Global Textbook Chinese Snowball for Kids Two with Exercise book & 1CD

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By Dr. Ningsha Zhong

In the University of Toronto, Canada

It is a great honor for me to write an introduction to Chinese Snowball, a new series of textbooks in teaching Chinese (Mandarin) as a second language at the elementary school level. It is complied by Dr. Aiping Zhan, my classmate in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. University of Toronto. Aiping obtained her doctoral degree in education in 2002 and has had considerable teaching experience in elementary and secondary schools. Currently she is the Subject Leader of the Chinese Studies Department at Hong Lok Yuan International School in Hong Kong. She is a member of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) and a member of the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS). Her research focuses on development of relevant instructions for young learners with different educational background and learning styles. Chinese Snowball can be considered as a summary of her teaching experience and application of her ideas of education to practice.

The series consists of 12 books, 2 for each grade. For each book, there is an additional exercise book and picture book, both intended to give students more practical training for interactive learning. Books 1 to 4 focus on Pinyin and the basic structure of the Chinese language. Books 5 to 12 gradually build up the students’ vocabulary and develop their ability to use the Chinese language in daily life and communication.

These textbooks created in particular for students in the international schools, whose mother tongue is not Chinese. It has taken into account uniqueness of the learning environment in the international schools and students’ learning styles. Each lesson was carefully designed with a combination of words, sentences, pictures, games, songs, and exercises. English translation is provided throughout the series to help students and parents. The series contains a large quantity of materials that meet the needs of students at all the levels. Most importantly, the textbook, exercises and picture books provide as much rhyme for young students to learn language, and this makes it easier for them to catch up to the meaning and usage of words and sentences. As the metaphor "snowball" indicates, the series will enable students’ learning to grow at a rapid speed, like a snowball rolls down the hill. In completion of this series, students are expected to:

1. Have a solid foundation in Chinese with a vocabulary of 2500-3000 characters and understand the basic structure of the language.

2. Use oral and written Chinese for daily needs and participate in classroom activities and communicate with native speakers.

3. Obtain knowledge of Chinese culture that includes social customs, music, art, food, literature, and history etc.

4. Apply their language skills of listening, reading, speaking, and writing to practice and develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.

Three additional features make Chinese Snowball stand out as a novel tool for teaching and learning Chinese as a second language. In his review, Dr. Wu Weiping from the Chinese University of Hong Kong pointed out that the use of Pinyin as the index and sequencing key is unique as it leads the development of curriculum and enhances student learning. In the international school, it is always a challenge to teachers to choose whether Pinyin should be taught at a young age as it may confuse students who are learning their mother tongue at the same time. If the answer is yes, then, how much should be taught and how to teach it. This series presents a guide to teaching and learning of Pinyin as each vowel or consonant stands out as a theme to link what is learned in the textbook to the student and his/her surroundings. Then the process of learning Pinyin becomes a meaningful, also fun part, for students to relate their experience to the Chinese language.

The second is the organization of content through themes and an interactive approach to language learning. Each lesson is organized by a theme or topic which is meaningful to the students, e.g., "numbers" (see Lesson 1 of Book 2) or "Comparing Who Is Taller" (Lesson 2 of Book 2). The theme functions as a means to integrate curriculum content that may go beyond the information given and learning strategies that relate the student’s learning experience to the contexts. Through well designed structured or non-structured instructions, students are engaged in an active process of learning activities including singing, drawing, playing games, story-telling, and writing. Thus, they are able to reconstruct their knowledge and skills in the Chinese language based on their own experience in language learning and on the interaction with the teacher, classmates, and textbooks.

The third is the picture books of reading series correspondent with the textbooks of reading series correspondent with the textbooks of "Chinese Snowball".

It is really helpful for children to raise their interests in Chinese language and nurture their gook habit of Chinese reading from their young ages.

In conclusion, a good textbook must guide both students and teachers to create a learning environment in which students are able to develop their full potential and take charge of their own learning. I am pleased to see that Chinese Snowball is an example of the kind.

Words from the Author

I have been wrestling with the issue of how to teach my daughter the Chinese language ever since the started her kindergarten in Canada. The biggest difficulty has always been lack of a suitable textbook. Over the years I myself compiled from scratching some teaching materials for her. Later I became a Chinese teacher at an international school and, facing the children from all over the world, had to tackle the same pressing problem in a more formal and urgent manner. Children vary in many ways in their preschool exposure to the Chinese language and in their living environment related to the cultures due to their family backgrounds. How could I help everyone really learn the language within limited teaching periods? Besides appropriately grouping children into different levels (class size being a vital factor to take into consideration), the solution lies in a set of good textbooks and accompanying teaching materials that are suitable for all children. With my many years of teaching experiences in Mainland China, Canada and Hong Kong, holding the educational ideal of "teaching all of varied abilities" (it’s the abilities not the materials), applying the method of comparative education that I studied in the University of Toronto, and taking into account the differences in each child’s aptitude, cognitive psychology, intelligence development stages and his/her study styles, I have explored my way in designing this set of teaching materials-Chinese Snowball, hoping to alleviate the burden on international school teachers from preparing lessons for multiple levels or from handling multiple textbooks for each class. And more importantly, to render high quality teaching of core knowledge of the Chinese language and essence of the culture to children at international schools and in other settings amidst the enjoyable games of "snowballing" and pleasure by integrating instruction and learning activities.

There are altogether twelve volumes in Chinese Snowball for children from grades 1 to 6. Generally two volumes are used for each school year. What is more a "child-centered" approach is suggested when a school decides the number and length of class periods with varied levels of the children. The text in each lesson stresses on expressions in writing while the speaking and singing activities stress on oral expressions. The writing section builds up the basic structures of Chinese language in terms of levels of difficulties, from strokes to radicals, characters, words, sentences, paragraphs then to a project study with the essentials incorporated throughout the whole process. The texts in grades 1 and 2 are made in rhymes for the ease of reading and memorizing. An outline of Chinese phonics-"Pinyin" vowels and consonants—are used to link all the texts in the books, to foster accurate tones and pronunciation as well as recognition of the different characters of the same "Pinyin". Some texts in grades 3 and 4 are designed to teach children the appropriate speeches on a specific occasion. Some topics in grades 5 and 6 let children express opinions to promote the ability to initiate discussions and fluent speeches. Most texts are designed with rooms for drawing, speaking, singing and playing games in order to stimulate children’ interests and to make the language easier for kids to understand, memorize and be applicable to daily life. Thus the critical thinking and communicating skills of the children will naturally develop.

In each lesson in grades 1-2, new characters and phrases are introduced with the same meaning as they appear in the "text". Children are expected to recognize and understand these new characters but not necessarily required to write. The main purpose of the sections of the "Speaking and Singing" activity is to make the new words exposed repeatedly to the young learners on more or less fun occasions, but not to be written either. The words in the "Writing" part are to be understood, read and written. The requirements can be flexible geared to children at different levels. For example, in Lesson One of volume 1, almost everyone should grasp the very basics, that is, the vowel "a", the pronunciation and meaning of the words "papa, mama 爸爸妈妈" in Chinese, and the characters "one, two three, 一,二,三" made with the stroke "héng/horizontal/一". Some of the children may be able to pronounce the Pinyin of "ba, ma" without correct tones, others can do the tones correctly by pronouncing "bà, mā". Most of them will be able to write "一,二,三" but some may not remember the sounds or meanings of them. This is normal in the learning process. All children of five or six years old have established the concept of "I"; some are able to use the concept of "have" in saying a short sentence "I have Mama"; others are able to use the concept of "and" to say a longer sentence of "I have Mama and Papa". These facts will become manifest in children’s assignments.

The items of exercises include listening, speaking, reciting, singing, drawing, playing (games), translating, reading and writing, from simplicity to complexity, activating all the learning organs such as the eyes, ears, mouth, hands and brain to benefit from one way or another to suit the needs of children with different learning styles. Children of higher aptitude are encouraged to finish all the exercises, including the challenging ones. Average children may do 7 or 8 exercises, with the minimum of 5 or 6 exercises for children with difficulty in the course. The idea is to help them firmly master the core knowledge and then expand in depth and width. The same process repeats in each subsequent lesson and so on, thus all the children with different abilities can start a new lesson together. The "snowball", i.e. the Chinese language learning, will thus grow and become more solid as it rolls on.

The "Key-Point" notes in each lesson cover important and sometimes particularly difficult elements. In grades 1 and 2, children tend to rely more on teachers and parents for explanation and enlightenment. Later on when they know more English/Chinese, they will be able to read and understand themselves, thus cultivating their self-learning ability. Little by little children are introduced all along to learning and grasping Chinese without experiencing discouragement nor frustration from the syntax, grammar, oral expressions, idioms and sentence patterns that tend to be somewhat monotonous and drab but indispensable training for language learning.

Upon completing each textbook, a student will be expected to create a "personalized" product that is worth preserving as part of his achievements or growth records. Also, each textbook is designed with 2 volumes, A and B, as wordbooks that cover cross-disciplinary exercises of Chinese, English, Mathematics, Social Science, Information Technology and Art questions. Here I sincerely extend my cordial appreciation to Mr. Guangchang Meng, a young artist, who has, with his exquisite techniques, produced a large number of vivid and lovely drawings for the textbooks and workbooks, greatly adding to the charm of this set of books.

The childhood is the gold age to foster a superior reading habit. Therefore the Chinese Snowball: Kids Reader, a series of comics, is designed for each grade to go along with the textbooks corresponding to the unfolding pace of them. Reading aloud is a good way to develop fluency, sensitivity, vocabulary, knowledge, sense of the language and humor and the foreign cultures. I would extend my cordial appreciation to Ms. Yuqing Gu, another young artist, whose drawings of various characters and sceneries full of taste catering for children will surely be loved by the youngsters.

Global Textbook Chinese Snowball for Kids Two with Exercise book & 1CD