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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lessons Learned – New Horizon 3 Writing +3 – Sketch Comedy

Sketch Comedy

3 class periods

Writing + activities in the New Horizon books usually involve speaking by having the student read their finished writing sample in front of the class. Inevitably you will hear 15 to 35 versions of the same three to four sentences lifted straight from the book with just one or two things changed. However, Writing +3 gives you a chance to really do something fun with your third year students and they wont be able to simply regurgitate mostly prepared sentences. In my limited experience this maybe one of the best activities already in the book. The scope of this lesson is to take what the book has and expand on it in class rather than just using the book.

Purpose: To explore English well beyond the confines of the textbook using humor.

I did this with four different classes and the results were phenomenal. Because of the comedy element the students were way less concerned about being right and more concerned about saying what they wanted to say. In their search for laughs they had me helping them with very difficult sentences and really stretching the limits of the English ability. Some of the sketches were legitimately funny as well. Also, common problems like mumbling or speaking softly, were overcome by many of the students who suffer from those things. I also feel that this exercise would work at any time with more advanced students. If you don’t use New Horizon, you should still be able to execute this with everything in this post.

Prep: Like most things I do with my classes I try to find things that require as little prep as possible so I can focus on getting the highest impact rather than some elaborate card game or flash card system that looks cool but no one can understand. The prep for this activity will come down to you as a person being able to demonstrate your own comedic timing and improvisation skills. If you have never done improv or comedy acting before, practice at home before you try in front of the class. There are thousands of youtube and vimeo videos you can sort through that will give you some ideas about how to engage in comedy.

Handout PPTX: Sketch Comedy

Other prep would be to find a good example of sketch comedy that the students can watch. You should also write out some short comedic premises that you can use for demonstrative purposes in class. You can use the attached file for already finished ideas but that takes all the fun out of it, try and write your own. For the video I would recommend this short sketch from Japanese comedian, Shimura Ken.

Execution: Generally speaking, your twelve to fourteen year old students will likely have a very different idea of comedy from you. Not only is there an age gap but there is also a culture gap. Sometimes my mind is befuddled by what Japanese people find funny. Moreover it is unlikely that any of these students have written comedy in Japanese and probably don’t know where to start.Sketch comedy clip shot

This is where you come in. First off I showed each class the Shimura Ken sketch to give them an example of very well done comedy based a simple idea. The teacher insisted that we go through the sketch in the text book but I would try and skip it if you can. To bridge the unfunny sketch in the text book to actual comedy, I acted out the sketch on my own playing both parts and used a radio as my game console. Practice this at home if you know are going to do it so you can get your timing down. Also I would cover facial expressions and reaction noises like, “Uh…,” if you have time. I had them repeat “uh” about 10 times with different meanings associated with it. Also see my post about Emotional Sakura.

To me the most important part of this exercise wasn’t the vocabulary or the sentence construction but explaining to the kids how to generate a simple sketch. For each of the six ideas I gave them, I acted out an example with willing (and some unwilling) student participants. The results were often hilarious even if the comedy wasn’t intentional.

The introduction and the idea explanation took most of the first class. The students will need at least one whole class period to write their own and rehearse in their groups. During the writing period I would sit down and help brainstorm with groups that were having trouble thinking of an idea. Even if you are quick on your feet with ideas I would keep several canned situations written down for groups that have a lot of trouble. I also corrected grammar and offered suggestions to help improve the timing or the idea if it was a little weak.

The third class period will be performances. I offered a reward for groups that could make me laugh and several of them succeeded.

A final thought: Most of my students are pretty good but I was blown away by how well they did with this activity. If I had to chalk it up to just one element, it would be the fact that they were given true freedom to write and use English. While I had to check some stuff for being inappropriate and it wasn’t always perfect grammar they used English well beyond their normal day to day abilities. Try to make them understand, there are no mistakes for this exercise, and that when you correct something it has nothing to do with their idea. Help them with expressions but don’t rob them of the freedom creation, even if it is a little off.

…and what have you learned? – A Japanese Year in Review

Fushimi-InariJust about everyone… and their brother, and their cousin and their cousin’s lawyer do year end posts. The arbitrary changing of the year based on the Roman calendar encourages us humans to look backwards over the past year and look forward into the next one. You will read many top ten lists of things from the last year. Likely, you will see even more “resolutions” for 2014.

I guess I am no different. 2013 was a life changing year for me. I moved to a foreign country. That is a lot. I guess I could stop there with the reflection. But… blogging… so, nope.

My reflections for 2013 centered around some things that I have learned since moving to a foreign country.

Check out Shana’s 2013 reflections here.

I’ve learned…

to gesture more effectively. I don’t speak Japanese and I live in Japan, Is that gesture, “crippling frustration” OR “delicious sushi…?” Sometimes I have to get by with pointing and gestures. Japanese people are also very patient. This is helpful.

Mabodofuhow to say “I’m sorry,” and “excuse me” in 7 languages; including Japanese, Greek, English, German, French, Spanish, and Thai.

that I can indeed ride my bike in a driving rainstorm. It’s just not very pleasant. By not very pleasant, I mean unpleasant. Other unpleasant things include: strong wind, intense heat, sleet, snow, freezing temperatures, and direct sunlight.

how to cook mabodofu. A Chinese dish that is staple of many households in Japan since it is incredibly easy to cook and is extremely filling. I can make it all in one pot. It has meat in it. It’s spicy. Suki desu!

sweaty shirt

sweaty shirt

that it’s so humid during rainy season, no matter how much rain gear I wear I will still get soaked. The choice is between being drenched in sweat or dripping with rain water.

how to play babanuki and karuta. Two children’s card games that require very little speaking and come in very handy in class.

that I am a way less picky eater than I thought I was. Every day school lunch is a complete surprise. For that matter sometimes just going to the grocery store can result in unintended ingestion. One of my favorite snacks here in Japan is o-nigiri because I usually don’t know what’s inside until after I bite into it. SURPRISE! Fish Eggs!

how to properly express disbelief in Japanese. This is important because often times students will say absolutely unbelievable things to me and simply expressing disbelief in English isn’t good enough. Try it out on someone you know!

that it is possible to continue living even if I don’t see 100% of every football game. I was shocked to find this out. I still am not 100% convinced that it’s even possible. I might have to wait and see what happens with hockey season.

how to appreciate nihon-shu. Japanese sake is delicious, this was an easy lesson. Also beer is stupid expensive in Japan.

that Japan is really green, like the color. Seriously. BRIGHT Green. It looks like the pacific northwest but with skinnier japan

how to sing a harmony. Watch out CSN+Y. Shana and I are coming for you. Shana has diligently been taking my awful singing voice and making it some what less offensive. We don’t have a TV so we fill some of our evenings by annoying our neighbors with acoustic renditions of Alt Rock hits from the late nineties like Shine, by Collective Soul, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something and Wonder Wall, by Oasis.

that I like yuru kyara. Japanese mascots are great. No really. They are fascinating.

how to be more polite. I am sure that I wasn’t particularly rude when I lived in America but now I am so conscious of being rude to people that I have become overly polite.

I only laughed a little bit when I first saw this, SUPER POLITE.

I only laughed a little bit when I first saw this, SUPER POLITE.

Finally I learned…

that I want to keep traveling. Treating my wanderlust with a heavy dose of Japan has made me fall in love all over again with adventure. I plan on seeing as much of Japan as possible and then we’ll see where the next adventure takes us… India? Southeast Asian Archipelago? Scandanavia? Alaska? Traveling makes me excited to simply be alive.

Earth Camp – A reason to use English

Recently I published an article on English education in Japan. It is obvious that I am deeply connected to this issue as an English teacher here for the time being.

One of the main points of the article was that Japanese people need a place to use English. Japan’s Ministry of Education needs to help create a demand for English so that Japanese people have a chance to consume in English and to exercise speaking and listening skills.

Slide1Earth Camp is looking to do just that, provide a reason to use English.

Enter: Sosha and Shinobu Mitsunaga and their brain child start up, Earth Camp. Earth Camp offers tours in a mix of Japanese and English that focus on nature, sustainable fishing, agriculture and local businesses. I met Sosha through a friend of mine who lived in Japan and got involved with Earth Camp shortly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Earth Camp has been featured in local and national news coverage for their efforts. Earth Camp has been described as an “innovation of tourism” in the news.

I have attended three separate Earth Camp events as a volunteer and conducted an interview with Earth Camp owner and CEO Sosha Mitsunaga Smith to find out more about Earth Camp and to experience their mission and values first hand.

Sosha was born in California but has spent the majority of his life in Japan. At the age of 2 his family moved from the United States to Tokyo and he has been in Japan ever since. An M.B.A. graduate from Waseda University, Sosha is a self professed lover of start-ups, river climbing (sawanobori) and eating.

From the Earth Camp website:

“Earth Camp’s mission is to create experiences that bridge people together, closer to nature, to inspire and implement social change.”

  • Planning and operating tours and events related to tourism and education

  • Support and consulting services for study abroad programs and planning and operating study tours abroad

  • English web marketing services and consulting for the global market

  • English translations, interpretations services

The rubber really meets the road with Earth Camp out in nature. Most of Earth Camp’s tours are centered around Minamisanriku, a coastal town in Northern Japan that was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Devastated is a strong word but a quick tour of the Shizugawa area left me actually thinking it was an understatement.

I asked Sosha how he came up with the idea of Earth Camp.

The idea of Earth Camp began after we (we were volunteers after the disaster) saw farming and fishing revitalization efforts in disaster affected areas. The farming and fishing industry was hard hit by the disaster, and even with volunteer help, creating revenue from crops was difficult. We saw that by creating value-added tours, it would provide a new channel of income for local industries and a chance to connect rural communities with tourists sustainably. Sustainability is extremely important to us, which is why we chose to make our company for-profit.

So why has this company got me all hot and bothered about English in Japan? One of Earth Camp’s primary tools to add value to their tours and experiences is the use of English. Sosha and Shinobu are both fluent in English (although between each other they still mostly converse in Japanese). To Sosha, English is a chance to step out of the box and get away from the daily routine for a Japanese person and a way to connect with the rest of the world.

JP and Sosha

JP and Sosha

At the first event I attended in Sendai, Sosha spelled out some of things that a person could expect with an Earth Camp tour. Foremost for an Earth Camp tour are nature and community. Everything that the Earth Camp team plans in an event will be centered around these to ideas. The event at Mizunomori park was a day event where the age range was very wide with two elementary school kids, several college students and two businessmen (not counting my wife and I) as well as the Earth Camp team Sosha, Shinobu and J.P. There were several games, leadership activities, a nature hike and finally a barbeque. During the event Sosha lamented to me that while he felt the one day event was going great, the real Earth Camp was on one of their 2 or 3 day camping adventures.

I said, “Sign me up.”

After my wife and I got back from our tour of the Kansai region and South Korea, I was able to participate in two experiences with the Earth Camp team on consecutive weekends in September. My wife joined me for the second one.Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 11.13.52 AM

In a typical tour you may experience:

  • rural farming and learning about sustainable lifestyles from a local farmer

  • hiking off the beaten path and discovering trails where local monks historically trained, with waterfalls for meditation and hidden buddha carvings.

  • the local fishing industry with local fishermen, going out into sea on a boat and tasting the freshest (literally) seafood! Afterwards, enjoying a barbecue with the fishermen community.

You download an actual itinerary here:Itinerary 9.14-16Minamisanriku

The tours I went on were focused around getting back out into nature via the Kamiwarizaki campground, tsunami education in Shizugawa and a fishing experience with two different groups of local fishermen. Sosha and Shinobu arrive early the day before the tour starts to set up a group area with a grill, food table and go over their plans for the following day. I joined them for the early start the previous evening to give them a hand with the set up and get a good overview of the their event from top to bottom.


Sosha and Shinobu have structured their itinerary to include as many things as possible in the span of 2-3 days. One of the more difficult things about doing anything in Minamisanriku is that it’s a logistical problem to get there if you do not have a car. The Earth Camp team takes this into account is very generous with picking up campers at the closest station that is still accessible by train (Yanaizu).

The event starts out with a study tour. Sosha drives the group around Shizugawa and the surrounding areas and lectures the on different subjects relating to tsunami recovery and answering questions in both English and Japanese. The study tour is easily one of the most fascinating parts of what Earth Camp is offering. It gives the Japanese attendees a chance to practice their English listening skills and hear some stories about Japanese spirit and perseverance.

Another part of the event is doing simple things like pitching a tent (and learning the slang that goes with it) and cooking dinner in the campsite. Everyone works together in teamwork and leadership building activities to get the camp set up for the night. Probably one of the most entertaining parts of any cross cultural experience is the language exchange where a native speaker tries to explain the “why” of a particular saying or idiom, often with hilarious results. Tents are not always the order of business but I think they are the most fun. There are tours that do not involve sleeping outside, especially if the weather is inclement.

The fishery experience was very interesting as well. However, I think pictures say more than I could ever about how the experience works. Just look at everyone’s smiles.

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What a cool experience to learn about where your food comes from, learn how to prepare it, try some fresh out of the water and finally cooked later at a massive feast. This fishing tour was focused on scallops (hotate) but different seasons will focus on what is in season. December is oyster season. Yes. Please.

At the end of each day the Earth Camp team takes time to do a reflection on the day in English and Japanese. This exchange of ideas is a fantastic way to not only gain perspective but synthesize your own experience in a way that makes it easier to communicate. Most of all this is when the attendees get a chance to really exercise their English skills. Everyone wants to share and there is no fear of saying the wrong thing. Everyone is there to help and encourage. Everyone is there as a reason to use English.

After spending a total of 7 days with the Earth Camp team I can say that Sosha and Shinobu and Earth Camp are on the right track. The Japanese are incredibly far behind on English competence and part of this comes down to a homogenous society that doesn’t offer many opportunities to use English in a rewarding and uplifting way. Out in nature, learning about how people have pulled themselves up and come together after a horrible disaster and supporting the community, the English flows out. Everyone was genuinely happy to talk in English and experiment with sentences and new words.

I’ll leave you with this testimony:

Seeing and experiencing something different, including thinking and speaking in another language, to notice and appreciate nature and consider sustainable lifestyles, to feel solidarity with people in devastated areas and continue the recovery project, to make human connections and friendships, get a fresh perspective on life and life paths – was all very good.”


If you’d like to know more about Earth Camp:

Check out their fundraising project for 2014 – Ends 12/19/2013

Anyone interested in joining Earth Camp’s staff is always welcome. (There is a screening process for volunteer positions).
Please contact them at or call 080-8035-8877

Also you can check out their contact page or Facebook

Lessons Learned – Musical chairs with sentences

Musical Sentences

30 to 50 minutes

I think most people have played some form of musical chairs at company events or family get togethers and I struggled for a long time trying to adapt musical chairs to the ESL classroom. Not only does musical chairs not involve any speaking, but it usually requires a big empty space with only chairs. Basically the opposite of a Japanese class room. Well I may have found the solution. It’s a combination of karuta, kaiten-zushi and musical chairs that seems to be very effective and students really enjoy it.

The key to making this activity ESL appropriate is to make sure the target sentence can be broken up into three sections that are totally interchangeable. The first time I did it the target grammar point was using “be+ ~ing” Example: “He is watching.” Later I did it with a second year class and it was equally successful with a “There are + subject + place” lesson.

Purpose: To work on specific sentence constructions.

Secondary Purpose: Force them to see unnatural sentence constructions that are still grammatically correct but cannot be used. (Example: There are clocks studying in this class).

This lesson was very successful at targeting a simple grammar point as both an introduction and a review. The students seem to genuinely enjoy anything that isn’t copying off the board or reading from the text book. Mostly I found that by the end of the activity nearly all the students had made at least two sentences and could generate a third verbally on command. I couldn’t check every student, but most seemed to grasp the concept easily. If I try with much more difficult sentences, I will post an update.

Prep: This activity does require a short amount of prep work, about 30 minutes in total. For whatever grammar point you want to cover you will have to make sentence cards and then cut them out. If you are really dedicated you can laminate the cards as well but this will add to your prep time. I have attached two of my sets for downloading. If you are teaching New Horizon 1 Unit 9 or New Horizon 2 Unit 6 these will work for you. Otherwise you can just download them for the template to save some time.EX: be+ ~ing cards

PPTX: “be + ~ing” New Horizon 1 Unit 9
PPTX: Musical Chairs New Horizon 2 Unit 6

Execution: I will use the NH1U9 class as my example execution, but for each class it will vary depending on the grammar point and what is needed to make sure the students understand how to form the target sentences. For the first year students, the JTE started the class by explaining the “be+ ~ing” grammar on the chalk board with Japanese side by side with English. Then we played a gesture game where the students guess what “~ing” I was doing. Finally, we introduced a mnemonic device to aid with words like “running,” “swimming,” “making,” and “using.”

On the board I place an ING Truck, which brings the extra N-M-P or T for words like, running, swimming and getting. On the opposite side of the board I placed an ING Gun, which shoots the “e” out of a word when using “~ing” like making, using and taking. These come into play later during the game.

It is super important you have the students completely clear their desks or you will have a pen case and notebook disaster on your hands when the game really gets going. While they are clearing their desks, pass out the sentence cards. I try to make sure they alternate, but it doesn’t really matter because the cards are going to move later in the activity. Once each student has a card, I draw three boxes on the board and place a part of 1 sentence in each box to explain that three cards make a set.

Before explaining the musical part, or the kaiten-zushi, I give the students one minute to move around the class to make a sentence using the card on their desk. They must combine cards with other students to make a complete sentence. Once a group of three students have their sentence, they come up to either the JTE or me and read the sentence aloud. If the sentence is correct, they go back to their seats. This warm up version of the activity will also gauge the student’s understanding of the sentence structure and the game.

After all the students are seated back at their desks, explain the music and the kaiten-zushi. Ask the students to place the cards on the center of their desk. Then have them all put their hands over their heads and stand up. While they are standing, explain the music element. When the music stops, they stop and try to grab a card. Karuta is a good game to use as a comparison in a Japanese class room. After explaining the music, explain the walking route. Disqualify any students who insist on running around the route. The desks are too close together to allow that, however if you have a big open space, who cares!? Kaiten-zushi is something that most Japanese kids will be familiar with but here is a diagram if you have never been to a kaiten-zushi restaurant.Kaiten-zushi ESL class diagram

One final element specifically for NH1Unit9 “be+ ~ing”: the ING Gun and the ING Truck are posted on the blackboard. If they have a word that requires an extra letter or dropping the “e,” they have to come to board and stand under the correct sign. The teachers should each stand near one to help facilitate this process.

The hard part is over. Start the music. I have the JTE bring in their favorite CD or play something fun and upbeat. While students are walking around, pull some cards off the desk. When the music stops, there will be less cards than there are students. If a student doesn’t get a card, they are out. Ask the students who didn’t get a card to go back to their seat and sit. As you are pulling cards try to make sure you get complete sentences off the desks. However if you end up leaving incomplete sentences on the desks, let the students who have duplicate cards play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets to keep playing. For the students who acquired cards, check their sentence; if it’s ok, have them go back and stand at their desk.

For the more complex sentences like (New Horizon 2/3) there will likely be some sentence constructions that don’t make sense (There are clocks studying in this class). Don’t worry about that. You can allow them all to keep playing, but remove the cards from the game or you can allow nonsense sentences because they are kinda funny.

I was able to get through 3 rounds (not including the initial practice round without the music) in about 30 minutes. If you need to stretch the activity out, just take less cards in between rounds off the desks.

A final thought: To really make this exercise a good learning experience, the students have to read the sentences in order when they come up to have them checked. I used the popular “say no” command in Japanese which indicates that they are supposed to speak in unison. There is no need to punish a wrong sentence though, simply tell them to try again and find an appropriate mix of the three cards. One class got it right away, the other class took a little longer to get the hang of it, but I was also using it as an introduction to the grammar. If you are using it as a review, you might want to put a time limit on how long they have to make a sentence after the music stops. If they can’t make one in the allotted time then they are out. Even without the time limit it never took longer than 2 or 3 minutes to get all the students in to their sentences.

Lessons Learned – New Horizon 3 – Speaking +1/+2 – Would you like to party?

Would you like to party?

15 to 20 min

An individual activity that gets the class up, moving, and speaking English.

The New Horizon books have a dedicated speaking section at the end of each unit called Speaking+. The short model conversations are generally dry and a little awkward although they do adequately explain the grammar point. This activity is designed as a warm up or a review to go over “Would you like…?” grammar and engage in a speaking exercise. The target sentence for this activity is:

“Would you like to come to my party on (day of the week)?”
“Yes, I’d love to.” or “I’m sorry, I can’t I have to (activity).”

Many of the students at Japanese schools can translate sentences without any difficulty but forming their own sentences and speaking them is a whole different ball game. If you are just looking for lots of ideas or this one doesn’t suit your needs, JHS Englipedia project has a healthy collection of activities for this grammar point and similar ones.

Purpose: Use “Would you…?” grammar to generate their own sentences without a written prompt.

Secondary Purpose: Get the students speaking!!

I have done this activity with 5 different classes, my wife has done it 3 classes, and we found it to be successful in all of them. I did have to modify the plan a little bit with one class that typically under performs. The larger the class the better with this activity. The success of this activity hinges on large portions of the class being forced to use a negative response thus giving more chances for the students to practice the speaking parts. I also made sure to fill out my own sheet with the class so that I could participate and ensure they were using English.

Prep: One of the best parts about this activity is that requires ZERO prep work. Print out the sheet and make some copies. If you have really nice JTE’s they will usually copy it for you. Don’t forget to hole punch.

PDF:Would you like to party activity
PPTX:Would you like to party activity

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 7.13.57 PM

Execution: After handing out the worksheet (one for each student) I ask the students to put a line through two days. I do this by drawing a large version of the worksheet on the board and putting a line through the blank space on Wednesday and Friday (or whatever days you want “free”). Next I have them fill in one day with the word “PARTY!!!” Then have the students mark off the remaining 4 days of the week with any activity. I try to give funny examples on the board but I encourage them to generate their own. The most common ones I saw were; “sleeping,” “playing a sport” and “playing games.” You don’t need to review activities just make some suggestions and then set them lose on their paper. I gave them about 3 to 5 minutes to fill out their calendar. Also if your class is very low level allow them to write the activities in Japanese or katakana but stress that they must use English during the speaking portion.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 7.20.05 PMWalk down the rows to ensure that everyone understood the directions and that they have their work sheet properly filled out. I then modeled the conversation with the Japanese teacher in the classroom. It is important that  both teachers have visible calendars so the class can see the logic flow of the exercise. Once you have performed both dialogue options as a model the remaining time in the activity (5 to 10 min) is spent by seeing which student can get the most people to come to their party. Ask the students to stand up and move about the room trying to find compatible calendars by using the grammar point. Offer a reward for the winner or top three students.

As a more in depth alternative have them leave 4 days free and only fill up 3 days with activities (one day for a party and two for other activities). Once a student has agreed to attend another student’s party they are now booked on one of their free days and must respond in the negative if another student asks about that same day. “Sorry, I can’t I have to go NAME’s party.”

For your lower level classes use a work sheet that has the target sentence on it. For higher level classes, try and force them to do it without the written prompt and using only the calendar. If you want the exercise to take a little a longer you can also have them decide what kind of party they are having. Give them 5 minutes to fill in their calendar but not much more or you will lose the class.

If done right, voila! The whole class will be up and out of their seats and speaking English! Try and make it a point to circulate the classroom and engage them with the model conversation. Also watch out for groups of students that just come together to chat. Go bust that up by English-ing at them until they move on. 🙂

A final thought: I genuinely thought this activity would take a lot longer than it actually did. When I first brought the idea up to the teacher I said it would take 30 minutes. I was way off. If you have a bright class and they get the idea right away you can really trim this activity down to 10 minutes and use it as a warm up. I think this format is a great shell for just about any of the Speaking+ activities in the New Horizon textbooks. Typically the teachers use Speaking+ as a chance for memorization practice and then reciting the dialogue in front of the class. While that is fine as an activity it doesn’t give the students a chance to generate sentences on the fly. Now, here is a dog in a party hat because, dog in a party hat.

Lessons Learned – NH1U8 “Where’s the beef?”

Lessons learned: Where is…?  New Horizons 1

Time: drawing activity, 25-30 minutes, 50 min if including the introduction to “where is…?” – page 72-73

Skills: reading, speaking, listening

This is a lesson plan for an entire class period covering the grammar concept “Where is the…?” as well as introductory prepositions. It involves three different exercises, focusing on speech practice and listening. You can also use any of the ideas here separately as a warm up or review activity. I executed this lesson twice and found the kids very receptive, even without textbooks or prior study. The more they can practice with you before attempting the drawing activity, the better.

Files used in this lesson:

ALT & JTE dialogue script                              Where dialogue
Preposition tree handout                               Preposition tree
Drawing/speaking partner worksheet       “Where” room drawing activity

Materials needed: drawing activity worksheets for each student, preposition trees for each student, magnetic pictures (one single item, one plural item). If you are performing the original dialogue, you’ll need a bag, a coat, a pen, a textbook, a notebook and a pair of glasses (which you can borrow from a student if necessary, I did!)

You can use this as an introduction to “where is…?” before students have learned the words on page 72. We didn’t use any textbooks for this period. Of course, you can still use it after students have studied pages 72 and 73. Start by performing a short skit with your JTE using “where” and prepositions. You can use my original script or modify it as necessary. Be very expressive and use lots of body language to act out “looking for things.”

After the dialogue, the JTE can ask students questions to see what they were able to understand. Introduce “where” by writing this phrase on the board as JTE translates: “Where is your textbook?” Next, explain the answer: “It is (It’s) on the desk.” Use this phrase to introduce the four prepositions on, in, under, and by. Write these on the board beneath the answer, adding the kanji beside it if you can.

Have students practice repeating these sentences with you, as well as all the new prepositions. Now give each student their own preposition tree.

Preposition tree

Preposition tree

Draw a large version of the tree on the board. Leave the target sentence on the board, but change it to:

“Where is the dog?”

“It’s ______ the tree.”

Shunsuke, the Japanese Pomeranian

Shunsuke, the Japanese Pomeranian

Show the students your magnetic picture. I used a dog, a famous Japanese Pomeranian named Shunsuke, but you can use whatever you want (a book, a pizza, beef etc.). Place the dog at each of the four locations indicated by the prepositions. Pause at each one and write “on, in…” next to the dog (add the kanji too if you can). Have the students copy these onto their trees. Now move the dog around and ask the students “Where’s the dog?” Hopefully they can answer correctly. Erase the hints on the board and do this again.

I also used this moment to explain how to change the pronouns in their response. Change the board to say “Where is Shunsuke?” explaining that’s his name. Students can now reply with “Shunsuke is…” or “He is…” Practice asking “Where’s Shunsuke?” Now pull out your magnetic picture with multiple dogs on it (or books, pizzas, etc.). Change the sentence on the board to read: “Where _______ the dogs?” Ask the students for the correct verb. Since ichinensei’s are not good with plurals, they may not be able to do this. Explain the use of “are” when there are plural objects. Now check the response and write on the board: They are ____ the tree. Again, ask “Where are the dogs?” having students practice the plural response. Do this as a whole class or call on individuals to check comprehension.

Now hand out the drawing activity worksheet. Review all the vocabulary listed, including items already in the room. Have them repeat after you: table, couch, lamp, blanket, and so on. Tell them to choose four from the list and draw them anywhere in their room (the one at the top). Give them five to ten minutes to do this. If students haven’t bothered to draw anything when the time’s up, simply write in four items in different locations yourself. Even if you tell them it’s okay to write “TV” instead of draw, my experience was that some students would not participate at all.

Draw a room just like the worksheet on the board (you can erase the preposition tree). Now demonstrate asking “Where is the ____?” with your JTE. Draw the items on the board as she answers and explain they must draw their partner’s responses in the appropriate place. Then they can compare to see if their rooms match! Erase the extra items on the board and put your magnetic dog in the room. Have students answer “Where’s the dog?” using the correct prepositions and furniture in the room. Do as a whole class, then call on a few individuals.

Have students pair up face to face, not showing each other’s drawings to the other, and start the activity. Help coax the students who are having trouble, or over-see students that are trying not to participate. This gives you something to do and keeps them accountable.

Final notes: Before releasing them to do the activity, try to explain that the preposition “on” can be used for things on the floor as well as on the wall. Demonstrate in class with a piece of paper and make a note of it on the board using a simple picture with a vertical and horizontal line.