Eikaiwa Tips

People from my Eikaiwa at Karaoke

These are some tips about teaching Eikaiwa that I wanted to share. Some of them I discovered relatively recently, and my lessons have become easier to plan/execute and better for my students.  I’m interested to hear what strategies and tips other people are using. Please comment below.

  • It might seem like a no-brainer, but find a good textbook to use which is at the appropriate level for your students and has a blend of speaking, listening, writing and reading activities. Ask your students what skills they would like to improve most, and you can buy special books that focus on areas or topics they are interested in (e.g. conversation, listening, business English, etc.). If you have a mix of different levels in a single class, I think it is best to use materials that never exclude lower-level students. I’ve found that using a lower level textbook is good even for higher-level students because I can ask extra questions and modify activities, so the material is a nice challenge for everyone. A textbook will run you 2,000 – 4,000 yen, but textbooks add structure and coherence to your lessons, and save you time scrounging materials from the internet. As far as English materials go, the internet has been pretty hit or miss for me. As many times as it has saved me, it has also returned materials that are out-of-date, mismatched or plain useless.
  • Depending on your class, finishing the day with a new useful phrase for them to use can add some levity to the end of a lesson and increase student motivation. Slang, idioms, common expressions, grunts, onomonopia are all great.
  • Tell them how you study Japanese and encourage them to try out your study habits. For instance, I like to keep a running list of things I want to learn, so that when I get the chance to ask a Japanese friend, I remember what it was I was struggling with. I tell my eikaiwa students to do the same and bring their lists to class.
  • At the start of class, instead of always asking about what students did recently, ask them if they learned any new English words or expressions — or if they spoke any English since the group last met (and if so, when, where, and what did they say?) It is an opportunity for them to teach other students new words, or recount a confusing encounter for clarification (which can be therapeutic, in a way)
  • Let students constantly know that the classroom is a safe place to make mistakes and speak lots of English. If you can get them thinking of themselves as actors learning to be Americans/Canadians/Australians/South Africans/etc. they may be more willing to take chances and thus learn more about English.
  • Judging from my own experience studying Japanese, I try to make a point of any special phrases or words I use in class, by stopping for a moment to ask, “Do you know what _______ means?” Even if higher students know it already, they can get a chance to teach the class a phrase, which is especially useful for lower-level students that didn’t catch the new word or phrase on the first hearing. It’s important to give explainations of these phrases in English. After all, English can speak for itself and we don’t always need direct translations to learn new things.

Elliott Hindman, Yamagata-shi


  1. Great article, thanks for the tips!

    I really agree with you about adding structure to Eikaiwa lessons. In my first class I asked my Eikaiwa students ‘what do you want to learn?’ and they said ‘how to speak English naturally, but we don’t want to learn tons of grammar or reading or writing.’ Nowadays, we pound plenty of grammar, and they love it! I think sometimes your Eikaiwa students may not even know what they really want!

    I like to sometimes bring my lessons from school into the Eikaiwa class if I have an extra fun activity. By far and away the most popular of all is JEOPARDY!!! I make categories like sentence scrambles, translation, what’s missing, charades, answer the question, and the infamous ‘Dan’s Choice.’ It takes a little time to think of the questions beforehand, but it makes for some of the funnest lessons ever.

    Dan from Tsuruoka

    • I’d like to try using Jeopardy in my Eikaiwa sometime. Do you use a computer or cards and boards you made yourself? The textbook can be fun, but it can also drag sometimes, especially for those students that aren’t there to learn lots of grammar. But the textbooks I bought this year have definetly made my life easier :)

      • Before Eikaiwa, I whip up a word doc listing the categories and the various questions for each. During the class I write the categories and money amounts like on the show except on a white board.

        I leave some space for writing on the side of the board because sentence scrambles and what’s missing problems often require me to write out a sentence.

        I give partial credit for close answers or to people who help the person whose turn it is.

        None of my students have ever heard of Jeopardy, but they love it! Especially the charades questions – I like to put in things like ‘AKB 48’ or ‘English.’ They don’t use English, but I think it helps develop communication skills that are essential for inter-cultural communication when you may not know how to say the word you mean.

        Dan from Tsuruoka

        • With the bad weather recently then the earthquake, my eikaiwa schedule has been pretty thoroughly disrupted. I think for our first lesson back (next month) I will try to play Jeopardy with them. I think it would be fun for them and a good way to break back into a routine. If it goes well, I’m thinking I might be able to use it as a good way to punctuate the course, like every 5 classes we play Jeopardy or something. Thanks for the tips!

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