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Step 3: Write - begin to learn, practice and appreciate stroke order
In this series, I’m sharing seven areas I pre-teach to new learners before starting any course or programme. They are:
Digital Dictionaries 📓
Stroke Order 🖌
Tones & Numbers 1️⃣
For teaching purposes, I reframe the steps like this:
✅ Inspire: Have a sparkly eyed “aha” learning moment with characters (read here)
✅ Equip: As soon as possible, equip learners with a digital/web based Mandarin dictionary & set up input of Mandarin in phones & computers (read here)
➡️ Write: Begin to learn, practice and appreciate stroke order (this post!)
Appreciate: Start to recognise and appreciate basic radicals
Type: Know the basic rules of pinyin
Count: Memorise the numbers 1-10 by heart in correct tones
Tingxie: Have a positive experience of doing an (often dreaded) dictation
One of the main difficulties with Chinese nowadays is that we don’t tend to write so much. It’s also very tricky to motivate new students to write more, because the beginning level HSK exams don’t require you to write characters.
However, despite that - I insist on teaching new students how to write characters ASAP. Writing characters is so beneficial for the following reasons:
Writing characters over and over again helps them memorise more characters
It helps them recognise radicals, which helps them memorise more characters
It helps give them confidence to learn and engage with unknown characters
I have seen students quickly develop the skill of guessing stroke order correctly once they get into the swing of this.
Session 2 objective:
In this lesson, the main learning objectives are:
To know how to write the different strokes in the right direction
To know that there are rules of stroke order for every character
To be able to find the correct stroke order of a character using a Mandarin dictionary
To write simple characters like 你好 in correct stroke order
To know how to write 你好 and 再见 from memory in correct stroke order
Session 3 outline: Write - begin to learn, practice and appreciate stroke order
Refresh: Start by reviewing again the characters shared in the first lesson.
你， 好，我，叫，呢 ，再，见，老，师
This time, maybe let students practice typing the character into your WhatsApp group when you call it out. Or you could try using a Miro board with flashcards. Or sticky notes. In any case, warm up by reviewing those initial characters again.
Classroom vocab: In this lesson, I add a slide with 好不好, 好 or 好的。 I explain the meanings and ask students to reply to me, saying a sentence in English and then adding 好不好 at the end, e.g.:
We’ll start the class now, 好不好? And asking them to reply with 好！or 好的!
We’ll look at this part of the screen, 好不好?
We'll look at *say student’s name*, 好不好?
Share learning objective: I share the learning objective: that we’re going to learn stroke order. I share that the measure of success will be that they can write just one of the characters we’ve learned, 你, in perfect stroke order.
Plenary: Ask learners how they felt the last lesson, when they were struggling to enter the character into their phones.
Some answers might include: difficult, tricky, the character didn’t appear even though I drew it correctly.
Acknowledge their experiences, and explain that with characters, there is a particular way of writing them. And when you know that order, you will always be able to find a character. Also share that every single line and stroke has a name in each character.
Explain that there are some general rules and principles of stroke order that, when followed, will help speed up learning in the long run. They will also make students’ handwriting look beautiful.
Explore: Ask learners to write the character 你, however they feel it should be written.
Then ask them to write it again 5 times, fast as they can. Probably it will be tricky for them.
Ask them then to check the dictionary, and search in Pleco for the correct stroke order.
Again, ask them to write it slowly, but deliberately in the correct order. No points for fast finishing - the main point is the correct order. 10 times is a good amount.
Give them a short break by chatting about how it feels to be writing a character over and over again, or comparing their version of 你 with their classmates.
Then, ask them to write the character again without looking at a reference or stroke order. They should be able to do it!
Finally, run a small competition with 你, and ask students to write the character 10 times as fast as they can and in correct stroke order.
Let students check their final set of fast 你’s compared to the first set of 你’s when they didn’t know stroke order. They should be looking quite different!
Plenary discussion - Now show students the various rules of stroke order. There are various graphics posted on the internet to help with this. One by one, explain each rule.
Practice with 永 - let students have a look at this character 永.
Explain it uses all of the strokes.
Let them look it up and see who can find the definition of it.
Then let them practice writing it.
Discuss how it uses every single stroke. Point out how each stroke has it’s own name/word.
Plenary: Ask learners to look again at Pleco’s stroke order of 永，and 你.
Ask: Is it ok to write a horizontal stroke from right to left and left to right? Let them analyse and discuss.
The main point here is for awareness that the lines start in a particular direction and it must always be that way.
Now show the basic strokes in Chinese one by one: ask learners to take a look and see if they can copy the exact order that you write the line. They can practice on a blank piece of paper, just having fun copying you.
Then, practice: let them guess the direction of the strokes. You can blank out the answer and reveal one by one e.g.:
Extra challenge: See if learners can describe the strokes of 你 in the right order, using the Chinese words! You can show them the correlation like this. This is a fun activity. Don’t worry about pronunciation or even mistakes. The aim is just to get students realising that strokes even have their own descriptions:
Wrap up: By this point, learners are usually really good at searching for stroke order and get very excited about practicing the rest of the characters.
Homework: At this stage, it’s time to set homework. Tell students they need to now go and memorise how to write the rest of the characters.
Important notes about this lesson:
I don’t usually use 汉字 grids, even for beginners. I find it more helpful to use small mathematical square paper of 1cm boxes, or to use lined paper even. Adult and teen learners don’t need to practice their motor skills - they need to practice the characters. So I find larger boxes don’t do the job.
Finally, you’ll note I teach the stroke order first, and then go back and point out the tiny details of the direction each stroke can be. I do this so that learners don’t have additional things worrying them the first time they attempt to write characters in the correct order. It’s also so that they can get a sense of achievement. Writing a tiny stroke seems easy. Writing a character seems a big accomplishment. I want them to have quick wins, and then deal with the tiny details of tidying up the direction of the strokes after they feel accomplished.
This lesson should leave new learners feeling very much equipped with a method to memorise new characters. Hopefully by the end they can train themselves on how to write a character in the correct order, without asking you how to do it. That’s the mark that a learner has acquired a ‘learning to learn’ skill.
Sometimes, I split this lesson into two - depending on the learner. I will occasionally teach the stroke order in one lesson. And then stroke direction in the next. Whatever it takes to make it manageable yet sweetly challenging for learners is how I make that call, and I often can’t tell until I’ve worked through the first part of the stroke order activities.