The essence of an extensive approach is that the reason to learn the characters is only to provide the conditions for reading and writing.
Since children entering schools are already well developed with spoken language, developing reading and writing skills (i.e., to communicate in print) is a natural continuation in their development. If, otherwise, the children must wait until they know every character in a text in order to read it, they will be forced to read something of a maturity level lower than their mental age because only such content can be expressed with the limited characters. Thus, using an extensive approach, teachers should teach meaningful texts right from the start and talk about only those characters used in the texts (i.e., 隨課文識字(learning the characters in texts)). By reading along, the children will naturally acquire the characters (i.e., 邊讀書，邊識字(learning the characters while reading the texts)).
Explaining the characters in context. In meaningful texts, the characters can be learned in concrete context rather than in a decontextualized manner. For example, the character 讀(read) should be taught in a word like 讀書(read books), which should in turn be put into a meaningful sentence such as 老師會讀書(teachers can read books) (i.e., 字不離詞，詞不離句，句不離文(character not detaching from word, and neither word from sentence nor sentence from text). This is helpful to the learning of the characters because the meanings of some characters such as 玻[bō], 突[tū] and 必[bì] are on its own incomplete, which should instead be learned in meaning-bearing words such as 玻璃([bō lí], glass), 突然([tū rán], suddenly) and 必須([bìxū], must). Similarly, it is difficult to make sense of conjunctions such as其實([qí shí] actually), 甚至([shèn zhì] even), 因此([yīn cǐ], for this reason), 即使([jí shǐ], even though) and 由於([yóu yú], because of) except that they are sensibly put to use to illustrate the relation between the meanings of adjacent sentences. Furthermore, other characters involve abstract concepts such as 英明([yīng míng] enlightened), 克服([kè fú], conquer) and 祖國([zǔguó], home country), which the teachers may find it difficult to clearly explain in isolation, especially to very young children. However, with reference to what happens in a story (i.e., in a meaningful context), these concepts can possibly be explained in an understandable manner.
Putting the characters in context can also clarify to the children the ambiguities in the characters. For instance, some characters have more than one meaning or sounds. The same 打([dǎ], hit) actually means differently in 打鼓([dǎgǔ], to beat the drum), 打架([dǎjià], to fight), 打交道([dǎ jiāodao], to make social connection), 打毛衣([dǎ máo yī], to knit) and 打燈籠([dǎ dēnglong] to carry the lantern). Likewise, the sounds of some characters can only be determined in words; for example, the sound of 強([qiáng], powerful) as in 強大([qiáng dà] big and powerful) and 倔強([juè qiàng] stubborn) are different, and neither are that of 覺([jué], feel) as in 覺得([jué dé] to fell that) and 睡覺([shuì jiào] to sleep). Put in a context, the meaning or sound of these characters that is being referred to can be made explicit.
Stressing the use of the characters. In addition, extensive approaches place much emphasis on illustrating the characters in use. The teachers can use a variety of activities, in which the children have a chance to use the characters that they have learned. For example, children can be asked to write notes to teachers, to write diary to record activities in the class, to read the names of other classmates, to recognize road sign, and so on. To do this, fluency of using the characters becomes important because, in actual reading of a text, there is no time to fully analyze every one of the characters.
Since the characters are learned in actual use, the children are exposed to texts of a vast diversity of genres, including narrative, poetry, prose and others. In terms of content, the children read widely about various topics that can be interesting and relevant to their life. As such, to some extent, extensive reading not only helps the children to learn the characters but also facilitates other aspects of their cognitive development. In this particular sense, the traditional approach also encourages the children to read extensively after the 三百千[Three, Hundred and Thousand]. But, different from here, priority was far too often given to instilling traditional thoughts, which outweighed whether the children could make sense of the content.
One of the Chinese teachers well-known for using an extensive approach is 斯霞 Sixia in 江蘇 Jiangsu. In a trial study, she taught a total of 2049 characters to the children over two years. The children were found to recognize 92.4% and to write in dictation 89.1% of the characters. In the year that follows, she taught a total of 2218 characters and, the children could recognize 98.7% and write 92.1% of the characters on average.