A Thematic Week at a Small School

James R. Welker, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies; Stacia Houston, St. Mary College, Nagoya


  • Key Words: Content-based language education, integrated four skills
  • Learner English Level: High beginner through advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school through adult
  • Preparation Time: Varies according to resources available
  • Activity Time: One week

We organized a thematic week around AIDS at an English language senmongakko with approximately 150 students. The goals were to educate the students about a serious social issue, to provide students at all levels the opportunity to study content in English, and, finally, to provide a break in the curriculum for both the teachers and students.


The most essential element of our program was the "AIDS file," a collection of teaching materials made available to encourage teachers to focus on AIDS in their classes. These materials were divided into five categories: general lessons and lesson ideas, reading selections with accompanying exercises and activities, recent newspaper and magazine articles, videos and worksheets, and general information for teachers. Though about half of the teachers were motivated enough to produce their own materials, having ready-made lesson plans made it easy for teachers who were not so inclined.

Creating the file was simply a matter of finding and compiling teaching materials already available from textbooks, the internet, and newspapers and magazines. Our most valuable resource for lesson plans and general information was JAPANetwork (Japan AIDS Prevention and Awareness Network). The head of this organization, Louise Haynes, also volunteered to be a guest speaker (see endnote).

The general lessons included easy-to-use lesson plans for basic, intermediate and advanced levels. Lesson ideas included mini-quizzes, discussion questions, role plays, and cloze exercises with pop music. The reading selections dealt with issues such as personal accounts from people with AIDS and family members, women and AIDS, and the AIDS crisis in Japan. We began gathering the newspaper and magazine articles several months prior to AIDS Awareness Week for classroom use and teacher information. We were able to rent recent AIDS-themed Hollywood movies, such as Philadelphia, from the video store, and we borrowed some US made-for-TV movies and public service announcements from JAPANetwork. The teachers who used videos made worksheets to accompany them. Finally, we complied a folder of articles about addressing AIDS in the English-language classroom.

After the file was completed, we presented it to the other teachers and gave specific examples of how the materials could be used in various classes. To prevent students from facing the same activities twice, teachers indicated on a checksheet what they were using in their classes. Several weeks prior to AIDS Awareness Week we put up posters and asked teachers to inform the students of the upcoming events.

The Week

We kicked off the week with a talk on AIDS by Ms. Haynes, which motivated the students for the remainder of the week. From that point, the week practically ran itself. Individual teachers utilized materials most appropriate for their classes. For example, in one intermediate conversation class, students watched Fatal Love and afterwards discussed the content and their feelings about it. In a listening class, students did cloze exercises and follow-up discussion with songs from the Philadelphia soundtrack. In a computer class, students searched the internet for AIDS-related information.

Conclusion and Suggestions

Feedback from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive. For teachers who are apprehensive about broaching sensitive issues in the classroom, this approach provided information and support to make it less daunting. The school administration also saw the value in this special week-long curriculum and put their support behind us. Student interest-level was consistent throughout the week. We believe this was because of the wide variety of materials and approaches to the issue, which allowed for a much deeper treatment. Generally, serious topics such as AIDS are discussed only in upper-level classes, but the AIDS file, with materials for all levels, meant that even the most basic conversation classes were able to spend time on this issue.

Though we chose to do a thematic week on AIDS because we were concerned that our students did not know enough accurate information about AIDS, such a week could be done on a variety of other topics. We suggest social issues such as racism and discrimination, women's issues, or the environment. Lighter topics might also be appropriate such as a week on Japanese culture or the home countries of the foreign teachers. Many such topics already have countless related ESL activities and materials available, reducing the need to generate original materials and preparation time.


JAPANetwork's homepage, full of teaching ideas and resources for teaching about AIDS, can be found at http://www.bekkoame.ne.jp/~gettings/JAPANet/JAPANet.html. Louise Haynes can be contacted at aidsed@gol.com.