Working in Japan

Before and After Class

The ALT Insider gives tip to help make sure that your interactions with students before and after classes don’t turn into wasted time.

Whether you are an ALT, Eikaiwa or private teacher, there is no doubt that showing up early for your classes or being available to chat beforehand is a great move that yields dividends in student participation and engagement. But sometimes, even though you work to make sure that you make yourself available, that time can fizzle out without any payoff. Today, I’ve got a little tip to help make sure that your interactions with students before and after classes don’t turn into wasted time.

The most important part of this process is to have a plan. I’m not talking about a long, drawn-out, lesson-plan-type plan, but just a basic idea of what you’re going to do with the students once you have a couple minutes of face time.

Remember: the goal here is fun, not grammar points.

For example, with younger students, you’d look for something simple and straightforward. A game of Tic-Tac-Toe can work well, or you can bring a Where’s Waldo book (Where’s Wally in Japan). I’ve also found that a rock-paper-scissors war can get out of hand quickly with younger students, in kind of a good way. (kind-of)

For middle school age students, I go for stuff that’s a little more interesting. I might start a game of English Shiri-Tori, or maybe I’ll ask for everyone’s favorite animal. A game like Pictionary is also fun because it’s fast and interactive. The worst option is to “just go in the room and see what happens,” because most of the time nothing will happen, and your time will be wasted.

For JHS age on up to your oldest of students, I go in with a much more “anything goes” mentality, since so much depends on the personality of the students. However, I do always have a fall back option in my mind, in case none of the students really engage right away. In those circumstances, I might do one of the following things (though of course you’ll probably have your own ideas.)

  • I might start to draw something strange on the board, and wait until someone can’t resist and just has to ask me what it is.
  • I could also start teaching someone how to play “boxes.”
  • Sometimes, I would just pick a student and say, “Let’s go skydiving!” for the shock factor and fun conversation that it creates.

In all of these cases, no matter the age, the point is to have an idea of something you can do to make the most of your time with the students. Going in without at least a backup plan is risky. Sure, sometimes the students will be proactive enough to make sure your time isn’t wasted, but other times it will be all up to you. So, it’s best to be ready to be put on the spot.

The best part about the whole thing is that it only takes about a minute of mental effort to get something ready, but the benefits are huge. Next time you have a couple minutes to spend with the students before or after class, go in with a plan in mind. I promise it will be more fun for your students and you, which should be the ultimate goal whenever you are teaching.




Peter Lackner is the Managing Partner at and has had management-level positions at major job boards in Japan including:, GaijinPot, CareerEngine and currently the managing partner at

Running a job board gives Peter the opportunity to speak with employers and job seekers every day and find out why some are successful and others are not. Speaking to both employers and job seekers has given Peter the ability to be able to see both sides of the hiring process. This is why exists - to help job seekers find the jobs they want and employers to find the candidates they need.

Peter is active in the ETJ (English Teachers in Japan organization), a member of JALT’s School Owners SIG and currently on the Executive Board of the Tokyo Association of International Preschools.

You can often find Peter speaking to groups on how to get a new or better job, and to employers on how to avoid making a bad hire.

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