(Originally posted on another forum, but I'm pretty sure it would be useful and interesting here as well..)

Hello to all the old, recent and future members of this forum

I am posting here now, after having read posts relating to my own experience several times over during the past several months. A new school year is about to start tomorrow, and I'm a bit panicking again.
I try my best to share my situation, experience and lesson ideas... before asking for HELP

My job : unexperienced improvised Oral English teacher

Where : in a Chinese middle school in Guilin, Guangxi province, China.

About my classes : 40-60 students, whom I "entertain" with Oral English lessons. I am supposed to let them practice their English listening and spoken skills. They don't have exams or tests for this course (or any other kind of incentive or motivation for focussing on my lessons). It's basically a free hour with a foreign teacher trying to win their attention. Most students either sleep, stand up to take pictures, or do homework, read books, keep busy on their phones, take pictures of me without much discretion, or wake up from their dreams sometimes to say "boring" (surprised they said this in English for once) etc..
About my senior classes (15-18yrs) : the seniors in this school are supposedly the bad students from the region that can't keep up in other schools. This doesn't affect my lessons so much, I think, since good students or not they do have a lot of homework, a heavy schedule, and reason enough to want to doze off in front of an nice-looking inoffensive foreign teacher.

I write because... : I want to share the activities that have worked a little or very well, or not at all.

I am a perfectionist in the bad sense of the word. If I can't do something correctly or very well (just good is not enough, and bad becomes horrible!), I'd rather not do it (after trying to improve first, of course). That's why this job is really hard for me. I work 17 to 20 hours per week, 45-50 minutes per lesson, but at home in evenings, mornings, weekends I continuously stress over my lesson preparation.
A lesson that might be good fun with one class can be horrible with the next one. It doesn't only depend on the classes, one class can be great one day and completely the opposite two days later. But not only that: they have a lot of pressure and workload, so they don't want a formal Oral English class in which an over-motivated teacher absolutely wants to teach them some more. But cultural exchanges are quickly too difficult, games to childish for the seniors, etc.

I guess that it's similar for all students, all classes, in all schools with the same situation.

The biggest difficulty is not too accept that lessons can go wrong. I've learned to improvise and "no exams" also means "more freedom" (to play games or talk about any random subject I choose).
The biggest difficulty is preparing my lessons. Knowing what will keep the students awake, what will keep at least half the class interested (or at least 1/3rd..). And finding NEW ideas because they think it's boring otherwise.
- They love gossip..
- They like to laugh at each other.
- They don't like to have the feeling they're learning something new (true for most, not all, so it seems).
- In some classes, it's impossible to get them to the board for activities whatsoever..
- ..but getting one or two students to the board wakes up the others some more.
- They like seeing me being silly during the lesson.
- ...other things like this...

So what has worked for me :

- talking about a Chinese festival, trying to guess the rituals/traditions with silly words or movements, make something funny of it while slowly helping them explain everything more clearly (to show how to avoid confusion
- throwing around a small "angry bird" (quite popular here in China too of course). The person (can be the teacher or a student) has to answer a question from the person that handed the angry bird to it.
- "odd one out" : start with something silly like "good good good bad", then quickly make it more difficult to show the purpose. Some combinations might have several good answers.Let students take a vote per group, then let them guess who wins and why. It's a nice way to motivate them to explain their reasoning. Sometimes it teaches them new words as well or other ways of thinking about something.
- scrabble: groups take turns writing down words on the board (more or less following scrabble rules, teacher can adapt this). Longer words earn more points. Winning group can choose a person from loosing group that has to write down a sentence on the blackboard (dictation).
- writing random letters on the board, letting groups make words with those letters. (points awarded for most words or most total letters) Can be played with rounds, having multiple winners/losers and not only one big winner/loser.
- Let each student in turn ask me a question (throwing fluffy angry bird or some other way of choosing next student). Starts soft with "how old are you" or "hello?", then gets more interesting (often I have to give them ideas or vocabulary, and push them to ask questions). THis may seem easy but it's actually difficult for most students. They love to ask about my Chinese girlfriend, though the same questions always come up.
- 4-in-a-row (actually, they play 5-in-a-row in my school) : you play against the class. A student has to answer 3 questions from the teacher, then he gets to play three turns.
- bomb game : (i'm not very good at playing it, but it still works ok) let students choose a topic, write the topic on the board. Go around the groups, giving each class 5 seconds (for example) to come up with a word for this topic (animals => dog, cat, elephant.....). This is quite easy for them, it seems. Have to improve my own skills to make it more fun, but it keeps them a bit more awake. If a group fails to come up with an answer, write something like -1000 points on the board. Try to make each group lose some points, winner being the one that lost the least amount. (I'm not sure it's a nice way to play it but that's how it worked for others so...)
- because i'm a native french and dutch speaker, I've given a french lesson. Come into the class by shouting bonjour!!!! and then asking them what it meant. Make them understand that it's easy to learn the meaning of new words if you pay attention to gestures and environment and such. Good for repeating all together out loud. Makes them happy to know some more foreign words than their Chinese teachers
- before playing a group competition game, ask each group to come up with a team name. Some will say "no no no", I answer "okay! good! We have group "Nonono" here!". Makes things funny (for the others :p). Can take up to 20 minutes sometimes. Pushes them to be creative (really hard!).
- talking about my silly adventures of the previous weekend (cycling in the rain, being sick, taking the bus, being even more sick, speaking with chinese man without understanding anything, blablabla). I try to make it silly, but real enough, they do listen (good part of them) but doesn't work for more than about 20 minutes...