How to Teach English for Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs)


How to Teach English for Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs)

In Japan, native English speakers are seen as effective English teachers, but in most cases, new Assistant Language Teachers, or ALTs, find that being a native speaker doesn’t automatically qualify them as English teachers. Just as teachers in English-speaking countries need to earn a degree or certificate to teach English as a Foreign Language, or EFL, ALTs also need to know how to teach English.

Still, ALTs in Japan will not spend over $200 or 120 hours of EFL training on becoming better teachers. Even murky pedagogy books and online texts are daunting for ALTs looking for the quick fix. Good thing that there’s this little guide for curious (and uncertified) ALTs.

What are my students’ language levels?

“My kids are junior high school students, so they’re intermediate level.” Any seasoned, certificate-holding teacher would shake their heads at that statement. In any language, students are put into different levels of English by how much English they know, not their grade levels. Many of my senior high school students were beginners even after 6 years of English study.

How do you determine the language level of your students? If you’ve already done a few classes but you’re still uncertain about your students’ language abilities, look at the list below, keeping in mind some of your students’ mistakes and problems in English.

  1. Beginners level: If learners were blank slates with a few illegible words scrawled across the surface, these slates would be beginners. They have zero to little English knowledge.
  2. Elementary level: These learners can make sentences on their slates, but only on really easy things such as nouns (i.e. cat, dog, baseball) and simple verbs (i.e. play, walk, run).
  3. Low/pre-intermediate level: Students at this level can say what’s on their slates and understand what’s on the slate sometimes, but they need an eraser in their hand at all times. Even with basic sentence structures, they will make lots of mistakes.
  4. Intermediate level: These learners can say and understand what’s on the slate sometimes, even if there are some more in-depth ideas. Still, they need the eraser, but they aren’t as dependent on it. They can make sentences on their own such as “I can speak English fluently.”)
  5. Upper intermediate level: Students here can communicate what’s on the slate without looking at it, but there are a few mistakes that need to be fixed. They are able to say, “I saw teacher at McDonald’s yesterday,” though they will forget the “the” or “my” before “teacher”.
  6. Advanced level: Learners don’t need a slate or an easy-to-grab eraser anymore. They are fluent enough to speak and/or write in English without making many errors (“Unit 1: Teachers and Learners” 7).

You can also gauge students through questions to Japanese teachers by showing them English sentences and asking, “Can the students make these sentences on their own?” A sympathetic “no” or a gleeful “yes” will help you identify your students’ language level.

After you find your students’ language level, you can uncover worksheets and activities that better fit your students and your lesson plans. Some EFL websites such as and ESL Games use these language levels to separate worksheets and games with the same target grammar.

How do I plan a lesson?

Whether you’re writing down a plan (which you should for later reference) or you’re thinking it, lesson planning is a crucial part of teaching in any subject. In EFL, it is the brain of English class—without it, you, your co-teacher, and your students will be wondering what everyone is doing in class.

In planning an EFL lesson, there are teaching patterns to make the class flow smoothly from learning and practicing to producing the target English. First, there are 3 stages for teaching EFL. The first stage is the Engage Stage, which is an introduction of the target English through skits, clips, items, role-plays or pictures. For example, you and your co-teacher may perform a skit for introduction phrases such as “Where are you from?” This stage is a way to get students interested in the target English and expose them to how the actual English can be used in real time. If the students are learning grammar, utilize the Engage Stage to do quick games that practice words they will use later.

The second stage is the Study Stage where the target English is formally taught. JET Program ALTs won’t be responsible for this area as stated in the JET Program Handbook, but private ALTs and elementary school ALTs will face this task regardless of their contracts. In teaching English grammar, build off of the Engage Stage words or games. For example, if students know nouns (i.e. cat) and simple verbs (i.e. jump), they can learn auxiliary verbs (i.e. The cat can jump). This is also the best place to predict students’ mistakes (i.e. The cat can jumping). Make sure to point out the differences between an incorrect sentence and a correct sentence.

The final stage is the Activate Stage, which is for practicing and producing the target English. Here is where students should interview or use the target with each other. In most cases, this is also where students produce the target, so it is very important to clearly explain the activity, do examples, and ask Instruction Check Questions, or ICQ’s (“Do you understand?” is not a good ICQ. Use, “What’s step one?”) (Burns).  Teachers monitor students and their English during the activity. In this stage, if students are making the same mistakes, you should inform your co-teacher about this as they’ll be likely to make these same mistakes in the future.

Using the Engage-Study-Activate format, or sometimes called the Present-Practice-Produce teaching sequence (J. Richards 54), is the most basic way of lesson planning in EFL. There are other teaching patterns, but many Japanese English teachers are familiar with this format, and some may prefer this method.

Does my plan go over the time limit?

Now that you’ve identified your students’ language levels and learned the different stages in EFL, time will be your greatest enemy. “How do I teach everything I want on this grammar in 50 minutes?” Look at your lesson plan and write how long each stage and activity will take in minutes. Take care to include the time to explain, demonstrate, and question each stage or activity.

For example, if you are going to play a spelling game where students race to write an English word correctly, an explanation (“We will play a spelling game. It’s a race.”) and a demonstration (“Mr. Tanaka is Team 1. I am Team 2.”) should take 3 minutes while the example round with students and the real gameplay will take around 8 minutes. Total time for activity is 12 minutes. “Wait, that’s supposed to be 11 minutes.” Always plan an extra minute or two for what I call transition time. Between each stage and activity, there needs to be a little prep time. If students are told to wait for too long, they will drift off, and you and co-teacher will have to try your hardest just to coax them back. On the opposite end of the spectrum, playing a game or doing an activity for too long will bore students. Shoot for 10- to 15-minute activities.

The Study Stage usually takes around 20 minutes, depending on the teacher, so during that lengthy time, walk around and help students. But if you’re an elementary school ALT, you’re more than likely to be the main teacher because the homeroom teachers don’t speak English. Still, the timing applies to these cases—give the repetitive and pictorial Study Stage no more than 20 minutes. No matter what happens in class, be flexible with the time. If you rush or pack too much information in the Study Stage, your students’ brains might explode, making the entire 50 minutes completely useless.

Once you’ve got your lesson plan done, it should look like this:

# Phase Timing Procedure
1 Engage

(Start with words. Students usually know these.)

8 – 10 minutes Translation Race: Teachers will say a word. One person from each line (team) will put their team’s number on the translated word. (Example: Jd says, “playing” and students must race and put their number on the word “している”).
2 2 minutes Give worksheet to students. Students will write the words from dictionary form (“run”) to progressive tense (“running”).
3 Study

(Target grammar with words students know.)

8 minutes Hideaki will explain the grammar and students will fill in the blanks on their worksheets. Jd walks around and helps students. Hideaki will also explain the question form using present progressive tense.
4 7 minutes Criss Cross: All students will stand up. Teachers will say a sentence using the grammar (Example: Jd says, “I am playing piano” and a student will answer, “私はピアノをしています”). The student who can translate the sentence can sit down.
5 Activate

(Activity using target grammar and words.)

20 minutes Sugoroku: Jd and Hideaki will explain the activity using gestures and pictures. Students will play rock-paper-scissors (じゃんけん). Winner will ask a question using the grammar point (Example: “Who is flying?”). Loser will find the character and answer, “Anpanman is flying.” The loser will sign the winner’s box. Now the winner can move to the next box.
(When students finish early or when most students are finished with Sugoroku) Funny Animals: Students will take 2 pictures with animals doing human things. They will glue the animals to their paper and make 2 English and Japanese sentences from the pictures.
Leeway Time: 3 minutes

After 3 years of teaching 7 junior high schools and 2 senior high schools, I’ve learned that how long students are sitting is very important. If students sit still for more than 10 minutes, they start to daydream, talk, or the worst, sleep during the class. The best way to combat the sleepy nature in sitting schoolchildren is to make them stand or do mini games during the Study Stage. Sometimes, I do Criss Cross (立ってよこ, or tatte yoko) after the Study Stage to give slower students a chance to catch up and to gauge how well the students on a whole have learned the target English. This and other mini games get the students to their feet as well, breaking the monotony of the lecture teaching style.

After finding the students’ language levels, picking the activities for your lesson plans, and timing each stage, you must ask yourself one more thing: do the games and activities use teacher-to-student interactions or are they student-to-student interactions? In EFL, student-to-student interactions are required—no matter how “shy” or quiet your students seem, they must talk or work with each other using the target English. Interviews, rock-paper-scissors games, and interactive BINGO worksheets will get your students moving around and practicing what they just learned.

Your final lesson plan should look like the following:

# Phase Timing Interaction Teacher Procedure
1 Engage

(Start with words. Students usually know these.)

8 – 10 minutes Teacher-Student ALT and Mr. Tanaka Translation Race: Teachers will say a word. One person from each line (team) will put their team’s number on the translated word. (Example: Jd says, “playing” and students must race and put their number on the word “している”).
2 2 minutes Teacher- Student ALT and Mr. Tanaka Give worksheet to students. Students will write the words from dictionary form (“run”) to progressive tense (“running”).
3 Study 1

(Target grammar with words students know.)

8 minutes Teacher-Student Mr. Tanaka Hideaki will explain the grammar and students will fill in the blanks on their worksheets. Jd walks around and helps students who aren’t writing.
4 5 minutes Teacher-Student ALT (and Mr. Tanaka, if needed) Criss Cross: All students will stand up. Teachers will say a sentence using the grammar (Example: Jd says, “I am playing piano” and a student will answer, “私はピアノをしています”). The student who can translate the sentence can sit down.
5 Activate 1

(Activity using target grammar and words.)

10 minutes Student-Student ALT and Mr. Tanaka Sugoroku: Jd and Hideaki will explain the activity using gestures and pictures. Students will play rock-paper-scissors (じゃんけん). Winner will ask a question using the grammar point (Example: “Who is flying?”). Loser will find the character and answer, then sign in the box. Now the winner can move forward.
6 Study 2

(Correcting any mistakes.)

10 minutes Teacher-Student ALT and Mr. Tanaka Funny Animals: Students will take 2 pictures with animals doing human things. They will glue the animals to their paper and make 2 English and Japanese sentences from the pictures.
7 Activate 2


target grammar)

5 minutes Student ALT and Mr. Tanaka Original Sentence: Students will draw their own picture and write their own sentence in English and Japanese.
Total time: 50 minutes

As mentioned before, the goal of this lesson, as is for all EFL lessons, is for students to produce an original sentence using the target English. But they can’t jump into it—think skydiving without a parachute. They’ll surely crash into a sea of jumbled English. Instead of ending the lesson at the first Activate Stage, insert another Study Stage between the first Activate Stage and the second Activate Stage, easing students into their original sentences with several references to the target English.

In this lesson, I gave each student small pictures of animals doing human-like things (i.e. squirrels with cameras, monkeys studying, cats eating hamburgers), and they made sentences from what they saw in the pictures. Once the teachers and I checked their funny animal sentences, we tell them to make their own sentences. At this point, students have gone from memorized verbs and nouns to a full sentence using those terms. Using different games and activities, they gained confidence in producing the target English in an original sentence.

Now that there is a simplified guide for teaching EFL, ALTs without EFL training or certification will have no excuses in making more effective and memorable lessons in Japan.


  • Burns, Lucas. How to Teach English (ESL): The ultimate guide to teaching English as a Second Language. Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014. Ebook.
  • Clump, A. 2007. Examining the Role of Assistant Language Teachers on the JET Programme within the Context of Nihonjinron and Kokusaika: Perspectives from ALTs. Masters Thesis, McGill University, Montreal. 40-41, 50,75 p. PDF file.
  • Houghton, Stephanie Ann and Damian J. Rivers. Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education. Vol.151. Bristol: Multilingual Matters,2013. 168. Print.
  • International TEFL and TESOL Training. Unit 1: Teachers and Learners. 2011. PDF file.
  • Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 54. Print.

Manga materials website offers thousands of reference poses for budding artists to download

Source: Manga materials website offers thousands of reference poses for budding artists to download

Jade’s Escape from Japan: Last Night in Okinawa


Last Night in Okinawa

Japanese businessmen with too many drinks and skewed neckties watch me walk up a block of squat business plazas and timeworn bars, most with red lanterns swinging in their wooden doorways. This is Naha City, the capitol of Okinawa, three hours by plane from Japan’s famous capitol, three decades behind what people would call Japan when Tokyo comes into a conversation. Even the powerlines, which have no intention of migrating underground, provide background noise to the drunken businessmen and the beckoning shop owners in this expensive drinking sector of Naha. The men enter and exit their doors, some stumbling with tomato faces and smiles into waiting taxis.

This is my last night in Okinawa, and I walk next to my best friend, a Japanese soccer player who became my first friend in Okinawa five years ago. We were both teachers, me in the loose sense as an Assistant Language Teacher and him as my coordinator who spoke fluent English with a New Zealand flare. Though he left English teaching a few months later, we remained brother and sister in the islander sense, and whenever we saw each other’s family members at the mall, we were meeting another relative, an extended vein from our friendship.

Now, even after five years, I notice Japanese men trying to pry me from my place next to him—seeing a tall Japanese man in a casual shirt and chinos next to a black woman walking in this area is rare, unless this American and hondoujin are lost. This is our area, our yen is better here. Your yen is better over there where you turned off International Street. At those guys, I make eye contact, and they quickly turn their eyes elsewhere. Wherever yen was going to be spent, tonight was my night to let someone else do the spending. I, as a returnee to the States, was not allowed to dirty my own farewell party with my own cash.

My friend leads me to a wooden, four-story business building that looks as tan and old as the other buildings we passed. We go up a flight of wooden stairs and duck under a curtain to enter what my friend calls “my brother’s work”. The shop, a small but clean sushi bar, boasts three tatami areas with traditional floor tables and zabuton, or colorful Japanese cushions. Wooden doors, wooden pillars, and wooden countertops provide the aesthetics rather than hanging paintings or woodblock prints. My friend and I sit at the counter, and from an open doorway with a white curtain, his brother emerges in a white sushi chefs outfit. It is my first time to see him in four years, but through my friend, I always know where he is working. He is shorter than my friend by a head, but his small eyes and humor resemble my friend’s. Before they exchange a handshake, he looks surprised to see me. “Long time no see,” he says with a shy smile. Unlike his brother, he is reserved and gracious in his demeanor.

But it’s my friend who teaches me about the life of being a sushi chef. “Being a sushi chef,” he tells me after we have wiped our hands and cheered over a glass of chuuhai, “takes a lot of training. When we were kids, my brother was always shaping rice with his hands.” Only the best traditional sushi, which consists of a select cut of fish, a dab of wasabi, and a thumb-sized amount of formed rice, could lead sushi chefs into stardom in the industry. “Every day, chefs have to make $500 to $700 a night for the shop owners. Once they make a certain amount of money for the owners, the chefs can move on to owning their businesses.” He is proud of his younger brother, watching him deliberate over the rows of sliced fish in front of us, and in a way, I hold that same pride for this young chef.

The sushi looks different than the usual sushi I used to eat from the market or in a restaurant chain like Hamazushi. The fish are colorful and thick, hearty even, but easy to chew while the hint of wasabi lacks the sharpness of typical sushi, emphasizing the flavors of the fish and the shaped rice as a tasty unit. As I chew the second sushi, I suddenly realize why I feel as if I had skipped something: I did not dip it in soy sauce. It is completely unneeded.

My friend’s brother places sushi after sushi in front of us, lapsing into English for the fishes’ names and joking in Japanese with my friend. We get another drink, and it starts to wash away my senses. I laugh a little too hard, smile a little too much, eat the delicious handcrafted sushi a little too fast. I want to remember the warm feeling that both the chuuhai and Okinawa had given me for five years. People here are warm, and even those with cold interiors have no choice but to obey Japanese etiquette. When Okinawan people speak to me, it feels as if I’ve come home after a long absence, and they’re gently easing me into what I forgotten. Five years ago, I was surprised by this feeling, and every year, I renewed my contract to get closer to it, something akin to my Filipino home in the States. Other colleagues remarked their envy when I admitted I hardly felt homesick in years.

Between the second drinks and red snapper sushi, three Japanese people sit at the bar next to me. Immediately, one of the drunk women says, “You look like a famous singer.” For a while, everyone’s stumped. It’s when our last sushi arrives that the lady announces, “Diana Ross!” For the remaining twenty minutes there, she and her two friends address me as the former Supreme vocalist until my friend bids his brother goodnight and pays the bill.

“Goodbye, Diana Ross!” the three drunk birds say before we disappear down the stairs and into the warm summer streets. Now less business suits haunt the plaza doorways, and the taxis line the curbs. This is their time to strip drunken workers of their last yen. We avoid them and walk to a close-by Family Mart to get some cheap alcohol. At 2 o’clock in the morning, the clerk looks at us with an eyebrow quirked above his glasses. “There might by a typhoon tomorrow,” it says, but his thin lips only utter, “259 yen.”

When we get outside, the wind has picked up, flinging lose plastic bags and what little trash adorn the entire city towards the south. My friend and I cheer and drink our alcohol. As the night grows cooler and windier, our conversation—his kids, my husband, our jobs, five years of being an American sister and a Japanese Okinawan brother—turns into something warmer and sadder. Tonight, I think, let’s drink and eat before it gets too sad. As the lights in some stores dim and metallic doors slide over their shops, my friend and I stand up and smile at each other.

My last night allows me to return to a pair of eyes that can see Okinawa’s beautiful islands, see its people in their chinos and suits, and appreciate looking at all of them together in one place.

Jade’s Escape from Japan


Jade’s Escape from Japan

So I went to Japan 5 years ago to escape the American recession and lifestyle as well as my mother and live out my dream of working in Japan. Now that my 5 years are up and I’m back in the States, life should be better…But there are tons of things people didn’t warn me about when it came to re-adjusting to my home country.

The Constant Stomachaches. In Japan, I became a vegetarian (from July 2014), and since my husband returned to the U.S. first, I could adjust my diet every month to a lifestyle teetering on veganism. I eliminated most salts, refined sugars, and fats from my food by planning, measuring, and cooking every meal, and in 4 months, I lost around 33 pounds (15 kg). The return to America cost me dearly–in a week, I gained 10 pounds (4.5 kg). Everything I eat, even without meat, makes my stomach flip upside down. And it doesn’t help that my husband isn’t considerate of my new eating lifestyle because he isn’t vegetarian. Maybe part of my stomachaches are from stress.

The Wonderful “Gaijin-ism”. Where I lived in Japan, there were few gaijin, or foreigners. When I did see a foreigner, my first thought was, “Gaijin!” That’s how few and rare foreigners are in Japan save for the heavily-populated cities. Back in the U.S., I had to stop myself from being surprised by “foreigners”. Everyone, including myself, aren’t foreigners, so I’m in the middle of re-training my brain to think, “People!”

The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. I had a job and an apartment in Japan for 5 years. Now I’ve got job history and a former apartment that’s already passed to my successor, but no employment or space of my own. I have to depend on my husband’s family before I can look to getting a place, and the job hunt for something I actually want–a position in the writing industry–still makes me ask for help from my in-laws. I’m suddenly a dependent, and it makes me feel small and unreliable. I thought being in Japan would make me more independent, but in returning to America, I find myself in a worse situation than before I left the country.

The Unhomely Home. I got no warning about coming home when you’re not really home. The U.S. doesn’t feel familiar to me anymore. I look at the people and the stores and the houses, and I just think, “I want to go home.” My Okinawan apartment and the places I frequented there pops up in my head, and suddenly I’m finding home to be a far away place in my memories. Part of this foreign feeling comes from my immediate family leaving California. I can’t see my mom or brothers, and it really makes me sad. With the ensuing stomachaches and uncomfortable lifestyle, I just want something familiar, something normal, and that was my family. When I want to eat my mom’s soup because I have stomach pains or I want to laugh with my brothers, I can’t.

The Lost Relationship(s). What kills me is the one thing I’ve left behind: missing someone. I made many friends in Okinawa, and even though I’ve said in past posts that Japanese people are hard to accept foreigners, the friends I made accepted enough of me to let me into beautiful and loving relationships. I just knew that when I got on the plane, I’d never know if I’d see them again. Sure, there’s email, but it’s not the same as facing them at a table in Mr. Donuts or Spicy Kitchen and saying, “How’s it going?” Craving someone’s words or smiles or stories makes me feel as if I’ve lost something really precious in my life.

After 5 years, I’m saying bye to my apartment…hopefully (?_?)

The Cultural Cross-Pollination of Shōjo Manga

Jd Banks:

This speaks volumes!

Originally posted on Contemporary Japanese Literature:

Natasha Allegri Madoka PuppyCat

On January 18 of 2015, Ed Chavez, the Marketing Director at manga publisher Vertical, replied to a Twitter user’s question on regarding whether manga is becoming a niche entertainment industry outside of Japan. Chavez’s response was a definite “maybe.” After stating that shōnen manga is selling just as well – if not better – than it always has, Chavez added the caveat that, “Unlike the 00’s, where a shojo boom introduced a whole new demographic to manga, there hasn’t been a culture shifting movement recently.” Johanna Draper Carlson, one of the most well-respected and prolific manga critics writing in English, responded to Chavez’s assessment on her blog Comics Worth Reading. She agreed with him, adding, “I find myself working harder to find series I want to follow. Many new releases seem to fall into pre-existing categories that have already demonstrated success: vampire romance, harem fantasy, adventure quests…

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Okinawa: A Journey of Discovery

Jd Banks:

Something about the place I’m living!

Originally posted on 上り口説 Nubui Kuduchi:

I was just poking around YouTube, and happened upon this series, “Okinawa: A Journey of Discovery.” It is, I think, produced in part by the Okinawa Prefectural Government, and it is indeed rather touristy and cheesy in some respects – the series follows a group of seven Westerners with no previous experience/knowledge in Japan at all (let alone Okinawa), learning about Okinawa largely from the perspective of simply being interested, open-minded, travelers on a cool vacation.

So, yeah, it sort of has a “reality TV” feel, of these seven young people just having an adventure, and facing various “challenges” on each episode. The series also reinforces the image of Okinawa as tourist destination, as vacation destination, and I suppose that’s the point… but, at least it’s not emphasizing the resorts and beaches, but rather, devotes episodes to music, dance, food, and so forth. I wish they had spent more time…

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