry song here, since the lesson didn’t have any other more apparent topic like WEATHER. The original lesson plans also called for reviewing this grammar point.

    So, I have a warmup, line quiz game, and then basically do the He is hungry Genki lesson plan. Review the How are you song and learnt adjectives and then introduce the pronouns and to be verbs. Learn and sing the song. Change the adjectives and use the brand new adjectives STRONG, WEAK, HEAVY, LIGHT. Play the “He is hungry” game. Do some phonics. Sing the song again and sing the Thank You song which I taught the kids in order to keep the seasons fresh in their minds the past unit.

    I’m really excited to see how it works out. I feel much more focused on one concept and topic as opposed to disjointed reviewing, a grammar point that have nothing to do with what is in the book, stacks of flashcards, no real progress. I’m also excited to work on setting up the rest of my classes like this.

    P.S. I’m still amazed at how locked into their heads the “How did you get here?” song, question, and answers are. I ask that question and 90% of the kids answer back fluently “I came here by …” Most of the time they answer something completely goofy like “by mouse” and one girl latched onto “by rocket”. Rocket DEFINITELY came from the song and not from the six forms of transport introduced in the book lesson (even though they learned the same vehicles in a different set of flashcards from DD.

    Yes, they have flashcards that go with the main level book and then they have these Vocabulary and Spelling word flashcards that are primarily designed for use in the primary level classes for spelling lists (very difficult as the kids must solely memorize since the DD phonics only go through the 26 letters, a few of the consonant digraphs, and long vowels with the ending E, but nothing more before throwing the kids 6 – 9 letter, multiple syllable words.

    Continuing off-topic a little bit, these V&S words are presented to the young kid classes as extra words. If you follow the lesson plans as trained, you take out two sets of Y-level flashcards (one review, one for the new words) and two sets of V&S words (one review, one for new words). The main book cards and the V&S words were designed by the same guy who founded the DDDragon schools. There are many duplicates, V&S words are just introduced in little chunks to the Y-level kids. Some of the V&S cards are grouped by theme, while other words are completely out of place, abstract, and introduced out of context LONG before the kids ever learn what they are used for. (I remember “teaching” a few measure words here and there long before my primary students got to the grammar point of countable and non-countable nouns requiring those measure words. I also “taught” superlative words before the lessons required them. Frankly, a messy awful system.)

    As I’ve said before, one of the major problems I’ve had the last 2 – 3 years teaching at these DD schools is a lack of goal for the classes. What is the point of the young kid classes. What are they SUPPOSED to be learning? Yes, we are teaching English, getting the excited about it (usually failing at this), and teaching them other life skills like working with others, but what are they supposed to be learning of the English language? I’ve never been able to see where anything is going in the DD system.

    Anyways, super excited to really blow things up.

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