Tag: character structures

Learning Chinese Character Shapes

This week I introduced the second part of Chinese character structure.  These are two different things but I don’t know how to translate them into English.  The first one was called 漢字基本結構, so more Chinese characters’ basic structure.  It’s really more about how the character components fit each other to form a character.  This second part is 字體結構, and it’s about how to write these character components so that it looks nice.

So this is part 3 of my lesson plan on teaching how to write.  One was stroke name, two was character structure, and three is character shapes.  Two and three are really inter-related.


The easiest way to explain character form is to look at some characters.  For example, 山.  This character is triangular in shape when you write it.  Or, a character like 牙, which is long rectangular shape.  Or, the one character that Thumper tends to write funny, 天.  You can see it’s kind of triangular shape.  But Thumper likes to write it so that the first left-right stroke is as long as the second.  It was because of this that I thought it would be important to talk about character shapes with her.  The 8 shapes for simple characters are:

  • triangle  上
  • inverted triangle  下
  • rhombus  米
  • circle  小
  • square  凹
  • rectangle  牙
  • wide rectangle  丑
  • trapezoid  工

For characters with character components, you can break down the character shapes even more.  For example, one of a character’s basic structure is left/right, where the character components are left and right of each other, e.g. 朋.  Then you can break this down even more and say some characters have the left side bigger, some the right side bigger, some the left is long rectangle, right short rectangle, etc.  Here are the 6 basic ones for just the left right structure:

  • equal 朋
  • left wide, right narrow 割
  • left narrow, right wide 姐
  • left long, right short  私
  • left short, right long  喔
  • let tall, right low  胡

Crazy right?  I count 27 of these for the different character component, plus the 8 for simple for a total of 35!

How I Presented

As usual, to make sure I don’t spend 5000 days to actually create the material (which I’m doing now, hours and hours of work), I just printed out the relevant pages from the research paper as prep.  This was actually just a 5-10 minute lesson I squeezed in before cooking dinner.   I first showed Thumper the reference material I made for her the other day.

2. chinese structure

I then talked about how it’s not just these basic structures but the characters themselves have specific shapes.  For example, her 天 she often writes it with two equal lines.  (I know I know, I really should not be pointing out her mistakes.  sigh).  But really 天’s shape is a triangle.  (Here I draw a triangle around the character.  We then just went through and talked about the 8 basic character shapes.  I definitely stressed the long rectangle shape because that is seen the most often.  And then we went through some of the shapes for the left/right components.  By then she was getting tired so I just left it at that.

One technique I’m using from reaching Nurture Shock.  I tend to give many examples of what NOT to do.  Thumper really really found it funny to show me examples of how not to write the characters.  Looking back, I think I should have let her go with it.  But at the time, I stopped her after a few examples.


BUT!  there is an epilogue.  Two days later, we finally talked about how to write Chinese characters, and we started practicing.   Wow, what a difference knowing character structure makes!


Learning about Chinese Character Structure

This week, I finally decided that I cannot wait until I make the material for learning about character structures. We’re not making headway in the writing department if I keep waiting and waiting. Last weekend I finally read through about half of the almost 300 page research paper on character components and how to teach character recognition. I was going to do some gianormous post about what I learned and how I’m thinking of teaching this. But, I had a lot of fun with my presentation so I’m going to write it piecemeal instead.

Some Background First
Teaching character structure is probably the second step after teaching stroke names. I will teach stroke order right before we start writing probably. Instead of some nomenclature cards, I just whipped out my little whiteboard and the two cheat sheets I printed from the research paper. There is about 12 basic Chinese character structure. The structures is a way for you to kind of “split” the character into different character components. Typically this is because of spacing or because you can split it into 2 separate components.

For example, most characters have a left right split like 好. You can naturally draw a line and split the character in half.  The character 香 has a top an bottom split because you can split that word into the components 禾 on top and 日 on the bottom.  Anyways, the 12 structures are:

character structures

If you look online you will see many list 14 or 16.  The research paper lists an additional 8.  It kind of sub-divides some of these “sections”.  Like, 彎, it’s a top/bottom character, but the top can be sub-divided into 3 sections.

There is also the issue of character shape.  Not sure how else I should describe it?   For example, for the word 土, though it is two left-right strokes, one is shorter than the other and it looks like a triangle.  Or for the character 三, again, 3 left-right strokes (一橫) if you just go by stroke name, but they’re of different lengths in order for it to look nice in a square.   I had read really quickly through a paper last week on why we do stroke order the way it is, and how strokes are changed in order for it to look pretty.  For example, the character 林 are made of two of the same character component 木.  But the stroke of the left 木 changes in order for the component to fit nicely next to the right 木.  I realized looking through Thumper’s writing this week that she does not know this.  Strokes are long where they should be short, etc.  Hopefully knowing all of these background info will allow her to be mindful when she writes.


I kind of winged it as I go.  We started the second book of Pink Series this week so Thumper laid out all the cards from the first book plus 6 more from the second.  Astroboy wanted in on the fun so he also laid out his 20+- characters from his second book of the Blue Series.  Then I drew a square and  told her that when we write Chinese characters the goal is to write it centered in a square.   I drew a few where characters weren’t centered and we talked about how that didn’t look good.

Then I said that in order for these characters to be centered, we need to look at the parts of the character components that make up the character when we write, to make sure that they are centered overall.  For example, for the character 林, you would not want to squeeze it onto the left side of the square, or for half of the 林 to be on the far left and the other half far right.  I then drew a line down the square to show how the character is split.

Finding the character structures

Thumper was then asked to find all the characters laid out on the rug that had a left/right split.  We used a whiteboard marker and drew the splitting line on these flashcards.  Going through the various structures, we tried to find all the cards that fit and draw the splitting line.  Of course not all of them were on the mat, I had to pull a few of the super common characters off of other series flashcards instead (like 圓).  Astroboy got onto the action and drew on his with my directions.  I had to tell him that the split is where there is a space in the character or split along smaller words.  He could not see it really.  It’s not an exact science actually, that’s why there is a whole research paper on the subject of how to find character components.

The last thing I talked to Thumper about was that in order for the characters to look nice, it’s not an even split like my drawing.  Many times it’s more like a 30/70 split or 20/80 split.  For example, 他 is split in two but the left side is much smaller than the right.  Next week I’m also going to get into character shape and stroke changes as well..

All of this took about 30 minutes or so and by the the kids were tired.  So we erased the lines and played their new favorite game, “Find the Character”.  All in all it was a super good day.  The kids had fun looking