Aim (In terms of subject matter): to learn how make sure that the unknown Chinese word one has found in a dictionary is the one he/she needs.

Aim (In terms of thinking): to become aware of and consciously use different techniques in order to find a word or character.

Task: to develop an algorithm of finding a new character in a dictionary.


Lesson description: Preface: During the previous lesson in Form 10 (16-year-olds) I realized that we need to discuss explicitly how to work with Chinese dictionaries. I dictated a text from our coursebook in Chinese, the students wrote it down with the Latin letters and then they had to write this text with the Chinese characters. They were allowed to use online dictionaries. Then they had to compare their texts with the one in the coursebook. I expected that the students would be able to do the task well, because the text consisted of familiar words, and those words which they didn’t remember they could guess with the help of other words in the sentences. The task was generally understood and written well, but many words were not found at all and many were substituted by omonyms. This made me think that we have to discuss the problems and how to cure them.

The lesson dedicated to working out an algorithm lasted 40 minutes. I asked the students to list the sounds/syllables which are difficult for them. I also made such list. Then, on the board, I wrote the syllables in pairs together with their wrong variants. Here we had 2 groups of mistakes, because sometimes the syllables are written absolutely incorrectly, as letter combinations which don’t exist in CH, and sometimes they are written as other syllables inCH.I asked the students to sort wrong syllables, to make them understand what two kinds of mistakes they do.

I asked the students to explain what to do in order to avoid these mistakes. Firstly, we concluded that we had to try and learn the correct spelling in CH, so that it didn’t get mixed with the Latvian spelling. Then I asked them what had to be done in order to write a syllable they heard correctly. The conclusion was: repeat the syllable you hear before you write it down. Saying it aloud helps you to understand how to spell it. So, I asked the students to write down the 1st step of our algorithm: Repeat the sound before writing it down.

Then I asked them: a) what would happen if you write a syllable in an unexisting way. The answer was: you will not find it in a dictionary, or, the online dictionary will not react and give you options; b) what if you write an existing but a wrong syllable? They answered: check all the meanings and choose the one which suits your context. This is exactly the step which misses in many students’ works – they write the characters which sound the same, but the meanings are wrong. So, the 2nd step was: Look through the meaning of all similarly sounding syllables until you find the one which suits your context.  

The 3rd step we put down was: Look at the grammar of the sentence, it helps to understand the context and select a suitable word. Then I showed them some examples to illustrate the role of grammatical markers, word order, etc.

Step 4: If you need to check your guess, use other dictionaries and translate the word there and back until you are sure that this is the one you are looking for.

Well, as if simple things, but practice shows that the students do not always follow this procedure. I don’t know why, for me it is as natural as breathing… We’ll see if spending 40 minutes on obvious things will bring good results.

There is an objective obstacle for the students: in order to use online dictionaries, the students’ English should be on a high level, which is not always so. That’s why in order to avoid unnecessary time and nerves consumption I ask them to stick to the coursebook vocabulary first, until their basis is solid and strong enough for adding new words from the “outdoor world”.  

Teacher’s role: I was trying to get the answers from the students, only when they couldn’t formulate their thoughts I told them the answers myself. I was the one who formulated the descriptions of the steps in the algorithm to make the process faster. Before the classroom was equipped with computers, we were working with the books only and we were learning the language more as an object. Now that we have the computers and the internet, we need to learn language more as a tool, because of many “online temptations”. I am now in the process of reconsidering what my role is and how to adjust the learning process to the present environment.  

Overall reflection of the lesson: I was actively involved and my students were mostly doing exactly what I said. We discussed “obvious” things. But I hope they will use this algorithm later and I will see the progress.

Thinking task framework: Step 1 – increase the room for thinking – I asked them to look at their dictations and comment on the mistakes and my corrections. Step 2 – build the algorithm together with the students – to a full extent.

Main conclusions: The task seems useful in terms of improving the phonetic skills, both listening and writing, and in terms of working with dictionaries. Will have to do a similar work with Forms 11 and 12.

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