Learning Chinese Measure Words:

A Web-based Lesson


A lesson plan developed by Chao-mei Shen, Rice University,

Using “Makers” learned at the LCTL Materials Development Summer Institute (2003)



I.    Introduction:


            Although “measure words” for counting nouns also exist in English, they are used with only mass nouns or plural nouns.  Two examples are “three cups of coffee” and “one school of fish.”  In Mandarin Chinese, however, the use of a measure word between a number and a noun is obligatory to indicate the unit of measurement of an object, as in “liǎngzhībǐ” and “yìběnshū.”  Such linguistic difference explains why students of Chinese often find it difficult to master Chinese measure words. 


            Since the use of measure words is mandatory, and accordingly pervasive in Chinese, it is highly important that students of Chinese learn measure words well.  Although a number of books and websites on measure words are available to students of Chinese, they tend to emphasize grammatical explanation so much that pedagogical effectiveness seems rather limited.  Inasmuch as “number, measure word, and noun phrase” are one syntactic and semantic unit in Chinese, the best way to acquire measure words is through associating measure words with the names of objects, that is, through meaningful learning in contexts.  Thus, this lesson, after pre-teaching activities stated below, aims to help students learn proper usage of measure words through interactive, web-based exercises so that students can ultimately internalize this aspect of Chinese grammar in a meaningful manner.


II.  Target Proficiency Levels:


            This lesson is designed for Chinese learners from the intermediate-mid to advanced-low level.  Teachers of Chinese are advised to introduce appropriate numbers of measure words in level-appropriate discourse contexts for optimal instruction and acquisition.


III.  Pre-teaching: Overview of Chinese Measure Words


       A.   “Ge” is a generic and the most frequently used measure word;

       B.  Measure words with imagistic association:  

             1.  Shape-related: like “zhāng,” “tiáo” and “zhī”;

             2.  Container-related: like “hé,” “xiāng” and “píng”;

             3.  Verb-derivative: like “bǎ” and “huí.”

       C.  Arbitrary measure words: as in “yìbǐqián,” and “xiàbānchē.”




IV. Web-based Exercises:


            Makers Pages (http://lang.swarthmore.edu/makers/index.htm) are a set of interactive exercise makers that are capable of providing teacher immediate feedback, can allow students to do exercises again and therefore allow them to negotiate meaning and language usage on their own, and eventually empower students to study independently and help them internalize target language structures.  Two sets of Makers exercises on Chinese measure words are created in this lesson.  The first one covers most common measure words and is designed for intermediate-mid to intermediate-high students and the second one works with more difficult ones and is for intermediate-high to advanced-low learners.  Each set includes three different types of exercises, namely match, multiple choice, and cloze, which proceed from phrases to sentences, and to discourse.  Students should work with the exercises in this sequence to eventually familiarize themselves with proper usage of measure words in discourse contexts.  Immediate teacher feedback not only provides encouragement and grammatical explanation but also maximize students’ reading training in these Makers exercises.


       A.  For intermediate-mid to intermediate-high students: SET YOUR BROWSER'S TEXT ENCODING TO Simplified Chinese GB 2312

             1.  MatchMaker exercise: measure-matching.htm

             2.  MultiMaker exercise: multiple-matching.htm

             3.  ClozeMaker exercise:


       B.  For intermediate-high to advanced-low students:

             1.  MatchMaker exercise:  http ://

             2.  MultiMaker exercise:

             3.  ClozeMaker exercise:



V.  Conclusion:


            It is believed that interactive online exercises can best help students acquire Chinese measure words through negotiation of meanings on their own via Makers exercises.  Since Makers exercises in this lesson not only are gradationally designed to tailor to the needs of Chinese students at different levels but they also are able to provide immediate teacher feedback and strengthen students’ reading ability in the same learning process.