Using the ‘Rokunin no Tomodachi’ readers:3. Book 1 ‘Nihon wa hajimete desu’.

Using the ‘Rokunin no Tomodachi’ readers: 3

Book 1 ‘Nihon wa hajimete desu’ 

Japanese01 cover lo res  copy                 


Today I will present some ideas for using Book 1 as a whole class activity.

I would probably introduce Book 1 early in Term 2—after the students have learned to read and write all the Hiragana. They will not all be fluent readers or writers as yet, and their vocabularies will be limited, so I would use Book 1 firstly, to encourage students to sound out the hiragana in the variety of combinations that form the words making up the story, thus improving their confidence and fluency in reading. Secondly, I would use Book 1 to develop the students’ skills to infer meaning from text by considering all the clues available—in this case, the context, illustrations and diary entries. Students should be encouraged to examine the illustrations carefully, taking into account the whole scene, setting, body language, relationships between characters etc.

First I will outline a suggested lesson sequence for teaching using Book 1 ‘Nihon wa hajimete desu’.  Then I will give a more detailed lesson plan for each lesson.

Suggested lesson sequence—outline

 1.             Read the story

2.             Cultural research. Japanese family life: slippers and the Japanese bath

3.             Dramatic interpretation of the story

4.             Dramatic interpretation of the story (contd)

5.             Preparation for taste-testing of Japanese snacks

6.             Taste-testing activity—Japanese snacks

7.             Research—typical Japanese family meal

8.             Class activity—a Japanese meal


Reading the story (1 hour)

  1. Students work in pairs. Get the students to go through the book from page 5 to page 29, looking at the illustrations, but not trying to read the Hiragana at this stage. They should discuss the pictures and read the diary entries to get an outline of the story.  I would get 2 or 3 pairs to share their ideas with the class. (Allow 10 minutes max. for this activity.)
  1. Explain about the Katakana words and the Romaji guide to pronunciation. Go through all the Katakana words with the class and teach them how to pronounce them and how to work out the English meaning from that pronunciation. I would probably also look at the type of language on pages 18–21 (introductions and present-giving and –receiving) and page 24 (asking Liam about his age and leisure activities). You may like to get the students to guess what Kenta is doing on page 18 (practising Ninjutsu) and Kazuki on page 10 (practising skiing).  (About 10 minutes).
  1. Students work in pairs. Give each pair a section of the story and get them to sound out the Japanese and work out the meaning of their section. Give each pair a sheet of A4 paper for their English version. I would probably divide the story up as follows:

 Pages 5–7 (13 lines)                                    Page 8 (15 lines)

Page 9 (13 lines)                              Pages 10 & 11 (7 lines)

Page 14 (5 lines)                              Pages 16 & 17 (6 lines)

Page 18 (11 lines)                            Page 19 (9 lines)

Page 20 (10 lines)                            Page 21 (10 lines)

Pages 22 & 23 (11 lines)                 Page 24 (8 lines)

Pages 25–28 (10 lines)

I would give the longer sections to the more able students and the shorter sections to those who need more time. Each pair should work out the meaning of the language in their scene(s), drawing on prior   knowledge and, if necessary, ‘guessing’ the meaning of the text, using clues provided in the illustrations, diary entries and back cover blurb. They then write out an English version of the story, in their own words, without consulting the Word List.

(Allow 15 minutes max. for this activity)

4.         Each pair reports to the class.  They read out their section in Japanese and then they read out their English version. The teacher only needs to query   any glaring errors.  Collect the sheets with the English versions and put on            the class noticeboard.

I estimate that this step could take up to 25 minutes or even more with some classes.  I think it is important to modify the times you allow for each step so that you complete to the end of Step 4 by the end of Lesson 1.


Cultural research

Japanese family life 1: slippers and the Japanese bath

WORKSHEET 1 Everyday customs in a Japanese home



Dramatic interpretation of the story: 1 (1 hour)

1.         Divide the class into 7 groups.  Each group will work on one scene from the story.

Group 1, 3 members.         This group will work on a scene based on page 5 of the story. The characters are Liam and the official, who presents the scholarship plus Liam’s mother, who is in the audience. They act out the scene as it is shown and further suggested on page 5.

Group 2, 2 members.         This pair acts out a scene based on page 7 of  the story. The characters involved are Liam and Riki.

Group 3, 5 members.         This group acts out a scene based on pages 10 & 11 of the story. The characters are Riki, his parents, Ai and Liam.

Group 4, 2 members          The characters are Liam and Riki. They act out a scene based on pages 12, 13 & 14 of the story.

Group 5, 6 members.         The characters are Liam, Riki, Kenta, Kazuki, Emi and Anna. They act out a scene based on pages 18–21 of the story.

Group 6, 5 members.         The characters are Liam, Riki, Yamamoto Sensei, Sa-chan and Ta-chan. They act out a scene based on pages 22 & 23 of the story.

Group 7, 7 members.         The characters are Liam, Riki, Kenta, Kazuki, Emi, Anna and Yamamoto Sensei. They act out a scene based on page 24 of the story.

2.         In groups students discuss how they will act out their scene and who will play which role.  As a group, they should analyse how each of the characters in the scene is feeling at that particular time—taking into consideration each character’s particular circumstances. For example: it is Liam’s second day in Japan—he doesn’t speak much Japanese and everything is strange. He may feel homesick and stressed by this, or he may be fascinated and excited to be in this new, exotic environment. The students then learn their parts, in Japanese, ready to perform in front of the class.  They must also prepare a tableau vivant depicting their particular scene. They will form this tableau vivant when they have finished their role-play. They must also be prepared to answer questions about how their character is feeling, what thoughts are going through his or her head at various times during the role-play or after the formation of the tableau.

I would allow the students the full lesson for this preparation phase. You want each one to ‘step into the shoes’ of the character s/he is portraying; to put her/himself into that character’s situation, in order to gain some understanding of another point of view.

Students also need time to practise their lines in Japanese, to gain confidence with the language and so they feel more comfortable performing in front of the class.


Dramatic interpretation of the story: 2 (1 hour)

1.         Starting with Group1 and proceeding through the story in order, the students perform their role-plays, each group ending in their tableau  vivant. The teacher asks questions of each character in the tableau, such as: ‘How are you feeling right now?’ ‘What did you think/feel when X said/did/asked you Y?’ (What you choose for X and Y will depend on the content of the scene).

2.         Get students to write a brief reflection on their experience. This should be written in their Japanese exercise book, or some notebook that is for their eyes only.

That’s it for today.  Next post I will continue explanations of the next few lessons.



Using the ‘Rokunin no Tomodachi’ readers: 2

Using the readers for a whole class activity

Following are some suggestions for using the readers with the whole class. Some activities would be more suitable for serious, more able students, whereas others would be within reach of all students—even those who are struggling with the language.

1. Students work individually, or in pairs.
Get them to go through the book from Page 5 to Page 29, studying the pictures but not worrying about the text at this stage. There will also be one or two of Liam’s diary entries in English. Ask them to write out the story-line in English, giving as much detail as possible.

2. Students work in pairs.
Get them to read through the story aloud, one page at a time, sounding out the Hiragana. Each pair should discuss the meaning of the language in each scene, drawing on prior knowledge and ‘guessing’ the meaning depicted in the illustrations. Then they should write out an English version of the story, in their own words, without consulting the Word List.

This could be quite a time-consuming task. In order to maintain the students’ interest, you could divide the story into scenes and get each pair to work on one or two scenes. In most cases each page is a separate scene, although sometimes a scene may continue over a couple of pages or there could be two scenes to a page. In this case, the more able students could be given the larger blocks of text and those, who are experiencing difficulties could be given less challenging sections.

When the pairs have all completed their sections, you could hold a class discussion—each pair reporting back, reading their scene in Japanese and then presenting their version of the scene(s) in English. You could compile a class version of the whole story, in English, on a Smart Board, if you have one, or on the whiteboard. As each pair reports, they should justify any ‘guesses’ they have had to make, based on the illustrations, Liam’s diary or the back cover blurb.

3. Give students a section of the script with the lines jumbled and have students rearrange them in the correct order (without consulting the book).

4. Dramatic interpretation of the story.
Choose some scenes from the story that lend themselves to role-play. Divide the class into an appropriate number of groups and get them to perform their role-play for the class. This performance could be mimed, or the students could learn their part in the dialogue and act out the scene, speaking the dialogue in Japanese. At the end of each scene (ie, at the end of each group’s role-play) the group should form a tableau that depicts the main idea(s) of the scene.

The teacher, or other students (depending on the size of the class and level of maturity of the students) then ask one or two key players in the scene, how they are feeling right now. Ideally these questions would be asked and answered in Japanese, but for students in their first year of learning the language this would be too difficult. The object of this exercise is to have students live the story through the eyes of one of the characters and this can be achieved equally well if the discussion is conducted in English.

5. Get the students to research any features of Japanese culture that appear in the books and present their findings as a 3D model, poster or PowerPoint presentation.

6. Get the students to research some or all of the food featured in a particular story and present their findings as a poster or as a PowerPoint presentation.

7. Students collaborate in groups to bring in samples of Japanese food, or even a meal, to share with the class.

8. Get together typical Japanese snacks/pickles such as dried fish,
かまぼこ、 たくあん、 うめぼし、 つけもの、 おせんべい and set up a taste-testing activity for the students.

These are all general suggestions. In future posts, I will suggest lesson sequences with exercises, activities and worksheets specific to each story.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.

Until next time,



Using the ‘Rokunin no Tomodachi’ readers

I first recognised the need for supplementary, illustrated Hiragana readers for beginner students of Japanese when I was teaching Japanese in a large state high school in NSW. In NSW, in order to qualify for the School Certificate, students must study one language for 100 hours within any one school year. In most schools this compulsory 100 hours is completed in Year 7 or Year 8. In the school where I was teaching, it happened in Year 8 and it was not unusual for me to teach three or four Year 8 classes. In the typical Year 8 Language class of 30 students, there would be 8–10 who were really keen, 5–6 who were disinterested or even actively disruptive with the remainder keen to learn but experiencing varying degrees of difficulty with the language. When I set a task for the class, the keen students would commence work immediately and have completed this task before most of the others were organised to begin. These keen students would then want more work, and what they needed, in order to become fluent in reading Hiragana, was more reading material. I wanted to give them something that was interesting—a story that they would enjoy, but there was nothing available that was appropriate. I set myself the task of writing such a story but it wasn’t until I retired from teaching that I found the time necessary to do justice to this work. In the past year I have written and published Rokunin no Tomodachi: Series 1, four illustrated readers written in Hiragana. The main character in the stories, Liam, a 15 year-old Aussie boy, is in Japan for six months on a scholarship. He wants to become a ninja. The stories follow Liam’s adventures as he encounters Japanese language and culture, makes new friends and enjoys summer holidays in Japan.

After publishing these readers I have realised that there are many ways they could be used in the Japanese classroom, and in this and subsequent posts I intend to share my ideas for doing this.

The first way, of course, would be to use them in the multi-level class, as I had originally intended. Ideally I would have 10–15 sets available and students would take a story to read after they had completed the compulsory work for that lesson. I recommend that the students first read the back cover blurb, which is in English. Then they should read through the story out loud, sounding out the Hiragana syllables and, using the pictures to help, try to work out the meaning. They should do this one page at a time, as, in most cases, each page is one scene from the story. They can also use Liam’s diary entries to assist their comprehension. They should then attempt the Reading Comprehension exercises on Pages 30 and 31. All this should be done without consulting the Word List on Page 32. When they have completed the comprehension exercises, students should check their answers, looking up in the word list any words of which they are still unsure. After that they should complete the ‘Extension’ or ‘Creative’ task, which, I’m afraid, the teacher would have to check.

Alternatively, you could set aside one lesson per week or fortnight, when the keener or more advanced students work only with the readers, according to the guidelines set out above.

The time that this would take would, of course, depend on the ability of the individual students, but I would allow at least two fifty-minute periods for a focused, enthusiastic student to read the story and complete the exercises.