Before leaving on my trip back to the States I was really looking forward to getting away from it all. I never expected that I would suddenly be obsessed with the search for authentic materials. However, in planning the trip I started to consider what I wanted to bring back to Japan. The list of things for the classroom started getting longer than the personal items. So, before leaving I listed all the materials I would try to look for. Nothing big, nothing heavy and nothing expensive became the rule.
Where to look
First, I had to categorize what I wanted based on what I knew I could probably find easily. The airport and plane of course are an excellent source of such material. Among others on my ‘shopping list’ were; airport information guides (San Francisco International Airport was a great resource, while my final destination, Boston was not), menus (small shops inside shopping malls were an excellent source of simple one page menus that you could take home and could be easily used in the classroom). Not only were the proprietors willing to have you take them, they also turned out be useful for in-class activities. Information desks around the city offered a wide variety of information that was free and could be used in classroom activities.
Finding something of interest to students
I have always thought that travel guides helped make my classroom activities more interesting. Travel guides that you had to buy here in Japan will cost you a lot but the information desks in Boston had a free booklet called Panorama which listed activities, movies, theater and sports along with maps and schedules which turned out to cause a lot of excitement in my junior college classes as students asked about movies that looked interesting or concerts featuring singers they knew or liked.
This even had a small section in foreign languages, including Japanese, which the students thought was really funny. They enjoyed explaining what the Japanese said. (I didn¹t tell them that I had a translation of it on another page.) They turned out to be good translators.
Since traveling is a major activity I felt that students could benefit from schedules and maps that were readily available. The MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) provides you with small schedules that can be easily used in the classroom. Along with this route maps for the trains and subways give the students the visual stimulus they need to ask questions and practice real-life situations.
Movie theaters proved to be a great resource as a few had information sheets on what movies were playing along with explanations of the ratings system and a synopsis of the movies scheduled. The signs in the lobby of the movie theater provided a variety of information but as I quickly learned never take pictures inside a movie theater lobby.
I wanted a picture of the snack bar signs but was quickly told by a security guard that this activity is strictly forbidden. He was stunned when I told him why I was taking the picture. Aside from the problems I had, the material on movie ratings and explanations of the upcoming movies helped make several lessons a great success as the students were inspired to ask a great many questions and showed a keen interest in understanding something they were seeing for the first time.
People don’t talk
Collecting the materials was not without its problems. Along with the trouble at the movie theater there were other situations where people simply didn’t talk! At the front desk of my hotel in San Francisco the clerk just stared at me as I approached. Any respectable English book sold in Japan would never offer up this situation to students! Taxi drivers were not as chatty as we often believe them to be. The ride from the airport to the train station was in silence.
I told him where I was going, he drove, he stopped, I looked at the meter, paid him, said thanks and that was it. Not very conversational but would probably put my students at ease if they thought they wouldn’t need to engage in conversation like that. While buying the train ticket I approached the counter and said, “One way to Ipswich”. He said, “Four fifty”.
I slipped the money into the slot below the bulletproof glass, took my ticket and moved on. Flight attendants never said more than a few words and when serving drinks did not even bother to speak, as they simply arched their eyebrows as if to say, “What do you want?”. I was beginning to think that talking was really unnecessary.