Going on JET is a lot like being an English-teaching commando: you're recruited by a large government organization, given a mission briefing, and quickly deployed. From there, you're mostly on your own.
And just like a commando, you'll have to gather resources for your mission on your own. This is where the Internet comes in. Thankfully, the heartbeat of the modern ALT is digital and English-teaching strategies and resources from your fellow Assistant Language Teachers has been slowly trickling onto websites everywhere. 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 help and information 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.
- Resources from Official Sources
- Resources from Your Fellow JETs
- Kumamoto JET Lesson Wiki
- Even more teaching resources from KumamotoJET
- AkitaJET Wiki
- Mie Guidebook Teaching Resources Wiki
- Kobe JET Resources and Songs
- JETSendai JHS Lessons
- ToyamaJET's Teaching Resources
- NagasakiJET's Hello English Picture Dictionary
- Lesson Shares, Drives, and SDC Compilations
- Resources from Japan ALTs
- Resources from ESL Teachers
- Random Helpful Things
- Never Stop Building Your Arsenal of Teaching Resources for JET Program Excellence
Resources from Official Sources
These are resources from on high—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 says, "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 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, games, and extracurricular activities for all grades. And they're pretty darn good. Consider this your backpack full of survival supplies from the organization that air dropped you into the mission.
Get: Your survival gear
AJET's Planet Eigo and Foxy Phonics
AJET is the "Association for JET" made up of current ALTs. and they offer 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 as purchasable physical copies, but they're now online for free!
Planet Eigo is an especially wonderful collection of games and activities from JET ALTs from across Japan, and because they're curated by AJET, you know that most of the materials will be a step above what you might find online.
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 ins-and-outs of behavior, how to handle various teaching scenarios, and overall best practices.
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 warm-ups. The lessons are detailed and sometimes offer downloadables to help in execution. 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.
The JETs in Akita have put together a fantastic resource that all ALTs in Japan should check out. Their teaching resources wiki alone has sections for lessons at every grade level, and each page is packed with downloadables. In addition, there is information about entrance exams, classroom Japanese, and TEFL certification. Don't miss this one!
Mie Guidebook Teaching Resources Wiki
The Mie JETs have set up a nice wiki, which includes a burgeoning resources section for teachers. Though you won't find many downloadables here, the wiki acts as a knowledgebase for ALTs, covering best practices for things like speech contest and English club.
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.
Formerly Speakraku, AltWiki is a collection of lessons and info for JETs, mostly in elementary and junior high. The standout features of this site are complete collections of lessons and activities for the Hi, Friends! and Sunshine textbooks, and a series of articles called "Better Teaching," which help teachers handle issues not directly related to lesson-planning.
JETSendai JHS Lessons
Sendai JETs have compiled what might be the ultimate resource for Junior High ALTs. This site is 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 can be tough to navigate but the content is worth it—especially the team-teaching handbook. Resources aside, there's a series of 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 descriptions of school life can do a world of good in helping you understand your job.
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. Thankfully there ALTs like the ones in Nagasaki that pull together to create resources for the rest of us.
Lesson Shares, Drives, and SDC Compilations
Not every prefecture's JET group has a website with teaching materials, and even if yours does, wouldn't it be great to check out resources made by ALTs in other prefectures?
Below are links to shared Google Drives, compilations of shared resources from Skill Development Conferences (SDC), and other prefectural lesson shares. Dig through the treasure trove and see what you can use for class or modify into something brand new.
- Niigata AJET Shared Google Drive
- ShigaJET Lesson Share
- Saga JET Programme Teaching Resources
- Kyoto JETs Lesson Plans
- Hyogo AJET Teaching Materials
- Nara AJET Lessons
- Miyazaki AJET Teaching Materials Collection
- Kagoshima JET Program Idea Share
- Oita JET Lesson Exchange
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
Altastic boasts a lot of unique resources that go beyond downloadable worksheets. Even though the site is dreadfully slow, there are reasons to wait through the load times.
My favorite feature from this website is their Vocablinator. If you need to know what words your students should have learned by a certain point, type it into the Vocablinator, and it will reveal exactly what book, chapter, and page number that word can be found in. Right now, only the Sunshine textbooks are covered, but they are working on adding the five 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
Though the site is aimed at childhood development in general, there is a wealth of high quality ESL-related content. The main event here are the songs and videos, but there are also downloadable lessons, activities, and printables for classroom environments.
Get: Fun puppet videos
Though no longer updated, this website about living and working in Japan has a healthy amount of teaching materials, mostly for junior high and high school. It's a pain to navigate, but it does categorize blog posts by topic, and there's a nice archive of blog posts called "Worksheet Sunday" which are worth a look.
Let's Teach English
Junior high-level ALTs looking for lessons built around the New Crown textbook have found their trove. Let's Teach English looks nice and is easy to navigate. The lessons are varied and detailed, offering a lot of explanation—a definite winner for JHS ALTs.
Japan Teaching Resource Facebook Group
The name says it all: a Facebook group for English teachers in Japan. The feed is full of helpful discussions and classroom shareables, many of which are labeled for level within level (i.e., low-level high school). Having over 1,800 ALTs at your fingertips is an awesome opportunity to get feedback on situation-specific problems 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 three, 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.
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, 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 new ways. 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 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 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.
Dave's ESL Cafe
This site is 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 twenty-four categories, each with forty-plus ideas.
There is a lot on this site, though it's all mostly geared toward elementary and Eikaiwa students. 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.
This site isn't pretty, but it loads fast and has a ton of content—mostly building blocks for creating your own lessons. It's aimed at English learners, not teachers, so bear this in mind when going here for resources.
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, JALT is probably the best place to do that.
Aside from gaining a peer support network, 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.
If you're teaching high-level students who crave new material, 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.