Posts Tagged With: Education

This is Halloween in China

Last week we were celebrating Halloween at Yunding school. International schools and language training centers in China tend to put a lot of effort into staging events for western holidays. It is a way of showing that they are giving the students a chance to experience western culture, although they tend to do it in ways that are not at all western.

A week before Halloween they decorated the classrooms. More effort was put into doing this for the primary children, with parents contributing time and money, coming in at the weekend to help decorate. This also meant that Chinese teachers were coming in at the weekend, unpaid, to decorate the classrooms.


During the week we were asked to have Halloween themed lessons. Teaching about Halloween, singing Halloween songs, doing Halloween crosswords and word searches and watching Halloween movies (but nothing too scary. In my case, I showed them the original Ghostbusters, which was very popular)

The school had planned a Halloween party for Friday 28th, because they thought it would be better at the end of the week, rather than the start. Each class was asked to prepare some activities which the kids could try. Surprisingly nobody did bobbing for apples, as they thought it might not be hygienic.

On Wednesday one of the school principles decided that the party would be organised like a Chinese school sports day, with the classes parading past a stage in costume and performing a small dance routine in front of the school directors.

The teachers were all required to be in costume too (except for one NewZealender who told them to f*** off and refused). Some of us took a minimalist approach, while others bought cool costumes. The best was Ed, who decided that Halloween should be properly scary and made himself zombie make-up from latex, fake nails, flour and face paint.


The classes paraded in age order, followed by parents and then teachers. Each class was expected do do some sort of dance routine together, but the teachers were only told that this was compulsary on Wednesday evening. This gave them just over a day to prepare. Unsurprisingly most of the routines were lame. The music was often completely inapropriate for Halloween. The best performance involved the grade 11 teacher gunning down his undead students. The students then had to line up in their classes and stand to attention for what followed.

A couple of teachers were asked to speak about the meaning of Halloween (some of the foreign teachers went in school uniform, as their costume). This was followed by a “costume contest”. Primary students, middle school students and foreign teachers went onto the stage in pairs, to show off their costumes. However there was no actual judging, no scores, no winners and no prizes.

The rest of the afternoon the kids were free to play games. The best was the inflatable maze, which Ed hid in and scared some of the young children.




Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My first weeks teaching English

I had the extremely good luck of having my teaching experience at Yangzhen No.1 secondary school, working with the nicest group of children I have ever met.  They were wonderful.  It will be a long time before I ever forget them.


I’m not the most confident of teachers and I’m certainly not the loudest.  To same me from having to shout too often I used a microphone linked to the sound system, which proved very effective as making sure I was heard.  Even though I was new to English teaching, the students were saying in the first days that they felt sure I had done teaching before.  They thought that I seemed very confident and professional, which was very reassuring to hear.


Do you like our monster?  I got the idea for “the monster game” from a primary school teacher and just adapted it.  One student drew a monster and they each had to say something to describe it, without repeating an adjective.  As they spoke I listed the adjectives.   Once everyone had said something they had to try to think of an alternate word for each adjective, without using any that had gone before.  It was quite challenging for some of them, but was a good way to get them to expand their vocabulary.


One activity I had my class attempt in the second week was presenting a news story, with one person as the newsreader, a second as the correspondent and the others being interviewed.  In order to demonstrate, I decided to pick a novel topic: the Game of Thrones dragon skull on Charminster beach.  They had 15 minutes to prepare their stories and came up with some very interesting broadcasts.


In order to get the students to have practice of English dialogue we occasionally had them act out scenes from movies.  In one class I got them to act out a scene from The Princess Bride.  On of the students was a complete loner and didn’t want to mix with other students or work in a group.  This was quite frustrating when trying to get him to engage in activities.  I decided that he wasn’t going to get out of this activity and paired up with him myself to play out the scene in which the man in black fights Inigo.  (ok, perhaps it was just an excuse for me to have a bit of fun)


In most classes there are going to be a few students who stand out.  In this class the best student was undoubtedly Shirley.  On our first day she gave us all quite a shock.  She made a speech welcoming us to the School which stunned us with her fluency.   We were left wondering what we could possibly teach them.  She was a keen enthusiastic student who also tried to help encourage the other students.  As one of the top student of the top class of the biggest school in China, I am confident that she will go on to achieve great things.


The other student who stood out was Anne, who was the academic monitor, which is probably equivalent to a class prefect.  Anne (seated on the front far right) was the person who made sure everything was set up for class and helped ensure that i had any equipment I needed.  She was also bright, keen and a great singer.  Actually all the students in her group (Dick, Winnie and Max) were very good students.


In general the boys were not as good as the girls at English.  For the first few days they were generally very quiet.  However, it was only a matter of time before they opened up.  There were some great characters amongst them and their improvisations during the role play activities always got a laugh.  Even though they made a lot of mistakes, it was with the boys that I saw the most marked improvement in their performance.


I know teachers aren’t meant to have favourites, but sometimes you can’t help liking individual students.  One such student was Shirley’s best friend, Helen.  Helen was someone who would seek us out between classes in order to talk about anything that was of interest to her.  Mainly this was something to do with Sherlock Holmes, although she was also interested in Jack the Ripper.  Although not one of the best students, she was bright and keen.  She would attempt any exercises that we were doing, even if she struggled.  She was very helpful with technical matters and was heavily involved in the extra curricular activities that the class did.  It won’t be the same if I can have a break without her wandering in to ask something.

Categories: Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So much for the lesson plans

When I signed up to the TEIC scheme we were told that there would be online TEFL training, followed by a two week training camp.  A week before leaving the UK we were informed that we would be teaching all day, every day and needed to prepare 45 lesson plans before we came to China.

Unsurprisingly, the general response was “WHAT!” followed be several people writing to complain about this bombshell.

The TEFL training hadn’t really taught us what to include in a good lesson,  Lesson plans were only discussed in very abstract terms.  We had no idea what to do.  We were then told that we would be using topics from the American More series of books.  We were asked to pick 9 topics and choose a full days worth of lesson planning from each.  Working together, the teachers decided to prepare a single topic each.

On our arrival we were actually given photocopies of sections from the More books (1-4), which gave us a better idea of the teaching activities and lessons, etc.  Thus the day before we were thrown to the wolves, we desperately began rewriting our lesson plans in preparation for the first day.  We were told that we should plan lessons from each of the 4 books, which are aimed at different ability levels.  We were also told that the students’ English would not be very good and that we should keep things simple.  The teachers going to the same school as me, Yangzhen no. 1 secondary school, decided that it would be best if we all started off doing “Hello.” and teach them greetings, how to introduce themselves etc.

On arrival at the school we were led into a hall, introduced to the students and asked to briefly introduce ourselves.  One of the students then made a speech to welcome us and our jaws dropped.  Her English was so good.  She spoke fluently, without notes and without making any mistakes.  As we were led out of the hall, there was a unanimous agreement that “Hello.” had just gone out the window and that we needed a new topic.

I started off with a lesson that I had been planning for when I got to Ludong University on the peculiarities of ‘ough’ and the pronunciation difficulties related to it.  The others just blagged their way through what they could.  Each class had two of us sharing 6 hours of teaching a day between us.

For the rest of the week we have been planning out three lessons a day to do the next day.  With limited internet access, it has been hard to gather material for the classes and prepare powerpoints etc.  Some of the teachers have been a bit lazy and had lessons which just involved video clips.  Others (not at the same school, fortunately) have been extremely negative about the whole thing.  One of them asked the Chinese staff “Why can’t we just finish early, so that we don’t have to bother doing so much and they get time off?”  which caused a lot of embarrassment for the other teachers at her school, as it reflected badly on them too.

However, we have learnt a few useful things to help others thinking of doing something like this.

Firstly, you can’t really plan lessons fully until you know the ability level of your students.  It is therefore a good idea to start the first day with “getting to know you” exercises.  Talking about yourself, asking them to talk to the person next to them in English and then introduce that person to the whole class, playing “two truths and a lie” in which they have to guess which of three statements is a lie.  etc.  These will get you through the first day, or so and allow you time to assess how good their English is.

Secondly:  Don’t plan lessons at first, just plan activities.  Think of any activities that you can do in a class that might help their English.  Have as many types of activities planned out before you start.  Once you have met your class you can try to fit the activities and games to lessons.

Thirdly:  Have time filling activities for if a class ends early.  Something like hangman works well.  They also enjoy playing 20 questions.  Simon says can be a nice way to get the class active and awake at the start of the day or after lunch.

Fourth:  If all else fails, sing.  The Chinese love to sing.  Keep it to something quite slow and easy to sing along to.  Country music works well.  If you want to shake it up a bit, they also seem to like learning poetry.  You can do two or three lessons teaching the same song, to get it properly in their head.

The schools are all treating us really nicely.  It seems as if they are being overly nice.  We get loads of snacks during the day, loads of food at lunch.   There is a huge buffet, so you can take whatever you like.  Despite what the course organisers might say, it is perfectly ok to drink alcohol at lunch.  Several of the teachers enjoy a beer with their lunch, but don’t get drunk.  Smoking is more problematic.  The teachers should not be seen smoking anywhere in the school, so you can’t just have a quick fag outside.  If you talk to the staff they might be able to direct you to a private room, where you can smoke.  I think the most surprising thing about the school day is that the students and staff have a siesta in the middle of the day for an hour and a half.  They seemed to think it odd that we didn’t want a sleep after lunch.  (actually, many of us would, if we weren’t too busy planning lessons for the afternoon)

Categories: Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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