For those of us living and working abroad as language teachers, a great challenge is getting reticent and shy students to speak English and feel comfortable interacting with you. In my case, it is sometimes difficult to even get students to talk to me in Japanese, let alone English. A great way to give your students a reason and many excuses to talk to you, is the creation and upkeep of an English bulletin board. Whether you work at a private English school or in the public education system in your host country, somewhere there is a wall waiting to be utilized.

You don’t need much more than a space on a wall and a few ideas (provided below). It is best to have a board already in place, the kind you can stick thumbtacks in and staple stuff onto. You want your board to be interactive so that students can do more than just look at it in all it's colorful glory. Keep the English simple and make the letters relatively large so that students are not discouraged by fine print. Don’t put too much writing on it either. You should know the level of your students so that you don’t under or overestimate their abilities. If you have varying levels of English ability, than you can divide the board into sections for each. Lastly, change the board each month, do different kinds of activities and be creative.

Finally, you can reward your students with English Money when they complete or attempt any activities on your English board.

Picture Board

Put up a series of pictures. These can be of your life back home (good to do when you are new at a school and kids are curious about you), sports, animals, anything. Have cards describing each picture, preferably laminated. You can either provide thumbtacks so that each card can be hung up under its picture or you can glue a magnet sheet under each picture and put a paper clip or two on the back of each card. Either way, your students will be able to read the cards, look at the picture and match them up, testing their comprehension skills. Another variation on this theme is to group all your pictures in the center and have the descriptions surrounding them. Then attach a string to each description that can then be attached to the pictures that they describe. Whichever method you choose, your students do more than just read, they take a role.

Holiday Board

Holidays are different and celebrated differently everywhere you go. And because they are such an important part any culture, they make a great theme for English bulletin boards. Almost anything you put up will interest your kids. The important thing is to let them participate in some small way as if they were celebrating the holiday with you in your home country. For Christmas, I cut a large Christmas tree out of green cardboard and photocopied small Christmas ball shaped decorations. Students can take a copy, fill it out with their name and what they want for Christmas, color it in and hang it up along with all the others. For Valentine’s you can cut out heart shaped construction paper and provide envelopes/mail boxes for each of the teachers so that students can (secretly if need be) send Valentines to their favorite teachers. For Easter you can hold an egg-coloring contest (not with real eggs, of course). Most importantly, get your students to help you with the decorations.

Welcome Board

If you are around at the start of a new year or term when a lot of new (scared) faces appear, you can use the board to welcome new students as well as introduce them to the idea of the English Board. One idea is to have a card for each new student and the board divided into classes. In large letters write, “What class are you in?” at the top of the board. Students find their names and place them in the class that they are in. If you are at a small school, you can put up an outline of the class and get students to place their name cards where their desk is.

Graduation Board

For students leaving your school, you can write a short message of good luck and best wishes. If you are at a smaller school you can again do something with name cards, except this time divide the board into the schools or other things that your students might be doing once they graduate.

Giant Crossword, Word Search or Other Puzzle

Enlarge a puzzle of some sort, one that can’t be finished in a short period of time, but is not too difficult. Attach pencils, pens or markers to the board that students can use to finish it. Again, this will be a school wide effort.

I will be adding more ideas here as they come to me and as I am forced to come up with more with the changing seaons at Ariake Junior High School.