Momotaro: A supplementary kamishibai lesson for elementary school children

Andrew Meyerhoff, Matsugawa Elementary School

Quick Guide

Key Words: Kamishibai, storytelling, context-based learning, moral education.
Learner English level: Beginner
Learner Maturity Level: Elementary school
Activity Time: 30 minutes
Materials: Kamishibai story cards, flashcards, stage, ojii-chan or obaa-chan costume, bicycle or tricycle, finger puppets

As the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is in the midst of integrating English language education into the elementary schools, two challenges are being faced by teachers: How do we stimulate children's interests? And how do we foster learning outside the classroom? The lesson plan in this article highlights one technique that I have found to directly answer both questions.

Kamishibai, or traditional Japanese picture stories, usually revolve around stories popular amongst all children in Japan, and children likewise become extremely enthused with their readings.

Instead of doing readings in actual class time, which should be more activity and student-centered, these stories can easily be incorporated into the hidden curriculum, or in other words, suggested out-of-class learning.

One clear advantage of using kamishibai is that they provide students with culturally specific context-based learning. As students already know these stories in their native tongue, crossover of important vocabulary and language points is relatively easy. Moreover, as the stories are simple, teachers can make use of repetitive structures or vocabulary in the stories. Lastly, as these stories involve a moral, teachers can wind up their presentation on such a point. Thus, MEXT's goal of incorporating moral education into the elementary school education can be accomplished in a non-imposing way. As a final suggestion, a seasonally appropriate kamishibai may work best.


Setting up of stage. Props ready to go. The stage could either be a collapsible wood stage that fits conveniently onto the back of the bicycle, or a more makeshift type. As actual collapsible types are costly, I suggest making one's own stage using a cardboard frame in which picture cards can be easily slid through slots cut in the cardboard. The teacher may even wish to make a large Punch and Judy style stage, although I feel this would be deviating too much from traditional Japanese culture. For costume, I wear a blue kazuri coat with an ojii-chan's plastic head mask, available at most 100 yen shops.


Step 1: One teacher, preferably the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) or one of the HRTs (Homeroom Teachers), greets students as they walk into the room and instructs them to sit down in front of the stage.

Step 2: Teacher rides into the class on a small bicycle or tricycle wearing an ojii-chan or obaa-chan costume. (This step may seem superfluous, but it in fact serves a twofold purpose: The props center students' attention, and in addition, they make the presentation more authentic; kamishibai were told by elderly people who would ride through town on bicycles until they found young attentive audiences.)

Step 3: Chant, sing, or do TPR of visual imagery directly related to the kamishibai. For my reading, I used "This Old Man," as the main characters in Momotaro were an old man, an old woman, and a young boy, Momotaro. We used flashcards and finger puppets and substituted other characters for the "old man" as we acted out gestures.

Step 4: Integrate a language point.

For example,

  • You are ________________________.
  • I am ___________________________.
  • Who is he/she?
  • He/She is ______________________.

Either finger puppets or flashcards may be used here. One way to introduce the relevant language point using finger puppets is through the "Finger Family" song, with each finger representing a different family member. The students (Ss) can be split into two groups with one group asking, "Where are you?" and the other group answering, "Here I am", while holding up the appropriate finger. After doing the "Finger Family" song, half the Ss could rhythmically chant: "Who is he/she?" while holding up corresponding fingers, and the other half of the Ss could chant the answer. Then, the groups could switch roles.

Step 5: Re-present the three main characters in the kamishibai through picture cards. Provide each student attending with a picture card of one of the three main characters. Each time their corresponding character is mentioned during the reading they are to stand up and say their character's name. The first student to stand up, show their card, and say the name of the character on their card receives a sticker. Note: The sticker presenter and kamishibai reader should not be the same person. The HRT could be assigned to present stickers while giving praise. It may be advised to have Ss change cards periodically to get used to other roles.

Step 6: Begin reading the kamishibai.

Step 7: Embed content questions into the story.

Step 8: Finish with the moral of the story. If possible, it is best to elicit the moral from the students. Even if it is in Japanese, the key here is developing students' critical thinking skills.

Step 9: Follow up activity. The follow up activity should be fun, relaxing, and student centered. In our case, we did origami relevant to the annual boy's festivals that was just around the corner.


Have students enact the kamishibai as a skit to be presented at a later date.


Students responded favorably to this activity. Moreover, the kamishibai technique presented here addresses several issues presented by MEXT: it fosters out-of-class learning, it incorporates moral education, it increases greater awareness of one's own culture, and most importantly, it stimulates children's interests.

As a final word of advice, it may be a good idea to have children share their experience with their parents and grandparents to strengthen family bonds, as well as to strengthen bonds between the home and school.

Suggested Resources

Eisenstadt, M., & Tamaki, D. (n.d.). Kamishibai for Kids. [Online]. Available:
Tamaki, D., Matsutani, M., & Futamata, E. (2002). Momotaro: The Peach Boy. New York, USA: Kamishibai for Kids.