SDE International - Shenzhen

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When teaching English in China, you always need to be on your toes. In the nearly three years I have been here, there have been times when I’ve been asked to teach a lesson without much prior planning. The computer mysteriously malfunctioned, another teacher fell ill, somebody told you last-minute your schedule changed; the reasons are varied and countless.

Now, don’t worry, this situation hasn’t happened too often, but it always helps to keep a few of these items at your office desk in preparation of a worst-case scenario, or just to make your classes run more smoothly:

1. A die (or dice)


A large, soft six-sided die can add fun and the element of chance to any activity. Students can pass it around the room while you clap or play music, and when you stop, whoever has the die must answer the question or speak. Or you could write six questions on the board and have a student roll the die, answering the question that matches the number they rolled. For extra fun, you could even combine both activities, or come up with countless others with just a six-sided die.

2. A call bell

A simple call bell, like ones you see at reception desks, can make games more exciting. Position two students on either side of the bell and call out a question. Watch the students scramble to ‘ding!’ the bell to answer your question! You can also use it to have students signal when their team is “finished”, or to begin a game or activity.

3. Sand timer (or some sort of timer)

Small sand timers can help you keep track of how much time you are spending on each activity. During group work for example, instead of shouting out “5 minutes left!”, you can simply flip over a sand timer so students have a visual representation of the time they should beat (and man, do they really want to beat that sand timer!) Keep different sizes depending on which activities you do: bigger ones for lengthier group work, and smaller ones for short rounds of a game.

4. Textbook for the grade level you teach

When in doubt, check out their English textbook and make a game from what you know they are learning. They are more comfortable with this material and will likely be more engaged and willing to participate. Simple games you can play are Pictionary or Hot Seat with their new vocabulary words, or you can take grammar patterns and vocabulary and have them write short, funny stories or sketches with them and have them read out loud or perform in front of the class. You will be surprised at how many more students will have confidence to speak because they already have some foundation with the material.

5. Sticky ball

Who doesn’t love good old fashioned physical activity in the classroom? An inexpensive sticky ball can make students’ hands shoot up, eager to chuck that bad boy against a target you have drawn on the blackboard. Divide students into teams and keep track of points scored. To make it more perilous, you can add a spot where if they hit it, their team loses points, or has to switch points with another team!

6. Cup (to be filled with your choice of caffeine)

Being a teacher can be tiring, especially when you have to get up early in the morning to teach first period, or when you have to teach five classes in one day. Do yourself a favour and always keep a mug handy at school to provide yourself with jolts of energy, whether that be by coffee, tea, or (for some teachers) Coca-Cola. Soon you will have enough sugar pulsing through your veins to match the energy of your students, and that can make your day go by much more smoothly.

7. Pillow


The long lunch break was invented for a reason: siesta time! Instead of resting your head on your hard, flat desk or your bony arms, purchase a small pillow or neck pillow you can place on your desk at school. You will be well-rested for those afternoon classes where students can be just a tad more distracted and itching to go home.

8. A USB with appropriate movies on it

I would like to preface this by saying movies should only be used as a last resort, and should not be a replacement for hard work and a lesson that gets the students speaking English. That being said, movies are entertaining, students like them a lot, and some will be able to get some listening practice out of it. Sometimes it helps to give the students a break after a couple months of hard work. Just make sure the movies are age-appropriate: you probably don’t want to show Cars 2 to a high school class!


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Ivan Berezowski
Ivan is part teacher, part writer, part cultural scavenger, and full-time amateur financial expert. When he isn’t busy finding new ways to save money, he can often be found behind a spectacular plate of exotic cuisine or a laptop screen with either a Word document open or that day’s NBA scores. He has lived in China for 3 years and has travelled to 12 countries, including most of East Asia and randomly Guatemala. Check out his blog, for travel tips, China life and more.
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