As former foreign teachers, we know that moving to China and starting a new role can be nerve wracking. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Once enrolled on one of our programmes, you’ll gain access to our exclusive members’ area where you can find Mandarin resources, teaching materials and careers advice. We pride ourselves on making sure that these materials are high quality and thought we’d prove it, by sharing one of our five teaching guides with you.

By Anthony Ward, ESL teacher in Beijing and Shanghai 2015 – 2019. 

Enjoy it

The most common question I get asked is ‘can you give me some advice?’. The first thing I say to this is enjoy it. Before we get too technical, it’s important to note that ESL teaching is about having fun. The kids in China will love meeting you, and it’s amazing what you can learn from teaching them. You will be nervous, but that’s normal. The likelihood is that you will have adrenaline on your side, however it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the perfect lesson, as it’s just as much a learning experience for you as it is for the students. What is important is that you reflect on your teaching and think what you can do better next time. Even the most experienced teachers have bad lessons. Just remember to be yourself and show kindness throughout your school as it goes a long way. Chinese people recognize that as an important quality of being a teacher.

It is also important for you to understand that every teacher is different. What might work for one teacher may not work for another. We should learn to respect that there are many ways you can teach and there aren’t necessarily right or wrong ways (within reason). I encourage you to think big, take some
educated risks and be as creative as you possibly can. The advice you will see in these documents is from five years teaching experience and from being formally invited to observe other teachers.


Good morning class! A statement often used to begin a lesson. This may seem like a simple greeting; however, this can be really effective to ensure students understand the separation between break time and 上课 (shàng kè – to start lesson). Many teachers walk into the classroom and say their chosen greeting once without expecting a reply. This leads to some students not acknowledging class has started and therefore a lack of awareness from the get-go.

A simple but effective piece of advice is to clearly say ‘good morning/afternoon’ (or whatever you choose) and encourage the students to say it back to you. Nowadays most students in China have a basic understanding of English, so they should understand this and be able to reply back. It is unlikely that everyone will reply the first time, so it’s a good idea to repeat. Repeat the greeting until all the students have replied to you so that you know you have all students’ attention, and they it’s now time to learn. This technique it widely recognized as making a big difference.

Be Firm but Fair – Rules

It is important, or some would say imperative, that you set the rules on the first day to set long-term boundaries. You hear teachers saying, ‘I don’t want to be a killjoy though’ and the reality is, you are the teacher. Rules are expected to be enforced. The students will find fun in the fun activities but it’s important they know when to stop. It’s a balancing game, and students will respect you for that.

So how do you implement rules? For kindergarten and primary schools, there’s a fantastic song
with actions that the kids can do. Below are two videos, one led by a man and one by a woman. Repeat the song twice at the beginning of the class and maybe a third time at the end. You can also repeat this in
your next lesson as a warm up too, or every month to remind the students. Repeating is very important
throughout all aspects of learning to reinforce standards and most importantly learning.

For middle to high school, there’s also this video that you could potentially use to explain the rules.
Following this, show a PPT about rules, then encourage the kids to create a poster with all the rules they need. The best poster gets stuck up on the wall and is used as a reference for when the students break the rules.

One good idea I’ve seen is when teachers get all their kids to sign a poster with the rules on it to declare they have read and understood them. The particular one I watched was a teacher who made it into a scroll and acted out like it was treasure and pirates – very creative. This can potentially last all lesson and introductions may be shortened to only a warm up.

Planning Your First Lesson

It is highly likely that the school will want your main focus to be speaking; therefore, your activities have to reflect that. As mentioned above, engagement is important and is often the driving force of ESL teaching. As a result, your activities have to include everyone. Teachers often fall into the trap of choosing one student who always puts his/her hand up, such as Kevin, while Bubbles (yes they do have interesting English names) is staring at the wall. Bubbles along with his 35 other classmates who are not Kevin at that moment are bored.

Single hands up can’t always be avoided but the message is, don’t rely on it. You have to ask yourself the question, ‘does my activity engage all students?’ And ‘how am I going to engage everyone?’. The best option is group or pair work. A simple idea is to have a picture on the board and ask, ‘What can you see?’. Number the students one and two and give them two minutes to speak to their partner. This results in students speaking while you are listening and understanding their ability.

If you are interested in taking part in a teaching placement, but are worried about a lack of experience, we are here to help. Whichever programme you choose, you’ll have access to our full teaching guide series, as well as a range of lesson plans and advice from our alumni and team