Top Tips for Teaching English in China

by Guest Author on September 24, 2012

Teaching English for the first time in China can be a little intimidating. It could be that the first time you find yourself teaching in English you are standing in a classroom in front of 30-40 children or university students. If you are lucky they are staring at you intently, willing to learn, if unlucky, they are asleep or chatting to one another. Either way, it is your task to get them to not just learn English better, but to love learning English. If there is one tip for all teachers around the world to remember (whether you're teaching English or any other topic), it is that the job of teaching is to teach children to love learning. Do this, and they will do the hard work for you. Until then, here are 10 Top Tips on teaching English in China.

  1. Don’t Be Like A Chinese Teacher

    It is not a stretch to assume that very few students would say they feel "close" to their Chinese teachers. This is reasonable considering the pressure put on teachers in China to produce outstanding (test) results. The same pressure is applied to the students. As an international teacher you sit somewhat apart from this in the fact you can have a more relaxed attitude. Be relaxed (not too relaxed mind) when teaching, inject some fun into proceedings and make students look forward to your classes.

  2. Patience

    It takes time to build a good relationship with students. You will also find it takes time to learn about the cultural differences. Ask fellow teachers in the school and also in Expat networks about topics that should not be spoken about. Build relationships with Chinese teachers at your school. In classes the first one might be a bit awkward as you all get to know one another, but things will get easier over time. Consider looking into our "Express to China Guide" for more specific tips and strategies on settling in.

  3. Remember the Three Leaning Methods

    When teaching it is easy to forget that students learn in different ways. If possible, each class should contain elements that aim at these three methods. The three methods are visual, aural and kinaesthetic. This means using diagrams or pictures and movies, using speaking and listening, and also using interaction. Kinaesthetic learning is learning through doing. This means through speaking and writing, through doing puzzles or other tasks. Interaction is important for a lot of students.

  4. Lesson Plans

    As mentioned above, the lesson plan needs to include different aspects of learning. This means elements of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and doing. Parts where you talk to the students and where the students talk to each other in English or to you. The use of Q&A sessions with open ended questions (avoid yes/no questions) is useful. It is good to have elements that check the learning and some kind of finale to the class where the students produce something using the new vocabulary or grammar point. If you need help coming up with lesson ideas, there are plenty of resources online, including here and here.

  5. Use Peer Support

    Students have different levels of learning. This is especially true in normal school classes. Ability levels improve if the students are studying English at university. Chinese students tend, on the whole, to have higher language abilities than neighboring countries like Japan, but may be shy and unused to discussions or speaking aloud. Use peer support whereby higher level students help lower level ones answer questions and do tasks.

  6. Find the Mood Makers and the Leaders

    Each class’ mood is usually governed by mood makers and leaders. These can be recognized class leaders or those with the strongest personalities. If you can recognize these individuals and get them onside, the class will go smoother in future.

  7. Variety is the Spice of Life

    Finding a good lesson plan formula is good, but it quickly gets boring. This means you need to be good at researching new activities and learning styles to keep things fresh. There are a wealth of teaching materials for teaching in China, but also for teaching English around the world. Make use of these, adapt them to you, your students and to Chinese culture.

  8. Be Adaptable

    It is possible you will find yourself teaching the same plan to a number of different classes. In China this often means at a state school. What works for one class may not fit another. This is because of personality, ability levels and circumstances. Active classes after a sports class, for example, is not going to work as well as if it is the first class in the morning. Similarly, learn to adapt to what the classes are interested in. A class on restaurants involves ordering food for a state school class, but if later in the day, week or year you want to use the materials for a business class, then you can adapt upwards. Turn it from ordering food to a class on restaurant internet marketing, using both the food words which are useful for them, but also terms that will help their business grow in English.

  9. Save Everything

    As you learn and create lesson plans, keep all the materials. This means saving plans on your computer and also keeping copies of print outs, models, photographs and so on. These will often come in handy as you stay in China and make future teaching plans easier to make.

  10. Teaching is Not Just in Class

    Finally, a lot of people think that teaching finishes when the class finishes, but actually some of the best opportunities to teach students English occur outside of the classroom. Even if you can speak Chinese, do not let the students know this. Interact with them and force them to use English with you for school assemblies, social clubs, giving directions and whatever else. This will help a lot of students pick up more English and in a more personal and more relaxed environment.

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