tesol-china-survival-guideNoise from any English language class is like seasoning a special food dish. Sometimes, it’s too much; sometimes, it’s not enough. But China’s distinctive social and cultural flare makes choosing the best degree of student involvement especially problematic for an international English language instructor.

Getting a response from some pupils can be like getting little kids to clean their room due to a culturally-ingrained resistance toward making errors before others (known as “losing face”). Others, encouraged by a laid-back foreign teacher’s approach to study, go wild and cause chaos in the class. These issues are exacerbated by English textbooks geared toward Westerners, and take no consideration of Chinese culture.

Don’t worry! Having access to the best assets and some knowledge of the outlook and attitude of Chinese students, a foreign English language teacher’s work in China doesn’t need to be so difficult.

Teaching Resources

Large-chain English language facilities in China today supply textbooks of their own brand, which helps ease a teacher’s difficulties in the classroom. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to become discouraged by the multitude of dull, uninspired textbooks in use, especially if you’re teaching at a smaller school.

Should you be stuck with a fixed lesson plan and a frustratingly boring textbook, try enhancing your course with exercises and activities from somewhere else. Look online. Many sites provide help and information to the struggling English language instructor. These three websites below are an excellent place to start:

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/
2. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/
3. http://www.eslcafe.com/

Helpful Discussion Topics

discussiontopicsA planned curriculum is usually followed by course content if you are teaching at an exclusive, private school. Despite what you might initially believe, Chinese state schools and colleges give a foreign teacher more freedom than Chinese teachers to individualize and develop their lesson plan. If you have the chance, here are some topics for certain age groups that seem to be the most beneficial when trying to engage your students.

Teenaged students in China follow a firm, unchanging routine of schoolwork. Unsurprisingly, fantasy is a popular topic with students and can be a great basis for tons of classroom activities. Try asking your students what superhero they like or what super power they’d most like to have and why. A neat idea for an assignment might be to let your students write dialogue and illustrate a small fantasy comic-book strip. Fantasy movie imports in the West such as the Harry Potter series are very popular in China and make great discussion topics.

College Students
Like many other college students, Chinese college students are giving their future a lot of thought. Lesson plans based on this area will certainly not go wrong! You might talk about how China will change and develop in the next ten years or tell your students to make predictions about future events (flying cars or robot servants, for instance). If you’d like to really engage your students and get them laughing, ask them to think of their peers’ future occupations and appearances.

Many adults in China are learning English as a result of business trips around the world or because they have vacation or emigration plans. Cultural differences and traveling are two points of discussion which usually meet some success with this demographic. Making word puzzles of renowned landmarks from around the globe is a task that also gets met with enthusiasm from adult students.

Overcoming the Silence

excitedchinesechildrenAs mentioned earlier, getting Chinese students to talk is often a challenging and frustrating chore for a foreign English language teacher. Luckily, there are a number of different approaches you can take to make this task a little easier.

Get Interactive
Most TEFL courses advise making your class as engaging as possible, especially for young children. For example, if the Chinese children in your class are learning fruit names, spend 10 RMB actually buying the fruit they’re learning about. You could make this a game by hiding the fruit around the classroom and asking the kids to figure out where you hid which fruit. It won’t be long before you have a classroom of excited little kids shouting fruit names in English.

Get Silly
Comedy is a universally appreciated across cultures and can be instrumental in creating a comfortable environment in your English language classes. Acting like a clown and employing slapstick can make you more likable and less intimidating to children who might have never seen a foreigner in real life before. Pretending to “lose your pencil” by forgetting you have tucked it over your ear can get kids giggling. You could also try reading your textbook upside-down.

Get Artsy
Writing verbs on the board with goofy pictures or giving nouns overblown features in a drawing (giant ears on a small face or a fat cat with tiny legs) are easy ways to get students in your class laughing and talking. As an added bonus, getting artsy goes over well with self-conscious teenagers, too!

Get Them in Groups
Some students simply don’t have the confidence to try communicating on their own. In this case, setting up small group projects might help! A quiet, introverted student might have better luck and more confidence attempting to speak with a smaller group of their classmates.

Get a Reward Method
Plenty of schools already have a reward system, but others might be lacking in this area. If you think you need to give your students a little extra incentive, try buying a pack of colorful stickers. Use these to reward students who respond to English question with the right answer or to shy students for making an effort to respond. Small stickers can work wonders in getting your students to participate in class!