Spring is *finally* here!

It has been a very busy few weeks here. Caryn has moved with me to my new job in Wuxi city and we have been spending our free time mostly indoors as the final remnants of winter leave us. After finally getting Caryns stuff organised (Uniform, jackets, bedding etc) we have a weekend to explore our surroundings! We found a “park” close by but someone has put a massive wall right through the centre of it which means we couldn’t explore it as much as we would have liked.

On the way home we found some new places and saw some construction/ destruction right up close. this is where they are putting a new subway line here and my guess is that this will be you can exit the subway line when its done in a few years time.

So far Wuxi is exceeding my expectations of being an awesome place to live with its clean air and riverways.

If you are ever in the area let me know!

from Christi

Spring Festival


Its that special time of the year again in China, only a few more days until Chinese New year, also known as Spring Festival. In China, this festival is the most important lunar festival for every family in China.

Spring Festival can be broken up into 3 (actually a million but today, three) separate important sections which are applicable to all of China. Those are, Family, Food and Traditions.

Family.

In China, Spring festival is a time to be spent with your family. Most young adults and older family members will travel back to “lao jia” the traditional family home, to see in the new year. Usually this could mean a long journey via train or car to get back to the village where your parents or grandparents were born!

In my family “lao jia” is the village my husband was raised in. There, he can see his uncles and other cousins and relatives whom he hasn’t seen since last years Spring Festival.

Food.

In China food is what really brings people together. The eating culture in China is so strong, that business deals, friendships and relationships are all made over the dinner table. China is a massive country and each region, town and village has its own special foods that they make at Chinese new year. A staple however is dumplings. Almost every family will make dumplings at New year!

My mother in law is exceptionally skilled at making dumplings. She can make the tiny little pleats as if by magic her hands move lightening fast where as my clumsy hands just seem to smoosh the seams together. She never minds though, as she has told me a thousand times “it all ends up in one place.”

Other favourite dishes that we eat as a family at this time are whole cooked fish, a whole Chicken, meatballs and many other delicious foods. My mouth is watering already and its still a few days away yet! ALL of this delicious food is prepared by my mother in law with the occasional help of my sister in law and I.

Traditions.

Every city in China has its own special traditions at New year but there are some that are universal. For one, it is tradition to set off fireworks. New year in China apparently has a legend of a monster called “sui” who would steal children so setting off fire works was the way that people can scare away this demon and all bad luck in general.

Another universal tradition is to “tie duizi” which means to stick the traditional couplets on the doors of your house. The first time i went to my husbands village at New years, my husband and his brother took me to the local market to buy the couplets. An old man with a calligraphy brush in his hand would have a big piece of red paper by his side. You would choose what special blessings you wanted on your house and he would write them in perfect calligraphy in front of you. Then you would take them home, cut them into strips and using a paste of water and flour, stick them on the door jambs and on the top of the door.

We would do this for all of our family members. The thing is, my husband always considered it a chore, but to me it was something new and exciting!

The final tradition which I find is fairly universal is “ketou” which has an almost exact English translation of kowtow, or bowing to your ancestors. Usually at some point in Spring festival you may need to bow to someone. If you are young it may be to your grandparents in exchange for a red envelope full of cash, or if you are older to the village elders or your long deceased relatives.

In my husbands village, his oldest uncle sets up a family shrine in the home and people from all over the village come to kowtow to their memory. Groups of families will go from home to home and give the ancestors three kowtows before moving on to the next home to do the same. One thing i didn’t know before was the difference between a kowtow and a bow; a kowtow is done on your knees with your head touching the floor when you bow.

At the end of the three most important spring festival days all the people in the family get together and set up a shrine on the road. They will burn fake money and paper and set out wine and a chicken for the deceased ancestors then, everyone kowtows together before setting off fireworks to see off their spirits.

To me, the most amazing part of Spring festival is the traditions that go hand in hand with the festival, the feeling of family is there just like my traditional Christmas back home and even though the festival is different, there is still that warm feeling that comes from deep down inside when you are surrounded by people who care for you. It has taken me a few years to recognize what it is but its the true feeling of family that makes Spring festival in China so comforting and welcoming.

Do you celebrate Chinese New year in your town? How do you introduce your kids to Chinese festivals?

Sincerely,

Christi

The best laid plans…

Sometimes the best laid plans can be useless. 

This has proven very pertinent to me in the last few weeks. We had such a good plan to open our English school in another city. We were so prepared, so ready to start making money off our own sweat and tears for our own profit ( not like now which is divided between six investors.) It was meant to be perfect.

Are you noticing the past tense?

We had planned to open a school in my husbands hometown, but the local government wouldn’t give us the permit. Technically, we could have still opened the school but that would mean that we wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on if anything went wrong. It was too great a risk for us to take so we have put that idea on the indefinite back burner. Among other things it was too much of a risk for a limited award.

Sometimes, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Well now I have six months of  FREE time. I am not sure what it is I am going to do, I have already had five months of maternity leave for baby and I feel claustrophobic being in the house. In our original plans I was supposed to be doing marketing and promo work for our new school. Now I have nothing to occupy my time. In another way, I had plans for three months of blog posts based around setting up our school and ESL and now half of those blog posts are useless.

Waiting for July.

My current school has a foreign teacher whose contract finishes in July, after that, she will go her own way and I will take over her classes. but until then I am practically useless.

I want to improve myself, Improve my ability to find a job when I finally return to Australia. I have an opportunity now to improve myself, and I should take it.

China is such a big place and i have only seen a fraction of it.

I want to travel, want to see what I should see before its too late. Me like many others, am always putting travel, life and experiences in the “one day” basket. I have been in China 7 years and the things in the “one day” basket keep getting more and more.

All I know is that when I leave China in a few years time I want my own business, something where I can work  from home or in a studio (I craft occasionally) I want to be able to bring in enough every month to warrant me to be able to stay at home and work for myself.

I know  that this is just a good chance for me to be doing something else. So even though that school never eventuated, perhaps it was for the best. perhaps I can use this time to improve myself and my future outlook.

My advice to myself right now is to buy a new journal, make some new plans because 2017 can’t be wasted on ‘what ifs’ and time wasting thinking about what could have been.

I am sure you have your own plans and ideas too. Have you ever had a door close only to have a new one open? What did you decide to do after a major let down?

5 games for students ACTIVE involvement.

5 super active and awesome games to play in your class.

Last time I introduced you to the first part of the move and prove theory of ESL student participation, with Total Physical Response. today i will introduce the importance of competition in the classroom, the prove part of our classroom theory.

What does ‘prove’ in ‘move and prove’ stand for?

In ESL learning, especially with children, using competition and games can help your students to remember key vocabulary easily in a fun and memorable way

A great way to facilitate class involvement is by using games as a way to get kids actively participating in class. There is nothing like a game to get kids shouting out words and sentences to make you feel like you are reaching those learning goals!

some examples of games I have used and adapted for ESL are ‘go fish, kings (yes the drinking game!) and poison ball. (This has another name in America, but basically you have someone throw the ball at people, if it touches you you are frozen until someone rescues you by performing a forfeit of some kind.)

In the ESL classroom almost any games from your childhood can be modified into a game suitable for ESL.

Here I have five old school games that can be changed into ESL friendly games to help reach your lesson objectives. Have a try with some of these in your next class and let me know how you go!

1. Go fish.
Make or print a collection of picture card pairs of the key vocabulary, for older kids just write the words is on the cards. Give each kid five cards and get them to randomly select another student to be their first partner. Each pair will “paper, scissors, rock” to see who is first to ask the key question. The winner asks the other student “do you have (vocab word)?” or “I like (vocab word)” if that’s too difficult just get them to say the word. The point of the game is, if their opponent has that card they have to hand that card to the asking person, who then makes a pair. the loser can then ask the other person for a card in the same style.

After that, they search for another partner in the room to repeat the process again. The student with the most sets of cards at the end of the game is the winner. The benefit of this game is that all the kids are talking and standing up talking. Adding time and competition makes this more difficult and fun.

2. Kings cup.
Kings cup can be really fun for an older kids speaking class, just use a deck of cards and a cup filled with questions, topics or grammar points inside it.
place the cards in a circle face down surrounding the cup with the topics, words, or sentences inside. You can make up different rules for each of the cards. You could, for example, if you pull a king, queen or jack card you must take a piece of paper from the cup and answer the question.

The other cards you can name your forfeits. e.g. pull an Ace you have to dance like a chicken…pull a two you should sing a small song. Choosing the forfeits together before the game is also fun and a good way to get kids to talk too. The more active the forfeits the better. With younger kids you can add team points for the smaller cards and Big points or specialty things to the cup, like all team members get a candy, or the other team loses all points etc.

3. Poison “ball”
This activity is great if you have a big classroom to play in.
Take a soft item like a stress ball or even a soft toy and have kids move around in a circle. Throw the soft object at the students AND if it hits one of them then they are frozen to the spot. If the other students want to help their frozen team members they need to pick up a flashcard from near the teacher and then run around a frozen person three times saying the word on the card. If you have a helper teacher in the classroom one of you can be throwing the soft thing, the other can be facilitating question/ answer replies.

4. Musical chairs flashcard style.                                                                                    If you have a lot of flashcards, you can place one on each chair and the students should say the word they are sitting on. If you have a big class, whoever is slow should say the words. In a kindergarten setting (to prevent crying) all kids sit down on the chairs and you can go around them and get the students to call out the words loudly.

5. Hit the wall.                                                                                                                     Most classrooms have four walls and most ESL English classes teach four words. Tape the flashcards around the room, one on each wall, get the students to stand in a circle around you clapping and stomping together suddenly call out one of the flashcards and all children should run to the wall that has the flashcard on it, tap the wall and return to the circle in the middle. Then chant the old word until you are ready to call out the new one. Most kids use it as a race to get back to the centre which can be fun.

If you have ever taught in an ESL class you know children love to prove themselves in the classroom, their little hearts are still full of pride at their abilities and still haven’t learned to filter their competitive spirit. You can use this to your advantage! Coupled with copious praise and small motivations you can make any game into a learning opportunity!

If you have ANY  great games you often use in your classrooms, whether its ESL or other subject please share them below, we can all benefit from our collective teacher wisdom!

Sincerely Christi

The importance of TPR in ESL learning.

What is T.P.R?

A long time ago someone once told me that the key to getting reluctant kids involved in class is to let them “move and prove” themselves. I didn’t really understand how those two words could come to make a reluctant child participate in a class if he didn’t want to be there, and especially with such emotional time bombs as kindergartners.

Today i am going to talk about the first part of that little snippet of advice and talk about Total Physical Response, also known as T.P.R (the “move” in our move and prove)

Teaching ESL in the chinese classroom
Teaching ESL in the Chinese classroom

 

When you are dealing with little kids, especially in the age group of 2-7 you can coerce involvement by allowing them to involve themselves with their learning on a physical level. This will allow them to make a connection with an action and a word.

For example, if you wanted the children to learn the words big, small, long and short you can show them relevant flashcards, sure, but by involving their little bodies with actions they are more likely to remember this vocabulary.

This technique is especially useful for non English speaking parents as it can be a visual cue for them to help their children at home to review the words.

How do I do it?

You can use your body and facial expressions to teach children very effectively in an E.S.L environment. Even though you may feel uncomfortable at first performing actions in front of parents, when weighed against the outcomes of the lessons, embarrassing yourself a little to get a great vocabulary retention rate is a no-brainer.

Besides, parents will see the effort you are willing to put in to get their kids to learn the words and praise your efforts in teaching their children. Of course this is also applicable in a non parents and students environment and works well in an all student class too.

Let me give you an example for what i mean by T.P.R.

If I was going to teach the words big and small I would begin by stretching my arms out theatrically and spreading my legs wide, showing a big stature. For the word small I would jump down into a crouch while holding my hands like I was cupping a ping pong ball in them.

This gives A clear juxtaposition between the two and is imperative, you can then get the children to guess the meaning of these two actions.

After a basic demonstration and eliciting the meaning from the children I would then get them to stand up and do it together ( in a circle or cleared space) then I would pair them off to do it in front of the class, then we could have a fast action competition. Perhaps after that, depending on their English level or age( not necessarily in correlation) I would play opposites, i.e I say big, you do the action for small, and vice versa.

T.P.R has many and Varied applications.

You an use T.P.R in many different circumstances for a lot of different words. Think how would you do the actions for plate or spoon compared to Train and bike. Having an imagination for actions can take some time, but you will find that no matter the first language of your students, actions are almost universally understood.

Including action and T.P.R in your curriculum doesn’t need to be hard, you can use it for most nouns, verbs and sentences.

Another example of using it in a sentence for older kids is shown in “the chicken and rice song” the grammar point is “would you like some chicken and rice”  “yes i do/ no i don’t.”

After introducing the word “would” and “some” (more examples of how to use examples to teach “some” and “any” coming later) we can build on old vocabulary to make an interesting T.P.R game.

In this example we have two teams facing each other from across the room. One team starts off the song with actions sung to the tune roughly of the chorus of “yellow submarine” we will learn the sentence ” would you like some chicken and rice” of course you can substitute it for any foods that have a T.P.R action. and follow with the answer “yes, i do/No, i don’t.”

*sing* “would(hands palms up in front) you (point) like(hands form a heart shape over heart) some chicken(flap your arms) and rice( like eating from a bowl,) chicken and rice, chicken and rice”

at this time the other team is standing still with arms folded rap battle style, when the first team is finished the second team says “no i don’t” with their arms crossed over their head.

Then its the second teams turn to ask the first team who answer with “yes i do.”

You can change out the foods to whatever it is that you have learned for example; beef and potatoes or milk and cookies. After one round you can either write what the next foods will be on the board or get the kids to brainstorm in their group what the next food is going to be. If you can make the other team laugh, bonus points!

Trust me after singing this song the kids will never forget how to ask someone if they would like something!

Have you had any funny T.P.R experiences in your classroom or at home? Let me know in the comments below.

From Christi.

How I SAVED 20k in 18 months.

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If you have been following along with my story you know I live and work in China. I have been working here for six years and I can safely say i enjoy it.

However, if there is one thing that most people know about working in China is that in fact you don’t earn much more than what you do back home. However there is something that most people overlook when talking about working in China and I will break these points down into parts to show you how I SAVED over 20k in the space of 18 months, and continue to do so now.

1. The biggest false turn off is Salary.

In China an average Foreign English speaking teacher will earn between 8 and 15 thousand RMB a month (1,194-2,238 USD.) This would be considered a normal or low income back home ( even though i am Australian so its roughly the same.) Alternately  in China that salary is considered to be in the top 1% of high income earners! An average Chinese workers salary in my city is 2000 RMB ($298USD) per month!

2. Housing in China is usually provided.

When you sign a contract with a school or company, you are usually provided with a fully furnished, usually very nice, apartment close to your work place. coupled with your salary, having no rent to pay makes the savings much easier. If its not provided you may be given a housing allowance on top of your base salary.

3. Free time is in abundance if you want to do side projects.

In China if you work for a training school, usually your contract is between 20 and 30 hours a week with most of the work on weekends ( like me) which means I usually have between 3 and 4 DAYS off! I use this time to play with my babies, craft and go sit in coffee shops to blog.

4. The biggest saving factor is the cost of living.

After my initial set up of a slow cooker, toaster oven, rice cooker, internet provider and television service I had no other big purchases to make. I  shop like a local at the fruit and vegie market to save a bit more and get my specialty items, aka cheese, from the supermarket in town.

Overall, My expenditures don’t exceed 2000 a month and that’s with me spending money on entertainment and my coffees weekly. Every week i spend 3-500 yuan worth of groceries and don’t pinch my pennies, I still save money.

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5. With private tutoring I could potentially earn an extra 10k on the side.

I don’t personally do private tutoring anymore since I changed from a weekday job to a weekend one, but when I was working at the university I would take 8 private students spread out over Saturday and Sunday. I would charge them 200 yuan an hour for a saving increase of 6,400RMB a month which equals an extra 1000 USD saved.

6. How much did I spend to get to China in the first place?

To get started I had to find a job that looked attractive. I researched potential schools long before I contacted them. I knew I fulfilled the requirements for a teacher and could basically pick and choose which schools I wanted to work for, however I had heard some horror stories about Chinese bosses I wanted to avoid. I chose a middle ground Salary with a big name training chain school, Aston English. My choice was down to the fact they are more likely to stick to contracts conditions and have a great networking base with other foreigners.

From beginning of communication to when I arrived in China I spent about 1000 Australian dollars. Most of that money was spent on getting the medical certificate filled, the airplane ticket to China ( which is reimbursed) and travel costs between home and Melbourne to get the visa.

All of this was spread out over 4 months as I fulfilled all the painstaking steps to get my visa. After arrival I spent a small amount of cash on setting up my home and to tide me over until first pay.

So If you put this all together you can see how over the space of 18 months I managed to save over 20k, which I used to put a deposit on a house, get it fully furnished, traveled back home once a year and bought my own training school! Just imagine if you had two people working! Your savings would be through the roof!

Are you interested in working in China, or if you want more detailed and clear descriptions of life in China don’t be afraid to leave me a comment!

Love Christi

 

 

 

My Background

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As I mentioned in my previous post I am in the process of opening my own English school here in China. Although I already am a part owner in a school I bought a few years ago, this will be mine from the ground up.

What about the old school?

A few years ago I was a lowly English teacher in China earning a decent wage and with a dream in my heart that one day i would be doing business for myself. I was freshly married to a local Chinese and was in that “knuckle down and hustle” stage. I had a new house, a husband and a three month old baby, and no plan to continue to be a teacher let alone a boss in the near future.

What changed?

My then boss, a young guy from England and his business partner from Canada wanted out of the English school business. They had been through a rough time with the school at that time due to government policy change and weren’t living the dream they wanted to be living.

A few months before the Chinese government declared middle school entrance English exam scores didn’t have to be as high as they once were. That meant children didn’t need tutoring or outside training anymore to get ahead of their peers.

Because of this policy change their school of 500 enrolled kids dropped almost overnight to 250! They lost half of their income in a matter of weeks and I think, some of their spirit too.

So what did they do?

At that time my bosses pulled me aside and asked me if i wanted to take over. They had other plans they wanted to do in Beijing and I was in limbo myself. I wasn’t sure what i wanted to do long term so i agreed to their plan. In 2014 I took over that school as co-manager/ owner with the Chinese manager for a very low price.

So why now a new school?

From that time until now I have used my time , money and energy to get the school back to a better position. My partner and I streamlined our teaching style, added new social media interactions for parents and trained and implemented new teaching practices. We built a brand new school from the rubble of the old school and now its slowly beginning to show profits and development with the ability of soon being able to take care of itself.

So whats the new plan?

well now I have two babies both under 3 and a lot of time on my hands. I want to make something that’s completely my own. Something I can say is mine and not something given to me by others. So I am currently going to do two things, one is this blog and by extension, my crafts which I will sell on Etsy and the other is my new English school in another city.

Though I never personally wanted to open an English school  ( I was thinking more like doing import and export) Teaching English turned out to be something I am pretty good at. So while my husband takes care of managing the school during the week I can have my blog and my crafts too, then on the weekends teach. Sounds like a dream life to me!

Now that I have a new goal within my grasp I feel invigorated!

What about you, do you have something you have been looking forward to for a long time about to come true?