English Class today

13 11 2009

Today I got to visit what is probably my favorite school, mostly because when I go, I get to spend the entire day at the school and really get to know the kids (which is incredible). The students are one sixth-grade boy, two third graders (girl and boy), three third graders (2 boys and one girl), two second grade girls, and two first-grade girls. They are an insanely fun group.

I was informed about the English lesson moments before going into the classroom. The teacher wanted me to pronounce the cards with the animals on them and then read the story. That got my brain going. If I was going to read this story, which the students weren’t likely to understand all the words to, how was I going to keep them engaged? (Keeping students engaged is always a big question for me, because it cuts down on management problems).

We got into the classroom and I asked, “How are you?”, “How’s the weather?”, “What’s the date today?” (the regular set of questions). As usual, most of the students do not know the month to be able to say the date. I have one third grader who seems to be particularly gifted in English who can almost always answer the question (maybe he studies at home?).

Then we pronounced the words, kids repeated (pretty standard way to start). After some questioning of students on the words, we moved on and played karuta. Karuta is a game I was introduced to in my high school Japanese class. The teacher calls a word and the first kid to slap the flash card wins it. The kid with the most cards at the end wins. We played a few rounds, with me being silly at the end and calling random non-animals (like carrot) when there was only one card left, to see if they were really listening.

After Karuta, came the story. It was about animal noises. To solve my earlier problem, I decided to pass out the cards with the animals. Each student was responsible to hold up her/his card when she/he heard the animal’s noise.

Please remember that as they were being asked to do this, most of the animal noises that we use in English are different than the ones that Japanese people use for animal noises. So as we went through the story, a few of the students held their animal up for every noise, until they got it right, and a few actually tried hard. They stayed engaged the whole time though. That was the best part; I didn’t lose any students while reading a story which most students didn’t understand.

Morning light
My view a couple of mornings ago.

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Confessions of a Junken player

12 11 2009

“You’re a strong Junken player” is what one of my students said about me (as translated by the English teacher). The funny thing is I have learned how to win or lose at Junken in Japan on purpose.

Junken, for those of you not in Japan, is Rock, Paper Scissors. Japanese people have an incredible chant that goes with it, I don’t completely have it down and I’m pretty sure I’m mis-pronouncing the words when I do say them.

Different from home though, is the fact that EVERYTHING can be decided by Junken here. Which team are you on for a sports game? Junken. Who just won the card in the game we’re playing as a class? Junken. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s used in Japanese business meetings (obviously I’m not present, so I’m not so sure).

Anyways, I figured out that I can decide whether to win or lose when I was first playing with students shortly after arriving. It was about a week after school started and all the elementary students from my four small schools came together at Shimokanayama Elementary, for a grand total of 29 students.

On this day, we had a big tournament where each time you won, people hooked onto your back and you kept going with this train of people behind you. Well the first few times I didn’t really have the chant down and I didn’t know when to show my symbol. So somehow, I ended up with paper. Then I realized I was winning each time. My elementary students were always playing rock first.

I thought, there’s no way, someone has to play something different. But can I win the whole thing only playing paper? Sure enough, who was the winner? Me. So in a battle against teachers and students, the foreigner who was playing for the first time in Japan won. Awesome!

Today, we played a game that used it as well. It was a game where we had flash cards laid out and the two teams were starting at either end of the line, when they met they had to say “Dom!” then Junken (used as a verb here). The loser went back, their team started from the beginning, and the other team continued. The goal was to get to the other end.

I based what I played on where we were in the line. If I was less than half way through, I would play paper and win, if more than that, I would play scissors and lose, giving the students who aren’t native English speakers a fair chance. Most of the time this theory worked. My team never did get to the other end, but I did find a few students who played something else and won or lost when I wasn’t expecting to.

At the end of class, students share their impressions. One girl commented that I am a “strong Junken player.” I had to laugh on the inside because she must have just met me each time when I was “winning” rather than “losing.”