Teaching Tips

Ideas for Teaching:

Kindergarten & Younger Primary school:

  • Teach them the alphabet song
  • Come up with as many hand motions for what you are teaching as possible to help kids memorize
  • Flash cards so the kids can visually see what you are teaching
  • Make a list of words and come up with a picture or video of the word so that students have a picture in their minds when they remember that word
  • Learn a few simple songs with dance moves (Once there was a snowman, popcorn popping, Duck, duck, goose, etc.)
  • Have a daily routine for students to follow.  The more routine it is, the easier it is The easier it will be to communicate. (Ex: start with

Tips from CH teachers:

“All my kids were super young, (18 months-5 years) so we danced A LOT! It helped them get their wiggles out and helped them to feel comfortable around me.  Dancing isn’t teaching English though,but we did learn simple phrases during dances such as “Faster, and slower.” Many of my successful lessons involved role playing and letting the kids volunteer.  Also, I am a gift giver so handing out stickers or candy or something special was always a hit!”


Older Primary & Middle School: 


  • Introduce the lessons with hangman, it allows the students to think about the words they already know
  • Have them all sit in their seats and play I Spy ( Have them find something in the room and have everyone guess what it is).  This also works with pictures.
  • Listen to American songs with them and help them learn some of the words
  • Watch American Music Videos and have them list things they see and phrases they hear

Tips from CH teachers on this age: 

“One week, I focused on learning the names of fruits.  Total hit! The next week I did vegetables.  It failed EPICALLY!! Even the Chinese kids don’t like their vegetables.  So instead of finishing the food pyramid, I did cartoons the next week.  Of course, total hit!  But now they ask me, in English about Tom and Jerry and the Smurfs.  So it’s just about thinking on their level.  But the best thing is, you can throw it all out of the window if you have a better idea.” 

High School & College: 

  • Have them listen to music and write down all the phrases and words they hear (and discuss after).
  • Discuss the differences in cultures: Tell them a little bit about the culture in America, and then have them tell you a little about Chinese culture.
  • Listen to American songs and watch American Music videos and discuss what you hear or see
  • Give students a list of requirements for a sentence (ie: 1 noun, 2 adjectives, 2 verbs, 1 conjunction, etc) and ask them to write a sentence or several using those requirements.  (To add more fun make it boys VS girls competition.  After the student writes it on the board everyone reads it together and then check to make sure that it meets the sentence requirements.)
  • Combine lessons with games, talking about things they can’t with other teachers (Dating, dating in America, traveling, stereotypes, etc.) Make them call on one another (rather than always pointing to students), include music in lessons, asking them their topics of interesting topics as well as favorite TV shows.

Tips from CH teachers on this age:

“Since there was a wide range of English abilities in each class, I found that giving students projects to work on, and offering advice and tools for their success was the best route to take.  For example, I had them present to the class their “legacy” or what they would want the world to remember them by.  The children who had more experience were able to extend their English knowledge due the freedom they had to write and pressent on what they wanted, and those who struggled were still able to learn and perform the task and seek help from me or other class mates.” 

What Works:


“Honestly, I think that since I’ve been fairly strict with my kids and straightforward with what they can expect from me, I haven’t had any issues with them.  The advice I would give a teacher coming to teach here is to start stricter and as you find out which classes you can have fun with as well as keep control of, start to loosen up.  I would also tell them that it’s important to get the kids to talk and use their English in class as well as listen to you and say things properly.” 

  • Have students call on one another, instead of you always calling on them.
  • Include music in lessons, asking them their topics of interest as well as favorite TV shows.
  • Power points make you lessons much more simple and gives the class a good visual so you don’t have to figure out how to explain what you are trying to teach them.  They allow you to connect with your younger students since their vocabulary is so little.
  • At the beginning of the class start with 5 stars on the board, Throughout the class if students begin to become noisy, disruptive, or are not paying attention, count from 5 to 1 (or until the room is quiet and focused again). If you get to 1 before the settle down, erase the first start from the board.  If by then end of class they have all five stars, play a game or watch a fun video.  If the students have no stars, no game is played.  This works especially well with younger students.
  • Any thing you can turn into a competition–DO.  From games to classroom management, Chinese students are competitive and love a chance to “win”.  Divide the rows into four teams and right 1-4 on the board. As students from each row answer questions and participate they earn stars for their team.  If a row is being noisy or not paying attention, erase stars.  They will quickly catch on and work to keep their fellow team members focused and will be more eager to participate.  At the end of class count up each teams stars to practice counting in English!
  • Short fun videos are great to to break up the learning, as it is hard for young students to sit and learn for long stretches of time.
  • Be entertaining! Use funny videos or ham it up while singing will help engage your students and keep them interested.
  • Make it useful, kids pay more attention when it is something that is useful to them.  Even if it is a fun lesson, the kids will sometimes lose control if they don’t see the use in it.
  • Games- as long as they are easy to understand
  • Rewarding students with stickers
  • Having physical objects with you so the students focus more.
  • Younger students enjoy dancing to help get their wiggles out and they will become more comfortable around you.  Use English words while dancing such as “faster, slower, jump, spin..”
  • Showing love to your students! Learn a few Chinese words, as well as learning their names helps them get to know you and respect you faster.
  • Incorporating anything about China you can into your lessons.  It is what the students know best, and therefore they feel the most comfortable with it.

What does NOT work: 


“I am certain that getting impatient or angry never works.  And what works for one teacher might not work for another.  And what worked one week might not work the next. Students change.  You change.  And my biggest advice is you have to adjust and be able to see the signs when you need to adjust.  If a class is being bad, don’t assume it’s just them.  It could be you.  Most of the students want to learn and be your friend.  But if they can’t understand you or aren’t interested, they will not listen.  So be patient. Be slow. Be flexible.” 

  • Having students link arms or hold hands with the opposite gender will not work.  Anything that makes boys and girls interact will make them extremely shy.
  • Yelling will not work in the classroom.  Stink eyes and count downs are much better at getting kids to calm down and be quiet. With younger students there will be a certain noise level, but allow a brief cool down period before moving on.
  • Younger students do not understand words in a sentence.  Since you don’t speak you can’t tell them what things mean for them to understand, you must show them.
  • Trying to get younger kids to use the words you’re teaching in a sentence.  Unless you have a Chinese Teacher’s help they will not understand what they are saying if you just have them repeat a sentence in English.
  • When possible try having an adult in the room with you, it will help with classroom management as well as help with explanations when students aren’t understanding what you are trying to get across.

“One must understand that Chinese students are expected to behave very differently than American Students.  They are expected to sit quietly and listen and hopefully soak up the teachers lecture.  I have found difficulty in getting the students to participate in the lesson but with time the students begin to behave differently in the foreign teacher’s class.  If I ask a question that is addressed to the whole class there is typically no response.  I need to ask a specific student and then the whole class will help that student if he/she doesn’t know the answer.  Talking about movies, music, etc. with the advanced classes hasn’t worked because they have already had so many lessons about those things.” 


ESL Lesson Ideas