When I first started out, the birthday lesson was very intimidating. It was basically a big vocabulary dump. But, over time I figured it all out and now this lesson is my strongest of the book. Using a musical introduction, a logical number pattern, and a slow roll out, all of my students know months, dates, and their birthdays front, back, and sideways. This lesson uses pretty much every activity in the textbook and supplements them with original games and challenges.
Lesson 2A, Months
- -p6~7 Let’s Play 1 (Introduce the Months of the Year)
- Months of the Year Song
- -p6~7 Let’s Listen 1 (Holidays Around the World)
Lesson 2B, Dates
- Warm Up: Sing the Months of the Year Song
- Stereo Game
- Ordinal Numbers Introduction and Challenge
- p8 Let’s Play 2 (Dates of Holidays)
Lesson 2C, My Birthday
- Warm Up: Review Months and Dates
- Stand Up Challenge, Birthday Edition
- p8 Let’s Listen 2 (Character Birthday Quiz)
Lesson 2D, When is your birthday?
- p9 Activity (Birthday Interview)
- The Birthday Quiz Game
Lesson, 2A Months
-p6~7 Let’s Play 1 (Introduce the Months of the Year)
The first time I ever tried to teach the months I failed miserably. The months of the year in English represent a sort of nonsense group of awkward words that only have one use. And, in Japanese the months are referred to by sequential numbers, not names. They used to have names but they’re not in daily use nowadays.
The secret, I have found, is the old kindergarten song for the Months of the Year. You may have learned the months with this melody as a kid yourself. I did. These days, I start with January and instead of doing ordinary drilling or a skit to introduce and practice it, I sing the word to the melody and have the kids repeat after me. Each month gets tacked onto the end of the call and repeat.
I introduce the name of the month by singing it to the kids, then point to the pictures in their textbooks. The first activity has them matching the month of the year to the traditional Japanese event or holiday in that month. It is hilarious to see what these kids do and do not know about their own culture. I love teasing them when they don’t quite know what something is.
Number one is January.
What event is in January? (New Years! Oshogatsu!)
I print my Month flash cards with the plain numbers and names on the front and the numbers, names, and pictures on the front. The cards go up on the board with just names and numbers at first, and then when the kids identify the corresponding picture, I turn it over to reveal the answer.
If you don’t know much about traditional Japanese holidays and seasonal events, the pictures in the book correspond to the following:
January: Oshougatsu/New Years . The picture here depicts the displays of oranges and mochi that are put out in honor of New Years.
February: Setsubun/The Bean Throwing Festival. Setsubun isn’t so much a festival as it is just a funny little superstitious holiday observed by kids. Parents or teachers put on an oni/demon mask and kids throw roasted soy beans at them to get them out of the house or school and bring luck. Stores sell the roasted soy beans along with paper oni masks each year and my school lunch usually has roasted soy beans in a little packet that day.
March: Hina Matsuri/The Doll Festival. This is also an observed holiday that isn’t really a festival. Families put up a display of dolls fashioned like a royal family and their court in honor of their daughters.
April: Nyugakushiki/School Entrance Ceremony. Most schools in Japan start their semesters in the first week or two of April.
May: Kodomo no Hi/Children’s Day. Where Hina Matsuri is for daughters, traditionally Children’s Day is for sons. But, nowadays it’s pretty common to honor all a family’s children. Families put up displays of miniature samurai armor and fly fish kites, one kite per family member, from their balconies. The fish kite flying bit is called ‘Koi Nobori’ and some kids call the holiday ‘Koi Nobori’ instead of by its proper name.
June: Tsuyu/The Rainy Season. June sucks. It rains a lot and it’s known as Tsuyu. There is a second rain filled season in the fall, but that’s typhoon season. June is just spring rains. The pictured flowers are hydrangea, aka ajisai, that bloom in the middle of the rainy season.
July: Tanabata/The Star Festival. Celebrated on 7/7, the Star Festival is based around an old Chinese legend about Orihime and her lover who are separated by the milky way and can only see each other when the stars align on July 7th. The picture shows a Tanabata display. Celebrants will write wishes or thanks on strips of paper and hang those strips of paper from a branch of bamboo. The picture also depicts a child catching a semi/cicada as children in Japan are crazy and don’t run screaming from giant summer bugs like I do.
August: Natsu Matsuri/Summer Festival. Summer festivals tend to be clustered in August around the week of Obon. Obon is a Buddhist holiday to honor one’s dead relatives and ancestors. The picture depicts a child eating a kakikoori/snow cone and looking at hanabi/fireworks while wearing her yukata/casual summer kimono. Sometimes kids will reply that the event is hanabi alone. Oh, kids.
September: Tsukimi/Harvest Moon Viewing -and- Keiro (Kansha) no Hi/Respect for the Aged Day. Tsukimi was traditionally an early harvest holiday at the end of the growing season. Celebrants eat dango/dumplings and admire the moon. The picture shows the moon, dango, and ornamental susuki grass. Pretty much no group of kids guesses why the old people are in the picture. They get Respect for the Aged Day off of school but don’t really notice why. I always give them shit for not knowing this one.
October: Kuri/Kaki/Nashi/Autumn Foods. The three pictured foods are kaki (persimmions), nashi (pears), and kuri (chestnuts). Kids have trouble placing this picture within the timeline.
November: Shichigosan/Seven-Five-Three. This holiday is about milestones in childhood. There’s a history here but mostly these days you see Shichigosan mentioned as a reason to take ornate pictures of cute kids during their seventh, fifth, and third years of life. The picture represents the photoshoots that often happen at temples in honor of Shichigosan.
December: Yuzuburo/Yuzu Bath on Touji/Winter Solstice –and- Oomisoka/New Year’s Eve. The picture here shows the bell at a Buddhist temple that is rung at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The woman in the bath is bathing with the citrus fruit yuzu on the Winter Solstace (Touji). Kids know the bell signifies the countdown on New Year’s Eve (Oomisoka) but many have not heard of the Winter Solstice habit of bathing in yuzu.
Be sure to sing the previous months each pass so as to review before each new term.
You know. In melody. Call and repeat. That jazz.
Months of the Year Song
After going through all the events, it’s time to string the bits of melody together into a coherent song. I sing it all together in one go, then have the kids join me. After I’m sure they’ve got the words and melody, we play!
I bust out a chair. Or steal one. The second time we sing the song together, I tell them, stand up on your birthday/birth month. I make a big show of sitting on the edge of my seat to get ready and then go into it. The third time we sing the song together, I tell them to stand on their birthdays and use a BIG VOICE to shout out the month. The fourth and final time I tell them to stand on their birthdays, use a BIG VOICE, and pose. By the end some shy kids stop fully participating and some of the hams go wild. It’s fun and it gets them associating the months with their birthdates for the following week’s lesson.
-p6~7 Let’s Listen 1 (Holidays Around the World)
This lesson finishes up with the book quiz about holidays. Read out the statements regarding the special events in each given country and when they each happen and have the kids draw a line from the picture representing that event to the month. It seems so simple but plenty of kids jump the gun and randomly guess and put Thai New Years in January, the Korean Start of School in April, and Australian Christmas in August. Nope. They fall in April, March, and December respectively. Halloween’s pretty easy.
Lesson 2B, Dates
Warm Up: Sing the Months of the Year Song
Go through one at a time with the call and repeat drilling, then sing it together once for review.
This game can be kinda hard to explain to the kids. Sometimes I slip up and use Japanese (doujini/same time) to explain the premise a bit if it isn’t going smoothly. The idea is to bring a handful of kids to the front of the room and on the count of three say their birth month at the same time like speakers on a stereo. The kids acting as an audience for this then have to pick out who shouted what month, determining whose birthday is when. Two rounds of four or five kids each gets the job done.
Ordinal Numbers Introduction and Challenge
Much like the numbers to 100 back in the first chapter, I do this vocab set a little differently. Rather than just have the kids repeat after me 31 times and hope they intuit the differences in ordinal numbers compared to plain numbers, I put up a chart.
First, Second, and Third all appear as katakana words in baseball. Kids have heard them. Fifth is also irregular so I lump it in with the other irregular baseball words. These are represented in blue on the chart. Black numbers are regular numbers. Add the snake sound ~th to the regular number to make the ordinal number. And, ‘tens’ from 20 onward are a ‘level up’ with the ‘eh’ sound put between the regular number and the ~th’ sound. This is just my way of explaining the pronunciation exceptions in ordinal numbers. It isn’t the only way by far but it gives them a chance to logic out the pronunciation based on a pattern and a chart rather than just straight up memorization.
Then, we do the same challenge as before! The first kid in the front row says ‘First’ and the kid next to them has to follow with ‘Second’ and this goes on left to right, front to back until they get to the goal. The goal is ‘Thirty First’. But, if a kid messes up, then that kid has to stand up and the next kid has to start back over again from ‘first’.
Next is today’s challenge! The goal is ‘Thirty First’. One player, one number. First second third fourth…. Get to 31st, you’re finished! Good job. But, one miss…. First second third fourth… five? Oh, no! One more time, from the start. First second third fourth fifth…
I don’ t take it too hard on them here. This is just to check that they get what the pattern is. I encourage them to help each other to make it go as smoothly and quickly as possible.
p8 Let’s Play 2 (Dates of Holidays)
Lastly, we put months and dates together in a quiz about holidays. I do this as a group/team quiz game because it’s more fun when the kids can work together to try and remember when this or that event takes place. The Let’s Play box on page 8 lists seven common holidays with defined dates. I start there.
Page eight, please. Today’s quiz game is the event quiz. Quiz number one: When is New Years? (January First) Yes! One point.
Quiz number two: When is the bean throwing festival, Setsubun? (February Third) Yes! One point.
Sometimes I give out a point for the month and another point for the day. Depends on how the class is going. I also hold up photos with Japanese captions to correspond with each question. The target here is to say dates properly not holidays, so I don’t even try to teach them the English names for things like Hina Matsuri.
Once I get through the seven book quizzes, I start throwing out different holidays. There are a lot to choose from. Some of my favorites:
The Emperor’s Birthday
(Yokohama Port Opening Day)
There are also several holidays whose dates change each year. Four of them are the Happy Monday holidays that fall on, like, the third Monday of the month or whatnot. These holidays were changed to always fall on Mondays to give Japanese people four guaranteed three day weekends a year. Kinda nice, right? The Happy Monday holidays are:
Health and Sports Day
Coming of Age Day
Respect for the Aged Day
You can also include the solstice and equinox for added confusion!
Lesson 2C, My Birthday
Warm Up: Review Months and Dates
Sing the Months of the Year song and simply run through the dates again.
Stand Up Challenge, Birthday Edition
For this activity I usually have the kids write their names and student numbers on single wooden chopsticks in pencil or pen. If you’re in a pinch, slips of paper or cards with numbers 1~40 will work. Each kid has a student number in a Japanese classroom and the class size limit is 40 so you technically can just go by student number and not name but it feels impersonal. If using papers it’s good to have them in a bag. I put the name chopsticks into a cup.
Demo the activity by saying your own birth date and having them repeat the sentence structure after you.
My birthday (My birthday)
My birthday is (My birthday is)
My birthday is October 3rd. And you? When is your birthday? This is today’s game.
Then pull a chopstick or name card from the cup or bag. Ask that kid their birthdate.
Player number one is… Tanaka Junnosuke. Junnosuke, when is your birthday?
Here’s where the fun comes in. If a kid struggles and needs your help pronouncing their own birth date, they’re ‘safe’ and they get to sit down. They have said the words. They are finished. If a kid answers properly in a full sentence without any mistakes on the first try, then he or she gets a ‘perfect’ and gets to save a friend. That kid pulls another chopstick from the cup and the kid they pull is ‘saved’ and gets to sit down without saying their own birth date. The idea here is that it can be boring, stressful, and time consuming to have every single kid state their birth date.
So, with gamification, we give the kids a challenge. Not every kid necessarily has to say their birth date. And, if you do have to state yours, and you do well, you can save someone else! You’re a hero!
Once a kid’s name has been pulled, set that chopstick or number card aside. They’re done. Finish the entire cup of chopsticks or number cards off and the activity is also finished.
p8 Let’s Listen 2 (Character Birthday Quiz)
Last in this lesson, the kids put their knowledge of months and dates to use, matching characters from the textbook to their birthdates. To make it easy to check and follow along with, I print off and cut out an enlarged version of the textbook page. These scraps of paper with the characters faces and their birth dates go up on the chalkboard. Like all simple book quizzes, I read the script aloud from the leftmost character to the right. We check their understanding together. I pass chalk bits out to kids and they connect the dots on the board. Very straightforward.
Lesson 2D, When is your birthday?
Before this lesson has a chance to get underway, I pass out slips of paper with a space to write one’s name and birthdate on them. I make a big show of filling out my own name and birthdate and point to the slips of paper for the kids to do the same. I collect the papers and the lesson can formally start.
p9 Activity (Birthday Interview)
The last page of this section of the book has a bit list of the months with space to write. This is the birthday interview section. The idea is that the kids are supposed to run around the room asking all their friends what their birthdays are and writing them in on this chart. Demo the language and review as needed before you start. Kids should write the name and date in the space beside the correct month for all their friends’ birthdays. Let them run around gathering birthdates for about 10~15 minutes or until they get restless. Then…
The Birthday Quiz Game
Have the kids return to their desks and make groups. Each group is a team so encourage them to work together. Shuffle through the slips of paper you gathered at the beginning of the lesson and pick one at random. Read the birthdate and ask what that person’s name is. One correct name gets one point for your team.
Ok! Last is today’s birthday quiz game. Quiz number one: My birthday is March 19th. What’s my name?
I go through about 10 of these before I switch gears. For the last half, read the name and ask for the birth date.
Now, let’s change. Quiz number eleven: My name is Anna Tanaka. What’s my birthday?
…and award points. Let the game run until you run out of time. The end!
I’m really proud of this unit. For all my faults as an instructor, I can safely say that by the time they graduate, all of my students can say their birth dates with confidence.