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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

June 25, 2009

The 'Gaijin Party'- some classroom recipes

I think one expectation that the operators of this website had when asking me to blog here is that I might throw out the odd helpful classroom recipe for teachers looking for ideas. Actually, most of my lessons are very localized- rather idiosyncratic, eclectic, and geared specifically towards university-aged nursing or medical students (more on how I, a non-medic, do content-based lessons for such students will be dealt with here in the near future). But I do have a few lessons that are general, transferable, and always seem to come off well in the classroom (both in terms of student response and utility). I’ll write about those today.

A few of these (ahem) ‘greatest hits’ lesson recipes have appeared in the My Share column of The Language Teacher magazine over the years.
You can see an old one about using crosswords to teach explanation strategies here .

You can see another one about students making their own tests, here.

And a third, called Grammar Gambling, can be found here .

I’ll describe another successful lesson below. It’s called ‘Gaijin Party’. And here’s how it works:

1. You’ll have to make a bunch of cards that contain a foreigner’s name, job, and country. To indicate the truly international scope of English I tend to choose non or semi-native English speaking countries. It also legitimizes imperfect or broken English in the eyes of the students. Have enough female and male names to match the gender of your students.

2. Pre-activity. In groups have students brainstorm on questions they think would be good to ask foreigners who they’ve just met at some party in Japan. About 6-8 per group should be good. Collect the lists and make a grand list of the best, most appropriate, useful, conversation-engaging questions on the board. Some grammar/vocab/interaction/politeness/culture points may be dealt with here too (NB- forbid the dreaded nattou question)

3. Now, half of the students will become foreigners. This means you will give them one card (see step 1 above) each. These students are sent into the hall. They will be the foreigners listed on the cards and they will be attending an international party in the classroom. While they wait outside they have to think about their ‘story’ and character.

4. The half that stay inside the classroom are themselves, Japanese ‘hosts’ of the party. Briefly go over some ‘first meeting’ protocol such as greetings, offering a drink, seat etc. The hosts can practice this for a few minutes and also try to memorize those best questions that have been collected earlier by the teacher so that they don’t talk to the foreigner from a script.

5. While these hosts practice and prepare this, you can brief the ‘foreigners’ outside. Do they have any questions about their identities? (Some will not understand some jobs or countries, and maybe name pronunciation- the latter being less important because it’s not like the hosts will know any better). Explain that they will go to the party one by one (often through 2 doors simultaneously if you have a large classroom and number of students) by knocking and then waiting for a host to come to the door and greeting them. They must put their cards away before entry. Also, arrange an entry order, which you will moderate.

6. Check that the hosts are ready to meet, greet and talk with the foreigners. Arrange a greeting order for the hosts and prepare them to listen for knocks. Hosts should not follow the board list order of questions or read from a script (learning to negotiate meaning and using strategies for that purpose is a key skill in this activity).

7. Start the activity. Send in the foreigners one by one, making sure that a host is coming to greet each and every one.

8. Let them chat for quite awhile as you monitor the ‘party’ classroom. They WILL do it in English and they will have fun. Most will use the strategies and questions that have been deemed fertile.

9. After sufficient chat time do a round up as follows:
Point out that they could have a good conversation despite limited English. Point out that most English speakers in the world are not native speakers and in fact communicate in similar ways. Point out that using the guest’s names and asking about native countries and jobs in more detail can be engaging.

10. Reverse the guest/host roles, dish out new ‘Gaijin’ cards, and do it again.

11. If there is sufficient time at the end, you can teach and practice a 3-way introduction. “Taro, have you met ---? This is Ahmed from Iran. Ahmed, Taro a student here at ---".

I’ve been doing this lesson early on in the spring semester for several years now. It’s a motivator and it involves transferable language and interactive skills. It can also serve as a consciousness raiser.

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Sounds good, but why call it a "Gaijin Party"? Do you actually use that word in class? "Gaijin" isn't really a word I (especially as an English teacher) want to encourage my students to use without understanding deeply how it can be interpreted.

Half of the people at the party are "Japanese" as well, right?

Why use a Japanese word at all when English will suffice? How about calling it an International Party?

Hi Tristan. Thanks for your comments- I was away for a few days and thus unable to process them.

Actually 'Gaijin Party' is only the TITLE that I give to the lesson, for example when explaining it to, ummm, gaijin.

In the classroom, I tell the students that we are having an, as you suggested, 'international party'. And when I split up the groups, if I have to, I refer to the NJ half as either the foreigners or guests. (PARTY guests for PC folks out there- I don't mean it in the sense that they are 'guests' in this country or anything like that)

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