How to Teach English to Chinese Kids More Effectively?

Teaching English to Chinese kids for the first time could be nerve-racking.

I remember when I first stepped foot in a classroom, I was nervous as all get out.  

Eighteen little faces, aged 8-10 looking at me….waiting, er, “Hello boys and girls! How are you??!!”    

As you open up yourself, you will find affection and tenderness within just a few short hours of your first class.

One thing only makes you an effective ESL teacher: Experience.  When you step into the limelight, pitfalls await. Be brave, be resolute! Children’s eyes are on you.

What follows is a simple guide to teaching kids in China, by using the children’s viewpoint as a window. 

A Little Pre-Class Coaching

You’ve heard the adage, “The three most important things for a new restaurant are, location, location, location. And for teaching, the three most important things are: preparation, preparation, preparation!  

Script your lesson in 10-15 minute sections, charts, lists, page numbers and activities. Ask your manager for help, ask other teachers for copies of theirs. 

Why plan so much?  Kids want structure, they need and desire it, and when you don’t have it, the class slips away.  

The Cute Ones, Grades K-2

Chinese kids look at native speakers as something out of the ordinary. These little guys will follow your every word and move. They see you as a wellspring of wonder. And that is very good, as you already have their attention.  

Now keep it! Plan at least one game or activity per teaching hour. EFL learning is not traditional learning. Games relax everyone, and make students more receptive to your overall lessons.  

It is said a kid’s attention span corresponds directly to their age, 4 years, 4 minutes, 5 years, 5 minutes and so on. So do your warm-ups and introduction in a short time, and start your activity to utilize the language.  

This can be a literal ball game, or a black board activity of some sort, but get the kids out of the instruction mind-set, and into the usage and competition mind-set. 

They forget they are learning, have a nice time, and gain invaluable applied knowledge. 

Chinese kids are lovely and cute. They want to do well for you. Praise them generously and be gentle in your redirection of unruly ones.

Grades 3-5, Moldable and Responsive


These Chinese kids may have had a few years of EFL under their belts. 

They can interact and respond to you. They share stories, feelings and opinions of their environment. Their attention spans are longer, and they’ve started to write a little. They also follow you intently, as you keep them focused and productive.  

They have developed friendships and personalities, and opinions about the world, their likes and dislikes; always a good topic to revolve the lesson around.  

Be aware, teacher talk time, in a well-executed class should be about 30% maximum. New teachers tend to talk at the kids, expecting them to understand and learn associatively- absorbing knowledge environmentally. This ability fades quickly after grade two.  

Even if you get a group of really bright kids, there are limits to what they can catch.  

These kids still like ball games, but you can begin to use more integrated “Games” getting words and patterns up on the board and build friendly competition.

For example, if you are teaching Do/Does questions to younger learners, board the sentence form you want them to follow:  They need to see how it fits together.

Do/ Does 


He, she, it



*also use the kids’ names, they think it’s funny and it makes it real


*here you brainstorm verbs


*here you brainstorm adjectives

N ?

*here you brainstorm nouns

At any grade, any level, any grammar point, get it onto the board and let the kids see it. Start with a brainstorm, give them points for the strongest words.  

During the sentence making, give them points for the best sentences.  

  1. good, 10 points. Super, 15 points, amazing, 25 points
  2. Do you see the big cat?  25 points

Does Tommy jump on the giant tree. 40 points

Advanced kids can use the word bank to make a story.  The groups compete for creativeness. Get the idea?

The Big Ones, Grades 6-8

These kids are exciting because they have developed into little people, are eager to share with you, and enjoy hearing your stories of your life, school, house, and the uniqueness of your home country.  And their bodies are changing, and you may get a heavy dose of 12 going on 16.  

A well-managed classroom will still follow you well, and be receptive to your teaching.  

In this case, preparation is even more key. When you slip up, or are underprepared, they will know, and will exploit it.  

They have private conversations, games, and comic books while you conduct class. Move around and let the kids know you see them.

As outlined in the previous section, map out the tools for them to produce. Chinese kids like puzzles, so if you give them form and context, they can see it. If you don’t utilize the board, it becomes alphabet soup, and they can’t see the connections.

They will have opinions or views that don’t make sense to you, maybe even seem illogical.  

A western teacher knows the sky is blue. A child knows the sky is grey, which it literally may be.  There’s no point in arguing about it. Of course, it is OK to show or share images and experiences of blue skies from your native land. You are a guest, and as an English teacher in China, it does not make the classroom, “your country here.”

Fun, Fun Fun, Kids Love Fun

If you don’t have fun, how can they? Look the children in the eyes, share your feelings, and present the daily lesson professionally. 

You may not change the world, but to paraphrase famed American Middle-School teacher, Harry Wong: Each child holds a candle waiting to be lit. 

It is simple sharing from someone who has walked this delightful road. You will light those candles, and some will never forget you, nor you them.

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