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TESOL China: How OnTESOL’s Course Improved My English Teaching Skills

  • 6 min read
  • China

My first teaching job at a university in China was particularly hard as I had had no prior TESOL training. I studied ahead in the course books and researched material for months, but I still was not able to write lesson plans or develop a curriculum until I had begun to study through OnTESOL’s certification program.

Teaching English Abroad without TESOL Certification

When I first stepped into the classroom in China, after tripping over the metal threshold, I felt dizzy and panicky. I hadn’t taught anything to anyone in my life. The closest thing to teaching on my resume was a promotion gig which involved standing in the parking lot of an amusement park, promoting a brand of drinkable yoghurt.

But, here I stood behind a podium which was about a foot too short for my skinny, 191 cm frame, about to teach a class of twenty-eight Chinese college freshman! What did I do?

Well, I pawed at the first page of the first lesson with my sweaty hands, and five minutes into the lesson I saw that students were whispering and exchanging grins as I shakily moved through a teacher to group question and answer repetition, “

T: Are you teachers?”

A: No we aren’t, we are students!”

It was as funny to them as it was useless.

Their speaking level was higher than I’d anticipated! Frustrated, I felt an urge to stubbornly slog through to the end. Instead, I found myself tossing the lesson aside and saying, “I’m sorry, would you like to ask me anything?” This opened a floodgate of inquiry.

Some wanted to know what I did in my spare time, somewhere I was from, others if I had a spouse. I  was so relieved! My students were friendly! At that moment it dawned on me that oral English classes had to be met and interacted with, just like an individual.

I had to take their English measurements before handing them an English shoe. This class of freshman from Northeast China had probably never met a foreigner before. I looked strange. I talked funny. My mannerisms were unfamiliar. At the end of class, all the students lined up and one by one and all twenty-eight took a picture with me with their cell phones.

Wow! I was being treated like a celebrity. In that hyper inquisitive atmosphere, I realized, “Hey! Teaching English in China is much better than promoting yoghurt at amusement parks!”.

Another time, I brought in an article on a current event. After my students read it, I picked random students to ask and answer the four accompanying reading questions. One by one a student read the question and another, sometimes sitting far away, asked to hear it again, then nervously fumbled around to answer it.

Later, it occurred to me that the linguistic aim had dealt with reading comprehension rather than oral English. There was unfamiliar vocabulary which I didn’t define. Also, there were only four questions, so only eight total students had a chance to speak. Finally, the article didn’t correspond to the language functions from that day’s textbook chapter!

How OnTESOL Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

Weeks later, having completed around half the hours of the online TESOL certificate course offered by OnTESOL, I decided to use another article. The goal was for students to practice using expressions of disagreement from the current book chapter.

I first read it out loud, then provided definitions for the unfamiliar words. I then let students ask and answer the reading questions in pairs. Previously, I was not comfortable letting the students talk to one another in groups or pairs because I thought they would speak Chinese unless I addressed them individually.

To my surprise, most of the students spoke English and I was able to answer questions and reignite their conversations as I walked around listening to each group. After that class, I started to choose parts of the book which fit my communicative lesson plans rather than slavishly following it cover to cover.


As a new ESL instructor in China, I quickly found that ESL games were great ice breakers. Prior to learning about the Communicative Approach, two of the games I used repeatedly in the class were hangman and Pictionary.

The students had a lot of fun trying to guess the letters and the drawings on the board, desperately shouting one-word guesses again and again. When class energy ebbed, they rekindled enthusiasm by shifting the student’s dependence on me, the teacher, to one another in a team effort. These games did little to improve their spoken English and didn’t tie into the lesson plans.

During my TESOL course, I learned that while games should be enjoyable, the purpose of playing games in the ESL classroom is to reinforce specific linguistic elements. Putting theory into practice, I taught an intermediate communicative lesson on asking and answering questions about habits and routines using WH questions. After the lesson, I introduced a board game which was a giant square made up of 36 small squares, each containing the beginning of a WH question such as “How often…” or “When do you…”.

The board had a start square and a finished square and required a token to record the team’s progress. I handed out one paper copy of the game board for each pair of students and divided the class into two teams.

One pair of students on one team rolled the dye first and then moved their tokens to the correct space on the board. One member of the pair had to first tell the rest of their teammates how many squares to move, then the other had 10 seconds to ask the opposing team a WH question based on the half question within the square.

If they exceeded the limit they moved back one square (I kept the time). The other team had 15 seconds to answer the question and move forward one square, or fail and go back one square. It took time for the rules to sink in, but soon the students were enthusiastically asking and answering, and racing to the final square!

Having followed a proper lesson plan, the ESL game allowed students to practice their speaking skills and acquire the language point.


I am really thankful for the tutors who helped me throughout the TESOL course. I am the type of person who needs lots of support, care, and patience from a teacher. This is what I received from my tutors. They took the time to help me with my numerous mistakes without judgment and they promptly answered all the questions I had.

On a final note, I am grateful for taking this course with OnTESOL. It equipped me with all the tools I need to become a better teacher. The tutors and course material are excellent, giving me the confidence to plan and implement a proper lesson plan.

For this, OnTESOL is worth the money and I recommend this course to anyone who wants to improve their teaching ability.

Apply now to teach English in China with English First!

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