Eikaiwa in Every Class

eikaiwa cards, new and improved

eikaiwa cards, new and improved

I’ve updated my eikaiwa cards with new questions and better conversation flow after using the previous cards in classes over the past few weeks. While students do worksheets and test prep in the regular class I run a mini-eikaiwa at the back of the room so that I get a chance to speak with every student in the class. It is genuinely fulfilling work and the benefits to the students are unquestionable. I’ve made it clear to my students that it is not a test and and that saying, “I don’t know” is perfectly fine. After years of teaching in Japan this is one of the greatest projects I have done for myself and my students and I couldn’t recommend it more. I think it is the work that we ALTs ought to be doing.

I used construction paper to make the cards sturdier

I used construction paper to make the cards sturdier

At the end of the year it is the perfect time for you to start a project like this as well. Prep-time is almost zero. All you have to do is print out the cards and find one JTE who is willing and interested. Feel free to download my new eikaiwa cards. I uploaded them in word format so you can customize them for your students. I glued the front and back of each card to a bit of construction paper to make the cards sturdier. How you make them is up to you though.

First 9 Cards (Word Download)

Second 9 Cards (Word Download)

Card Backs (logo) (Word Download)

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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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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.


  • 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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More Catch Phrase Cards

CPC - Aye! 6

Another cool phrase for students to use when they’ve got bored of saying “yes” all the time. This one was suggested to me by a fellow Yamagata ALT who is from Scotland.

“How’s it going?” card 2 (PDF download)

“Oops!” card 3 (PDF download)

“I gotta go!” card 4 (PDF download)

“That’s too bad!” card 5 (PDF download)

“Aye!” card 6 (PDF download)

Got a catch phrase that you’d like to see made into a Catch Phrase Card? Comment below and share your ideas!

Catch Phrase Cards

CPC - Awesome 1

collectible cards with new words that don’t often appear in textbooks

Hand out these cards to your students in the hallway or after class to give them new catch phrases to use in English.

Key features: 1) quick translation of the target word. 2) quick description of the word in context. 3) each card is numbered, letting students know which cards they are missing.

Download a PDF of the first catch phrase card I made now: 

Catch Phrase 1: “Awesome!” (PDF Download)

New Year; New ALT

A school doesn’t need to hire a new teacher to get a new ALT. A new school year is a chance to try out new ideas, methods and materials. It is a chance to start over fresh and make new attempts at improving English education in Japan. So clear out your desk, make new materials, and let go of any baggage you have from the previous year. It’s a new year; let the opportunity set you free to unlock your potential..