Stacy Dahl university teacher in China

Updated October 12, 2019
By Stacy Dahl

How to prepare for your first week of classes at a Chinese university

Nothing is more daunting than your first week of teaching at a university, especially in a country whose language isn’t your native tongue.

From my personal experience, I had to do a lot of navigating and discovering on my own.

My hope is that by the end of this article, you will feel ready to teach at a Chinese university and go into the experience with more confidence than fear.

So here’s how to prepare for your first week of classes at a Chinese university.

1. Get your schedule

Before you begin teaching in China, you will be contacted by your school secretary or support person.

It’s important that you ask to receive your schedule as soon as possible. This gives you enough time to prepare your lessons beforehand.

During my first week of classes, all of my Tuesday classes were moved to Monday.

Unfortunately, this information was not relayed to me which resulted in me missing my first day of classes.

A day or two before classes begin, contact the person responsible for making your schedule to ensure that everything is still the same.

2. Find your classes

It’s never a bad idea to walk around the university campus to get an idea of what buildings and classrooms you will teach in, especially if your campus is big.

I currently teach classes at two different campuses, so I chose to explore both the week before classes began.

Stacy Dahl English teacher at a Chinese university

Explore your school campus before classes begin, says teacher Stacy Dahl.

You can also ask the school secretary or a different foreign teacher to give you a tour if they have time.

3. Plan your lessons

You’ll most likely be given a textbook to help you plan lessons in China. For example, I teach Business English III and have a textbook with the same name.

Since I only find some of the content useful, I pick and choose which parts I will incorporate into my lesson.

My classes are two 45-minute blocks with a 5-minute break in the middle.

The different tools I use are PowerPoint, videos, handouts, and various activities.

Prepare for your first week of classes at a Chinese university with activities

Planning your lessons with student activities is a good way to prepare for your first week.

For the smaller classes, I find it more suitable to use chalk and chalkboard.

For larger classes of 20+ students, I use PowerPoint since students may have more difficulty seeing and hearing from the back of the room. Chinese classrooms can be big!

You always want to make sure that you over-plan rather than under-plan. Universities don’t want you to end classes early, so keep this in mind.

4. Prepare killer icebreakers

After your first day of classes, you will immediately learn that students at a Chinese university are far shyer than students from Western universities.

Getting students to speak can be like pulling teeth sometimes.


A way to help students feel comfortable is by preparing a fun and interactive icebreaker at the beginning of each class.

The icebreakers that have worked for me are Bingo, Two Truths and a Lie, and Charades.

A game you can play at a Chinese university is bingo

Bingo is a great icebreaker in your first week of classes at a Chinese university.

5. Set your expectations

It’s important that you make your expectations clear during the first class.

On day one, I make it clear that students are not to use cellphones or eat in class.

Also, I expect them to speak English so that they can get as much practice as possible.

I also included a breakdown of their grade as follows:

  • 40% daily grade
  • 10% homework
  • 20% midterm exam
  • 30% final exam.

The daily grade includes classroom discussions, presentations and attendance. Of course the percentage breakdown is completely up to you and can be tweaked to your liking.

6. Get to know your students

As I mentioned earlier, the students at Chinese universities are far different than students at Western universities.

In Western classrooms, students are encouraged to speak up and express their opinions.

In Chinese classrooms, however, students are accustomed to having the teacher lecture for long periods of time.


Since the goal of an English university teacher is to help students with public speaking, this can be challenging.

During my first week of classes, I found that Chinese university students were extremely shy.

Whenever I would look around for a student to call on, all the students would lower their heads to avoid eye contact.

Male Chinese university students

Some of the best preparation is to get to know your students.

The best way to approach this is to not put students in situations where they feel scared or uncomfortable.

Instead, try activities where students can work in small groups with each other.

Give the students a few weeks with you and eventually they will feel more comfortable with expressing their opinions.

7. Reach out for help

The last piece of advice I can give is to not be afraid to ask for help during your first week.

Whether it’s the school secretary, other teachers, or even a student, don’t feel like it is wrong to ask questions.

For example, during my first week I had difficulty turning the computer in the classroom on since everything was in Chinese (trust me – it was more complicated than it sounds!).

After several failed attempts, I asked a student to help me with this. We are all humans who need helping hands until we feel comfortable doing things on our own.

I hope that this article has given you a bit of insight into what your first week of teaching at a Chinese university may be like.

If you’re looking for more information on how to adapt to China during the first week, check out this helpful article.

Teaching at a Chinese university is a unique opportunity, so don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside your comfort zone.

Most importantly, remember to have fun with it.

Do you have any advice when it comes to preparing for your first week of classes at a Chinese university?


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