Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, December 15, 2006

All the Classroom's a Stage...

A uniformed student walks along, minding his own business, when suddenly he is accosted by two boys of apparently similar age.

"Stop!" commands one of the boys. "Where do you think you are going?"

"I'm going to school," replies the student warily.

"I don't think so!" retorts the other boy. "Not like that!"

"Why not?" demands the student. "Did I do something wrong? Who are you?"

Suddenly the two boys throw open their jackets, strike a pose, and reply in sync, "We're the Fashion Police!"

No, it's not a scene from Monty Python's Flying Circus, though I admit Monty Python had more than a little influence. It's just Drama Week at Ye Olde AcademyTM.

For the past five years, instead of having my 9th grade students take a midterm exam for my English Oral Communication class I've had them give English speeches instead. However, my working partner this year, Ms. Y, suggested we try having them perform skits instead. I thought it sounded like an intriguing idea, so we went for it.

As it turned out, my idea was quite different from what Ms. Y had imagined. She wanted to have the kids learn three skits, and then we would choose one of them at random for them to perform on presentation day. My thought was to divide the students into groups, have each choose one skit from a list, and then let them throw everything into preparing their performance. In the end, we wound up going with my plan.

First we had to come up with the skits themselves. We had a whole supply of English conversation books that had all sorts of dialogues, but these suffered in that they:

  1. tended to have only two characters instead of three or four, and

  2. were generally dull as a wooden sword.

Boredom is something I tend not to deal with very well, so I decided to put my muse to work and make the dramas myself. I used the topics in the textbook dialogues as a guide, but I also drew a lot from Monty Python, Benny Hill, and other famously silly (but not too obscene) comedians for inspiration. I came up with twelve skits in all, and I had a ball doing it. Then, during the next week of classes, we had the students divide into groups (and give their groups names, of course!). Next we had them choose the skit they wanted perform from the title only (i.e. no reading it beforehand). Finally they were told that they had one week to get their skits ready for performance, with points awarded for such things as preparation, memorization, interaction, and body language as well as their English delivery.

The kids generally looked like they were ready to panic, as they had never done anything like it before. Indeed, there was some worry between Ms. Y and I (and other members of the faculty) that we were heading for disaster.

Our worries were strangely reinforced as we rearranged the English classroom into a makeshift theater, setting up a makeshift stage and moving the desks and chairs to allow both a good view and an optimum camera angle. It was a lot of work, and it would have been a shame for all of it to be for nothing!

Actually, we were pleasantly surprised. One of the two advanced classes was a terrible disappointment, as nearly all the groups just stood like statues on the stage and read their scripts in a dull monotone (and got deathly low scores as a result). However, the other advanced class and the three regular classes were a lot of fun. Some of the groups clearly put a lot of effort into preparing and rehearsing. Most of them at least made an effort to do it all from memory. There were props, there was artistic license, there were improvs, there was some really funny dramatic characterization, and there were a few colossal blunders...which often led to more improvs! All in all, the kids in all but that one class had a tremendous blast with it! I have to say it was a lot of fun watching (and scoring) all those performances, and I can't wait to sit back and watch the video!

Hmm...maybe I should try to figure out a way to post a couple of the more memorable performances...

"Today's specials are hamburg steak with natto, pork fillet with natto, natto pizza, natto salad with natto dressing, natto sandwich with extra natto, natto, and French-fried natto, and natto-covered natto with natto on natto, tomatoes with natto, natto, and natto."

"Do you have anything without natto?"

"Well, the natto salad with natto dressing hasn't got much natto in it."

"I don't want any natto!"

(At this point I had to restrain myself to keep from holding my fingers to my head like Viking horns and singing, "Natto, natto, natto, natto...nattoey natto...wonderful natto!" With many apologies to the Pythons...)

Sure beats the hell out of an exam, I tell you! ;-)


  • One strawberry sorbet without so much natto in it later...

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:57 AM  

  • That last picture looks kinda like something I saw snabby produce one warm summer day at camp...

    By Blogger DewKid, at 7:39 AM  

  • oh no. natto attack!

    By Blogger YD, at 8:19 AM  

  • Euwwww.. the last pic... is it really delicious coz the pic doesn't show it.... hehehe

    never heard about natto....

    By Blogger Selba, at 9:50 AM  

  • Skits and little plays sure beats teaching English as grammar etc. Fun too for kids and teacher.
    Once upon a time I used to teach history, etc. and turned many a lesson into comic strips on the page or small plays.
    These days I only write monologues for church (e.g. a midwife in the Christmas story) and rewrite bits of the Bible e.g. for tomorrow evening's Carols - it does need a good edit doesn't it?

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 11:32 AM  

  • Your life or your natto, my lord!
    Creative way to test their progress.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:14 PM  

  • What the *!@$%& is that???

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:49 AM  

  • Olivia
    That, my friend, is natto, i.e. fermented soy beans. It is a Japanese dish that was originally invented by Buddhist monks in Mito (the capital of my prefecture) long ago. It is extremely nutritious, but it is also an acquired taste. Never mind its appearance and obvious sliminess. Its smell can flatten the unwary. However, if you can get past all that, it can be quite tasty, and it is definitely a good source of protein and energy.

    It is traditionally thought that neither foreigners nor Kansai Japanese (i.e. from the Kyoto-Kobe-Osaka area) can stomach it, but I've learned to like it.

    Yes, and the kids definitely liked it a whole lot more than a speech or an ordinary exam.

    Oh, church plays and monologues can be a lot of fun to write. Pa've and I used to write and perform puppet shows at our church in our junior high school days.

    It depends on who you talk to. I (and especially my wife) would say you're missing out. Pandabonium and Snabulus would both say you're better off not knowing.

    Is that kind of like a Big Mac attack, only slimier?

    Did it survive the birthing process?

    Hey...maybe that's another good idea for that (in)famous ice cream maker in a nearby seaside resort that comes up with all kinds of interesting flavors for his ice cream...such as oysters, garlic...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:47 PM  

  • No really, gooey things make me gag.

    On the other hand, I do love giblets, and I am going to have some tomorrow in Canada, cooked by my lovely Mum. I fly in less than 12 hours. :)

    So next time you hear from me it will be from the frozen north.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:28 AM  

  • Alright, everybody, let's all sing for Olivia:


    And don't forget your touque(sp?)!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:58 PM  

  • sounds like a whole natto fun! i remember the skits we had in school. Stage fright was guaranteed but that quickly melted soon as we got the hang of it and started to actually have fun.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:57 PM  

  • On the whole, I realised that Japanese students can write well, but when come to spoken English, they are either too shy, or they are not as ready to speak a foreign language.

    In Singapore, all student have to pass a oral exam, and a written exam separately.

    is it the same in Japan?

    By Blogger Robin, at 4:40 PM  

  • and yes, I hate Natto too.. sticky smelly beans from under the bed...

    yaks. .. though I know of friend who swear they are good for u.

    By Blogger Robin, at 4:41 PM  

  • The skits sound like a lot of fun. Yeah, would love to watch the video.

    And the natto, could be great to eat but sure don't look like it from that picture. I can imagine doing the same for durian - picking the durian flesh with a pair of chopsticks. Robin would probably run for dear life. LOL!

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:21 PM  

  • MM, to you and your family and all here, best wishes for a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:24 PM  

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