The Interac Experience Part Four – Lesson Planning

Second and third weeks of my first year teaching at a Japanese High School, and it was time to get real. As easy as it was to create an introductory lesson, once it’s time to get down to teaching grammar, vocab and topics, suddenly BANG you are in a different world.

Some of the kids I taught in Georgia.

Some of the kids I taught in Georgia.

In Georgia I had taught English from scratch, to those who had an idea or knew the alphabet and sounds (and indeed the idea of what an alphabet is as opposed to characters) but in Japan there were text books and topics that wove together to present grammar structures, and very quickly you realise how different English is as a foreign language as compared to a first language. At school in Australia, I recall very little if any lessons strictly on grammar, in Japan, that was often how it was done and the lessons I was asked to prepare.

In some ways, that helps. You have a grammar structure you can use as your target language for the students to use by the end of the lesson. You can then work it into context, which can be easy or difficult. I soon decided that I would use the textbook sparingly. The Japanese teachers of English used it most lessons and so I needed to compliment not mirror what the students received the other 3-4 lessons a week when I wasn’t in the class room.

The biggest issue, though, is that no time during orientation was spent on learning to lesson plan. The biggest requirement we had was to take a page or two from a text book and make a lesson plan from that, week in week out I had to do that, yet neither at the week-long orientation nor the session in Morioka had that been broached with any dedication. (I do want to add that the next intake did spend more time on this, probably the most important, aspect of the job)

An example of the lesson requests sent to me from Interac.

An example of the lesson requests sent to me from Interac.

I struggled through the first month and a half before I started to find my feet in making lesson plans. Others found it even harder. I soon discovered that there was a balancing act to follow – keeping the Japanese teacher of English happy, trying to espouse the values and philosophy of Interac, being true to yourself and above all, trying to engage the students and deliver something that was both interesting and of value to them. Something that seemed reasonably simple before I arrived in Japan suddenly seemed complicated and occasionally stressful.

Start with the four basic language skills – Speaking, writing, reading and listening. A good lesson should encompass all four in some way. Some teachers will tell you that reading aloud is enough to count as ‘speaking’, which I disagree with. For me speaking and listening together is a process of responding to and in, and understanding the language.

Still, the issue is that reading is considered in Japan, the most important skill in a foreign language. And there is reason behind that, simply that reading is the way most students are likely to use English most of the time they need to – the internet for example. I would say if you can speak and write English, then reading will come somewhat naturally, at least for most students. But this is the way it is, and in High School it’s hard to get around it.

So, many of my lessons had a warm up activity, pre-reading preparation which sometimes included new words, drilling and explanation depending on the text, moving on to reading comprehension and then an activity focussed on expression or grammar. That’s a lot to cram into 50 minutes! And you really want to make the expression the focus.

The reading was sometimes something I would write, sometimes directly from the text, depending on the class and teacher. Some of the texts had a lot of difficult words for the students, so it could be tricky. The biggest issue with reading in lessons is that you can lose a portion of the class because it simply aint interesting, no matter how fun you try to make it. So, in a nutshell, there are the pitfalls of lesson planning for Japanese High School.

InteracLogo

When I did get a chance to do something wholly original,  or something that I could link to myself, it worked so much better and there was a greater feeling of fun. Don’t forget, lessons are in English, so difficult-to-explain activities can turn into a nightmare. I learnt that pretty quickly. Next week I will continue on with this train of thought and write about the need to mix it up and more.

Until then, I’m heading to a new continent tomorrow for the Sunday Spotlight, so don’t miss that, talking about travel tunes and writing about one of my most epic train journeys ever! May the journey never end!

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