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How To Make Learning Fun For Highschoolers?


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I teach English to highschool students. Many don't understand me so they talk amongst each other or sleep. The principal saw this on camera and suggested I do something that wont bore them like play games... but they dont understand how to play. We only play the "Whisper" game sometimes.

What should I do ?

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I was going to suggest the same thing.  You don't necessarily need to make it interesting, you just need to provide sufficient disincentive for bad behaviour.


The "I'm a little teapot" method I outline in the linked thread should work as sufficient disincentive for the types of bad behaviour you mentioned.


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1 hour ago, Pianote said:

Many don't understand me

This seems wrong, what are you saying that they don't understand?


Have you started with the absolute basics? Start with the ABC and work on pronunciation. Sing the ABC song together and then work up to where they do understand you.

Have a look at circling, take a phrase using the words Tom, black, cat, on, the, mat ,is, has. and  the question words with w, then make questions, statements and answers to questions using those words. For example

Tom has a black cat. Where is Tom's black cat? Tom's black cat is on the mat. Is Tom's cat black? and so.

You can use this to explain the possessive 's.

Make the class divide into groups and do it together, swap out one person from a group to another to make sure no one person is carrying the rest.


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Find out what they are interested in (popular culture, sports, etc) and use them as the basis of discussion/lesson. Maybe make them compete in groups and get the winner a box of chocolates to share etc. When I was learning English I remember I used to love the group competitions. Kids were so in to it and yelled instructions to their team mates. Below is one of the games we used to play. You can also give the groups a bunch of words written on small papers then ask them to form a story using words on the bits of papers you give them, give them 1 minute. The winner would be the group who compose the longest story using correct grammar. Also, we used to get “fined” when we speak in language other than English, we collect the small fine in a jar and at the end of the term we get pizza or something. Bring props. Props always makes it interesting. 


Sentence Race

Level: Any Level

A good game for large classes and for reviewing vocabulary lessons. 

  1. Prepare a list of review vocabulary words. 
  2. Write each word on two small pieces of paper. That means writing the word twice, once on each paper. 
  3. Organize the pieces like bundles, 2 bundles, 2 sets of identical words. 
  4. Divide the class into 2 teams. get them to make creative team names. 
  5. Distribute each list of words to both teams. every student on each team should have a paper.  Both teams have the same words. 
  6. When you call a word, 2 students should stand up, one from each team. The students must then run to the blackboard and race to write a sentence using their word. 

The winner is the one with a correct and clearly written sentence.

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Can I look at this from another viewpoint?


I've always understood that the worst sin of a teacher is losing control of the classroom. And I suspect that in a nice way, the principal is warning you that you're wandering near the border here. So consider first how to assert your authority in class.


I suspect from your previous posts that you're fairly young and without much teaching experience, especially teaching foreigners English. I suspect too that that inexperience teaching and unfamiliarity with China are reflected in a certain lack of confidence and nervousness when you're up there in front of the classroom. Students in China, like students anywhere, sense that immediately. And start playing games on their phones while they ignore you.


I suggest you take a long, hard look at how you present yourself in class, and in short, become a stronger more authoritative figure. You might be surprised at the result. Under the present system, Chinese are pretty well trained to do what they're told to do. The government likes it that way. But tbey need to be firmly told what to do by someone clearly in charge. So take charge, and be assertive about it.

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1 hour ago, 889 said:

become a stronger more authoritative figure.

I've always heard (from a friend who is a secondary school teacher and others) that it's better to start out strict and loosen up later if possible, than to start out nice and turn strict when necessary. Not sure if this is still useful to you, as you have already started, but perhaps when you get a new class.

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@889  Perhaps. But I think @ChTTay nailed it. I notice the students who talk and sleep are the ones who can't speak a lick or English while the ones who can speak English are always quiet and listening- they're a joy to teach. It's like that in every class I have. The Chinese english teachers there can barely speak English themselves, and I notice some of the students  cant spell even though they are given spelling tests in their other English classes. For example, show, lost, etc were words from unit 2 (their other English class taught by another teacher). I played a game where I called out a word from Unit 2 and a student would come to the board and write (example, Show) and they couldn't spell the words- NONE of them could spell any of them and they had been passed to the next unit!

Also, I don't give tests in my class- I'm an oral English teacher. Might this have something to do with it? 

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I think it’s unlikely to be a discipline issue but this could be a contributing factor. I feel the situation described is pretty common in high school English classes and compulsory University English classes taught by foreigners around China. The lack of interest and massive variation in ability is certainly something I’ve heard and read a lot about. 


A Chinese English class is largely repetition of key phrases parroted after a teacher and rote learning of sentences, words or dialogues. This doesn’t require any thinking really. If you look like you’re saying the phrase then you’ll be left alone. For a spelling test a fair few students likely memorise them right before the test, cheat or a bit both of these.  


The activity you describe as a game sounds more like a test. Did you actually just call out a word and then a student comes up and writes it? Something like this is prime for a spelling race. Just get 3-4 students up, get them all ready, then say the word. Once you’ve said the word, that’s their cue to run to the board and write the word as fast (and neatly) as possible. Before the game review the words. Use the easy ones for the game. If students don’t know, just let them look at others. They won’t win but they won’t lose face by writing nothing.


As above, if half your students don’t care about English then you need to think about how to make the activities interesting enough to get at least some of those students taking part because they’re fun/different. The ones who listen and pay attention anyway will appreciate a break from spelling tests and rote learning too. 


For issues with any class you teach, the first thing you need to look at is yourself! If the students are not doing something, it’s your fault. How can you change what you’re doing in class to help them?

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I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Demand here far exceeds supply of teachers. 


However, that was kind of my point, it’s likely that it’s less their behaviour and more your lesson. 


If you do everything you can to make it interesting and engaging, there’s no way your job will be in question. 

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"I hope this doesn't put my job in jeopardy!"


The way Chinese schools work, it's what the principal thinks that counts (though he can be highly influenced by what the parents think). Just do what he wants and you'll have no problem. That's why I sort of hinted that after he raised this with you, you need to do at least something to show you paid attention to what he said.


P.S. Is he really always watching you on video?

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@889  there are cameras in all the classrooms and he can see from his office.

ALWAYS watching me? This is the first time he's said anything about the students sleeping and not paying attention and I've been here since October.


I would really prefer having fun conversations relating to the topic in the book instead of playing games. I don't think they understand English enough to play games and I feel that they will learn more from reading and talking about the subject.

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3 hours ago, Pianote said:

I don't think they understand English enough to play games

You can walk into a class with literally zero English and get them to play some kind of game. Drill pronunciation of 1 to 10. Divide class into two, with each team having a column on the board. Chuck blue ball at someone in team A, they have to say "1" and throw the ball back. Fast enough and decent pronunciation and they get a point. If not, re-drill pronunciation, then throw the ball at team B, who has to say "2". Then you sneak in the red ball, which means they have to skip one number and go, ie, from 3 to 5. And a yellow ball means they go back a number, or whatever.


Giving the instructions is easy enough - start with them throwing the ball to you and you doing the counting. They'll get it, unless they're deliberately trying not to. 

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