The Magic Imagination Muscle: Use it or Lose it.

Sometimes I feel that I’m less of an English teacher and more of a critical-thinking teacher. The problem is the Chinese education system: students are in school from dawn till dusk memorizing, drilling, and testing. Many of them take extra classes during holidays or free time. There is absolutely no room for them to pursue their own interests, think creatively, or have fun.

Language is a creative process, just like art. The speaker’s creates a verbal picture using a palette of humor, metaphorical language, sarcasm, connotation and denotation, innuendo, idioms, hyperbole, and tone. My students are amazing at parroting memorized information, but the minute they have to use their imagination their ability goes south. Fast. They struggle to envision a hypothetical scenario or answer a question that they don’t already know the answer to. That’s why creativity is so important to language acquisition, and that’s why I have to constantly expose them to new ideas, new words, and new questions.

It’s definitely a challenge. At Web, the preplanned lessons are outdated, repetitive, and (for the most part) worthless. They bore the students into a complete stupor. I am even less entertained after teaching the same lesson about “Dyned City” a dozen times. Increasingly, I’ve thrown out worthless material or altered exercises beyond recognition. Still, there is only so much I can do based on the materials provided.

It’s especially difficult in Rugao because I am the entire ESL department. I can teach whatever I want in my English Corner lessons, but it’s entirely on my shoulders to come up with interesting topics. I don’t have other teachers to help carry the load or inject fresh new ideas into the lessons.

I know how difficult it can be to come up with materials so I’ve decided to start regular posts with some of my ideas. They are just ideas, and will need to be adapted to fit different classes. Hopefully, some of the ESL teachers who read my work find some useful ideas. Feel free to give me your ideas as well—I know I can use them!


This makes a good first lesson. The class can discuss how to greet people in foreign countries, the importance of getting the greeting right, and the essential aspects of greeting in their own culture. If the class is ready for it, the teacher can have students practice greeting each other in different fashions. This can be especially entertaining when you try a Russian handshake or a Maori Hongi, but be careful not to make students uncomfortable.

In the USA: Greetings are casual – a firm handshake, a smile, and a ‘hello’ will do just fine.

The British: often simply say ‘hello’ when they meet friends. They usually shake hands only when they meet for the first time. Social kissing, often just a peck on the cheek, is common in an informal situation between men and women and also between women who know each other very well.

French nationals: shake hands with their friends and often kiss them on both cheeks, both upon meeting and leaving.

In Japan: the common greeting for men and women is to bow when they greet someone, as opposed to giving a casual handshake or a hug.

In Arab countries: close male friends or colleagues hug and kiss both cheeks. They shake hands with the right hand only, for longer but less firmly than in the West. Contact between the opposite genders in public is considered obscene. Do not offer to shake hands with the opposite sex.

In Belgium: people kiss on one cheek when they meet, regardless of the gender or how well they know each other.

In China: people tend to be more conservative. When meeting someone for the first time, they would usually nod their heads and smile, or shake hands if in a formal situation.

In Russia: the typical greeting is a very firm handshake. Assume you’re trying to crush each other’s knuckles, all the while maintaining direct eye contact. When men shake hands with women, the handshake is less industrial. It is considered gallant to kiss women three times while alternating cheeks, and even to kiss hands.

In Albania: men shake hands when greeting one another. Depending on how close the men are with each other, a kiss on each cheek may be common as well. When a man meets a female relative, a kiss on each cheek, or two per cheek, is common. With friends or colleagues, normally a light handshake will do. Women may shake hands or kiss each other on both cheeks.

In Armenia: by tradition, and especially in the rural areas, a woman needs to wait for the man to offer his hand for the handshake. Between good friends and family members, a kiss on the cheek and a light hug are also common.

Inuit Greetings: Giving “Eskimo kisses” is a misleading representation of how native inhabitants of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia greet each other. The greeting is known as a “kunik,” and actually involves sniffing the cheeks, nose and forehead of a friend or family member rather than rubbing noses. This act of greeting is a sign of affection and it involves pressing the nose and upper lip against the skin of loved ones to breathe in their scent.

In New Zealand: the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, greet each other with the “Hongi,” which loosely means, “the sharing of breath of life.” It is performed by individuals touching or running noses upon their initial meeting. This ceremonial greeting is akin to Western handshakes or kissing someone’s face upon encounter.



  1. It’s still rote over imagination there, huh? I wonder how the ratio’s been doing in S. Korea. I did read a few years ago that there’s been more consciousness over fostering creativity in Asia and China, that they realize they need to if they want to keep up with Western innovations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, unfortunately so. I think they recognize the need for more creativity but it’s difficult. China has these huge tests built into the education system that basically determine the student’s future. Not much can be done without reforming the entire education system because the 1st priority for schools/parents is for students to pass the tests, because that’s currently the only way to go to college or have a better life. Universities don’t really consider things like extracurriculars, volunteer work, or travel experience in their admissions. It’s all about the grades and test scores.

      I don’t know for sure, but I think Korea is the same way. I have some friends teaching ESL there now.


      • Mmmm….thanks for the update (that there isn’t much of an update). :/

        Your site caught my eye bc I had run a Race Around the World (info next to my About on home page) with bloggers across the globe where we shared our cultural biographies and explored race, culture, identity, boundaries, belonging, community. I’ve moved on to other series borne out of that one.

        Keep up the thoughtful blogging.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! That’s the thing I always hated about english classes in school, they seemed to stifle creativity or different ideas. As an army brat, I experienced 5 cultures before the age of ten, not to mention living in just about every state in the good old USofA. Of course, that could just be the teachers I had at the same time.


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