Usually Chinese students like acting. If you first act a bit silly, they will soon follow.
Play the “YES!” game: Warm up by getting everyone standing in a circle around class with space between each other. Now shout out random things to do. Everyone has to say “YES!” and then do it.
"everyone jump up and down!"
*30 students begin jumping*
"everyone act like a chicken!"
*arms are flapping and feet are scratching*
"everyone hug your neighbor!"
*all students get a hug except the one boy who happened to get stuck with girls on both sides... whoops*
"everyone say NO!"
Be patient with silence in the beginning. At the end of few rounds (5-10min), calm them down and return them to their seats.
Follow up with what did they just do. Did they pre-think things to say? What do you call that? Then introduce the word “improvisation.” (Whose line is it anyways and drama classes). This is why we played the YES game.
(Go over the following after one example perhaps. Do examples when you break the “rules” so they understand why it's important to say YES etc)
There are only a few rules or tricks of the trade in improvisation. a) always say YES. Go with the flow. “Have a seat please.” “Ok! Oh my gosh! It's broken.” “Oh no! You must be hurt! Are you a doctor?” “YES! I'll fix myself” Saying NO hinders this creativity and funniness. b) help each other. When a fellow actor/actress is stuck, help them out by asking questions that give them a chance to also develop their character. “Hey, weren't you in California last week?” “Uh, yeah! I was making my new film.”c) Ask open ended questions (especially the host) since he/she needs to figure out each guests' quirk. Yes or No will block things too quickly. Give the other person chances to speak and explain him/herself.
Begin to introduce the game “Party Quirks.” There is one host (who needs to set up an imaginary house/party space – popcorn, movies, music, etc), a moderator (who says “DING!” when the host subtly guesses correctly... do you like playing basketball? NOT are you shaq? Though this will happen towards the end), and 2-3 guests who have a quirk. Define quirk as someone with an oddity (a bit strange if you will with different characteristics). The host does not know that the guests' quirks. This is his task throughout the game.
Provide an example: I had 2 friends assist in this but you could try with more confident/dramatic students (or prep a little bit before with them?). I stepped out of the room since I was host. The two guests asked the class for suggestions on what their quirk should be. Examples include: someone who thinks he's superman, 5 years old, 100 years old, about to die in 10 minutes, a famous person (Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Shaq, Yao Ming, etc), jumps every time someone says “and” (similar variations with sing or dance when someone says or does something), etc.
Since I had helpers, we split into smaller groups of 10 so the students felt more comfortable trying this in front of each other (they told me afterwards). Each co-teacher moderated their smaller groups. I haven't tried it with 30 students by myself (and for the whole time) yet.
End with the importance of improvisation: Definitely encourage/praise them since they did a difficult task in another language. Also explain that theatre is often used to build confidence and public speaking skills. This confidence can carry over to speaking a new language. The fear of being silly when you say something is simply ... silly. And being silly is often quite fun and funny for everyone.