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Make Your Students Happy, Confident Chinese Readers

Cold Character Reading is a technique I developed at the University of Hawai'i's summer Startalk camps over a four-year period. This method of training Chinese literacy eliminates the pre-teaching of Chinese characters and focuses on helping students read simple, purpose-written Chinese texts directly, based on their knowledge of the oral language in the texts.

The First Day of Reading

In the first CCR session, students read a text that is 400 characters long (containing 23 unique Chinese characters). The text is deliberately repetitious, but the repetition is unpredictible enough that students have to focus on the meaning they are creating instead of simply memorizing phrases.

As in TPRS, there is no memorization component operating in CCR. It could be viewed as a visual implementation of the circling skill in TPRS, where language is presented repeatedly in novel contexts until the brain is able to recognize its meaning automatically.


CCR does not "ignore" radicals, but it does delay training students in the recognition of character components until after a firm foundation of fluent reading is established. Students are introduced to the major Chinese radicals, as well as text conventions such as Chinese punctuation, as the elements come up in a meaningful context within a reading. Students who learn to read this way are frequently very proactive in asking questions about these things, once there is sufficient "processing capacity" to handle the basic meaning of the text.

Scaffolded Writing

CCR is paired with Scaffolded Writing, in which students learn to write short passages in Chinese by modeling their writing on readings they have done. Students are first encouraged to change the details in an existing reading, and are able to refer back to their texts as much as they like to recall a phrasing or how to write an individual character.

Interestingly, students taught with CCR for a six-month period were able to write 46% of the characters they had read -- all without any instruction in character writing, no separate practice or quizzing on characters, and no notice that they would be tested on character writing.

Higher Levels

To move from emergent literacy up the reading chain to full reading competence, students will need to read extensively and be instructed in how to do dictionary look-ups, etc. -- eventually! CCR is a technique aimed at first- and early second-year students of Chinese in a typical Comprehensible Input-based classroom, so that advanced reading is taught AFTER structural mastery of the language has essentially taken place (usually approximately 2 years of class). At this point, more traditional methods of literacy instruction are encouraged to bring students to the level of an educated native reader.