The Ready-Set-GO! English Picture Book Reading Club website is for teachers and parents. I have used these materials and this format in Japanese kindergartens to help parents read English picture books to their children. Doing this as a club means that every family needs to buy only one book, but is able to share the books that the other club members buy, too. And everyone gets to share in the fun of reading picture books with their friends.
I hope you'll give it a try!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Goals of the BRC

The Book Reading Club (BRC) is designed to meet these goals:
  • To inspire, and maintain, parent-child English use at home;
  • To leverage your time as a teacher. That is, to inspire and create a community of teachers (the parents have, after all, studied English for years);
  • To be low-cost, yet provide access to English picture books for the members;
  • And to provide external motivation to keep the parents reading to their kids at home.

The BRC, briefly...

Briefly, the BRCs work like this:
-Provide a booklist for parents to each choose 1 picture book to purchase (I did the purchasing through amazon.co.jp).
-With cards cut from heavy paper provided by the kindergartens, each family was asked to make 16 paired picture cards (32 total) using vocabulary from the book they purchased (to play Memory/しんけすいじゃく and other games); these cards are to remain together with each book.
-Schedule and lead 1 Orientation Meeting (to get the book purchasing going and outline the Club plan), and also 4 regular meetings during the school year.
-Choose a pair of leaders to facilitate communication and to administer the club membership.
-And last, but most importantly, create a Book Exchange: On a regular schedule, families exchange the book & cards they have at home with another member in the club. See more about this here.

Starting a Club

To start the clubs, first contact the kindergartens and get their go-ahead, and request that one teacher become a liaison for the BRC. With this teacher choose a date for an Orientation Meeting, and work together to produce a hand-out introducing and describing the BRC in Japanese for all of the children to take home. The bottom of the hand-out needs a simple form for the parents to fill-in and return to their teachers if they are interested in joining the club.

the Orientation Meeting

Prior to the Orientation Meeting, I used the Wish List feature on amazon.co.jp to choose, create and print a booklist (see more below).
At the Orientation Meeting, discuss and settle these points:
  • Meeting dates. Ours met once every 2-3 months, or 4-5 times during the school year;
  • Meeting time. These varied with the kindergarten, but were usually 15 minutes after the children were free to go home;
  • Discussion of the Book Exchange, and setting a time table for it. See this post for details;
  • Describe how to make the vocabulary cards for each book purchased. See more about this below (or here).
  • And asking for a pair of volunteers to help as leaders. They work together with you and the teacher-liaison for organizing the mothers, book exchange, etc..

the Booklist

This is a very important step in beginning the BRC. I have prepared a booklist on amazon.co.jp. You can access it here. There are now about 30 books on the list that have been used in my local BRCs. You can certainly choose your own, or add to the list by choosing similar books.
The one point we learned is that the mothers need VERY SIMPLE books- one sentence on a page is about right. We tried popular Japanese titles written in English, but these tended to be too difficult.
Before the Orientation Meeting I printed out the booklist from Amazon, stapled the pages together, and then asked the mothers to circle a book and write their name next to it. If the BRC group was large, buying more than one of the same popular book was OK.
No one ever volunteered, so I ordered the books myself from Amazon.

I have prepared a booklist on Amazon.co.jp. You'll need an account to purchase through Amazon--but please support my effort by buying through the linked page!

Ordering Books

After choosing their book, mother’s are asked later to put the cost of the book in a sealed envelope with their name on it and give it to the kindergarten liaison/teacher (warn them that the costs are based on the exchange rate current at the time of the printing of the booklist and could differ somewhat, plus or minus).
After the books arrive, sit together with the liason teacher to check the titles, cost and amount of money in the envelopes. Doing this together eases the responsibility of there being any errors. Then pass the books out to the mothers together with 32 blank cards to be used to make the paired vocabulary cards.

Making the Vocabulary Cards

Each family is asked to make a set of 32 vocabulary cards based on the words in the book they purchased. There are 2 cards for each word, making 16 pairs of cards in total. If the words in the book are too few, words can be chosen from the pictures in the book. The words can/should be mixed with nouns, verbs, adjectives, numbers, etc.. Cards (2 of each word) should have a picture and the word written on them, and be blank on the backs. Click here for a print to give to the parents.

The BRC Meeting

The BRC meetings are a time for the mothers to learn how to use their paired vocabulary cards at home, as well as a time for me to teach the children. After some trial and error, and requests by the mothers, my BRC meetings settled into a regular format:
  • Materials: kamishibai/storyboards with Karuta prints for all; warm-up materials (books to read, props for songs, etc.)
  • While doing some warm-up activities with the kids (usually something active to get some of the steam out of the kids), mothers cut the Karuta papers into cards, one set for themselves and one for their child. The Karuta papers are A4 prints with 15 words & pictures which I cut into 1/3s (5 pictures on each) with a paper cutter before the meeting. The mothers then use scissors to cut the papers into 15 cards.
  • After the warm-up, everyone lays out a 4X4 Bingo grid with the prepared Karuta cards face-up on the floor, with one open ‘Free’ space. In Round One, call out the picture name/word, and everyone repeats and points to the picture in their grid without moving it. Next, play Bingo: call out the word and everyone turns over the picture in their grid. This is a listening activity to introduce the names/sounds of the words/pictures.
  • After Bingo is finished, all of the mother’s and child’s cards are left face-down, and the pairs play Memory, or in Japanese, Shinkesuijaku. This is a speaking activity: encourage the mothers and the kids to say the words each time a card is turned over. Since the paper is thin, the kids can easily see what the pictures are on the other side--this makes early success a sure thing for the kids.
  • The last game is Hebi Janken (Snake Rock-Papers-Scissors) in paired mother/child groups. It is a speaking activity- encourage the mothers to help their children who have not yet learned the vocabulary; it’s not a test! Two sets of cards are laid out in a line on the floor. A mother and child make one team. Beginning at each end of the line of cards, a member from each team points to and says aloud the word on each card, one-by-one. When the players meet, they stop and play Janken (RPS). The winner continues from that point, and the loser moves behind his/her teammate, who begins reading the cards from the beginning of the line again. Play continues until one team reaches the opposite end of the line of cards.
  • Next, to preview the story before reading the storyboard, the students all gather in front, and each is given one of the Karuta cards. While flipping through the story (but not reading it), a child calls out when they see their picture/word on the storyboard.
  • Finally, read the storyboard. This can be followed-up by reading the storyboard again and having the children repeat after you, or one or more of the children reads the story out loud -in English or in Japanese- while you flip through the cards.
  • The mothers were very keen on me reading the books they had purchased aloud, and usually brought them to the meeting. As time, and child patience, allow, finish the meeting by reading several of their books aloud.

After the Storyboards

Before the meeting ends, it's a good idea to remind the parents when the next meeting will be. This is also a time for the leader(s) to stand and make any announcements, such as when the next Book Exchange will be.

The Book Exchange

Making the Book Exchange work is key to the success of the overall goals of the Book Reading Club. Having a strong leader is perhaps most important; this person makes sure it gets done in your absence.
My experience taught me that these points will help the Book Exchange to be successful:
  • Choosing the same day every month, the 1st & 3rd Wednesday for example, is the easiest way for everyone to remember.
  • Try to have enough Book Exchanges so that all of the books can rotate completely at least once during the year. For smaller clubs, having the books rotate twice is the perfect way for the kids to review what they've already learned.
  • Also, making a numbered list of members, and always receiving or giving your book to the members before and after you on the list, was the most trouble-free. For example, member #12 always gets a book from #11, and always gives the book they have to member #13.
If you are lucky enough to get a strong leader, be open to their ideas. The above points worked in some of my clubs, but in others the leader took the ball and ran with it and everything worked out fine.

Notes for Success

Initiating the purchase of the books early was important, as delivery of some books was usually delayed, and this held up an orderly beginning to the book exchange. The book exchange itself was usually the biggest challenge- the biggest asset here was a strong leader in the BRC who wasn’t afraid to ...be a leader.

Because I work for a company of teachers, I had access to a variety of storyboards in English. There are some storyboards available online, and most local libraries have scores of them in Japanese (this is how I first got started- writing out the words to Momotaro in English). I have since made some of my own storyboards, and you can download them by clicking on the links in the next post. As I get time, I will make the Karuta prints to go with these, and post these also.

Young students are naturally challenged when asked to sit and focus for long periods of time. Being aware of this, and watching for signs of restlessness, will tell you when the kids need to get up and shake it. Varying the tempo of the activities in the classes of young students will help you to keep them involved and focused without undue strain on you or them!
See this post for ideas...


Below are links to some storyboards I have made. Download them, print them out, put the words back-to-back with the pictures, and then laminate them together.
BE CAREFUL! You must put the words for the title page on the back of the last page, words for page 1 on the back of the title page, and so on!

Music with Movement

Having a list of songs with me in kids' classes is a big help when I see the kids need to stand up and get the ants out of their pants. Sing and move with one of these (or your own) songs, and the kids will be ready to sit down and focus for a while longer....
  • Eensy Weensy Spider
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat (Pairs sit facing each other, legs open and feet touching, and holding hands. The kids rock fore and back like they're rowing).
  • 10 Little Indians (or Animals, or whatever)
  • The Grand Old Duke of York
  • The Hokey Pokey
  • This Old Man
Any song can be used to change the tempo of your class--just sing it normally, then LOUD, quiet, FAST and finally, sloooooow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Download Problems?

If you are having problems with the direct download links, click here to go to a page with all of the files.