As well as regular classes many Japanese High School English teachers are also put in charge of English Club. As with most other school clubs it takes place after school and students opt-in at the beginning of the year. There are a couple of reasons why students may choose to join the English club.

The first and most ideal is that they are interested in English. Perhaps they want to travel the world or get a job in which English would be handy. These are the ones who’ll turn up for every session and bring a lot of their own ideas to the table.

Another reason for joining the club is that it’s sometimes seen as an “easy choice”. Most High School clubs require a pretty hefty time commitment – a few hours after school every day plus time on the weekends. In my experience English Club only takes place when the foreign teacher is at the school, so only a few of days per week.

I even had some students who attended in a part-time capacity. They went to other, equally less time-intensive, clubs on some days and came to hang with me on others. The time I spent with my club members was always fun, relaxed and interesting.

Share the Love

One of the main reasons Japanese schools like having a foreigner around is for their uncanny ability to introduce International Culture to the students. English Club is a great opportunity for this as well, especially as students should have a more active interest in what a teacher shares beyond needing the info to pass an exam.

I enjoyed sharing more personal and detailed aspects of my life and experiences with club members. In fact on one of our most memorable club days we had hanami (a picnic under the cherry blossoms) and I brought along British tea and snacks such as shortbread and jelly beans. It was super fun and a great opportunity for communication outside the realm of “studying”.

The Crafting System

One thing I’ve always enjoyed doing with students of every age is craft. Making things together as a team or as individuals is a great way to bring the language into the real, tactile world. Of course there are obvious occasions that work well with craft activities such as making delightful cards at Christmas. When it came to Halloween my students insisted on having a party, and honestly it was the most fun Halloween party I’ve ever been to. I looked on-line for traditional party game ideas. The party plan went as follows.

  • I gave students a simplified side-show about the mummification process of ancient Egypt, explaining all the grizzly details before recounting the classic tale of The Mummy’s Curse.
  • This led straight into a game of “Mummy Wrap” where, in pairs, one person had to wrap the other in as much toilet paper as possible before the time ran out. The winning pair was decided by the amount of paper coverage achieved. This made it particularly funny when the shortest girl was paired with the tallest, and yet the coin toss determined that it was the tallest who was to be wrapped! Oh how sweet their victory would have been if only the odds had gone the other way!
  • We then moved on to a crafting session. Rather than make standard “Happy Halloween” cards I gave them some examples of pop-up cards and they imitated them, making monsters and ghosts pop out from the cards.
  • While they were busy cutting and sticking bits of coloured card I was equally busy setting up the next game – A doughnut eating game. The doughnuts were suspended by string from a pole above their heads and without using their hands they had to race to finish their doughnut. A barrel of laughter and a scattering of sugar dust ensued.
  • To finish I told them a ghost story based on a house I used to live in. I have two stories in my “repertoire” that are both based on real events/places but this is the one I tell most frequently just because it’s got lots of sound effects, a fun presentation, plus a big shock moment.

There’s a big variety of craft activities that can be done. Some that I really enjoyed were: writing dialogue into a blanked out comic book page, making an original story from a set of random words, making posters about famous local sights or foods, and making a shadow puppet production of a classic story (we did Cinderella! It took about four one-hour sessions to get it done and we recorded the final presentation for posterity).

And they lived happily ever after ...
And they lived happily ever after …

Game Over, Man, Game Over!

During lessons we don’t play games we do activities, but in English Club it really is game time. Any fun activity from the classroom can be used, with a more relaxed feeling and even some extra elaborate twists. There are also some games which would be tricky to implement in a regular class. Here are a few of my favourite.

  • The Liar Game. Three, four or five students come up to the front. Each is given a picture, except one who is given a blank sheet of paper. They then take it in turns to describe their picture to the rest of the group in as much detail as possible. The student with the blank page has to use their imagination and describe a fake picture. Then the rest of the group can ask questions to test the descriptions. After that everyone votes on who they think is the liar.
  • Word Association. Throw a ball from person to person. When you catch the ball you say a word related to the previous person’s word. This is a great way to practice spontaneous vocabulary recall.
  • Kings (a.k.a. Ring Of Fire). I’ve appropriated a couple of drinking games for use in English Club and this is easily my favourite. Place a circle of playing cards, face down, in the middle of a table. Everyone takes turns in choosing a card to turn over. Each card has a different rule associated to it. For example, turn over a 7 and everyone has to stick their hands in the air and “reach for heaven”. The last person to follow the rule or make a mistake gets a penalty. Obviously at school we can’t be doing the usual penalty of “drink your beer” so I substitute in a simple points system. One penalty equals one point. The person with the least points when all the cards have gone is the winner. There are many different rules but I always enjoy the thumb master and the on-going rules such as “You can’t say anyone’s name at any time” or “You can’t pick a card with your right hand”. Hilarious!

Movie Time

Watching English movies or TV shows together in club time is a great way to have fun whilst giving the kids a chance to hear some more natural English. Even with English subtitles on it makes for a pretty hefty challenge. One of my friends used show his class episodes of Glee. I decided to introduce them to some of the movies that I enjoyed as a child. We watched things like Home Alone 2, The Sword in the Stone and Basil: The Great Mouse Detective. Movies with simple(ish) plots and lots of visual storytelling. I would pause the movies occasionally to test their understanding and make sure they were following OK.

Of course the other advantage of watching movies and TV shows together is that it takes next to no preparation on the part of the teacher.

Hail to the Chef.

It’s a common, and relatively accurate, stereotype that Japanese people like food. This being the case I tried to do a few cooking lessons with the club over the course of the year. I would give them the recipe in English and we would work through it step by step together. I used these occasions to introduce them to some British food such as scones as well as to try some more experimental dishes like pizza pasties.

A Time For Talk

The biggest advantage English Club has for those students interested in developing their language skills is that there are so many opportunities to communicate freely in a relaxed environment. I occasionally played simple games with the students just to give them a chance to open up and talk naturally. My favourite was Jenga. The game started with a simple rule: You must ask or answer a question before moving a block. Over the course of the game this rule slackened off until it was just a free-flowing conversation.

I treasure the time I spent with my English Club and I hope they enjoyed themselves too. In the classroom there’s always that underlying knowledge of impending exams but within the club it’s all about having fun and enjoying a cross-cultural exploration of language. I hope all English Teachers gets to experience it at least once.

What kind of activities do you use in your High School English Club? Tell us in the comments.

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