Teacher Nicholas McKay writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated December 19, 2020
By Nicholas McKay

Chinese student oral presentation

Do your Chinese students need help with oral presentations?

Whether you’re teaching English in China, or you’re teaching Chinese students in your country, sooner or later, your students will need to do an oral presentation.

This is especially the case if your students are in middle school or above.

The very idea of doing this can cause some of your Chinese students great distress. After all, Chinese students are, pardon the stereotype, synonymous with shyness.

Regardless of who we are, most of us experience anxiety speaking in front of a group of people, though this is rarely of little comfort to students.

There are many ways, however, that you can help relax your students, and leave them feeling more prepared.

So, here are six ways you can help your Chinese students with oral presentations.

1. Remind them that no one is perfect

Imagine this – you’re writing on the blackboard, and you make a spelling error. One of your students notices, and points it out, for the whole class to hear.

How do you respond?

For a number of teachers I’ve witnessed, they’re quick to save face. “I deliberately misspelled that word to check that you’re paying attention,” they might say.

I however know that spelling is not my biggest strength (yes, I’m an English teacher and a professional editor, and still fumble my letters).

With this in mind, I’m quick to admit my mistakes.

This is relevant to what I want to discuss, because honesty is very important for capturing the attention of your learners.

A mistake on the blackboard

Even teachers make mistakes.

I have told my students that I too experience anxiety when speaking in front of a class. I’m not brave all the time. Students appreciate it when their teachers are human, and admit that they too make mistakes.

(Melbourne University has some good tips and ideas for managing stress for oral presentations.)

As an example, I have a speech impediment. Sometimes when I speak, I stutter. It rarely happens, but my students have noticed.

One lesson, after a couple of students laughed, I admitted it, and explained my stutter to them. They were so eager to know more about me, they were hanging on my every word.

2. Demonstrate and ask them to assess you

Students’ interest in you can be capitalized on in another way.

When my students are expected to complete an oral presentation, I will often do one for them.

If students are expected to stand in front of the class for five minutes, speak about a topic, and use evidence to back up their speech, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Not only this, I ask students to assess my performance, marking me on the same criteria that I will be looking for in their speeches.

Occasionally, I deliberately insert a few errors. But as I said previously, I’m not the greatest public speaker, so I know for a fact my performance will not be flawless.

In doing this, I’m making myself vulnerable, as vulnerable as they will later be.

Chinese university students

Ask your students to assess your oral presentation.

I ask students to not only assess me on paper, but later call on them to share their responses. I’ll ask them:

  • What did I do well?
  • What areas do I need to improve on?

Some teachers may not like putting themselves into the crosshairs of their learners, and opening themselves up to criticism.

I don’t think for a second this will cause the respect students have for you to diminish. If anything, I imagine they will respect you more. Not only are you modelling the task for them, you are showing your honest, true self.

3. Use YouTube for good and bad examples

For teachers who might be a little shy at the idea of presenting in front of a class, or who want to give their learners additional examples, YouTube is filled with people giving presentations.

(Remember to download a VPN app before you head to China for access to sites like YouTube.)

There are even videos on the do’s and don’ts of giving a presentation, like the one below.

It can be an idea to pick a video where the presenter has given a shockingly awful presentation, and another where the speaker has been really amazing.

Using the same analytical sheet learners will be assessed on, students use this to assess the performance of those they observe in the video.

Students then have a discussion on what the presenter did well, and what the student could improve on.

Some questions to get those discussion juices flowing could be:

  • Did the speaker have a clear opening/conclusion?
  • Was the speaker understandable. Why/why not?
  • Did the speaker engage the audience? If so, how?
  • Did the speaker make their presentation entertaining?

4. Use cut and paste

As briefly mentioned above, educating students on the do’s and don’ts can be key to their success.

There are two ways to get students thinking about what makes a speech successful, and what should be best avoided.

The first would be to write a series of strategies on the board, and ask students whether they think they are things speakers should do, or not do.

The second, involves collating these techniques into a document, and asking students to cut them out, and paste them into their books, under specific sub-headings.

An example of what terms could be included is demonstrated below:

Talk too quickly

Be punctual

Practice your presentation

Be interesting

Use emphasis

Have 3 points per slide

Have cue cards

Think about your audience

Be engaging

Use a monotone

Move around

Apologise for mistakes

Stand up straight

Have lots of animations


Use visuals

Ask questions

Keep to the time limit

Introduce yourself

Research your topic

Avoid smiling

Use font size 28+

Use signposts

Never proofread

Keep things simple

Begin with weakest points

Greet your audience


5. Organize the presentation into smaller components

Giving a demonstration to your learners on what students are expected to produce is one thing. For your visual learners, this may work like a charm, though as I’ve said previously, not everyone learns the same way.

For those many students (and there will be many of them), a graphic organizer might prove to be invaluable.

Simply put, the components of the student’s presentation, from their introduction to their conclusion, are separated into different components.

The organizer offers students a step-by-step guide, with some examples, as to what they’re expected to produce.

As an example, for their introduction, students might need to include:

  • An opening hook, to grab the attention of their audience, maybe with a fun fact
  • Their topic and contention/point of view, where they clearly state what their presentation is about, and the stance they are taking
  • A summary of their arguments.

For some students, the organizer will work like a checklist, and allow them to know they have fulfilled all of the expectations required of them.

6. Write everything on the board

When teaching in China, one of the main pedagogies is rote learning.

Students are given information and they memorize it, reproducing it at the end of the school year.

Sometimes a good method to make sure your Chinese students are aware of what is expected of them, is to write everything on the board.

ESL teacher writing on whiteboard

Chinese students are used to copying information from the board.

You could model an example oral presentation on the board, showing how the introduction, main body and conclusion are developed.

While this may be called ‘spoon feeding’ where you’re from, it’s a technique nonetheless and your Chinese students will be familiar with this kind of instruction.

Anything that works, right?

Oral presentations in ESL classrooms are inevitable

Teaching in China involves getting your Chinese students to use the language, verbally, not just literally.

Regardless how daunting an oral presentation is, you will be required to have your students complete this during the class.

It’s natural for students to be worried, but hopefully some of the ideas mentioned here will help them, and improve the quality of oral presentations in your classroom.

I hope you liked my blog about helping Chinese students with oral presentations. You may also like the one I wrote about embodied pedagogy (no, I haven’t made that term up). Enjoy!

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