Published on:
March 12, 2019

by: Will Perrins

My Top 5 Tips for Planning as an ESL Teacher in China

Lauren Wilcox has a degree in English from the University of Portsmouth, and is teaching at a language centre as part of the 2017 Teach China Graduate Program. Lauren’s been in China for over a year, and over the coming weeks she’ll be sharing some of her China experiences to date, both at school and on her travels.

Check out her personal blog here, and follow her adventures on Instagram @theblondeoverseas

When I first became an ESL teacher, I used to admire how quickly my colleagues could come up with activity ideas for the classroom off of the tops of their heads. I made it my goal to become just as quick and creative to make my classes full of fun.

The company I currently work for give you up to 6 classes, twice a week, ranging from 1 hour for kinders, to 90 minutes for juniors and seniors. That’s 12 classes a week and can be up to 18 teaching hours. This means I have a lot to plan and not a lot of time to do it in. So, with this in mind, here are my top 5 tips to efficiently plan lessons.

1. Not all activities need resources

I remember when I first started teaching, I was stuck in the mindset that a good activity had all singing, all dancing resources made for it. The longer I’ve been teaching, the more I’ve found that sometimes the best ESL activities just need a dice, or Uno cards!

2. Get your students involved in making the resources you do need!

My favourite ‘Pre Activity’ is ‘Make Your own Flash Cards.’ This is perfect for low juniors, all the way up to seniors. Not only are they revising the vocabulary taught, they have the opportunity to be creative and use colours, show off their drawing skills and revise a grammar point that has been learned.

After my students’ have made a set of their own flashcards, the world is your oyster with the amount of activities that can be played! Some of my favourites are: Pictionary, memory games, charades, Rapidough (Pictionary, but with play-dough) and taboo (a personal favourite with my seniors. They have to pick one and describe it to their partner, without telling them what it is).

3. Recycle!

In order to focus my students’ minds at the beginning of class, before we check homework, I like to use warmers. These are about a 5-10 minute activity that engages the students and refreshes their minds into speaking English. My favourite ones to use are: 1) Countdown – how many different words can you make with 6 scrabble pieces in a certain number of minutes. 2) Grapheme breakdown – perfect if you have a spelling test coming up. 3) Q&A mingle – review the questions/grammar points you’ve learned as a class, split them up into Uno card colours, give everyone an Uno card and a certain amount of time to mingle round the classroom.

My final favourite to use is categories. My students love anything digital, so I use and input categories chosen by my students, we spin the wheel and have a standoff with who can name the most things within the said category.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask

I remember being nervous to ask my colleagues and managers for activity ideas when I first started as a teacher. I felt that people would think I wasn’t experienced enough or that I should come with billions of new ideas. However, that is not the case. No matter how long you have taught, or how much training you’ve done, it’s always nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other in the office.

As soon as I got to China I was set up with all of these APPs and I haven’t ever looked back. These, along with many others, have made my life here so much easier!

5. Never underestimate the power of the internet 

As I’ve become a more experienced teacher, I’ve found it easier to think up ideas off of the top of my head. However, I still regularly use the internet to help with more difficult grammar points (they usually come with free worksheets too)! For crafts, Pintrest is my best friend. For anything grammar related, I will just type the grammar point into Google, followed by ‘ESL’ and let Google work its magic!

To conclude, each school in China will require a different structure to their lessons and the plans that go with them. My main advice would be to be confident, ask for feedback, don’t underestimate yourself (you’ve passed the training!) and go over any ideas you do have with a colleague. Finally, have fun! Nothing makes me happier than seeing an activity go to plan and all of my students having the best time in the classroom.

Learn more about the 2021-2022 Teach China Graduate Program, and start your China adventure!


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