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Still Rollin’

November 14th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I thought I’d do a quick update post on what’s been happening lately. Even though it’s all pretty much back to the routine at this point, the routine is pretty awesome and worth preserving for future trips down Nostalgia Avenue.

Since I’ve been back and for the remainder of the school year, I’m only teaching with O-sensei and we’re only covering the extra material in the textbooks that the other JTEs don’t have time for. That means instead of teaching grammar points in which there’s a lot of natural lee-way for different kinds of games and activities, we’re doing boring textbook supplemental stuff like dialogs about giving directions or taking a message when you answer the phone. The first-graders have been the exception, our only guideline for the last two weeks being to teach the 3rd-person form of verbs (he plays, she reads, he goes, she studies, etc.). The last two lessons with them turned out to be two of the best I’ve ever done.

First, I was only supposed to review the verbs they already know. Not much to go on, but it gave me a chance to try an idea I’ve had in my head for awhile, to play a sort of baseball-game. A student comes to the front of the room and I pitch a little soft squishy baseball my mother bought for the Kyle-shop at them. They get three tries to hit the ball with their hand (almost all do on the first try—there was only one strike-out and it was hilarious for everyone) and when they do they reach into a cup with folded up strips of paper with Japanese verbs. If the verb is 走る (hashiru) they can get to first-base just by knowing what it is in English (run). They get to second-base by spelling it correctly, and third base by using it in an “I ___” sentence. (“I run home”). They hit a home-run if they can make a correct “He/she ___” sentence which they haven’t learned yet, but which I give them a hint at the beginning can be done by adding “s” to the verb. If at any point they make a mistake or don’t know the answer, I toss the ball at the other team and a student who catches it gets a chance to do what the batter couldn’t. If they can’t (or no one catches the ball) the batter is safe, but if they can he or she is out. I used little flash-cards of Mickey Mouse in a baseball uniform and drew the bases on the blackboard to illustrate the action.


The students had an absolute blast with this game, and O-sensei and I were surprised at how entertaining it was for us. Because there’s such a wide range of student abilities, you had some only hitting singles or not even reaching first, while some hit home-runs with ease. Even students who messed up could be safe at a base and end up scoring for their team, but only if another student batted them in before three outs. The results were as varied as the students, with some classes ending the game in a tie, some just barely winning and some totally blowing out the other team. But by the end of the game, all of the students had their memories refreshed on a whole bunch of verbs, and those who really paid attention had learned how to make 3rd-person form already.

The following week (this past week) was the lesson for actually teaching 3rd-person form. I started by busting out my German and greeting the students with “guten Morgen!” and “wie geht’s?” and “das Wetter heute is sehr shön, ja?” and all kinds of other incomprehensible phrases that sound funny to them. I wrote “Ich spreche Deutsch” on the board and got them to figure out what it was in Japanese and then translate to English: “I speak German.” I then turned to O-sensei and asked, “Do you speak German?” which she does so she got to show off some of her Deutsch-skills as well. I then wrote “She speak German” and asked the students if that sentence was correct. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but in every single class there were a significant number of students who already knew that it should be “speaks” for a he/she sentence.

I then used “I play soccer / He plays soccer” as another example and explained that for almost every verb you just add “s” for a he/she sentence. I then went over some common exceptions like do, go, touch, have, and be, and in each case found plenty of students already knew the proper 3rd-person conjugation, so I acted like I was trying to stump them but they were too smart for me. Once that was done I asked if they were ready for a game, to which they always cheered.

This was a very simple game, but it might just be the best I’ve ever done. I divided the class into two teams—orange team and blue team—and showed them that each team had a “moja-moja” ball (a rubber puffer ball my mom also bought for the Kyle-store and is easily the most popular item) with the corresponding color. I had two identical sets of 35 cards with Japanese verbs—the same ones used for the baseball game—and handed them out to each team, with each student taking two and some three. I had 35 pages with an English “I ___” sentence and Japanese translation for each verb, and I’d hold up a page and call out the sentence. There’d be one student on each team with the Japanese verb corresponding to the sentence, and they would have to raise their hand and catch the moja-moja ball, then write the sentence in “He/She” form on their side of the blackboard. So if the sentence was “I speak English” you’d have one student from each team with a card that read 話す (hanasu) and they’d race to catch the ball and run to the board to write “He speaks English”, slamming the ball on the table when they were finished. The faster team would get 10 points, but as long as the other team wrote it correctly (and we made sure they always did) their team would get 5 points. That student would then stay up front to throw the ball to the player with the next card.


Some students had the hang of it right away and had no trouble scoring for their team. But what made it a great game was that when a student wasn’t really sure what to do, their team-members would shout instructions at them for how to properly conjugate or spell the words they needed. So if a student didn’t know that the 3rd-person form is “studies” and not “studys”, their team was sure to correct them as they were writing and to do it as fast as possible. Some students had no idea what they were doing the first time they went up, but from watching everyone else had it so figured out by their second time at the board that they actually won the speed points. They were clapping and cheering and having an incredibly good time, but also actually learning and reinforcing the new knowledge the whole time.

One of the classes got so loud that the teacher in the adjacent room complained to O-sensei afterwards that no one could hear her do her lesson, so we tried to keep it down after that but there’s only so much you can do. But in between every round I just held my fingers to my mouth and made a “shh” sound and they were so eager to keep going that the room would go from pandemonium to sheer silence in about two seconds, only to erupt again with noise when the next sentence was called.

Most times the game ended up being really close, with the lead changing back and forth and the team that started behind coming up to win. Only one game ended with a tie, but the losing side was never all that disappointed because just about every student had had two chances to go and just about all of them won at least one of those times.

I had to write about that lesson in detail because it may be a very long time before I manage to top it.

The other lessons weren’t as awesome, but quite successful in their own right. For the 2nd-graders, after the boring giving-directions lesson in preparation for their interview tests (saved only by the students’ amusement at my impression of Mario wandering aimlessly around a city map to their randomly-given directions) the next material was an even more boring listening-exercise taken straight from the textbook. There was practically nothing that could make that fun, but at least it only took ten minutes, after which O-sensei suggested we play a game I’d made for a random class I had to teach on a different day when some teachers were giving demonstration-lessons and I had an extra lesson with a group of only first-grade girls. For that I just printed a whole bunch of words from the part of their textbook they’d already covered and cut them up, folded them, and tossed them in a cup. A student would come to the front and proceed to take words and try to have their team guess the word either by using gestures, drawing a picture, or pointing to the object in the room if it happened to be in the room. They’d have three minutes to get through as many words as they could, and there were enough really easy words for each student to have some degree of success. We used the same words for the second-graders after the listening exercise and they enjoyed it as much as the first-graders had. As an added bonus, there was school this past Saturday because it was an open house when parents could come watch their kids’ lessons, and a few parents were there and apparently just as entertained by the game as the students.

Finally, I went back to my old tried-and-true Jeopardy game for the third-graders to review the story of the zookeepers having to kill the three elephants at the Ueno Zoo during WWII. I used the same categories I used last year: Missing Word (they fill in the blank with the word from the sentence in the story), What’s Next? (they find the sentence in the story and read the next sentence), Vocabulary (they say the English for a Japanese word from the vocabulary box for the story), Scrambled Sentence (self-explanatory), and Grammar (they choose from three verb forms or prepositions from a sentence in the story). They all remembered the game so no time was wasted on explanations, and many of them were very excited when they saw me setting it up. With six teams and one student standing up to be the hand-raiser for each team, rotating after each questions, it gets very competitive and exciting, especially when hands go up at the same time and I keep things interesting by letting teams with lower scores have the first shot. As usual, they all got really into it and had a great time. It didn’t matter at all that the material was a ridiculously depressing story about dead elephants.

And this week my material is a bland and boring dialog about taking a message from a phone-call, but once O-sensei and I get through the tedious textbook stuff I play the telephone game with the students, having the first person from each row come out in the hall and “take a message” which they then go inside and pass down their rows to the last person who then races to write it on the blackboard for speed-points and accuracy points. These relay games are guaranteed to be fun, but I gave it an extra twist by coming up with 36 funny sentences and going through the name lists for each class to plug one of the actual students’ names in the sentence, so their message would be something like, “Soandso is eating an elephant” or “Soandso wants to fight Obama”. I was a bit worried about embarrassing some students so I gave most of the embarrassing ones to boys who I know have a good sense of humor like, “Soandso is wearing a skirt” or “Soandso wants to kiss Lady Gaga”. I had no idea what to expect, but so far I’ve done it twice and it’s gone over quite well.

And that’s everything on the teaching front. On the social front, I had another fun weekend party this past Saturday, starting at an okonomiyaki restaurant with Kim, Enam, Jack, and Stephen and then migrating to another karaoke place for a private room with a fixed price for unlimited hours (until 6 a.m.) of drinking and singing. I still had a cold when we went out so I hadn’t planned on drinking at all, but it’s kind of a requirement for karaoke and I ended up once again going a little overboard. But—and I never ever thought I’d feel this way—karaoke is such a good time that the inevitable hangover the day after is just as much worth the price as the actual money. It was also just such a nice warm feeling to be back in Japan amongst friends, just hanging out and having a good time, carelessly crooning away to all kinds of music, mostly the stuff we all grew up with.

And there’s not much else to say about that or anything else really. Life is once again a constant series of enjoyable events from Monday to Friday, from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. All I can do is squeeze as much appreciation out of this time as I can, as one day I’ll almost certainly look back on this time and remember it as the Glory Days. May they continue to roll.

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