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Teaching ESL in China: Some Advice & A Miming Game

By Makoto

Teaching in China might seem like a daunting task. Learn from my experience in more than four years teaching in China. I've learned some techniques that work, and also some that do not work. This miming game was always a hit.

Every experience teaching will be different as your students will vary greatly in personality, age, motivation and so on. However, there is an important concept to keep in mind when teaching in China: the concept of “losing face”. From my personal experience, Chinese students can sometimes be very sensitive about the impression they give to other people. When I was still inexperienced at teaching, I sometimes had students on the verge of tears because they couldn’t answer a question in front of their classmates.

I would strongly recommend using teams when doing activities as opposed to pitching everyone against each other. There is less pressure on the students that way and if they lose, nobody is singled out as being responsible or being less intelligent than the other students are. Students will also be more motivated to participate that way, as they’ll feel safer and enjoy working with the company of others. There is much comfort in the anonymity of a team, which most students will enjoy a lot more than being put on the spot by a teacher in front of their classmates.

Another thing I would recommend is taking chances and experiencing new ways to teach. Teaching languages in China is usually done in a very formal way and students often expect foreigners to bring a new approach to language teaching (i.e. expect to have fun with them).

I have prepared an activity, which I have taught countless times in China. It is a good opportunity to get the students comfortable with each other and just plain good fun. This activity doesn’t require a lot of preparation and is quite different from the lectures of which most Chinese students have grown accustomed.

Getting Started (5-7 minutes)

First, before class, identify the professions about which you would like the students to learn. Remain realistic in your expectations of them and keep in mind their level and proficiency. Keep in mind that most students will probably already know quite a few so make sure you don’t end up with trying to teach them things they already know.

In order to avoid this, list easier, more common professions and some more difficult (yet useful) ones. Make sure you have an idea as to how you would mime the words to the students. In other words, be prepared to explain the meaning of the new words you have selected. As you teach ESL in China, it is also recommended to have a translation ready in case you can't get your meaning across through body language.

Separate the class if small teams (no more than four if possible and preferably two). Ask the students to come up with as many professions as they can think of. Now it is important that you give them a time limit in order to keep them proactive. I would recommend giving about 5 minutes to do so, depending on how advanced your students are. Giving them less time might make them feel rushed and giving them more time might actually end up not being very productive.

Sharing Results! (5 minutes)

Have the teams share what they found out with the rest of the class. Write down the various professions on the board. Try to acknowledge every idea, students feel happy when their ideas are added to the board.

Now, most of the easier professions might have been identified by the students. Ask the students to write down whichever word they had missing in their own lists so that everyone have a similar list of new ESL words. The advantage of proceeding this way is that students can help each other out in explaining which the meaning of some new unfamiliar words.

Introducing the Difficult Words... (5 minutes)

Now that the students are all on the same page about the words they know, it is time to introduce the more difficult words you have prepared for them.

If you can, try to mime the profession you have in mind instead of giving them a simple translation. It will be more fun and will prepare the students for the activity ahead.

The Miming Game (20 minutes)

Separate the class into teams. Have a student from one team choose one of the new words, then have him or her mime that profession to the rest of the students. Students have to guess which profession is being mimed (a right answer awards the team 3 points while a wrong answer incurs the loss of one point.) If you’ve modeled this in the previous step, the students should already have a good idea how to proceed. Each team proceeds in turn to have one of their teammates mime a new profession.

Don't be afraid to participate yourself, this is a great opportunity, as you teach ESL in China, to breach that cultural barrier and enjoy being part of the same group.