Throwing out the Flat Carboard-Cutout Characters

Something that bugs me about the kinds of characters who appear in language textbooks, almost wherever one goes, is that all of the characters are always the same flat, smiling, sorry excuses for cardboard cut-outs who are completely interchangeable and completely forgettable. It’s no wonder students forget their names and teachers constantly have to ask, “Who is this?” “And who is this?” “And this?” The only difference between Ichiro and Kevin from New Horizon, is that Ichiro’s hair is black and Kevin’s hair is red. Otherwise they are the same person.

This was the inspiration behind the Zombie English cards. I wanted to create characters for students that were memorable and who they could connect with. So I created back-stories for each of the Zombies.

the depth of a character can be demonstrated by the types of adjectives we use to describe them. The adjectives we can use to describe their character, the better. The more adjectives we use to describe their clothes, their hair, and so on, the flatter.

the depth of a character can be demonstrated by the types of adjectives we use to describe them. The adjectives we can use to describe their character, the better. The more adjectives we use to describe their clothes, their hair, and so on, the flatter.

“Frankie” likes cheese and fine wine. “Lazlo” is a would-be sports star who lost his chance to play in the NFL because he was bitten. “Harold” is a sloth and a glutton. He’s chasing after a sandwich he was never able to eat before he was bitten.

After the class where I introduced the cards, I started telling students more about each of the characters. Although I had trouble telling 1st grade students more about these characters, the 3rd graders were really intrigued. They could understand the stories better and they were genuinely happy to hear more about them. Some students even wanted to change their cards after hearing the back-story. They connected with a classroom character possibly for the first time and wanted to have that character with them.

To learn more about the character back-stories of “Frankie,” “Lazlo” and “Harold”, please check out the PDF below. But please feel free to make up your own names and back-stories for these zombies if you wish.

Zombie English” Character Back-stories (PDF download)

As for the other characters from the textbook. I see nothing wrong with inventing back-stories for them as well. These guys are paper thin in terms of character depth, so anything we can add to their story is going to be an improvement. Your students will be grateful and they will probably learn more.

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Clever Way to Practice Using “Can you~?”

It’s easy. Simply adapt the game of “go fish” and replace the question, “Do you have~?” with “Can you~?” Students will reply with a “Yes” or a “Yes, I can” if they have the card in question and vice versa. Same rules of “Go Fish” apply, unless you want to make up your own set of rules!

go fish card

example of one of the cards in the “can you~?” go fish game card deck

“Go Fish” has been a huge part of my curriculum this year especially because I have been able to play it in small groups of students were I can direct the game for students and encourage the use of “table talk” English as the game progresses. Never has it been easier to teach students important phrases like, “oh man!” or “Too bad!” or “That’s lucky!” There are a lot of other benefits that I will leave to you to discover. Now’s a great chance for you to start because first grade JHS students have either just learned or are about to learn about this important grammar point.

example card 2

the deck has 52 cards, 13 4-set pairs and uses 4 verbs: cook, play, eat and sing

I’m trying out the new set of cards using “Can” now because of this success. You can download a pdf of the cards template I made and start using them at your school. You’ll need to make 6 sets for a whole class (30 students in groups of 5-6) or you can just make one deck to play with kids during lunch break. Gluing the cards to a piece of construction paper is a good idea.

Get the free “Can you~?” Go Fish cards now (PDF version)

This pdf is 6 pages and one printing will give you the complete set of cards. You can also download the Hoyle card backs below to make your cards seem more realistic.

Hoyle Card Backs (PDF version)

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Teaching “Taller, Larger, Longer” to 2nd Graders

Right about now, students are learning how to use comparatives using “er” at my school. This is a powerpoint I created with a co-worker that always has an impact with students. It shows students how to make comparisons by attaching “er” to adjectives (e.g. bigger, taller, faster, etc.).

Time: about 15 or 20 minutes

Level: 2nd grade JHS

Which is stronger, Godzilla or King Kong?

DOWNLOAD: Let’s Compare! – Powerpoint

Key Points about this powerpoint

  • It compares international landmarks, raising student awareness about the rest of the world.
  • It is presented in a quiz-show style so students can enjoy the thrill of guessing and discovery.
  • There is a section at the end where students can personalize the learning point by choosing between two things (e.g. math and English) and using the grammar to tell others about their preferences.

 Variation:

  • The PowerPoint uses Japanese translations for all the sentences — something which may be helpful to students. I have a feeling, though, that given the right class, it could be done without it.

Teach Students Survival Phrases With Zombies

sampleze3 These Survival English cards feature 3 original zombies and 5 survival phrases for your students to use in and out of the English classroom. sampleze2 They give students the power to find out new information by asking for the spellings and meanings of words through English. They also help students take their misunderstandings head-on by asking people to repeat what they said — or speak slower.sampleze1 Our zombies, “Frankie,” “Lazlo” and “Harold,” make these important phrases memorable and, oddly enough, bring their usage to life. Students can have a choice of which zombie card they get, or they can collect all three.

Download the free PDF

For ease of printing, the PDF is written in black and white. There are 9 cards per sheet, which means that you could print out 4 pages and have enough for an entire class of students. Hand them out at school or to your Japanese friends. These are 5 phrases that every English speaker must know.

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Illustrating the Differences Between “Fun”, “Exciting” & “Enjoy”

Today one of my co-workers asked me about the differences between these words because students often confuse them when trying to translate the word “tanoshii” from Japanese. I made this “learn by example” sheet, which uses simple example sentences to illustrate common ways we use these words.

preview of the pdf

the “w/out elliott” version below leaves blanks for you to fill in your own name and draw your own face in the third bubble.

Download the PDF for free (with Elliott)

Download the PDF for free (w/out Elliott)

If you like this material please tell your friends about it.

Make Speaking to your Students Easier with Eikaiwa Cards

Eikaiwa cards logo

Communication skills are needed now more than ever. Help your students build them with these easy to use cards.

I carry a pack of these eikaiwa cards with me everywhere. They are perfect for striking up conversations with students and getting them to learn communication skills.

On each card there are 5 questions related to a theme, like “comics,” “sports,” and so on. I have a student select a card and then I proceed to ask them the questions on the list, making variations as needed for skill level or coherence. When I’m finished, I can either give the card to the student as a collector’s item, or let the student ask me some questions.

There are three question packs with about 36 cards. Please download them today and start using them with your students.

Question Pack 1 (PDF)

Question Packs 2 (PDF)

Question Packs 3 (PDF)

Logo and Description (PDF) – Fixed

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Using these cards gives students a chance to learn more English and practice speaking in more natural ways.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

The quick description on this card, lets students know what Eikwaiwa Cards are all about and what to do when they don’t understand a question.