Kelsey: Teaching in Changsha

I came to Changsha via sleeper train, it took around 12 hours and wasn’t the comfiest mode of transport, but I’ve been on a lot worse, and it was a fun experience! China in general isn’t what I was expecting at all: I was expecting everything to be bright lights, big cities but there are parts that are not as prosperous as you may think; and I’ve been really shocked at some of the things I have seen. Living in Changsha is so vastly different to my small town in England. I have never lived in a city, never mind a city of this scale. There are 2.1 million people living here, and it’s considered small by Chinese standards. I have never seen so many tower blocks… literally everyone lives in a high rise block, as it’s the only way that everyone will fit into the city – it’s absolutely crazy!

The weather here in Changsha is… well, it’s confusing. In the space of a couple of hours the temperature can change by about 12 degrees. The humidity here can get up to 97% but it’s still cold; I’ve never been anywhere where its cold and humid, it seems so strange! I’m now getting to grips with the public transport system too after many failures – I’ve spent hours on buses with Frederikke, going the wrong way, but never mind I guess.

I spent Sunday climbing Yuelu Mountain with Klara (another foreign teacher here in Changsha from the Czech Republic). It was beautiful; we saw groups of monks praying and singing together, a lovely water “feature” and we met a great family who were really interested in us… best friends now, hahaha.

So it’s now week three; and it seems like I’ve come a long way from falling over on my first day of being a teacher here… introductory lessons are over and now it’s time to teach “topics”.  Before I teach any of my classes, I write about what I’m going to teach.  So, I teach grades one, three and five.  As our briefing for these next two weeks, we were to steer away from the generic English topics such as colours, animals and clothing etc; and instead we should have more cultural-focused lessons, keeping it interesting, but also choosing topics that indirectly teach the students new vocabulary to improve their knowledge of the English language, so here are my ideas…

For grade one, my aim from the beginning is to simply make sure they are having fun: if they are enjoying the lesson then I am happy.  Young children are like sponges, so whatever you are doing in your lesson, they are going to pick the content up quickly… even more so if they are having fun!  I am going to be teaching them an English nursery rhyme/children’s song.  In their English classes which are taught by Chinese teachers, they are learning simple prepositions (in/on/under), so the rhyme covers these words.  I think the fact that it’s an English song, will be a novelty to them, so they will be intrigued to learn it and of course there are lots of actions to go with it which will reinforce their understanding.

Grades three and five are slightly “deeper” topics. I’ve called grade three’s topic “guided imagery”.  So basically, the aim is for them to be able to use their imagination effectively, which will lead them to expand their minds.  I want them to know that they don’t have to think like everyone else, they’re all individuals.  During the short time I’ve been here in China, I have observed the robotic nature of learning: a lot of students have a passage memorised about them and their family in English and of course that’s great as they really enjoy reciting it to us, but they don’t actually understand what they’re saying.  That is seen as learning, but is it really beneficial to them?  I personally don’t think so, and I think a lot of TEFL teachers will agree that to grow and learn a language effectively you first have to be immersed into the context of what you are learning.  Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent… back to my topic!  I think it’s going to be tough for the first few lessons because they may find it difficult grasping the concept, but the interactive activities I have planned should help.  First I have a group of images of “nice” things, the usual: puppies and beaches etc.  I want them to give me the generic adjectives that everyone would use e.g. cute.  But then I came across a “guided meditation” recording for children which describes an enchanted forest, and this may not be familiar to them so I am really looking forward to what they think about it.  I want them to draw as they are listening, to see their interpretation of what this forest looks like.

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Now, grade five: the topic is very similar to grade three, except I wanted it to be slightly more challenging. It’s called “wonderful world”, and this is also going to lead onto the next topic which is appreciating the Earth.  Of course, my introduction to this topic is going to be aided by Louis Armstrong… I want to know what they love about the world – physical or otherwise – and why.  I’ll show them the same generic pictures as grade three but I want them to understand the word “generic”.  Imagine if these images didn’t actually exist in real life, they were just man-made conclusions of what people believe is “nice”.  I want them to create their own image of perfection – this will again be through drawing (drawing is also a good tool because it means they don’t need to know all of the vocabulary they think they need, so there’s no holding back); and maybe because they’re slightly older, they won’t just think of the physical things whilst listening to the descriptions.

Feeling inspired by Kelsey’s adventure? You can start your own adventure with just a TEFL course, or even TEFL in China by booking yourself a space onto the China internship.

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