Tag Archives: teaching


I am about two thirds of the way through reading a writing assignment by my twelfth graders and I can feel the frustration boiling inside me. Sometimes they do well, but this time around it feels like we are back to square one. It’s like everything I taught them about grammar and essay structure (not to mention sentence structure and punctuation) just flew out the window.

And the worst thing is, they have their IB exams in two weeks. All I can think right now is, please don’t let them write so poorly on the exams!

A little background information. I teach Japanese students in Japan who have been in an immersion program, studying in an IB course and taking most of their classes in English, since they were in elementary school. We are in Japan, so they are not immersed when they leave the classroom, but they have studied English in an “immersion” academic setting for a long time. So why do they still refuse to pay attention to grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics? I just read an essay that was one long paragraph without any indention or breaks between ideas! An essay!

Take a deep breath. They have their good days and their bad days. Clearly this was an off day for them.

It is hard getting students to understand that writing is more than putting ideas on paper. Writing in English is like learning a whole other language. It is different from spoken English. They need to think about the rules and the conventions. Not indenting paragraphs is unacceptable, in my book.

But I need to put myself in their shoes. Their first language is Japanese, which is a totally different language with completely different conventions. Even the way they organize an essay is different, not to mention that they use a writing system which is a combination of traditional Chinese characters mixed with two Japanese phonetic alphabets.

However, I still think they should be able to do better. Even though I teach English through content, I make sure to give them language support by teaching them about grammar and sentence structure rules. I don’t spend days and days teaching grammar out of context, but I make sure that we cover the basics and I expect my students to know the basic language for talking about language, such as parts of speech, basic sentence types, clause structure, verb tense, and so on.

Some students get it, and they put effort into monitoring their grammar. The effort they put in is so worth it, because after a while their written language becomes much more fluent than their peers. It is a pleasure to read fluent language. But choppy, riddled-with-errors, sloppy language is like…… torture.

But this is my job. I am an English teacher, specifically an English teacher to ELLs. They all have their struggles. I so rarely get to read fluent English. I accept that. But I think they could do better. They just need to pay attention to the rules of the language and revise! How do I get them to pay attention and revise??

There will always be some students who are great thinkers but who just don’t understand that the way you say something, the way you put your thoughts into words is also important. How can I get my students to understand that they will be judged and criticized and disrespected just because their English doesn’t sound fluent? People can be harsh. If my students go out there into the English speaking world, they will be in for a surprise. I sometimes wonder how universities deal with international students whose written English lacks fluency? I have seen many Japanese and Chinese students go off to university in America or Canada or the UK…. and I always wonder, will they be in for a harsh wake up call when they turn in a paper that has so many language errors?

Maybe I am being too critical. I can’t expect them to write fluently. But I can expect them to use a subject before a verb…..right? They might not ever get third person singular verb agreement down perfectly…. but everyone can indent a paragraph, right?

Well….. back to it……..


Grade inflation in the US is part of the culture….but it doesn’t have to be

One thing that I have realized since I began teaching internationally is that in the United States, grade inflation is such a part of the culture that it has become completely normal.

When I was a high school student, I expected to get all A’s and B’s, without working too hard. Sometimes I had to put in the extra time to make sure I got an A and not a B. But I don’t think I ever got a C in high school. I will admit that I cared about grades probably more than the average student. I was in honors and a couple AP classes. But I don’t think I had to work that hard to pull off all A’s and B’s. I definitely found time to have a social life and my part-time job at KFC.

And the funny thing is, when I applied to colleges with my weighted 4.0 GPA, I didn’t get into several schools that I thought I might get into, including UC Santa Barbara, which has a reputation as a party school. Which tells you that universities are probably very aware that grade inflation is rampant.

It should be stated that my high school was just a regular public school in Southern California with a large population of students and it wasn’t known for having a stellar academic program or anything. It didn’t have a bad reputation either; it was just a normal suburban high school. I know that other schools, some private schools in particular, have much higher standards when it comes to grading. However, I think that on average, most students in America experience a similar situation to what I went through.

A couple years ago when I started teaching in an International Baccalaureate program in a secondary school in Japan, I finally realized that my understanding of grades was based on a system that has all but eliminated D’s and F’s.

In the IB program, we use what are called “assessment criteria” when we assess student work. For example, if I grade a literary analysis essay by a ninth grader, I would use a rubric with three criteria: content, organization, and style and language mechanics. Each criterion goes from a scale of 0-10, with 10 being a very successful performance in that criterion.

Here is the assessment criteria for “content” so that you can see what I mean:

Criterion A: Content (receptive and productive)                                                    Maximum: 10

Achievement level Level descriptor
0 The student does not reach a standard described by any of the descriptors below.
  • The student demonstrates very little understanding of the text and topic, and little or no awareness of the author’s choices. There is little or no detail, development or support.
  • In creative work, pieces show very limited imagination or sensitivity; the student rarely employs literary features, or employs literary and/or nonliterary features that do not serve the context or intention.
  • The use of terminology is missing, inconsistent and/or incorrect.
  • The student demonstrates limited understanding of the text and topic, and sometimes shows an awareness of the author’s choices, although detail, development and/or support are insufficient.
  • In creative work, pieces show limited imagination or sensitivity; the student attempts to employ literary and/or non-literary features; these sometimes serve the context and intention.
  • The use of terminology is sometimes accurate and appropriate.
  • The student demonstrates a sufficient understanding of the text and topic, and an awareness of the author’s choices, using adequate detail, development and support.
  • In creative work, pieces reflect some imagination and sensitivity; the student generally employs literary and/or non-literary features that serve the context and intention.
  • Terminology is usually accurate and appropriate.
  • The student demonstrates a good understanding of the text, topic and the author’s choices, using substantial detail, development and support.
  • In creative work, pieces reflect imagination and sensitivity; the student employs literary and/or non-literary features that serve the context and intention.
  • Relevant terminology is used accurately and appropriately.
  • The student demonstrates a perceptive understanding of the text, topic and the author’s choices, consistently using illustrative detail, development and support.
  • In creative work, pieces reflect a lot of imagination and sensitivity; the student employs literary and/or non-literary features effectively that serve the context and intention.
  • The student shows a sophisticated command of relevant terminology, and uses it appropriately.

When I first started using the IB criteria, I would read my students’ work and then use the IB rubric to assign the appropriate grade. But I realized that if I were going to give a true measure of the student work I was assessing, I would be giving scores much lower than an 8 or a 9.

As you can see from the scale above, it would be very common to give a student a score of 5 in the IB Program, since a 5 means the student demonstrates a “sufficient understanding of the text and topic.” If we convert that to a percentage, that is a 50%. But if you give that kind of score in America, you are basically telling the student that they have failed!

This took me some getting used to my first semester teaching in this program. I remember the first piece of writing I graded, I assigned really high scores (all 7’s and up) because I just didn’t feel right about giving students what seemed to me like a failing grade.

I have since realized that my discomfort with giving low scores comes from my experience growing up in an academic system that gives out A’s for making effort, B’s as just satisfactory, and C’s to make a statement about a student’s poor performance. D’s and F’s basically mean the student didn’t turn anything in and/or they just never came to class. Do teachers in America ever give a D based on actual performance?

I think teachers feel a lot of pressure from parents and from administration to give A’s and B’s. The universities are clearly aware that this is going on. But why do we want to keep a system like this? It makes these letter grades basically meaningless and gives a student very little information about their performance. It sends the message that effort is most important, not the actual work they do.

Grade inflation is one of the many things that is wrong with the way schools assess students in the US. I have a whole list of other things that I think could be improved, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’d be curious to know if you, reader, have had a similar experience. Is grade inflation a serious problem in the US?


I hate being the center of attention….. but I love teaching because I believe in student-centered learning.

I am a teacher, but I feel very uncomfortable standing in front of a group of people and speaking to them for a long time. I have always had stage fright, and I still feel it a little when I am standing up there and I suddenly become aware that all my students are staring at me. Of course they are – I am the teacher. But it makes me feel weird to be the center of attention all the time.

This probably seems like it would be a deficiency for me as a teacher, since I have to stand up in front of people and speak all the time. However, I think it has actually caused me to be a better teacher. I think it is a good thing if teachers feel that standing in front of our students and speaking for long periods of time is just weird. It is weird. I don’t understand how people can do that. I don’t think that is the way to be a great teacher.

I don’t feel comfortable unless my students are involved in the lesson. I rarely let myself indulge in long monologues. Every once in a while, I can’t resist telling them about something I find interesting; I might stumble onto a topic related to something I can just go on and on about (usually a language-related topic – I am a huge grammar/linguistics nerd), but even though passion for a subject is the key to attracting students’ attention, I know that there will always be a student who begins to zone out after a certain amount of time. So when I find myself going off on that tangent, telling them this really cool story about this really interesting topic, I make sure that I see an end point to it. Otherwise, I am sure I will lose some of them, no matter how interesting I think what I am talking about is.

My natural discomfort with being the center of attention has made me a better teacher – I know it has. Instead of telling students what I think they need to know, I use questions to guide them to the answers they come up with. Sometimes they make their way to the answers I myself have to the questions – sometimes they find their own answers. So often, they come up with ideas that I never considered. I use big questions all the time as the starting point of my units and I always come back to them throughout to find out what new ideas the students have.

I’ll admit it, I love having my students do group work. I know some people hate doing group work. But if you think you don’t like group work, it is probably because you got stuck in a group with people who didn’t really want to do the work, or maybe it was because the teacher was using group work to avoid having to actually do any teaching. For group work to really be effective, the teacher has to do a lot of planning and guiding before and after the students are in groups. I never send my students into groups and then just leave them to it, and stay up at the front doing my own thing. I always walk around and listen in and interact with them as much as I can. But I also keep my distance when I see that they would feel uncomfortable with me butting in. The fact of the matter is, we are a social species. Our progress as a species has been because of our collaboration. No man is an island. We have made it to where we are because we have stood on the shoulders of giants. Students need to practice working in groups because this is how great ideas are born. I believe that much of education should be collaborative. Group-work provides opportunities for greater learning.

Now that I have become more versed in the language of education and theories of learning, I realize that there are many teaching strategies out there that promote the style of teaching that I embrace. For example, I was doing project-based learning units with my students before I had even heard of PBL. But when I found out about it, I realized that there was a whole philosophy for this type of teaching, and teaching strategies like PBL embrace that philosophy.

Of course, I heard about cooperative learning when I was working towards getting my teaching license. It is a common term used for group work. But I think my style of teaching is more than that. It is a fundamental belief that my role is as a facilitator, as a mentor. But I am not a star. I am not a celebrity at the center of attention, with all eyes on me. I want to help promote deeper learning in my students by designing memorable learning experiences through experiential learning, through interaction with peers, through inquiry. This is what I love about teaching. I love watching them in action. When I can walk around the classroom and see learning happening in every direction, I feel satisfied.

It is my personal opinion that if you are standing in front of a class full of students and you suddenly realize that all eyes are on you and that you are talking and they are listening and it just feels weird… well that is the right feeling to have about that situation. Direct instruction has its place in education, of course. But I promise you, if you are speaking for more than ten minutes without stopping, somebody is zoning out…..

How important is it to like your coworkers?

So much of a teacher’s job is done independently from other people. We are responsible for our own classroom, the designing of our own lessons, and planning our own curricula (based on a set of standards of course). This is something I enjoy about teaching – I am responsible for coming up with a plan to get my students to achieve the learning objectives. Language arts, in particular, allows for a lot of creativity and flexibility in how I facilitate my students’ acquisition of skills and knowledge.

Having so much control over the job I do on a daily basis is a significant positive of the job. I teach in an international baccalaureate program, so I follow the specific guidelines of that program when I design my curricula, and there are a lot of specific guidelines! But in the end, I am the person who figures out what my students will be doing on a day-to-day basis. I love having that freedom to be creative and come up with interesting and thought-provoking units of study.

I work in a relatively small program of about 15-20 teachers within a larger Japanese secondary school. As I already stated, it is an IB program, also known to the students and teachers as the “bilingual program” because the language of instruction for most of the classes is in English. In our school there are several other “streams,” including a regular Japanese secondary school program. The international teachers in the IB program all sit in an office together; because it is a Japanese school, we do not have our own classrooms to work out of. (In Japanese schools, the students stay in one classroom for most of the day, and the teachers travel around to them to teach their subjects.)

This means I do spend a lot of time around my colleagues, since we all have our desks in a room together. This is both good and bad.

The positive of sitting in the same room to do our prep work is that we are able to communicate really easily about day-to-day things and about the students. In fact, we tend not to use email as much to communicate about most things. It means we get a more immediate response if we need to ask someone a question, and we are able to be more clear about what we mean. This helps to avoid communication problems. I think we are also very much in touch with each other about our students. If one teacher notices that a student is having issues, he/she might mention it in the staff office and then we are all more aware of what’s going on with our students in their other classes.

The negative of sitting in the same room with my coworkers is that I feel like I can never escape them. I don’t have any personal space where I can go to and work on my own, in peace and quiet. When I am in a bad mood and I don’t feel like talking to people, I can’t really get away and I just have to deal with them. Of course, this is the situation for many people who work in corporate settings, but I do find it really frustrating sometimes. Also, if people are chatting in the office, it can be difficult to concentrate on my own work. But headphones and a subscription to Google Play music has solved that problem for me, for the most part.

But now to the main question. How important is it to like your coworkers? This experience of working in an environment where I am always in such proximity to my coworkers has made me think about this a lot more than I might if I had my own classroom to escape to.

I realize that your colleagues can really make your experience so much more fulfilling. Having people around you who are excited about teaching, who seek to try new things as a teacher and to share their ideas could be such a motivating aspect of the job. Unfortunately, most of the people I work with are extremely independent and do not seem to want to collaborate very much. One reason for this might be because we work in a Japanese school where the workload is extremely intense. We have very heavy workloads and also the nature of working in an IB program means we have so much to think about and so much paperwork to keep up with. I definitely think that contributes to the lack of collaboration going on where I work. But personality also has something to do with it. Many people I work with are very focused on work being work only – they show up at 8AM, work hard until the end of the day (usually around 6 in our school – we work long hours for teachers!), and then go home. They don’t make an effort to connect with the people around them.

I am sad about this aspect of my work environment. I love my job and my students, but I don’t feel satisfied by the work relationships I have. Also, living abroad can be lonely. It is hard to make friends where I live because it is a very Japanese suburban community. It would be nice if my colleagues were more interested in socializing. I know people like to have their space and to keep work and freetime separate. I totally understand that. But in the past, when I worked at schools where the teachers enjoyed socializing from time to time, getting together for a Friday happy hour now and again, I felt a lot happier.

The fact is, if we are working as islands, doing everything in our own little bubble, we miss out on so much opportunity to grow as teachers. Collaboration is really key to improving your own skills. When I was doing my teacher-training before I got my credential, I was required to log a certain amount of teacher observation hours. And every time I observed a new teacher, I came out of it with a new idea and new inspiration. Peer observation is a useful exercise, in my opinion. But even more useful is just developing a supportive working environment where people value the idea of professional learning communities and are eager to learn from each other and share with each other.

I think that the environment of the school and the style of the managers and administration can play a big part in developing this type of collaborative environment. In Japanese schools, traditionally, students work very independently to achieve academic success. In the IB program, collaboration is encouraged. And as teachers, in my school, we do what we are required to do by the IB in regards to collaboration. But it isn’t the natural environment; it feels forced, actually, since many of the teachers seem to not be happy about having to do the types of collaboration activities we do once or twice a term when time permits.

To conclude, I love teaching but at the moment I don’t love my coworkers. They are lovely people and when we do collaborate, I always enjoy it. But I am hoping that eventually when I move on, I get to experience the opportunity of working in a group of people that is more engaged with their colleagues, more excited by the prospect of learning from each other, and when it comes down to it, more friendly, gosh-darn-it!

Student Behavior in My Classroom – A Classroom with all Japanese Students (Part 1)


I teach in an IB (International Baccalaureate) school in Japan. It isn’t an international school – it’s a Japanese secondary school with an IB program. All my students are Japanese, but many of them have lived in foreign countries for a year or two. While many of them have experience living abroad, their culture is definitely Japanese. One or two who lived in the US or the UK for a long time could be considered “third-culture kids,” but they are a rarity. Most of the kids are 100% Japanese, culture and nationality.

So what this means is I am an American woman teaching a classroom full of students from a culture that is different from mine. And I am immersed in their culture.

By the way, I am not an ALT (an ALT is an assistant language teacher – most foreigners who teach in Japan are ALTs, including my husband). I am completely in charge of my class. Being a foreign teacher in a Japanese school has its challenges, as you can imagine. One of them is discipline.

Don’t get me wrong. Discipline is not nearly as challenging here as it is in the states. 90% of my students are well-behaved, polite, and no problem whatsoever. But contrary to popular belief, Japanese teenagers are not that different from American students. They have the same bad habits. They do their homework at the last minute. They are sleepy in class. They love their phones, PCs, and video games. They daydream in class. Some of them are even bullies.

There are major differences too, but I don’t want to discuss those at the moment. What I want to discuss is the 10% of students I have that do require some discipline. I have had a variety of students who have done things in class that most American teachers would reprimand. When they do these things, it is my first instinct to discipline them in the same way I would back home. In fact, that’s what I did my first year. But now I have been here for two years (almost) and I am starting to realize that the Japanese teachers don’t discipline in the same way. And I don’t really feel comfortable coming in and just doing things the way I would back home.  It probably wouldn’t be very effective, anyway. I would just seem even more foreign to them.

Here are some of the discipline-worthy behaviors my students have exhibited in class:

  • Sleeping in class (this is very common in Japan and it seems to be more accepted here, although the administration adamantly says it is not to be accepted)
  • Chatting while I am teaching (I know this is normal student behavior, but it isn’t something I usually tolerate for very long.)
  • Speaking in Japanese about me because they know I can’t understand them
  • Bullying classmates in Japanese because they think they can get away with it
  • Making faces when I turn my back to the class (I have an infamous class of seventh graders at the moment – they do all sorts of things when the teachers turn to write on the board)

All of the above behaviors are pretty tame. I haven’t ever had to deal with real defiance at this school. Most of the students at my school come from stable, supportive households, so their parents would be very responsive if they found out their child had behavior problems. Plus, it’s a private school so the expectations are pretty high for behavior.

Expectations. That is one of the main differences I wanted to point out. In American schools, it is commonly accepted that the best way to start the school year is to introduce your rules and expectations.  The teacher states these very clearly and starts off the year with strict rules, at least until the class routine is clearly in place and all the students know what the teacher expects from them.

In Japan, or at least in my school in Japan, rules are not stated explicitly by the subject teacher at the beginning of the school year. The teacher does not walk in on his or her first day of math or English class and outline a list of rules. Moreover, rules are not posted in the classroom for the students to see. In fact, when one of my colleagues (another foreign teacher, from the UK) suggested that we post rules in the seventh grade classroom, the Japanese teachers had a hard time understanding why we would do that.

But even though the subject teachers don’t state the rules, somehow the students do know they are expected to behave in a certain way. Unfortunately, my inability to speak Japanese limits how much I can understand about how the school communicates expectations to the students.  But from what I can gather, and from what I have read about discipline in Japan, and of course from what my colleagues tell me, it seems that students figure out how they should behave based on these things:

  • influence from the group they are in
  • their homeroom teacher
  • their soccer coach (students on the soccer team are expected to adhere to a strict code of behavior)
  • the soccer coach (at our school, he seems to be in charge of speaking at the school assemblies about working hard, wearing the school uniform correctly, and not getting into trouble)

In this post, I will discuss the first point. I will get to the three following points in my next post.

How “discipline” comes in the form of influence from the group

The first point is the most important one. Everyone probably knows that Japanese society is a collectivist society. It is the stereotypical collectivist society. Social cohesion is the priority, and when an individual is treated unfairly, it isn’t usually their first instinct to stand up for themselves. Their first instinct is to fit into the group.

(Of course, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I have to add a disclaimer right now. I am an outsider looking in, and I don’t even speak the language. Please just take my words as my own perception of things and assume that they are probably all wrong.)

But it seems to me that it is really true – the group rules here. The reason I think this is because I have seen this with my own eyes. In the program I teach, the students are assigned to one class, and they stay with that class from seventh until twelfth grade. They do not mingle with other students, not really. They spend all of their school days with a group of about 20-30 other students. And when you teach one of those groups, you really see that as individuals, it can be really hard to get to know the students. They aren’t willing to reveal their distinct identity immediately. They don’t want to be seen as an individual. They want to hide within the class. But the class as a single entity has a very distinct personality.

Each of my classes is very different. But the weird thing is, the students within a class are very similar. They behave in similar ways. My twelfth graders are all laid-back, friendly, and really happy to spend classes discussing and debating big ideas. My eleventh graders are very introspective, and very intelligent. They are deep thinkers who (to my utter frustration) are less willing to share their ideas out-loud (although they are happy to share them with each other in small groups). My tenth graders are also extremely quiet and they are all a little nerdy. They are probably the most “Japanese” of the classes in that they are unwilling to do any activity until they see that others in the class are willing to do it. (There are a lot of awkward silences in that class). And my seventh graders – they are all insane. They are hyper, playful, and naughty. They are a class of 27 little monsters.

Ok, I am exaggerating of course. There are individual personalities in these classes. But it is amazing how much influence the group has on the individuals.  Much more than in America.

So, what this all means is that much of their behavior is based on the expectations of the group. The Japanese way is to let the group influence the individual rather than one individual standing at the front of the room and exerting power over the entire group (although this definitely does happen – I’ll get to this when I discuss the soccer coach I mentioned earlier). This is especially seen with small children. Parents do not reprimand or punish their children for “misbehaving”. They let them be wild and out of control, knowing that in a couple of years their kids will enter kindergarten and be intensely socialized into behaving appropriately. It is almost as if that “childhood,” before they enter the system, is sacred and they must be left to be free, because that freedom is very temporary. Then the child enters school and feels the intense pressure to conform to the group.

Mostly this works, but there are those few students who act out or misbehave. In my seventh grade class, this misbehavior is socially acceptable because that’s how the whole group wants to behave. In my twelfth grade class, it is less acceptable, but the students would not directly speak out and tell a classmate who is being too chatty to pipe down. They just ignore the student or wait for the student to figure out the group wants him/her to change his/her behavior. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. It seems that about 90% of the students have it figured out and they fall into line. And the ones who don’t fall into line exactly aren’t really that far off. If there is anyone who really doesn’t fit in, then the eventual consequences can be pretty extreme. In fact, bullying is a serious problem here, and it’s no wonder why, with the priority being to fit into the group.

I will continue writing about this topic of discipline in my next post. There really is so much to say.



photo credits: specialoperations via photopinBeckywithasmile via photopin  cc

Inside My Classroom: Lesson Plan – Football in American High Schools

This is a post on a lesson I am currently working on for one of my classes.

I teach in an International Baccalaureate school in Japan. I teach both MYP and DP English. The Japanese school year ends in March, so right now we are nearing the end. But we have a few strange weeks which fall in between the year-end exams and our spring break. Last year, I used this time to teach lessons on grammar and sentence structure topics that we hadn’t had a chance to get to during the year. But as most English teachers know, it doesn’t really work to teach a lot of grammar out of context. So this year, I have decided to use the time in one of my classes to get them started on the first unit of the new school year. I am not really diving right into the unit, but instead I am using this time to set the scene and to build some background knowledge.

This lesson will be for the IB course DP English B. In this course, students develop their oral and written English skills through the study of topics such as communication and media, social relationships, global issues, health, science and technology, leisure, and a few others. The teacher is also expected to bring in topics related to English-speaking cultures, since this is an English as a second language course. The lesson I am going to be doing with my students is related to the topics of health, leisure, and culture and traditions.

This is just the first lesson. This is meant to start as an intro to a bigger unit, titled Sports Traditions in English-Speaking Cultures.

In this lesson, I have decided to introduce students to traditions in American football, specifically football in in American high schools. While Japanese students are very familiar with America’s favorite pastime (baseball) since they themselves love the sport, they are not as familiar with American football. I think many people would agree that football in America has actually taken over and become the more popular spectator sport. The topic of football also seems like a great way to introduce my students to some aspects of American high school culture.

I am looking forward to doing this lesson with my students because I really love the show “Friday Night Lights,” and I think it will be fun for them to see a television depiction of American high school culture. This particular class tends to be extremely quiet, so I am having them do a lot of group work to help motivate them to discuss more. I don’t have much success when I try to get them to discuss as a whole-class, but in small groups they seem to enjoy discussions.

I will write a post later this week about how it goes. Here is the lesson plan:

Lesson: Football in American High Schools


Students will:Ÿ

  • define culture
  • identify cultural traditions in American high school and American sports culture (based on their viewing of the pilot episode of the television drama “Friday Night Lights”)
  • discuss how the cultural tradition of football is important to American culture and why it might face opposition by some people
  • use vocabulary related to American culture to discuss football and the television drama “Friday Night Lights”

Essential Questions

  • Why do people play football?
  • How can football promote a sense of community?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of playing football?
  • How does football contribute to creating cultural identity in America?


Day  1

  1. Give students a handout to introduce vocabulary related to American high school (freshman, sophomore, pep rally, etc.) and American football (quarterback, tackle, touchdown, etc.). Go over words and explain cultural terms.
  2. Give students a list of character names from the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights.” Briefly go over characters so that students have some idea of who they are before watching the program.
  3. Show the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights” to students. This program will serve as a point of reference throughout the unit when discussing how sports promote community pride and contribute to cultural identity.

 Day 2

  1. Tell students that in this unit, we are going to be thinking about the role sports play in culture, with the goal of learning more about sports played in English-speaking countries. We will begin by looking at the role football plays in American culture.
  2. Write the word “culture” on the board. Write two questions: What is culture? What are examples of culture? Tell students to write ideas in their notebooks for five minutes.
  3. Put students into pairs. Pairs should discuss their ideas with each other. Together, they must write a basic definition of culture. Walk around the room and check their understanding. This activity should help students gain confidence before they share their ideas with the whole group.
  4. Go over students ideas about culture. Call on pairs of students to explain what “culture” means. Using their ideas, write a definition of culture on the board. Students copy this definition into their notebooks. The definition should be something like:

Culture is a shared set of practices and traditions that characterize a society or group of people. Culture can include clothing, food, traditions, ceremonies, spiritual practices and beliefs, language, family structure, and communication styles.

Model to students how to write a clear definition and how to identify examples of culture by identifying specific examples of Japanese culture. (Make a list of specific examples on the board.)

  1. Put students into groups of four. In their groups, they will discuss these questions:
  • What is your reaction to the show “Friday Night Lights”? What did you find interesting? What did you find difficult to understand?
  • How does football help to promote community pride in the town of Dillon, Texas?
  • What did you learn about American culture by watching the show? (You may discuss anything – you do not have to only discuss football.)
  • What are the positive benefits of playing football in American high school? What are the drawbacks of playing football?
  • How is football an important part of American culture? How does it contribute to creating a sense of American identity?

Independent Practice

Students write a journal response in their notebooks. Journal responses must be one page. Journal responses must answer the question “How is football an important part of American culture?” Students may also discuss other questions from their group discussions. We will discuss their ideas together in class the following day.


Writing Across the Curriculum: Resources

For those who are interested in learning more about Writing Across the Curriculum, I will post links to resources here. Check back for updates.

Writing Across the Curriculum in Secondary Education:

  1. Writing Across the Curriculum Reference Guide – Bazerman, C., Little, J., Bethel, L., Chavkin, T., Fouquette, D., & Gaurfis, J. (2005)
  2. Writing Across the Curriculum by Steve Peha
  3. Specific subject guides for using WAC (created by the Michigan State Department of Education):

If you find other good resources, please send them my way!