Zhuyin Weeks 6-8

Kind of back posting here, as we’re now on Lesson  9 and 6-7 weeks have passed.

The last few weeks we’ve just been doing various reviews.  Nothing exciting.  They often have some sort of reading simple words or sentences component and writing simple words and sentences.

Starting from week 8 I went back to what we did the first few weeks of class and we played bingo games and flashcard games.  At this point a lot of compound zhuyin are being introduced and it was time to go back to associating sounds with symbols stage of learning.

I found this really great blog of an elementary teacher in Taiwan who talks about how she teaches zhuyin.  What I realized is that kids learn zhuyin in about 50 lessons.  Of course you will have kids who need to continue to practice after that.  I  find it quite interesting she doesn’t really talk about beginning sounds and all that.  In her blog she says, her curriculum is as follows:

  • Week 1-3 introduce symbols, writing
  • Week 4 blending 2 symbols + tones
  • Week 5 blending 3 symbols

The way she does it is kind of different from the way I do it.  Kids start blending after 15 lessons on symbols.  It’s all good though because I’m borrowing her ideas.  I still think it’s good to learn beginning sounds and blending from the first lesson because it’s easier to learn the symbols with context, ie seeing them next to other symbols to form a word.  It was the one thing that jumped out at me when I saw Montessori phonics the first time.  (At least my interpretation of Montessori phonics.


The children are at the cusp of reading right now.  The other day, I read about how someone’s kid learned zhuyin in 3 months and I felt kind of down.  (Don’t worry, after a night of sleep I got over it.)  But now, thinking back, we only started on this 2 months ago as well and the kids are almost reading too.  And I can say the kids are “reading”, because they can now take out a book and slowly and painstakingly sound out each character.  This to me isn’t reading though.  It is just practing zhuyin.  Don’t get me wrong, Astroboy is picking up one sentence per page books and doing it for himself and he can understand what he’s reading, but if I were to make him do longer text then it becomes zhuyin practice.   I had it in my head to have astroboy read  5 minutes a day too.  But after a dweeb, I noticed that he started to say no even when I suggested that he read for fun if he had nothing to do.   It reminded me that my goal is for the children to enjoy reading, and I should co to use to have books laying around for him to pick up but not enforce a 5 minute rule.

Seeing multiple kids learn zhuyin is giving me a pretty good overview of the steps they go through.  I was trying to tell people how I review zhuyin with Astroboy, but I don’t think I made sense.  So I will try and document it better here.

So typically you start zhuyin with

  1. Teaching the symbols
  2. Teaching beginning and ending sounds
  3. Teaching blending
  4. Teaching tones
  5. Children practice reading
  6. Children practice writing

In the beginning weeks, my focus was on teaching symbols, tones, and beginning sounds.  The other items are taught but it’s more just exposure.  Once the beginning sounds are understood, ending sounds and blending are introduced while we continue to work on tones.  We practice blending and tones by reading and writing words.  As the children master their blending, we start on reading sentences.  I think it is important to emphasize that you don’t want to get ambitious and have the child read sentences when they’re not ready.  Obviously some children thrive on the challenge, but for others it discpurages them from reading, like thumper.

Here are a few gotchas I’ve observed teaching Astroboy.  I get annoyed at the various zhuyin books I see that don’t do this.  To me, it confuses the children.

  1.  It works best if the words you use at the beginning are 2 zhuyin words, and either 1st or 4th tone.  
  2. When teaching beginning sounds or ending sounds, don’t make the second character of a word be the sound you want to teach.  For example, teaching ㄓ and using ㄒㄧㄠ  ㄓㄨ (小豬).
  3. Use words whose zhuyin you’ve introduced.  Not a requirement, but the more you have it the easier it is to teach blending.  Otherwise half the time the kids are also learning to recognize the zhuyin and get discouraged.  On the other hand, it does indirectly expose the children to future zhuyin and it makes the latter weeks easier.
  4. Some books start by teaching the symbols by themselves.  One possible problem with that is that the child does not know how to blend (e.g. combine two zhuyin together) after they’ve learned all the symbols.  You can get around that with aural preparation and teaching beginning and ending sounds while you teach the symbols.
  5. At about 3 weeks, (9 lessons or 3 chapter so) the kids start getting the beginning sound concept and start blending.
  6. Though the ultimate goal of zhuyin is to read for us, spelling is important because it really asks the child the hear the individual sounds in his head.  I’m noticing that the more we spell, the easier it is for the children to read.
  7. All children do this.  You teach the symbols to them and they ought to know it, but then they see it while reading and they don’t know it.  From a learning perspective, they have not really reached the 3rd mastery stage (recall).  The second stage (recognition and storing it in long term memory) takes the longest time for a child and it will just take more practice.   It could mean practicing blending or practicing recognizing the symbols.
  8. As the weeks go by, the children start from not hearing the tones to hearing 1st and 4th tone fine, to being able to recognize it when I say it, to being able to recognize it when they themselves say it.

I also realized there is a very specific way I teach Astroboy zhuyin, and laying that foundation kind of paved the way for him so that 3 combo blends are easier in both reading and writing.

  • I break all sounds into 2.  For example, we see a picture of bird ㄋㄧㄠˇ.  I say, it is ㄋ   ㄧㄠˇ    ㄋㄧㄠˇ.
  • I refer to symbols by their sounds.  For example, ㄐㄑㄒ is very unique in that the name of the symbol, when pronounced, sounds like ㄐㄧ,ㄑㄧ, ㄒㄧ.  So a child starts getting confused when he spells it (though he doesn’t have as much problem reading it).  Because he thinks when he sees 氣球 it’s spells ㄑ ㄑㄡ.   It’s also another reason to break all sounds into 2 only.
  • When blending, I’ve started pronouncing the tone alone with the vowel before blending.  So, I say, ㄋ   ㄧㄠˇ  ㄋㄧㄠˇ, not ㄋ   ㄧㄠ  ㄋㄧㄠˇ.  I think it confuses the children and they don’t recognize that when we recite zhuyin, that is zhuyin in its first tone.
  • I use my index finger as a guide.  When we read left to right but the zhuyin is top to bottom, the child’s eyes have to work extra hard as they’re constantly changing their tracking direction.  I’ve started sliding my index finger down each word’s zhuyin while we read left to right, and at the stage Astroboy is at (beginning reader), it’s all the help he needs.

I spoke to another teacher and she doesn’t do it that way.  Her consuls ion is that it doesn’t really matter but just the consistency of how a teacher teac.  For me astroboy got a bit of both methods so I couldn’t tell you which works better.

Common Issues 

The kids all go through the same stages in their struggle with zhuyin.  And here are a few things I do, keeping in mind the way I do it is listed above.

Typically their frustration point is an indication of the skills they need to work on.  And I’ve learned from my kids not to insist on them finishing the work the way I intended.  Because they need to take one step back down and practice some other way.

1.   Cannot blend a 2 zhuyin word while reading 

There can be a few reasons.  It depends on what you think the child knows and what you see the child telling you as they read.

If they do not recognize either zhuyin, then I just read each one aloud for them.  I do it the phonics way if it helps them more.  If there are a lot of unknown zhuyin as we read, then it is time to stop asking them to read and have them learn more symbols instead.  Play games on remembering symbols.

If they can blend but haven’t been introduced to one of the zhuyin, I read that one out loud for them.  We work on the blending concept at the same time.  /b/ /a/ pause and wait for them to say the resulting sound.  Don’t do the child’s work for them unless they’re frustrated.

If they can blend and know both zhuyin, I ask them, tell me what zhuyin you see.  Sometimes they just need to hear the two sounds spoken and then they are fine.

If they cannot blend, I resort to Montessori phonics instead of zhuyin.  So instead of saying /buh/ /ah/ /ba/, I say /b/    /a/,  /b/  /a/, /ba/, sliding my hand is a guide.  Basically the actual sounds of the zhuyin are used, and said faster and faster together so that the child understand what it means to blend.  For Astroboy at least, I see that teaching phonics makes it easier for him to blend.

If they’re at beginner reading level, and they’re just staring at the word, not saying anything, I either do the finger slide, or ask them what they see.

2.  Cannot blend a 3 zhuyin word while reading

There can be a few reasons as well.  If they have not been introduced to the last 2 zhuyin combo, or just introduced to the idea of zhuyin combos, I slide my finger next to them as I read it.  Typically if they have had enough exposure to the 2 sounds make one character concept, they can sound it out themselves.  Otherwise I have to show them.

If they have been introduced to all of the zhuyin in the character.   I ask them what they see.  Sometimes Astroboy will just sound out each zhuyin individually and blend that that.  Other times, he will do a 1-2 zhuyin read.  So saying ㄒ   ㄧㄠ.

3.  Does not read it with the right tone

Everyone has a problem with tones and it is partly the teacher’s fault I’ve decided.  The way I learned it as a child, I say, ㄋ  ㄧ   ㄠ, ㄋㄧㄠˇ.  Totally confusing as I mentioned above.  ㄋ  ㄧ   ㄠ does not spell ㄋㄧㄠˇ, it spells ㄋㄧㄠ.   Always, if I give the children the right tone as I split the sounds up, they blend properly (reading).

Writing is another beast because younger children cannot hear the 2nd and 3rd sound as well.  However, today I had an epiphany that the 3rd tone is kind of a 1.5 beat sound.  As in, to enunciate, you kind of drag the sound out a bit longer than normal.  Kind of the same as the Japanese aa sound in obaasan, vs obasan.  Or the ee sound in English.

Tones is a hard one.

4.  Cannot spell

This can be due to 1) not hearing beginning sounds, 2) not hearing ending sounds, 3) not hearing tones, 4) not remembering which symbols go with what sound.

Let’s say we’re spelling the word 爸爸 (baba).

In the beginning, I ask Astroboy, what sound does 爸爸 (baba) start with?  I spell it out after his answer.  Baba, /b/ /aˋ/, /baˋ/

As we start spelling, I start asking tell me what sound you hear, or what other sound you hear.  At a more advanced level, it is where I see the importance of dividing all sounds into 2, even for 3-zhuyin words.   Otherwise they often don’t spell it right.

For tones, either I tell them the answer and see if they can hear what tone that is to write down, or I ask them what tone it is.  It depends on where they are in hearing tones.

Lastly, sometimes they just sit there starting at a picture they should spell, and it turns out after I ask them what sounds they hear that they can spell, but they cannot remember what it looks like, (thus the sitting and staring).  It is then time to go find the answer by singing the zhuyin song and looking for it on the whiteboard.

You can get very frustrated with children watching them read.  Having gone through it once with Thumper I try to be more patient the second time around.  The biggest problem for me is pushing materials that are too hard.  If there is more than 4-5 things they don’t know in one reading setting, they will balk at it after awhile.  I try to remember the goal is reading easily as if you’re reading a whole word, rather than sounding out phonics.  And it’s okay to be stuck at the word level or sentence level for awhile.

Another potential frustration is the I thought I taught you that already feeling.


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