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

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.”

Sapporo Snow Festival – Yuki Matsuri

We can finally check another island off our list! Since moving to Japan, we have visited over twenty cities, but never left the island of Honshu. Two weeks ago, we went to Hokkaido to see the famous snow festival in Sapporo. Besides yuki matsuri, we fit in a couple other sites in Hokkaido, and slept on a ferry for the first time. You can read about the ferry experience here (Coming Soon!).

Yuki matsuri is a yearly 6-day winter wonderland where people from all over the globe create massive snow sculptures that remain on display day and night. It is rated as one of those must-see experiences, and it was definitely impressive. February is arguably the “worst” weather period for Hokkaido, as it is below freezing and often snowing. The festival coordinators do their best to provide fun winter activities throughout the day, but there is only so much fun one can have for extended periods outdoors in -7°C degree weather (even colder at night). Lots of food stalls line the main sculpture park, offering temporary respite from the cold, and since the festival features works from many countries, it is a great chance to get non-Japanese food. We particularly enjoyed the fantastic Indian cuisine in front of the huge snow Malaysian temple.

You can also watch singers and dancers perform on frigid outdoor stages, partake in ice skating and sledding, and see Japanese snowboarders and skiiers do tricks off an Olympic-style ski jump. One 14 year old snowboarder was fantastic and apparently devoid of fear. And… that’s about it. You can make a nice day of it, or day and a half, since there are three separate locations for ice sculptures, but with five days scheduled in our trip, we realized we’d have to fill up the time elsewhere.

While I’m sure Sapporo is a happening place in the summer, it can be a bit dull in the winter. What there is to do and see may be dampened by perpetual snowfall. Indoor activities it was then! Luckily, Sapporo boasts a nice subway system that is concise and easy to use, so you don’t have to do a ton of outdoor walking. I especially recommend the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. The temporary collection is rotated often, but contains many works by Japanese artists schooled in French impressionism and École de Paris. A five minute walk from the Nishi 18 Chome station, in winter the museum observatory overlooks a snow filled garden where you can relax on a couch with a good book (I took this time to read a personal account of autism by a Japanese teenager, check out The Reason I Jump for a fascinating narrative).

The special exhibit was a fantastic collection of the works of Ken-ichi Kuriyagama. He was a wonderful Japanese artist who created paintings of Hokkaido for tourism posters. 120 posters were on display along with 40 of the original paintings on canvas, in colors even more vibrant than the posters can imply. The paintings were not only stunning in their beautiful simplicity, but the collection led one back to the times when advertising was actual art. Frankly, it was very hard to go back to the subway station and look at all the heartless, digital ads after viewing that exhibit. When did we lose the desire for beauty in our search for commodities? Needless to say, it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in Japan.

Close to the art museum, one subway stop west at Maruyamakoen, is a bona-fide Louisiana-style southern restaurant, Dixie-Roux. If you are in the area (especially if you live in Japan and are a little tired of the culinary monotony) you must give it a try. Perhaps the number one selling point for me, outside of the fabulous inner décor, great service and wonderful food, was the drink menu. Nowhere in Japan have I seen mint juleps, hurricanes, or the crème-de-la-crème, a Cosmopolitan.

Yes, you heard right. What is a ubiquitous cocktail back home is impossible to get here. I have never seen uh cranberry, let alone cranberry juice, in Japan. How they can live without it is a mystery, so I immediately ordered one. It was perfection, although in the spirit of all things Japan, too small. The food itself was equally reminiscent of home and authentic. I sampled some local Hokkaido cheeses and bread and had a big bowl of brown roux gumbo. Sadly there were no fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits on the menu, so I consoled myself with a second Cosmo and enjoyed the jazz music on the radio.

When the weather gives you snow, make snowmen; or hang out in museums…you know, same difference.

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Reverse Cinderella – Shoe Shopping in Japan

When I left for Japan, I had all my belongings in a backpack and two suitcases. That didn’t leave a lot of room for frivolities, so things like my “action” figure of Jane Austen, Shakespeare shot glasses, and discography of The Monkees had to stay behind. I also decided not to pack a pair of high heels. Why waste room on torture devices? Unfortunately, every once in a blue moon there is an occasion that calls for heels. About eight months into my life here, I decided I ought to buy some just in case.

At least my large shoes can serve as weapons if the need arises

Little did I know, this decision would send me on a proverbial wild goose chase. I actually believe catching a wild goose blindfolded would have been far easier. I was suddenly part of a perverse fairytale in which I was Cinderella, scowering the kingdom for the shoe that fit the foot. “But Shana, how can this be?” you say. “There are literally millions of high heels sold in Japan.” Yes, true, but almost none for any foot above a size 8.5.

In America, I’m average. Average height, average feet. Depending on the shoe brand, I can range from 8 1/2 to 9 1/2, but in Japan a whopping 26 centimeters is enough to get you laughed right out of the shoe store. And I was. At least ten times. I wanted to give up after the second store, but Andrew persisted, since men are the only ones who get to enjoy the sadistic thing we call women’s fashion anyway. At first, I thought that all the large shoes had been purchased by “fashionable” young Japanese girls. The current style in Japan is to hobble atop tall high heels two sizes too large and walk pigeon-toed in an attempt to look like a sexy toddler. Not only is this sadistic, but just plain dangerous. I imagine that the practitioners of whatever medical discipline that repairs broken ankles must be well-off here.

I imagine it’s difficult to find appropriate sized shoes as a professional clown in Japan

While this craze is disturbing, it is not the reason for the large shoe mass extinction. Shoe shops simply don’t stock anything above a 24.5, and even with the “short Asian” stereotypes, I find this hard to swallow. I don’t see many Japanese women that are much shorter that I am, ok that’s a lie. Yes, I do, but I also see plenty of natives who are much taller. For some baffling evolutionary reason that I won’t pretend to understand, they grow smaller feet. Like Barbie, they have adapted a way to walk without falling over due to disproportionate measurements. That was also the first and last time that Asian women have been compared to Barbie, you’re welcome.

This was not seen as campy in Japan, but as an actual horror movie

Walking from store to store, being rejected, in a strange way I felt…special. Well, especially motivated to kick over their display cases with my oversized feet. It’s not enough to have the curse of blonde hair, I now have this to deal with?! I suppose the upside is the next time a passerby isn’t looking where they’re walking because they are too busy staring at my “not black” hair, I can just stick out a gargantuan toe and trip them…Yeah, or I could just learn to say “Staring is rude” in Japanese…

Is there a silver lining here, anywhere? Fortunately yes, this story has a “happy” ending. I am lucky to have a Japanese friend living in Tokyo who speaks perfect English. She can search all the Japanese websites for the “size plus” stores (actual name) that cater to those of us tragically born with the condition known as “not Japanese-sized.” These stores serve lots of actual Japanese clients with this same condition. She found a store in Ikebukuro called Ladies’ Kid. I found the name obvious (who else’s kid could it be?) but the store was fantastic and the proprieter was beyond helpful.

With my gracious friend as translator, I picked out a nice pair of black heels, which the salesman proceeded to custom fit to the millimeter each shoe seperately, since he knew that all feet slightly vary between our left and right. He shaved and trimmed special inserts which he manuevered into just the right spaces for a perfect fit. All became right in the fairytale world as I was truly Cinderella this time. He even made me extra sets of inserts for my other shoes, and told me I was normal. Japanese Prince Charming, he has a very lucky girlfriend who has the same size feet as me.

Do I relish the idea of having to do all my shoe shopping in Tokyo? No, but at least it’s an excuse to see my friend!

Success at last

Success at last

Cooking in the shower – Yakisoba Deluxe

yakisobaI feel like every time I add a new recipe here, it’s some kind of wonderful Japanese dish that I never got to try in the states. There are so many facets of Japanese cuisine, I discover something new every month. Since I moved here in March, I have been enamored of yakisoba, a Japanese-style chow mein that is available in every market and convenience store. It is also a staple at any festival or street market. My favorite breakfast while traveling in Japan is a plate of cold yakisoba from 7-11.

Why am I cooking in the shower? It’s not for the flavor…

My first attempt to cook this at home was a sticky failure. For one, I didn’t have the right sauce, and for two, I assumed that because “soba” was in the name, I could use soba noodles in the dish. Wrong. Do not use soba or other buckwheat pasta. Soba can easily become gluey, which is exactly how my mangled clumps of noodles turned out.

Easy yakisoba from the grocery store

Easy yakisoba from the grocery store

Frustrated, I gave up on them. Since it’s so easy to find yakisoba in Japan, I simply bought some when the craving appeared. But a few weeks ago, I spent an amazing weekend with some friends in Tokyo. One night we stayed in, and some Japanese friends made fresh yakisoba. Combined with the cheerful company and the Japanese ume-shu, our communion of this homemade yakisoba made it taste a million times more delicious.

While I unfortunately cannot always replicate these conditions in my apartment, I decided to make it again (correctly) and just think about my good friends while I ate it. It turned out fantastic! If you have never tried it, you must make some! Once you have the right ingredients, it’s as simple as… well, I was going to say pie, but pie is an art-form and definitely not simple. Why do we say this, as well as “piece of cake”? All baking in general is detailed and precise. Perhaps it is meant to be sarcastic, like “Clear as mud.” Or “Easy-peasy Japanese-y,” because Japanese is in no sense of the word easy. Sorry, I digress…

Here’s what you need:yakisoba

Ingredients:
Chukamen noodles: also called egg noodles, they are similar to ramen noodles but noticeably more yellow. In Japan, and any good Asian market, you can buy these fresh in vacuum sealed packs. In Japan, they usually say “yakisoba” 焼きそば on them. Fresh is best.

Sauce: Also in Japan, yakisoba sauce is sold at any market, labeled: ソース 焼きそば (sauce, yakisoba) and usually in yellow packaging with a yellow squeeze-top. If you can’t find this, you can make your own. One cook recommends oyster sauce mixed with tonkatsu sauce (a thick sauce used for breaded pork) but that still requires a trip to the Asian market. Other cooks state that you can use a mix of ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire, mirin and Tabasco. Basically you want a dark, slightly thick sauce with a flavor you like.

Cabbage: chopped roughly

Carrot: thinly sliced or peeled

Yellow or white onion: thinly sliced

Toppings (optional): 
Katsuobushi: (dried bonita flake)

Aonori: (powered seaweed)

Beni shoga: pickled ginger. This is a different type of pickled ginger than you usually see accompanying your sushi. It is cut into matchsticks, is bright pink and tastes more pungent because it is pickled in the same liquid used in ume-boshi, a very tart pickled plum. I don’t particularly love this stuff, so I skip it altogether.

Extras: I also added some sliced green onion and enoki mushrooms because I had them lying around. “Traditional” yakisoba doesn’t include this, but it tasted nice, so why not?

How to:

Heat a pan medium-high, add a little vegetable oil and sauté your veggies for a couple minutes until softened. Add your desired amount of noodles. You don’t need specific measurements for this recipe, just buy as many noodles as you want and chop veggies for around a 50/50 ratio, equal veggie to noodle.sauted veg

Then add your sauce, enough to coat the noodles. If you are worried about overdoing it here, just start small and taste as you go. Use two pasta spoons, or tongs, to toss the noodles and coat them more effectively. Turn the heat up to high for a minute to heat through. I add a dash of soy sauce at the end to give them nice dark color, but it’s not necessary.

Once plated, sprinkle a little of each topping and enjoy. Make sure to cook extra so you can have some for breakfast, hot or cold they are delicious! This is the basic vegetarian version, but feel free to add some meat of your preference. Thin sliced pork, chicken, beef or shrimp are a great addition. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite Japanese street foods!

いただきます – Itadakemasu

The reality of being an ALT in Japan

So you’re interested in teaching English abroad? First of all, congratulations on clearly being an awesome person. Even the thought of leaving behind everything you know as home is terrifying for many people, so you’ve already won half the battle. Way to go! The next half is deciding where. Each country has its draws and detractions. If you are considering wonderful Japan, then let me share with you a little of my experience as an ALT. I work in a public junior high school, and while most of this will pertain to any grade level, I can’t personally attest to what goes on in elementary school and high school.funny english

There is plenty of information out there about an ALT’s job description, but slightly less about its effect on you personally. There are a lot of stereotypes about Japanese students and not as many honest depictions. There are glowing reviews and there are horror stories, but little about the broad grey area in between them which you will work through every day. Without mincing words, let’s go over the pros and cons of some concerns you might have about teaching in Japan.

THE JOB:

IMG_0648After ten years of waiting tables, my job as an ALT is a million times easier and less stressful. It’s not physically demanding, and I get the same paycheck at the end of the day regardless of customer satisfaction. If you are used to sitting down most of the day at a desk, you will probably find it a nice change of pace to stand and walk around an average of four hours a day. If you are used to high intensity, fast-paced work environments like me, you might be surprised at how much time you spend in the office doing nothing, being bored. Being an ALT requires a lot of self-motivation, since no one is standing over you, explaining what to do. Sometimes teachers will ask you for things specifically, but most of the time you are on your own to create activities and set daily goals. If you are self-motivated, you will probably enjoy the hands-off management. If not, you could wind up being another lazy foreigner making us all look bad…

One of the up-sides of the job is being left alone. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can spend most of your time in the office without ever talking to anyone. The down-side, no one talks to you. Besides making you a little lonely for workplace camaraderie, no one tells you what’s going on. You may look up to find yourself completely alone for over an hour with no idea as to why, or if you’re allowed to go home. You will generally be the last person to know anything. It’s not on purpose, the staff simply forgets that you can’t understand everything they’re saying. Sometimes they just forget about you altogether.

englishWith all this spare time on your hands, you get to sit around and think about English, and how to make it fun. If you have a natural interest in linguistics, ESL, literature, communication, or you like sitting around thinking about how to make things fun, this job can be really interesting. If not, you might find your job a bit difficult. This holds true in the classroom. If you enjoy kids and can take an interest in their development: PRO. If you don’t like kids: definite CON. The nice thing about being an ALT is getting to figuratively “try on” being a teacher. You don’t have to get your masters, or a teaching degree to get in the classroom and see if it suits you. You get to have the fun experiences of teaching with almost none of the responsibilities. You don’t make tests, assign homework, correct tests, log grades, take attendance, talk to parents, go to meetings, nada. Pretty sweet gig. The downside to bonding with your students? When things go wrong or students behave badly, it personally upsets you. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Such is life, but you already knew that.

THE PAY:

karaokeFor the little “work” you do, thinking about fun stuff, hanging out with kids, you’re paid extremely well. The schools in Japan expect almost nothing from you in the skilled labor department, so with that in mind you’ll make more than you feel you might deserve. However, when you start staying at school over forty hours a week, coupled with the high cost of living in Japan, you’ll start to think you’re severely underpaid. You will certainly make enough to get by every month, but depending on your eating, drinking and karaoke-ing habits, you might not save much. Working here is by no means a get-rich-quick scenario, but the salary isn’t terrible. In Japan, you get so much more for your tax dollars: high speed rail, great public transportation, clean everything, helpful international services. Based on your salary you may feel like you are paying a lot in taxes. If you need more specifics here, or on any point, please contact us for details.

BEING A MINORITY:

You will be completely outnumbered, all the time. At your school, you will be the only non-Japanese person working there. This can make you feel special, unique, like a celebrity, and this can also be very isolating. For more in-depth analysis of this potential identity crisis, read about my experiences here and here. By bringing a foreigner into the classroom, Japan hopes to create enthusiasm for communication, and foster international awareness. Since you usually come to class to do fun activities, the kids can be excited by your presence and more eager to please.funny english

Alternately, you are viewed as a sort of “fake” teacher, devoid of the real authority the Japanese teachers carry. In theory, you should garner the same respect as the rest of the teachers, but this is usually not the case and can be quite frustrating. If students decide they don’t feel like following your instructions, there’s virtually nothing you can do about it. Japanese schools surprisingly lack the discipline we attribute as a given in Asian countries, at least when it comes to English class. What little discipline you are allowed to exercise amounts to the “Be quiet” gesture and making angry eyes or sad faces when students act up. Anything besides that is out of your purview, and without backup from the Japanese teachers it’s sometimes impossible to get things done.

CLASSROOM TIME:

Commit this phrase to memory: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. This Japanese proverb can explain almost every difficulty you will encounter as a foreigner teaching in Japan. Did you have a really good idea about a new way to teach this grammar point? Yeah, we’re not going to use that…hammered down. Want to do something that’s not in the textbook? Maybe at the end of the year, when we’re finished…bam bam bam. While Japan can seem like the land of creativity and innovation, it’s hard to bring these values into the classroom. Hopefully you will have teachers that see the necessity of growth and change, but inevitably some teachers will not. Even when you get the go-ahead to try a fun activity in class, some teachers will still find ways to suck out all the fun and turn it into a writing assignment.

When you do get the JTEs on board, it’s no guarantee of success. No matter how simple or fun you think your activity is, you will always have students that are capable of completely ruining it. As an ALT, I have learned to be on the defensive, constantly thinking about every worst-case scenario before doing something in class. Often, I have to build  in redundancies for students who try to sabotage things, and back-up plans in case of ultimate failure. You wouldn’t think that an activity involving writing only two words on a piece of paper could go so horribly wrong, but you would be quite mistaken, as I have unfortunately been more than once. A masterful ALT must learn to adapt and evolve.

IS THIS JOB FOR YOU?

Does this sound down-right disheartening? You betcha. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either an extremely rare exception or a liar. Even in the ideal situation, where you can speak Japanese, work with teachers who understand and care about English, and have students who aren’t totally burned out yet, you will still have terrible days that make you denounce teaching and disparage a future filled with grown up versions of such little monsters.

Does that mean it’s not worth doing? Absolutely not. The rewards still outweigh the drawbacks, even when it can’t possibly feel true. The real “work” you’re being asked to do is not always tangible. It’s burrowing yourself, the idea of a smart, caring person from another country, into the minds and subconscious of the student. It’s trying to keep that image and the experience you create lodged there for the future, when they stop being little monsters and start becoming people. It’s the goal of trying to permanently impress upon them the reality of life outside Japan that we’re here to work towards. Can it always succeed? Unfortunately, no, but any ambassador knows that this isn’t an excuse. Will it be hard for you? Yes, but are you stronger, wiser, and more mature than your students? Of course. Be the person that you want them to become, and you will understand the meaning of your job as an ALT.

New Horizon 1 Speaking +1- Hot Phone!

Do you have to create a speaking activity for a basic phone conversation? Out of ideas? Tired of memorization and fill-in the blanks? Here’s a fun idea to spruce up your classes’ phone conversations. I used this activity seven times, and it was wonderful each time. Students had fun, and the fifty minutes just flew by. Plus it involves almost no preparation on your part. It is possible to adapt this activity to New Horizon 2 Speaking +2 and New Horizon 3 Speaking +1 and +4 as well.

45 to 50 minutes

Purpose: To get your kids speaking, to learn the grammar point “Hello. This is …” and to get them to have fun so they forget that speaking is scary.

My "phones"

My “phones”

Prep: Two “phones” labeled “A” and “B.” You can use two toy cell phones or do what I did, make your own cut outs from cardboard (preferably red, which also happens to be the color of the boxes the printing paper comes in). Music: choose an upbeat song to play on the CD player or use your phone/tablet/laptop

Execution: Start the lesson as usual with your JTE, covering the new vocabulary with flashcards, and practicing pronunciation. Then demonstrate the dialogue with the JTE (use your prop phones!). I made a couple “ringing” noises before the first “Hello?” It works well later as a cue for the students. Also act out the gestures of picking up and hanging up the phone. Go over the dialogue, checking for understanding. It’s pretty straight forward, but the JTE can translate for them if necessary.

Have the students repeat the dialogue after you. Split the class in half and have half play Sakura, half play Kevin. Switch and repeat. Now have the students practice in pairs. During this time, write on the board:

A:  Hello?

B:  Hello, ___________? This is _________.

A:  Oh! Hi, __________.

Now have the students look at the Step 1 box on page 58. Identify who is in the first picture, and use the sentences on the board to have students fill in the blanks with the correct name. Do this for all three pictures, then have the class take part B while you take part A. They have to use your name and their class number: “This is class 1-1.” Use your fake phone for added comedy. Switch the roles, and make a ringing sound to cue the students.

Ask for a volunteer student, or choose one at random. This is a nice chance to let your good kids shine, or to effectively discipline your trouble students. Have them take part B first, unless you are confident with their name. Give them the other fake phone to use. Go through the dialogue, and then switch parts. If you have some stickers on you, feel free to reward them. The student who just performed can choose anyone to give the phone to. Do this a couple more times with different students.

Now it’s time for the students to do the dialogue on their own. I combined this activity with the game “Hot Potato” to make it a bit more exciting. Using mostly gestures, you can explain to the students the rules of “Hot Potato” which I renamed “Atsui Denwa” (hot phone) for this exercise. It is important to note that each phone should be clearly labeled A or B.

Starting the phones at different ends of the room, students must pass the phone along while you play some music. When the music stops, whoever is holding the phones must stand and recite all the dialogue on pages 58 and 59, using their own names. The person with the phone labeled A starts the dialogue, the same as what’s on the blackboard. It will be a little noisy from the commotion, so use your ringing sound to let the students know to settle down during the dialogue.

Rules for Hot Phone:
-They must pass the phone with both hands on it (no tossing or throwing, be sure to demonstrate what not to do).

-They must say “Atsui denwa!” or “Hot phone!” before handing off the phone. This helps slow things down a bit and makes it clear who is holding the phone when the music stops, but the kids usually get excited and forget to say it. So don’t worry if that happens, as long as the phone is moving.

– They can pass to anyone in front, back or to the side of them (or to the teachers) but they have to stay seated.

– If a student who has already had the phone ends up with it again, they can choose to give it to any student who hasn’t yet done the dialogue.

Using the iPhone or iPad for the music is nice because they can’t predict when it will stop quite as easily as a CD player. I used The Beatles “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” for this. All my students know this because they play it constantly in the grocery stores here.

Play for as long as you like, the more students who get to speak the better. If you have extra time at the end of class, have the students try to go through the dialogue with you from memory. For a laugh, you can pretend to be Batman and ask the students to come to your Halloween party. Make up whatever you like. Step 3 on page 59 has different options for the conversation, so you can demonstrate alternate conversations with the JTE using these. “I’m sorry, I’m busy. Maybe next time” etc.

Final thoughts: This was a lot of fun for me and the students. Really try to get them to act it out, with lots of emotion for “Great!” “It’s my birthday party!” etc. so they don’t sound depressed the whole time. They will really enjoy seeing you be a ham, and the more fun it is for them, the better the activity will go. You can adapt this concept for any of the phone conversations in New Horizons, there is one for year 2 and another in year 3. Of course, you can change the “hot phone” into any item you want and use this for any speaking activity. The components I really like are the randomness of calling on students and the upbeat energy level. Let me know if you find this useful!