The Write Stuff: English Literacy Skills for Elementary Students in Japan

Under the new elementary school English language teaching system currently being phased in ahead of a nationwide roll-out of the curriculum next year, as early as grade three, students will be required to learn to read, write and pronounce the letters of the English alphabet. Moving forward into the later years of elementary school and looking toward junior high school, students will be encouraged to learn to read and write words as they learn how to say them.

This is a departure from the typical assistant language teacher (ALT)-led English class, which usually focuses purely on speaking and listening.

As someone with a background in journalism and a love of writing in general, I welcome this new challenge. However, to the average ALT who may not have a background in writing, this may seem somewhat scary. Don’t worry though, because it needn’t be.

Here are a couple of simple ideas to try in your lessons the next time you’re asked to teach reading or writing in class.

1. Reading

When you approach reading, it’s important to remember that Japanese — at least in its katakana and hiragana forms — is read phonetically. As such, you need to familiarize the students not only with the shape and pronunciation of each letter,  but also with the more common phonetic blends. Perhaps the best way to do this in the early stages is through the use of worksheets.

Worksheets are something the students should be familiar with from their other classes already. For reading worksheets, at the elementary level, you want to keep it as simple as possible. Multiple choice is probably the best way to go.

For example, prepare a list of words that the students have learned recently and that you wish to review. Then list each one, along with three possible spellings.

… as early as grade three, students will be required to learn to read, write and pronounce the letters of the English alphabet.

Students go through each set of options and circle the correct one.

Visual recognition worksheets are also good. For these, prepare a worksheet with a series of pictures on it and have the students match the pictures with a list of words. They can either select the words from a list on the page or if they are feeling more confident, perhaps give them the first one or two letters as a prompt and have them write out the rest.

At a very basic level, word searches can be a fun review activity for students, too. However, a few important rules need to be followed:

Keep the words within vocabulary the kids already know. This is a review activity, not a means to

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