Aesop’s Fables

Here are a collection of one-page short stories and questions suitable for ninth grade Japanese students studying English.  These are a part of Aesop’s Fables. It is all bundled together with MP3s on

  • The Ant and the Grasshopper. ODT & PDF.
  • The Astrologer. ODT & PDF.
  • The Girl and the Snake. ODT & PDF.
  • The Mother and the Wolf. ODT & PDF.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare. ODT & PDF.
  • The Travelers and the Purse. ODT & PDF.
  • The Wolf and the House Dog. ODT & PDF.
  • Two Travelers and a Bear. ODT & PDF.
  • Slide Show Story Rubric. ODT & PDF.

One-page stories are great because students can read them in ten or twenty minutes.  Finishing many short stories is rewarding because it feels like real progress: I read five stories!  This helps build motivation for reading more in the future.  Of course, it’s important to have interesting stories, and to match them to your students.  For long reading, err on the side of simplicity.  You can prepare two stories, and if students finish the first one too soon, assign them the second one.

Aesop’s Fables are over two thousand years old.  We don’t know who wrote (or said) the originals.  The adaptations here are ones I wrote, because I couldn’t find anything else that was the right length, level, and freely licensed.  Like most of my materials, these stories are under the Creative Commons Attribution license so that you can modify them to best fit your students’ needs. The illustrations here were drawn by Milo Winter for The Æsop for Children (1919).

You can do a slide show project using any of these stories. Suppose you already read the story and some speaking practice with it. Put students in groups of three or four. Each group gets a story and takes or draws eight or more pictures depicting the story. If it’s a human-based story, taking photographs is ideal; if it’s animal-based, drawing pictures might be better. They then overlay audio on top of the pictures, which produces a slide show story. Watch the slide shows together with the class, and use the rubric to evaluate them. Ideally, students should evaluate their own slide shows.


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Three Letter Words

We teach phonics to help students learn to read and pronounce English words correctly. It is reasonable to start with standalone letters, quickly transition to consonant-vowel and vowel-consonant pairs, and then move to three-letter words.  Here are three sets of three-letter words.  Each set has twenty words.

  • Three Letter Words Set A: PDF.
  • Three Letter Words Set B: PDF.
  • Three Letter Words Set C: PDF.
  • Three Letter Words List: PDF.

Some of the words have multiple meanings, but there’s only one picture.  For example, “bat” could mean “a black flying mammal” or “a stick used in baseball”.  That might seem problematic, but it isn’t a significant concern.  These cards are designed for students to practice saying three-letter phonetic words aloud, not to give them a perfect vocabulary.  Also, a great many words in English have multiple meanings, and we introduce new words and meanings as they fit into the syllabus.


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Sports come up in textbooks all over the place, and with good reason: many people either do or did play sports, many sports have a strong cultural like, and watching sports on TV or YouTube is incredibly popular.  Here is a 24-card slide show of sports.  First, there are 24 pictures with no text, and below them are the same 24 pictures with the sport name shown on top.

There is no good way of deciding what pictures ought to belong in a slide show like this, except to go with ones commonly found in your country or your students’ countries.  Most of these sports have similar names in English and Japanese, so rather than the vocabulary itself being difficult, we spend time on pronunciation.  Along with that, English grammar around sports vocabulary can be rather finicky.  Sometimes we use play, sometimes we use do, sometimes we use go, and sometimes we use the word itself, if it’s a verb, but not always.  For example…  James plays baseball.  Judy does karate.  My mother goes bowling every Wednesday.  They can snowboard very well.  As a result of the variety in word use, sports are a good place to throw in some grammar practice.

Here are the words in the above slide show: baseball, basketball, bowling, boxing, cheerleading, curling, football, golf, handball, ice hockey, mountain biking, rock climbing, rugby, scuba diving, skiing, snowboarding, soccer, softball, surfing, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track, volleyball.


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Country Slide Show

Several years ago, Adam and I made some posters about countries so that students could make small groups, and use the posters to prepare and deliver presentations. As we wrote back then: Presentations are common activities in English conversation classes, but because gathering data is difficult and time consuming, the scope is typically quite narrow. The goal of this activity is for students to develop and deliver a presentation on a foreign country without the burden of research. A presentation can be divided into four parts: information gathering, writing, practicing, and presenting. All of these are important skills, but since doing all of them together can be overwhelming, in English as well as in one’s native language, this activity removes the first step, simplifies the second, and allows students to focus on the remaining two.

Starting two years ago, my school asked our students to purchase iPads, and we have projectors in many classrooms. Instead of using one poster with many pictures on it, I prefer to use slide shows. The students make groups, and I send them the data for their country. Students can use the pictures as they are, or they can add and delete pictures as desired.

  • Country Slide Show worksheet: ODT & PDF.
  • Canada: PDF.
  • Chile: PDF.
  • Cook Islands: PDF.
  • Greece: PDF.
  • Honduras: PDF.
  • Iceland: PDF.
  • Madagascar: PDF.
  • Mongolia: PDF.
  • Morocco: PDF.
  • New Zealand: PDF.
  • Norway: PDF.
  • South Africa: PDF.
  • USA: PDF.



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Holiday Presentations

Here are some slide shows and information sheets on seven U.S. holidays.  Students are placed in groups of three or four, each group gets a holiday, and they write and deliver a presentation to the class introducing it.  The materials are designed for eighth graders.

My students have iPads, so I send them the slide show data electronically when they’re writing.  For the presentations, we use a projector to make everything visible from the back of the room.  If your students don’t have tablets, or if you don’t have a projector, you could print out the images in color.


Before the presentations, I like to have students read about some global holidays.  The following files are used for reading comprehension and speaking.  Since my students have tablets, we can easily assign speaking homework, so after reading a page together in class, students are assigned to record their own voice and submit it online.  To find suitable scripts, check out Simple English Wikipedia.  The text there can easily be scaled down to fit your class’s level.

  • Holiday Reading PDF. Several pages, each with a paragraph on a holiday from somewhere in the world. These can be used for in-class speaking practice, speaking homework, and speaking tests.
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Writing poetry is a lot of fun, as long as the teacher gets the preparation figured out.  Before writing, students need to read many examples, and it is important that these examples are relatively comprehensible. Most of the haiku I find online uses vocabulary that my students don’t know, so I simply it, write my own, and reuse students’ work from past years.

I want my students to write haiku — and then submit their poems to the annual Itoen Haiku Contest — so I also need to practice counting syllables with them.  Sometimes students write a line and it has too few or too many syllables.  To fix it, they can modify verb tenses or swap out words for others with similar meanings, both of which are a good way to practice restating or rephrasing things.

  • Haiku Writing 1. ODT & PDF.
  • Haiku Writing 2. ODT & PDF.
  • Haiku Writing 3. ODT & PDF.
  • Syllable Examples. PDF. Some words for practicing syllable counting.
  • Syllable Bingo. ODT & PDF. A board game for practicing syllable counting.
  • Syllable Splitting 1. ODT & PDF.
  • Syllable Splitting 2. ODT & PDF.
  • Syllable Splitting 3. ODT & PDF.



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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.


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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