The Battle of the First Grade Chinese Textbooks: China vs. Taiwan vs. States

Out of curiosity, I am going to compare textbooks:

  1. 康軒 from Taiwan Grade 1
  2. 上海世紀 語文 from Shanghai China Curriculum Grade 1
  3. 馬立平 Mǎ lì píng States Curriculum Pre Grade, Grade 1 (and Grade 2)

There’s a huge difference in the curriculum of the three above. The general gist is we are slow in the states. Taiwan comes in second and China takes the lead in terms of speed of teaching words and phrases and poems. In terms of comprehension though, I do find Taiwan’s extra reading materials (每日閱讀”悅”) to be very high level and do think that most kids in Taiwan do supplement more reading rather than the usual text they have in the classroom (which is extremely easy in the beginning of first grade). This takes their comprehension up pretty high when you count those extra materials. They may not read as many words as kids in China do but the exposure to more phrases and harder language is there due to the assistance of zhuyin.

Let’s start with Taiwan:

First grade textbook first lesson (they do review zhuyin with a textbook before this for a couple weeks before moving on to this book in first grade). The lesson is way too easy only because they’re teaching writing with it.

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Then comes first grade workbook that goes with the lesson. This is a review workbook that goes over the words learned in the lesson, choose the right word, choose the extraneous word, make a phrase, make a word exercises. Now worksheets actually make sense! In this regard, we only use the worksheets. I hardly spend anytime having them read the textbook above. I do like the worksheets:

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The following is supplemental main point and extra material that they have to know which is my favorite workbook that goes along with these books. This covers like one character has many sounds (一字多音), it has words that look alike, it has phrases and idioms and it’s MUCH HARDER than the actual textbook. Just going through these though, I still feel like much much more required reading outside of the text is much needed to fully understand everything. There are about 4 idioms a lesson and without using it in context, it’ll be hard to remember. Therefore, outside reading is a must.

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This is the LAST lesson of first grade in Taiwan. You will see that the lesson got longer, each week, they learned more and more words to write! Compared to supplemental reading, it’s still easy but I think they are really focused on the writing part so text can’t get too hard:

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Here are the words they had to write per week for the second semester material. Please note this is just “writing.” Reading will be very different which I will go into in a bit:

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Workbooks will also be harder as the year progresses:

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Here comes my favorite part is they always have these things where you should read one a day. There are many many many many brands of these books and we have a few brands at home too. Here’s one that’s popular from 康軒. There are four books for Lower Elementary and I start on the first book and show you what the last book last article looks like.

First Book:

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You’ll see that first book first few lessons starts easy with easy language, has sections of phrases used or idioms and it’s really literally 10 minutes a day which was great. If you didn’t have time to read a book, squeeze this in for a good refresher or a good exposure to some new phrases. I don’t use this to study per se but it’s good sometimes to whip it out and do 1-2 stories. The last article (60) you’ll see gets a lot harder.

Book 2:

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Book 3:

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Book 4:

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So let’s now take a look at Shanghai/China curriculum. A good friend of mine let me borrow her material to take a look at what kids in China are learning in first grade. It starts of “EASY”… and then proceeds to blow me away how much they read by the end of first grade WITHOUT pinyin. The one extra difference that people in China learn is 唐詩. They have this stuck in between every few chapters so kids all learn this during school in their formal textbooks tagged along. In Taiwan, I believe they do these in separate classes. Therefore, textbooks in China are more all in one sort of deal.

Grade 1 First Semester:

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Their first semester work dives into pinyin and by the end of first semester, kids actually know pinyin quite well and many characters already. Reading characters goes concurrently with pinyin.

Second Semester ( beginning and end of semester material):

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Lesson 45 was the end and it always has a lesson inside that lesson where you read without pinyin. I love that concept. They teach with pinyin, figured you must know it by the end of the lesson and then give you another story to read without pinyin.

Here’s the end of the book where they review all the words and phrases they’ve learned:

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Here’s what I like:

  • They list what you should be able to read without pinyin.
  • They list what you should be able to “write.”
  • They list the phrases you should know.
  • They list the words you should know from 唐詩.

It is pretty well laid out and very results driven. It reminds me of 四五快讀 (4,5, Quick Read) but in more complex manner.

At this point, kids in China definitely can read more characters without assistance than Taiwan but I do believe reading comprehension level is the same and kids in Taiwan actually have a bit more higher level comprehension material at their grasp due to zhuyin but it also slows them down trying to memorize new words more quickly. There’s strengths and weaknesses towards both approaches.

Now, the famous 馬立平 set I go to see is their material from pre grade, first grade and second. I’ll post these below:

Pre Grade:

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Pre grade is focused on singing in class. I don’t think they asked them to read yet but this is the last few pages of the pre grade book.

First Grade (last lesson of the year):

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This is the last lesson of first grade. As you see, there is no pinyin assistance but then again, the words are very easy compared with curriculum in Asia. I however, already feel this is better than the other Chinese texts that are made for American children. Their second grade material is much better:

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It’s much better because her kid filled it up with STICKERS! Ha! Actually, it does get harder. Given that, I think this is equivalent to maybe the later half of first grade material in China. Then it gets slower and slower as grades pass because children in China are forced to learn at “blazing” speeds so we can’t seem to keep up here in the states as it’s not in a daily curriculum.

As a summary, comprehension of Taiwan and China materials are on par with each other but children in China read at much faster rate without phonetic assistance and this disparity increases as the grades increase in elementary. The highest ranked material in the states still lags 1-2 grades behind in the beginning and it’s hard to imagine if it ever gets to that 3rd grade level equivalent in China. I haven’t seen any upper level books in 馬立平 but I don’t think just by going to Saturday school, you’ll be able to achieve the same level of fluency as kids in China or anywhere near that if you don’t supplement reading materials. I know children in China have a tremendous amount of outside reading and so do the kids in Taiwan. As you saw in the supplemental reading materials for Taiwan, there’s a huge difference in comprehension abilities between textbook and extra reading. Just note if you use their textbook, it should not be your only resource and you should definitely supplement with some reading each day using harder comprehension level materials.

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10 responses to “The Battle of the First Grade Chinese Textbooks: China vs. Taiwan vs. States”

  1. Oh wow, the Taiwanese curriculum reminds me of the books that my Chinese School in the states would use to teach Chinese. Where can I buy the Taiwanese version? I remember they had a Social studies book as well as a Letter Writing book. I would like to buy the whole k-12 books for my child.


  2. Will the Grade 1 textbook be a good next step after going through Sagebooks (Basic Chinese 500)? How do they compare in terms of levels?


    • Grade 1 Textbooks are made to teach writing. It gets much harder much faster as you’ll have to learn phrases and idioms starting later half of first grade and second grade idioms get more complex and third grade is the real deal. Sage is made for word recognition only as with Grade 1 text is the actual textbooks children in Taiwan use and the flow will be geared towards native children.


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