Teaching Chinese characters to first and second graders during the first covid-19 school closure in China: an observational study

Ziyu Zhou, Steve Graham, Tien Ping Hsiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education around the world, resulting in the implementation of different forms of remote instruction. The present study provided a description of one interesting and unique approach to providing such instruction by analyzing 144 language arts lessons designed and implemented by 61 distinguished and experienced teachers in Xiangzhou, China. The lessons were used to teach first and second grade students the pronunciation, meaning, recognition, and writing of simplified Chinese characters. These lessons provide a possible model for teaching Chinese characters in the future. The 144 lessons were delivered synchronously through live video interactions with two to four students, while other students were able to access them simultaneously at home via an internet device or on TV (the lessons were accessed 2.1 million times). Lessons were taught four to seven times a week, and teachers devoted 58% of lesson time to teaching characters: 69% and 46% of lesson time was spent teaching characters in grades one and two, respectively. A large number of recommended behaviors for teaching characters (77 out of 80 behaviors assessed) were applied across the 144 lessons, but a relatively small number of teaching behaviors (14) were used in each lesson. This typically included two behaviors for teaching character recognition and four behaviors each for teaching pronunciation, meaning, and writing of characters. Congruently, 6.32, 5.83, 5.49, and 3.78 min per lessons were used to teach character pronunciation, writing, meaning, and recognition, respectively. Character instruction in these lessons was coherently and logically designed, but all live interactions between teachers and students were teacher directed. Directions for future research are presented and implications for practice discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2465-2498
Number of pages34
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Chinese characters
  • Handwriting
  • Meaning
  • Reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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