One challenge every new ESL teacher will face is how to print using the large industrial photocopiers that schools have. Once teachers have made their worksheets how should they go about getting them ready for the class? This is something that worried me when I first started teaching so here I hope to give some guidance to spare others from those tense button pushing, paper shoving moments.

My photocopying experience is mainly on Japanese printers but I think once one knows what to look for these instructions can be applied to any country’s facilities.

Step 1: Print, yeh?

If you’ve just arrived in a new country, ready to teach English, I doubt you went to the trouble of squeezing your trusty Lexmark into a carry-on bag. So how does one go about getting their finely tuned worksheet inked out? The case may be different in other countries but in Japan schools are reluctant to let contractors use the school’s computer network. The use of USB sticks is also occasionally frowned upon. Some private companies (such as mine) flat-out say “Don’t connect anything to a school’s network! No laptops, no USB sticks!” This attitude largely stems from fears of outside viruses compromising the system, or even the possibility of leaking students’ private details.

I’ve found that some schools are more relaxed about these rules than others – particularly Elementary and Junior High Schools. In the ones I’ve been to there have been separate machines used specifically for special print jobs or visitors which the foreign teacher can use for printing. High Schools sometimes provide teachers with their own laptops so worksheets can be made at home then perfected at school before printing.

PRO TIP: When transferring documents to a USB stick to be printed from a different machine, export them as PDF files. This way the formatting and fonts don’t get mucked up along the way!

If none of these options are open it’s also possible to print at convenience stores. This can be done via a PDF file on a memory stick or there’s a service called Network Print which allows one to upload a document from home then print it off at the store. The process is not overly expensive unless using colour, but as the main copiers at school are always black and white printing in colour is not such a regular necessity.

The final and most convenient option is to buy a printer. A half-decent one won’t cost too much. I got a printer/scanner/copier with WiFi connectivity for less than 7,000 yen and it’s lasted three months so far without needing a new ink cartridge despite printing a couple of sheets nearly every day.

PRO TIP: If the printer software doesn’t come in English search for the product ID and “drivers” in Google. Once you can access the printer’s settings you should be able to set it to “Grey-scale Printing” which means it will only print in black and white. It’s much cheaper to only replace one ink cartridge when necessary and to save the colour for those awesome flashcards.

Step 2: Push My Buttons

My standard practice is to make a two-sided worksheet. I print out two copies of each side onto A4 sheets. Then on the big copiers at school I copy the two front sides onto one sheet of B4. Once the required amount has been run off I take the stack of printed B4 sheets and feed them, upside down, back into the copier. This time I print the back sides of the worksheet. What’s left is a big stack of B4 sheets, each made up of two double-sided worksheets, which can be cut in half using big cutting machine things that can be found in every school printing room.

There are two reasons why I go through this pantomime. One is that most schools have plentiful amounts of recycled B4 paper. Combine that with using each sheet for two double-sided worksheets and there’s very minimal paper wastage. When at a school with six classes in each grade, each with forty students, the amount of paper being used every day is pretty intense. The second is that I think B5 (the final size of each worksheet) is actually a really good working size. A4 always feels too big and cumbersome to me, I much prefer a smaller, notebook-sized, working space. There’s also the fact that many students use files to store their various worksheets and if the sheet is to big it will stick out of the file and become frayed.

With a little experimentation it doesn’t take too long to figure out how to perform this operation on the Japanese machines. To scale the size from A3 (two x A4) down to B4 look for a percentage. The one needed for this shrinkage is 87%, this is also often labelled as “A3 > B4”.

Another helpful function to be aware of is the print quality setting. The main three settings are “Text”, “Text and Picture”, and “Picture”. Obviously if you’re just copying a bunch of pictures it’s advisable to use the “Picture” setting. My worksheets frequently contain a number of tables and basic shapes to frame the text so I almost always use the “Text and Picture” setting to get the best possible copies.

This touch screen shows the options for this copier.
This touch screen shows the options for this copier.

Unlike a regular copier on which the user just enters how many copies they want and hits the big “GO” button, these big-batch copiers have two buttons. The first one makes a kind of preview copy, the image of which gets stored in the machine’s memory. If the user is happy with the preview print they enter how many copies they want, press the second button, and the machine blitzes them copies out at high-speed. The second button makes the copier print the image from memory so it doesn’t have to re-scan the original again.

On this particular model the two buttons are switches with a separate "Start" button.
On this particular model the two buttons are switches with a separate “Start” button.

Printing for the Class

When planning a lesson it’s good to think about how to present each activity to the students. This is also true with worksheets. A super simple way to show the class what to do at the different stages of the sheet and where to look is to make one giant copy of it. Having a big A3 copy of the worksheet is a great way to point at the different parts as well as highlight where certain sections support others.

Of course if similar activities and layouts are used consistently then it quickly becomes unnecessary to produce a big sheet for each class.

As with any endeavour like this trial and error is your friend. The task of using a machine completely in a foreign language can be daunting but with a little perseverance those worksheets will be flying out in no time!

Are there any other funky features of these massive machines that I’ve neglected?

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