Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?

English Art

It’s well known that Japanese people can be skilled artists – just look at manga, anime, and blackboard art. The art projects even small kids do in their normal homeroom classes are way cooler than most of the projects I did as an art major in college. I’m not exaggerating.

I like art and teaching English, so it makes sense to use art while teaching English. This started during my first experience teaching English as a second language at summer camp in S. Korea. I taught art in English for the first ten day camp. We did cheesy crafts like making a paper lantern, but using relevant vocabulary and learning by context. I got to see lots of ‘Aha’ moments and this is what really sold me on teaching.

Plus, fun! Rule number one in teaching is to have fun. If the teacher is bored, the students will be even more bored.

My awesome co-teacher had a brilliant idea to teach the word attach when the students had trouble understanding it. It’s also a bit hard to pronounce for native Korean speakers. They want to add an i to the end so it sounds like a-tta-chi. He broke out his variety of sticky notes and ‘attached’ one to a student’s face. Not only funny and memorable, but it really works to learn this way. We sent a stack of sticky notes around the table, and each student was asked to attach one to their classmate to the right, while saying ‘attach’ and practicing the correct pronunciation. We repeated the exercise in the other 11 classes (12 homeroom classes cycled through each of the 12 classrooms for 6 different lessons each day.) The co-teacher also attached many sticky notes to random students, creating a beard or covering their glasses. Those students are never going to forget the word attach.

During the lantern lessons and the one where we made a clay pig, I encouraged students to use their own creativity. The last thing I wanted was a boring craft where everyone’s looked the same. Students picked the color they liked, but also decorated their lanterns with unique designs and shapes. ‘The clay pig’ was allowed to be a bear, elephant, spear-holding Neanderthal riding a dinosaur, whatever. It was impressive what they came up with.

On the other hand, my pigs got made fun of – despite getting practice while making twelve of them. The co-teacher asked me, “I thought you majored in art? Why are the kids better than you?” I made the boring textbook pig, but I asked the co-teacher to also demonstrate and make a different animal if he wanted to. Most students made a pig, but some added a unique element and some made other animals.

I learned a lot about teaching English that summer, but I think a big part of why I liked it is because I taught art and had an awesome co-teacher. For the second session my class was Weather and Seasons, and not nearly as fun to teach.


The Awesome Co-Teacher (with unicorn-pig)

Now I’m working on getting freelance teaching work in addition to looking for another day job. I’ve been subbing a little and have a couple regular classes.

While subbing in preschools, I taught some fruits vocabulary, played some games, and then we drew the fruit, in English. The students were given very little time for each fruit and only one page. They were only instructed in English, “Let’s make a small orange circle. Let’s make a red apple.” I’m sure they didn’t remember all the color words or shape words, but they had just learned the fruit words and they like to draw. This was a way for them to use their new words in context.


The funny thing is, kids will go right on speaking in Japanese to me, even while I respond in English. “You don’t have red… it’s okay! We can make pink cherries!” “Yes, your fruits are so tiny and cute!” They understand that I’m being positive and encouraging them to be creative. They are learning English by accident, because they’re having fun. This is how we should learn everything, right?


I’d love to do some art-focused English lessons as well as more zine workshops on a regular basis. Even in public schools, staff understands that teaching other subjects in English can be much more effective than regular English lessons. Changing the system can take years if it ever happens, so I don’t expect to be allowed to do this in public schools. When the lesson is flexible, I’ll be adding creative and fun elements, like this face drawing game.



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This entry was posted on July 13, 2016 by in Living in Japan, Teaching English and tagged , .

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