Short Activities for Chinese Classes (Kids)

Why Short Activities?

With short attention spans in young children, often doing short “bursts” of activity works best. Lots of activities that children already do in their regular classes can work for a Mandarin Chinese class. By short activities, I mean an activity that takes around 5-7 minutes. There just need to be a few adjustments so that kids understand what they hear/see and get enough repetition so that everything sinks in enough to stick. Below are a few short activities that work well in Chinese classes with young kids.

Where’s Waldo

Since they are so popular, the Where’s Waldo (Wally in the UK original) books are available in Chinese as they are in many other languages. Their Chinese name is 寻找威利 (lit. looking for Wally). The beauty of using books like Where’s Waldo in class, however, is that you don’t really need a Chinese-language edition. The point is to look at the only the pictures. By looking for Waldo, the children hear lots of repetition of commonly-used phrases. These include: Waldo在哪里?(where is Waldo), Waldo在这里 (Waldo is here), 他是Waldo吗?(Is he Waldo?) 她不是Waldo (She is not Waldo.) It is such a simple, short activity, but it gives students a lot of good input in Chinese.

photo of Where's Waldo
Where’s Waldo can be a basis for a good short activity

Jenga

When kids see the Jenga tower, they think that they are going to be playing a game. It is true that they will play a game in class. They will also get good lots of input of a key phrase: 小心!小心 means “be careful.” This will be useful later on when we do activities that use scissors, paint, and other potentially messy materials. Other short activities based on familiar games can teach kids the phrase “be careful.” These include Operation, Monkeying Around, the Balancing Pizza Game, and more.

photo of kids playing Jenga
Kids playing Jenga in Chinese class

Games and Keeping Score

I hate the name “corn hole” but that is what the game pictured below is called in English. It doesn’t have to be corn hole, any game in which players quickly rack up points can work. Students can count their points in Chinese as we keep score.  To extend the activity, the teacher can demonstrate writing the numbers in Chinese (一、二、三。。。) as the class moves along. Advanced students can practice writing the numbers in Chinese themselves. The game of corn hole technically only goes up to 21 points, which could be perfect for a class. Or it could be too high a number. If students can only count up to 10 or less, Connect 4 could be a good alternative. In that game, students really only have to count up to four.

photo of corn hole game in Chinese class
corn hole game in Chinese class

Short activities often really work well for young kids because longer activities are too much for them. An hour-long class can include several of these “bursts” and then maybe a longer story. Students like playing games that they already know. Because they already know the basics of how to play the game, it is easier for them to put together the Chinese words with the meaning.

Have your own ideas for short activities that can work for young kids? Share in the comments!

Interested in learning more about Mandarin Chinese classes at Lotus Chinese Learning? Get in touch via the contact page.

Why Are There Toys and Games in Your Child’s Mandarin Class?

Approaches to Language Teaching

We know from research (that has been around since the 70s!) that people learn language from hearing/reading comprehensible and compelling input. Comprehensible input means that the learner understands what they hear. They’re not just turning on the radio and listening to a Polish-language station from day one. Compelling input is stuff that students care about. We are not pretending that we are in a train station buying train tickets. There are many different approaches we can take to language teaching that supply the communicatively embedded input that students need in order to learn a second (or third) language. Lotus Chinese Learning classes use a mix of immersion, tasks, story listening, and TPRS in order to teach children and adults Mandarin Chinese. These are all communicative approaches to language teaching. They give students the meaningful input that they need in order to acquire the language.

How Immersion Works

Immersion is a very popular approach to language teaching, especially for children. Immersion works because learners focus on meaning and not on the grammar or structure. It is not a perfect approach to language teaching. Often the teacher uses language that is too advanced for learners, i.e. using too many words that the students can’t understand. However, immersion can be powerful when students can connect the language they hear in the environment with what they are doing. For example, my younger students almost always learn “收一收” (clean up) pretty quickly. This is because we sing the clean up song every class while we clean up. The students hear the words and can immediately associate them with what we are doing.

photo of students putting together puzzle in Chinese class
Students putting together a puzzle in Chinese class

Games and Immersion

Simple games that the children are already familiar with can be good activities to do in the immersion environment. Since most students begin classes begin with zero knowledge of Chinese, it is important that they already pretty much know how to play the game. If we are doing immersion, and I need to explain complicated rules of a game, they students simply do not have enough vocabulary knowledge in order to understand what they hear. When we play Jenga, put together a puzzle, toss a bean bag, etc., I focus on a few phrases that I repeat during the activity.

Most students are not ready to talk in Chinese while we are playing. They are still at the novice level. All they are really capable of doing is connecting what they hear with what they’re doing. So if we play Jenga, I say “小心” (be careful) over and over again while they are pulling out their wooden blocks. With the strong context (playing a game), and the repetition, I know that these phrases will stick in their brains.

photo of kids playing Jenga in Chinese class
“Be careful!”

If it looks like we are having fun in a kids Mandarin class while playing games, it is because we are. Although this does not mean that we are not learning the language. With the right lesson design, immersion can lead to language acquisition. Kids are naturally very interested in what they are doing if we play games. It is easy when they are interested for them to make connections between what they hear and the activity.