I think the best way to learn hanzi is
a) Start with pictographs
b) Then ideographs
c) Then the hui yi (associative compound characters)
e) Then learn the kangxi radicals (which are usually one of the above)
f) Then learn determinants (the abbreviated forms of characters san dian shui, yanzi pang etc).
d) Then add the phono-semantic characters.
If one knows the six methods of forming hanzi one learns them much more effectively.
Going in this order works best because the phono-semantic characters’ phonetic elements are almost always one or more of a) b) abd/or c)
I would never recommend using the HSK as a teaching or learning tool. All the HSK levels do is expose you to the most useful characters first; but it does NOTHING to teach HOW to learn them. I also think learning the actual etymology as you teach is the way to go since you can see the evolution of the characters form and meaning.
I also think learning the characters as semantic or phonetic series helps a lot.
I don’t think gimmicks work, unfortunately. Though I’m also really skeptical about copy books. I do however think that one can and should know what the pictographs in fact represent and then use that as a base for learning the ideographs then the associative compound characters and finally the phono semantic characters is effective. I know full well gan 干 is a dried out tree trunk and that if you put it on the walking radical it becomes to make or do as in ni gan 赶 shen me. I don’t think making up stories about gandalf is at all useful for learning what gan looks like sounds like or means especially since one must make up oh around 5000 such stories.
I also believe one is best to learn the MEANING and SHAPE of the character FIRST and then the sound. I notice that I learn the meaning and shapes of the characters much faster than the sounds of the characters.
Another problem with gimmicks is that the finals in pinyin frankly do not rhyme or alliterate well to much of ANYTHING in English. Let’s find a word that rhymes with -UANG or -IANG in English :/ Believe me I tried
Personally I try to always associate a new word in any language to some word I already know. So when I learned ZA as in fuza as in mixed up 复杂 and confuSEd today I remember its sound and meaning by association to that English word which sounds similar enough and means just the same thing. I also remember the sound clue from xiao at the bottom so 9-1-xiao = 九 一 小 = za = 杂 confused/mixed up as in fuza