A Japanese, First Grade Janken Jungle

Today was a really fun day with my first graders. In class today, we were doing the final lesson on animals, so I decided to make it fun for the kids. It’s not always easy coming up with new English activities to do in a Japanese classroom, but I thought of something interesting.

We did a quick review of some of the different animals I introduced in the last couple weeks back: duck, goose, eagle, owl, tiger, lion, bear, giraffe, etc.. I made the review quick so we’d have time to complete the animal masks that we started working on last week. Kids had all kinds of crazy colored animals. There were blue lions, purple elephants, green owls, rainbow bears, and the like. There were species of animals that even the Galapagos Islands couldn’t hold a candle to.

After the masks were cut, I helped the kids tape on string attachments and tie on their masks. As soon as those masks were own, the kids instantly slipped into character. Kids were growling, pouncing, bird calling, and hopping; it was quite the site to behold. We drilled some simple sentence structures and did a bit of active vocabulary practice.

My favorite part of the class was our last game. We played “King of the Jungle.” I made up this game that follows the idea of Janken Train. If you’re not familiar with Janken Train, it’s a game that many of the kids already know. Two students play rock, scissors, paper (aka Janken in Japanese) against one another, and the losing student has to stand behind the winner and put their hands on the winning person’s shoulders. The chains of people (janken trains) become longer and longer until there is only one line, and one winner at the front of it. I tweaked the idea just a little. Instead of Janken Train, it became “The king of the jungle” game. The winner would win a whopping, ten additional points for their animal team. So if the leader of the longest chain was a bear, the bears would get ten points. If the leader of the longest chain was a rabbit, the rabbits would get ten points.

This was the coolest thing to watch, because it really was kind of like seeing animal planet. Some students would do the flight response thing, trying to avoid getting into a janken (rock, scissors, paper) life or death battle, until absolutely necessary. Others were strong janken players. These kids who would become the alpha boys and girls…the predators of the bunch. There were other kids who quickly discovered that doing janken against members of their own team (i.e.-cannibalism) would lower their chances of winning. As I watched the kids running around playing Janken (じゃんけん), I looked on with a wide grin…proud of the 1st grade Darwinian, survival of 1st grade fittest, Janken Jungle I had created.

Oddly enough, the lions weren’t the winners in any of my classes, but I guess this “survival of the fittest” game relies more on chance than anything. For some reason I always wondered about that whole “the lion is the king of the jungle thing.” Is the lion really the strongest? I remember my trip to Ueno Zoo, and it just seemed like the lions didn’t look all that strong or vicious…especially when compared to the tigers. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling, now. Needless to say, class was truly a lot of fun.

Until next time,

Donald Ash

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