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Costumes Make For Good Motivation

November 5, 2012

Happy belated Halloween!

Well, Halloween has come and gone, meaning a week of Halloween lessons at all of my schools. Earlier in October I was silly and asked all of my schools what they wanted me to do for a special Halloween lesson, and obviously there wouldn’t be any way that they would want similar things. This meant I ended up with six separate lessons to plan. It wasn’t a complete terror, though, because while some schools had specific things they wanted me to teach, others like THES (Thursday Elementary School) only gave me vague instructions that I was allowed to interpret as broadly as I want.

With those vague instructions in hand, I ended up planning a lesson in which I issued a challenge to all of my sixth grade classes. Currently they are learning how to say, “Where do you want to go?” and “I want to go to [insert country here],” so after playing Pumpkin, Black Cat, Spider (the Halloween version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, courtesy of a fellow ALT named Lauren) I told each class that if two of the three classes could pass a plastic pumpkin while saying the Target Language all within a minute, I would put on my Halloween costume, which was a 着ぐるみ (kigurumi) — something that looks like an adult version of footie pajamas usually styled as a cartoon character — and wear it for all of sixth period. My costume was of ドラえもん (Doraemon), who has to be one of the most well-known characters in all of Japan.

Doraemon was created as a manga in 1969, and is about an intelligent robotic cat sent back in time from the 22nd century by a boy named Sewashi Nobi. His purpose is to improve the circumstances of Sewashi’s great grandfather, Nobita, so that his descendants may enjoy a better future. The character of Doraemon is best known for his fourth-dimensional pocket, which looks like a kangaroo’s pocket. Doraemon is able to pull out a variety of tools in order to assist Nobita in his many adventures, and I do mean many adventures. According to Wikipedia, the manga has shown nearly 4,500 different tools that Doraemon uses! Pretty neat, right? There’s a whole museum dedicated to Doraemon somewhere in Tokyo, but I haven’t been yet. It’s on my list!

Enough explanation and back to storytelling. Having all of the students say the Target Language to each other within a minute would be no easy task. The sixth grade classes I have at THES are my biggest, with 35-38 students in each class. This meant that each student had less than two seconds to answer the question the previous student asked and then turn to his or her neighbor to ask “Where do you want to go?” while handing over the pumpkin. It may have sounded like I was expecting too much out of them, and honestly speaking there was a moment where I thought that I was.

It took a little while for the first sixth grade class to warm up to the idea. This class is particularly silent when it comes to speaking individually, meaning when I ask questions and ask for them to raise their hand I’m left standing at the front of the classroom with my own hand in the air. Luckily for me before my arm gets too tired, one student out of a core group of four brave souls will take pity on me and raise his or her hand to answer the question.

With such a shy class, I was worried that maybe things wouldn’t go so well. However, they saw how the pumpkin traveled further and further within that minute before the timer went off and they began to get all the more excited. Even the one boy who always has his head down in class was sitting up with a notebook in hand and passing the pumpkin with as much gusto as his classmates. They did hit a small snag with one student who is shy to the point of rarely speaking, but the others found a way to work with it and continued making progress.

There were only five minutes left before bell would signal the end of the period and you could have cut through the tension in the room with a butter knife. The pumpkin only had a half a row of students to go at the last attempt. This next try would have to be the last, which made them all the more wound up. I did the countdown and started the timer. It was amazing to watch them pass the pumpkin, and the ones who had already finished kept encouraging as it made its way up and down the rows. The pumpkin finally reached the last boy, who gave his answer just a few seconds before the timer beeped.

The noise their cheering made was enough to draw in sixth graders from the other classes, who finished early, so they were standing with their faces pressed against the window and wondering what the heck was happening. However, all they saw was us finishing class and I collected my things and headed to the next sixth grade class to begin the whole process again.

To shorten a lengthening narrative, my second class got really close to finishing but made a strategic error of telling me to change where the pumpkin started partway through the class period. This meant that the new starters weren’t used to speaking the Target Language rapidly, and the time it took for the pumpkin to travel increased. They realized their mistake, but it was too late. Their homeroom teacher wouldn’t let them change back, so the others had a chance to practice the phrases as well. The class period ended with one success and one near-success. Whether or not I wore my costume depended on the last class of sixth graders. However, I wouldn’t have that class until fifth period, after lunch.

During afternoon recess the homeroom teacher for my last class came into the teacher’s room and I mentioned to him what I had planned for the day. It was really neat to see how excited he was over the whole concept, and he said that his students would give it their all once they found out what would be in store. The period began, and we played our round of Pumpkin, Black Cat, Spider before I announced the challenge. The class immediately broke out into excited chatter, with several of them saying, 「見たい!見たい!」which means, “I want to see! I want to see!”

The timer went up on the blackboard, and I set it for one minute. The pumpkin had to travel down six rows of students before it would reach the end, and for the first attempt it managed to only reach a row and a half. The students kept trying and trying again, but always falling a little short before the minute was up. I began giving them hints to shorten their time — telling them that saying you want to go to Australia takes up much more time than saying you want to go to Spain, for example. The bell that signaled the end of class rang, and the students were discouraged, but by now even their homeroom teacher was engrossed in the matter and he said that they could continue trying. I didn’t have anywhere to be sixth period, so I also agreed to it.

The pumpkin finally reached the last two students, but the timer went off before the final student could give her answer. After a chorus of groans came a resounding “ONE MORE TIME, PLEASE!” so I set the timer, handed the pumpkin to the first student and told them to start. The pumpkin wound its way up and down the rows as the students asked each other in English where they wanted to go. It once again reached the last two students, and the last girl announced that she wanted to go to France. A split second later the timer went off.

You should have heard the cheers.

If the first sixth grade class was loud, these kids managed to double the volume. A promise is a promise, though, and I pulled out my costume and stepped into it, to everyone’s delight. The homeroom teacher ran to the teacher’s room to get his camera, and I pulled mine out of my bag and the photographs began.

Somehow the homeroom teacher turned on the black and white setting on my camera before taking this picture.

I popped out of the class for a moment in order to visit the other sixth grade classes, who were absolutely ecstatic to see me in the costume (the cheering tipped them off). However, the students from my last sixth grade class ran out of the room and told me to get back inside for a group picture. While I was visiting the other students, they had pushed all of the desks aside in order to make room for a group photo. Their homeroom teacher perched himself on a chair and began the photo shoot.

Group photo!

Once we had pictures we were happy with, I collected my things (still in my costume) and then headed to the teacher’s room where I sat as ドラえもん for the rest of the class period, which immensely amused the staff in there. I was also a good laugh for any teachers who wandered into the staff room after sixth period. All good things must come to an end, though, and I removed my costume before I went home.

All in all, it was a pretty great Halloween. I wonder if I can top it next year.

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