A typical classroom set-up in China

It’s time to have a look at a typical class in China. So, what exactly does this involve? Well, with the power of the internet and off-the-scale technology of the 21st century, a boring classroom setting suddenly becomes whatever your imagination makes it to be!

In-school resources

A lot of schools in China now provide interactive white boards in their classrooms. This opens up so many doors for activities with the kids – at the board games, puzzles, writing practise and attention-grabbing design that will keep the kids interested.
In some schools you will be even be lucky enough to incorporate the use of a Wii in your lessons!

Of course no good school is set without a cupboard designated to a big supply of materials. In China, it’s all about taking raw materials and turning them into something fun, bright and interactive! In cases where the curriculum is already set up – a common thing in China! – use your imagination and create crafts, homework and games to best match the day’s lessons. Flash cards are popular and a great way to add definition to a new word and/or concept!

It’s easy to forget that fellow colleagues can also be used as a resource. No doubt when you start work at a school you’ll be surrounded by years of experience – so use them! Ask for hints, advice and ideas for lesson plans, crafts etc. Speaking with fellow teachers is also a great way to better understand things like teacher and student talk, applicable TPR (Total Physical Response) and classroom management skills.

Young learners choose their favourite things; “It’s my favourite”


Useful websites

In order to expand your teaching abilities, it is always useful to use outside resources. Here is a short list of useful sites that provide teaching resources, craft ideas and even decoration print out:

  1. Sparkle Box – Resources for early years and primary teachers
  2. Teachers Network – Lesson plans and activities for different subjects
  3. PBS Teachers – A great website that helps teachers grow professionally
  4. Early Childhood teacher – A wonderful resource for many other sites on the net.
  5. Boggles World ESL – Flashcards, phonics, worksheets, lesson plans – it has it all!

There are thousands out there so you’ll never be stuck for ideas!



In many instances, your school in China will have their own books designed for the students. These books match the curriculum and the level at which the student is currently at. It may be down to you to either you or the Chinese teacher to go through the book(s) with the children, depending on your school or centre.


Kids sort light/dark colours in to the correct boxes on the interactive white board



As long as you follow the set curriculum i.e ensure content words/sentences are being taught, then you have so much freedom to make the lesson your own. Of course you won’t be left to fend for yourself; ideas and a basic requirement is laid out for new teachers, but overtime you’ll become comfortable with expanding and trying new things. It really is a trial and error situation – get to know your kids and change, add and take-away new things to your lessons that you think will aid in their learning.


As you can see, a lot of what creates a typical classroom set-up in China largely depends on your imagination! Try new things, pull ideas from other teachers and the internet, and create a fun atmosphere that kids will love. China offers so much freedom in respect to teaching, so take advantage of it whilst you’re here teaching English in China.

2 Days in Datong

The city of Datong lies in Shanxi province to the South West of Beijing. It’s easily accessible from the capital by bus and well worth a weekend visit. Below are the top three sights to see if you can only manage a couple of days in the area:


The Hanging Temple

The Hanging Temple
The surrounding mountains

This spectacular mountain construction was built in 491, which makes it over 1400 years old. There is a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism inside the structure, which is seen as unusual in China. It sits at the foot of Mt Hengshan – one of China’s Five Sacred Mountains. So if you have more time, be sure to reach the 2016m summit!

Getting there: Hire a taxi/van from Datong city. A round fare should cost no more than CNY150.
Entry fee: CNY130 which includes walking on the temple.


Huayan Monastery

The gardens of Huayan Monastery
Views from the top of the pagoda

Welcome to the largest and best preserved monastery of the Liao Dynasty in China. What is really worth seeing in this temple is the big pagoda. Firstly head to the basement where you will find the largest bronze Buddha collection in China. Head to the top and you’ll see fantastic views across the Monastery and beyond. Cool fact: this monastery faces East instead of South.

Getting there: From the centre of Datong take no. 15, 4 or 30 bus to get off at Weidudadao Qingyuanjieku Station and then walk toward east for several minutes.
Entry fee: CNY65


Yungang Grottoes

One of the large Buddha on the exterior of the cave system
The interior of the cave system

This is one of the three major cave clusters of China. Construction began in 450 during the Northern Wei Dynasty and is home to over 51,000 stone Buddha statues! Photographs really don’t do the statues justice, and you’ll just have to visit in order to believe the beauty of cave number 16-20 (no photography is permitted inside).

Getting there: Take bus No. 4 at Datong Railway Station and get off at Xin Kai Li. Then transfer to bus No. 3-1 to Yungang Grottoes. Alternatively take a taxi which should cost no more than CNY50 each way.
Entry fee: CNY120


From personal experience I think it is enjoyable to do all three of these sights within two days, without exhausting yourself. I’d recommend at least two hours for each, if not three where possible (especially for the grottoes). What are you waiting for? Head off to Datong when you next get chance!

What does it take to be an ESL teacher in China?

Inevitably there will be questions about a new job, a new destination and a new lifestyle. We thought it would be important then, to put together a blog especially centered around FAQ’s relating to teaching in China. There are a few misconceptions that have a lot of people saying “I can’t go and teach in China because…”, which sadly puts a stop to their life-changing adventure. What a real shame! Don’t let this happen to you; read on to find out what it takes to be an ESL teacher in China. Also, don’t forget to read our other post about why teaching English in China is so wonderful.


Do I need previous teaching experience to work in China?

In almost all cases, no. I came to China with little experience with children, let alone teaching. The important thing is that you like children and are willing to put effort into making the lessons fun and engaging. You’ll also be provided with a 10 days paid ESL training session, once you first arrive in China. This will help adjust you to being an excellent ESL teacher. Most of the kids schools have their headquarters in Beijing and most of the adult schools have their headquarters in Shanghai. So most likely, you’ll either have training in Beijing or Shanghai.  Additionally, there’ll be around 20 other foreign teachers doing the training together with you, and everyone will be staying in the same provided hotel.  This’ll give you a great opportunity to mingle with the other teachers, go sightseeing, dinners, drinks, etc, while doing a paid training.  Afterwards, your transportation from Beijing / Shanghai, will also be provided.

Do I need to speak Chinese?

Again, the answer to this is no. In fact, most schools want to create a strictly English environment during lessons, so even if you can speak some Chinese, DON’T! Of course there will be a Chinese teacher there to help you, so don’t worry when you find yourself staring blankly as a child asks you to go pee-pee in Chinese.

Will I be supplied with teaching resources?

A lot of the schools have a set curriculum they wish for you to follow. This might mean you are given a topic to teach, and it is up to you to design a lesson OR you may well be given complete lessons which are ready to go – you just need to familiarise yourself with the content. Either way you will not be thrown in the deep end, but there is always wiggle room to adapt the lesson to your teaching style. You’ll have all of the resources and materials needed to plan and implement your lessons. I.E. digital white -boards, PPTs, online ESL games, textbooks with audio / video segments, and flashcards.

Can me and my significant other work in the same school?

In a lot of cases this is possible, as employers believe that it can help ease the transition to a new country and its culture. If for any reason it is not possible to work in the same school, there is a high chance that numerous schools or centres will be hiring in the same city. Living in China as an English teaching couple would certainly be a story to tell the grand-kids!

Will there be help at hand once I arrive in China?

Yes, of course! There will be someone to meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel upon arrival. Chinese people are extremely accommodating and helpful, so when you aren’t receiving constant support from your school (and China Link ESL!) you will most certainly receive it from strangers on the street.
During training for your school, you will not only receive teacher-related advice, but also help with living and the settling in process. This includes finding a comfortable apartment that meets your requirements, locating the necessities (supermarket, bar etc) and an introduction to the many other like-minded foreign teachers in your area.


Forget all your worries, teaching is meant to be fun!

Still got a burning question about teaching English in China? Drop us a comment below – we’d be happy to help!



Train travel in China

During my time in China it has become evident that a lot of people put off seeing more of the country, because train travel worries them. Which is understandable! Train stations are big, crowded and most of the time don’t translate information into English. On the flip side, trains are affordable, fun and reliable. Especially if you are living in a big city such as Beijing or Shanghai, you can access pretty much every corner of China by train.

Make new friends over a game of Uno!

Buying and collecting tickets

As we all know, China has a huge population. So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock to hear that tickets sell out, and fast. Be aware that most train tickets go on sale 60 days in advance, so be prepared. It does mean that forward-planning is essential, but it is worth it to grab that soft bed over a standing ticket.
There is an English app called Ctrip – connect your bank card and away you go! Once booked, they will send you a collection number which can be used at the station. Just show this number along with the passport you used to book and hey presto.
DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT: in some cases they may still let you on the train, but it is not worth the risk.

A typical 6 berth hard sleeper
A typical hard seater – always something interesting to see

Which ticket to choose

Generally it looks like this;

  • Standing ticket
  • Hard seat
  • Hard sleeper
  • Soft sleeperThere are four types of train: G (bullet), Z (direct express), T (Express) and K (Fast).

Depending on your journey length, will depend on prices for each ticket, and of course which one you are willing to endure! For a rough idea, an overnight soft sleeper ticket (11hrs) from Beijing to Shanghai is 693RMB (less than £70).

Train tickets explained


At the station

Be prepared! Keep your passport and ticket handy, they won’t let you in without checking this first.
Check the big departure board, find your train number and then find your way to the gate number. If you get a little confused, show anyone nearby and they will be happy to point you in the right direction.
Most stations resemble an airport, but on a smaller scale. Generally they will keep you in the main station until around 10 minutes before the train leaves, so don’t be alarmed, you won’t miss it!

Why travel by train?

I stand by that train travel is by far the most exciting. Chinese people are super friendly and love to share food and ask about you. Trains provide free hot water so you can join in the instant-noodle craze, and you needn’t worry about comfort as each bed provides a duvet and pillow.

FYI: If you are on an overnight journey, a conductor will come round and swap your paper ticket for a plastic one. Keep this close and expect to be woken up about 1hr before arrival to swap it back – no alarm needed.
Tip: Take plenty of tasty treats. There is usually a canteen and a trolley that comes round, but of course prices rise accordingly.

Be prepared and take tasty snacks on long journeys by train


Thanks to @jorienzuurendonk for the wonderful photos – she is currently travelling around China, check out her Instagram!


The Five Great Mountains of China

There are five sacred mountains in China that, during ancient times, were mounted by many emperors, for sacrifice, prayer and to visit the Buddhist and Taoist temples. Today, poetry can be seen written on the rocks of these mountains, supporting the notion that many famous writers an poets visited to witness the outstanding natural beauty. The five great mountains include; Mount Tai (泰山) in the east, Mount Heng (衡山) in the south, Mount Hua (华山)in the west, Mount Heng (恒山) in the north and Mount Song (嵩山) in the middle.

A look back down at the 7000 steps

Mount Tai 泰山 – Shandong province

It is said that 72 emperors have trekked this mountain,making sacrifice to heaven and earth. It stands at 1545m high, and those that conquer it’s 7000 steps and walk through the Gate of Heaven, will become immortal. From the top gorgeous vistas open up all around, and a the sun set/rise can be enjoying from the Jade Emperor summit.
Highlight: Dai temple at the foot of the mountain is a wonderful introduction. It it the largest and best preserved in the area.
A personal venture to Mount Tai can here read here


Mount Heng 衡山 – Hunan province

This great mountain stands at 1300m tall, with a total of 72 peaks! Zhurong peak being the most visited. There are many Taoism and Buddhist temples at the top, and it is considered to be the most important Taoism centre in Southern China.
Highlight: This mountain range is home to over 1200 species of plants and in the summer it is decorated with a bright sea of flowers.

Dare you walk the plank at Mount Hua?!

Mount Hua 华山 – Shaanxi province

Huashan is famous for its natural steep crags (one of which is 90 degrees), bizarre rock formations and narrow paths. It is not for the faint hearted! The highest point is 2155m and the surrounding area can be observed from a possible 5 peaks. The north peak is famous for a sea of clouds that regularly appears.
Highlight: There is a plank walk near south peak aptly named ‘the most dangerous walk in the world’. If you’re feeling brave enough clip on and give it a go!
A personal venture to Mount Hua can be read here


Mount Heng 恒山 – Shanxi province

This mountain was considered a natural battle defence and its history goes back as far as 1400 years. It stands an impressive 2016m tall, overlooking nearby interests such as Datong city and Jinglong canyon.
Highlight: At Tianfeng peak, there is a suspending temple hanging on the mountain. It is a unique mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism culture – not to be missed!

Witness Kung Fu and meet Monks at Mount Song

 Mount Song 嵩山 – Henan province

This was the most popular mountain to offer sacrifice in ancient times, and more than 30 emperors visited here to ascend the throne. Mount Song’s highest peak (out of 72) stands at 1491m and the area is surrounded by beautiful valleys, water falls and caves.
Highlight: This is also the home to the famous Shaolin temple, the birthplace of Wushu and now a resort for many learning Kung Fu. Make time also to see China’s oldest star-observation platform.

A typical day in the life of a First Leap teacher

It’s true that people decide to move to China for many different reasons. Perhaps to learn Mandarin and get to know the culture, or because life/work balance is a decent 60/40. Life as a First Leap-(teach)er is great; it pays well, it’s super fun and you get tons of free time. If you don’t take my word for it, carry on reading for an insight into a typical day in the life of a Leap-er:

Breakfast time – 4:00pm = FREEDOM

Just quickly then, let me highlight the standard working hours; 16:00-20:00 Wednesday-Friday and 9:00-19:00 Saturday&Sunday. It works out that a weekend is 66hrs, just 6hrs short of 3 days!

So, if you can drag yourself out of bed at a reasonable hour during the week – optional because there is nowhere to be at 9am (woohoo!) – you can use the free time to do the things you enjoy in life.
What are your options? Let’s see; go to the gym, visit a museum, hit the park, grab some lunch with friends, visit a temple, take Chinese lessons – the list is endless!
No longer will you be exhausted from five solid days of work and prone to sleeping away the weekend.

Shaolin temple, Luoyang (7)
Immerse yourself in Chinese culture with all your free time

During work hours

So you arrive to work after a fun-filled and/or productive morning and perhaps feel a little tired. Never fear! As a First Leap-er you are given sufficient office time to properly prepare for upcoming lessons. Classes don’t begin until 5pm (excluding weekends) so you have time for that much needed coffee and computer use.

The best part of being a Leap-er is of course teaching the children. Lessons are designed to be fun and interactive; dancing, games, music and crafts being the main focus. Each lesson is between 35 and 40 minutes, and time speeds past. An average teacher has 15 lessons a week.

One or two days a week you will be expected to lead a demo class. Aimed at future-enrolling students, the 30 minute demo is the same every time. Have fun and perfect your demo – it’s a wonderful feeling when that crying child finally speaks to you at the end of the lesson.

When you’re not teaching, you can watch others’ classes, attend that all important graduation ceremony (at the end of a 8 month stage), make decorations and join in weekly activities with the kids. No doubt your centre will also arrange some team building between foreign and Chinese teachers – great!

Kids love the craft at the end of art lessons


Team building activities with the center – BBQ and games!

After work

Acting like a kid all afternoon at work will surely build up an appetite. As eating out is so cheap in China (less than £5 a meal), it makes sense to grab a few friends and head to your favourite restaurant.
If you still have some energy, KTV is the perfect option to finish off your night. Remember, you don’t need to be anywhere early in the morning, so make the most of it!

The more people that join you for dinner, the more dishes you can try