Teaching high school with no english

Hello everybody,

I have a quick post for anybody who has had experience teaching at a high school where the students have very little communication ability and very little understanding of any English in general, or for anybody who has any insight.
I didn’t know what I was teaching until after I signed the contract so that is why I’m asking for help as I don’t want to stop working for the school or anything else, that is the reason I didn’t know until now, my co-workers have some limited English but explanations are often hit with a wall of translation that often times ends up leaving me confused or finding out new information of what I am to do the day before what needs to be done, or something of that mirage.

I sincerely hope for help and thank you all for any input you could give me. Worst case scenario is trying to approach the principal and saying wtf? (its a private school and not a buxiban).


Don’t really understand what the question you want answered is. Could you clarify?

Allow me to translate.

“I’m teaching high school kids. They just stare at me. I’m suffering. I’m really suffering. It’s hell. They are mindless autonobots. I didn’t know it would be this bad, but I’ve gone through hell getting my ARC and I’m locked into this thing. I’ve signed the contract and have heard countless horror stories of trying to break contracts. The horrible boss and bitter local staff don’t care. They don’t really like foreigners and aren’t helping me in anyway. HELP! HELP!”

Well the part of that post that has some correct parts are that I’m doing a few highschool classes but their English is very low and I’m looking for help on how to teach them and make it easier for me and them as there is a big language barrier. I don’t have a local teacher as a helper as the material is… More open and doesn’t matter what I teach them as long as it’s listening and conversation.
I’m not looking to bail as my ARC has nothing to do with the school and isn’t from them, I also trying to get help from the staff but their translations and help can only do so much as they teach and do things the Taiwan way. I don’t know how else to clarify but I will try if you still need to, I’m kind of panicking what to do or how to approach it and the contract never really specified how many classes or anything before it was all just rough estimate. Again I don’t want to just bail.

Thanks for any helpful input.

Well since you have replied in a mature and graceful manner (the exact opposite of my reply), I’ll share something that might help.

Walk into that class with confidence, don’t hesitate, speak loud, don’t speak too much (big balls is the key). You must use lots of repetition, practice and reinforcement, get them into pairs every 10 minutes, standing up every ten minutes even if it’s just to shout out an answer. Use the board. They will not answer you if you ask them to answer you, you must pick people and force them to answer you. Make your lessons very simple, 2 hours can all be about ten new words. Just break it up every 5-10 minutes. Make each kid read a few lines, lots of two teams at the board, and so on. Keep your stories or instructions very very simple, act, use your body, keep it very childish, but be the master of your domain at the same time, kick out any student who interrupts you, talks over you, or turns around, tell them about 7 11, your gf, how you love stinky dofu, but not really, haha, well maybe, keep them guessing :slight_smile:

Haha some very useful information there, I tried playing some games, ice breakers, talking about my self and discussing what materials will be presented over the next few weeks. Each class in 50 minutes (short) with 40-50 students per class. I have vocational and senior highschool. They are grade 10 so the huge shyness level is there as I tried multiple approaches just in the intro, and got them to write some stuff down and made some funny stories but to no avail would anybody crack!!!

The hardest part I feel will be breaking the shyness and to start, I may have to try group work more often but some of the students sit there trying to listen but I feel they just don’t get ANYTHING other than hi how are you? And then it takes time to register still. Arghhhhhhhhhhhh

Thanks again very much, I feel this an unbeatable situation but I guess it will just take more embarrassment from me and trying to get the students to lighten up

I really like this school and a lot of students like me and try to talk to me in the hallways ( the jr high kids excel at English)

40-50 high school students, 50 min, one of the toughest, if not the toughest classes out there.

First, get control, stand in middle, look at them with serious expression, sort out the rebels with their backs turned to you, the ones talking, etc. Take control. You must have full control or you’re screwed, they’ll tear you to pieces.

Just do 2-3 sentence patterns and 7-10 vocab words for that 50 minutes and that’s it! No stories, no trying to get them to “express” themselves, none of that

Go online and find the 5 best 5-10 minute pair-up, or whole class 2 team activity/game. USE THE BOARD, use 2, 3, 4 different color markers and only write one or two key words on board or the sentence pattern. Make them repeat something while you are writing on the board for 30 seconds. No dead time.

You don’t know how much these posts are helping me already, I really like the idea of using a chalkboard… As far as control goes I am the first and only foreign teacher in the school, I am the first teacher to EVER be there as a foreign teacher as they are all use to ONLY local teachers. It’s a mission that the school and area is doing to update and become “more like big brother Taipei”.
The students don’t move or breathe let alone talk or be disruptive, some students simply don’t want to participate but given that there is 45ish students I feel 3 students out of 50 not participating is fine as they probably have some sort of real life problems going on and it just isn’t English they don’t want to do. Another positive is most of the students there seem to want to learn or at least try which is a HUGE benefit for me, but just the lack of clarity on WHAT the school wants me to do and how to perform it is another question as I will have on going clarity for them to explain -.-

I think I will also try to use some videos speaking English with Chinese subtitles then maybe talk about it with the class and HOPE TO GOD eventually I can smash some shyness!!!

ahhh I see, you have the 40 shy, quiet Grade 10 students. So it’s not a problem of control so much, but more about getting the shy, tired, overloaded, expressionless, boring AND bored students to perk up and feel the energy. Keep working at it, it will get better. Try some of the tips mentioned and just keep it light, simple, structured and end with 5 minutes of silliness, goofing off, that’s all you can really do in 50 min.

Let us know how it goes

Thanks a lot, I’ll keep you posted and anybody else reading from the shadows on how it works out in a couple weeks along with the other different classes and compare.

Hello again all,

For anybody else reading this as I noticed there has been some views. I’d like to express everything I have encountered and detail how my situation is unique… Or atleast I think it is compared to most of the stories I have read on here, well…

Firstly I would like to say that the situation is still a tad confusing but I have total control over grade 10 in a way that I create any materials and grading ( that doesn’t include the other 500 responsibilities they have without my class) so I’m still trying to create an effective strategy and lessons for these guys as ‘what did you do today’ is considered advanced English for over half the class.

Second I am in a small town in central Taiwan so I would like to talk about how the staff have been ‘real’ with me and not ‘Taiwan charades’ as many people depict the fake ‘niceness’ to be. I can absolutely assure you some of them go out of there way to help me with stuff and try to explain things to be by dancing and using google translate. ALSO I can count for the people who are only nice on the outside, but I have not encountered anything different in North America, people are generally the same but when you are in Taiwan it’s like if one of them went to Canada, put that into a proper perspective first off. You will be nice to the foreigner but if they eat one of your moon cakes and do a puking sound maybe that is slightly disrespectful or to say you don’t think burning ghost money is a smart idea. Unfortunately this is common sense and I see lots of people seem to lack that!

Third is my school, everyone says so many things about their school as I feel that I should too… How is my schedule? I have 20-22 classes a week but only teach myself in 10 of them and 5 I have to prepare materials, the other 10 I don’t teach I am just an assistant in helping students learn English in a more ‘learning approach’ rather than just recite and remember. Also I work with a lot of great staff but some are ridiculous as they will still hit kids with stuff, but it’s rare and only a particular few teachers. But that is the culture that comes from its big enemy to the north that is so ingrained in the culture as overworking and over studying is as well, the least I can do is to make my classes more North American and allow the students some breathing room.

Finally I tried doing some games but they are very difficult as they are NOT children, I’m talking about highschool 15-17 year olds so they don’t want to sing and dance (some may as they are drama queens) but mostly they want to laugh and talk with a very low level in English. So I try to use my awful Chinese to help and bring humor along with making them feel I am not a god and to not be shy when trying to talk to me… So far so good.

TL:DR, situation is getting better, lessons and how to teach this level is bizzare, none the less the students are still interested and I’m trying my best on troubleshooting and helping them with what they want to learn and their future, also any input would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all for reading and hoping me well as I hope you all well in this country and for the weather to go down a little more!!! Best wishes and take care!



They havn’t explained what they want you to do. This is a GOOD THING

If they HAD explained what they want you to do, it would probably be something REALLY STUPID that you would have to ignore anyway. This way there’s no constraint and no comebacks.

They probably don’t care how you fill the 50 minutes as long as there’s no complaints. What you have to do is pass the time with the minimum of unpleasantness.

Sounds cynical, and it is, but actually its also not a bad general principle for getting the job done.

I taught at a middle school last year before in a similar situation. A lot of the advise here is actually pretty good. I would say have them do more writing than speaking. Or if you want them to speak, put them in groups. Or have them write something down first and then say it.

A good example of this was a lesson I did on describing people. At first we went over the vocabulary and dialogue patterns with a PowerPoint I made myself. I used images to demonstrate obvious things and Chinese for more abstract concepts. Also having kids with better English translate can be very helpful. I had a bunch of different coteachers and they would deliver the instructions in Chinese, so try to find at least one kid in each class you have that could do this role for you since you said you don’t have any co-teachers. After we did that, I showed them a picture of a celebrity and had the kids make sentences about that person using the vocabulary and dialogue they just learned. In order to incentivize them to speak, I told them that after this, they would get to describe characters from One Piece and that if their group made a sentence first, they would get their first choice and so on for all 6 groups. After that, they each got to take one colored and laminated picture of the character of their choice from the board. It was then their job to describe the character using 3 different sentence patterns we learned, making 5 different sentences. Each kid had to write at least one thing, 5 students in each group. They could get help from other students in their group if they really needed it, but they had to do the actual writing themselves. After that, they came to the front of the class as a group and held up the picture of their character and read aloud the sentences they had just written. They also had a few minutes to practice their sentences before coming up. This lesson worked well because it had the students in groups and they got to write something down before speaking and had time to practice. You might as well become a dentist and start pulling their teeth out if you want to get them to speak spontaneously.

Some very good posts guys, I really like the opinion about “fill the 50 minutes with no matter what” which is true and I’ve come to understand that is what’s expected but teaching some minimalistic things, so I’ve tried teaching sentence structures and question sentences you could use if you traveled “What/where/why/when/who” and also teaching them the difficulty they will have when learning English as its not their first language. I know why they make the same grammatical or speaking errors because I know some language rules in Chinese so it helps me help them!

Fingers crossed and hope you all have a great “teacher’s day” if you have it off Monday! yay 3 day weekend with pay :smiley: Best wishes to you all, take care!


You’re welcome :slight_smile:


You’re welcome :slight_smile:[/quote]

OMG Thank you so much, I believe this is to be one, if not the only holy grail to ESL high school that has a very in depth website containing materials, activities, plans, etc… Wow, again thank you so much!

Best wishes to you all and hope you are all safe from the typhoon and better luck!