Fake Hamburgers

Do you want fries with that?

These are some fake hamburgers and apple pies we made for teaching the “ordering at a restaurant” lesson from the first year New Horizon book. We set up a counter and the supplies and had the students act out original scene with these props. They could order what they wanted and the cashier had to give the right order total in dollars.

Using props is, admittedly, something I don’t get to do as often as I like because not every lesson is suited for it. But to make the classroom into a stage of sorts where students can act out a drama and truly think and feel the situation the language is being used in, is really where the English classroom ought to always be. If only students could think of the English classroom like this more often — and we teachers could give them the tools and motivation to make it so — I bet people could learn English a lot faster.

Believe it or not, small props like these can revolutionize an otherwise dull and mindless English lesson. Because when we are acting, the production of English probably gets as real to daily life as it can in a classroom.

Go Fish Pt. 2

About 20 people have emailed me asking for the materials and templates for the playing cards to the Go Fish game customized for teaching “Do you have any…?” to elementary and JHS students. Since it is pretty popular I decided to upload the files for download. Click on the individual thumbnails do download the card files. Print the images on A4 paper. Enjoy! Click Here to Download the Flashcards


Tip: For the image files, use microsoft image gallery and use the print menu to print to A4 size paper. Alternatively you can copy and paste the files into microsoft word and print from there.


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.

Teaching What’s that? What’s this?

You may remember this idea from last year’s Mid-Year Seminar in Tendo City. This is an activity for first grade JHS classes adapted from Ryan Hagglund at My English School.

Ryan’s idea was to create a real situation for using the phrase “What’s this/that?” in as natural a way as possible. The solution was to present a very strange image that demands explanation, tell the students to use the key pharase “What’s that?!?”, then wisper the answer into the ear of any student that uses the key phrase. Presented right, without much of an explanation, you’ll have a room full of kids shouting “What’s that?!? What’s that?!?” as loud as they can.

I have come up with a slight variation on this presenation that works well with team-teaching as well as a simple game for the students to play to consolidate the lesson. It involves drawing frustratingly badly drawn pictures on the board.  Paired with the lesson from the New Horizon 2nd year text book, it makes for a very interactive and enjoyable lesson.

The Procedure:

Time: about 10 minutes per activity/game, ~3o minutes altogether.

Level: JHS 1st grade and elementary 5th or 6th if simplified.

  • Write the key phrase “What’s that?” on the board in big letters. Check the meaning of the phrase quickly and tell the students that it is the “KEY PHRASE” today.
  • Then tell the students that you and the JTE are going to draw pictures on the board, but that you are very bad at drawing. Take about 5 seconds and draw a picture like this on the board:

Is it a hippo? A toupee? A sandwich?

  • Wait for the collective “Eeeeeeee!!” To die down as the students try to figure out what to do next. Then when the first student figures out to use the key phrase and says “What’s that?”, run over to him or her and whisper the answer in their ear. Repeat with other students that shout “What’s that?!?” until everyone in the class has figured out that this picture is in fact an elephant.
  • Return to the board and point at the picture. Say “What’s this?” and have the students shout the answer as a class: “IT’S A ELEPHANT!”
  • Switch off with the JTE until each of you have drawn about 2 indecipherable pictures on the board and gone through the same procedure as before.
  • Afterward, practice saying the two phrases with the students and explain the difference quickly if necessary.
TIP: Whether the class is large or small it is good if you get the students to get into table groups of 3 to 6 depending on the size of the class. For various reasons it makes the presentation more fun, easy and effective.

Now for the Game and changing to “What’s this?”

Now that the students have learned the phrase “What’s that?” and used it in a very realistic way, they can play two mini-games where they get a chance to draw pictures for themselves and use the phrase “What’s this?” in a similar context.

  • Have students form pairs and hand out small slips of paper about the size of a 3×5 card.
  • Tell students that they will have 10 seconds to draw a picture for their partner. Both students will draw a picture at the same time. Make sure to count fast because the point is to rush them so that they will draw very bad pictures, too. You’ll be surprised at the intricate masterpieces they are capable of drawing if given a proper 10 seconds, thereby obviating the need for the question.
  • Explain that they will exchange pictures and play janken. The winner starts the mini-dialogue, which looks like this:
Student A: Excuse me, what’s this? (pointing at the picture)
Student B: It’s a _______.
Student A: Oh, I see…
Student B: Excuse me, what’s this? (pointing at the picture)
Student A: It’s a _______.
Student B: Oh, I see…
  • Have students repeat this mini-game with their partner about 2-3 times.
  • You can walk around the classroom while the students are playing and ask the students “What’s this?” while pointing at their picture to give them a bit of extra practice while waiting for other pairs to finish.
  • Since students are only given about 5 seconds to draw a picture, before  you say “GO!” and start counting down from 10 you may want to ask the students “Idea. Okay?” or something else that is simple and easy to understand.
Note: “It’s a ____” and “Oh, I see” are very good to use in this dialogue because the first year JHS students will have just learned these phrases in the textbook.

Game 2

After the students have finished drawing pictures and exchanging with their partners they can now get up, walk around the room and practice this same dialogue with many different friends. The rules are similar to the last game with this 1 variation:

  • When they exchange the card with their friend after playing Janken, they hold onto the card. That way they are using new cards each time rather than the old ones they created.


I used this idea today with these 2 games in a 1st year class. They really enjoyed it. At the end of the class, when they were practicing reading from the book I had a girl come up to me, point at a word she didn’t know how to pronounce and say “Excuse me, what’s this?” The JTE saw it and was so happy that she used this phrase (admittedly in a way that we hadn’t mentioned) that he shared the experience with the other Japanese teachers throughout the day. I think the leap that this girl was able to make in understanding how to use this phrase is a testament to how effective this strategy is for teaching how to use these two phrases. I think any one of these activities would be a good warm-game for a class to be used any time after the original lesson is taught. Please share your comments if you have any.

My rendition of a "panda bear", which really drives my students nuts

Come on! — Getting students to speak English in a Loud Voice

Knowing that classes are most fun and useful when students have the confidence to repeat modeled sentences in a loud voice, I have been experimenting over the months with different techniques to encourage students to speak English in a loud voice. This is a technique I adapted from a teacher I know. I have been using it with junior high school students with the best results in first grade classes. Check out the audio file below to see the amazing effect this technique has on students:


Tips on getting this trick to work:

1) Have students repeat the word or phrase twice before shouting “Come on!” to encourage them to shout the word or phrase as loud as they can.

2) A good reaction to their loud response is key. The reaction might be genuine if the students truly knock you over with a loud chorus, but if you have a sort of falling over reaction when they shout the phrase at you, the students can laugh and enjoy this activity a bit more.

Note: Believe it or not, in this example it was the first time I tried this technique on the class. I’ve found that I don’t even have to explain to the students what I want (i.e. for them to shout the word/phrase as loud as they can). I just sort of jump into it and use a beckoning gesture when I shout “come on!” and the students seem to clearly understand my expectations. It’s amazing how simple this technique is considering how big of a result you can get from the students.

Go Fish!

Make your own custom playing cards for teaching English!

Before a visit to a elementary school a couple weeks ago I had an incredible idea: Why not use the children’s game “Go Fish!” to teach a useful expression in English? As  you probably remember from your own elementary days, the game involves using the phrase “Do you have any~”. Not only is this a fun and simple game but this phrase can be used in many situations to gain useful information in the real world. For exmample:

When meeting someone for the first time: “Do you have any sisters/brothers/cats/etc.?”

When at a store: “Do you have any English books?”

When at a restaurant: “Do you have any sushi?”

If you have never heard of “Go Fish” before follow this link to read about the rules. I want to spend the rest of the time writing about how I made the cards and how I presented this lesson to elementary 6th graders and junior high school 7th graders.

Lesson Plan:

I chose 9 words to focus on for the lesson: Brother, Sister, Apple, CD, Banana, Cat, Dog, Cherry and Candy. The words, “brother, sister, cat and dog” were especially important because combined with the key phrase “Do you have any~” they give the students a really great question to get to know people they meet for the first time, like new ALTs. I threw in words like apple and banana, knowing the kids were already comfortable with them to take some pressure off of memorizing new words, since the real point of the class is to get the students using the phrase “Do you have any~?”.

After introducing these words and playing a game to help the kids remember them, we put on a short drama for the students using the key phrase and asking them about what the phrase means. After drilling the phrase, we handed out 5 cards to each student, and had them walk around, playing Janken. The winner of Janken would get to ask for a card (e.g “Do you have any dogs?”) and if the fellow student had that card, they had to hand it over. After about 5 minutes, students returned to their seats and counted their cards. The students with the most cards won the round and we played again if the students were enjoying themselves.

This game was a warm up for the game of “Go Fish.” When the kids were ready, they got into groups of 5-6 and proceeded to play “Go Fish” for the rest of class.

How to make the cards:

Making 6 decks of cards with custom pictures and a reverse side like the original Hoyle playing cards took me about 4 hours to make, spread out between two days. Only I and one other teacher worked on the cards, so labor time can be cut-down if you can convince other teachers to do some cutting for you. But this is the basic way I made the cards:

1) Make a photocopy of the back of a Hoyle card - 9 cards per sheet X 24 sheets for 6 decks of 36 cards.

2) Trace 9 cards on a sheet of paper to draw a custom picture on

3) Draw 9 custom picture for each card, depending on what vocabulary you'd like to teach. Print out 24 copies.

4) Cut out all the cards and glue the Hoyle backs to the custom fronts. Organize them into piles so you have 4 of each card in each deck. Option: Make a blown up copy of each card for flash card purposes


This game has been well received at all the schools I have visited. I have used it at four elementary schools and two junior high schools. I don’t visit elementary schools so often, so I have re-used the game multiple times on return visits by popular demand. The lesson can be broken into multiple days where the Janken game is played on the first day, allowing the students to review and “graduate” into the game of “Go Fish!”. At the end of the lessons, I have done several things, one being a “lesson consolidation” where I have the teacher interview me about my brothers, sisters, cats, ect. using the key phrase. By the end of the lesson it is very easy for the students to understand the entire interview and learn about me entirely in English. It is a big confidence boost for the students because they can see that they have actually learned something useful and that they can understand a conversation in a completely different language.

If you would like to try this activity at your school, send an email to eliotc1986 [at] gmail [dot] com and I can send you the data files for making the cards.