Hard time preparing lessons for unmotivated Chinese students

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Hard time preparing lessons for unmotivated Chinese students

Post by ahoebeke » Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:10 am

Hello to all the old, recent and future members of this forum :-)

I am posting here now, after having read posts relating to my own experience several times over during the past several months. A new school year is about to start tomorrow, and I'm a bit panicking again.
I try my best to share my situation, experience and lesson ideas... before asking for HELP :oops: :roll:

My job : unexperienced improvised Oral English teacher

Where : in a Chinese middle school in Guilin, Guangxi province, China.

About my classes : 40-60 students, whom I "entertain" with Oral English lessons. I am supposed to let them practice their English listening and spoken skills. They don't have exams or tests for this course (or any other kind of incentive or motivation for focussing on my lessons). It's basically a free hour with a foreign teacher trying to win their attention. Most students either sleep, stand up to take pictures, or do homework, read books, keep busy on their phones, take pictures of me without much discretion, or wake up from their dreams sometimes to say "boring" (surprised they said this in English for once) etc..
About my senior classes (15-18yrs) : the seniors in this school are supposedly the bad students from the region that can't keep up in other schools. This doesn't affect my lessons so much, I think, since good students or not they do have a lot of homework, a heavy schedule, and reason enough to want to doze off in front of an nice-looking inoffensive foreign teacher.

I write because... : I want to share the activities that have worked a little or very well, or not at all.

I am a perfectionist in the bad sense of the word. If I can't do something correctly or very well (just good is not enough, and bad becomes horrible!), I'd rather not do it (after trying to improve first, of course). That's why this job is really hard for me. I work 17 to 20 hours per week, 45-50 minutes per lesson, but at home in evenings, mornings, weekends I continuously stress over my lesson preparation.
A lesson that might be good fun with one class can be horrible with the next one. It doesn't only depend on the classes, one class can be great one day and completely the opposite two days later. But not only that: they have a lot of pressure and workload, so they don't want a formal Oral English class in which an over-motivated teacher absolutely wants to teach them some more. But cultural exchanges are quickly too difficult, games to childish for the seniors, etc.

I guess that it's similar for all students, all classes, in all schools with the same situation.

The biggest difficulty is not too accept that lessons can go wrong. I've learned to improvise and "no exams" also means "more freedom" (to play games or talk about any random subject I choose).
The biggest difficulty is preparing my lessons. Knowing what will keep the students awake, what will keep at least half the class interested (or at least 1/3rd..). And finding NEW ideas because they think it's boring otherwise.
- They love gossip..
- They like to laugh at each other.
- They don't like to have the feeling they're learning something new (true for most, not all, so it seems).
- In some classes, it's impossible to get them to the board for activities whatsoever..
- ..but getting one or two students to the board wakes up the others some more.
- They like seeing me being silly during the lesson.
- ...other things like this...

So what has worked for me :

- talking about a Chinese festival, trying to guess the rituals/traditions with silly words or movements, make something funny of it while slowly helping them explain everything more clearly (to show how to avoid confusion :)
- throwing around a small "angry bird" (quite popular here in China too of course). The person (can be the teacher or a student) has to answer a question from the person that handed the angry bird to it.
- "odd one out" : start with something silly like "good good good bad", then quickly make it more difficult to show the purpose. Some combinations might have several good answers.Let students take a vote per group, then let them guess who wins and why. It's a nice way to motivate them to explain their reasoning. Sometimes it teaches them new words as well or other ways of thinking about something.
- scrabble: groups take turns writing down words on the board (more or less following scrabble rules, teacher can adapt this). Longer words earn more points. Winning group can choose a person from loosing group that has to write down a sentence on the blackboard (dictation).
- writing random letters on the board, letting groups make words with those letters. (points awarded for most words or most total letters) Can be played with rounds, having multiple winners/losers and not only one big winner/loser.
- Let each student in turn ask me a question (throwing fluffy angry bird or some other way of choosing next student). Starts soft with "how old are you" or "hello?", then gets more interesting (often I have to give them ideas or vocabulary, and push them to ask questions). THis may seem easy but it's actually difficult for most students. They love to ask about my Chinese girlfriend, though the same questions always come up.
- 4-in-a-row (actually, they play 5-in-a-row in my school) : you play against the class. A student has to answer 3 questions from the teacher, then he gets to play three turns.
- bomb game : (i'm not very good at playing it, but it still works ok) let students choose a topic, write the topic on the board. Go around the groups, giving each class 5 seconds (for example) to come up with a word for this topic (animals => dog, cat, elephant.....). This is quite easy for them, it seems. Have to improve my own skills to make it more fun, but it keeps them a bit more awake. If a group fails to come up with an answer, write something like -1000 points on the board. Try to make each group lose some points, winner being the one that lost the least amount. (I'm not sure it's a nice way to play it but that's how it worked for others so...)
- because i'm a native french and dutch speaker, I've given a french lesson. Come into the class by shouting bonjour!!!! and then asking them what it meant. Make them understand that it's easy to learn the meaning of new words if you pay attention to gestures and environment and such. Good for repeating all together out loud. Makes them happy to know some more foreign words than their Chinese teachers :)
- before playing a group competition game, ask each group to come up with a team name. Some will say "no no no", I answer "okay! good! We have group "Nonono" here!". Makes things funny (for the others :p). Can take up to 20 minutes sometimes. Pushes them to be creative (really hard!).
- talking about my silly adventures of the previous weekend (cycling in the rain, being sick, taking the bus, being even more sick, speaking with chinese man without understanding anything, blablabla). I try to make it silly, but real enough, they do listen (good part of them) but doesn't work for more than about 20 minutes...
- once I was sick and hadn't any lesson (or energy) to give to my classes. I let those that wished to do so make homework, and walked around the classroom for free-talk with anyone that wanted. They actually practiced more (spoke more) as they chose the topics and tried to convey questions and meanings to me.
- i let them teach me a song in chinese. Every two sentences or so, I wrote everything down (they had to use English to correct me) and then asked them to translate so I could understand the song. Pretty fun, even though (or because) I can't sing well at all.
- Let every group play in turn. Let them draw two random words from a small bag (or two bags, one with adjectives, one with verbs for example). The group (or student chosen to come to the board for this group) has to make the longest sentence possible using those two words. I advise them to use "but, and, because, so, although, ....." and to answer questions like "why? who? with who? when? where? ....". Some got 9 words, some got 20 words... In one class the first group took 25 minutes making a 65-words sentence. In all classes, the last groups to play always had the longest sentences (double from those that started), which makes it seem like a very educational game to me. Of course they should read their sentence out loud, i correct some minor mistakes. I suggest some (funny/silly) ideas if they don't know what to do...

What didn't work all that well :

- anything that requires a students or groups doing an assignment on paper
- draw a map of their city on the board, ask them to fill in their favorite places, let them explain why they would prefer to put one thing closer to another (for example, shopping center next to the school).
- read an article (only 8-9 sentences) about something strange or funny. Even when explaining vocabulary step by step, they seem to THINK it's too difficult and don't pay any attention... or maybe it really is too difficult even if going so slowly and explaining everything along the way?
- let them make a list of professions they know on the board. Then let students come to the front of the class, draw a paper with a profession written on it from a small bag, and let them mime it. (boys vs girls, or group competition) They're too shy, don't really enjoy it, except it I show all the professions (but even then many of them still prefer to sleep or play)
- write one word on the board (short, 3-4 maybe 5 letters). Each group can change one letter in the word to make a new word. Quite difficult for most, only a handful seem to play the game using their dictionaries (good!) but without really enjoying it.. can't blame them on this one :-/
- multi-Hangman group competition : it works with some classes but mostly they don't get the point until after it's finished. Every group choses a hidden word for the hangman game. I write the stripes (indicating letter positions in the words) on the board, for each group. Then randomly chosen students can give me a letter : this letter is matched against all hidden words. Groups lose as all letters are uncovered. Last group with hidden letters wins.
- when students, for one of the mentioned games, have to come up with a word or write down a word, I ask them to make a sentence using that word and say it to the class. Really hard getting them to do this, in most cases. "Repeat after me" is rumored to work well with many, but probably I'm not doing it right because that also never really worked for me :-/
- letting students read or perform a dialogue.. this is sooo boring (could be fun but their whole attitude towards the task makes it horrible even for me). This only worked a couple of times during free talk when female students were teasing one another concerning made-up boyfriends asking them out (to prove to me the others were lying and their scenario was more real).
- others that I didn't write down or can't find...
- the ideas of the previous list, but with classes that weren't in the mood to do anything....
- anything of the above list (things that work) that you have done once before.... !

Tomorrow I start teaching again. I am really nervous. The ideas collected above took me hours and hours each week of internet searches, talking with other new foreign teachers, etc. The difficulty is that the more lessons you teach, the harder it becomes to find something new.
I will have only Senior 2 and Senior 3 students (16-17-18 years old). I would really like to find some kind of guiding plan for preparing lessons. (based on dialogues, articles, anything....)
I was really sick the past week and am just getting better now. I don't have a clue about what I'm supposed to teach this week. I could make a list of English names, let them choose English names (most students don't have one yet), talk about the meanings of the names... I could talk a little bit about myself, many students won't know me (classes from last year will be mixed together this year). Talking about my holiday, their holiday... Not sure this can fill one hour.

But mostly, it's all the coming weeks that will be difficult. How could I make new lessons, interesting for those students that are interested (I'll try to stop worrying about the students that sleep or do homework..) without having to reinvent the wheel every week (or twice a week! some classes having two hours a week with me) ?
Some general guidelines, a framework, something else... ?[/i] :oops: :oops: :cry:


Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Sun Sep 02, 2012 1:15 pm

If I were a student in your class, I would really like help with my Chinese English lesson so I could do well in it my next lesson with my Chinese English teacher. Do I have a textbook or notebook from my Chinese English teacher? I would like to go over previous lessons to make sure I know them. Of course, I don't want dull, dry repetition but want to see the connections between my textbook or worksheets or homework in the games you play or discussion you have or stories you tell.

I would be 15 to 18 and want to talk about things that interest my age group, but of course, that will vary according to my own personal interest. I would be happy if you found out what I am interested in and talked about that. I might be interested in some of the things my classmates are interested in. You could talk to me personally to find out what I like or you could do a fun survey. You could hang out with me at lunch or go to places where a lot of students gather after school. The more students you get to know personally, the more we will pay attention to you.

I want to meet other English people and learn to talk to them, preferably my age but also others. I need to know how to talk to them without embarrassing myself. You could go to a tourist agency and arrange visits by tourists, some of whom would probably love to see a school in action or visit Embassies of countries that speak English or ex-pats or? You could prepare me with questions or write down what the tourist was saying on the board and get it translated by members of the class every time you get to the bottom of the board. It is slow but more interesting for the ones who don't understand. I will get to hear different accents.

You could take pictures and show me pictures of where you went, what you did, where you lived, what you were like when you were a kid and so on, that will help me understand what you are talking about. You can make up a story that is printed out so I can read along for review at the end of the lesson and has blanks that I could fill in to make up my story or space to write my story which I could read outloud.

I need to know that I am progressing over time and if you don't have a plan, I can't see the progress. I would like to see a print out of the plan at the front of the class and a review every once in awhile. It doesn't have to be a "test" but can be a competition either with others or against myself. It needs to be in sync with what I am learning in my Chinese English class.

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