What did a typical class period look like when I taught in Japan?
Below, I’ve fabricated one class for each school level I taught at. The first is a generic elementary school class. The second is a middle school class focused on an American holiday. The third is an advanced high school class on a day we did a game and discussion. I could mix and match scenarios a handful of times over, so these aren’t the only kinds of classes I taught at each level. Furthermore, their style varied depending on the students’ ages and the teachers involved. (You can read more about teaching styles in the “Japanese Teachers” post.) Each class was approximately 45-50 minutes long.
Elementary School – Studying Animals
I greeted the students and chatted in English and Japanese, if necessary. When class began, they stood and bowed. We began with the “Hello song” (which is forever stuck in my head.) Next, I or their main teacher introduced the day’s lesson. We practiced vocabulary via repetition and games, such as matching or racing to touch the correct image. If the class had a textbook, we often used it in tandem with activities. Then we finished with more bows and waves.
Fun Fact: At one school, when I taught the younger children about animal noises, I showed them “What Does the Fox Say?” They didn’t understand most of it, since they were about 7-10 years old, but they found it amusing. When I explained how we don’t have a sound for a fox’s voice in English, they were puzzled, though, and immediately told me that it’s “kon-kon” in Japanese. Now we know the answer to that question.
Middle School – Halloween
I can’t let Halloween pass without teaching about it!
Once the students bowed to begin class, I had full reign in terms of teaching, which was different than usual. I showed a PowerPoint, pulled up videos like “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and gave the students candy (with prior permission from the teachers). I brought the candy in a pumpkin-shaped bag like you’d carry on Halloween, and to get the candy, students had to come to me and say “Trick-or-treat”. We did Halloween word searches and word scrambles. I dressed up both years—first as a pirate, then as a witch. My first year, I carved a tiny pumpkin (see my Eikaiwa post) and tried to light it for them. Sadly it was too small to work for more than few seconds, but they loved it. Then we ended class with bows and goodbyes.
Fun Fact: I showed the pumpkin to every single class I had over two weeks, and it was so memorable for some of the students that, when it was time to give me farewell presents, two elementary school boys wrote a haiku about a jack-o-lantern for me.
High School – Game + Conversation
My high school classes were advanced (in terms of a rural setting), so I had more room to play games with them. As usual, the students bowed, and we greeted each other with questions. Then I introduced our game. We played one where I had pieces of paper with topics on them, such as “Should Japan have more public parks?” Each person had to decide if they agreed, disagreed, strongly agreed, or strongly disagreed. They moved to the corresponding corner of the room and discussed with their peers why they all held that opinion. Then one person from each corner told the class their group’s reasons. Students had the opportunity to change their opinions if they were persuaded by their friends, and they had to say why they switched groups. Then we repeated with another topic.
After a few rounds of this, we sat down in a circle and talked about the game, the topics, and anything that stemmed from those. It was good practice for the students because not only did they have to form sentences in English, they had to think critically and state their opinions in front of others. Once the bell rang, we bowed and said farewell.
Fun Fact: I learned the game from my 11th grade English teacher, and she called it Fishbowl, so that’s what I call it.