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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, such as discussing a topic with a classmate. 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.

Mandarin Express series includes six Work Books, covering Intro Level A & B, Basic A & B, and Pre-Intermediate Level A & B.

Mandarin Express Intro and Basic Level Work Books

There are four Work Books at Intro and Basic Levels. Along with the development of students’ Chinese language abilities, students gradually move from practicing sounds and words to comprehending lengthy paragraphs and interesting conversations. 

All four Work Books are written strictly within the framework of Student’s Books. 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 occasional variations of learned phrases. 

There are two reasons behind this tight control. 

The first one is that pinyin is the learning medium in this two levels. Chinese texts written in pinyin can easily get students confused. So many words have a similar, or even the same, look. To avoid confusions, it is the best that Work Books stay as close as possible to Student’s Books. 

The second one is that students are building their Chinese listening skills from scratch. For lower level students, it is best to train their listening comprehension with learned words and phrases through controlled exercises.

Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level Work Books

There are two Work Books at Pre-Intermediate Level. 

These two books are also written within the framework of Student’s Books, but not as tightly controlled as the previous four Work Books. 

In reading exercises, limited new words and characters, which are not introduced in Student’s Books, also appear, mostly in reading exercises. These limited unknown characters or words provide opportunities for students to guess in a context, as what they would encounter in the real world.

However, listening exercises are within what students have learned in Student’s Books, either in the form of Chinese characters or in pinyin. Even limited unknown characters or words can become too much of a barrier in developing listening skills.

Chinese Reading and Writing series

We did not publish any work books for this series, only additional Chinese reading and writing exercises.

Work Book exercises

Exercises in Work Books are varied, and we are in favour of those requiring some thinking and reflection. 

Therefore, we did not use exercises which students can complete without even understanding the meaning of sentences or exercises which are too repetitious.

Below are some common exercises in Mandarin Express Work Books.

  • Word level exercise - Pick the odd one out

This exercise is good for practicing Chinese vocabularies. 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, fun and 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. The following is an example.

Write an appropriate question to each statement.



  • Paragraph level exercises - Judge the statements true or false

This is a common Chinese reading (or listening) comprehension exercise, requiring students judge some statements based on the information provided. 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 prepare a level appropriate article which is at students’ level. 

  • 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. 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 a small portion 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.