Eat Your Words

July 14th, 2007 by Steph

Ok, ok. I’m totally guilty. I admit it. I leave stuff to the last minute. And as an ALT, this is a really easy trap to fall into. Most of my last minute lesson plans have actually gone pretty well, which only encourages my sloth. This is especially true at the elementary schools, where I am pretty much given free reign to plan lessons. Because I only visit each school once or twice a year, I am usually asked to pull the same 3 or 4 tricks out of my bag. This combined with frequent schedule changes and a language barrier means that, more often than not, I just show up with a few general ideas for what I’m going to do until I see what curve ball I’m thrown.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t know the Left/Right Mouse game or the Weather Song. Can you explain them to me? You don’t know them either? Instead you want the Hokey-Pokey followed by Fruit Basket? And you have no chairs and would like me to throw in something about animals. No problem…”

Eikaiwa, on the other hand, is the one place I have complete control over the lesson, and thus preparation would not go to waste. I decided to go wild and try it.

As part of my contract, I teach several extra-curricular English lessons for adults in the evening, succinctly called eikaiwa in Japanese. I’m currently going through my second round of such lessons this year, and I wanted to see what would happen if I actually poured my everything into it. Maybe it was the fact that the course length was only 6 2-hour lessons. Maybe it was coming back from a yearly teaching conference that stoked my idealism, inspired me to Make A Difference. Whatever the reason, I have been preparing.

Last night in class we went over the restaurant scenario. In addition to going over catch phrases and the like, I explained how eating out in America is different than eating out in Japan. In Japan, you usually get up and take your bill to a cash register. In America, if you don’t pay for the bill at your table, you’re tackled for trying to eat and run. In Japan, you cut through the din of the restaurant and call the server over with a loud “Excuse me” when you’re ready to order. At home, you just kind of have to sit around and wait until your server gets to you.

The last time I taught this lesson in the fall, we did a little role playing, where I seated the students, gave everyone a menu (in Japan, only 1 menu per table) and took their imaginary orders. We went over tipping, and I gave each table a bill. In the intervening months, I spoke to a friend who did this same type of lesson, but brought some actual food and made a mystery menu, so that students ordering A would get a cookie and students ordering B got kimchee. I decided to steal this creative idea for this summer’s class and make my own International Cafe.

I don’t know what possessed me to cook four entire dishes for my students. Maybe it’s the lack of international food in Noshiro. Maybe I want my students to understand that salad doesn’t always have to consist of cabbage. Maybe I want them to appreciate that spice comes in other flavors besides wasabi. Whatever the reason, here’s how the class went down: I made up a spiffy menu, with treats from Ghana, Greece, America, and Thailand. In the background is a world map with each these four places marked with a star:


Students have to order something from the menu. If they want to know anything about what they’re getting, they have to ask me what’s in each of the dishes and what I recommend. Then… we eat! Behind the scenes, I made up plates of fried bananas, spinach salad, spicy sweet noodles, and pesto pasta. While they were waiting for me to assemble everyone’s dishes, students had to practice small talk at their tables, a skill we’d practiced in the first half of class. On a side note, this lesson also taught me that Japanese people consider raw mushrooms to be death incarnate. Oops! Watch out for the tiny slices of oblivion in the spinach salad, everyone!

After class, I ran armfuls of dirty bowls and utensils out to my car in the rain. My kitchen was a disaster area. I was exhausted. Actually preparing for class? Not a bad idea. I might even do it again. But for now, I’m off to attack the mountain of dishes in my sink.

4 Responses to “Eat Your Words”

  1. Mitsuye Yamada Says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    Thio story of your cooking international dishe for the whole class is absotutely hysterical. I can’t picture your making all those ‘exotic” dishes behind the scenes and serving them to your students! This has got to be a first! But I’m sure the students enjoyed the whole experience. Did you get some feedback from them about esxactly what they got out of it?

  2. Vivien Says:

    I think the trick is to get them to cook for you — and clean up afterward! They can practice such useful words like ‘dishwashing detergent’ and ‘broil until tender’.

  3. Peggy Hoffman Says:

    Thanks for posting this one. A new restaurant called Sushi Unlimited has opened in Davis, and I’m going there tomorrow. I’m going to eat everything with my fingers and race to the cash register when I’m finished.

  4. Papa Says:

    As I read this, I began to wonder. Are Japanese diners as high maintenance as we are (dressing on the side, olive oil & vinegar no butter, extra bread, grilled not fried, mashed potatoes in place of the french fries, medium well, etc.)

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