Journals

For my junior and senior high school classes, when the numbers are right — and by that I mean low enough — I like to have my students write in journals once every week or two. The general setup is simple: take an A4 notebook and cut it in half horizontally to make two A5 notebooks. Give these to students. Journal entries can either be described by an A5 handout that I make, give to students, and they glue into their journal, or by writing a 1-sentence topic description on the board and asking students to copy it down.

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Here are some topics good for junior high school students.

  1. What did you do for Golden Week?
  2. What did you do for winter vacation?
  3. What was fun at the Culture Festival?
  4. What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you last week?
  5. What club do you belong to?
  6. What club do you want to join in high school?
  7. How many people are in your family? Who are they? Draw a picture.
  8. Draw a picture of your room and then describe it.
  9. Where do you want to visit? Why?
  10. Write about a band or singer you like.
  11. What is your favorite subject?
  12. What’s your favorite movie?
  13. What are some things you want to do in high school?

Here are some topics for high school students. Any of the above topics would work, as well.

  1. Where is your favorite place to go shopping?
  2. Where do you like to study? Why?
  3. What do you want to do for summer vacation?
  4. Pick a day during break and write about what you did.
  5. Did you do everything you wanted to do over summer break?
  6. What is your favorite school event?
  7. If you had three wishes, what would you do?
  8. If you had a million dollars, what would you do?
  9. Have you ever traveled abroad? Where did you go?
  10. When you traveled abroad, what were some things that surprised you?
  11. Do you want to study abroad in the future? Why?
  12. What do you want to do after you graduate high school?
  13. Where can one find the most delicious ice cream in Tokyo?
  14. What seasons don’t you like?
  15. What is the most fun, travel by train, car, bus, or airplane?
  16. Sometimes it is said, “High school is the most important time in your life, because these three years determine the course of the rest of your life.” What do you think?
  17. What would you do if you got lost in an unfamiliar city?
  18. Tell about a time when you lied to your parents or teacher.
  19. Tell a scary story.
  20. Tell several jokes.

The first thing to think about with journals or any sort of composition is that content matters most. It takes a lot of work to write, and if students don’t feel like they’re communicating anything, they’ll write less or use the same style or pattern over and over. Originality will be lost. As teachers, we can do a lot to keep things lively. First of all, we assign specific topics, and where needed, we provide lots of examples. If we give students some example sentences, paragraphs, or themes, maybe they can find something interesting to say that would otherwise have proven elusive. Indeed, though at first it seems counterintuitive, asking students to do journals without specifying topics will lead to suboptimal responses, precisely because students don’t know what to write! Second, and just as important, when we collect the journals, we should be responding to the content. How much time the teacher spends on grammar and spelling varies according to circumstance, but generally speaking, more time should be devoted to responding to the student’s words (and if there are common grammar errors, they can be addressed separately in class or using other homework assignments). There are other ways of keeping things interesting, too. Students (or teachers) can draw or glue pictures in the journals and use these as a focus. Students (or teachers) could write using different colored pens and pencils, as well stamps or stickers, to make each page colorful and visually appealing. Finally, the time it takes to read and respond to everyone’s journals is a significant factor. The teacher needs to read and respond to everyone’s journals, so it would be bad if too many students were writing too often. But if we keep the journal homework to a reasonable level, the teacher and students can learn a lot and enjoy the writing process.

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Describing Pictures

There are dozens of topics and grammar points that can be studied using activities where students say or write things about pictures.  Here are some slide shows and worksheets that I’ve used.

  • Describe the Pictures: Animals. ODP & PDF. An exciting slide show of animals.
  • Describe the Pictures: Mie. ODP & PDF. A slide show of Mie Prefecture in Japan.
  • Describing Pictures 1. ODT & PDF. A worksheet.
  • Describing Pictures 2. ODT & PDF. A worksheet.
  • Describing Pictures 3. ODT & PDF. A worksheet.
  • Describe the Food. ODP & PDF  A slide show.
  • Describe the House.  ODP & PDF. A slide show.

These materials can be used in free speaking activities, preposition practice, practice for the patterns There is … and There are …, and various other situations.

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Passive Voice Practice

Here are some passive voice practice worksheets.  In Japan, passive voice is taught at the beginning of ninth grade.  One of the best ways to practice passive voice is converting between active voice and passive voice sentences while maintaining the meaning.  This can be done as a matching activity and later as a writing activity.

  • Passive Voice Practice 1: ODT & PDF.
  • Passive Voice Practice 2: ODT & PDF.
  • Passive Voice Practice 3: ODT & PDF.

grammar

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Occupations

Here are some occupation flash cards.  Occupations (jobs) are a topic that first comes up in my eighth grade textbook.  Students are asked about their dream job, why they are interested in it, and what steps they can take towards reaching it.

Talking about the future and career goals is a suitable topic for high school students, too.  If you’re teaching high school students, expect them to provide greater detail and use more precise vocabulary.

  • Occupations flashcards: ODP & PDF.  18 jobs.  For junior and senior high school.
  • Dream Jobs: ODT & PDF.  A homework assignment for eighth graders.
  • Occupations Quiz: ODT & PDF.  For eighth graders.
  • My Future Dream: ODT & PDF.  A short presentation for eighth graders.

painter

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Homestay English

Every summer, several dozen students from my high school go to Adelaide, Australia, for a three-week study abroad session.  In preparation, several teachers and I teach three Homestay English lessons to them.  (There are several other prep sessions run by the study abroad program administrators, too.)  Here’s our short workbook: ODT & PDF.

kangaroo

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Long Answers

Basic question and answer practice is a staple of foreign language study.  Here is a set of questions designed for two-sentence or three-sentence answers.

I use these worksheets in pairs.  One student asks twelve questions, the other student answers, then they switch roles and repeat.  This takes around five minutes.  When students are comfortable with the questions on the first page, move to the second page.  The question styles don’t change, but key words do. This helps students remember the appropriate grammar.

    • Long Answers A: ODT & PDF. Good for 8th graders.

This style of worksheet is great for pair speaking practice.  With seventh graders we begin with one-sentence answers, in eighth grade we practice long answers, and by ninth grade students are encouraged to make comments and ask follow-up questions.

After practicing for a week or two, you can easily do a speaking test.

talking

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Tongue Twisters

When focusing on particular English sounds, a tongue twister can be a nice way to practice.  If your class sees tongue twisters as a fun speaking challenge, add them to a lesson from time to time.

Tongue twisters are by definition hard to say, so the most important practice is slow practice.  After repeating and practicing slowly for a few minutes, try to say the thing quickly a few times just for fun.

Here are some tongue twisters that I like.

  1. Red leather yellow leather (repeat).
  2. Unique New York (repeat).
  3. Six thick thistle sticks.
  4. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  5. She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
  6. I thought of thinking of thanking you.
  7. I think I thought of thinking of thanking you.
  8. How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck would?
  9. A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood.
  10. Betty Botter bought some butter. But, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I had some better butter, that would make my batter better.”

Any other tongue twisters that you like? Leave them in the comments.

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