Chinese characters combine pictures, ideas, and sound to create meaning. The pictographic, phonetic, and semantic elements of each character are meant to be mutually reinforcing. That is, a pictorial element may also be phonetic or semantic. The converse is also true: phonetic elements are generally also semantic or even pictorial. Semantic elements are likewise sometimes also phonetic and/or, though less frequently, pictorial. Image, sounds, and ideas are combined to form Chinese characters.
The first thing you must do when looking at a Chinese character is try to determine what type of character it is.
Pictogram: these are literal pictures of physical objects. Sometimes their meaning is extended metaphorically, in which case a determinant (compressed character) is usually added to them. Pictograms are highly stylized and simplified pictures, but because of their stylistic simplification what is depicted is generally not immediately obvious, which is why I wrote a character dictionary for you.
Ideogram: these are symbols of abstract concepts, icons, for example an arrow.
Pictograms and ideograms are both the simplest characters to draw with the fewest brush-strokes and are also the basis of the more complex characters. They are high frequency characters.
Associative idea characters, i.e. the compound concept characters. Two characters with a common characteristic are brought together and associated to express some common quality of both. These generally have no phonetic component.
Picto-phonetic characters: at least two characters are brought together. One is a semantic clue as to the meaning, the other is a phonetic clue as to the character’s sound. These are the majority of Chinese characters, but are also have a lower frequency of occurrence in the Chinese language.
So: broadly speaking.
Simpler characters are much likelier to be ideograms or pictograms. Learn those first because they are easiest and second because they are the basis of the compound associative characters and the pictophonetic characters.
Two characters together are either an associative compound character or a pictophonetic character. If one of the characters is an abbreviated compressed character it is likely a pictophonetic character. If one of the characters is an ideograph it is likelier to be an associative compound character than a pictophonetic character.
方框二 囗 围 国 园 圃 圈
囗 FENCED IN, ENCLOSURE wei2
围 ENCIRCLED wei2
国 KINGDOM guo2
园 COURTYARD yuan2
圃 ORCHARD pu3
圈 STALL, PEN, CONFINE, CIRCLE juan1 juan4 quan1
通行部首 勺 习 勿 匆
勺 SPOON shao2
习 REVIEW STUDY xi2
勿 DO NOT wu4
匆 HURRY cong1
三框， 右框 区字框 匡匣匠匾区医匹
匡 CORRECT RECTIFY kuang1
匣 BOX xia2
匠 CRAFTSMAN jiang4 has a tool-box
匾 ANNOUNCEMENT BOARD, EMBROIDERED FLAG bian3
区 DISTRICT qu1 houses as little boxes (traditional version)
凶 FEROCIOUS HUNS xiong1 TERRIBLE trap as emblem of FIERCE
凹 CONVEX ao1 pictogram
凾 ENVELOPE CASE LETTER han2
凿 CHISEL zao2 handle on top blade in middle chiseled box
包 WRAP bao1 ideogram
匈 BREAST xiong1 wrapped nipples
句 SENTENCE, PHRASE ju4 wrapped words
旬 CHINESE WEEK 10 DAYS xun2 wrapped sun
同字框 = 同冈网周用
同 ACCORD LIKE SAME SIMILAR toNG covered one word
冈 HILL gaNG covered place (of disaster)
网 NET waNG pictogram
周 ROUND CIRCLE zhou simplified pictogram (not covered dirt mouth)
用 USING yoNG inverted bucket