Snow Day 2018!

Hi everyone,

“Hurry up Mr. Allen, finish the class!” That was the message this morning from my students after the bell rang. The air was cold, but the students wanted to go outside Why? It was snowing!

A little snowman looking out at the school.

Wakayama doesn’t get a lot of snow because it is warm and on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan. This is a lot like my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Canada is a cold country, but Vancouver is beside the ocean and surrounded by mountains. It makes a warm pocket that protects the city from most of winter.

When I was in high school, however, my family moved to a mountain town. We got a lot of snow and cold weather every year. In Wakayama, our school is sometimes closed because of typhoons. In Canada, my school was sometimes closed because of snow. If the school bus could not go on the road to pick students up, it was a snow day! I remmeber listening to the radio every morning as they announced the schools that were closed.

Anyway, I am writing this at 11:30am, the sun is shining, and the snow is already melting. This is probably a good thing, because it is safer for everyone going home tonight. The snow is exciting at the start, but it can become troublesome quickly. Just look at Moscow, Russia today, which had a “storm of the century”. One month of snow dumped in 2 days. Yikes!

A record-setting snowfall in Moscow this week.

Have a good week,


Money and tipping

Hello everyone! The high school entrance test is finished, and the end of the school year is coming. This week students wrote about money, and here are a couple of their ideas from classes M3C and M3D.

First, which expressions are ok, and which are wrong?

  1. Few money
  2. Much money
  3. A lot of money
  4. Many monies
  5. A little money
  6. A large amount of money

Let’s see!

If you chose 3, 5, and 6, good job! I was impressed how many students save their money. I was the opposite when I was younger, I spent everything I got.

Another student wrote about tipping, and how it might be difficult for her in another country.

In Canada, tipping extra money is a way to say thank you for service. Generally I tip 15% of the bill at a restaurant, more for excellent service and less for bad service. I also tip taxi drivers so that they do not have to make change. So, if I ride is $17.50, then I would give a $20 bill and say “keep the change”.

Another place to tip is a hotel. People that carry your bags or make the beds get a small tip. So does the bartender at a bar. Lastly, if someone delivers food to your door, give them a tip. They are working hard and paid little, so a tip will help them take care fo their car.

A tip jar at a coffee shop.

You don’t need to tip at a coffee shop, a restaurant where you carry your own food, or at a gas station where someone fills your car with gas. Sometimes these places have a “tip jar” which you can drop money into, but it is not necessary.

You also don’t have to tip your English teachers, but saying a big “GOOD MORNING” when you come to school, or “SEE YOU TOMORROW” when you are going home is a nice tip!

A “Chinook”

Today the weather is dipping down to almost freezing, and the wind is strong. It was like this a week ago as well. But, last Sunday the weather was warm and beautiful. It felt like spring! What happened?

A beautiful Sunday


In Canada winters are long, snowy, and very cold. However, once in a while, a warm wind comes in and melts all the snow. This is called a “Chinook wind” in Canada. After the air drops its snow on one side of the mountains, the drier air warms up on the other side of the mountains. Sometimes the weather can change from minus 20 degrees to plus 15!

How a Chinook works


It is a nice break from winter, but the cold soon returns until the real spring comes along. For people with a garden, a Chinook can be bad. Flowers start to open because of the warm air and then are frozen soon after.

The sky during a Chinook

In Wakayama we don’t have to worry about minus 20 degrees, but it is still cold. Having a little bit of warm weather can help everyone feel better before summer comes.

Center Listening Test Parts 2-4

Hello everyone,

Yesterday on the main teachers’ blog I talked about the first part of the Center Listening test. today I will go through a few more questions from other parts of the test.

Part 2

Question 10

The answer for this question is 4. The phrase “look it up” is a useful one. To “look up”  means to find information from somewhere. We can “look up” information on the internet, “look up” words in a dictionary, or “look up” phone numbers in a phone book (but those have almost all disappeared).

Question 11

There is a lot of information in a very short script here. Students must catch “twice as many”, which means 2x, or double. But, they must also re-order the colours in the script.

Part 3

Question 15

I will be honest, I don’t like the English used in this question. Books from a library are “renewed”, not “extended”. To use “extended”, the script should have matched it with “deadline”. For example, “The deadline can be extended by a week.” Also , hearing the phrase “a week at a time” is difficult in the middle of the sentence. Tough question.

Questions 17-19

To solve this question effectively, students must use the preparation time to both look at the picture, and read the questions. Especially for questions 15 and 17, students need to make notes while they are listening. Question 16 is an easy question, but it is in the middle of a lot of other information. I have highlighted the script for where to find each answer.

Part 4

Questions 20-22

We again find some difficult synonyms in this question. To “get up” and to “wake up” in question 20 is ok, but “grow up” and “matured” in question 22 is quite difficult.

Questions 20-22

For the last listening, it is vitally important for students to take note of the characters names, and listen carefully to the transitions between them. For example: “Justin, what do you think we should do?” “Well, Tokiko, …” and “Karen did you have something to add?” Knowing who is speaking is important for character specific questions such as number 24. Tokiko starts and finishes the discussion, but her most valuable information is in the middle of the talk, where she speaks only once.

As for questions 23 and 25, the vocabulary of the questions is more difficult. In question 23, for example, the basic “travel plans” is written as “travel arrangements”. For that question, key words such as passport, insurance, and tickets are a good clue. In question 25, students will often pick answer number one, “shared” because the other verbs “came to a ~”, “debated”, and “emphasized” may be less well-known to them.


Otsukare to everyone who took the test! The national average of the test was 23/50, a full 5 points lower than last year, and 10 points lower than three years ago. Being able recognize synonyms while listening and reading at the same time was an important part of this year’s test. Keep studying your kikutan!

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome back to school everyone. It is the start of a New Year. 2018 is the year of the Dog in the Zodiac Calendar. Quickly, what 12 animals are on the Zodiac… GO!

Finished? China and Japan use almost the same animals, but there are a couple differences. See the animal on the bottom, second from the left? In Japan we would say it is a sheep, but in some parts of China they say goat. Also, the bottom right animal is a pig, but Japan uses a Japanese boar (イノシシ).

At New Years, many people make a New Year’s Resolution. Usually people want to stop doing something bad, or start doing something good. Many popular ones are to stop smoking, or to start exercising. For me, I am going to use my train time to study kanji, rather than listening to music or sleeping. How about you? Is there something you want to change this year?

Check out this video. In the video, it says that if you really want a new habit to continue you need to do it for at least 30 days. After that it becomes easier to do. So, give it a try!

M3 Empowerment Program

Good morning everyone,

Recently our junior high school grade three students participated in the “Empowerment Program”. This program brings university students from English-speaking countries to Japan, and allows Japanese students to learn not only English, but also self-confidence and communication skills. In the summer high school girls completed a five day program. Last week it was time for our junior high school girls to take the challenge.

After the program finished, I asked classes C and D to write about their experience. Here are three responses that I think were good. Click the pictures to make them bigger.

Being a nurse requires patience and careful communication skills. If someone from another country needs help, they will be happy if they can explain their health problems in their own language. These days, many people from other countries visit Japan, so nurses who can speak English will be important.

For some students, English is difficult because it is only studied in the classroom. Outside of school, it can be difficult to find a chance to use it. So, the Empowerment Program gives students a chance to use “real world” English, and can give them motivation in the future.

Also, the style of this writing, giving two reasons, is good practice for the Eiken writing test. “Because of all the reasons above…” is good to use.

Students often tell me “I don’t want to make a mistake!” when speaking English. In this program, however, expressing their ideas was more important than being mistake-free. The satisfaction with successful communication is what was important.

I hope the students can use the momentum from the program and continue learning in the new year. Making a small change to pracice English in their daily lives can help in the future. Good luck everyone, and have a great winter vacation!

Advent Season

Congratulations everyone!  Your tests are finished for the second term and the holidays are coming soon.  It is a time for family and friends.

This time of year is called “Advent”.  Advent is from the latin word that means “coming”.  What is coming?  Christmas!  The Advent season starts four Sundays before Christmas and it is a time for people to get ready.  My family did two things for Advent.

An Advent Wreath with all candles lit, on Christmas Eve.

First, in our church, we had an “Advent Wreath”.  The wreath had five candles.  On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, another candle was lit.  Then, on Christmas Eve, the fifth candle was lit.  I always enjoyed going to church on Christmas Eve, because it was at night.  The music and candles were beautiful, and I knew the next day would be Christmas.

An advent calendar, with the choclates and Christmas story.

Secondly, when I was a boy, I got an “Advent Calendar”.  This was a special calendar with paper doors for each day.  Behind each door was part of the Christmas story and… chocolate!  Everyday I got a piece of chocolate and saw Christmas getting closer and closer.  The last chocolate was also the biggest one.  I can never forget my excitement.

You have two more weeks before the holidays start.  Start your winter homework soon, so that you have some free time with your friends and family in the holiday.  Grade 3 students, this is your last push.  Do your best!

“I’d like to go on the same road as my mother.”

Hello everyone,

This week I gave my high school students this homework:

Every job is different. I learned important things from each place I worked at. In the future, what work experience would you like to have? What skills do you want to get? Talk about part-time work or your career.

Today I would like to share some of the answers. From class H2G, 

Click to make the image bigger…

My favorite sentence is “Good communication is vital to become a working member of society”. Something that is ‘vital’ is something we cannot live without. We sometimes use the word for parts of our body. For example, “The heart is a vital organ.”

Secondly, we have a girl from H1G who wants to be a math teacher.

A nice sentence here is “Mathematics is a subject that expands various ways of viewing a problem, as well as how to solve it.” Another way to write this is that “math lets you see many sides of a problem.”

Lastly, we have another student who wants to be a teacher. Her mother went to Shin-ai and became a teacher. Now this girl wants to do the same thing. It is a nice story!

“I’d like to go on the same road as my mother.”

What a great image! I am sure your mother would be proud too. Do your best, and you can make your dream come true. Final tests start on Friday. Good luck everyone!


November 23… Double Holiday!

Hello everyone,

Tomorrow we do not have school. November 23 is “Labor Day” in Japan. It is a day for working people to take a rest. There is a special festival in Nagano, and many children say thank you to their parents and other people for working.

Did you ever say thank you to a policeman?

In America, tomorrow is also a holiday. “Thanksgiving” is on the 4th Thursday of November every year. “Thanksgiving” is a day to “Give Thanks” or say thank you. It is an autumn holiday that people celebrate with their families. The airports and roads are busy because many people travel to be with their family. Many people eat a turkey, and there are sports to watch on television.

Turkey Dinner!

Thanksgiving is also the start of the “holiday season”. People start thinking about Christmas, and shops have special Christmas shopping sales and decorations. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and the next day, Friday, is called “Black Friday”. On this day many items are cheap, and people start buying Christmas presents. It is one of the busiest shopping day of the year!

Black Friday shopping.

Your final tests are coming, so tomorrow is a good chance to study. But don’t forget to take a moment to say “Thank you!” to your mother and father for working.

M3 Class C and D Work Experience Writing

Hello everyone,

Last week our junior high school grade 3 students had two days of work experience. For homework, the students wrote about where they went, and what they did. Today I will share three of their writings from classes C and D with you.

Click each picture to make it bigger!

Our first girl went to a pharmacy. She had a big responsibility preparing medicine. She has a nice sentence “I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their kindness.”

Our second girl went to a hospital where she worked helping nurses. She worked with both staff and patients. Be careful of the word “explained” vs “told”.

I was told how to use a wheelchair, too.”


The nurse explained how to use a wheelchair, too.”


Our third girl also went to a hospital, and wants to be a “physiotherapist”. Physio means physical, and therapy means making people better. So, physiotherapy means making people feel better by moving.

Have a good week, and study hard for your tests!