Structural awareness, variation theory, and ICT support

Wing-Wah KI, Ho Cheong LAM, Albert Ling-Sung CHUNG, Shek-Kam TSE, Po Yuk KO, Eddie Chung-Chee LAU, Priscilla Wai-Yi CHOU, Anthony Chi-Yin LAI, Samson Ming-Sum LAI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


To be literate in Chinese, one needs to learn over a thousand Chinese
characters. This is obviously a challenging task for young learners. Psychological and developmental studies have provided evidence that awareness of structural regularities among the characters is important for its learning. Yet how this structural awareness can be enhanced in instruction is still not clear. Some worry that any explicit instruction about structures might actually increase the cognitive burden of the young learners, as they might be asked to think analytically about the characters, or to learn a meta-language that describes the structural principles underlying Chinese character composition. This paper discusses the nature of structural awareness in light of Gurtwitsch’s general theory of awareness [Gurwitsch, A. (1964). The Field of consciousness. Pittsburgh: Duguesne University Press] and the theory of variation by Marton and S. Booth [(1997) Learning and awareness. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum] and F. Marton and A. Tsui [(in press) Classroom discourse and the spacing of learning. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum], and proposes how the awareness of Chinese character structures can be developed through experiencing systemic variations among related instances. It discusses how information and communication technologies can be used to provide useful
support for this purpose. These ideas are implemented in a school–university collaboration project in Hong Kong and anecdotal evidence supports the conjecture of the authors. The structural awareness instruction can also be embedded naturally into meaningful language learning contexts to form an integrative model of teaching that is well received by teachers and students. The instruction does not appear to impose any additional cognitive load on the students. On the contrary, learners’ interest and sensitivity in picking up the structural features of Chinese characters increases. © 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-78
JournalL1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


Ki, W.W., Lam, H.C., Chung, A.L.S., Tse, S.K., Ko, P.Y., Lau, C.C., Chou, W.Y., Lai, C.Y., & Lai, M.S. (2003). Structural awareness, variation theory, and ICT support. L1: Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 3(1-2), 53-78. doi: 10.1023/A:1024568323267


  • Chinese character learning
  • Computer-assisted language learning
  • Metalinguistic awareness
  • Structural awareness
  • Variation theory of learning


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