You already know them! Promoting meaningful output

Tetsuko Fukawa, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Information exchange, output
  • Learner English level: Beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Material: Culture handout 

This activity is designed for non-English majors to help them understand familiar topics and have conversations and discussions on simple topics. One of the biggest issues is that there is no space in the curriculum to prepare students for university English classes. If teachers had more lesson time, they could plan lessons in a way that would scaffold students’ learning. For example, they could prepare tasks within the same lesson structures or sequences of actions throughout the semester (van Lier, 2004) to help students focus more on language aspects rather than the task procedures (van Lier & Walqui, 2010). For that reason, this activity focuses on students’ meaningful output in the early stage of their university English class. Additionally it is planned based on students’ prior knowledge of Japanese culture. One modern and one traditional Japanese house are used as examples because they are familiar cultural objects to the students. 


Step 1: Prepare a picture of a traditional Japanese house. A picture can be obtained from the book Japan: Introduced in English and Japanese (pp. 132–133), which has bilingual descriptions of each part of the house. Pictures are also available online. White out all the words.

Step 2: On a handout, have the following ready: the picture of a traditional Japanese house, a space for making comparisons between traditional and modern Japanese houses, two boxes for drawing modern houses, and a table for making a vocabulary list.

Step 3: Make copies for each student.


Step 1: Instruct students to write down the English words corresponding to parts of the Japanese house and its furnishings on the handout, individually. Check the answers after a few minutes.

Step 2: Ask students if the house in the picture represents where they live (e.g., their parents’ house, apartment, or dormitory). They usually answer, “No.” Ask a few students to share why they said so. 

Step 3: Tell students to write down enough vocabulary on the handout, individually, to explain what items they have in their own house.

Step 4: Pair students up and have them compare the house in the picture with where they live, finding similarities and differences. Have them write their findings down on the handout. Encourage students to use new vocabulary they have learned in the previous tasks.

Step 5: Make groups of four. Have students share the similarities and differences they found.

Step 6: Ask a few students to report the similarities and differences they found to the whole class.

Step 7: Teach vocabulary and phrases to describe locations, for instance, “in the top right corner,” “in the bottom left corner,” and “in the center of the room.” 

Step 8: Ask students to draw their homes individually. This task could be assigned as homework.

Step 9: Pair students up. Instruct them to sit back-to-back, taking turns describing their homes using the new vocabulary and phrases to describe locations. The listener should draw their partner’s home on the handout based on what they hear.


The intention of this lesson is to facilitate meaningful output by planning a lesson based on students’ prior knowledge of Japanese culture. It is very successful in terms of meeting the goal of maximizing students’ output. The key to success is to make use of students’ prior knowledge and supplement language knowledge so they can share information in a non-threatening learning environment. Once they start sharing their opinions and information, the lesson runs itself. 


  • Kuwabara, K. (2007). Eigode shoukaisuru nihon [Japan: Introduced in English and Japanese]. Tokyo, Japan: Natsumesha.
  • van Lier, L. (2004). The ecology and semiotics of language learning: A sociocultural perspective. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic.
  • van Lier, L. & Walqui, A. (2010). Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: A pedagogy of promise. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.