Since the tradition of teaching Chinese characters using 三百千 Three, Hundred and Thousand was thrown into question, attempts were made in the fifties to break away with it.
One successful example is the 北關實驗學校 Beiguan Experiment School in 遼寧黑山 Heishan, Liaoning, which has been trying out an intensive approach since the late fifties. In this school, the teachers first teach a large group of characters to the children and only upon completion do they give the children readings as a consolidation of the characters. After that, they move on to another group of characters. However, the question that the teachers face is how to organize the characters into groups.
Initially, based upon the experience of teaching adult illiterates, the teachers used characters related to the lyrics of popular songs such as 東方紅[Red in the East]. But they soon realized that the number of songs familiar to the children was limited. Then, the teachers attempted to arrange the characters in groups by sound, thus teaching the characters 冬([dōng], winter), 董([dǒng], a surname), 懂([dǒng], to realize), 凍([dòng], cool), 棟([dòng], pillars in a house), 洞([dòng], hole) and 動([dòng], movement) together before moving on to another sound. However, the results were unsatisfactory because of the difficulty that the children had in differentiating homophonous characters.
Eventually, the teachers realized the crucial importance of analyzing the characters into semantic components and phonetic components. A series of characters were chosen from a basic character; for example, from 巴 to 疤([bā], scar), 把( [bǎ], handle), 爸([bà], father), 吧([ba] the sound of “ba”) and 肥([féi], fat) (i.e., 基本字帶字[from basic to more characters]). Since, from learning other characters, the children were already familiar with the semantic components 疒(illness), 扌(hand), 父(father), 口(mouth) and 月(meat), the meanings of the series of new characters can be easily figured out. For example, adding a 疒(illness) to 巴[bā] results in 疤([bā], scar). For the sounds of the characters, even though some of them are not identical, e.g., 巴[bā] and 爸[bà], the children can make use of their spoken vocabulary to work out the exact sounds as the characters are usually pronounced in the context of words, i.e., 爸爸[bàba] but not[bābā]. Furthermore, even though the character 肥([féi] fat), which sounds as [féi], is irregular, from the experience of the teachers, learning it as an exception did not cause much problem to the children. Overall, this approach of teaching the characters in groups that shared the same phonetic component has important contribution to the teaching of the characters.
By way of doing so, the school reports that the children completely mastered 2500 characters within two years. Another successful example of implementing this intensive approach is 景山學校 Jingshan School in 北京 Beijing, where the children satisfactorily recognized 2200-2500 characters after two years of teaching.