Educational Materials to Bring to Japan

When you come to Japan as an ALT you are not only here to teach English but also to teach about the culture of your home country. For this reason, the JET Program will suggest you bring along some materials for this purpose. These small, inexpensive (maybe free) items aren’t too difficult to obtain at home and will greatly add to your classes. Visual aids in general are great to use with any group of students but I think they’re even more important to use with English Language Learners because it helps them better understand the words you are saying. Here’s a list of what I’ve brought, as well as some things I wish I would have brought from the USA.

Photos and Videos

I didn’t bring too many of these because I was never big on taking photos of everyday things, but now that I’m in Japan and I have to teach monthly visit classes on foreign culture I really wish I had taken a lot of photos while in America to teach my kids about American culture. You could have pictures of…

• All major holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc.)
 • School related (prom, graduation, school festivals, pictures of students, classrooms, your school)
• Family and friends (birthdays, holidays, sleepovers, dinners)
• Interesting places around your hometown (historic buildings, social gathering places, parks, etc.)
• Famous places nearby (monuments, landmarks, national parks, State parks)
• Other places (your house, post office, bank, store, mall, movie theater, day care, nursing home, etc.)

USA Coins and Bills

I have a set of real coins and bills, big paper money coins and bills I got from a teacher store, all 50 USA Quarters that are displayed in one of those quarter books, and sets of the quarters (6 in each set) for students to look at in groups. One of my favorite lessons involves teaching students about America’s 50 State Quarter Program, showing them Missouri’s quarter and how you can learn about each State’s history and culture by looking at its quarter. I draw a big circle on the chalk board and ask them what Nagano’s coin would look like if Japan did such a program, which can be interesting for them. I then put them into groups of 5 or 6 and give them one of the sets and a worksheet asking…

1. Which State’s quarter do you have?
2. Where is that State? (circle it on the map below)
3. What images are on the quarter?
4. Looking at the quarter, what do you think the State is famous for?

After the groups are finished discussing I have a member of the group come up and present their coin. The best State quarters for this activity are: Tennessee, Maine, Florida, Alaska, Arizona, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Hawaii because they know most of the names of the things on their quarter and if not, can easily look them up. Tennessee, for example, has pictures of a guitar, trumpet, violin and stars on it and the students can easily deduce that Tennessee is famous for music. I also have sets of Illinois, Colorado, and Alabama, but they don’t seem to work as well (Colorado’s is too simple, not all students know Helen Keller, and kids don’t get the Chicago/countryside backdrop on Illinois’ quarter). Missouri’s coin would also be good for students to use if I didn’t show it as an example.


I grabbed some postcard booklets before leaving for Japan and use these to teach students about where I’m from. One activity I’ve done in the past is write descriptions of the postcards in English and have the students walk around the classroom and match the picture to the description. There are probably many more things I could do with these, like have students make a write on their own postcards or something.  Let me know if you have any ideas.

Picture Book from your State

I brought a picture book of Missouri with me and brought a St. Louis Arch calendar for the office. Although I don’t use them as much, both have come in handy when I needed to show a picture of something cultural, like, well… the Arch. A picture book makes a good souvenir too.

License Plates

This might sound farfetched but I have some real Missouri license plates with me. (Authentic plates cost about $20 in Japan by the way) I found a license plate flashcard set at the Cracker Barrel; the front side has a picture of the State’s license plate and the backside is filled with information about the State that kids can use on road trips. Because of this I grabbed some old car plates before leaving for Japan. American States are much different than Japanese prefectures because of the amount of self-governing power our States have compared to prefectures. The fact that we can have our own plates and quarters is different. We focus not only being Americans but on what part of America we’re from and which State we’re from too. Just as you can learn about America by looking at coins, you can look at license plates. For my international studies students, I’m going to have each student become an expert on one State and present to the class. For the general students, I’m thinking about doing some type of matching activity similar to the postcard one.

On Monday I will use these flashcards for the first time for my elective English class. Two of the boys will go to America in August to be exchange students for a year but don’t know which State they’re going to yet, only that they’re going to the “Southeast.” After introducing them to the South, I’m going to give each student one license plate and coin from the South and ask them to become experts on that State and give a brief presentation to the class. Since we have 13 students and I’ll do Missouri as an example (though I only consider only the Southern portion of the State part of the South), we’re bound to talk about the State(s) the boys are heading to. I’ll ask them to tell the class…

1. The name of the State
2. The State’s nickname (on the back of the license plate flashcard)
3. What’s on the quarter
4. What’s on the license plate
5. What they think the State is famous for because of the coin and plate
6. One interesting fact they learned from the back of the license plate flashcard

Menus/receipts/price tags/ movie stubs/etc

I don’t have any of these but wish I did. Every Japanese text book has some chapter on how much something is and has activities where you role play buying stuff. There’s also some type of food chapter too where you pretend to order food. I wish I had some of these ‘artifacts’ with me to show students prices, how things are organized, the size of clothing over here, how English is important when you’re abroad, etc. I want to show the kids going to America how much cheaper stuff is too.

I’ll let you know more ideas when I think of them. I can imagine some nifty lesson plans where you could combine several of these materials together to make English class really interactive. Of course, family members, if you want to start saving up receipts and stuff, I won’t stop you. 🙂