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In the ESL Classroom

Updated on March 22, 2010

Warm Ups

When you do an ESL course, one of the techniques that is suggested, is to have some warm up activity to get the students focused on the lesson. It is a good idea, but not always practical.

(I find it difficult to fit into some short classes.

Some students refer to them as "games" and some are rather exciting and more game like, but there should be some good value in it.

Last week I ran a "Quick Quiz" and I wrote three numbers on the board.




I asked 3 questions. One was "Who was the first person every to fly a plane. Out of around 300 students, only one got close. He had heard about the Wright brothers. I called the question for the boys.

The second question was "What is the name of the Queen of England. Most called out "Elizabeth" but I explained that she was called Queen Elizabeth II, as she was the second queen with the name Elizabeth.

The third question was about English. What are the two shortest words in the English language. The students work it out "a" and "I".

It does create interest and helps get the teachers focused on the task at hand.

More WarmUps

One I love is Teacher Says, based on the old familiar childrens' game, Simon Says.   I start by explaining some body parts - or reminding them, but words such as "shoulder"  "waist" "hip" might need some explanation.

Then we have some practice runs. There is always a bit of confusion - especially as students do not always listen to the instructions, or do not understand them.  I find Chinese students cach on very quickly and then it is hard to find a winner.

It is a bit chaotic but a lot of laughs.

Sometimes it is a good idea to have a funny gift to give the winner.

In the classroom

This Hub is especially for those people who are thinking of doing a TESOL course, or are doing one, or have done one and still wonder what life is like in an ESL classroom.

I have been an ESL teacher in China, South Korea and Australia. Every country is different. Currently I am at a Chinese school - rather a large campus which has kindergarten (bilingual), primary school, high school, college and university. More than 8000 students are here.

Previously I have taught in the college/university, but this time I am in the high school. This is the first time I have taught such young children in an ESL setting, so it is a new experience.

I did know before I left Australia that I would be teaching in the high school, but things are changeable here. Still, as it turns out there was to be no change in those arrangements.

I have been offered extra work at an English language college at night - for extra money. I am still waiting to hear about that.  I have taught at the college previously so I understand what is expected of me there.  There is not a lot of planning as it is all set and I would work with a Chinese teacher.  Speaking/listening/pronunciation is the focus of my duties there.

How much information do you get before you start your class?

Every school is a little different.  On this occasion we had our first meeting with the Foreign Affairs Department on the Saturday morning (two days before class started), and were given our schedule in Chinese.  Luckily there is always someone to interpret - in my case another teacher which whom I have been friends for several years.

I learned that I would be teaching "Reading and Writing" and "Listening."  I met my link teacher - this is the person who is my co ordinator/support teacher.  If have any problems I go directly to her.  A good idea is to get your link teacher's contact details.  Cellphone and email.

Later I was given three books - and a blank sheet of paper to create the curriculum/course plan.  Luckily the books give quite a bit of structure to the course, so it is not too daunting.

We were told that we would have to create our class rolls ourselves.  The Chinese teachers only have the student numbers and their names in Chinese characters which is clearly of little use to us Aussies who do not understand them. 

The first thing to do is to collect the names of the students.  I printed off some A4 sheets with headings "Student Number, English Name, Pinyin Name, and Chinese Name" and when I entered the class the first thing I did was circulate the form asking students to complete the form.

At this time too, I find out who the Class Monitor is.  He/she can be a very useful contact.  Hopefully they have cellphone numbers and I ask them to record this beside their name on the sheet.

In the high school, lessons are only 45 minutes long.  It is a little confusing re time as almost every clock is different.  :)  Here there is a music theme sounded at the beginning and end of each lesson, though not always easy to hear!!!

In the classrooms here we have chalk.  Dusty crappy chalk, but thanks to a Canadian teacher I have a chalk holder that stabilises the piece of chalk and creates less dust.  Most classrooms have little other resources than a blackboard, chalk, and a podium/desk at which the teacher stands.  (I tend to walk around a lot).

My classrooms are on the 4th and 5th floors, there are no elevators and the floors are hard (polished stone).  It does take a bit of getting used to.

Day One

I had four classes on the first day - it will be my usual Monday schedule. What I did with all classes and will do so for my first meeting with each class this week, was about introdctions. After my name/roll form was completed and collected, and the Class monitor's contact details listed, I wrote my name on the board. "Dianne."

I started with "Good morning class" and they responded "Good morning Dianne."

Next I wrote my email address and cellphone number on the board and explained to the students that I was happy to get messages from them - about class, learning, English. I didn't want to be bombarded with all sorts of stupid messages.

I then explained my class rules. There will be homework. There will be no mobile phones used in class. I demonstrate what I will do with them - "throw them out the window."

We talk about respecting each other - respect for teacher, respect for students, and each other. When I am talking, no one else talks. I also tell them that I love questions. No need to say "sorry" when they ask questions. They must put their hand up, and tell me if they do not understand, or if I speak too fast, or if they have any questions.

Then I draw a few big circles around my name on the board. On one I may have already written "Australia" and then as I talk with them I fill in the others. "Nurse" "Teacher" - I explain how I used to be a nurse, and now I am a teacher. I tell them about my children and they always look in awe as I hold my hand high to indicate the height of my son!

I tell them that my children are married and that I am a grandmother! More looks of surprise.

I tell them about my hobbies - writing and travelling.

When I tell them that this year my mother will be 95 and my father 91 - that really amazes them!!!

Then I asked each student to stand and tell me their English name, their home town and something interesting.

I write that on the board

  • "Your English Name
  • Your Hometown"
  • Something interesting about you"

And they do. That can take about 30 minutes.

Then I use some cards about vegetables that I have.  I have 20 cards so I distribute one to each pair of students.  Some are easy to identify, others are not. 

I call out the name of a vegetable and the students are to raise their hands and tell me that they have the card.  I write the hard ones on the board. 

Then when all vegetables are identified and the cards collected, we do some drill work using the words on the board.

Phew.  45 minutes is nearly up!  If I have time I repeat class rules and explain again that they will have homework.

After one class a student came to me and wanted to speak.  But she couldn't find the words easily.  Then she hugged me.  "We like you" she said before running away.

I do that for all eight classes.  At least I don't have to do many lesson plans.  I will do two lesson plans - one for each course, and I will have 2 sections for the lesson plan.  Easy.  I hope.

Names - what is in a name?

At this campus, students who are studying English must have an English name.  By the time we first meet the students they are already using an English name, but often we foreign teachers have some issues with their chosen name. 

However, I must say, I am pleased that they use English names.  When you have over 300 students in your classes in a week, it is much easier to use English names - unless you are familiar with pinyin.  Pinyin?  It is the romanised way of writing Chinese.

The students have written their English names for me, as well as their Chinese names in Chinese characters and Pinyin.

Some of the names are, well, amusing. To say the least.  In one class I have Bolt, Duckweed, Happy, Lucky, Anger, Fly, Demon, and Vita.  In another class I have Dumpling.

I've accepted the names for the moment but as they are studying "Business English" with a view to working in the business field,  I will be speaking with some students about choosing more appropriate names.

Luckily the students have numbers as well.  So when I create my student list, I have their number, English name and Chinese name in Pinyin.

At Carrick where I was working before I came away, they do not insist on English names, which annoyed me a little.  When you have students from South Korea, Thailand, and China, their names are very difficult to pronounce and also difficult to read, and they do have English names.

Luckily at Carrick the classes are smaller so it was easier.  (No more than 18 in a class).

Here I also have a pack of cards for each class, and I have stickers with their English name and number.   In class I shuffle the cards and select a name of a student who has to answer a question.  That way I can include ALL students.  If I do not get through the pack in one class I use a rubber band to show me which ones I need to use at the next lesson.

Class Material

It is always an issue here in China. I have no idea how they choose texts for the college, but it is almost always American, and it is sometimes weird, you wonder if after leaving the hands of the Americans, some gremlins get in and changed it all. 

One subject called "Listening" has a CD with it.  I can't make any sense of it.  in any case the dialogue is so fast and complex that the students don't understand it.  And frankly I find it hard to decide what it is all about. 

Quite a mystery to me.  As it turns out one fo the CD's has gone missing, along with another folder I had.  In any case, I think I will write all new course material. 

The other subject is "Reading and Writing."  Again that is bizarre.  The first chapter is about the brain, and talks about Leonardo Da Vinci, Napoleon and a whole lot of other famous people the Chinese students have never heard of.

I will endeavour to have dialogue with the Chinese supervisor.  It will be a challenge.

On the lighter side I've been invited to three official events in the next few days.  I shall report on them.

The "Health Check" and other things

There were enough of us needing the compulsory "Health Check" to get a bus - a comfortable bus as it turns out.   We had to fast from midnight - not a big deal.

As it turns out there were massive storms during the night - one thunder and lightening show lasting for around 4 hours and with it came rain. 

When I awoke with my alarm at 6 am - it was still raining, and freezing cold.  I put on as many warm clothes as I could, read my message on my kitchen sink "NO BREAKFAST" - I'd put it there in case I had a lapse of memory.

I headed down to SPT Street on campus and waited with a few other students and teachers for the bus which was soon on its way to Hangzhou for the special medical centre.  Warren and I remembered the last time we were both on a bus (smaller than this one) headed for medicals at the same centre around 18 months previously.  The bus driver had no idea where to go, so after a few failed attempts one of the staff hopped into a taxi and we were supposed to follow the taxi.  The taxi got lost.    It was quite a comedy really.

This time was much easier, though the bus stopped a short distance from the centre and we had to run with our umbrellas up, and scamper to the centre.

Inside there was mild chaos - we had forms to fill in, passports to show, and then the medicals.  First of all blood is drawn - from a serious soul behind a window.  She pushes a small disposable cup, and we know it is to collect urine.  So it is off to the little girls' room and duly presented the specimen at the next window.

Next into a room where our eyes were checked, and our ears.  (I'd forgotten to put on the form that I had a grommet - and wondered what would happen if they "discovered" the grommet, but they used a small garden torch to check in my ears and nothing was said. I'm not sure what they were looking for, but didn't find anything.

Then it was a body scan, ecg, and chest xray.  Soon we were at the table with the "breakfast" supplied.  A bag of milk drinks and some strange muffins.

Then we had to wait for the bus to come back.  Meanwhile there was another storm, and the rain pelted down.  Roads were awash again.

Soon the bus came, but he had to go along the street and wait in the freezing cold with our umbrellas protecting us from the rain before the bus arrived.

An hour or so later, our bus arrived safely at the college - the driving conditions were appalling with limited visibility and the usual crazy Chinese drivers, but luckily not a lot of traffic on the roads.

Along the way I learned of the destination of the dinner tonight - the welcome new students dinner.  It will be at a hotel that we frequent because of its fantastic buffet!  Good one.

Meanwhile I am struggling with the issue of the course material.  But I think I'll leave that to the weekend to resolve.  It will be too wet and cold to go anywhere.


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    • Aussieteacher profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

      Yes, it is about connecting with the students and getting them to focus on you and the day's lesson.

    • Aussieteacher profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

      Yes, you are right. These warmers are not about the lesson to follow, but can be, but they are used to focus the students on English - almost 'switch them on'. Thanks for your comment.

    • lampshanliang profile image

      Ryan Andrew Peters 

      6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Hi Aussieteacher,

      I've also blogged about classroom warmers and ice breakers, and my opinion is that they really don't even have to related to the lesson itself. It is definitely an enriching experience teaching in China.

    • World-Traveler profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Hello Aussieteacher,

      Regarding your earlier question, there are two popular ways to get paid for teaching English online. One is through Western Union and the other is PayPal.

      You can find Western Union outlets in China by going online and doing a search for the official Western Union website. PayPal signups are relatively easy. Go to the official PayPal website and they have instructions there.

      I would contact the medical departments in nearby universities and medical schools and let them know you are available to teach medical English, on or offline. It should not be long before you have a full schedule of students. Write me with any other questions you may have. I am here to help.


    • Aussieteacher profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

      Eleven, Potato, Sunny, HoHo, and so it goes. Rather funny sometimes.

    • Aussieteacher profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

      Yes, it is weird. A bit of fun, but hard for us to convince them that their names are weird.

    • topstuff profile image


      8 years ago

      I wonder some chinese students have amazing english names like Horse,Frog and Bird.


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