Teacher Nicholas McKay writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated March 01, 2022
By Nicholas McKay

Experiencing difficulty with the content is the main reason behind why students act inappropriately.

Fortunately, however, there are some strategies you can use with students experiencing such difficulties. 

These strategies may help you in your role as a teacher in China.

Remove the word ‘no’ from your vocabulary

Imagine this scenario: a student, experiencing difficulty in your class, volunteers an answer. Their answer isn’t the one you’re looking for. What do you say to them?

For some teachers, the first reply that comes to mind is: ‘no’ or ‘you’re wrong’.

This does nothing to motivate your students. In fact, it only withdraws them further from the class, and promotes their misbehavior.

In China in particular, the concept of ‘face’ is a fundamental part of culture and society. So be mindful of this when giving feedback to students.

Try to use positive language. For example, ‘that’s a good try’. Alternatively, you could even use their response to help develop an explanation.

The goal here is to include these students into your lesson. Considering they may feel that they are low achievers, some motivation will help give these students the confidence they need to feel like participating more in the future.

No time like the present

When there are students in your class prone to misbehavior, if you give them even an inch, they will exploit it.

At the start of a lesson, many teachers can often be found writing content on the board, or turning on their computer. During this time, difficult students have an opportunity to act inappropriately. 

To counteract this, before students sit down, make sure a worksheet is awaiting them. This sheet can recap what students learnt in the last session, and prepare them for the new content.

This strategy works on multiple levels. One, it keeps misbehaving students busy. Two, it encourages students to learn, and three, the information will reveal to a teacher if students were paying attention.

Incorporate the hobbies of your students into the curriculum

When teaching in China, you are bound to come across pushy parents. Some Chinese parents force their children into industries they have no interest in.

Whether it’s for the money, or to live vicariously through them, these children have little opportunity to do what they actually like.

You can turn this around by giving students the chance to bring their hobbies into the classroom.

Allow students to practise their speaking skills by completing an oral presentation on the hobbies they love.

Alternatively, based on your knowledge of students, you can create role play scenarios, where students are required to act out conversations that could take place in accordance with their hobbies.

Sometimes the best way to interest your Chinese students in the content, is to hook them with their own passions. As soon as the content is about something relevant to them, you may coax them out of their shells.


Group work

In any classroom, there are adept students, and those who require more help.

Occasionally, you will find students tend to group themselves with others who are on a similar academic level.

What you could do is separate these students. Often, the attitude and ability of more academically gifted students can help motivate the behaviour and work ethic of those experiencing difficulty.

To capitalize on this, merge students into small groups, and have the class work on a set of activities.

Students can either remain seated, and work on activities at their own pace, or you could play musical chairs, and have your class rotate every 20 minutes, from one activity, to another.

Make sure, when moving students into groups, there are an equal number of gifted students, and those who require help.

This will ultimately result in moving students away from their friends. Though some may see this as a punishment at first, this will work to your advantage, as students will be less likely to be distracted.

Also, try to make the groups small, with a maximum of four students per group. Any more than this, and some students may not contribute anything.

In public schools in China, students’ desks are often fixed to the floor or there is little space to spread out. So you may need to get creative and move your groups outside!

Moving desks around and doing work in groups with students of varying abilities is one strategy to help those with academic difficulties.

In public schools across China, desks are often fixed to the ground or there is no room for group work.

Reading to improve vocabulary

As most teaching jobs in China focus on oral English, reading is usually a supplementary activity at best and woven in with speaking practice.

However, it is a fact that reading improves a student’s vocabulary and writing ability.

Allow students, perhaps once every few classes, the opportunity to silently read. Moreover, give students the freedom to bring in their own material.

Alternatively, you could bring in content that will suit particular students. Depending on what learners are interested in, you could bring in reading material which targets their hobbies.

Chinese students love seeing things from other countries, so even a restaurant menu from back home could pique their interest.

To make sure students who experience difficulty are not ‘fake reading’, you can develop a series of questions about the topic you provide for them.


Students who misbehave in class often do so to hide the fact they are having difficulty.

In their mind, to acknowledge their troubles by asking for help would be to invite weakness. By disrupting the lesson however, and causing trouble, they mask their concerns by being rebellious.

This doesn’t mean they are not capable, and only by adopting new strategies, will you be able to help your misbehaving students achieve greatness when teaching in China.

What strategies have you used to help students with academic difficulties? Please share them below.

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