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May 12, 2008

Q and A - Do I have to make them laugh all the time?

Hello Readers,

This month's question comes from Grant, who is teaching in Guangdong Province in China.

Hello Mrs Rueckert! I'am an ESL teacher in Guangdong, China. I have been teaching for a year and a half. I'm an American. It seems here in China, if you don't make them laugh all the time, they don't seem interested in learning English. I've studied two languages and when I did, I was taught what the teacher gave me, interesting or not. I'm also 59 years old. Please give me some advice. Thank you.

Continue reading for the answer to this month's question ...

... Hello Grant,

One of the hardest lessons I learned as an ESL teacher in China was that there is a certain amount of negotiation that needs to take place in the classroom in order for learning to take place. There is not one correct way to learn a language - and as you know, the Chinese system is a bit different from the western way of learning. Therefore, take what you know worked for you and adjust as necessary so that it works for your students as well. Chinese students do seem to want to have fun in the classroom, but that doesn't mean that you should stop teaching in order to do that. What might be helpful for you is to try a few different things out and to keep note of how it worked. After a few weeks, you will probably be closer to the happy medium that you are looking for.

From my experience with Chinese students, these are some things that seemed to work:

1. repetition exercises
2. games
3. group work that involved competition or a common goal
4. rules about expectations (this can be a lesson in itself - what the teacher expects and what the students expect - you can create a list of your expectations and ask the students to number them in importance from 1 -10 and then have the students create a list of their expectations in small groups and have them come to a decision as a whole class about the order of importance)
5. feedback and or marks on assignments (without one or the other, I found that there was little motivation for students to do any work outside of class)

Hope that helps. Feel free to write back if you need more help.

Carol Rueckert
Writer, ESL Lesson Plan
E-mail: crueckert@eslemployment.com
Blog: www.esl-lesson-plan.com

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." - Chinese Proverb

*To read more ESL Questions and Answers, please click HERE!

About the author of this entry:
Carol, a native English-speaker hailing from the small town of St. Joseph in Minnesota, USA, worked in China for more than 7 years. During that time, she worked at universities, private language schools, grade schools, international schools, and did private tutoring as well. Besides teaching, she also worked as a Head teacher, an Education Manager, and a Material Development Manager. In addition to working on this newsletter, she also writes a monthly column for Time Out Beijing, authors ESL textbooks for publishing houses in China, and is an Editor for Garnet Publishing in Reading, England. Carol holds a BA in Communications from the College of St. Benedict/ St. John's University, and a CELTA, and has just finished her MA TESOL course at Oxford Brookes University. Look for her posts on the ESL-Jobs-Forum discussion boards!

Posted by crueckert at May 12, 2008 02:51 PM

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gday, I am an Australian teaching 11-13 year olds in a private school in Suzhou - Jiangsu province China I am having no end of trouble with most of my students. I have tried games, team competitions, repetition, etc, etc, some students just refuse to do any thing I ask, and will say so as well. I am getting a bit fed up with the level of non participation in the classroom, I am trying the best I can to no avail, do you have any suggestions - anthony

Posted by: anthony spence at June 3, 2008 05:20 AM

Hi Anthony,

First of all, you should know that you are not the only teacher to experience this kind of situation.

Here are a few things to try with uncooperative students:

1. Hold a special class about how students feel students should behave in a classroom. You could hold a pyramid discussion where you have students come up with a list of adjectives to describe 'good' students and then rate the attributes from 1-10 in groups, in doing so, encouraging discussion in small groups. You could then go on to discuss how students should be rewarded/punished for their behavior. I've tried this in classes with teenagers before, and it seemed to help. However, there are some students that even the best teachers can not control...

2. ... in which case, discuss your problems with the head teacher, director, or dean. See if you can have an assistant come in to deal with disciplinary issues. Sometimes having another person in the classroom for a few days is all students need to realize that you are serious.

3. You could also see if you could switch classes with another teacher.

Finally, make sure you think about how you might do things differently next time round. I personally think that teachers should lay down the rules of the classroom and your expectations of the students on the first day so students know what to expect. Students tend to walk all over the teachers who they perceive to be weak in some way.

Let us know if any of this helps or if you still need some more advice.

Good luck!

Posted by: Carol at June 7, 2008 04:01 PM

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