Last summer, I spent a month volunteering in China. I taught English to students between the ages of six and sixteen. With hindsight, here’s some advice I would give myself:
When one ten-year old asks for a piggy back ride say no
If not, you will be stuck with giving the rest of the class endless piggyback rides until the bell rings or you injure yourself- whichever occurs first.
Children love stickers
[The category ‘children’ may or may not include me, a twenty-one-year old.] I have never realised how useful stickers are as a teaching aid: to teach them English words, as a reward for participating in class activities and to split them into teams. They are also a great accessory. At the end of one of my classes all the kids were adorned with different stickers, and because they were able to choose the ones they wanted the stickers reflected their personalities. The only downfall is when two students want the same sticker which leads to one of them crying. The solution? Hand out extra stickers. My phone case has seven coloured stars, stuck on by my favourite students. Every time I see the stars I am reminded of my class. The stars are here to stay.
Be prepared for singing lots of nursery rhymes
Lots and lots and lots of nursery rhymes. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes may be a simple rhyme but singing it with actions nonstop for 45 minutes is a serious workout.
My favourite classroom aid? A bright yellow rubber duck I bought in China. As well as helping me to get the class talking in English by asking them questions about the duck, it was helpful in ice breaker activities. After playing “passing the duck” “passing the hat” doesn’t quite feel the same. I’ve also become pretty good at quacking. There were also three tiny ducklings (that did make a quacking noise) that I used when I wanted to help them remember the difference between the singular and the plural form of words. I tried to use props for as many classes as possible, whether that was through buying fresh fruit or taking along fans and hats.
Team games are a favourite
I played bingo with my classes as a way of helping them remember the new vocabulary and the classroom took on the atmosphere of a sports stadium with the kids urging on their team members and cheering excitedly when they were in the lead. There was also the occasional complaint of cheating to which the teaching assistant and I would act as referees and hand out the appropriate warning or penalty. The kids also loved playing musical chairs.
Some lessons just do not go according to plan...
When I walked in to teach Class 3 I had prepared to teach them places. I had just begun to teach them when the home teacher interrupted to say that this lesson had been covered by another teacher. I suggested directions. That too had been covered. I ran through my lesson plans. Food? No. Objects in the kitchen? No. Since I had no further picture sheets with me I suggested we could take it in turns to act out animals and move onto learning vocabulary related to that. She nodded. Although the class was initially quite reluctant to come up, renditions of a frog, a monkey and a lion by myself, the teacher and a student – in ascending order of acting ability [note: I have been informed that in China the frog does not make a ‘ribbit’ sound] – soon had the others coming up and taking on the roles of different animals and birds.
...and some lessons do
I played a variation of ‘desert island’ with class 7. The class was split into five and each group had to come up with a list of ten items that were essential to survive for two months on a dessert island. They then had to debate amongst themselves to create a final list of ten items and the group which had the most items on their list that matched up to the final list was the winner. I was surprised and encouraged by the debate that followed, including discussion on what types of food should be on the list and what types of tools. The class then acted out two short plays in one of which the seven dwarves were transformed into seven frogs, and the prince and princess were played by a girl and a boy. I found this really interesting and another game of charades also saw a reversal of the gender roles in Titanic.
It's time to get funky
I have never danced the Macarena or the Cha Cha Slide as many times as I did over that past month. I’ve even found myself at pedestrian crossings saying “Cha Cha real smooth” (most often to my sister who sorely regrets my learning the Cha Cha Slide).