Tag: sagebooks

Sagebook Supplemental Materials

A friend recently asked me to make a zhuyin companion cards to my flashcards.  I don’t know why I had not thought of that before!  At this point, I think I’ve made most of the materials I have ever wanted to make to help my kids learn their Chinese characters.  So it is time to actually list is out in one summary page for my easy reference.

Character Flashcards

I made both Traditional and Simplified versions of these cards color coded to the book colors, with radicals highlighted.  The Traditional version also comes with zhuyin cards.  They’re available from Etsy.


We’re done with Sagebooks!

This post was started in May but I didn’t get around to finishing it till now.

Finally finally finally!  We’re (mostly) done with Sagebooks!

It took us a whole school year to finish our Sagebooks.  Astroboy approached Sagebooks at a much different way than Thumper.  Yet at the same time, there were clear patterns on how both kids progressed through the books.

With Thumper, she’d learned at least 200-300 by the end of preschool.  When we started on Sagebooks, she knew the majority of the characters in Set 1-3.  Because she was 7 by then, she picked up the concept of phonetic and semantic components (部件) really quickly.  Combined with a high comprehension skills and a penchant for using illustrations and sentence context as clues, she zoomed through Set 4 and 5 at the rate of about 1 book a day, despite not knowing a lot of characters in those 2 sets.

She basically finished the set in a few months once we set our mind to consistently study it.

In contrast, Astroboy spent all of age 4 on Set 1 book 1 and book 2.   My plan this year was to start in August and finish by March by being consistent about having daily Sagebooks review.

Of course, the children seldom want to go along with my plan.

By December and Set 3, he started dragging his feet.  Despite having Sagebooks on our workplans, he didn’t want to choose to do them and I didn’t push ask him again until April, after we moved.  In the meantime, he had learned zhuyin and for a period of 1-2 months, was reading picture books nightly for about 10-20 minutes.

In April, we restarted again by reviewing the end of Set 3 and starting on Set 4.   I was so surprised when we zoomed through Set 4 fairly easily, and Set 5 just a bit slower.  He basically learned a bunch of new characters through reading picture books and suddenly Set 3 and Set 4 were much easier.

By the end of May, we had kind of finished all 5 sets.  However, back in August, I restarted him on Set 5 book 3-5 because he rushed through the last few sets and couldn’t remember most of the words.

We’ve now moved onto reading the Level 0 Bridging Books and picture books.  I continue to see that he cannot remember many of the characters from set 5, and even some characters from the beginning sets.  However, I’m not too worried.

Some things I learned watching Astroboy work through Sagebooks.

1.  The first 1-1.5 set is the hardest.  

As I mentioned, it took Astroboy a whole year to finish Set 1.  Granted, I didn’t push him and in hindsight I don’t think he was developmentally ready.  But what I did notice was the speed in which he picked up new characters.  The first three books in Set 1 were definitely hard.  We had to constantly review before moving on.  We played Chutes and Ladders, try to write characters with our bottoms, played matching games, etc.

We still played some Chutes and Ladders in the second set, but not as often.  By the third set, we didn’t need to except when he was really having issues with some characters.

It seemed the hardest part for him was getting used to memorizing characters in the first set.  Once he got enough characters in, he was somehow using whatever he learned before to help him memorize new ones.

2.  Knowing zhuyin helps in learning characters

Yes I know, Sagebooks doesn’t have zhuyin.  But zhuyin characters are often Chinese character components.  It helped him, especially in the beginning, to remember some of the characters, like 包 and 麼.

3.  Move on if they consistently can’t remember characters

There were a few characters Astroboy consistently forgot in the first set, because they are abstract concepts, like 來 and 搖.  In the first set, I played games with Astroboy.  But he still forgot them.  With both of us frustrated, I finally had to just move on.

Imagine my surprise that by the end of the second set, he remembered all those characters!

Sagebooks really is designed very well.  They repetition of characters helps ensure he doesn’t forget.  Now, obviously, there are some characters that aren’t repeated often, like 燕.   But I find, for very common characters, I don’t need to be hung up on it and force my kid to remember it before moving on.

If I did that, it would take me way too long to finish the set and likely result in a kid who doesn’t like reading in Chinese, which is the ultimate goal.  I just have to believe he will encounter the frequent characters also through reading and he will remember them again then.

3.  Consistency is KEY.

I can’t emphasize this enough.  The biggest lesson I learned last year is that with any curriculum I want to implement, if I don’t use it consistently, I am basically wasting the times that I did use it.

I was much much better about it this year.  Even if we had doctor’s appointments, even if the kids had spring fever, even if we had extra playdates, I try to squeeze in 5-10 minutes a day to read the books.

For me, this is actually the most important aspect of using Sagebooks.  You can’t slack off.

4.  A break is okay if you substitute with similar activity

I know I just said consistency is key.  But we took a break for 2-3 months because every reading session was met with “I don’t want to.”   Though I forced cajoled him into reading in the beginning, and he would get into it once we started, eventually he dragged his foot and couldn’t pay attention.  Or would ask to skip characters he can recognize.

Since part of reading practice is for reading fluency, I knew we couldn’t keep skipping.  I didn’t want him to learn all the characters but end up hating to read Chinese.  That’s not the end goal.   So we conveniently stopped doing Sagebooks consistently around the holidays and didn’t pick up till we moved.

As I mentioned, he came back to doing Sagebooks with tons of new characters recognized through reading picture books.  It’s a new aha for me.  That you could combine Sagebooks with zhuyin reading.  Even though I think when he reads he likes to read the zhuyin only, he still looks at the characters.

This is definitely another option: introducing zhuyin after Set 2, preferably Set 3, and start reading.

5.  Point out components as you teach

By about set 2, I started teaching components as I introduced the characters.  I didn’t force him to remember them.  I just mentioned it and asked him to repeat once in awhile.  草. 草字頭,早字底.  Reading in the car is a super duper great way to force him to look at the characters carefully, since I’m driving and I really cannot be turning my head around every time he can’t remember a character.

During those times, I would ask him to point out the components to me and I can guess the character for him.  If there was a phonemic and semantic component, I ask him to guess what character it is.  (Honestly, not his favorite thing to do so I didn’t push it every time.)  By the end of set 4, he was starting to pick up on the pattern and started guessing the pronunciation based on the components he saw.

To me, this is the second most important point.  Teaching component is really the natural progression after you’ve learned enough characters (and therefore enough components).  It is what will allow them to start reading without zhuyin eventually.  It’s also a way for them to remember a character or guess its meaning.

6.  Comprehension is super duper important.  i.e. Sagebooks works better for native speakers

Without comprehension, you can’t guess from context.  Astroboy tends to read a sentence through even when he doesn’t understand them.  He doesn’t self correct.  I finally realized, watching him read regular picture books, that his comprehension is really too low.  I see it because for the toddler books, he can guess from context, and predict characters.

In addition, it is so much easier when he has to just learn how to recognize a character instead of learning the meaning of a character at the same time.  Because learning the meaning is so much harder, requires more explanation, and also having him seeing it used in context in daily speech.  That takes so much more time than just whatever the book can provide you.

So what’s after Sage?

We tried the first 3 sets of Greenfield but it really didn’t work for us because it’s too short, compared with the longer picture books he’s been reading.  I think Greenfield is suitable for 3 to 5 year olds or anyone who’s just started reading.  But for Astroboy, the level is too easy.  Since it’s too easy, he doesn’t want to repeat read.  Without repeat reading, he cannot remember the characters.

So now, we’re just trying to slowly level through our books.  I learned from Astroboy that it is okay to continue reading picture books after Sagebooks.  You don’t have to immediately move onto Little Bear or other Bridging Books.  It all depends on the child’s developmental and comprehension level.  Just like in English, picture books are still placed with early chapter books, you can also read long picture books as reading practice.

As I mentioned above, more than anything, the key to leveling up after Sagebooks is consistency in reading.  Astroboy’s reading really improved with the 1-2 months he was reading picture books.  Then we stopped and for a long time he really did not want to read any Level 0 books.  Recently, we started back up with daily guided reading of the Arnold Lobel series.  After about 4-5 days of consistent reading, he was able to read through a 60+ page Level 0 book more smoothly.

I see clearly now that Astroboy is stuck because of his comprehension.  So my plan is to try and consistently read to him daily, and also consistently ask him to read to me daily.  I don’t mind if he doesn’t read until after 7.  I saw with Thumper how fast one can jump through books when the comprehension is high enough.  Otherwise you just spend a lot more time in the same reading level.   I now have to find way more Level 0 and Level 1 books than I did with Thumper.

But, sadly, it is logistically hard to school the two children differently.  By this, I mean, maybe Thumper needs to be going to school and Astroboy can take his Gap Year, upping his comprehension though daily living.  But, I can’t just leave Thumper behind.  So Astroboy gets dragged a long bit and starts earlier on the reading.



Sagebook Companion Resources

Finally, after months of feeling uninspired to prep (I know, so bad!), I spent some time this past weekend finishing my Chutes and Ladders set for Sagebooks.  It’s about time because Astroboy is now on Set 4 of Sagebooks and he really needs to work with the characters in some other ways to spice things up.

For awhile I was worried that he was forgetting characters left and right, because he couldn’t remember them when I reviewed with Anki.  However, this week I put all of Set 1, 2, 3’s treasure boxes in the car and he read them while we ran around time.  I was very surprised he really had no problem with set 1 or set 2, even though he couldn’t remember many characters in set 2 with Anki.

In any case, below are some free, and not so free, items I’ve created as companions to Sagebook.


Sagebooks Chinese Character Writing Practice Sheets

sage practice sheetsI’m sure you’ve come across New Taipei City Educational Dept’s 生字簿 user-generated character practice sheets website.

Well, that website doesn’t work on Macs.

Threw a wrench into my plan to finish generating these writing practice worksheets for Astroboy.  The Great O had posted a work around before of using Lumin PDF, but that doesn’t work now for some reason.

I was very stubborn last night and figured out all the ins and outs of how they generate those practice sheets.  But it didn’t really help me until I got Mandarin Mama to open Sets 3-5 on her Windows machine and just send it back to me in PDF.


Skritter Sagebook Lists

Two months ago, while I was researching Anki, I re-tried Skritter and Chinese Writer for the writing characters part.  Unfortunately Skritter required a subscription.  So I dropped it till this week, when I subscribed through a group order (so much cheaper!)

My first impression of Skritter, 2 months ago, was that it was very powerful, and that it was more suited for Thumper (8) than Astroboy (5).  Playing with it again today, my second impression is that the more English you know, the better suited it is for you.  It also doesn’t have zhuyin support on iOS, which is our primary OS at home.


If you’re going to use Sagebooks, buy everything

I’ve had some people ask me for opinions on what books to buy from 基礎漢字500  Sagebooks recently.  I usually try to be balanced and take people’s needs and desires into account and say things like, “Well, if you don’t really need it, then don’t get it.”   However, I realized recently that I actually have some very strong opinions.

If you’re going to use Sagebooks to teach your child to read, don’t do it half ass and just order the readers or the treasure boxes, get everything!

I’m going to assume that you want to use Sagebooks.  Because I don’t think I can convince someone that doesn’t want to be convinced.  Mandarin Mama has a good post about what Sagebooks is.  I personally think, if your child speaks Chinese fluently, and you want them to learn to read in 1 year, then this is the best option out there.

“But…..but…!” you say.


Sagebooks Chinese Writer Character packs

trainchineseFinally, I’m starting on compiling the resources I use to go with my Sagebooks.  Getting off my behind because Astroboy consistently cannot remember 10-15 characters from the second set, despite our reviews.  So it it time to whip out the other materials to help him remember.

We’ve been using Anki to make sure he remembers some of the old characters from Set 1 (we’re in Set 3).  Next up is Train Chinese’s Chinese Writer character packs.  The app itself is available for iTunes and Android.  This is a program which allows children to practice Chinese writing with a game app.  I don’t love the program because the font it uses for its writing is bad.  (My pet peeve, people who don’t notice these details.)   This is not a writing font, and for me it is unconsciously telling kids who use the app how they should write these characters, but it’s wrong.  For example, look at the character for 四, 回.  It should be (mostly) a box on the outside.


Back on the horse with Sagebooks 基礎漢字 500

One of my goals this year for Astroboy is learning 500 characters.  Last year, I wasn’t consistent and we only went through 40 characters.  This year, at least for now, I’m feeling gong ho.  Especially when I’ve been telling everyone who is on the fence about using Sage that it only takes 15 minutes a day.  I can do 15 minutes a day myself can’t it?  We started about 3 weeks ago and we’re now on book 5 of first series, yay!

Okay, you can definitely do just 15 minutes a day.  But I probably spend closer to 30 minutes with Astroboy.   I recently remembered once again that Chinese characters are whole words and that I ought to try and use some whole words approach when teaching reading.   Whereas Thumper wheezed through the books due to her age and foundation from preschool, Astroboy is doing it pretty much step by step.  So I’m now developing a new routine:


Characters #501-#510

蛇It is indeed a lot of work to try to write sentences with just 500 characters under your belt and making sure that you reuse characters you just learned, while also making sure you introduce new vocabulary that uses the same character later on. Plus, it has to follow your theme. I came up with the first 3 characters on Monday, then changed the order completely on Tuesday when I had to add new words.  As of now, I’m heavy on first grade characters, and low on verbs and adjectives.  Often, I come up with a sentence, only to realize I need to introduce this OTHER character first, and then 3 characters later, I see it’s all nouns. All this to say, it took me a few hours……and I have 10.  I’m having lot of fun though. Sadly, it took Thumper all of 3 minutes to go through the 3 characters on Monday.  She said she knew them.   I wonder just how many characters she actually knows. On my word doc, I color-coded the characters to highlight current character and review character.  I also made a list of words introduced.   Too lazy to do color-code here.  So here they are.

#601 蛇
平常沒太陽時, 蛇在暖的燈下。

#602 錢

#603 借
我沒有十塊錢, 想跟媽媽借。

#604 但

#605 食
老鼠,蛋,小鳥 是蛇的食物,

#606 第

#607 龜

#608 躲
如果你要抓它,他會躲進水裡 。


#610 洋

Analyzation of Sagebook Character Choices

I have finally come up with how I’m going to choose my next characters.  That took me two blurry eye days and back to drinking coffee.  I know I don’t really need to do things this way.  It would save me so much time to just use a textbook.  For some reason I enjoy the process of analyzing and inputting data.   I also want to be able to keep track of characters learned.  There is obviously another way to do this, when the child practices writing characters, log it in your logbook.  Voila.

Anyways, to come up with the list, first I had to analyze the books and how the characters show up.  It’s really fascinating and took me down different paths.  I learned a few things on how the characters are introduced.

  • Progression of character difficulty:  As the series progressed, more and more characters from second “grade” and beyond showed up.  I say “grade” because they’re saying 3000 characters by 6th grade.  The first “grade” has 508 characters.  It’s really 510 because they added but never introduced 一 and 完.  Second grade was 716!  By series 5, about 50% was from second grade.  Often, the higher the grade level, the more strokes and more abstract meaning.  Obviously this is how most people teach characters.  But what I like about Sage is that they do introduce characters from higher grade level early on.  Many of them are used in children’s books.  Oh! and I also realized, going through all 3000 characters, that if you can get to about 3rd grade, which is 1866 characters, you’re pretty set.  Those seemed to have characters I would deem important to know the meaning of.
  • Division by grammar functions: There is an even division of grammar characters.  For example, they will introduce nouns, verbs, and the other “stuff”; adjective, adverbs, conjunction, interjection, preposition, particles, in a pretty even distribution.  I learned that really, you cannot look at a Chinese character and say it is a verb, a noun, or an adjective.  They combine with other characters to form a word and those words then have grammar functions.  But, I tried anyway because I did not want to look up how each word was introduced in Sage and then define them.  I don’t think I’m too far off though.
  • Words:  Related to grammar functions, I think I will need to introduce different words based on same character as the books in the series progresses.
  • Division by Theme: Characters in a series are grouped by theme.  For example, the Blue series introduces pronouns, direction, numbers, verbs, and helping verbs.  Red series, the last one, introduces school, family life, community life, social life, science, social studies, personal relationships.  Within each book in the series, characters from each theme are introduced.  Looking at the themes, you can see it kind of goes from people outward to community and school life.
  • Character Review:  Because a few characters from each theme is introduced in each book, the child reviews previous characters from the previous book when they introduce new characters in the same theme.  This is in addition to reviewing characters from the chapters you just learned.  I imagine this is the hardest part I’m going to have when I come up with sentences.
  • Other:  Since each character could have multiple meaning depending on words it’s used in, the series makes sure to introduce these words.  As the series progresses, the number of characters per sentence gets longer.   They also introduce other grammar points like questions.  In the beginning most of the sentences are based in reality.  They introduce children’s stories in the pink series (the monkey and pig).

Anyways, I calculated stats on grade level and grammar and decided that my characters will be chosen by themes as well.  Given that subject vocabulary is introduced early on in Montessori curriculum, I decided that I would focus on subjects such as geography, zoology, botany, and solar system.  But once I started choosing the characters, I realized it was really hard to choose!  I had to make sure there is a good distribution of grade level as there are still 200+ characters from 1st “grade” after 500 characters.  Then each series only really gives you about 50 nouns.   Then I have to make sure there is a good distribution of grammar functions, which means I have to look up the common words used for that character, knowing that I would need to introduce different words in the series based on each character.   I also wanted to introduce Chinese counters, conjunctions, colors, math concepts like 個十百千.  So many concepts still not introduced after 500 characters!

i had to narrow my theme for the 6th set given all these constraints.  On the other hand, it does provide me with themes for the 7th series.  Once I picked my 100, the problem comes with order of introduction.  I made a first pass, then as I started writing sentences, kept running into the problem of characters not being introduced yet.  Yikes!  Like the ubiquitous 它.  I guess they got around that problem by using 他.

What did I pick?

All this to say, for the next set I aim to have about 50% second grad characters, followed by first grade, and third grade.  My current breakdown is:

  • Adjective 13
  • Conjunction 4
  • Noun 47
  • Preposition 1
  • Verb 29

My theme will be Math Counters, Geography, and Zoology.   I know it will change as I progress because I will find characters I need that’s not on my list.  But it gives me a starting point.  Another problem I’m having is, how hard to I make the sentences?  Do I write for a 5 year old or 7 year old?

Lastly, as usual, one project leads to another and another.  I kept thinking as I went through the characters that I really need to introduce radicals and counters.  So for sure radicals is next.  I feel like the characters are going to start getting confusing because of their similarities and it’s time to introduce radicals to help with meaning.