Friday, November 26, 2010

Introducing New English Activities, Part 2: Drawing Shapes

Sometimes I get nervous about introducing a brand new activity to a class because I'm concerned that they won't understand my explanation. That concern grows as the grade levels get lower, so when I decided to go ahead and introduce this activity to the 2nd graders, I really wondered if they would get it...and if they didn't, I had a backup game for them just in case.

I figured out that the 1st and 2nd graders actually know a lot more than I anticipated, so instead of doing an activity with fruits and vegetables with the 2nd graders as the elementary sample curriculum suggests, I decided to teach them the directions up, down, left, and right. “Up” and “down” was no problem for them, but some of the kids mixed up “left” and “right,” which was expected. They picked up the vocabulary very quickly, which made my next activity a lot easier for them to learn.

In this drawing activity (which I haven't given a name yet), a number of students go up to the blackboard and each have a piece of chalk. The number of students can be determined in any way; for my class I chose one student from each table (we were all grouped into tables in elementary school, right? I know I was), to make six.

The shape that these six students have to draw is determined by me. Before class, I drew out several different abnormal shapes on sheets of paper to be done by the students, kind of like the ones shown below:

I choose one shape and show it to the rest of the class, but NOT to the students at the board. I choose a place on the shape to start and show the class which direction we will go.

Once I say “Go!” or “Start!” The class say in unison either “up,” “down,” “left,” or “right,” depending on which direction I designated from the start. The class watches as I trace my finger along the shape, and meanwhile the students at the board start drawing in the specified direction at their own pace. When I reach a corner on the shape, the class specifies the new direction and the kids at the board follow. If they make a mistake while drawing, it's okay; it just makes the game more amusing.

When my tracing finger reaches the beginning point, the class says “Stop!” and the students stop drawing and move aside to show the class their drawings, and we compare to see which pictures most resemble the chosen shape. The class gets a pretty good laugh when they see that the drawings look completely different from the shape, and the students who drew them get a laugh when I reveal the shape to them.

After each student got a turn to draw, I told the students that I was going to draw next, but with a blindfold on. Even though I'm the one who drew the shapes, I let the homeroom teacher choose any one without me seeing it. So this time, I'm being given directions, but not only do I not know which shape it is, I can't even see what I'm drawing! Before class ended we had just enough time to let the homeroom teacher draw a shape while blindfolded.

In the end the game was a big success; the teacher and the class had a lot of fun and at the same time they were able to learn each of the directions both by listening and by reciting them out loud. The teacher and I both noticed that some work needs to be done on clarifying the pronunciation difference between “left” and “right,” because with Japanese pronunciation they sound very similar (“refto” and “raito”). But the most important thing is that they know the difference between the two. It's just hard to hear when they say it all at once.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to do this activity again since I only teach the 2nd graders once a month, but I want to add a few more variations and introduce it to the other classes. Since the 5th graders just learned “Turn right” and “Turn left” and know how to navigate on a 2D map, I want to do this shape-drawing for them as well. As long as the shapes have no curves, the teacher can make as many different pictures as they want and as complicated as they want.

I hope the directions aren't too complicated to understand. I might make a video to demonstrate just in case.

Late Halloween Photos

I know I'm really late with these pictures. Things have finally settled down a bit, so I had some time to get these photos off my phone.

It's nothing special, just some minor decorations and my witch outfit that the kids really liked :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Update: Potential Offensive Hangman

So a friend made me aware after I asked about Hangman that as recently as July, an English teacher (who is American) received criticism for playing Hangman with his class at a middle school where a student committed suicide two years hanging himself.

I went to look up the article, and found it here: The source is from The Mainichi Daily News, but suspiciously the article doesn't exist anymore on the original site.

I find the details of the story very one-sided. First of all, was this same English teacher at this school in 2008 when the student killed himself? The article says that the teacher used the game "regardless," making it seem as if he was there when it happened or was at least aware that it happened, and that he didn't give a crap and decided to play it anyway. If this is true, then I understand. It does say that the student's friend pointed out the resemblance between the drawings in the student's notebook and the drawings by the teacher in class, so the teacher was likely there.

But I also have an issue with another point: A Japanese psychologist says that if such instruction such as games like Hangman are going on in the classroom, "it shows great carelessness" and that, for the students, it is "similar to power harrassment," even if the teacher meant no harm.

I beg to differ with those choices of strong words. See, there's this thing called 'culture.' And there are different kinds of culture. And the vast majority of us grew up only knowing one culture.

And then there's a phrase called "intercultural miscommunication." It acknowledges that people who aren't familiar with another culture may make mistakes. It's not because they don't care; it's because they don't know. I can't speak for the English teacher at that middle school, but I can say for myself that I didn't know it was going to be a problem.

Is it really that much like "power harassment"? Making it sound as if a teacher is forcing ideas into students' heads? Harassment is aggressive. I'm not sure this English teacher was being aggressive, unless the kids were saying, "No, we can't play Hangman! It's bad!" and the teacher did it anyway. I don't think a teacher would force students to do something that the students truly insist is a bad thing to do.

In addition: Was the homeroom teacher present? IF the homeroom teacher was present, he or she should have stopped the teacher. If the homeroom teacher WASN'T present, the students should have stopped the teacher.

And this point makes me question whether Japanese students have a right to speak out in class. I've always heard of Japanese education as being one where the students are expected to sit and listen while the teacher rambles on. When I took classes at Rikkyo that were mixed with Japanese and exchange students, whenever the teacher asked for someone to answer a question the people raising their hands were ALWAYS the international students. The Japanese students remained silent.

I don't see this happening at my elementary schools; whenever I ask a question there is always at least one person who raises their hand willingly.  And if I do something strange or make a mistake, the students are quick to correct me. It's exactly the same as when I was in elementary school. What is it that happens between elementary and middle school that makes the kids stop speaking out?

Going back to Hangman, I did a few more Google searches on the game in Japanese. Guess what I found? A Japanese site of English activities...featuring Hangman.

I think the problem in this case is not necessarily the game, but the time at which this teacher decided to use the game in his class. If a teacher used Hangman at a school in ANY country where a student hanged themselves, there would be just as much outrage.

Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with this game, but I understand why someone else would. The question is, what can we do to make more people aware that this game can potentially be offensive? And why do some consider it so offensive while others see nothing in it?

One thing I do know is that the 5th graders I taught in class today were way more focused on "_ o o _  S t o r e" than on the limbless body hanging next to it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Introducing New English Activities, Part 1: Potentially Offensive Hangman

Today I had classes with the 5th graders and the 2nd graders. As usual, I planned my lessons at the last minute (I always try to do it early but they never really get finished until right before class).

With the 5th graders, our lesson was on giving directions, as well as places to go. They got down the "Turn left," "Turn right," "Go straight" parts easily so it was no problem navigating through a map of Ono.

We went on to review places to go like "post office," "hotel," "restaurant," etc., and they got those down easily as well. So I moved on to a word scramble, and that was pretty easy for them as well.

So I had another idea: Hangman. I'm pretty sure that most people, at least in the United States where I'm from, knows this game. It's a great way for students in ESL classes to learn how to spell words of any category. I explained the game to them in English and Japanese, and they eventually got the rules. We only had enough time to do one place name, but they managed to solve it.

After class though, the teacher (he's one of my favorites for being so enthusiastic and kind) came up to me and calmly said that the hangman picture was ダメ (not good). I immediately understood what he meant by that. On one hand, I felt really stupid for not creating a substitute even when I had slight doubts, but at the same time, I tried to find information on the Internet about "hangman being offensive," and found nothing. Even the Japanese Wikipedia has an entry on Hangman. All my years as a kid in school, when we played Hangman in class, no one--the students nor the teachers--ever had a problem with it.

To introduce the game to a class who didn't know it was a simple mistake on my part, though the kids didn't react to it at all; I think they were just focused on the game. Nonetheless, I plan to change the picture and, since I couldn't find any information on what I was looking for, I decided to make this blog entry on it so that anyone who plans on using Hangman for an overseas ESL class (or even one within the country) will be aware. All you have to do is take a simple drawing and change it (just don't pick a swastika or something). If you choose to keep the line-drawing as a way to tally missed guesses, be sure to keep the drawing simple to an appropriate number of lines. I've actually considered using Kanji stroke-counting as a way to keep score.

You can also choose any other alternatives, such as drawing ten objects and crossing one out with every miss, or starting from a number and counting down to zero. Be creative with it...just don't use the drawing of a lynching. I still wonder why I never came across this issue when I was younger...

Part 2 of this blog will focus on the new activity I introduced to the 2nd graders, which turned out to be a great success and made me feel better after my 5th grade class.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


A lot of things have passed by that I haven't been able to talk about. I have so many things to do that I can't bring myself to sit down and blog.

Today is Monday here in Japan, and I have no classes to teach today. I still have things to do though. On Thursday and Friday I have to attend a mid-year seminar for ALTs. The head topic is supposed to be team-teaching, and I have to present a lesson plan that was "effective in having students experience a lot of language activities."

I find it difficult to present something in terms of team-teaching because I haven't done a lot of it. Unlike in junior high and high school, elementary schools don't have a special "Japanese Teacher of English," but rather a teacher who is in charge of helping prepare lessons for the ALT. I think the reason the majority of my teachers and I don't do team-teaching is because I don't ask them to help. Once in a while we might do a role-play, but it's nothing really special or highly effective. The students have been learning and enjoying class a lot even without their homeroom teacher's help. The most the JTEs do is translate my instructions when we don't think the students fully understand.

However, I can identify one thing that DOESN'T help students learn English: Translating word-for-word. One 3rd grade teacher at one of my schools has a much better grasp of English comprehension (but not necessarily speaking ability) compared to the other teachers, so when I explain something in English, he can quite easily explain in Japanese. This is great for when I'm introducing a new game and have a hard time getting them to understand, but this constant translation has become something the kids are used to. Thus, last week when the teacher wasn't there, I asked the class the same basic questions that I ask them every week ("How are you?" "What day is it today?" "What's the date?" "How's the weather?") and they couldn't understand any of it. It was just as I expected, because every time I say something, the teacher is quick to translate. And so I wonder if the children in that class even listen to me anymore.

But I can't introduce a lesson plan on that. Fortunately, the supervisor at my other school is a 4th grade teacher and writes up the lesson plans for her class, and it's the only class where I feel I really am the "Assistant" Language Teacher, and not the main English teacher. I'll probably choose one of her lessons and modify it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Refresher: About Host Clubs

Just the other day, a reader left a comment on an old blog post that I wrote about host clubs. I realized that I haven't mentioned hosts or host clubs in quite a long time, so I decided to write my comment response in the form of a new blog post.

Chantelle asks:

"Why would you advise against going alone? And what sort of stuff do they do to make you believe they’re in love with you? And how do they get you to spend so much money??"

Let's break it down to one question at a time.

Q: Why would you advise against going alone?

I advise against going alone (especially for the first time) because I believe that most people (myself included) typically have less self-control than they think they do. Most of us set certain limits for ourselves, saying, "Okay, just one," or, "I'm going to stop now," and we end up not following up on our word. In some cases it's pretty harmless, in other cases it's dangerous--like ballooning in weight because you ate four hot dogs instead of two like you said you would, or getting completely wasted one night because you couldn't stop drinking bottle after bottle of beer. With host clubs, it's no different. A first-time goer might hear all kinds of things and set a certain expectation of how things will be and how much money they'll spend, but they'll never know for sure until it happens. They might end up having more fun than they expected and want to stay at the club longer, or they remember that they brought more than how much they decided to spend and ends up spending more, or they end up meeting a host that they really REALLY like, and it drives them to go further than they imagined.

Because of that, it's best to go with a friend whenever possible. Talk about how much each of you are going to spend and keep each other in check while you are there. And do proper calculations! Host clubs are required by law to add a very high tax to whatever is charged, so a 3000 yen entrance fee + 1000 yen host designate fee + 1000 yen for a pitcher of melon soda is not going to equal 5000 yen; it's going to be even higher than that. Also discuss how much time you're going to spend at a club. Unfortunately, one or two hours can go by very quickly when you're having fun, so it can be tempting to request an extra hour. Friends can remind and encourage each other to stay within their limits. Make a promise to leave together, and within the discussed amount of time.

Q: What sort of stuff do they do to make you believe they’re in love with you?

Please know that not all hosts do this. The hosts that I've met with more than once have never done anything to make me think that they had feelings for me. Our conversations were pretty friendly and normal. Occasionally there was a little flirting and the cute act of feeding each other when food was there, but there was no confession of feelings or suggestive physical contact. Behavior varies from host to host--some will talk to you like a friend, and others will talk to you like they're interested in you romantically. But one thing that customers are expected to know about is the "unspoken agreement" that the host-customer relationship is strictly a relationship of "host" and "customer," and nothing more. Women know that a host club is not a place to get a boyfriend. And although it does happen that a customer may end up dating a host, the relationship is likely to be unstable, either due to jealousy because the host has to talk to other women (as it is his job to do so) or because the host can have very tough work hours, working from around 5pm to do "catch" (recruiting new customers) all the way to 1 or 2 in the morning cleaning up after the shop closes (and if they miss the last train, then it's hanging around until 6am when the trains start running again).

Even if a host does flirt or say things suggesting that he likes a customer, it's still up to the customer to accept it as true or false. Some customers don't even get those signals and still end up falling for their host because they're too hopeful and make the biggest deal out of the most subtle things. If a host says he likes you, but says that the only way you two can date is if you come to the shop, I wouldn't consider him very trustworthy; it would be much more convincing if he actually quit his job as a host to prove that he means what he says.

Q: How do they get you to spend so much money??

I can't speak from experience, as I've never had a host convince me to spend more money. Of course, this might be because the hosts knew I was a college student with no job and thus didn't have a lot to spend. The other issue is making sure that a customer has the money to pay. There can be trouble if a customer ends up spending way more than they can afford. A documentary in English called The Great Happiness Space features several female customers of a host club in Osaka who actually turn out to be sex workers in the red-light district, because it pays enough money to reduce debt. But these jobs can be so stressful and terrible that these women just end up going back again and again to the host club to get away from harsh reality and into a fun fantasy.

In the case of customers that visit regularly and always order bottles of champagne, they might be pushed to spend more for a variety of reasons. Whenever any drink is ordered, it's not just for the customer to drink, but for the host as well. Because of this, drinks tend to run out more quickly. A bottle of champagne can be emptied out if multiple hosts get glasses for a champagne call, or more often when a customer is encouraged to down their glass (or bottle) as they're cheered on by the hosts around them.

But the hosts won't outright tell you to order more drinks or stay for extra hours. It's more like encouragement, and with certain customers it doesn't take a lot of encouragement for them to spend more money. In The Great Happiness Space, some customers were even encouraged not to have any more, because they were already too drunk.

As host clubs push further and further into mainstream Japanese society, I imagine that it's not as necessary to get customers to spend more as it may have been in the past, since more women from the middle class are visiting. With the young single women still living with and being taken care of by their parents, they might feel no pressure at all to spend more money, knowing that they can just get more from Daddy's wallet. So from what I know, I can say that it's not so much what the hosts do but rather a customer's own circumstances and willpower that determine whether they'll spend more.

So I hope this answers your questions! Sorry it's kind of long, but I just wanted to make sure I was being as detailed as I possibly can. I don't have any upcoming plans to visit any host clubs anytime soon, but I do want to visit a few in Osaka, to compare them to the ones I visited in Kabukicho last year. Whenever that happens I'll surely update.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Night Headbang

I just came back from a Nightmare concert.

My head hurts.
My neck hurts.
My back hurts.
I need to take off all of my jewelry.
I need to clean off all of my makeup.
I have to take a nice, warm shower.
I need to go to sleep.

Because I have work tomorrow.

But the concert was great. I made a video about it but I don't have time to upload it and all that stuff. Add it to my tab of things I need to blog about and upload this weekend (like Halloween, good grief!).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shopping Update #2

I ended up letting my purchases accumulate again. I've been so extremely tired and busy, juggling work and errands on weekdays and then either cleaning the apartment or going out to Kobe on the weekends.

Here's a few of my latest items:

A cool sweater I found at the used clothing store at Saty. It's pretty big so I suspect it might be a men's sweater. I bought this a while ago but I think this sweater was around 900 yen.

More freebies from women's magazines: a Paul & Joe Sister tote and pouch, and a Coach furoshiki.

At one of the anime goods shops in Sannomiya, I was surprised to find a capsule machine carrying keychains from Star Ocean EX, an anime based on the Star Ocean 2 RPG. I bought enough to complete two sets of 6 with some extras left over. They were 200 yen each.

Cute glass coasters I found at Daiso. 100 yen for a set of 2.

I was at Sofmap in Sannomiya and found these sticker machines selling NANA stickers. The sheets are actually pretty big, and cost 200 yen each.

I finally found a lunchbox right up my alley! This was in the clearance bin at the Loft department store, and cost about 1100 yen.

These purple and grey rose earrings are gorgeous! I discovered yet another accessory shop in Sannomiya called Marche. The tag says "Paris Kids," which is the name of a store in Harajuku that I visited frequently when I lived in Tokyo. The earrings were only 315 yen, which is a great deal!

Here's a collection of "Princess" hair care items that all came from Daiso. All of the items were 100 yen each, except for the large mirror the collapsible brush, and the regular brush, which were 210 yen each.

I wandered into the calendar section at Loft and came across this beautiful one by an artist name Kaori Wakamatsu. Each page is of a beautifully drawn character, and I fell in love with the collection instantly. The 12 pages come in a cardboard tube, and are A2 paper size (594 x 420 mm). The calendar was pretty pricey, at 2940 yen.

The old flats that I wore to Japan are in horrible shape and need to be thrown away, so I replaced them with this set of silver wedge pumps from Saty, which are pretty comfy and flexible. While I was there I also found a pair of dark silver mary jane pumps. Each pair was only 1000 yen, probably because they were on clearance.

I decided to try Tsubaki's line of Head Spa products, since they were on sale at the grocery store. A set of shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask treatment cost 1180 yen, and the extra cleansing clarifying shampoo cost 580 yen. Considering the regular price of a bottle of Tsubaki at 780-ish, 1760 yen for four products is a really good deal ^_^

I'll have more stuff coming up, whenever I have time. I've just been so exhausted lately...