Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

Introducing New English Activities, Part 1: Potentially Offensive Hangman

Today I had classes with the 5th graders and the 2nd graders. As usual, I planned my lessons at the last minute (I always try to do it early but they never really get finished until right before class).

With the 5th graders, our lesson was on giving directions, as well as places to go. They got down the “Turn left,” “Turn right,” “Go straight” parts easily so it was no problem navigating through a map of Ono.

We went on to review places to go like “post office,” “hotel,” “restaurant,” etc., and they got those down easily as well. So I moved on to a word scramble, and that was pretty easy for them as well.

So I had another idea: Hangman. I’m pretty sure that most people, at least in the United States where I’m from, knows this game. It’s a great way for students in ESL classes to learn how to spell words of any category. I explained the game to them in English and Japanese, and they eventually got the rules. We only had enough time to do one place name, but they managed to solve it.

After class though, the teacher (he’s one of my favorites for being so enthusiastic and kind) came up to me and calmly said that the hangman picture was ダメ (not good). I immediately understood what he meant by that. On one hand, I felt really stupid for not creating a substitute even when I had slight doubts, but at the same time, I tried to find information on the Internet about “hangman being offensive,” and found nothing. Even the Japanese Wikipedia has an entry on Hangman. All my years as a kid in school, when we played Hangman in class, no one–the students nor the teachers–ever had a problem with it.

To introduce the game to a class who didn’t know it was a simple mistake on my part, though the kids didn’t react to it at all; I think they were just focused on the game. Nonetheless, I plan to change the picture and, since I couldn’t find any information on what I was looking for, I decided to make this blog entry on it so that anyone who plans on using Hangman for an overseas ESL class (or even one within the country) will be aware. All you have to do is take a simple drawing and change it (just don’t pick a swastika or something). If you choose to keep the line-drawing as a way to tally missed guesses, be sure to keep the drawing simple to an appropriate number of lines. I’ve actually considered using Kanji stroke-counting as a way to keep score.

You can also choose any other alternatives, such as drawing ten objects and crossing one out with every miss, or starting from a number and counting down to zero. Be creative with it…just don’t use the drawing of a lynching. I still wonder why I never came across this issue when I was younger…

Part 2 of this blog will focus on the new activity I introduced to the 2nd graders, which turned out to be a great success and made me feel better after my 5th grade class.


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