A day in the life: English Communication Lessons

I’ve been working on preparing information for my successor as an ALT and have been reflecting a lot on what it is I do here as a language teacher in Japan. Most of my work is preparing and teaching lessons to the first year students at both of my schools. These students are 15 or 16, about the same age as grade ten students in Canada. Every week I teach a new English Communication lesson to them. I also occasionally teach second and third year students. My other responsibilities include English club, speech contest and test preparation, exam preparation and marking and English composition marking. My favourite, by far, is teaching English communication. It is so much fun.

All our lessons here start with the opening routine. A student representative calls out ‘be quiet and close your eyes’, then ‘open your eyes and stand up’, ‘bow’, then I say Hello and the students say ‘hello Ms. Heather’ and the student say ‘sit down’. This is a rough translation of what the students say in their Japanese classes, but Japanese schools have a definite routine to them which is a lot more formal than schools in Canada.

After the greeting, I pass out name cards and try to talk to a few of the students individually, while the Japanese teacher usually returns their homework.

Then it’s fun time!

We usually start the class with a warm up game, then we move on to new vocabulary. I have tried so many ways to make this fun, but usually we start with translation, comprehension checking and repeat after meing. Then the class does a vocabulary review game and its time for a speaking or writing activity. The writing activities are usually pretty simple, starting with fill in the blanks and progressing to writing full sentences. The speaking activities are almost all one on one with the teacher, which is achievable because our small class size – 15-20 students, and necessary because when left to work with a partner, most classes dissolve into Japanese. That usually takes up all our time, but if we have left over time I do extension activities with the higher level students and review with the lower level.

 Throughout the class I use participation board to check the students progress. They get a sticker for contributing to the class in any way – winning a game, asking a question, answering a question, talking to me in English, completing their worksheet, etc… At the end of term I give prizes to everyone, and a larger prize to the top 5 students in every class. I think it works great for motivating these students, even if it’s not a system I would use  in a school in Canada.

While the lessons themselves are fun, the best part about teaching here are the students. Not all of them are really happy about English class, but they are very enthusiastic in class, and produce the best English compositions. This week they were to write about their favourite possession. One student wrote me about a KitKat bar her sister gave her which cemented their bonds.

I feel like lately I have ended every post with how much I am going to miss something about Japan, but I really am going to miss the students and classes here. They never fail to make me smile. 🙂

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Even More Sports Day!

Sports Day: So enjoyable, I’m still writing about it a month later.

On of the more ridiculous events was Samurai Rides a horse, in which three students sport another student on their hands and shoulders, who then fights against a boy from the other team riding his own horse. Immensely dangerous, this event is banned at many schools, and is carefully supervised. I was still worried.

Another favourite was the teacher’s relay race. Teacher’s are all assigned to a team and some compete in the obstacle course. Women ran half a lap and completed three obstacles and men ran the full lap and all 6 obstacles. The teachers had to stack cans, jump rope, crawl through a tube and blow up and pop a balloon, but the best obstacle was only for the men.

They had to stick their whole face into a pan of cornstrach and search with their mouths for a piece of candy. Of course this resulted in their faces being covered in cornstarch for the rest of the race, which added to the hilarity. All day the red team had been trouncing the blue team, and the teachers race was no different. The red team anchor made up some ground and slid into the finish line.

At the end of the day, there were special routines by the team’s captains, who wore robes and danced in front of the teams stands. At the same time, the rest of the team was displaying their carefully choreographed panel routine.

At the closing ceremony, the students from the red and blue teams switched robes and danced together as a group. The day was amazing because I saw how much this tradition meant to (some of the) students. The blue team seemed genuinely happy when the red team’s inevitable win was announced, and the head student organizer cried when he gave his farewell speech.

Here’s a  video of the students singing the school song while doing another choreographed panel routine. I wish I could be here again next year!

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Tsuyu: Heat, humidity and rice planting

I have never lived anywhere where I disliked the weather as much as I do in Japan.  Absurdly hot and humid in the summer, cold in the winter and constantly raining in the spring, there are few days with pleasant weather. A combination of factors make the already ridiculous weather here even more unbearable: I commute to work by bicycle, and Japanese workplaces don’t have air conditioning or heating.*

They call this season Tsuyu – the rainy season. Today, at 8:30, it was already 29°C with a relative humidity of 78%.  After ten minutes of cycling, and ten minutes of pushing my bike up a steep hill, I made it inside my school, where it is also 29°C with a relative humidity of 78%. No relief there. I have started leaving the air conditioner on in my apartment during the day to reduce the humidity and prevent invasions of bugs and mold. Yesterday I found mold on a nail polish bottle in my bedroom. It’s out of control.

Despite the overheating complaints, Japan is exceptionally beautiful during rainy season. The rice fields around my house are being planted this week, and every day I see farmers out  tilling and planting. The spring flowers are still blooming and new ones are appearing every day.

I shouldn’t complain, because I know the moment I come back to Canada and experience the winter’s chill, I’ll miss Japan, bizarre climate and all.


*Note: They do have air conditioning in the staff room and some, not mine, classrooms, but there is a rule about not turning it on until July. Even when they do turn it on, it’s nothing like we are used to in North America.

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Sports Day again!

It’s sports day season in Japan!

Every year each high school puts on a day packed with events, songs and ridiculous acrobatics. The students get two weeks of afternoons off classes to practice, and they organize everything themselves. They are split into teams that they stay on throughout their high school years, so a lot of pride and energy is involved.

The day started off with a group warm up. The students followed the radio taiso program, which each Japanese person seems to know by heart. Retirees practice this routine in the courtyard outside my apartment at 7 am, and by now the chants and movements are becoming familiar to me. 

After the warm up, all the of the students marched around the field in formation, saluting at the Judges table, before settling into their bleachers.

One of the most interesting aspects of Sports Day was the group mentality. Even the individual running races are scored as a team. After finishing, the students sat behind a flag indicating their place in the race, and after the last racer, the points were counted up for each place before declaring the winner of that event.

There were some interesting races too, including this obstacle course with potato sacks, a cardboard box which the students had to caterpillar themselves in, spinning around a baseball bat and crawling under a net. The teachers participated in an obstacle course with many of the same elements, but they also had to stick their face in a bucket of cornstarch and find a candy with their mouth.

My favourite race started out as a three legged race and half way around, the students had to pick a scavenger hunt item out of a box and retrieve an item from the audience. Seeing them hobble together with their parents cell phones and purses was amusing to say the least.

There were even events for the parents and friends of students, like this game where you had to get as many balls as you could into the net. The red teams parents trounced the blue teams.

The highlights of the afternoon were elaborate choreographed routines, dancing for the girls, and marching for the boys.

I had a fabulous time at sports day, and took way too many pictures, so there will be another post soon!

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Sports Day at Omuta Kita

Last weekend we had sports day at my school and it was so much fun!

Here is a video of the blue team’s girls dancing to Avril Lavigne.

Excuse the part at the end where I start singing….

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Fitting in at work.

I got my own name tag at work today.


Very exciting!

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