Getting to Know You! 9 Chinese Lesson Plan Ideas That Make Class Personal

Happy Chinese students = happy Chinese teacher.

But how do we keep everyone happy?

After all, no two students are the same.

Well, therein lies the answer. Getting to know your students is a huge part of teaching Chinese!

Knowing and accepting your students for who they are sets the stage for them to feel comfortable asking questions, indicate any need for clarification, and take risks while using their new language.

Luckily, being a Chinese teacher means interacting with students closely every day in class, so we have plenty of opportunities to do this.

Why a Great Lesson Plan Is Essential

Building a classroom culture of mutual respect, safe risk-taking and enjoyment will carry over into happier students—and also a happier teacher. However, none of this can happen without the right lesson plan.

So, how can our lesson planning reflect the importance of relating to our students well?

And how can we get to know our students while staying in Mandarin at least 90% of the time, yet with students comprehending what they hear and read? It sounds like a tall order—but it’s really the perfect job for a structured, well-crafted lesson plan.

You can start by creating a lesson plan with these high-quality templates. They’ll guide you step by step through creating a solid lesson plan for any topic, ranging from beginner to advanced Chinese classes. You can also grab some great, pre-made Chinese lesson plans on these websites made by and for educators.

The following nine activities are interchangeable components for lesson planning that’ll help you get to know your students, express your expectations for the class and even prepare for parent night and parent-teacher conferences—because planning for those is basically like planning for any lesson.

Each of these nine items could be used as part of almost any lesson, though some could easily become one entire lesson or more. You can decide how much time each activity needs based on your own students and their level of Chinese.

Think of these lesson plan ideas like building blocks for a more positive classroom culture. Take what you love from these ideas and start mixing and matching with the rest of the elements in your lesson plans!

Set the Stage: 9 Chinese Lesson Plan Ideas to Get to Know Your Class

How to Learn More About Your Students

1. Circling with Names

This strategy works very well as part of your lesson plan for the first day of class.

Instead of jumping into reading a syllabus or grading policies, first reach out to your students—using Chinese that they can understand.

The first days of school are a critical time! You and the students will just be getting to know each other. Getting the year off to a good start sets you up for the whole year. If you teach on a semester system, the beginning of a new semester with total beginners is a good time to use this, too.

Circling with Names is based on Circling with Balls by Ben Slavic. Circling refers to asking a lot of varied questions, and the balls are sports balls for football, tennis or whatever your students play. Ben, a French teacher, uses this classroom idea to remember the names of his students along with the sports they let him know they like. This is his way to both establish classroom expectations and to get to know the names of his students, and now it can be your way as well.

Because Chinese requires a careful touch with how much new language we introduce at once, I found that using sports and activities alone quickly lost my students. It was too much at once. However, asking and talking about their names is just enough new language for the right amount of pleasant challenge, as long as I speak carefully and stay aware of my students’ reactions. If they look lost, I slow down, repeat or pause and point at my chart of words that we need for this activity.

Here are the words I write on the board in pinyin, with English meaning next to the pinyin:

wǒ = I, me                     shì = is, am, are

nǐ = you                         bú shì = is not/am not/are not

tā = he, she

I only show pinyin at this point, but we’ll read characters for these words later in the week. If your students want to move faster, you can always introduce the characters in the same day.

I also include my Chinese name and title on the board on day one, so that students immediately know how to refer to me in Chinese. In my case, that’s Dù Lǎoshī. I also refer to some question words that are on posters on the classroom wall all the time.

Typically, as I talk with the students, I need the question words:

  • ma? = a yes/no question
  • shéi? = who?
  • hái shì… = … or…?

I tell the students that we’re going to have a conversation, so there’s no need to repeat what I say; that would be an awkward conversation. Instead, they need to listen and respond in some way.

If they hear a statement, they should be encouraged to respond with a fascinated “o!” (Chinese style “oh!”). If they hear a question, they should respond with a head nod, head shake or a one-word answer. Over time, their responses will grow in length and complexity, but as simple as possible is a good place to begin.

I begin then by pausing and pointing to the board as I slowly say the sentence “我是杜老师” (wŏ shì dù lăo shī – I am Mrs. Neubauer). I pause to allow them to “o!” that fascinating statement.

Then I ask them, “我是杜老师吗?” (wŏ shì dù lăo shī ma – Am I Mrs. Neubauer?) and wait for a reply. When I see some head nods, I give them a thumbs up and a big smile, and sometimes a high five.

I walk around the room of students, introducing myself and saying 你好 (nĭ hăo – hello) again. I ask students questions about their names and ask all the classmates about the other students as well. I slowly add more words and return to the board to pause and point again at the words as I say them.

I also restate what the students reveal. So, when a girl tells me her name is Bella, I say “哦,她是 Bella!” (o, tā shì Bella! – Oh, she is Bella!). Occasionally, I’ll ask for students to tell me what a sentence or a question means to make sure no one is lost. I also throw in a few statements that students can catch and correct, or imagine and play with during class. I’ll confuse students’ names with each other, or ask them if they’re famous people. I also mix in my name from time to time.

Circling with names is a lot of fun, and puts a smile on students’ faces. It’s been a great building block as I set the stage for my year with the students. This could easily occupy an entire first day of class, and can be brought into the mix anytime a refresher is needed.

2. Favorite Things

What about students who have more language already, and who may be returning to you as their teacher?

Favorite Things is a little bit like Circling with Balls, but it would be useful any time you want to ask students about their hobbies, favorite sports or pets. You could begin the year with it, or use it any time as a way to find out more about your students.

Instead of asking the students’ names, the teacher asks questions about their favorite things to do, basing the specific questions on students’ comprehension. Perhaps:

“你最喜欢做什么?” (nĭ zuì xĭ huān zuò shén me – What do you most like to do?)

Or more simply:

“你喜欢做什么?” (nĭ xĭ huān zuò shén me – What do you like to do?)

Since students have more language ability, you may ask more complex questions, like where and with whom they do that activity. Keep interest among all students by comparing to others in the class and asking them if they also do that activity. Poll them: How many play football? How many watch football?

An alternative would be to ask students about their pets. Ask about what types of pets they have, their names, what they like to eat and so on. It’s also perfectly acceptable for students to make up their answers. If they don’t have a favorite hobby or a pet, imagining what they do or what pet they have can be a very interesting way to talk with the class.

3. Two Truths and a Lie

Two Truths and a Lie is sometimes played as an icebreaker to get to know others in a group. It seems to work better as a lower-intermediate and up strategy in Chinese classrooms, so that students have somewhat more language that you can work with.

This strategy works any time, but it works especially nicely after a longer vacation. It can be a more creative approach to sharing what happened over summer break. A warning, though: This activity could draw out some uncomfortable comparisons between students who had a lot of exciting travel experiences and those who did not.

One way to avoid that is to limit the categories of activities to those which don’t draw out economic differences in the class. For example, ask them to use statements about things they saw, played or ate.

Students write statements on a notecard. Two statements should be true and one should be false. Ask students to write statements that they feel they’re able to say in Chinese already. The students may write in Chinese as much as they can. The teacher collects their notecards, and as needed, the teacher will fill in any missing words or rephrase the statements to make the language sound correct.

To begin, the teacher says which student’s card is being described. Read slowly so that students can think about the meaning of each statement.

If a new word or two is needed for the student’s statements that can’t be avoided, write those words on the board in pinyin and English or gesture the meaning—but being sure that students can understand. Repeat all the statements before asking the class to vote on whether each statement is true or false. After voting, ask the student who shared the statements which one really was false.

You can use that revealed information as another way to discuss the statements again, providing more comprehensible input for the class. For example, you could follow up in Chinese with thoughts and questions, such as, “Oh! We thought that you really did work at Taco Bell. But you didn’t, you worked at a veterinary clinic! Did you like working at the vet? What animals did you see at the vet clinic? Did the animals like being at the vet?” Questions work best when they build on what students have shared, and stay within the limits of the class’s comprehension.

How to Set the Tone That Students Experience in Your Classroom

4. Making the Most of Music

As students enter the room, try playing Chinese music that you know previous students have enjoyed. Music often provides a mental break from other classes. How often do our pre-teen and teenage students listen to music in their spare time?

Providing Chinese music may interest them enough that they look up the singers on iTunes or YouTube. You might also write the name of the song and singer on the board so they can look for the song outside of class. You can also find Chinese music with corresponding on-screen lyrics on Chinese learning programs like FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

It has been really delightful to see that students have downloaded your songs onto their phones! Of course, if you pick a song that matches your students’ comprehension level, you can use the song later as part of instruction. Playing a song can also be a brain break in the midst of other parts of your lesson plan.

5. Giving Greetings

When I began to teach years ago, I read the well-known book for new teachers, “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong and Rosemary Wong. The authors suggest greeting students at the door of the classroom, smiling, and acknowledging each of them, and perhaps shaking each student’s hand or doing a fist bump. It also establishes that you’re in charge, but in a friendly way. You simultaneously show interest in each student and let them know in a subtle way who’s in charge in your classroom.

For similar reasons, I like to give students high fives when they contribute positively to class, especially during their first week of their first Chinese class. I’m letting everyone in the room know how great I think it is to have that student’s contribution, and I’m leading with an example of the positive tone I want to foster in my classes.

6. Switching Up Seating

How your chairs and desks or tables are arranged, and how students find a place to sit, is another way to set the stage for what you want to accomplish in your Chinese classroom. You may decide not to use desks at all, favoring the way that a deskless classroom encourages a less school-like atmosphere and allows for easier transitions to games or TPR.

You can also use getting a seat as part of a lesson plan. A former colleague of mine used to re-seat students daily by using information such as their birthday, their home address number, their height and their favorite numbers. In that way, students had a new seat daily, so that they were less likely to sit with friends that might distract them. Yet, she only needed an idea of a way to sort the students by numbers related to their lives or other factors.

Of course, if you have students with accommodations including a specific seating location, make sure to allow those students the kind of seat that they need.

7. Classroom Expectations

In the United States, the largest organization of language teachers, ACTFL, encourages 90% or more use of the target language in class. Giving clear expectations helps students engage in that kind of environment.

Introducing your class expectations once at the beginning of the year isn’t, however, enough. My own classroom expectations are posted on the wall, and they’re phrased briefly to make it easy to point to one as reminders are needed.

I let students know that I’m asking them to listen, look (for example, look where the reading is as we read), support the flow of Chinese, signal when they need me to clarify and keep a positive attitude. That positive attitude means no teasing classmates who misspeak, and also having a positive attitude about their own progress and the class itself.

Being consistent, firm and kind when student disruptions happen in the first few weeks of school helps to set up a whole year of better learning. Classroom management can be a challenging part about any kind of teaching, but it seems to me that language teachers, with our premium on use of language and comprehending a new one, have extra challenges.

How to Do “Lesson Planning” for Parent Night and Beyond

8. What Parents Want to Know Most

After teaching for a few years, I realized that while my grading policies and specific activities and assessments fascinated me, most parents had different issues at the forefront of their minds.

  • Will my child succeed?

Explain in brief the ways in which you keep track of students’ comprehension and their progress. Throughout class, how do you notice how well your students are doing? If they’re reading something, are you available to help as needed? Understanding expected outcomes from the course also helps parents realize their children’s successes.

  • Will my child enjoy class?

Share some of the ways that you respond to your students and provide an enjoyable class environment. We don’t have to do only what students often ask for, like playing games in class, but we can show how we offer students choices, listen to their input and make the class relevant to them.

Having a brief, clear “elevator speech” about your teaching approach can also help parents (and students!) understand what to expect from your class. Do you have a clear set of principles for why and how you teach Chinese? Can you communicate those in a way that parents without language teacher training can grasp quickly? Two or three sentences is plenty.

  • Do you know my child?

Let parents know when their children have done something well, have reached a new milestone or have added something special to the class dynamic that day. Not only will you make parents happy and proud, you may also foster goodwill with your students.

9. Having an “Elevator Speech” about Chinese

An “elevator speech” is a brief, clear explanation of a concept or a position—the kind of explanation you might give if the only amount of time available was the length of an elevator ride. Considerate it part of good lesson planning to develop a quick way to describe the language we teach.

Being able to communicate clearly and quickly about Chinese language can help parents (and students) understand that while there are challenges to acquiring any language in a classroom setting, some of their possible fears are absent. Chinese has no conjugation, tenses, pronoun changes, cases, subject-verb agreement and other tricky facets of languages with which they may have personal experience.

Actually, research suggests that no language is more difficult than another. Children in any native language environment acquire their native language at about the same rate. Chinese, is, however, very different from English, and that can cause parents concern. So, it can be helpful to allay fears based on classroom instruction that parents have experienced, or languages with difficulties they fear perhaps Chinese has, too.


Those are nine components of lesson planning that’ll help you set the stage for a successful time with your students.

Get started mixing and matching, and get to know all your students better than ever!

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