Skip to main content Skip to main content

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Japanese: Happy New Year! Class Context

I really believe that having student-centered learning is so much more powerful than the teacher standing in front of the class giving information in a lecture form. It’s a lot more meaningful for students to figure it out on their own and for the teacher just to be a facilitator — to be there as a resource and to direct their learning.

– Leslie Birkland





  • Talking about the past
  • Culture: Bathrooms, weekends, chores, and after school


  • Where things are located
  • Culture: Toilet, uniforms

School Subjects

  • Expressing needs; Descriptions
  • Culture: Sports, college entrance, homeroom teachers, foreign language education in
  • Japan, holidays and annual events, kanji (month, day, year)


  • Finding out what happened; Wanting or not wanting to do something; Making suggestions
  • Culture: Japanese medical care, spring/summer/winter vacations, high school and college sports in Japan, why the Japanese don’t use tai and hoshii when inviting


  • Asking and telling the cost of items
  • Culture: Service in U.S. and Japanese stores, Japanese currency, accepting praise or compliments

New Year’s Lesson

Lunch Time

  • Expressing hunger; Eating with utensils (chopsticks)
  • Culture: kanji (numbers 6-10), fast food in Japan, typical lunch in Japan , eating noodles, phrases associated with eating in Japan, soy sauce and miso paste

Birthday Parties

  • Receiving and giving
  • Culture: kanji (days of the week), why so many forms of to give, who eats first at a
  • Japanese party, Japanese addresses and dates


  • Actions describing a state/condition
  • Culture: Part-time jobs in Japan, first names, kanji for birthday, swimming in Japan, proverbs

School Rules

  • Verbs of wearing; Asking, granting, and denying permission; Statement of purpose; Negative questions
    Culture: Japanese uniforms, Japanese school regulations, kanji (libraries and schools)


  • Informal speech; Asking someone not to do something
  • Culture: police, buses in Japan, driver’s licenses in Japan, traffic sounds

School Profile

Leslie Birkland teaches Japanese I-VI at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, Washington, located one mile east of Seattle. The city of Kirkland is home to a largely professional community, with an increasing number of new residents moving to the area for its high-tech industries. It is also a very stable community; most students attend school in the district from kindergarten through 12th grade. Lake Washington serves students in grades 10-12. The school’s 1,400 students can elect to take French, German, Japanese, or Spanish. Due to the state’s strong Pacific Rim economic ties, and to the fact that Ms. Birkland teaches Japanese in one of the junior high schools, Japanese is Lake Washington’s fastest growing language program.

Lesson Design

When designing her lessons, Ms. Birkland refers to the Standards and the Lake Washington School District Curriculum Frameworks (see Resources), and considers the thematic sequence established by her textbook series. She also tries to include in every lesson opportunities for interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication, as well as cultural understanding. Because her class includes students from different cultural backgrounds, she regularly encourages students to make comparisons between Japanese, American, and other cultures during lessons.

The Lesson

Every year Ms. Birkland schedules the Japanese New Year’s unit to coincide with the celebration of this culturally important holiday. In this lesson, students moved between different stations where they learned about Japanese New Year’s customs and tried several traditional activities, such as making cards and playing New Year’s games. In previous years, Ms. Birkland had the assistance of volunteers who gave instructions for the activity at each station. However, because volunteers were not available for this lesson, Ms. Birkland gave instructions for each activity herself in a prior lesson. She also organized the discussion of cultural aspects in a jigsaw, giving every student an opportunity to learn about each of the products and practices. The jigsaw also ensured every student would have a chance to speak during the lesson.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Creating Cultural Experiences: The teacher designs activities in which students can see, hear, or touch a cultural artifact, create their own cultural artifact, and/or observe or engage in cultural practices in or beyond the classroom. These direct or simulated experiences lead students to discover the perspectives of the culture being studied.
  • Jigsaw: In this cooperative-learning technique, the teacher designs group tasks in two successive stages. In the first stage, the members of each group become experts in a specific content area. In the second stage, the students reorganize into new groups made up of experts from each of the former groups. The experts then share their information. In the end, every student has had a chance to learn about each content area.

Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2003. 2016.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2