Learning Chinese by doing - The essential functionality of Work Books

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.” This popular quote speaks the truth of learning Chinese, that students must get involved in their learning process.

There are many ways to get students involved. Some of them are not interactive, that the activities are quite self-contained, such as memorising a deck of flash cards or repeating after a recording. Some of them are highly interactive, that the activities require interactions with others, such as teacher-led class activities or discussing a topic with a Chinese friend. And some are in between, that the activities require students to reflect and to interact, but not necessarily with people. 

All three categories are important for students to have a good and multi dimensional Chinese learning experience. And Work Books, our topic here, belong to the third category. In this article, we are going to introduce Mandarin Express Work Books, and also share some ideas on how to write Work Book exercises, so that teachers can write exercises whenever they need.

Mandarin Express series includes six Work Books, covering Intro Level A & B, Basic A & B, and Pre-Intermediate Level A & B. Because these textbooks are used for different stages of learning Chinese, slightly different approaches are taken.

Mandarin Express Intro and Basic Level Work Books

There are four Work Books at Intro and Basic Levels, written strictly within the framework of Student’s Books. That is to say that more than 99% of the Work Book content are what students have learned in the Student’s Books, and less than 1% are new names and a occasional variations of a learned phrase. 

There are two reasons behind this tight control. The first one is that the learning medium is pinyin, which confines the size of the vocabulary introduced to students. Chinese texts written in pinyin can easily get students confused. So many words have a similar, or even the same, look. To avoid confusions as much as possible, it is the best that Work Books introduce close to zero new words, so that students’ attention can be focused on practicing words they have learned. The second one is that one of the main focuses of these two levels is developing Mandarin listening abilities. For lower level students, it is best to train their listening comprehension with learned words and phrases. A detailed analysis is in this article, Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability.

Another characteristic of these four Work Books is that, along with the development of students’ Chinese language abilities, there is a corresponding move from practicing sounds and words at Intro Level Work Books to comprehending lengthy paragraphs at Basic Level Work Books. 

Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level Work Books

There are two Work Books at Pre-Intermediate Level, written loosely within the framework of Student’s Books. Limited new words and characters, which are not introduced in Student’s Books, also appear, mostly in reading exercises. The reason is that the Work Books at this level are written in Chinese characters, which are clear in sight, and students can look up for the unknown characters on their smart devices. Listening exercises are more within what students have learned in Student’s Books, either in the form of Chinese characters or in pinyin.

Chinese Reading and Writing series

We did not publish any work books for this series. Additional Chinese reading and writing exercises are provided in Teacher’s Manuals.

Work Book exercises

Exercises in Work Books are varied, and we are in favour of those requiring some thinking and reflection. For this reason, we did not use exercises which students can complete without even understanding the meaning of sentences, such as the following one.

Substituting the underlined words with the following words: 家, 学校, 书店


This kind of exercise requires the least effort from students, and too repetitious. We prefer a subtler repetition. 

Below are some common exercises in Mandarin Express Work Books.

Word level exercise - Pick the odd one out

This exercise is good for practicing many Chinese vocabularies at a time. It can be adopted in either listening or reading exercises. The following is an example.

Pick the odd one in the group.

苹果, 橙子, 香蕉, 鸡蛋

The intended correct answer is 鸡蛋. However, it is accepted, even encouraged, if students pick other items and justify their answer with good explanations. 

This kind of exercise is effective to have sufficient repetition without boring students, and it is easy to prepare. Teachers can also turn this exercise into a highly interactive class contest. 

Sentence level exercise - Write an appropriate question to a statement

This exercise is a reverse of answering questions, and particularly useful for students to practice how to phrase their questions in Chinese. It is also a chance for them to think outside of box. Sometimes, there is only one correct answer, while some times there can be multiple answers. It can also be adopted in either listening or reading exercises. The following is an example.

Write an appropriate question to each statement.



Paragraph level exercises - Judge the statements true or false based on a short article

This is a common Chinese reading (or listening) comprehension exercise, requiring students judge some statements based on the information in the article. A variation of it is to answer a few questions after reading (or listening to) the article. 

Teachers are generally quite familiar with this type of exercises. It takes time to write a level appropriate article which is compatible with Student’s Books. 

Chinese writing exercise - Finish a story

Students read the beginning of a story, and continue to write some more. A variation of it is that students listen to some information, such as a caller asking a radio station host for some advice, and write down their opinions or suggestions. 

This exercise is very easy to prepare. Teachers can design a situation and invite students to contribute in writing. 

It can also be turned into an interactive class activity. Teachers arrange students to contribute one after another, all following the same story line. Students must pay attention to what the previous students have written.


Work Book exercises can come in many different ways. When not too repetitious, they are great tools to help students stay focused and produce good Chinese learning results. The previous exercises mentioned are only a small portion of what we have used in Mandarin Express Work Books. 

We are convinced that Work Books are an essential component of Chinese textbooks, providing excellent opportunities for students to work on their Chinese one exercise after another.


April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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