childhood elementary English Saroma

English Swim Lessons 2.0


Last June in Murakami, I had the privilege to do some really fun English lessons in the swimming pool at Senami Elementary.  My supervising teacher at that school, Mrs. Hiki, was really, really, into English and integrating it into her classroom.  A few months ago, up here in Saroma, I gave a presentation about my experiences as an ALT in Niigata Prefecture to the teachers at Hamasaroma Elementary.  They were impressed with many of the special lessons that we had done in class, so I suggested trying to recreate the swimming activity, since it didn’t require as much preparation or special in-class study time as some of the other lessons I presented about.

Last year, Mrs. Hiki and I hurriedly made a bunch of fish shapes on copy paper and laminated them.  Half were totally waterlogged and destroyed after two periods of munchkin-munching.  This time, I tried to come up with a better way of making toy fish that would be much more durable and less wasteful.  So, using 25 boards of A4-sized EVA polyethylene foam, I drew and cut about 100 salmon, whales, octopi, squid, crabs, dolphins, starfish, sharks, turtles and scallops.  Then, using an oil-based marker, I drew faces and outlines on all of the shapes.  After they had dried for a few days, I coated them in waterproofing spray and let them sit for another day.


The day of the lesson was almost too cold to use the pool.  The water temperature was 24.5 C, and the outside air temp was 25.  We had a whole 75 minutes for the lesson, so we started off with some stretching on the deck, and then warmed up with “head, shoulders, knees and toes” in the pool!  That was a blast, because when you reach down to touch your legs, your face goes right in the water.  The next part of the lesson, teaching the actual names of the different sea creatures, was where I started to lose the kids.  Next time, we’ll spend a class beforehand learning the names, and dedicate all of the pool time to moving around.  Basically, even though I tried to speed through it, standing in a cool pool without any movement got fairly cold, and fairly boring.  So we quickly moved into gestures, and into the main fishing game.


Finally, we played Marco Polo.  Which I failed at demonstrating; it’s really hard to catch those little kids, especially in an echoing indoor pool that has no wind or sun to help indicate where you are going!  The whole lesson was a good time, and while it had a few hitches, I’d say it was a success: Two of my absolute wildest 2nd grade students were completely wiped out only halfway through the pool time.  The best part of the whole thing is that it gets kids out of the classroom and while I doubt more than five remember even half of the fish names we learned, they definitely had fun, and that’s pretty much my standard of excellence in my role as an ALT.


3 replies on “English Swim Lessons 2.0”

Hi – I live here in Japan – Gifu prefecture, Yaotsu-cho. I grew up in Palmer and am friends with your dad (step-dad) Monte. He gave me your blog page and I think it is great! I just read about your swimming lesson idea; fantastic. I have 6 elementary schools here and could really have fun doing that type of lesson with the kids. I have been here 12 years or so, I hope with info like your swimming lesson I will continue to become a better ALT. Thanks a lot for the blog page.

Hi, Jim. I’ve heard about you before. My uncle Tom DePriest mentions you about everytime Japan comes up in conversation 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I try to update it with whatever I think might be unique enough to warrant publication. It ends up not getting updated very much…

The swimming lesson is pretty straightforward but requires a lot of preparation, and if you do it on a 25° day with a water temp of 24° like I did, you had better keep the kids moving or else end up with a lot of them wrapped up in towels on the deck before you even get to Marco Polo.

I visited Gifu once about 5 years ago while travelling. A former teacher of mine from PHS taught as an ALT in Itadori-mura (North Pole’s sister city) up in the mountains. I stayed at the Yamame Ryokan run by the Nagaya’s and met the ALT at that time, Ed from North Pole. I also met Gary White, who was an English professor at a college in Gifu and a lifelong resident of Japan. I enjoyed the place, and have always wanted to make it back and say hi. I’ll let you know if I do.

Hi Sean,

Going a little nuts here, taking two graduate courses, teaching summer school full-time and preparing for the trip to Japan. I sent a note to Gary White and am not sure if it’s current. Wondering if you have one.

Really looking forward to seeing you.

– Paul

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