Foreign teachers are employed in China to bring fun into the classroom and introduce a new method of teaching. Games, activities and role plays are all techniques that help make these classes exciting for Chinese students, who are used to a very different classroom environment. Though ESL lessons are generally quite popular, everyone has days where they just can’t be bothered, and your students are no different. Though it’s not always easy to engage learners on days like this, it is possible to turn a bad lesson around.

Check out our 6 favourite techniques for motivating Chinese students:

1. Use Competition

Whether it’s securing a seat on the metro, or obtaining a place at university, everything in China is a competition. The vast population makes everything that bit scarcer, meaning people must push harder to get what they want. This air of competition can be seen throughout society, and the school classroom is no different.

Chinese students are used to competing with their classmates to become the teachers favourite, to get the best score on a test, or to win prizes in contests. Though baffling at times, you can use this element of their culture to your advantage when it comes to motivating Chinese students. All it takes is one mention of a competitive games for everyone to suddenly pay attention. Often you won’t even need a prize; Chinese students will be happy enough with the idea of winning, making it the number one way to encourage participation.

To keep energy up in the classroom, consider making one or two activities per class into a competition. This way, students will know what to expect in your classes and hopefully start the class with a positive outlook.

motivate Chinese students to learn

2. Give your students praise

Usually in a Chinese classroom, you will hear nothing but the teacher talking. Chinese school culture and views on education mean that students are reluctant to put their hand up and ask or answer questions. This is because they fear making mistakes before a teacher who will likely comment on them in an nonconstructive way.

As the foreign teacher, you have the opportunity to change this in your classes. Encourage students to speak, and when they do, praise them. Whether they give a right or wrong answer, show you appreciate the courage it took to speak up, and you’ll soon earn their trust. The more encouragement you give them, the more likely they will be to listen, engage and give things a try!

3. Take their interests into account

When learning a language, it’s impossible to avoid covering some less interesting topics. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make them fun! As the teacher, it’s your responsibility to turn these boring subjects into engaging lessons that your class will enjoy being a part of and will remember. One good way of doing this is by using your students interests in your lessons. For example, if they enjoy a certain game or activity, incorporate that into your lesson. Try to make your plans active and get students to speak, stand up and interact with both you and their classmates. By using things they are interested in, you will distract them from the fact the boring grammar, vocab or topic, and they will instead focus on the task at hand.

Just remember, if learners aren’t interested in your lesson, they won’t enjoy it. Part of your responsibility as a foreign teacher is to make them want to learn.

teach English in Beijing

4. Get to know them

As a foreigner in China, you will find that many people are interested in you, your culture and why you are there. Your students will be no different, and they will want to know more about their new teacher. Be sure to tell them more about your life, your hobbies and interests and your reasons for being there. Show them pictures, tell them stories and encourage them to ask you questions. You should also ask them to tell you more about themselves. Students love being able to share with you more about their culture, and sometimes even language!

Engaging in such conversation with your students will allow you to become closer to them, gain their trust and respect, and become more of a friend than a mysterious foreign teacher. You’ll soon discover that this will both enrich your experience and improve engagement in your classes. The more the students like you, the more they will want to participate in your lessons and listen to you.

5. Use group work activities

Chinese students are all too familiar with sitting in their seats and listening intently to the teacher speak. If you’ve ever had to do this, you’ll know how hard it can be to concentrate and motivate yourself to get through the lesson. You should bare this in mind when planning your ESL lessons. Though it’s important you spend some time speaking to your class, it’s equally, if not more important that you allow them to take the lead.

Pair and group work are great ways to get your class talking, engaging with one another and having fun. Projects, role plays, and quizzes are some of the many fun activities students can complete in groups. Not only does this give everyone a chance to speak at the same time, it also takes the pressure off; with fewer people listening, shier students may be more willing to speak up and participate. Furthermore, group work requires a certain level of participation from each person. Most won’t want to let their group down by not pulling their weight, so you’re likely to see greater levels of participation.

teach in China

6. Bring the classroom to life

Depending on the level of your students, bringing objects, flashcards and songs into the classroom can be an effective way of attracting attention. Such techniques bring the topic to life and eliminate the less interesting elements of learning. If you’re teaching younger children, using realia in your activities is a sure-fire way to have the whole class asking to take part in an activity. This works particularly well with younger learners, and it never gets boring!

For older students, role plays are an effective tool. At first, it might be a struggle getting them to overcome their shyness, but they will soon want to take part. They often relish the opportunity to get creative and make their own performances. Getting groups to perform to you and the rest of the class is a great way to engage everyone and build confidence.

All of these activities are effective ways to motivate Chinese learners and increase engagement in your classes. Having a few of these up your sleeve in each lesson will ensure you are able to maximise participation and encourage your students to enjoy your lessons.