Although I rarely write specifically about my subject – this is one of them! A post on using an authentic resource to reinforce script recognition. If you don’t teach my TL maybe something here will resonate with you too!
I teach Japanese in a Gr9-12 semester-system high school (in Vancouver, BC Canada). Several years ago I made the decision to stop using romaji with my beginners. I never liked using it, it was tough to wean kids off it and it didn’t seem natural to me. Instead we start with all ‘oral’ work boosted by key visuals to remember. We repeat, we find new partners, we repeat again. At the same time (and on the first day) I start introducing script – just the first 5 characters on day 1…but enough to start them on their journey. As they learn all their characters we begin to write words we have learned.
It is also my habit to start every new semester with a story for my classes. I like that it gets kids reading again and seeing characters and hopefully sparks/taps previous learning. Typically I use graded reader stories for my older students (Momotaro, Urashimataro etc.). But for my new first year students I have a board-book copy of the classic “Kaguyahime”. It’s a lovely tale, the script is big, as are the pictures, and the target audience is for children so there isn’t a lot of text on the page. I don’t expect my students to be able to ‘understand’ the story on the page. Here’s how I use it…
- I don’t introduce the story until we are well on our way with learning characters – that is after we have seen あーも (and ん). I continue to introduce script in class but I feel at this point they have a good ‘chunk’ to work with
- Each day I pick out5- 7 key words from the story and write them on the board; ‘words such as むかし, おじいさん, たけ etc. Under each I write the English meaning.
- Students work with their partner (this is key – that they work together) and chart to figure out how to say them. Then we review out loud. I don’t lead them through the words initially because I want to begin the practice of ‘recognizing’. Note: this is a great way to introduce sound combinations like しゃ or the use of the small つ (けっこん). These I do ‘pre-teach’ before I ask them to try to read them…
- I ask them to choose any 4 words and write them on the back blank page of their hiragana booklet (writing practice!)
- They look at the text (copied) and work to find the words on the page. It’s also an introduction to reading traditional text (right to left/top to bottom)
- I read the page and recap in English
I do a page a day for the next few pages in this manner until we come to part where the 5 princes are issued a challenge to find something (in order to marry Kaguyahime). We approach the page the same way – key words that day include vocabulary for the desired items. At the end of the reading I ask the students to talk with their partner and predict who will be successful in their quest and why (they have to write down their prediction). They are quite engaged in this and all sorts of interesting reasoning. The next day we go over the items being searched for in English on the board. If you know the story – you know the quests are not successful so our words to read this day are the Japanese for ‘fake’, ‘ship sunk’ and ‘grievous injuries’. They practiced saying them and when I read out an asked-for item in English they guessed – in Japanese – what happened. “Quest for the jewel from the dragon’s throat?” “Ship sinks” they all yelled in Japanese! Then they searched for the words on the page…I read and they learned the young men’s fate.
For pages after this in the story I ask them to do a different task each day per page including:
- Select one line and put a check mark beside characters you already recognize
- Select one line and, using your chart, look for and say out loud all of the characters in the line
- Select 3 lines and see if you can find a combination sound or a small つ word
The story time is about 15 minutes of my 75 minute class. My book is about 10 pages and it’s a great way to introduce a classic story and also engage students in reading script. Two good outcomes from one authentic resource!