Don’t get me wrong, I love summer weather, but coming from a more northern climate I’m far more accustomed to just 6 weeks of summer between the end of June and early August. And whenever it starts to hover around 30 degrees Celsius at home, we are told by our City government to stay inside with the air conditioner blasting or to stay cool at the pool. But China’s summers are well… intense, starting from April and lasting for a period of at least 5 months – and no outdoor swimming.
But while it’s sweltering outside, most of the time spent as a teacher is spent inside as you run between the staffroom and classrooms making sure you have everything ready for your next class. By contract, teachers are expected to work 6 days a week during the 6-week summer period. Summer courses are variations on the existing course material and textbooks, with classes running for 3 ACH, 3 days a week (although the schedule would vary according to the school). Teachers are responsible for the planning and executing of the lessons for summer course, as well as adhering to their normal class schedule. For me, my summer coarse load is split between the Small Star Storyteller course, two VIPs, and my usual TB, HF, and SS classes.
Small Star Storyteller
There’s nothing like a group of 8-10 smiling and excited five year olds to get you out of bed in the morning. Twice a week starting at 9am I enter the classroom to be greeted by a group of Small Stars, ready to spend the greater part of their morning singing and dancing to a selection of nursery rhymes that we from the West grew up with. The course includes 16 of these rhymes, beginning with “Jack Be Nimble” and ending with “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” each story including a short video, colouring and writing activities, and actions for the students to learn and dance along to.
Young children will learn better once a routine has been established in the classroom, so it is important that there is communication between the foreign and local teacher for the course, so the classes run more or less the same, in terms of the use of instructional language and the order of activities. This means that hours need to be spent prior to the beginning of the course to plan efficiently, make small changes according to what works and what doesn’t, and sticking to the plan every lesson.
Since this course is about the ‘song of the day,’ I’ll begin by showing the song-video so the children can become familiar with the music and the rhythm. After playing the music a few times I’ll spend some time introducing the vocabulary and playing vocabulary games with our pre-made flashcards. The rest of the class is spent learning the actions to the songs and doing some writing and colouring activities, before entering the final ‘performance’ stage where they can put the music, words, and actions together. Once students become familiar with the routine, they will be able to respond faster to instructions, predict what is going to happen next, and less time will be spent modeling activities. This makes for a smoother, more efficient lesson with both happy students and happy teachers.
Having a VIP can be a nice break from the chaos that can occur in a normal classroom. With a VIP, it’s just you the teacher and the student, usually a young teenager who has a strong motive for learning English and good study habits. But figuring out how to spend 2 or 3 ACH with your VIP can often be a rather tedious task, especially if they are in every day, and (in my case) sometimes twice a day.
The key to a successful VIP class is rather simple: keep them talking. Both my students are teenagers with enough English to hold a basic conversation, so while it is important to keep introducing new grammar points and providing worksheets for practice, you don’t want to spend a full two hour class completing and taking up grammar worksheets. This is boring for both you and the student. I enjoy taking advantage of the one on one time with a Chinese student for some of my own personal learning about China and Chinese culture. I often have my students describe the last movie they saw or the book they are reading. Since they are watching and reading in Chinese, it allows me the chance to learn about Chinese stories. Units on food and restaurants, asking for and giving directions, and health and medicine can also been seen as a gateway for you, as a foreign teacher, to learn more about the city you are living in and Chinese culture in general. I also like to photocopy grammar and vocabulary activities. Board games, interviews or role-plays, and matching or sorting activities are also a fun way to practice grammar, and can often lead into further conversation.
The intensive summer period doesn’t have to be something to dread. If you approach it with the right attitude, you can have lots of fun and learn things for yourself while you teach.