Thursday, August 7, 2014

Part G - Teaching in China - Games

One of the important goals of the summer school was to encourage the local teachers to become more confident listening to, understanding, and speaking English. Many of them hadn't spoken English (not counting giving minimal instructions to their students in English) since university - ie for five or more years! Just a tad rusty!

On the whole, their written skills were good, as was the ability to read and comprehend passages. But how to get people who know their pronunciation is more than likely to be incorrect, to take the plunge and chatter naturally? I don't speak another language. To put it mildly, I suck at remembering words and tones. I know how it feels to constantly get it wrong after the most patient person has corrected me for the umpteenth time. It doesn't feel good, and I accept that few of us will willingly look incompetent in front of our peers. So the challenge for the foreign teachers (ie us) is to gain the trust of the Chinese teachers, and encourage them to just give it a go! It's ok to make mistakes. That's how we learn. Heaps of encouragement, smiles, nods, support and gentle, accepting correction followed by more encouragement. By encouragement, I don't just mean from me, but from other students as well - they were great at this! Add some fun, competitions and laughter, and Bob's your uncle!
Team games were popular!
And so, games, games and more games. Preferably ones they can adapt for use in their own classrooms, but with up to 60 or sometimes more students per class, that's a big ask. The floors are tiled and the rooms extremely noisy with only 30 people, (although the Chinese teachers would usually use headsets and microphones to make themselves heard) and they're not spacious - just some of the challenges the Chinese teachers face. But some only teach one or two 45 - 60 minute classes a day - that'd be wonderful!

One of the challenges we faced is that some students don't turn up consistently. One morning, or afternoon, you'll do a double take when a fresh (and nervous) face appears. Sometimes it'll be another teacher, sometimes a random university student, sometimes the child of a teacher. It's quite variable. You'll have got to the "give it a go" stage with the bulk of the group but the newcomer needs one on one help to build trust in minimum time. Not ideal, but .....
Peeking at the card to read the word before putting it down!
Most popular in my room was Snap (are you playing poker over there ladies?) where new vocabulary words are written on (preferably blank) cards. Decks of cards were 1 or 2 Yuan at the local supermarket and the students wrote sets of three or four words in felt tip marker on the back and flipped them over in turn to find a match. (Please stop playing poker ladies!) They'd have to recognise and say the word quickly to win the cards. An adaptation would be to then put the word in a sentence. (Honestly ladies, how many times do I need to ask you to stop playing poker?) ... There are naughty students everywhere, even mature ones with a decided twinkle in their eyes!
Another good game was a dice and board game where each player has a token and moves it along the board. Each landing spot has a question they need to answer and everyone else in the group is expected to listen carefully and ask for clarification as needed. A variation of snakes and ladders would also work well and you could make the questions relevant to the needs of the class - workplace questions, how to introduce yourself at a business meeting or conference, geography, history etc.
A hive of activity and the hubbub of enthusiastic conversation = success! Most students were so involved they didn't notice assorted photographers strolling in and out of the classrooms. I suspect some of the administration staff would have quite enjoyed being involved in the games as well, even if it did mean speaking English!

My previous posts about Teaching in China were our ArrivalBanquets,  Culture and comfort foods, DrivingExercise and Fabulous Food. The next one will be about History!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - we do learn through play don't we .. or convert play into a learning tool, or a helpful tool as with sick people ... I feel quite tired thinking about it!
Cheers Hilary

Sue Travers said...

Hi Hilary
Play is a great way to learn without realising you're learning! I wish it was as much fun to prepare the lessons as it is to do the activities in class!