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Brushing Up the Bulletin Board

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Welcome to a new school year.

After a week filled with sad goodbyes and more omiyage than you can squeeze into the second drawer of your desk, you might be thinking about changing that English board that’s been covered in snow since last December.

Well, wipe those eyes clean and grab some glue, because it’s time to get creative! Before we start, however, let’s go through some basic bulletin board etiquette (Or, what I like to call, the BIG 3).

The Big Three

  1. Avoid the plague of the ‘Endless English Board’
    This is by far the most important advice I can give as a third year ALT: if an English board takes more than a week to finish (including the hours that you’re teaching), it is not worth your time. Rip it up and throw it away. Poster-making is a useful way to keep yourself occupied during the quieter hours, but it should not take over your life. Go outside, stretch those legs, and interact with your students. When the bell rings, and your students run inside for their next class, then it’s time to focus your energy on your project.
  2. Make it interactive
    Ask any of your Elementary School students why they like English class and the answer is always the same: ‘ゲーム!’ Younger children usually don’t respond well to simple repetition, note-taking, or teacher monologues – you’ve got to spice things up. The same goes with your English board. A plain board with the answers clearly spelled out in front of them will not attract the attention of your younger students. Add some card flipping, some magnets, maybe some Velcro, and you’ve got yourself an interactive board that students will line up to play with. At Junior High and High School level, sticker surveys, polls, wordsearches, and more can be used to keep your students engaged. You wouldn’t spoon-feed them English in your lessons, make them think about your posters too.
  3. Talk with your school
    Check with your school where to put your English extravaganza. Where some schools request their ALTs to make a new English display every month, others take a little more persuasion. Personally, there weren’t any English board decorations before I arrived at my school, so I asked the principal directly if I would be allowed. Taking the initiative really paid off (arguably too much so…) and my teachers take a huge interest in whatever my next project is. Similarly, if you are planning on producing an English board that covers anything perceived as potentially non-PG by the Japanese community, please check that your school is comfortable with it. It’s a waste of your time to produce a poster that your schools asks you to immediately take down.

Once you’ve got your board space, permission from your school, and your idea ready, it’s time to gather some materials.

Getting Tooled Up

You’ll be surprised at how many materials your school has hidden away that are perfect for bulletin board brilliance. Gathering the tools that you need, however, requires you to ask some questions. Primarily, where the heck is all the coloured card? Whilst researching where your school keeps their materials, keep in mind that most schools have an ‘English budget’, which you can use to buy various supplies for your English teaching needs. Talk to your principal, or even the admin staff, and see what you are able to rustle up. Your school, however, should already be in possession of the following:

  • Coloured card/paper
  • Glue, tape, staplers, magnets, etc. (check with your school which they would prefer you to use – avoid damaging the walls)
  • Computer, printer, laminator, and everything in-between
  • Scissors, utility knives, etc.
  • Cutting boards (don’t damage your desk)
  • Stationary: pens, pencils, coloured pencils, crayons, paint, rulers, etc.

If you are unable to find what you need, ask someone. They will know either where it is or who you can ask to buy it. In the unlikely case that your school is unwilling to fork out some cash for you, check your local 100 yen stores for some supplies. Daiso has a wealth of seasonally-themed goods that are perfect for finishing off your poster.

Let’s Get Started

Your bulletin board can be anything (PG) that you can think of, as long as it is focused on the concept of ‘English-ness’. This can range from information about yourself, trips you have recently been on, your own or another country’s culture, recent news that you’ve heard, etc. Make sure it uses language that your students can understand, otherwise it might as well be in code.

Below is a list of bulletin board ideas to get you started, with some examples from JETs from the Gunma community.

Bring on the Boards!

ES: Welcome to English

The first English class of the year is always an interesting one, but none more so than with your elementary school first graders. They will shout every bit of English they have ever heard in your direction, with little to no understanding as to what most of it means. Help them out with some simple self-introduction bulletins (Velcro is a great tool to use here)! Try to use the phrases they will learn in their first lessons.

  • Hello. Nice to meet you.
  • What’s your name? My name is…
  • How are you? I’m…
  • Where are you from? I’m from…
  • How old are you? I’m…
  • I like… (sports/fruit/animals)
  • Do you like…?

ES, JHS, & HS: Introducing Yourself

It’s the first English board that any of us make (with varying degrees of success). Don’t worry. Here are some pointers to get you re-started on your self-introduction:

  • Who are you? Do you like sports? Yes, you do. What sports do you like? My favourite sport is badminton. What’s your favourite sport? When introducing yourself, stick to the dialogue that’s used in class. Use your English board as an extension of your introduction lesson, or utilise vocab that will be used in your upcoming lessons.
  • Who am I? My students love looking at photos of me when I was their age. Their favourite is one of me and all my cousins, and they like trying to guess which one is me. They know what you look like now. Show them photos of you when you entered school for the first time, or during your sports day at Junior High School. Give them something that’s familiar, but different.
  • This is my family. Family photos are always a treat.
  • I like Thomas the Tank Engine, too! Depending on their level, photos of famous people and places in your home country might not appeal to your student’s curiosity as much as you think they will. For Elementary School, stick to famous cartoons, food, sports, etc. They don’t really care about the Queen, but they do like the Queen in the Minions 2 movie. For Junior High, take a look around what they’re learning about in other subjects, such as Social Studies. Connect the dots in their education.

My biggest word of advice is do not overload your poster with blocks of English text. They will never read it. Stick to phrases, bullet points, and photos.

ES & JHS: Interview Corner

Introduce a new teacher/character/student with a basic Q&A.

  • What’s your name?
  • How old are you?
  • What are you from?
  • Where do you live?
  • What animals do you like?
  • What food do you like?
  • What sport do you like?
  • What TV show do you like?
  • What’s your favourite video game?
  • What’s your favourite colour?
  • What’s your favourite Japanese word?
  • What’s your favourite English word?
  • What do you want (for your birthday)?
  • What do you want (for Christmas)?
  • Where do you want to go (for Golden Week)?
  • What’s your favourite season?
  • Who is your favourite student?

For ES in particular, keeping the same questions for every interview gives students an opportunity to learn different ways of answering the same thing without overloading on the grammar. Structure and consistency are key, especially for first and second grade in ES. At Junior High School, however, playing with different grammar points can help maintain the students’ interest and put new vocabulary into action.

ES & JHS: Matching Card Poster

Every Elementary and Junior High School teacher has used a matching card game in some form or other in their lessons. Why not bring it to the wall! Our suggestions include:

  • Matching vocabulary to images
  • Matching English vocabulary to its Japanese meaning
  • Organising a sentence
  • Matching a (present) tense verb to another tense

Matching card boards are great because, rather than constantly rebuilding entirely new boards with entirely new concepts, you can simply change the cards. Students will check if the vocabulary used is the same or not. Less effort for you, just as interesting for your students.

ES & JHS: Word of the Month

This one is pretty straightforward but can help link a new phrase or word with the overall theme of your English board. If it’s Christmas, teach them ‘Ho ho ho’. If it’s Halloween, teach them ‘scary’. If it’s Valentine’s Day, teach them ‘I love you’. You can level up your chosen phrase depending on your target grade.

ES: Play the Game

There’s nothing more interactive than a literal game on a wall. Use games that are known and popular among Japanese children and figure out a way to make it English. Popular games amongst Japanese children include:

  • Shiritori: Shiritori is a Japanese word game in which the players say a word using the final kana of the previous word. Use magnets/Velcro to make a Shiritori game board where students use English words to play the game. For Elementary School students, include pictures and the spelling on the card to help them out. At Junior High and High School, simply give your students a letter and they can do they rest.
  • Meiro: Mazes are great ways to grab your students attention. At Elementary School, why not use portals to match uppercase and lowercase levels and see if they if they can make it out unscathed.
  • Nazonazo: Riddles can be great for higher level students and there are many examples that can be found online. You could even implement a sticker system – students who come to you with the answer can receive a stamp on a riddle card.
  • Machigaisagashi: Spot the difference is classic around the world. Try getting your students to describe the difference between two images.
  • Wally wo sagase: Instead of ‘Where’s Wally?’, have your students find various items. Finding various jobs in a sea of people is a good way to match the spelling of words to their profession.
  • Sugoroku: Similar to ‘Snakes and Ladders’, use flip cards and dice (saikoro in Japanese) to get your students to work through your board. For Halloween, I used different monsters with different power moves.

ES, JHS, & HS: Polls

Everyone has an opinion, but not everybody wants to write their name on a sheet of paper on a wall in the middle of the hallway for everyone in the school to see. Top tip: try stickers instead. Polls can cover a variety of topics. Check out some of our suggestions below:

  • What colour do you like?
  • What sport do you like?
  • What’s your favourite subject?
  • Do you like One Piece or Naruto?
  • Pokémon Sword or Pokémon Shield?
  • What season do you like?
  • What club do you want to join?
  • What’s your best (school) memory?
  • Which is the best starter Pokémon?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • What time do you (get up)?
  • Would you rather…?
  • My favourite food is…
  • What’s the best conbini food?
  • What’s Mr. Tanaka’s favourite food?
  • Pick one of the following!

Lastly, use these polls to your advantage. They can be used to lead classroom discussion, or even to just gain favour with your students. Running out of things to talk about over lunchtime? Make a poll, and find out what’s trendy amongst 10 year olds.

(P.S. the answer is Fortnite).

ES & JHS: Happy Holidays

By far the easiest and most effective way to come up with ideas for your next English poster is to look at the next big seasonal event. Be it Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, the Summer, or (my personal favourite) St. Patrick’s Day, there are lots of different ways to use the holidays to your advantage. Since this is a big topic, I’m going to split this up into some key events.

Valentine’s Day: For Elementary School, why not teach your students how to say ‘I love you’ in multiple languages? At Junior High School, you can teach students about the difference between Valentine’s Day in Japan and Valentine’s Day in your home country.

Summer: The heat of summer is unbearable, but the topics for English conversation are endless! For Junior High School, use a poll to learn what the majority of your students did over the summer break. Whether it’s going to a summer festival, exploring the beach, doing some shopping, or even going abroad, summer is full of fun activities that make for a beautiful poster. Fifth and sixth grade Elementary School students learn the basic future tense in One World. Why not ask them ‘Where do you want to go (this summer)?’

Black History Month: Link your English board to what your students learn in their English lessons. At Junior High school, expand on what the students learn from the New Crown textbook and bring history to life outside of the classroom.

Halloween: This is a favourite amongst Elementary School students. Japanese children’s obsession with horror manga continues to amaze me every day, but it does come in handy during the spookier months. Aside from displaying the names of various monsters in English, Linka Wade’s bulletin also shows pictures of various American candy. If the monsters don’t reel them in, then the promise of candy definitely will.

Tanabata: Not all the holidays on your board have to be from your country. Why not have your students write their wishes on slips of paper or stars?

Christmas: Everybody likes Christmas, even the Japanese homeroom teachers. Why not ask them what they want for Christmas and make a gigantic poster out of it? In my Christmas poster last year, I made a bauble/stocking for every teacher at school and, inside, I put a photo of the teacher and what that teacher wanted for Christmas. Not only did it become a hit among the students, the teachers felt involved, too. If you’re still looking for ways to talk to those teachers you’ve just never really got round to talking to, involve them in your poster-making activity. You can also have your first and second grade students make baubles during their Christmas lesson and display them in a similar way!

JHS & HS: Osusume Series

Recommend some activities to your students to try on their own time. This can be:

  • Music
  • Recipes
  • YouTube channels
  • TV shows
  • Books

ES, JHS, & HS: Gimme Letters!

Letter boxes have varying degrees of success. In the end, it all comes down to the type of relationship you have with your students. If you’d like your students to write you letters, first, build a strong relationship with them outside of class. Second, give them something to write about. For me, giving my little ones the opportunity to write Christmas Cards to the teachers was a huge hit. Some of the teachers also ended up writing Christmas cards to each other. On the last day of lessons, I dressed up as Santa and gave out their letters during lunchtime. Actually seeing the letters be delivered was the icing on the cake, and they couldn’t wait to write letters on their own time again! This isn’t only limited to Christmas, though. Charlie has incorporated a letterbox into her English board, and asks her to students to respond to seasonal questions.

ES: Take to the Stairs

Are you running out of wall space for your creations? Then use the stairs! Why not try…

  • Numbers
  • Days of the week
  • Greetings
  • Emotions
  • Months
  • Counting fruits
  • Counting animals
  • Counting vegetables
  • Seasons
  • What time is it?
  • Daily routines
  • And more!

There’s a lot of space to work with, and students literally use them every day.

ES, JHS, & HS: Wait, that’s not English!

Your English board doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% English. If you’re finding it difficult to find time in class to teach your students about your mother tongue, try using an English board. Personally, I love maps. If I could make every poster into some form of map, I would (and I’ve tried). As a spin on the classic ‘countries in English’ map that can be bought online, you could also try translating a word or phrase into different languages and showing where on a map that language comes from. As a teacher of very small people, I went with the basic, ‘hello’. All the cards flip up to reveal the katakana pronunciation underneath.

Maps aren’t the only way to show off another language. Check out other ways to display languages at:

A word of advice from our Poster-Makers

  1. LAMINATE EVERYTHING. It is much easier to cut without tearing, and you can save what you make for next year. It also prevents the colour from fading in the sun.
  2. SAVE YOUR STUFF. By reorganising what you’ve already made, you can simply edit it rather than creating a new template every time. Digital data can save you a wealth of time and consistency is a hit amongst your younger students.
  3. CHECK YOUR KATAKANA. Run your poster by a Japanese teacher before you put it up. One of our poster-makers told me that, one time, she wrote Winter Break as ブレキ, which means to physically break something, rather than the correct ブレク. Check and double check that katakana!
  4. REIGN IN YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Not every child is going to love and interact with your poster. Appreciate those who do but don’t force those who don’t.
  5. INVOLVE YOUR TEACHERS/STUDENTS. Making your poster as a collective process makes it more exciting for everybody. Interview your teachers. Use what your students have made in their classes. Get everyone involved! Your students will take an invested interest in something they helped to produce.
  6. MAKE AT LEAST ONE ACTIVITY ON YOUR BOARD INTERACTIVE. No matter the level, your students will engage with something that is exciting to interact with. Be it stickers or voting or Velcro, give your poster an element of fun.
  7. NO PARAGRAPHS. Even at High School, your students will simply just not read it.
  8. USE THE ENGLISH THEY KNOW. If your poster is overwhelmed with unknown phrases and grammar, your students will ignore it. Keep it simple and accessible.
  9. KEEP IT TO FIVE MINUTES. Your students have other commitments at school. If your board has too much stuff on it, your students won’t have the time to properly interact with it.
  10. DO NOT LET IT TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE. You have lessons to teach, meetings to have, games to play, and real life conversations to have with your students. Don’t sacrifice the limited time that you have with them.

Sites to Check Out

FACEBOOK: Japan ALT English Boards


A Special Thanks goes to Linka Wade, Sarah Hogan, and Charlie Mclean-Ash for helping me with this article.

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