Homestay Preparation: The Clear File

Joyce Roth, Seian Girls' High School Kyoto



  • Key Words: Homestay, Speaking
  • Learner English Level:Intermediate to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level:High school to Adult
  • Preparation Time:1-2 hours to create questionnaires
  • Activity Time:Varies


Approximately 50,000 junior and senior high school students from Japan travel overseas each year to participate in homestay programs. Schools cooperate with their counterparts overseas, either directly or through agencies, to develop programs varying in purpose, style, and content. Generally, the business aspects of the trip (applying for passports, choosing insurance, making travel arrangements) and the framework for the program (finding teachers and host families, planning classroom sessions and events) are handled conscientiously, allowing the whole program to move smoothly and successfully. What, then, is the cause of the problems so many of our young people so often experience?

The inability to communicate seems to be the biggest gap in the host family/student relationship and often weakens the positive aspects of the program. Host families ask questions about the students' families, their home towns, schools, food, religion, country, Japanese attitudes, life styles, even politics. They want to know how the two countries compare, what Japanese people value, what major issues in society are, what their job prospects are, current news, conflicts between the countries-in short, topics that our young people may not have even thought about in Japanese, much less have the ability to talk about in English. It's not possible for these young people to be so aware of and also to be able to speak about these topics, however hesitantly, Yet, host families express disappointment when they are dissatisfied with the lack of sharing of information that goes on. And so, the preparation of a homestay clear file is offered as a way for our Japanese young people to share a lot without having to speak a lot.

Practical Suggestions for the Clear File

To prepare students for the homestay experience, conversation classes throughout the year are a bonus, as are regular pre-departure orientation sessions, but, additionally, information must be collected and/or prepared beforehand so that it can be used often during the home stay. With the help of a clear file (a notebook with transparent pockets) many questions that host family members ask can be "answered" with minimal English ability by the "show and tell" method. A number of pages of the clear file specifically go with units in most conversation books, such as the family tree. My students all have a 20 page B5 clear file in which they arrange the following pages. (The first five ideas should be placed on half of a B4 page. The second half is blank so that the students, with the host family's help, can draw/write the same information about their host situation.)

  1. A family tree, including names, ages, hobbies, jobs, etc. of three generations done neatly in color.
  2. A floor plan of the house, labeling furniture and areas that might be different such as tatami, ofuro, and kotatsu. The student's own room can be more detailed. A map of the neighborhood, showing the surrounding area such as shops, train stations, schools, fields.
  3. Typical menus for a Japanese breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the student's favorite meals, including one or more recipes that might be cooked for the host family. Students cut out pictures of typical foods from magazines.
  4. A school schedule and year calendar with the times students get up, leave for school, get home, what classes they have which periods during the day, what they regularly do after school, and the activities throughout the school year-opening/closing ceremonies, sports day, cultural festival, and so on.
  5. A 50 Yes-No item questionnaire asked of the entire class, with the results taken at the beginning of the school year. The questionnaire includes questions about who they are, what they do, what they know how to do, and what they have done (cook, clean, help at home, take special lessons, travel abroad, like school, like to meet new people, or do new things, etc.) The results of the whole class are tallied together giving the teachers, the students themselves, and the host families a general idea of what the class is like.
  6. A questionnaire about the school-how many students, teachers, and courses, and what the facilities, clubs, and activities are. It's amazing what students don't know about their own school! I give them a page of questions and a separate page of mixed up answers and ask them to do it as a matching exercise.
  7. A questionnaire about their city and about Japan- location, geography, climate, population, industrial, tourist spots, etc. As above, I supply the answers in a matching exercise because I don't believe that searching for answers is as necessary as knowing.
  8. A questionnaire about their hobbies and interests. On this page they write about clubs they've belonged to/belong to, outside lessons they had/ have, activities they enjoy, and what their families like to do together.
  9. A collection of maps and brochures of the city and the famous places around the area. Even information in Japanese is great if there are lots of pictures.
  10. A dictionary of some Japanese things, with pictures, i.e., kokeshi-it is usually made of wood. It's a doll used for decoration. Noren-it's a cloth curtain hung in a doorway.
  11. A how-to dictionary with directions on how to play jan, ken, pon, how to eat miso shiru, how to take a bath, how to sit in the kotatsu, and much more.
  12. A collection of newspaper inserts advertising such things as kimono, Japanese style furniture, New Year's food boxes, mansions, sweets, religious items, etc. Sometimes the prices are as interesting as the items.


There's no end to what teachers can do to help their students prepare themselves for the inevitable difficulties of a homestay. Without a doubt, though, using the clear file is one very successful way of encouraging a maximum of interaction between host family and student with a minimum of language. Whenever a host family gets into the "Let's Talk" mode, the student should say "Just a minute" and run to the room to get this answer book. Host families need to be told in advance that these books have been prepared because the shyness or reluctance that keeps our students from talking in the first place might keep them from going to get the book.

We've used these books for several years at our high school and are convinced that they add a dimension to the homestay experience for these young people and their families that cannot be matched through any other way. A two-way sharing of responsibility and culture, even with limited language, brings long-lasting satisfaction to the homestay experience.