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Making Sandpaper Characters

Making Sandpaper Characters

Parents and teachers familiar with the Montessori approach probably know about the sandpaper letters. Sandpaper letters are exactly what they sound like. The letters are formed out of sandpaper and glued to small boards. Students trace the letters with their fingers as they practice their sounds. They build up a muscle memory of how to write the letters as well.

Are there Too Many Characters?

There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but many thousands of Chinese characters*. This sounds like bad news for making sets of sandpaper characters, but I will argue that using sandpaper characters in Chinese class is still doable. Firstly, students do not need to learn all the characters at the same time. For a one hour per week Chinese enrichment class, a reasonable goal is learning about 50-100 words per 14 week semester. Even if we used sandpaper characters for each word (which we might not), that is only 50-100 for a whole semester. Seems much more manageable, right?

We can still use the sandpaper technique with Chinese, even though we are dealing with many more characters than letters. Making these things, however, is still not easy. It is pretty time-consuming, so I no longer lend out my materials to students and their families. So here is a step-by-step guide to making sandpaper letters at home. You don’t even need to speak Chinese in order to make these for your kids!

The Step by Step Process

Step 1: Get the materials.

Everything that you need to make sandpaper characters you can get at Michaels or similar crafts store. You will need: graphite paper, stiff paperboard that is still thin enough to cut, a list of characters that you want to make (with pinyin), glue (Elmer’s is fine), scissors, sand, a paint brush, a marker, a computer and printer.

Step 2: Trace the characters to the paperboard.

I type up the characters I want to make on a MS Word document. If you don’t know Chinese, ask for a list of characters from your child’s teacher. The font that I prefer is ST Kaiti because it shows the way the strokes look when they are written with a brush and ink. I print them out with just the outline (to save on ink) in 200 point font. With the carbon paper, I then trace the characters to the paperboard with the graphite paper., leaving about an inch of space between each character. I also like to color in the characters with a gold Sharpie.

outline of character "zhong"
Printing out just the outlines of the characters saves on printer ink.

Step 3: Write in stroke order. 

This is the really time consuming part. Each character needs to be written in a certain stroke order. On the sandpaper characters, I write in arrows with numbers next to them to show the order. This is important to show the kids that they have to follow the stroke order. If you don’t know Chinese, you will need to look up the stroke orders for the different characters on a website like this one.

photo showing process of making sandpaper characters
This is the most time-consuming part of making sandpaper characters, writing in the stroke order.

Step 4: Cut up the characters.

At this point, I cut up the characters into individual cards.

Step 5: Glue and sand.

With a paintbrush if you need it, make sure that the characters have a thin coating of glue. I do about 5-6 at a time, any more than that and I find that the glue starts to dry before I get to the sand. I put the cards on a piece of tin foil so I can easily pour the excess sand back in the bag and reuse it.

photo of sandpaper character "我"
The finished product!

Step 6: Let dry and use!

Again, this process is incredibly time-consuming, but it is not exactly difficult. It can be done without any knowledge of Chinese, but writing in the stroke order will be extra tedious. Doing about 20 characters takes me several hours. On the bright side, they last a long time. So far, I have been using my first sandpaper characters for 2 years.

More on Chinese and Montessori tools.

Mandarin and Montessori (one of my most popular blog posts, ever).

*Most sources agree that there are about 20,000 characters in modern use, with about 2-3,000 needed to read a newspaper in China.

Chinese Summer Camp 2019

drawing of kids in canoe for summer camp
Join us for summer camp!

Chinese Immersion Summer Camp in San Antonio

Together with the International School of San Antonio, Lotus Chinese Learning is offering Mandarin Chinese immersion camps this year! These camps are a fun opportunity for new students to get started with Chinese classes or to keep up their language during the summer.  The camps are for students ages 3-10. Camp hours will be from 9-3:30, with aftercare available (dependent on sufficient registration). The camp will be conveniently located at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, near I-10 and 410.

Summer Camp Dates and Themes

June 17-21 (Afternoon ONLY): China STEM. Get immersed in Mandarin Chinese with China STEM! This class will introduce students to basic Mandarin through STEM-based activities. Students will learn colors, numbers, animals an shapes while learning about rockets, tangrams, ancient pottery and more. While learning a new language, students will also learn about Chinese culture, practice their math skills and participate in hands-on activities.

drawing of rocket
Did you know that rockets are a Chinese invention?

June 24-28: Dinosaur Adventure. Did you know that many of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur fossils are found in China? In dinosaur adventure, we will learn about dinosaurs, especially those found in China. We will make our own fossils, learn about how dinosaurs lived and have fun in the world of the dinosaurs!

cartoon flying dinosaur
Learn more about dinosaurs and why so many of them are found in China this summer!

July 15-19: Around the World in Five Days. Students will travel all over the world, visiting one continent for each day of camp. They will learn about the people and environments all in Chinese! We will make different crafts, learn about animals from all over the world and play games from diverse cultures.

children around the world drawing
Learn about the world through Chinese immersion

July 22-26: Chinese Arts from Pottery to Pop. Get ready for a hands on exploration of Chinese arts and crafts! Students will make a variety of Chinese art crafts, from sancai porcelain to contemporary paintings. They will also learn about Chinese art from its ancient roots to present day.

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Camp tuition is $315 for full day and $185 for half day (snacks included)

Interested in learning more or signing up? email Mary@lotuschineselearning.com or use the contact page to get in touch!

What Does it Cost in China?

Immersion-Style Classes for Adults

Is it possible to have a basic Mandarin Chinese class that uses very little English? Yes! For whatever reason, no one bats an eye when we do immersion-style classes with the little kids, but when adults hear the class will only be in Chinese, they get nervous! Most of my adult students are interested in traveling to China, or have done some traveling there already. It is actually possible to help students prepare for a trip to China by talking about how much things cost there, all in Chinese!

Introducing Numbers in Chinese

One lesson that works for adult students (delivered almost entirely in Mandarin Chinese) is to talk about the prices of things in China. Usually, the students will already be familiar with the numbers. I like to do a warm-up that involves using chopsticks to move coffee beans around. I give the students one or two minutes (depending on how generous I am feeling :)) to move a small pile of coffee beans from one side of the desk to the other. Then we count together to see who moved the most. In a group of ten students, they will hear me count from one to ten close to ten times. There is no point in having the students struggle over trying to remember the numbers, so I also write them on the board. The added bonus is that some students will realize that they need to practice their chopsticks skills.

picture of person holding a pair of chopsticks
How well can you use these?

 

Guessing Costs

Once we have finished the chopsticks activity, we look at a slideshow of things that people often buy in China. These include a coffee, tea, beer, a bowl of noodles, and bottled water. In Chinese, with translation as needed, I ask the students to guess how much each thing costs in China. As the students make their guesses, I write down the numbers and repeat them in Chinese. This way, the students hear the structure over and over again. After collecting all the guesses, I reveal the correct answer and we see who got the closest.

We stay in Mandarin Chinese throughout the activity, so that the students get plenty of input in that language. If the students make their guesses about prices in English, it is no big deal. They are still active and engaged in the class. They just don’t have the language yet to use it. I simply repeat their guess in Chinese so that the students can hear it.

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Takeaways

The content is interesting to the students because it is useful. Since we look at the costs of coffee, water, food and beer, they can get an idea of how much they would spend on a typical day traveling through China. They can also get an interesting insight into simple economic differences between the US and China. Many students are surprised to learn that a cup of coffee often costs twice as much as lunch!

*With the little kids we talk about pets, transportation, food, etc., but those are all topics that are more kid-friendly

Learn more about classes for adult students here.

More on doing business in China.

Task: How Well Do you Know African Animals?

Why Tasks?

Tasks are a great tool for the language learning classroom. A task is different from an activity in that we are actually doing something that has a purpose other than just using the language. More posts about tasks in Chinese language class are here and here. This week I have been doing different versions of a task about African animals with my lower elementary students.

Reading as Task Warm Up

First, we look at the book Draw! by Raul Colon. It is a wordless picture book, so the teacher can talk as much or as little about the pictures as she likes. It is the story of a boy who travels to Africa through his drawings. The book features an elephant, giraffes, gorillas, monkeys and a rhino. While we read the book, I like to talk about what the animals are doing, and what they are eating. It could also work to talk about how they look and their different body parts.

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Completing the Task

The next step after the book is the quiz, “Is this Animal from Africa?” I have pictures of different animals on a Powerpoint presentation. We click through about ten different animals and write down the students’ guesses about whether the animal is from Africa or not. Some they are get, like knowing the lion is from Africa and the polar bear isn’t. There are a few that stump the kids, though. So far, no one has know that there are penguins from Africa!

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Revisiting Chinese Hand Writing

More on Writing in Chinese

Learning to write Chinese characters is one of the most daunting parts of learning Chinese. This blog has a couple earlier posts about learning how to write in Chinese. They are here and here. Last night, in one of my adult classes, several questions about writing Chinese characters came up. Below is an edited version of the Q & A I had with my students.

Do I have to learn how to write Chinese Characters?

Nope! You do not have to learn how to write Chinese characters by hand, if you are an adult. If you are serious about learning Chinese, even just a little, you should learn how to write in Chinese. For most purposes, however, it is fine to use computer assisted methods for writing Chinese. This basically means learning how to type in Chinese. This article has more information about how to input Chinese on a computer or a smartphone. I do, however, teach all of my kids the basics os Chinese writing and expect them to practice.

Do I have to learn calligraphy?

Well, no. You do not have to learn Chinese calligraphy. That is, you do not have to learn all the different type of dots and strokes that make up Chinese characters. Students can only really capture those with an ink brush. For my kids, I focus on making sure than they can handwrite characters with the correct stroke order. We go over the rules during class and then all the practice that they do is as homework. It really does take a great deal of repetition to learn how to right fluently. We just don’t have enough class time to spend on it.

photo of child doing Chinese calligraphy
This is a fun activity (writing Chinese with water!) to introduce children to Chinese Characters.

Are Chinese Characters Basically Random?

No! While they may seem just like a collection of squiggles to new students, Chinese characters really do have rhyme and reason. A small percentage of Chinese characters are pictographic. This means that they come from picture representations of the words that they mean. The vast majority of Chinese characters are formed through the combination of one part that gives the meaning, and another than suggests the sound. There are some characters that are meaning-meaning compounds, and a couple other categories of character that only include a small number of characters.

Don’t quite get how most Chinese characters work? Let’s take a look at an example. If we look at the character 情 qing2(feeling, love), the radical on the left hand side 忄suggests the meaning as it means heart. The right hand side hints at the sound: 情,请,清,晴 & 青 are all pronounced “qing” with different tones.

Interested in learning more about Chinese characters? This book is a personal favorite.