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A Typical ESL Lesson For Young Learners In China

Teaching English in China is an amazing and highly rewarding experience! I was an English teacher in China for three years, and during that time I taught all ages from 3 years old and primary school all the way up through university students and doctors wanting to improve their English in the medical field.

Before I came to China, though, I had never taught English lessons and had to learn many things through experience (and lots of trial and error!) I taught at a kingergarten for a year, and also taught part time at several different after-school/training programs in China for two years.

During that time I learned so much about teaching an ESL class and found I particularly loved teaching young learners. They are such a fun and active group that loves to learn through songs and movement and games, and I really enjoy connecting with them!

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At my after school job I typically had less than 10 kids in a class and each class was an hour long. The school wanted the kids to learn at least 5 songs a semester, be able to introduce themselves in English and answer questions about themselves, and learn the vocabulary words from their books and learn several sentences related to the vocabulary.

Here’s how I would teach a typical hour long English lesson at my after school teaching job.


We start the class with hellos and high energy!

After the students learned  “Feelings” vocabulary, I’ll also ask each student how they are. It’s fun to write the students name on the board and draw a face next to their name of the emotion they feel. My students loved telling me many different feelings and laughing as I tried to draw them on one face. “I’m happy, angry, hungry, and sad!!!”

Then we’ll sing a hello or warm up song – something fun and active to get the students moving.

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After our warm up song I’ll typically review the class rules and rewards.

We had a few rules in class every week like raise your hand, sit nicely, and listen to the teacher, which I would teach to the students and have them repeat with me. If they wanted to answer a question, students would need to raise their hand and say, “Teacher, teacher, let me try.” (Lots of schools in China do this, I’ve found).

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I also used a reward in my after school classes. If the students answered questions, sang well, and participated in class they would get a star. They would try to get as many stars as they could during class. If they got 5 stars, they would get one sticker to put on their sticker page at the end of class. At the end of the semester we count all their stickers and they would get a prize!

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A reward system is great for motivating and focusing the students, and it was fun for all my classes. The older students loved to compete for more stars than their friends, while the younger students were just super excited to have a sticker. It’s also a fun way to teach other shapes. After they learned ‘star’, I’d change it to other shapes (circle, square, oval, diamond, and other things like rainbow, apple, cloud, etc.)

There are many different reward systems to use in class, which I highly recommend trying out. For my full time kindergarten job, my students would earn fake money and could buy a prize at the end of the week. What worked for my classes might be different for other classes, so see what works best for your students depending on their ages, English level, and personalities.


I would ask the students to make a circle and we would pass a dice or stuffed animal around, learning introduction questions and answers. My students needed to learn sentences like:

  • What’s your name? My name is….
  • How old are you? I’m ____ years old
  • Where are you from? I’m from China
  • Where do you live? I live in Guangzhou
  • What’s your favorite color? (Animal, food, drink, etc). My favorite color is…

Each week is a little different. We might review previous introduction questions, or learn a new sentence through repetition, photos, or a game.

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After sitting and focusing on their introductions, another song is a fun way to get moving again before jumping into the lesson. I would choose from a variety of topics like numbers, weather, feelings, body parts, or something else depending on the lesson or class.

The kids loved being silly when singing Tooty Ta!

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They also loved the Hokey Pokey!

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This part is usually the start of the main lesson time. I used flashcards most of the time to introduce new words, or sometimes I’d make a power point with photos on it.

Repetition is the best way for students to learn. I would have my students repeat words many times in different ways to make it more fun – they love acting angry, sad, happy, hungry, loud, quiet, etc. I would also get them involved by asking them to point to photos, find different objects, or put pictures in the right order.

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We’ll reinforce/review the vocabulary words with a song or a game and give the students time to practice the new words.

There are so many games you can use to teach these words! You can see some of my favorite ESL flash card games here. 

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BOOK TIME (10 min)

The after school program used a book with a CD to go along with it. Some activities would involve listening and pointing at pictures, and others were writing/drawing activities. We didn’t use the book every class – it depended on the lesson.

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Depending on the lesson and how much time is left in class, we might sing another song or play another English game.

My students loved Teacher Says (Simon Says) and after they got they hang of the game they would take turns being the teacher and telling their friends around. They also loved singing Baby Shark – if they all had 5 stars I’d let them sing this song at the end of class.

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During the last 5 minutes of class we’ll sing a goodbye song and count their stars for the day.

If they have 5 stars they would get a sticker at the end of class to put on their sticker chart. The students then line up to leave class – I may have them answer a question about their lesson before they leave.

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A Typical ESL Lesson

This was a usual 1-hour lesson at the after school classes I taught at. Every week might vary a bit depending on the lesson and students. I tried to stay consistent with my class routine and organize similar topics and themes together to not overwhelm the students with new information, but still keep class time exciting and interesting.

The schools I taught at were very flexible with the foreign teacher curriculum. I had a book and vocabulary words to work from, but also had a lot of freedom to supplement the class with whatever other songs, activities, and materials I wanted to add.

I loved this kind of schedule because I had some structure to follow, but could adjust it and add in my own ideas. After I taught for awhile I always had a list of games and extra activities in the back of my head that I could use as needed, which made it easy to walk into these after school classes with minimal prep time.

Depending on the school you teach at, your schedule and lesson planning might look different from this. When I taught full time at a kindergarten, I needed more lesson prep time because I did more arts and crafts activities, and I also had more students so I had to plan my activities differently.

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Tips for Teaching Young ESL Students:

  • Young learners need alot of TPR – Total Physical Response. Make sure your lesson gives your students lots of opportunities to move! This helps them remember vocabulary better.
  • Every class of students might be a bit different. Some groups may love a particular game or song while another doesn’t enjoy it as much. Get to know your students and what they enjoy/what motivates them to be more involved!
  • It’s also good for your lesson to have high and low energy moments. Students need fun, engaging time to move and let energy out, but they also need calm moments to not be overly excited and to focus – balance is key.
  • Using videos in class can be a great tool and helpful for teaching! Make sure it’s not too distracting, though, and that they’re actually paying attention to the lesson. Sometimes I would turn the TV off during a song and only play audio.
  • Be flexible! You might have to switch gears in the middle of class and be ready to change games quickly.  You also have to control the time, be fair to all the kids, and make sure everyone is active and participating.

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Have you taught ESL to Young Learners?

These tips and style of teaching worked well in my class and hopefully will give you a better idea of teaching ESL in China to young learners! I’m definitely no expert – I didn’t study education at university and never taught English as a second language before, so I learned mostly through watching other teachers, researching online, and my own experiences. I’m sure there are many more ways to organize/manage/teach an ESL class for young learners and I’d love to know about other teaching styles and resources!

I had so much fun teaching these little students and miss them so much! These young learners can be the sweetest things and just love giving hugs and being silly with you.


Read More About My Students and Teaching English in China:





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