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Step 6: Memorise the numbers 1-10 by heart *in correct tones*
Tips to help beginner learners know the differences between tones
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 (read here).
✅ 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
Teaching the numbers and tones is one of my favourites in the ab initio stages I outline above.
It came about to teach it this way when I was struggling to get my learners to know the difference between the tones in the early stages of learning. I remember it was very hard for me too, when I first started.
The coolest thing I found out is: that the numbers 1-10 in Mandarin contain all four tones. So if you teach these numbers 1-10 in perfect tones, as if your learners need to sing the numbers rather than just say them, they soon have a template in their memory to refer to what the different tones should sound like.
That was very cool and very fun to discover through teaching my learners.
Session 6 objectives:
In this lesson, the main learning objectives are:
Memorise the numbers 1-10 by heart with accurate pronunciation
Know that there are 4 tones + a neutral tone in Mandarin
Commit to memory the tones of the different numbers e.g. know immediately that yi (一) is a 1st tone character.
Session 6 lesson outline
Spiral progression - review & refresh:
Welcome new learners and see if they greet you with ‘老师好‘ as you taught in the last lesson. Start again with a warm up by reviewing again the original characters shared in the first lesson. Since this lesson is a pinyin focus, give particular attention to the pinyin - perhaps show the flashcards of the characters and have a race to see who can type or write the pinyin the quickest.
You could also share some flashcards with the basic radicals 口，水，火 that we looked at last lesson and see if learners can type or write the correct pinyin for them.
Classroom vocab: Cover the same vocabulary as last time: 好不好, 好 or 好的, 上课, and cover again the new question: 对不对
Share learning objective: I share the learning objective: that they will learn the numbers 1-5 in Mandarin
Share the measure of success: e.g. that they end the lesson able to count to 5 in Mandarin
Plenary: Ask learners: When you know the numbers in a language, what subjects/topics can you talk about? Hopefully they’ll answer: ages, dates etc.
Add that in Mandarin, you can talk about even more things when you know the numbers well. Like months, days of the week, etc.
Show the numbers 1-10 in Mandarin characters for a brief moment. Ask learners to take a good look. Then take the image away.
Now give learners a challenge: hand them a bunch of shuffled characters of the Mandarin numbers and ask them to see if they can put them in the correct order. This should be quite fun and allow students to use all tools at their disposal: their dictionaries, their phones for inputting etc.
Then ask learners to fill in the blanks with pinyin and English, continuing to do this independently using their dictionaries.
Activity - learning the tone marks:
Ask learners how many tones there are.
Show learners the tone marks.
Practice saying ‘ni’ in the four tones. And having learners copy you. Do the same with ‘hao’ and other familiar pinyin words they have learned already.
At this point I share some of my own tips for knowing the difference between tones e.g. the first tone is a ‘sunshine’ tone for me, the second tone is a perpetual questioning sound, the third is like a rollercoaster, and the fourth is a karate chop! I also share that I used to colour characters by tone - 1st was yellow, 2nd was green, 3rd was red, and 4th was black.
Point out that you can toggle the dictionary in Pleco to have characters show up in different colours based on their tones and set it up if needed.
Now ask learners to go back to their numbers they have arranged and written the pinyin and English for. Ask them to put the correct tone marks on the pinyin.
Activity - saying the numbers in perfect pronunciation:
Ask learners if they noticed if the four tones appear in the numbers or not?
Explain the four tones appear in the numbers 1-10. And that’s why we’re going to memorise each number in the exact correct tone.
Explain this time, when learners repeat after you, they need to absolutely try and copy you exactly - so that they memorise how to say these numbers in the right tones.
Start drilling the numbers through - over and over! It might get tiring - do it in different ways but always starting at 1 finishing with 10. The aim is to get to the point where there is a ‘rhythm’ and the learners can say them in the right tones without being led by you.
Use hand gestures if necessary - I usually do a karate chop hand gesture for 2, 4, and 6 :)
Activity - memorising the characters with the sounds
After repeating many times in order of 1-10, begin to shuffle individual characters and ask learners to try saying the characters in the right tone.
Plenary: Ask students to try saying the original dialogue again and analysing it with fresh eyes in terms of tones. Point out that 你好 has two third tones next to each other, so we change the ni to second tone when we say it. Use a couple of other examples and rules to help illustrate the point.
Closing: ask learners to finish up by saying the numbers through once more in perfect pronunciation. It should almost be like a song by now. Tell them that saying the numbers 1-10 through in good pronunciation is their only homework. From now on, the numbers will always be a part of their warm up activities in lessons to get their tongues and ears ready to hear and say all four tones. :)
Note: sometimes, some learners find learning all 10 numbers at once quite challenging. Especially because there are ten new characters to learn to read and write, even though the emphasis in this class is on saying them well and memorising them. I have occasionally split this session into 1-5, and then 6-10, repeating similar steps and joining them up once the first five numbers have been learned.
Note 2: There are so many fun activities learners can do now that they are familiar with the numbers. Sites like wordwall.net have lots of activities teachers have made to help memorise the numbers. Ask learners to look such activities up for more fun with the new numbers.
If the previous lessons have been taught, by this lesson learners usually have acquired lots of skills with finding and identifying characters independently. So this is a spiral progression lesson that allows them to revisit and practice all their new skills on fairly easy new characters.
I found it works well because you aren’t mouth feeding them, for the most part they’re independently learning the parts of the characters themselves.
The part that really needs focused intervention in this lesson is making sure you do the ‘singing’ of the characters effectively, over and over as many times as possible. I have found that when my learners can ‘sing’ the characters correctly, they are more confident with identifying the tones of new words.