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.

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