How to Build a Monster

Level: JHS 1st grade

Time: about 1 class period

Materials: drawing paper, pens, pencils, coloring markers or crayons

I just observed a teaching demonstration for first grade JHS students. The target was teaching the difference between plural and non plural nouns (i.e. “two cats“, “three cats“, “one cat“). Japanese doesn’t have plural nouns, so the concept can be quite confusing for students. The tendency, therefore, is to dig deep into a lesson about English grammar with a class full of 11 and 12 year old kids.

I think I counted about 5 students sleeping, although the student teacher giving the lesson had tried her best to make the near 30 minute grammar lesson well-organized and fast-paced. But grammar is boring and hard to understand, and maybe only a special few teachers are able to get away with teaching a dense lesson about it. So let me tell you about a different way.

How to Build a Monster: Introduction

Note: You can do it in the same lesson, but a nice prep-lesson for this activity is to teach the students the body parts (head, arm, leg, eye, nose, mouth, ear, etc.) and how to spell them.

If you have that foundation down, then the class begins with a demonstration.

Draw a stick figure on the board with just the head and the body, like this:

Start off with this template

Ask the students what parts are missing. Get the students to say the words like “arm”, “eye,” etc. Then, if a student says “arm” draw one arm; if a students says “eye” only draw one eye. Do this until you have a stick figure with half of all his body parts (except the nose and mouth, of course), like this:

Only add half of the body parts

Then ask the students if they think the man is “okay.” Of course, the man isn’t okay because he only has one arm, leg, eye, ear, etc.).

Now it’s time to blow the kids’ minds. Tell them that when there is more than one of these things, you add an “s” to the end of word. Complete the stick figure and write the words next to it with the appropriate numbers, like this:

Blow your kids minds by telling them how to add the “s”

Wait for the collective shock to dissipate a little, then you can use your own methods for drilling this point a little with the kids (i.e. flash cards, etc.)

Main Activity

After drilling this concept, practicing pronunciation and so on, you can spend the rest of the time on the main activity, which is for each student to draw a monster and to list its attributes (i.e. how many arms, legs, eyes, etc. does it have?). Put your example monster on the board and count his various attributes as a class (a disguised review activity).

Now it is time for the students to draw their own monsters. You can give the students a blank piece of paper or a handout that you prepare yourself. The object is to draw a monster with multiple hands, arms, legs, etc. Spend about 10 – 20 minutes allowing the students to draw their monster.

When the students are getting close to finishing their monsters, you can stop the class tell them that they are going to describe their monsters using English. Tell them to flip their papers over or give them a separate worksheet. Tell them to write out sentences describing how many of each attribute their monster has. For example:

I have 1 head.

I have 10 arms.

I have 200 eyes, etc.

If it is a class that has trouble using English, you can use a worksheet with sentence templates that allow them to fill in the blanks (e.g. “I have _____ ______”)

Walk around the class, checking the students’ work, to make sure they are describing their monster correctly and to see if they are having any spelling or grammar issues.

You can finish the class by having a few students present their monsters to the class.

**You can spend another class to finish this “monsters project” by having the students color in their monster and describe it again. This follow-up activity shows the students how to use adjectives with plural nouns. For example, “I have two blue eyes” and “I have 6 green heads.”


I think it is important to remember that we are working with children when teaching 1st grade JHS students. Just 6 months ago they were in elementary school. There is plenty of time for them to listen to long lectures about English grammar. Starting too early on this course decreases student motivation for English and makes it harder for them to learn. With simple, creative activities like this, students can enjoy themselves while learning about English, and have something to show for it — a cool monster that they designed and described themselves. The lesson is flexible, so you can take the concept and use whatever topic you like and teach it whatever way suits you best.


  1. I definitely agree with you here. If you hit ichinensei with grammar lectures too soon, they’ll lose all their motivation for English. I like this idea because it is creative and gets students playing with English. I’m gonna share this with my JTE.

    ps great website. I check it almost every day now! ;)

  2. I guess at some level it is important to study grammar. I wish there were some way to avoid it altogether. It’s not possible, but activities like this do put it off. I also like what you’re getting at by saying that it is good for the students to play with English. Certain activities can activate the part of the brain that allows people to experiment while they learn. Especially with language, which is about creating different combinations of words (some work,some don’t) the kids need a chance to work with what they got and be okay with making mistakes. I’d like to see more of that experimenting with English in my classes. I want to think of more activities that allow us to do that.

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