It’s that time of year again! Our TEFL Training teachers are well underway with the summer camp in Beijing, where they’re busy gaining skills and experience ahead of their year-long placements which begin in September. If, like our long-term placement teachers, you are counting down the weeks to your own teaching adventure, those last-minute nerves may be kicking in. To help put your mind at ease and get you off to the best possible start, we’ve put together some top tips to make sure your first few weeks teaching in China are a success.

Put on a brave face

We’ve all been there, and we know just how nerve-wracking walking into that first lesson can be. However much or little experience you have, standing before a class of 30+ foreign students, who are often staring at you like you’ve stepped in from outer space is scary. But if there’s one thing you should remember in this moment, it’s that you shouldn’t let your jitters show. Your students have no idea how you’re feeling, and to them you are as much a fully qualified teacher with years’ worth of experience as you are a recent graduate. Go in with confidence and a solid plan, and the rest will follow. Don’t let on that you aren’t really sure what you’re doing – after all, they will trust and respect you as long as you give them a reason to.

Plan, plan, plan

If there’s one thing you should do before any class, it’s plan. This is especially the case with your first lessons. Heading into the classroom with a great lesson plan that you are excited about is a surefire way to boost your confidence, which in turn will make your students respect you. That said, it’s important not to rely too heavily on your plan. Things don’t always run exactly as you want them too, and you can count on this being the case in your first few classes. Until you get to know your student, some activities will be too easy, while others too hard. You will need to be able to think on your feet to adapt your plan to suit your students’ needs – all the while keeping your cool.

lesson planning advice for esl classes

Manage your expectations

It’s a common misunderstanding in the west that all Chinese students are extremely hard-working and well-behaved. While generally speaking, they are much more so than students at home, you should not go in expecting little angels who want nothing but to learn. Children are children no matter where you are, and you will undoubtedly find yourself having to deal with bad behaviour. Overtime you’ll develop a discipline system that works for your students but having a few techniques in mind before you go in will help you quickly find your feet at the start.

It can be easy to forget that your students may not be used to hearing a foreign accent, let alone your particular one. Make sure to speak slowly and clearly, and regularly check that your students are following. Chinese students are unlikely to speak up to let you know that you’re speaking to fast for fear of losing face, so take charge and look out for the tell-tale signs.

Start Strict

Amongst the nerves of your first few days, it’s easy to be overly smiley and forgiving of your students in the hope that they will like you. Anyone who has taught before will tell you that this is the worst thing you could do. Start the term being firm but fair to ensure your students realize they can have fun, but they can’t push it too far. By being too nice at the beginning, you risk students seeing you as more of a friend than an authority figure, which will harm your lessons in the long run.

A good way to set the tone is by opening your first few lessons with a short, clear list of rules and the consequences for breaking them. These don’t need to be harsh – they can be as simple as not being able to watch a video at the end of the class – but they are important.

Get to know your colleagues

Working at a Chinese school isn’t easy. Not only do you need to overcome a language barrier, but also a cultural one that can be hard to figure out at times. If you’re one of few foreign teachers, it’s easy to feel isolated as a result, which is why we highly recommend getting to know your colleagues. They may be shy at first, but if you make the effort to smile and chat to as many people as possible, you’ll start to build workplace relationships that won’t only benefit your experience in China, but also make your work life a lot easier.

Teaching in China is a very rewarding experience from which you’ll learn no end of new skills and knowledge. By implementing these techniques and habits from the very beginning, your placement will get off to an excellent start.

Got any questions ahead of your teaching placement? Feel free to get in touch at or check out these great activities to help get you started. if you’re ready to apply for our next intake, you can find out more about our TEFL Training Programme here.