Stories from China: Mafia

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t an epic tale of my clashes with the Chinese Mafia! It’s actually a teaching story – this week and in the past I’ve dedicated an entire lesson to playing the game Mafia with my students.

In case you don’t know the game, in its most basic form, every round students who are Mafia kill someone in secret, and the students have to try and guess who is the Mafia. Once they get the hang of it I add in a doctor who can secretly save someone (usually themselves), and then a sheriff who can accuse someone each round and learn from the narrator if they are the Mafia. We played it A LOT at camp, and had more roles and multiple Mafia member and conspiracies flying around the place – it’s a really fun game.

Although it’s a fun game to play, it’s also educational and useful for the students (I promise!) My senior specials are advanced enough now that they can take charge of their own games, begin to have debates and arguments (meaning that they’re thinking in English), and one game can involves 11 people and last 30 minutes! Considering that all the preparation I need to do is to bring a deck of cards with me (to assign roles), it’s such a simple and fun lesson. I can incorporate the idea of forfeits for when they speak Chinese, see their debating skills improve, and one person is the narrator and runs the game, developing their leadership skills too.

It’s also fun with the senior 1 specials. Their English isn’t as advanced as the senior 2’s, and they’re 3x as many of them, so I split them into 3 groups and let them use Chinese if they need to. My rule is: if I know what you’re saying in Chinese, you know the English! Again, the students love playing it, mainly because it’s fun and doesn’t feel like a real lesson. The first time they played it they got so involved they actually ripped my cards!! I played it yesterday with 1 class and some of the accusations flying around were hilarious! One Mafia girl managed to win by shouting (in English) that the others looked too happy/too sad and therefore they were clearly the Mafia. I was in stitches watching them realise it was her all along!

Mafia is a fun game to play with anyone, helps develop my students’ English skills, and means all I do in the lesson is referee them, make sure they don’t get too noisy, and that they use English correctly!


Also how much does this photo look like it belongs in a brochure!


Why I love teaching in China

Last week I lost my voice and had to teach 5 lessons still. A week later I’m still not 100% but my students are welcoming me back with open arms. Some literally: one girl flung herself on me and kissed my cheek, much to my surprise! All of the welcome backs I got had me thinking about why I love my job here, so I thought I’d write a list of reasons. This way next time I’m feeling down I can look at this list, and hopefully it’s mildly entertaining too!

  1. Most of my students like me. By this I mean they give me things with my name on, run over to say hello when they see me and even share their food. Whilst it’s always nice to be liked, it helps with classroom management too, multiple exit notes have confirmed that they don’t like it when I shout at them. Coming back from sickness this week has reminded me of this, especially when class 5 busted out a Chinese song at the start of class, all 70 of them!
  2. I’ve got my own space. Not my own office or classroom sadly, but the school pays for my apartment and utilities, which means that when I don’t feel like being around people, I can retreat into my flat and don’t have to be social.
  3. Equally however, I love that most of my friends live in the same building as me, so that if I do feel like being social it’s not too much of an effort to find someone to hang out with.
  4. My students don’t mind that I’m a weirdo. I flail in lessons, I dance, I hum and the students laugh along and start dancing too. More than one lesson has descended into chaos as I stumble over my words or my students say something unexpected that tickles me. This week in particular I’ve had the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack in my head, so mu special classes ended up whistling along with me!
  5. Food is so cheap and accessible here. Places like the Dumpling Shop and street food are visible from my window, and whilst my waistline doesn’t like it quite as much, I enjoy being able to eat out regularly.
  6. The feeling of teaching students something and have them really understand it is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. Whether its hearing that my old students know the Cheese Rolling Festival, or hearing my current ones self-correct their pronunciation using the gestures I taught them, it’s an amazing feeling knowing that I’m the reason they know something.
  7. I never stop learning. I’m a little homesick for university and the environment around that, but in China every day I learn something new. I usually have to teach myself the grammar/pronunciation point I’m teaching beforehand, I complete Future Learn courses in my spare time, and I absolutely love it.
  8. I’m constantly challenged. Whether it’s finding out what word they want me to tell them through gestures (I had an epic fail with ‘status’ and ended up translating), or more often finding a more fun way to present what I want them to learn, I’m challenged teaching in China. That’s not even counting the amount I’m challenged by not taking Chinese lessons and trying to get around.
  9. Travel is so easy here. Luckily my schedule pretty much gives me a long weekend every weekend, but when the school has holidays it is so simple to hop on a train or plane and be in a different part of China. Next stop is Nanjing!
  10. Finally, I simply love teaching in China.

If you read them all well done!! Enjoy a collage of me teaching and loving China!

Teaching with no voice!

So after the whirlwind of Hawaii and escaping Shijiazhuang, far too quickly it was time for me to teach again. It’s been 4 weeks and I’ve fully settled back in, been reminded of the classes who need me to explain things more visually, and actually had a brief flurry of snow!

So for me and my regular grade 10 classes, a new lesson plan starts on Wednesday. This lesson I decided to focus on British idols: Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria and Doctor Who, something a little more interesting since I’ve been using the textbook for the first few weeks back. Wednesday’s are my busiest day, 4 grade 10 classes and one grade 11. However I woke up feeling a little under the weather. There’s a cold going around the foreign teachers and although it’s spring now and warm, the heating is still on and despite the humidifier in my room, it’s just so dry! As a result, the my voice just wasn’t happening. I had a strepsil for breakfast (diet is going badly!),but realised   I was in trouble when I walked into school, bumped into Sam, and croaked out a hello. Helpfully my first class is also my smartest, but also my biggest with 69 kids. After whispering hello the students realised straight away that something was wrong and leapt into action, reading notes on the board, using the brightest kids as translators, and giving me lots of smiles! At the end of this first class I was handed a cute note from a students telling me to drink more hot water – the classic Chinese remedy to everything!

As well as writing my instructions on the board, I also taught through gesture. Way back in training camp Michael Knapp told us it was useful to have a routine every lesson. I have my routine which I stick to and the students know. As well as using the same language each week, I also use the same gestures. This meant that on Wednesday I could use just the gestures, and especially in one very enthusiastic class who shouted out my instructions in English, and the students knew what I wanted them to do.

Every lesson I open with a chant reminding them to speak English. Lots of classes just shout it at me when I walk in the room now, so they know what to do! Next is a slide with questions on the previous lesson which they work through in groups. The word “groups” has a circling hand gesture associated with it, a flat palm towards the board means do everything, and rapping my knuckles against the board where I write “ENGLISH” means speak English!

For the lessons content, I used a mix of writing on the board (there are not enough gestures in the world to explain code breaking!) and my usual gestures: holding my ear and pointing at a sentence means I want them to say it out loud, putting my teeth on my lip means that they’re not pronouncing their ‘v’ properly, miming a pen and paper means write down, and so on. I was actually surprised at how quickly they caught on to just learning through my usual gestures and writing, although some classes needed reminding that I could still hear them even if I couldn’t speak!

My board at the end of class!

After successfully not fainting (by the afternoon no voice had turned into feeling faint), by the evening I had to teach my grade 11 special class which I usually love but was apprehensive thinking about teaching it with no voice. So much so that I’d tried to find Sarah to take time to the doctors so I could call in sick for it, but she wasn’t at school so i sucked it up and went to class. This class is shrinking, this lesson had 13 students in it, and I had to try and lead a discussion about culture. I ended up writing instructions to one of the students and having her read them to the others, I really felt ill by this point and just wanted to be in bed!

Even though my lovely mother called me at 6am, today has been a better day because I can speak! I can’t shout yet and had a little trouble with feeling faint and projecting my voice enough, but at the end of the day I’ve officially trained my students to understand not only my voice and weird accent, but also my flailing arms!

Bonus picture of my crowded class 3 where they have decided to sit in the aisles.

Video time!

For some baffling reason I’m suddenly able to post videos from my phone onto here. May I now introduce random videos I found on my phone and can now delete for the memory!

Beijing martial arts training


Featherball with Chicken Shop Tony


Izzie firing an arrow in Mongolia

Happy Birthday Dad from my students

Mr Umar and Gabz teach introduce the concept of ‘small talk’


The realities of life in China, part two!

So it’s almost a year to the day since I posted a rather depressing, but incredibly honest and real post on my life in China. If you want a refresher of how sad I was you can read part one here: The realities of life in China

I thought as a kind of anniversary I’d write an updated look at my life in Shijiazhuang since it definitely got better. And yes, once again I’m procrastinating writing my Golden Week post! Some things will never change.

Last year I started with the fact that I caught a cold in Shanghai which was rough. Well this bit didn’t really get better…in Inner Mongolia I caught a bug of some sort and was really ill. Not the sort of ill where I felt a bit rough and miserable, but the kind of ill where I missed 2 lessons and spent 4 days pretty much bedridden, not having any appetite and constantly feeling like I was going to throw up. Luckily most of my lessons had been cancelled for military training so I did only miss 2 classes but I’m still going to miss out on my bonus for this month. Last year I was struggling to get over a cold and was miserable, this year I’m getting over something worse and am still in a good mood 😀

img_3616-editedBefore the cold that nearly killed me in Inner Mongolia.

Moving onto problems with the school – I think because I’ve already taught here for a year a lot of the problems have gone away. For example I wrote a paragraph complaining about not knowing about the exams whereas this year I still don’t know when they are but because I wrote/marked 4 lots last year I know the expected format and what to expect. I still only teach 16 hours a week but have to plan 5 lessons, but this year a lot of the planning is already done because I can reuse the lessons from last year. The majority of the time I’m just editing lessons from last year and making them more fun and more difficult since the students this year are generally better at English than last years were. Plus no-ones mentioned the primary school yet and I’m keeping my mouth shut since I really didn’t enjoy going there, even if it meant that I got discounted beer for teaching a shopkeepers son.

In terms of my classes I’m certainly enjoying them a lot more than last year! Whether it’s my confidence, their higher ability or something else entirely, I’ve yet to really yell at a class, get other teachers involved, or do more than have a stern word about talking. *Touch wood* they will stay like this. I still don’t like my former junior 3 class – I teach on their corridor so see the students all the time – but luckily I’m not their teacher anymore and their new one really likes them! I really enjoy teaching and having chats with my students, one class has decided to teach me Chinese after class, another give me food every lesson, most of them clap and cheer when I walk into the room, and if they see me around the school they shout ‘FABULOUS’ at me (I say it all the time in class). I have a student who went to Swansea University last week and told me all about the fresh air there, another one who showed me the Yorkshire Tea that he’d got from somewhere, and students who gaze at me adoringly whenever they see me. Admittedly the last group unnerve me a little when I’m teaching, but I’d take them any day over the students who last year made me cry and blamed me for their bad behaviour.

Exit Notes this year

And now on to the bank situation. I eventually did open an account but this year it’s all messed up again and in order to get paid we have to have a certain bank account. However before Golden Week when we tried to open one we were denied because we were foreign and the local branch didn’t know how to do it. So after the holiday, after pay day in fact, the accountant managed to open them but we had to go in and change the PIN to access the money. According to the school this meant that we’d been paid even though we couldn’t access the money. Yeah right! Hero Sean took me and some others yesterday lunch to sort it out (10 days after expected pay day) and as a result of the number of people and the rain Sean and I ended up being 35 minutes late to a 40 minute class. When we were told we wouldn’t be paid for that class as per the contract I went to see Sarah, our contact teacher, straight away and got really quite angry. When she started trying to blame Sean I outright yelled at her and then luckily John, our boss, walked in and I could yell at him too to sort it out. I think they could tell that I really wasn’t going to accept them going by the contract if they weren’t with regards to pay day. Eventually they found a way for me and Sean to catch up on our lessons so we didn’t have to lose money, but the juries still out on Tom who was 20 minutes late. The conclusion to this is that Sean and I should NEVER go to another Chinese bank together again!

The bank situation has probably been the most stressful thing to happen so far this year, and since it only happened yesterday I’m still wound up about it and quite short tempered today. I have however had to unexpectedly teach today and loved every minute with class 3, I’m seeing Sarah tonight and getting a Chinese lesson in Lily’s house tomorrow before badminton on Sunday. I’m taking 3 online courses to hopefully become a better teacher, I’m really finding myself loving teaching and I’m genuinely sad when the bell goes in my class and I have to go. I’m still trying to force China to like me sometimes, but I do like it.

❤ China ❤