Your first day as an English teacher in a Japanese school can be nerve wracking. Not only are you dropped into a new work environment with new people (and for many of us) in a new language. On top of that, the first time you step into a Japanese class room you will be asked to teach your first live lesson! - The good news is it's not that bad, and the tips below will help you get through it.

Your first lesson

In public schools, your first lesson will generally be a self-introduction. You might be worried about how to make a simple self-introduction last for the 30 minutes that the teacher has given you, or even the whole period of 45 minutes for elementary school or 50 minutes for junior high - but make it an entertaining presentation not just about you but also where you are from and the students will be very interested. Make it interactive and you will wish you had more time.

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Tips for ALT's first class

Slow down

Go slow and keep your English simple. Nearly every student in every public school in Japan doesn't speak English. Though they study it, they aren't using English on a daily basis, nor do they have exposure to native conversational English. Using everyday phrases will leave everyone lost. Slow down and a repeat your key points.


Use props such as photos, maps, currency, flags, cuddly toys, music, video and anything else you can think of. If you want to use a computer connected to a TV, check this is OK first and then check everything works as it should.


Make your self-introduction interactive. If you have 45 minutes in front of your students, don't just lecture. Ask (simple) questions of your class. Ask them what they know about your home town. If you show pictures, ask them if they recognize what it is. If you are telling them simple facts about yourself such as age/country, let them guess. Ask students and the teacher about themselves. If you are telling what sport you like, ask some students what sport they like first.

Think of it as a chance to learn about your students - this helps you remember them as people and it also gives them a chance to communicate with you! (You'll be surprised how many English classes have very little real communication.)

Another way to make it interactive is to play a game or do some kind of activity. (See ideas below.)

Elementary first lesson activities

Make name tags

The class teacher may already have done this, but making name tags for everyone is a good activity. You get a little face time with each (elementary) student as you show them how to write their name in English.

See the make name tags page for different variations.

Practice writing names

Some students might be able to do this, others won't. I like to show students that the first letter should be a capital (or oomoji - 大文字) and the rest should be small letters (or komoji - 小文字). I like to write their names for them then let them copy, although this isn't so easy for a larger class.

Use these free to download lined writing practice worksheets.

Name card (business card) exchange

In Japan it is standard in business settings to exchange business cards (often referred to as name cards) during the first minutes of meeting someone as part of your self-introduction.

Instead of making name tags, try business cards by giving everyone about 5 pieces of paper and they make their own name cards. Then using an introduction you have taught them, they walk around and introduce themselves to each other. "Paper, scissors, rock" and the loser has to give the winner a card.

The self-introduction could be "Hello. My name is _____. Nice to meet you." for 1st/2nd grade. Add "I like _____." for 3rd/4th grade and for 5th/6th grade add "What is your name." into the mix.

"What English do you know?"

Draw some pictures on the board, then tell the students you know the Japanese words: "I know いぬ(inu=dog). I know いえ(ie=house). I know はな(hana=flower)." Then put students into groups and give them a bunch of colored markers and a big sheet of paper. They can draw what they know and group by group tell you what they know.

This is a simplified version (ie. no writing, only drawing pictures) of category words game for junior high school.

After the first elementary lesson

If you teach at elementary schools then chances are you will be using the Hi, friends! textbooks for 5th and 6th grade. has great lesson plan ideas for Hi, friends! 1 and Hi, friends! 2 with fun games and activities designed to use the English studied in a real way.

Junior high first lesson activities

Introduction quiz

After you have given your self-introduction, give each student (or pair or group) a quiz you prepared earlier. The quiz should ask students to recall simple information about you that you have given throughout your introduction. Make the questions very simple.

What English do you know?

Similar to the above, but you may consider asking them what English phrases they know. (No looking at your books!)

If that doesn't sound very interesting, try this: Ask them what English words they know, if someone says dog, quickly say "OK, animals - what animals do you know?" Once you have a few, ask them what sports/famous people/colors/jobs (professions)/food/etc they know. If you want, put them in groups before you start and give points or get everyone to stand up and they can't sit down till they have given a word (but let the class help the last people standing).

First Lesson Success

Success in your first lesson will come simply from being yourself and engaging your students. Follow the tips above - go slow, use props and keep it interactive and you will have as much fun as your students.

Be sure to check these elementary games and junior high games for games and activities to use throughout the year.

Liked it? Please share!
# Mike 2016-06-01 14:58
I have just arrived in Tokyo as an ALT.
Thanks for these great tips!
# al 2017-02-14 16:03
# thomas daniels 2017-02-20 01:16
Thanks,great tips.I just started last year here in japan and man was it tough sometimes, keep up the good work!!
# Rachel 2017-11-29 06:12
These are some great tips, but I wanted to add the idea of leaving quesions open for students to ask you, especially if you know a little Japanese! The students are usually curious about you (in a rural area you might be the only foreigner they've ever seen), but usually they're also very shy. To deal with this, I ask for at least three questions, and if there are no volunteers it becomes "My Choice!" If I call on someone random and let their friends help them out, usually more questions will start to show up after the first few kids speak!
# 2017-11-29 06:41
Hey Rachel, thanks for the great tip. Question time is a must, and even if you can't speak Japanese, the teachers in class with you will help you out.

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