A Guide to Teaching Color Words in Japanese
Two Categories of Colors
Color words are another important lesson when teaching Japanese. These words can be used to describe many things, like clothing, plants and other objects. In Japanese, colors are divided into two categories: words that end with い (i), which are treated as adjectives, and words that are nouns, which are connected to other words with の (no). Most color words have a hiragana reading and a kanji, though some colors have a katakana reading, since they are based on the English words for colors.
Color Words That Are i-Adjectives
First, let's start by writing the six color words that are i-adjectives. Point out to students that these six words can be written by starting with the kanji, then adding い.
黒い (くろい): (kuroi) Black
赤い (あかい): (akai) Red
黄色い (きいろい): (kiiroi) Yellow
白い (しろい): (shiroi) White
青い (あおい): (aoi) Blue
茶色い (ちゃいろい): (chairoi) Brown
Since some students will benefit from visual association when learning color words, download this document with flashcards depicting the word written in the corresponding color. See the images below for the contents of the document. Start by writing the kanji, explaining to the students what the stroke order is. Next, write the reading underneath in the same color.
After explaining how the kanji for the color words are written, explain how this group is used in a sentence. Since these are い-adjectives, it might be beneficial going over the different conjugations and uses. Write out the examples on the blackboard:
青い くつ (aoi kutsu) Blue shoes
赤い が すき です (akai ga suki desu) I like red
Make multiple flashcards of the color words and pass them out to the students. Ask them to write out a sentence for each word, then check to see if they understand how to use the first group of color words.
Color Words That Are Nouns
Next, introduce the second group of color words. Unlike the first group, these colors do not have an い at the end of the word, and cannot be used as an adjective. Some of these words have katakana equivalents, which are close to the English words. Choose which form you would prefer your students to use. Start in the same fashion as the first group of color words: write them on the blackboard, show the stroke order of the kanji, and use colored flashcards.
緑 (みどり): (midori) Green
グリーン: (guriin) Green
灰色 (はいいろ): (haiiro) Gray
グレー: (guree) Gray
ピンク: (pinku) Pink
銀色 (ぎんいろ): (giniro) Silver
シルバー: (shirubaa) Silver
紫 (むらさき): (murasaki) Purple
水色 (みずいろ): (mizuiro) Light Blue
金色 (きんいろ): (kiniro) Gold
ゴールド: (goorudo) Gold
Since these color words are nouns, they use の to qualify another noun. Write some examples on the blackboard of how to use these words:
緑 の かばん (midori no kaban) Green purse
この はな は ピンク です (kono hana wa pinku desu) This flower is pink
Pass out a second group of flashcards and ask the students to write out sentences. After checking if they understand how to use these words in a sentence, shuffle the two groups together and see if they can pick out the usage differences.