If your children are still struggling to master the skills to write an English composition well, read this to help them.
Your child is a voracious reader, has a good imagination and a creative mind. However these alone aren’t enough when it comes to doing well in English composition (“compo”) writing. Your child also needs a good grasp of the English language and be able to tell a story in a simple, straightforward manner. We ask four top teachers for their tips on how kids can improve their English compo writing skills. You’ll want share them with your child today!
#1: Start Right
It’s not just about writing well and having an interesting storyline, you have to hook them in right from the beginning too.
“Start your story by hooking us. Say something quirky, or puzzling, or even shocking,” said Leroy Lam, principal trainer at The Chalkboard Academy. “Start with some heart-stopping action, or a vivid description.”
Sherlyn Hong, subject head of English (upper primary) at The Learning Lab, United Square, agreed: “Start the composition with a writing technique like dialogue, personal voice or onomatopoeia to catch the readers’ attention.”
#2: Never Memorise
Memorising standard PSLE compositions might sound like a useful way to help kids to achieve extra marks but don’t take this easy way out.
“Avoid memorising model essays or introductions – markers can tell you’ve copied that from a mile away and we’re not impressed,” said Lam.
Edwin Edangelus Cheng, founder and principal of EduEdge English Specialists and creator of the ‘Formula-Style’ method of learning English, acknowledged that while model essays do help children to pick up the organisation and paragraphing structures required for the narrative and recount style of writing, it’s a mistake to get children to memorise them.
“Model essays often vary in terms of writing quality,” he explained. “Let’s assume these essays are Band A essays – this serves little to help students because the benchmark may be too high for them. The students may end up confused or even demoralised.”
He added that when students memorise essays, they tend to regurgitate what they have memorised into their composition during exams. This is a mistake. Once a composition is written out of point, there will be a severe penalty on the marks awarded.
#3: Map It Out
Don’t just go with the flow and see where the story takes you. It’s important to know how the composition is going to progress – and even how it’s going to end – even before you start writing it.
“Know how your story will end so that you know what needs to be present or set up from the beginning,” said Lily Chew, founder of and English teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. “Plan your story and see the flow of the events before the actual writing. A mistake that a lot of children make is to have characters who suddenly appear to solve the problem or details which are abruptly added for their convenience.”
For example: in a story about a mistaken accusation, the main character was wrongly accused of stealing, and it turned out that the culprit was a prefect who suddenly appeared in the story.
“Although it’s an interesting twist, this sudden addition of a character at the end of the story is likely to cause confusion,” she added.
#4: Language Matters
There’s no need to write a composition that’s full of twists and turns as that could end up being a very confusing read. Instead, keep the storyline simple and make it interesting with good grammar and vocabulary.
Ms Hong’s advice is two-fold: choose a safe and straightforward plot with a clear climax or problem. Then strengthen your writing by embellishing it with good vocabulary.
“Students often assume that if they have good ideas, they will do very well in their composition,” added Mr Cheng. “But if students have a poor grasp of the language, it doesn’t matter how good their ideas are. They will still have difficulty communicating their ideas clearly.”
#5: Include Dialogue and Emotions
One way to add interest is to include dialogue and emotions, instead of just telling a story. The reader is more engrossed when a piece is descriptive, as opposed to one that simply moves from one scene to another.
“Always include the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist, especially in the climax of the story,” said Ms Hong. “To avoid a report-like resolution, dramatise with dialogue.”
Describing emotions experienced by the characters is recommended as it adds layers to a storyline.
“PSLE markers love students who include thoughts and feelings into their writing. This shows them that the student has considered not only the actions of the characters but also how the actions will affect the characters – at the mental and emotional level,” said Mr Cheng.
#6: Be Different
Writing a piece that’s unique will set your kid apart from the rest. This will his chances of scoring higher marks.
“You have to stand out,” said Mr Lam “PSLE markers will be marking hundreds of scripts, usually about very boring and mundane themes. Having a boring theme doesn’t mean you have to write a boring story.”
Mr Lam suggested developing ideas fully, to add extra elements as compared to what others are writing. “Think on a deeper level – does your story have an inner message that’s beyond the general theme,” he said. “If the theme is ‘helping someone’, write about how to pay it forward, how one good turn deserves another, and kindness begets kindness.”
#7: Add A Personal Touch
Don’t be afraid to be descriptive. In fact, this makes a piece less mundane. To make it more refreshing, describe scenes as if you are there.
“Describe each new setting in the story,” said Mrs Chew. “For instance, the story might have started in a restaurant and the character ended up at the hospital. Readers should be able to see themselves in the restaurant and at the hospital.”
“There is no harm in memorising chunks of description from model compositions. However, it will be more fun and less stressful if your child has the freedom to describe what they see, hear and smell at each setting,” she added. “This comes in useful when children are unable to remember what they have memorised for a particular setting or have thought of a great idea that requires a setting that they have not used often.”
Practice makes perfect so get your child writing with these tips in mind. You’ll soon see her scoring better in her English compositions, and ace-ing that PSLE composition exam too. All the best!