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English in Elementary Schools

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 9 months ago

English in Elementary Schools

Roni Boring


Welcome to the world of Elementary School visits! I’ll be honest with you, elementary school visits require a lot more work on your part, and at the end of the day, they leave you utterly exhausted and drained, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you will have on the JET Program.


Role of the ALT


The role of an ALT is to teach English as well as to expose students to different peoples and cultures. And this is no different when working in an elementary school.


However, unlike at junior high schools, an elementary school ALT is (generally) the primary English teacher. The Japanese teachers will generally function as the assistant. Therefore, the ALT is responsible for creating the curriculum, planning the lessons, making all of the teaching materials, and teaching the classes.


But don’t worry…it’s not as bad as you may think! You end up doing really great fun stuff! I’ve made crafts, thrown a variety of parties, joined in sports days and festivals and did really interesting cultural exchange type activities. And the rewards for all your hard work are seen immediately…on the playground, in the hallways, at lunchtime and during cleaning time.


Elementary School Students


Elementary school students are some of the best students you will teach. They are always full of energy, eager to learn, and love it when their ALT comes to their school. They won’t be able to get enough of you and will treat you like the celebrity you always knew you were!


Elementary school students come in several different varieties. There are ones who are too shy to even tell you their name and others that want to communicate with you in the little bit of English that they do know. Of course, there are also those who just wouldn’t stop talking to you in Japanese, despite you not being able to understand 90% of what they’re saying. A lot of students (particularly the girls) are fervent gift givers…notes, pictures, trinkets, anything and everything! Then there are those who compete with one another to get your attention, particularly on the playground. Least we forget, the students who are unnaturally scared of you and either can’t take their eyes off of you or burst into tears at the sight of you. Perhaps the most insidious elementary school student you will come across is the touchy, feely “kancho”er. Be careful and beware.


Creating a Curriculum


Choosing a curriculum is the most important part of working at an elementary school. In most instances, the previous ALT will have created a curriculum for the current school year. Though don’t worry, you will have your chance to create your own in April, the beginning of the new school year. However, please note that in some instances, your school or your BOE may decide the yearly curriculum. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to make suggestions on how it could be improved.


Creating a curriculum is not as hard as it seems. Just keep in mind the following points.


Each lesson normally consists of a grammar point and several new vocabulary words. I’ve discovered that about 5 to 8 new words each lesson works well. Here is an example of the type of topics, grammar points, and vocabulary that can be taught.


Date Topic Grammar Point New Vocabulary
May Numbers 1-10
June Colors What color do you like? I like …… Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink, Purple, Orange, Black, White
July Fruits Do you like ……? Yes, I do./No, I don’t. Apple, Orange, Banana, Cherries, Grapes, Watermelon, Strawberries, Pineapple
Sept. Animals What’s this? It’s a …… Cat, Dog, Bear, Snake, Cow, Rabbit, Pig, Frog
Dec. Shapes Do you have a ……? Yes, I do./No, I don’t. Square, Rectangle, Circle, Triangle, Heart, Star, Club, Spade
Jan. Sports What sport do you play? I play…… Baseball, Basketball, Tennis, Volleyball, Soccer, Table Tennis
Feb. Review


Each lesson should present a topic that is appropriate for the ability of the class. This gives the students confidence that they can speak English. However, every once in awhile, put in a topic that is a bit more challenging.


Each lesson should build upon the previous one. Using the above example, the lesson about fruit should incorporate colors and numbers into the games/activities that are used. This will help your students’ to retain the material better.


Depending on how frequently you visit your elementary school, allow for 2 or 3 review lessons throughout the year. Students do need to be reminded of what they know.


Remember, all classes are different, so be flexible in your curriculum. For example, if a particular 6th grade class is not as adept as another 6th grade class, then make changes in the curriculum for that class.


A Typical Lesson


A typical lesson should consist of several parts: hello greetings, review of the previous lesson, introduction of new vocabulary and grammar point, practice using new material, sing a song/read a story book, goodbyes. It is a good idea to quickly establish a set pattern for each lesson to follow. You will find that students will learn better if they know what to expect from you.


Here’s an example lesson plan (using the before mentioned curriculum) teaching colors:


1. Greetings

a. Sing the “Hello Song”


2. Review Numbers 1-10

a. Flashcards and choral repetition

b. Bingo Game (quick game just for review)


3. Introduce new material

a. Colors—Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink, Purple, Orange, Black, White

b. Flashcards and choral repetition

c. Challenges (pick 3 or 4 students to recite the colors)

d. Color Touch game


4. Introduce new grammar point—What color do you like? I like……

a. Choral repetition

b. Challenges (pick 3 or 4 students to ask/answer the question)

c. “What color do you like?” Color Basket


5. Book—Little Red Riding Hood (your lesson will be enhanced by using a story book or song that relates to the topic)


6. Goodbyes (sing the “Goodbye Song")


Always plan your lessons early. Elementary school lesson planning is quite time consuming, because generally you have to do all the preparation. When your lessons for that day are finished, it is a good idea to hold a meeting with the elementary school teacher(s) about your next visit. Working out the details in advance will give you more preparation time. Of course, you should also contact the school again at least a week before your scheduled visit and verify the following information: the time you should arrive, the grade level(s) you will be teaching, the length of each class, the number of students in each class, any specific teaching requests, and lunch time procedures.


The Top 10 Elementary School DOs and DON’Ts


  • DO speak English. But use very simple English. DON’T speak Japanese. The homeroom teachers are there to help you in this regard.
  • DO play games that teach English. Every game can teach a bit of English (even if it is only a word or two!). DON’T play games just to play games.
  • DON’T use katakana to write out English words. Students need to learn how to correctly pronounce English words. Also DON’T translate your materials into katakana, hiragana, or kanji. This will hamper your students’ ability to learn English.
  • DO keep your lessons simple…this will negate the need for translations and katakana.
  • DO involve the homeroom teachers in demonstrations and games. Some homeroom teachers speak English, others don’t. However, the students always enjoy seeing their teacher try to use English and it can actually motivate them!
  • DO always bring prizes. Stickers are perhaps the best prizes. Other good prizes include: bookmarks, coins from your home country, your signature, and penny trinkets. DON’T use candy as prizes, unless you ask the school or BOE for permission.
  • DO always have an extra game or song with you. You never know when you will have an extra 5 minutes!
  • DO always be GENKI!! Elementary school is exhausting, but the more you put into it, the more the students will respond to your lesson.
  • DON’T worry if your lesson doesn’t go well. Some days will be brilliant; other days will be complete flops. As the old adage goes…”If you first don’t succeed, try, try again!” Also, if the homeroom teacher doesn’t initially understand the game when you explain it to them, don’t worry. The students always seem to pick up games faster than the teachers!
  • DO get to know your classes. Ask about what each class has previously learned, how frequently they have English lessons, and about the general ability level of each class (i.e. do they learn very quickly or are there several lower level students in the class that may learn at a slower pace, etc.). DON’T assume that each class in the same grade level is of the same ability.
  • DO create a folder/notebook for each of your elementary schools containing information for each class about what they have learned during each of your lessons. Keep it updated. It’s also helpful to write a short evaluation after each lesson. This will help you improve your teaching style and the lessons that you plan.

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