I taught as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Japan for 5 years. I was a part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). It was an incredible experience, immensely rewarding in many ways. Hopefully, I can give back in some small way to others in similar positions.
Here are a few of the materials I used while teaching English as a second language in junior high school and elementary school. Feel free to download, modify and use.
Student Feedback Project
Adults rarely listen to children. Teachers rarely listen to students. What a mistake!
Our youth are able to give us a lot of feedback that we really should be listening to. We often blame kids for being at fault when they don’t understand us or learn what we tell them to learn. But the truth is, the fault belongs primarily to instructors and parents. By listening to what our children have to say, we can learn why we’re not reaching them, and how we can improve our methods.
Teaching in Japan, I found that the schools I worked in had vast room for improvement. Students were nowhere near achieving their potential in terms of learning or happiness. These young minds are blank slates being moulded by the system of parents and teachers and society around them. Their unhappiness and disengagement from the growing/learning process is our fault.
I wanted to give the students a chance to speak out and give the feedback they inherently want to give but have never been given an opportunity for. I also wanted to do it in a way that inspired other students and schools to see what was happening and take notice.
The plan was to create a video of students giving feedback that would be posted online for other students, parents and educators to see. A video that was shareable.
Step 1 – Explain the project to students.
Download Printable: PDF – English
Download Printable: PDF – Japanese
Download: Apple Pages Document (Eng+Jap)
Explanation in the students’ native language is needed to really convey the depth and potential behind this project. In order to properly motivate the students, the kids have to understand that this is an opportunity to be heard, and that when they speak out, people are actually going to listen. Why? Because the adults around them care about the students, and about the system (at least, they should).
Step 2 – Gather feedback.
Students are presented a form to fill out giving their feedback in their native language. The idea is to give them an opportunity to really think about what they want to say and have something concrete to offer. At the JHS level, their English was far too low to do this directly in the language of study. At a good HS or university, you’d want to have them think and construct ideas directly in English as part of their practice.
In our case, students wrote first in Japanese, then were given time to try and translate their ideas with dictionaries. Feedback was handed in and reviewed by teachers so that we could clean up their very rough work and help them say what they wanted to say. Again, at a higher level, this part of the process would be less involved as students could produce better end results on their own.
Step 3 – Record feedback and create video.
Students made posters of their feedback. These they would hold up both to hide their identity on camera for legal reasons, and so that the message could be viewed even if their reading of the message was covered with music depending on the style of finished video.
Taking It To The Next Level
Originally, I wanted to record not just students speaking, but other clips as well, in order to make the finished product much more engaging and fun. This is a great opportunity to create something with a real message and punch.
For example, you could intersperse the students speaking with clips or pictures of things in school. Wanting to say something about the deplorable lack of investment in the schools I was at, we could insert images of the well worn sports equipment; paint peeling off all the walls; exhausted teachers and disengaged students sleeping at desks; kids smoking; bullying; the lack of proper heating/cooling; disgusting washrooms; and depressingly low grades. This would back up the messages from students with evidence showing the poor state of the school and it’s system which were behind the feelings these students have.
If you were extra creative, you could take the project to another level by imitating a music video such as Michael Jackson’s They Don’t Really Care About Us and inserting the messages and images in between choreographed video.
We didn’t get the time needed for a really great video, and the school was SO low level that the kids couldn’t get motivated into the project much, but at the right school, the right staff and enough time, the potential is incredible. The biggest challenge is that this is a project about criticism.
My school hated criticism, and public criticism practically warrants a death sentence. So a really forward-thinking support staff is vital or they aren’t going to be receptive that students are saying bad things. After all, the criticism is aimed at the people behind the system, and that’s teachers and admin. They’re going to take the criticism very personally. Not everything can be blamed on a higher level of government simply not sending the school enough money. A great many problems stem from the staff itself.
You need teachers and administrators who want to improve the system, people who realize this is a great opportunity to empower students and give them an incredible chance to learn about self/community/organization improvement. Then both the process in classrooms and the finished video can have a greater impact.
Step 4 – Watch finished video.
If student identities are properly hidden, the video can be posted online.
There is also an opportunity to make the finished videos a part of a school-wide event, such as an assembly or festival. In our case, only the grade 9 students worked on the video project. If we could play the video at an assembly, it would give other classes and grades in the school the chance to see the message as well.
The Field Report mixes English with application, in this case, science. It shows students that this other language isn’t just something that’s here to be studied and useless, but that it has real world application.
The Field Report also encourages students to get interactive with a subject they like, and go beyond answering fill-in-the-blank practice questions with something that challenges multiple skill areas.
Download Printable: PDF – Field Report
Download: Apple Pages – Field Report
Thanksgiving Printable Worksheet
The aim with these is to encourage students to think about what they should be thankful for. Encourage them to be thankful for other people.
Download: Apple Pages File
Valentine’s – Rose Meanings
Did you know that the number and colour of roses given to the one you love have various meanings?
Download: Rose Meanings
Valentine’s Day Posters
Download: Valentine’s Poster
This was posted on the wall for students to feel a little bit of love for the day, and learn a little something. Includes English-Japanese translations of some popular terms and quotes.
Download: World Valentines
This accompanied the above poster. Because it’s not in Japanese, the contents needed to be explained to students during lessons.
Halloween Classroom Video Presentation
Download: PDF of the presentation slides
Download: Halloween Presentation Apple Keynote File (84Mb)
This presentation was done in Apple’s Keynote (similar to Powerpoint). It was played on a TV at the front of the classroom, with lots of scary sounds, an art show and movie clips with a game at the end. I spoke about Halloween and fielded questions along the way with help from the Japanese teacher. Halloween props were brought to class so that the kids could play with them. The Japanese teacher and I dressed in costumes.
The presentation can become a little long with a lot of questions, so it may be prudent to trim it. Don’t be afraid to cut content. It’s always far better to increase interaction with the students than to give an in-depth show where they just sit and become bored.
With the help of an amazing group of fellow ALTs, friends, and key teachers we through the first ever Halloween Festival for the city. We were able to reserve space in a city park, I brought along a ton of decorations and lights of my own, and we provided games and costumes for the students.
It was a wild success. Even students who were terrible in English class or with horrible attitudes towards me personally all showed up with their friends and had a great time. The volunteers were terrific, providing so much help and support and making the festival a great experience for everyone. We even got some surprise help from former students (real ‘bad boys’). My deepest thanks because the event couldn’t have happened without these great people. You were awesome.
Given the time and opportunity, such festivals can easily become larger and more fun and involved. They’re a bit of work but very rewarding for everyone. I’d love to have festivals for other holidays and cultural events as well throughout the year. This definitely breaks up the monotony of regular school life for students and teachers alike. It’s also a great time for some real fun and play.
Download: PDF – Halloween Festival Posters
Download: Apple Pages File
Interview Test – Score Sheet
This was used for speaking and interview tests. Students are judged both on the quality of their answers and their ability to speak with confidence and strong body language.
After the test, posters were put up announcing that students could re-take the tests and improve their scores. The poster includes some things to think about such as how to do better, who they’re competing against, and why doing well is important.
Student Assignment Feedback Notes
These are notes which are attached to printouts to give students fair and honest evaluation of their work. The aim is to encourage better future performance and let them know exactly how they’re doing. Some students might think mediocre behaviour is ‘good enough’. We should strive to help them want to achieve better.
Assignment Report Card
I think that students should have as much data as possible on what they’re doing in school. That means knowing what assignments and tests will occur, and having an accurate understanding of their own performance at all times. The more data we have about what we’re doing, the better we can plan and prepare. The more feedback we have, the better we can direct future performance.
Student ID; grade for this assignment with a visual graphical representation; a positive picture; a visual snapshot of how they’re doing, with actual and potential performance viewable; the history of their grades; a place for teacher’s comments; student self evaluation; a place for teachers to sign off on corrections made (because all assignments should be done with corrections until perfect); and a place for parents to sign so that they’re involved in student progress (education should be a family affair at this level).
Homework and Preparation Stamp Sheet
This is used as a quick check at the beginning of class to make sure that they’re ready. It is part of their Participation grade. The goal is to encourage students to do homework and be prepared, ready to go on time.
The sheet should include some kind of positive visual, and spell out exactly what they need to do to get a stamp. They should also be made aware of how this check is important for their development and overall grade. If they don’t know what they should be preparing and see a need for it, they won’t do it.
Participation Point Chart
Many teachers try to keep track of student participation in their heads and ball-park the grade at the end of the year. But let’s be honest, our memories are not accurate, especially when we have a lot of students.
This chart can be posted on the wall and little checks made each time a student gives a worthy answer or performance. Students can see how well they’re doing at any time. A positive image should be included. I’ve used a watching face as science shows that people behave better when they’re being watched, and even illustrated eyes can cause this psychological effect.
The chart must be explained to students so that they understand that it is part of their overall grade, and that they should be competing with themselves against their potential, not against other students.
Comparison and Choice Worksheets and Lesson
Download: Apple Pages File
This is a HUGE worksheet and lesson package about Choice. Choice is everything in life. Who we are, what we do, what we make of the world is entirely a result of our combined decisions. So the subject of Choice is incredibly important.
The package is meant to accompany grammar about comparing. Every grammar point or vocab section is a chance to teach students about life and larger issues. This makes the grammar and vocab immediately relevant and useful, so students pay more attention and retain the information better. Students also learn about the deeper material not covered by textbooks in any courses.
While developed for ESL, it’s important that the subject of Choice and this package be discussed extensively between all teachers and assistants prior to delivery. Everyone needs to be on the same page of understanding, and delivery in the classroom is going to entail significant amounts of native language before getting to the English practice. I’d strongly recommend using more than one lesson and incorporating the theme of choice into other classes throughout the year.
Urashima Taro Revised Dialogue
Download: Urashima Taro – Revised
I hated using the Urashima Taro dialogue in class. For years I listened to students speak this dialogue from their textbook and shuddered at the inherent harm it was causing. The message is terrible.
In the original textbook story, Urashima Taro returns to his former home, after living under the sea for hundreds of years. Society has changed a lot. There are many kinds of new technology and physical changes. People speak differently too. Urashima decides that he doesn’t like the world today. He is afraid and flees home, back under the sea.
The author may have been trying to convey a message about the negative aspects of today’s society, perhaps implying that times were better in the past (though it is probably naive to think so). Unfortunately, the author does this while portraying Urashima Taro as a coward and weakling. Essentially, Urashima isn’t strong enough to cope with the changes around him, and rather than change himself, to adapt to the new world, he elects to run away.
The story conveys an overwhelmingly negative message. It tells readers that change and difference are Very Bad Things. It teaches readers to run away fro new experiences and challenges. These messages are conducive to producing feelings of fear and desire for isolationism. Both of these are key problems which Japanese society faces today.
When a society no longer attempts to adapt, innovate and grow, it becomes stagnant, and will eventually collapse. People are the same. The world is always changing, and if we don’t adapt alongside it to cope with those changes, we will be left behind.
Japan, as a nation, must learn to be stronger, to conquer fear, and to stop being so isolated. If it does not, it will continue to fade in the global community, becoming less relevant and competitive. If this continues, Japan will face growing hardship. But this is not a predetermined fate. We can become stronger. We can become better.
Our stories should reflect our conflicts and needs. They should encourage us to solve our problems, not run away from them. That is why the story of Urashima Taro has been revised.
Although a short dialogue might seem simple, we should try to take a moment to consider the messages we’re sending students. I suppose that the authors of the textbook wanted to depart from the original tale and offer something where Urashima doesn’t die, but I think the message in the revised edition more positive.