Lessons Learned – New Horizon 2 Unit 7 – Anything you can do, I can do better.

Anything you can do, I can do better.

20min – 50min

A team oriented acting game.

About an hour before class one of my 2nd year teachers informed me that this class had English twice that day. She wanted a game to play for the entire 50 minute class. OK. No problem. That worked around the grammar point on page 76 of New Horizon 2. Oh. I sat and thought for about 10 minutes and all I could think of was Annie Oakley.

Andrew, get your pen.

Purpose: A listening exercise using good, better and best.

Secondary Purpose: To add a little levity to the class.

I have only done this activity once and about 90% of the students in that class responded very well. Boys in particular really like this game because they can show off but even some of girls had a good time. However, there was a small cadre of students, 3 or 4, who refused to cooperate. After the class the JTE and I found a solution to this problem if we used the game again the future. Overall this game was awesome. The students were laughing and having fun. Nearly all of them let their “English is hard” shield down. I would definitely do this game again with a few modifications. This is also very similar to the game, “Prove it!” which you can play with the 1st year students using New Horizon 1.

Prep: There is not much needed to prep for this activity depending on how complicated you want to make it. The main preparation is creating a list of actions that are A) easily understood by Japanese students and B) relatively amusing. For “A” asking your students to imitate Barack Obama is going to result in a lot of blank stares and nervous fidgeting. Asking your students to imitate Spiderman will get you further. As far as “B” is concerned the humor will manifest itself if you pick things that are fun, but if you ask them to imitate something that isn’t fun like taking a test or drinking tea, you’ll get more boring versions of those two actions. I have attached my list of actions.

DOC: Anything you can do I can do better

Also bring a deck of cards.

Conan

Execution: To start the class, I told each of the students we would be playing an amazing game, but that it was really important that everyone plays. Once they understood ( I had the Japanese teacher explain it too) I started by giving them the vocabulary for the game. On the board I wrote: Act, Make sound like, and Imitate. Imitate was the only word that they weren’t already familiar with but it is important to review to make sure everyone understands. Probably the most important part of the whole activity is the ALT (you!) doing something in front of the class to help loosen them up. I imitated Anpanman, made a noise like a seagull and acted silly to demonstrate the requirements of the activity. Demonstrate at least one of these with the JTE if possible.

Have the room break up in to roughly even teams, 5 to 6 students each is ideal. I had them play rock paper scissors to see who goes first but you can choose any method for determining a turn order. Have one student from each of the first two teams come up and give them some sort of action. After they each perform the action independently I had the class vote to on, “Who did it better?” Which ever team’s player did the action “better” got to draw a card and that was their points for that round. Eventually you can get into good-better-best and change the way you call students up each round, as long as each student is from a different team.

let your kids really ham it up

I had a brilliant idea after playing this game, of course, so I’m including it here for your future benefit. Instead of having a winner and loser for each round, I could have used the cards and rewarded them both for doing something way outside of their comfort zone. Each student who does an “action” gets to draw a card and earn points for their team.

After going about 4 rounds total we wrapped the game up with about 5 minutes left in class. Long enough for the JTE to say something or to have a quick review and have them move the desks back. At the end of the class have the teacher give out a stamp, extra credit point or even your own stickers, anything really, to every student who made an effort to do the activity. This rewards everyone, even those who didn’t do “it” better.

A final thought: Another key to making this activity work is having way more “actions” than you will need for the class. I had several instances where students passed on the original action because it was too embarrassing for them or they weren’t sure what to do. Be mindful of the fact that some students do better at the front of the class and others are completely petrified. For the more nervous students I had tasks that didn’t involve speaking as well. Regardless there were still two students who just refused on principal to participate. I did find that even some of my badly behaved students stayed engaged in this activity but even so, a few bad apples made a couple moments of this class super awkward.

Miyagi Zao Sumikawa – DROP THE BEAR!

Zao SumikawaBased on talking to some teachers who grew up around Shiroishi I decided that my next single day trip to the mountains here in Japan was Miyagi Zao Sumikawa. I had also read that Sumikawa was known for its deep snow and back country feel. Despite having only three lifts, the summit at Sumikawa is supposed to be one of the better areas in Miyagi to snowboard. Also interestingly enough it is the only place to see the famous snow monsters on the Miyagi side of the Zao volcano cluster. If you are so inclined, here is the entire list of ski joints in all of Tohoku.

The weather here in Tohoku has been a tad temperamental. At sea level it was fluctuating between 40°F to 50°F and then down to high teens and low twenties. These wild weather swings resulted in some massive snow storms but also some, shall we say, unfavorable conditions for snowboarding or skiing.

You would think, with all the snowfall, the conditions would be good. However after assaulting Japan for the better part of two weeks with snow storms that paralyzed many of the major cities, the weather cleared up and was unseasonably warm for a couple days. Thus a thaw-freeze went into effect. At the summit of Sumikawa this created a solid sheet of ice and then covered it the following weekend with about 3 inches of snow. I thought with the fresh snow, “conditions should be pretty good.”

Zao SumikawaI was wrong. Really wrong. You might say that I, “Dropped the Bear.”

My day at Sumikawa was rough. Mostly spent recovering from severe slips as my board scraped all the fresh snow off the ice and refused to give me an edge as if it had never been sharpened. I felt like a baby deer. This was compounded by a couple other major issues with the resort.

The first is that, aside from two runs that the top, the entire place is basically cat tracks up the mountain. There is only 300 meters of vertical at Sumikawa and almost all of that vertical is between the top and bottom of lift 1. The remaining grade is roughly 7° to 12°. Also at the top, all but one of the runs, requires a hike.

Second, the park rats love this place. Not a bad thing by itself but lift 3 ran to the top of the terrain park and nearly everyone who had come to resort was spending their time there. Which means a long line at a place that shouldn’t have one. It looked like it might have been fun if you like landing on your ass.

park rats

park rats

Third the price and the timing is really off. The bus leaves the Sendai area at 8:30AM and arrives at 10:30AM after making multiple stops in the mountain town below Sumikawa. The return trip leaves at 3:30PM. If the snow is good, this is not nearly long enough for 4800円.  For the same price you can get to Eboshi earlier and stay longer, have more lifts and better vertical.

Finally the biggest issue I had with this place is that it could have been awesome. Like really awesome. The terrain at the top was amazing except for the fact that it was covered in a thick sheet of hockey rink. If it had been deep powder snow – “oh man,” Clay Davis is right, that’s how I felt, too.

Sumikawa is intriguing because there are almost no man made barriers or boundary markers. Let it fly. Go wherever. Want to go down that gully? Done and DONE. As long as you can walk when you get to the bottom. No worries. Just, whatever you do, under any circumstance, with extreme prejudice…

DO NOT Drop the Bear.

Check out my other snowboarding adventures: Hakuba Goryu, Niseko, Happo-one, Zao Eboshi, Spring Valley

Sprose – An Introduction

Sprose, Sproetry, Sploetry, Poams Proams… I literally struggled for 10 whole minutes on Sprose. I think this is roughly 100,000,000 times longer than anyone normally looks at spam in their inbox unless they are daft or equally illiterate.

Spam is an interesting phenomenon and every time we see spam, particularly the less inventive ones like, “FREE MICAKEAL KORS AIRJORDAN PRESCRIPTION OXYCODONE HERE NOW NO SIGGNNN UP NEEDED, ANALpr0n – LOL my best friendf s Credit Card NO interest 3.0%E´@™ Johnny Depp PLEASE SEND YOUR ACCOUTN # 🙂 🙂 L)( FOR REBATEE…,” in my comment inbox we wonder,

“Does this actually work on ANYONE?”

With that in mind we here at Easy Distance though we should share some of these comments as Sprose in our new comedy project. It’s frankly unrelated to anything else other than blowing off some steam.

We get a lot of spam. More spam that site views if you can believe that. Hundreds of thousands of poorly typed barely English words in the comments section of our blog that are somehow supposed to fool us into thinking a real person left us a message.

However the artistic audacity that spam uses the English language with, isn’t something to just be deleted. We think, simply throwing away spam is a tragedy almost as terrible as spam’s butchering of the English language to begin with. We want to provide the spam we get the proper ridicule it deserves. We will do this through dramatic and often sarcastic readings.

Here is the first salvo from “testimonythedvd.com”

Also, apologies to Spam™ for being synonymous with annoyance and poorly typed e-mails.

Enjoy.

To and Frozen – Hokkaido’s Chuo Bus Reviewed

the only way to pass the time on a bus ride

the only way to pass the time on a bus ride

Buses are boring. There is nothing wrong with being a boring bus. In fact, I prefer boring to say… life threatening. Talking about buses is also pretty boring. However I have somethings I think you should know about Chuo Bus in Hokkaido.

Chuo bus is very convenient (kind of).

I took 4 trips (2 round trips) on a Chuo bus. We took the bus from Tomakomai ferry port to JR Sapporo Station. Then I also took the Chuo bus from JR Sapporo to Niseko Hirafu and back. Two very different trips but essentially the same things to say. To get from the ferry terminal to JR Sapporo there are four bus pick up times posted outside at the stop. You can take an express train that goes from JR Tomakomai to Sapporo but its nearly double the price of the bus and you have to transfer from the bus to the train anyway. Might as well stay on the bus. In this respect the bus was very convenient.

Riding to Niseko was also very convenient. The bus leaves from JR Sapporo twice in the morning 7:55AM and 8:55AM and arrives at Hirafu just before lunch. The price is very reasonable at 3100円 round trip. There is a large customer service desk that opens at 7:30AM in Sapporo Station to pay for tickets and book numerous other excursions offered by Chuo bus. They also offer services that leave direct from the airport to Hirafu but I did’t explore that option because we took the ferry.

Customer Service

Customer Service

Now the inconvenient elements. Their website is terrible and almost 100% in Japanese. There is an English site seeing page but the ski link goes back to the Japanese page. The bus to Niseko requires a reservation and during peak season you may need one as it might sell out. However, my bus was mostly empty and I left on a Friday morning in peak season. Like Keio bus terminal in Shinjuku there was a massive LED readout listing trips and availability on it. My guess is that even without a reservation if you got to the station at 7:30AM right when the ticket counter opens you could get a seat on the bus to Niseko. I didn’t try that because I had someone call for me and book it in Japanese. There are 3 other main bus services that all make trips to Niseko and when I was at Niseko I saw even more buses that I didn’t find online. White Liner has the best website and you can book in English. The other services are Donan (Japanese only) and Resort Liner (English). Chuo does NOT offer online reservations because, I have no idea.

ski page for Chuo bus

ski page for Chuo bus

Style, Comfort or Both?

I can assure you these busses were completely lacking in style, but were comfortable enough. I wouldn’t take Chuo overnight somewhere as they were pretty standard fare and didn’t have any of the extra sleeping  “comforts” you get with a Willer bus. They did have regular sized cup holders which I thought was nice. The ride from Tomakomai to Sapporo and back was fraught with my largest complaint about buses in Japan, they are too warm. Inside the bus it was blistering and outside it was just normal cold weather for Hokkaido. The bus to Niseko didn’t seem to have this problem. Not sure why but I was wearing snowboard gear and it didn’t feel overly hot to me.

The in-crowd?

The buses we took were all about half full save the bus 3:30PM bus from Sapporo Station to Tomakomai. That bus was jam packed. They even had to bust out the jumper seats to fit everyone. It was a sardine can. Not surprisingly, a super crowded bus can result in a relatively uncomfortable ride. Was it worth paying double to take the train? Probably not, and there is no guarantee that the train would be any less crowded. Plus, once you get to Tomakomai, you still have to take the bus to the ferry terminal.

Something strange also happened at the bus terminal in Sapporo. The guy loading the luggage told me I couldn’t put my bag in the luggage compartment under the bus. His reason, “PASOCOM! PASOCOM.” For those of you not familiar with English words remade into Japanese words, this sounds just like the way it’s spelled: complete gibberish. After about three times of trying to hand the guy my bag we finally figured out that he was telling us laptops can’t go under the bus. Why? Who knows. After we informed him it was just clothes in my bag, he changed to normal polite Japanese, “ONEGAISHIMASU!” It was weird. The Japanese are incredibly paranoid about lithium-ion batteries but this was out of the ordinary. As if all the lithium ion batteries in cell phones, iPads, mp3 players, and laptops are some how less dangerous when raised more than a meter off the ground.

Bus drop off in Niseko

Bus drop off in Niseko

Chuo bus is very inexpensive to get around Hokkaido and it goes almost everywhere a gung-ho tourist would want to go. However, you may hit a language barrier here and there and if something requires reservations you may have to phone a friend. For skiing or boarding I thought the Chuo bus was by far the best option with the best available times. It leaves early enough to get in a solid half day when you arrive in Niseko and leaves late enough that you can have two solid days and only pay for one night in a hotel.

The Joys of Teaching English

While certainly not always a bed of roses, teaching English as a second language can have sublime moments. These can range from a delightful moment of understanding during a lesson, to seeing your students use English of their own volition. One of my favorite activities is reading students’ original compostitions. Not only does it let me gauge their grasp on grammar concepts, it is an opportunity to see their personalities shine through, and understand a little of how they are feeling. Sometimes errors in syntax are downright hilarious, but I especially enjoy learning about my students’ states of mind.

I was most recently reminded of this after reading my eighth grade classes’ original poems. Among the laugh out loud comedy of some of their work, I was more often struck by the truth of their sentiments. The mixture of their childlike wonder and budding adult mentalities was sweet and moving. My students have asked me why I wanted to be an English teacher. Perhaps some of you are wondering it too, and I know there are days when those of us here dejectedly ponder this very question. So I am writing this now to remind myself on a day such as that, why things like this make everything worthwhile.

The students were given this very basic outline: write a topic and some words about how it makes you feel. The results were wonderful. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

esl poetry

Who hasn’t marveled at the parallelism of “earth as it is in heaven”? Or taken joy  in the brilliance of fireworks:

esl poetry

Or felt the effect of weather on one’s mood:

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

My personal favorite, on the drudgery of daily life:

esl poetry

On a happier food note:

esl poetry

esl poetry

Have you ever had fried chicken so good you wanted to write a poem about it? Heck yes I have!

A practical student, she finds contentment in the act of commerce:

esl poetry

While others have larger monetary aspiriations:

esl poetry

Identity crisis:

esl poetry

A call to self-reflection:

esl poetry

The beauty of space:

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

Hope for tomorrow:

esl poetry

In my imagination, I see these poems alongside poignant illustrations, a la Shel Silverstein books. Unfortunately, I lack the artistic skill to depict what I envision, but I created some meager power point images to bring their writing to life. Perhaps one day I will do them justice…Why don’t you send us your take on these delightful poems and we’ll put up on our tumblr and here!

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

esl poetry

Site News

who moved those topiaries?

So after actually reading The Shining, I have decided NOT to construct a life size cyborg version of Jack Torrance. However, I am going to use my now ample free time to switch hosts for my website this weekend. Probably sometime late Saturday night (Japan time) and in the event that you happen to visit our site and its down I am very sorry.

At least initially there will not be any major changes to the website but in roughly a month or so we will be making some aesthetic changes and some minor additions.

However, there are some REALLY TRULY AWESOME things we are going to do in the near to immediate future.

The AWESOME list:

SPROSE

Sprose is a new comedy project from easydistance.com. We get a lot of spam. Hundreds of thousands of poorly typed barely English words in the comment section that are somehow supposed to fool us into thinking a real person left us a message. However the artistic audacity that spam uses the English language with isn’t something to just be deleted. We think, simply throwing away spam is a tragedy almost as terrible as spam’s butchering of the English language to begin with. We want to provide the spam we get the proper ridicule it deserves. We will do this through dramatic and often sarcastic readings.

Also, apologies to Spam™ for being synonymous with annoyance and poorly typed e-mails.

Enjoy.

KumamonDo You Want Stuff From Japan?

We are giving you the opportunity to have us do your shopping for you in Japan. Your wish is our command. More coming very soon!

Wish I Was There Photo Competition – Al Fresco Holidays Blog

Most things in life, even if they are advertised as free, are not.

Case in point. I would like the free camera offered in this photo contest: Al Fresco!

To get extra entries in to the Wish I Was There contest you can add a blog post about the contest. I assume everyone who is entering the contest is doing this. What is the price I am paying to increase my chances to win? Bombarding my social media connections with unpaid advertising. HOORAY! Just imagine me really happy with my new camera. Are you imagining it? Like, REALLY imagining it…? Ok good.

I have to tell a story with my photo sooooo…

Venice

Here is my story for this photo: I wish I was there. Venice breaks something inside you. Spoils you. Every step you take in Venice is somehow filled with wonder. Sure, its expensive. Sure, its touristy. There’s a reason it’s popular but my first glimpse of Venice was, shall we say, unconventional.

My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon in Venice. After a … rough… day of travel we finally arrived in Venice around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. When we got to Venice we thought the best way to get to our hotel would be water bus because our hotel had its own stop. This… at least from the perspective of a couple of tired and relatively cranky travelers was a mistake. From a budget perspective, it made a lot of sense because private water taxis are very costly. How long could the water bus take anyway?

About 3 hours later we were still on the boat. However, call it kismet, good fortune, destiny, or just plain coincidence but we ended up getting a (mostly) free sunset tour of Venice. For one reason or another, the water bus kept stopping in the middle of the really big canal. Because the boat was mostly stationary we were able to lean out the windows and snap some great shots of Venice that would have been hard to obtain otherwise. This photo above is one of my absolute favorites from that boat ride. Not just because it captures some of Venice’s heart gripping, breath stopping beauty or the elegance of a perfectly placed sunset in a famous location. Not because it was on my honeymoon and blah blah kisses kisses… but because it’s a reminder that even when things seem really annoying/awful/stupid/unbelievably inane, you’re still on vacation. Take a picture.

I wish I was there, in that boat, again, taking this picture.

So there is that. I hoped you liked my story.

With that I am entering this contest. You can check the formal details at the link above, what am I your lawyer? However here are the basics of what you need to do if you want to enter the contest.

“How to Enter

There are a number of ways to enter, all of which are simple and easy. Whichever method you decide to use, we want you to let us know the location of your photo and the reason why you wish you were back there!

The entry methods are as follows:

  • Tweet us @AlFrescoHols using the hashtag #AFWishIWasThere
  • Post your picture on Instagram using the hashtag #AFWishIWasThere
  • E-mail your photo into alfrescoholidayscompetition@gmail.com”

The contest submission deadline is Feb 28th, so get on it!

That’s all for site news. Stay tuned (what do you do if it’s the internet, stay logged in?) for all those awesome changes that are coming.

Andrew & Shana

Lessons Learned: New Horizon 1 Unit 10 – “I can ______”

Here’s a really simple, no-prep activity for New Horizons 1, grammar point “can and cannot.” This is part writing, mostly speaking, and lot’s of listening in an interactive setting. I have done this activity five times with my seventh grade students, and it was a lot fun. Time : 25-35 minutes

Purpose: to practice the grammar point “can” through speaking, writing, and listening

Secondary purpose: to help students be creative and think outside the box

Prep: Prepare a list of things you “can do.” If you can, have students use a page of their English notebooks, otherwise a small piece of scratch paper for each student is necessary as well. You can also use this attached worksheet, which has multiple activities for can and can’t.

PPTX: can and can’t

Execution: You can do this activity before teaching the material on pages 94-95 as an introduction, or afterwards as a review. I used it as an introduction. I started by demonstrating a couple things I can and can’t do, really stressing the new words can and cannot/can’t. Things included clasping hands together behind my back, reverse Namaste (making your hands touch in prayer behind your back), curling my tongue, trying to touch my nose to my elbow (can’t, obviously) and others. Any cool or weird physical ability you have works great, even knuckle cracking or whistling. Once the kids understand the meaning of can and can’t, write them on the board with the definition if necessary. Have all the students stand up, while you write “I can _____________.” on the board. Explain that you will make a statement. If they too can do it, they remain standing, if not they sit down. You can draw little figures sitting and standing next to the words can and can’t. They don’t have to sit down permanently, so if they sit and the next statement is something they can do, they stand back up. You can also do the same thing with hand-raising if you want. I thought that all the restless boys would appreciate a little action, but I’ve realized that they simply do the opposite of whatever you’d like them to do, so they just stopped standing after a bit. Fickle little monkeys… Do the first round with just you speaking. Mix in some easy things with some more challenging ones to keep them going up and down. Good actions include:

  • Swim
  • Roll or curl my tongue like a hot-dog bun (this one’s genetic)
  • Wiggle my ears
  • Whistle
  • Cross my eyes
  • Use chopsticks
  • Make origami
  • Touch my tongue to my nose (I can actually do this one)
  • Ski or snowboard

The physical ones are fun because it’s a kick to watch your students try them. Whenever you’re ready for it to be over, just say something you know they can’t do: drive a car, ride a horse, play an instrument, speak a foreign language, drink sake, etc. The next step requires scrap paper or notebooks. Have students write their own achievement, “I can __________” but explain that this time they’re playing against each other. If they are the only one that can, they are a winner. Offer a prize as an incentive, near of the end of the year they definitely need some external motivation. There is no limit to the amount of winners, but they have to write something special, not just “play tennis,” “speak Japanese” if they want to win. Give them 5 minutes to do this, and help students with spelling and inspiration. If it is a specific action they have to demonstrate, have them write “I can do this” instead of trying to explain it in English.

Impress your students with this, or scare them…

Once time’s up, have them all stand (or stay seated if using only their hands) and start at one end of the room. Each student must read their sentence and perform the action if necessary. Help them repeat it louder if students can’t hear. Go through all the students, calling “Next” after each is determined winner or not. Keep the game on pace so it doesn’t drag. When a student is a winner, write their action on the board. You will always get bad students who don’t write anything, so just make them say “speak Japanese, read kanji, walk” or some such blanket statement. If you know what they do for club activities you can use that, but “I can do nothing” is not an acceptable answer. When all the students have gone, review the winning statements and continue on to the writing portion of my attached worksheet, or whatever textbook work you need to get done. Hopefully, connecting an action to a word will make this activity a memorable experience for your students.

A final thought: The “five” minute writing portion of this activity was not very successful in most of my classes, and usually ended up taking fifteen minutes of individually coaxing students or trying to get them to leave their neighbors alone and focus. I’m not sure how much easier it could have been. I wrote multiple examples on the board and all they needed to do was write two words at most: I can swim, whistle, draw, do this. I don’t attribute this to the activity being tough or their lack of ability. They write much longer, whole sentences on a daily basis. I attribute it to my school’s lack of discipline and my lack of authority. Be prepared if you have a naughty or difficult class to extend this activity or simply cut the writing portion out. The JTE for this class is the opposite of strict, so the students know they can get away with disrespecting me and refusing to follow my instructions. If I spoke better Japanese, I might be able to command more authority with them, but the boys in general could not care less about obeying a foreign woman. If you don’t have these problems at your schools, you should be fine, but even so, I was able to make this activity work. If your students are genki, it will be a blast. If you have problem classes like me, simply skip the writing and play a few rounds with only you making the statements. It’s still fun that way, and you can perhaps include a speaking component where they must answer each with “Yes, I can” or “No, I can’t.”