Monday 20 March 2023

Whose Birthday is it Today?

As an English teacher in Japan, starting lessons with a series of small talk questions is an essential part of the daily routine. Traditionally, teachers kick off their classes by asking:

- What day is it today?

- What’s the date?

- How is the weather?

- What time is it now?

In my personal teaching journey, I decided to spice things up a little by adding a question of my own: "Whose birthday is it today?" Whenever there's a birthday, I lead the students in singing the "Happy Birthday!" song. After trying this once, I discovered that the students enjoyed it immensely, and so I've continued incorporating it into my lessons ever since.

But why does this simple question matter? Well, it's a fantastic way to show my students that I genuinely care about them beyond the English language curriculum. There have even been instances when students who didn't have a lesson with me that day would excitedly approach me in the hallway just to share that it was their birthday.

Of course, as with any group of teenagers, some students attempt to pull a fast one, claiming it's someone's birthday when it's not. The impromptu "birthday celebrant" often looks surprised and exclaims, "No, no!" This always results in a good laugh. To stay one step ahead, I made it my mission to memorize the birthdays of every student I teach (typically three (3) year groups, each with four arms and about 30-40 students per class; you do the math 😏). So, when they try to catch me off guard, I confidently reveal the correct birthday like a boss. The look of awe on their faces is truly priceless.

This school year, I decided to take things up a notch by memorizing the students' zodiac signs as well. Instead of simply confirming or denying a student's birthday, I'd say something like, "No, it's not Maru's birthday - he's a Libra, right?" Most of the time, the Japanese English teacher (JTE) would translate the zodiac sign into Japanese, and the student(s) would nod in amazement.

By incorporating this personal touch into my lessons, I've managed to strengthen the emotional connections with my students. These seemingly small gestures can make a significant impact on the learning environment, fostering trust and camaraderie between teacher and student. In the long run, these connections can lead to better engagement, motivation, and overall interest in the language (or whatever subject) you are trying to teach them. 

So, ALTs and English teachers in Japan, why not give it a try? The next time you ask do the 4 questions thing, don't be afraid to ask, "Whose birthday is it today?"

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!


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