Iwaki English Immersion Camp

by Michael Cowan
Edited by Xan Wetherall

On October 12th and 13th, Iwaki held its first ever English immersion camp at the Yotsukura Nature Center for student council presidents and students going to America on exchange this year. In order to help prepare them for America (and just to help their English in general), the 2-day camp was ENGLISH ONLY! There were 42 students in attendance from all over Iwaki, and 16 ALTs, with Xan and myself leading the camp.

Day one began with workshops revolving around meeting the ALTs and making new friends. Students learned about the countries represented by the ALTs, while also getting to know their groups. When they finished, it was lunchtime! Meals were also English-only, but students and ALTs were able to converse more freely in this relaxed situation. However, the relaxation caused students to occasionally slip into Japanese, earning them a penalty game, such as a tongue twister, or a silly pose.

The next workshop dealt with helping the students to speak English more naturally. In order to practice their newfound abilities, students were given a number of topics to choose from, and then given free time to talk with ALTs and friends. It was great to see how much their English proficiency had increased from that morning alone.
The final workshop for day one was to use all the techniques they had learned in order to prepare a presentation about Japan, which they would present as the final workshop the next day. Topics included Japanese etiquette, school life in Japan and famous places in Japan.

With the day’s workshops finally finished, it was dinnertime! ALTs and students alike were able to once again relax and enjoy themselves. Everyone was laughing together, having fun and making mischief: we even had some pranks in the form of one student’s juice continually being ‘enhanced’ with soy sauce. Luckily, Tahi was there to drink it down for the hapless students every time!

Day two started bright and early at 6am for English games and sports! Unfortunately, due to unnaturally sharp grass, the balloon volleyball didn’t last as long as intended. Thanks to some quick thinking, other games, such as skipping question time and English shiritori freeze tag, were organized. Back at breakfast, you could tell that the students were really relaxing around us ALTs – one student even decided to ask me for advice on chatting up women…terrible idea, kid.

After lunch we did some situational training, to get kids comfortable and familiar with real-life English usage. Situations dealt with included shopping, restaurant etiquette, and natural speech. The next workshop was a bit more relaxed, starting with a “Who am I?” game, a variant on “Twenty questions”, with each ALT as a secret pop culture character. The students had to move around in their groups and ask yes or no questions to the ALTs, and try and work out who they were. The aim of the game was not just to find out the secret identity, but for the students to ask as many questions as possible. The second part of this workshop was to use all the techniques and skills learned over the course of the weekend, and re-do the topic talk from the previous day. However, this time the students were a lot more confident with their English, and it showed.

The final workshop of day two was the presentations. As each group presented their topic, it was clear that they had put a good deal of care, dedication, and thought into their final product, even though they’d only had 3 hours total to brainstorm, create, and practice. Their use of printed materials, pictures, gestures, and body language to illustrate their points made the student’s presentations very natural, some even honestly hilarious, causing English and Japanese speakers alike to laugh out loud.

The students spent two full days speaking English, and the increase in fluency and confidence was substantial. In the end, we asked that the students carry the feeling of confidence they gained at English camp into every English class in the future, and to not forget how proud and happy they felt with their new skills. I have never been so proud to be a teacher as I was while watching these students grow so much in such a short time. The two days at this English immersion camp was the best teaching experience that I have ever had, and I am pleased to say that the student’s reviews show a similar feeling. In the words of one student, “I had a wonderful time!” Everyone helped make this an amazing experience for both ALTs and students alike, and now I can’t wait for next time!

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