Going on JET is a lot like being an English-teaching commando. You're recruited by a large government organization, given a quick mission briefing, and you're deployed.
From there, you're mostly on your own.
This is an exaggeration, but it certainly can feel that way sometimes. Because ALTs are sent to various kinds of schools with such specific needs, it's hard to give advice that's not broad, general, and somewhat useless.
The very best training you can get for your job comes from your Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs), your predecessor, and your fellow JETs. Your JTEs will give you a good idea of how the school is run and your predecessor will help you understand your specific function in your school.
But your fellow JETs are by and large the most helpful resource for your teaching. They are the Borg collective of team teaching, swollen with knowledge and experience you can benefit from. Sadly, you'll only get together to formally discuss teaching strategies once a year at the Skill Development Conference. Two days once a year is not nearly enough help for a brand new ALT.
This is where the Internet comes in. Thankfully, the heartbeat of the modern ALT is digital and English teaching expertise has been slowly trickling onto websites all over the place. Even CLAIR and other once-distant official organizations have started dispensing helpful (though well-hidden) teaching resources online.
This article is my best effort to organize as much of this online ALT English-teaching wisdom into one place. There's a ton of information and help out there, though it's often buried in forum posts, wikis, and older websites from 2004.
Get ready to intercept Tofugu's covert communique, ALT Commandos. This is the training you never got.
Resources from Official Sources
These are resources from on high. They are official or officially affiliated with the official. Considering the lack of training from CLAIR, it's nice to have something from the higher ups that say, "Hey there, buddy. We didn't forget aboutcha. Have some nice, helpful things."
CLAIR's ALT Handbook
This is JET's official stance on JET. Take this as an idea of how your job should work, not necessarily how it will work in reality. Nonetheless, having CLAIR's official word on the ALT job can be pretty helpful in forming routines and ideas as you get started at your school.
CLAIR's Teaching Materials Collections
CLAIR goes a step further with an offering of lessons and games for all grades and extracurricular activities. And they're pretty darn good. Consider this your backpack full of survival supplies from the organization that air dropped you into your mission.
Thanks government! Like for real. That wasn't sarcastic. These are really good lessons.
Get: Your survival gear
AJET's Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics
AJET is the Association for JET which is made up of current ALTs. AJET offers support, resources, and activities for all current JET participants. Though technically independent, AJET has close contact with CLAIR, making them kind of an official JET entity. Their books, Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics, used to be available only in purchasable book form, but are now offered online free of charge. Planet Eigo especially is a wonderful collection of games and activities from JET ALTs from across the country. And because this is published by AJET, you know the materials are the best of the best.
British Councils' ALT Handbook
This handbook can be considered partly official, because it was a joint effort between the British Council and MEXT. The UK entity gives their two pence on what an ALT should be. And it's pretty damn helpful. This pdf guide covers a lot of ins and outs of behavior and best practices for the job. It makes a nice counterpoint to CLAIR's official version. Consider it a great second opinion on how your job should work.
Resources from Your Fellow JETs
Your comrades in team-teaching will be your best source of ideas, inspiration, and morale. Thanks to our wonderful internet, you can extend that powerful connection beyond your own prefecture and to all the JETs in all of 日本!
All prefectures have their own Facebook page, but some have built extensive websites and wikis chock full of info. The best of this info, of course, is the teaching materials.
Kumamoto JET Lesson Wiki
The home of everyone's favorite KimoKawaii bear gives us an entire wiki devoted to lessons and teaching materials. All lessons are divided by level with additional lessons for eikaiwa, special needs, and warmups. The lessons are generally very detailed and sometimes offer downloadables to help in executing them. Bookmark this one because you'll be going back.
Even more teaching resources from KumamotoJET
Oh, did you think Kumamoto was finished? The power of Kumamon imbues them with otherworldly teaching powers. The official KumamotoJET website (separate from the wiki) offers three collections of lessons from Skill Development Conferences. Presumably these are from days before the wiki, but they're nice to have and worth checking out.
Kobe JET Resources and Songs
Like other JET-made resource sites, Kobe JET is a treasure trove of shared lessons. But one feature that makes them stand out from the crowd: a collection of classroom-friendly pop songs, complete with YouTube links and translations to Japanese (for certain songs). If you're an ALT, you know how songs can save a class, so check out Kobe JET and make your life easier.
SagaJET Teaching Resources
The JET ALTs of Saga-ken have gathered their teaching powers into a shareable Google Drive and organized them by level. Also, everything is printable, making them great for building your arsenal. Print out as many as are relevant to you and store them in your desk for those last minute emergencies.
SpeakRaku from KobeJET
SpeakRaku is a colorful and fun collection of lessons and info for JETs at all kinds of schools. The lessons are arranged by level and also indicate grade, time needed, grammar points, objectives, and materials needed. If that weren't enough, SpeakRaku contributors also share stories, tips, and tricks that will smooth out the ALT experience. The super hip layout can be distracting and make it hard to find what you're looking for, but keep searching. It's worth it.
NagasakiJET's Hello English Picture Dictionary
Nagasaki's JET ALT community put together a nice pdf picture dictionary with great illustrations and material separated by grade. The best part about this is that it's made specifically for Elementary grades 1-4, the four grades of school that do not have compulsory English education. Because it's not compulsory, there is no official curriculum for these grades and thus ALTs are generally on their own when planning lessons for these classes. Thankfully there ALTs like the ones in Nagasaki that pull together to create resources for the rest of us.
JETSendai JHS Lessons
Sendai JETs have compiled what might be the ultimate resource for Junior High ALTs. Sorry, High School and Elementary, but there's plenty for you elsewhere. This site is super well-organized. Not only are lessons separated by year, they even outline on the menu which lessons work on speaking, reading, writing, and listening.
ToyamaJET's Teaching Resources
Toyama's website is a bit tough to navigate but the content is worth it, first and foremost being the team teaching handbook. This has got all your lessons. Besides that is a nice series of drop down menus which offer guides to life in Elementary, Junior, and High School, with extra sub sections for Mid-level, High-level, and Technical High Schools. Sometimes these little seo_descriptions of school life can do a world of good in helping you understand your job.
Resources from Japan ALTs
Your fellow JETs do offer a lot of help, as evidenced above. But JET ALTs are actually just part of the larger Japanese ALT community in Japan. And this community, both JET and non-JET alike, have created a wealth of independent websites to help you plan better lessons and become a more engaging teacher.
When we first published this article, I called Englipedia "your number one stop for English teaching help on the Internet." As of March 2018, Englipedia has launched a new site called ALTopedia, but you can still access the old Englipedia archive for the time being.
The new site, ALTopedia is the updated and improved version made by the same group of volunteers. Though still new, the site already has quite a few user-submitted lessons. One more perk, no ads or pop-ups which are pretty prevalent on most ESL resource sites. Oh wait, also it's free.
James from ALT Insider was an early Tofugu Podcast guest. His site is a treasure trove of help for ALTs, but one of the most unique and valuable things he offers is a full year of set lesson plans for Elementary and Junior High ALTs. You have to pay for them, but it's a whole year of planning done for you! Not a bad deal if it fits your situation. Check it out.
Get: More fun as an ALT
This site is definitely a jackpot. Altastic boasts a lot of unique resources that go beyond downlaodable worksheets. There are games and other interactives to be had. If you don't have wi-fi at school, there are download options for offline use. My favorite idea from this website is their Vocablinator. If you need to know what words your students should know by a certain point, type it into the Vocablinator, and it will reveal exactly what book, chapter, and page number it can be found in. Right now, only the Sunshine textbooks are covered, but they are working on adding the 5 other major junior high textbooks. If you're an ALT in Japan right now, you can contribute by using their Uploadinator to add data to their project.
Super Simple Learning
Their name simply says learning, but most of their songs and lessons are English related and they have a Japanese version of the page, so it's safe to say the content was made with ESL in mind. The reason I recommend it is because of the high quality of their video production. Top notch animation and puppetry are bound to grab Elementary age learners. They sell a few things, which may be helpful or annoying depending on who you are.
Get: Fun puppet videos
A sadly defunct website about living and working in Japan. It's a pain to navigate properly, but it does categorize blog posts by topic, which is handy in its own way. The teaching materials are mostly for junior high, but they have a nice archive of blog posts called "Worksheet Sunday" which are worth a look. Too bad it's not updated anymore. Coulda been one of the greats.
Let's Teach English
This is a great site with junior high level lessons built around the New Crown textbook. The site looks nice and is easy to navigate. The lessons are varied and detailed, offering a lot of explanation. A definite winner for JHS ALTs.
An older blogspot built around the Eigo Note series of elementary textbooks. Though Eigo Note is not as widely used anymore, the lessons can easily be applied to 5th and 6th graders using any book. There's also some nice teaching tips for doing a self intro, opening and closing class, etiquette, and so forth.
Japan Teaching Resource Facebook Group
The name says it all: a Facebook group for English teachers in Japan. The feed is constantly full of helpful discussions and classroom shareables, many of which are labeled for level within level (ie. low-level high school). Having over 1800 ALTs at your fingertips is an awesome opportunity to get feedback on situation specific problems you might be having, and to discuss the realities of ALT teaching, even if they're not pretty.
ALT JTE Connect
A recently defunct ALT resource blog, with a nice interface and some great ideas. There's 4+ years of archived posts full of free downloads, worksheets, and teaching ideas.
English Web Book
Hot Dog! This website has a ton of activities for all three levels of junior high and they are categorized by textbook. The books covered are Columbus, New Crown, and the big daddy New Horizon. If that weren't enough, each activity also tells you which page it corresponds to in each book. If you're a junior high ALT teaching from one of these 3, you've got it made.
Eigo Ganbare is a resource site made by a former JET Program ALT. It gives the standard offering of printable worksheets (and a lot of them). But what makes this one stand out is the Pen Pal, English Club, and Eiken sections.
Eigo Ganbare helps you go above and beyond as an ALT by giving ideas and resources for English outside the classroom. And that's what most other resource sites are lacking.
Resources from ESL Teachers
Beyond ALT teaching in Japan, there is the vast world of of ESL, taught in countries all over the world. There's a lot to learn by stepping outside the realm of Japan-specific English teaching and seeing how other teachers and students work in different places. Below is a list of resources that are highly regarded in ESL circles.
International TESL Journal
Welcome to the peak of ESL intellect. Though the journal publication appears to have ended in 2010, the website is still being maintained. This site offers lessons as others do, but the real treasure is in the articles. If you're stuck in an English teaching rut and need tips on how to improve your life in the classroom, these articles will help get your mind thinking in a new way. Similarly, the section labelled "Techniques" offers more in-depth writing on ESL teaching improvements. Some of my favs so far are:
- Teaching How to Learn
- Coping with Problems Caused by Stereotypes in Japan
- Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts Before passing up their lessons section, give it a thorough look. The teachers who contribute to this site are top in their field, and their lesson ideas are a bit more detailed and creative than those you might find on other teaching sites.
Maintained principally by a group of teachers in South Korea, Lanternfish, sports a whole slew of content. Games, flash cards, puzzles, conversations, creative writing materials, phonics, articles, and more. High school ALTs at high level schools stand to benefit the most from this site, which is great because most Japan-specific resources focus on elementary and junior high. If this site could get rid of their ads, they'd be golden.
Dave's ESL Cafe
This site is rather famous in the ESL/TESL world, so much so that the JET Program mentions it in its official application as a checkbox for "How did you hear about the JET Programme?" This site becomes incredibly relevant when JETs finish their contracts but want to continue teaching in Japan or elsewhere. But on JET there's some use for this site as well. The "Idea Cookbook" section is a collection of 24 categories, each with 40+ ideas.
There is a lot on this site, though it's all mostly geared toward elementary and Eikaiwa students. Unfortunately, the design and ads make it tough to search through. But don't let that discourage you from at least checking to see if anything on it is relevant for you. My personal favorite feature is the custom worksheet maker (under a different domain, but created by the same guy), which allows you create all kinds of mazes, crosswords, and handwriting pages. The interface is a little clunky, but for certain tasks it may be easier than making it yourself in a document or image editor.
Kids seem to really love this guy and his guitar singing easy English songs with puppets. Though the video quality is a bit more basic than those at Super Simple Learning, his English is more helpful and easier to understand for elementary Japanese students than SSL. The best part is, he offers most everything for free and clearly labels what's for sale unlike some other ESL sites.
This site isn't pretty, but it loads fast and has a ton of content. It's aimed at English learners, not teachers, so bear this in mind when going here for resources. This site has more building blocks for lessons than it does complete ones.
Packed with content made especially for people teaching English in foreign countries. Aside from the standard lessons and games stockpile, there's a very active forum, which is probably this site's standout feature.
Random Helpful Things
These aren't lessons, materials, or resources for teaching English in Japan. But they will enhance your life on JET if you explore them a little.
The Japan Association for Language Teaching is a professional organization with chapters all across Japan. If you're interested in furthering your career in English teaching after JET or simply want to get support and resources while on JET, JALT is probably the best place to do that. Aside from gaining a support network of enlightened peers, you also get their bi-monthly magazine, their bi-annual research journal, reduced admission to JALT conferences, invitations to JALT groups and events, and a discount on Apple products. Non-members can still gain a lot by browsing their website, which offers pdf versions of past publications and other helpful materials. But why not join and get the all the best stuff you can?
If you're lucky enough to be teaching high level students who crave new material to read and practice with, TOSA English has got you covered. Made for learners of English, this site's got videos, music, and books made specifically for English learners. This would be perfect material to base an English club on.
List of Japanese Grammar Terms
Starting out as an English teacher, you may not realize how much grammar terminology you may need to convey in Japanese. Thankfully, this forum post from ithinkimlost.com offers a handy reference sheet for the pronunciation and kanji for words like 母音 (vowel) and 述語 (predicate).
Never Stop Building Your Arsenal of Teaching Resources for JET Program Excellence
Becoming a great English teacher doesn't happen overnight. It won't even happen the first year. It takes a lot of research, practice, and experimentation.
But as a JET English teaching commando, you can at least have fun scavenging for resources and materials to build your arsenal. Whether or not you plan on being a professional in the future, on JET you have the freedom to experiment and have fun with the job. Do your best, but make it your own. That's the only way to ensure success without burnout. Here's to the mission.