Teaching English in China: Two Team-Building Games

October 24, 2014
Teaching English in China

pink pangea foreign correspondentThis year my classes are an average of 30 students – which is perfect for these activities. To begin I divide the class into teams of 10 (or as close to 10 as I can). Instead of counting the students into groups based on where they sit, I have them play a game first. The game arranges the students in order of their birthdays. So the students must arrange themselves from youngest to oldest based on the year, month, and day they were born. There’s a catch, however. They must accomplish this task without speaking and without using their cellphones. This means they must communicate through gestures only.

It takes them about 5 minutes to accomplish the task. The next step is to go down the line and check their work one by one. This is a good review for the students to remind them how to say the numbers, months, and specific dates. After the students are sorted chronologically, I count them off into their teams of 10.

The first game we play in teams is called Human Knot. I introduce the word “knot” as a new piece of vocabulary by pointing to the knots tied in students’ shoelaces. To play this game, the groups must stand in a circle – all facing inward. The students must reach across the circle to hold hands with a classmate. They cannot hold hands with the person standing next to them and they cannot grasp both hands with the same person. It should be one hand per person.

Many times it’s difficult for me to get the boys and the girls to play this game together because they don’t want to touch each other.

The result is a tangled mess of limbs. The students must, then, work together to untangle the ‘knot’ by twisting, ducking under, or stepping over the connected arms. A successful round of this game results in a complete circle. Some groups will solve it faster than others – I encourage the students who finish early to help those who struggle with the game. I play the game in two rounds. The first round is exploratory so they can learn how to play while the second round is a race between the groups.

Playing this game in China is interesting because of the gender divide. Many times it’s difficult for me to get the boys and the girls to play this game together because they don’t want to touch each other. It’s mostly the boys who are hesitant about holding hands with a girl. Sometimes I have to grab the wrists of two students and tell them to hold hands.

The students stay in their groups for the next game: Lava. This game requires some space – maybe 10 or 20 yards – so it’s good to play outside.

This game requires materials – three hand towels per team. So nine towels total for a class of 30. The students must transport their entire teams from one end of the ‘lava pool’ to the other by only stepping on the towels. If the students touch the ground with their hands or feet they must go back to the beginning and start over. There are a multitude of strategies but I don’t give them any clues. They work together as a team to plan their approach and then they race to see who can get everyone to the other side first.

Teaching English in China: Two Team-Building Games.

I have tried playing this in the hallway but the students get too excited and loud. A Chinese teacher came out of her classroom and yelled at me. Oops.

You may have noticed that the games I’ve mentioned so far don’t have a language component. It’s true – I don’t require the students to speak English during these games. That’s not the point. These two games were designed to bring groups together through teamwork. Since I work with freshman students, I believe it’s the perfect opportunity for me to foster a healthy classroom community.

In China, the students stay together with the same classmates all four years of college. These students share all of their classes every day and most of them even live together in the dorms. Therefore, it’s important that the students know how to both work and play together. It improves group morale and creates shared memories/experiences. Never fear, my fellow English teachers! The third, and final game, requires second language use.

Teaching English in China


Photo credits by Katie Sill.

About Katie Sill

Katie Sill is a graduate student from Dallas, Texas living and working in Hangzhou, China. In addition to teaching English at Hangzhou Dianzi University, Katie is conducting original research pertaining to women’s roles within Chinese culture.

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