Contributed by Ms Charis Sim, Academic Director of TLL Tampines.
With over eight years of experience in teaching English at TLL, Charis has helped many of her students excel in class and exams. In this article, she shares 4 valuable tips in coaching your child to write well.
Of the four skills that make up the foundation of language — speaking, listening, reading and writing — writing is often the toughest to master.
It can be challenging for your child to learn how to write well and it’s no surprise that parents often find that their child takes a long time to demonstrate progress in this area.
At times, parents and students take on well-meaning advice about how to improve writing but feel frustrated when following such advice does not produce results.
In fact, there are a number of myths surrounding composition writing that I would like to dispel in this article.
#Myth 1: I need to memorise good essays to score well
When students read good essays which have been written by their peers, they often feel compelled to memorise their friends’ essays and attempt to reproduce a version of it during the exams.
With the introduction of the 2015 PSLE syllabus, the requirements of the composition writing task from Paper 1 does not lend itself to the duplication of plot ideas.
First, let’s familiarise ourselves with the task requirement for the composition writing component. Refer to the example below:
Composition Writing Task
Write a composition of at least 150 words about an act of mischief.
These three pictures have been provided to help you think about this topic.
Your composition should be based on one or more pictures.
Consider the following points when you plan your composition:
• What was the act of mischief?
• What was the outcome of the incident?
You may use these points in any order, and may include other relevant points as well.
For this task, students have to write a composition about an act of mischief. Unless they have memorised an essay about this exact theme, it may be challenging to adapt a different plot idea to suit the theme.
If the student fails to adapt a memorised plot idea well, he might run the risk of failing the composition component altogether.
Here lies one of the key strategies to mastering composition writing: the plot must be relevant to the theme.
My tip for your child: Come up with an original plot
Instead of memorising plots written by others, your child should work on his or her own brainstorming skills and learn to come up with relevant ideas that are applicable to a wide range of writing techniques and vivid descriptions to be used.
In our composition lessons, teachers take the time to discuss story ideas with the class and engage students in a lively and rich discussion about what makes ideas both relevant and interesting.
Myth #2: An avid reader Is a good writer
There are definitely bookworms out there who are also consummate writers, but there will be some who may not be able to write very well. This may sound counter-intuitive, but in my years of teaching experience, I can attest this to be true. Avid readers do not necessarily make good writers.
A reading habit definitely serves as a solid foundation for language proficiency. It helps your child to be familiar with the structure and flow of the language.
If your child is a keen reader, he or she will also be exposed to a wide range of vocabulary and may even be able to try to apply it to his or her own writing.
However, reading more books is not the be-all and end-all to learning how to write well.
My students who are fans of the fantasy genre sometimes find themselves at a loss when trying to come up with realistic plot ideas that mirror real life. In fact, fantastical plot ideas are usually not well-received at the exam (see: Myth #3).
My tip for your child: Learn and master good writing techniques
Developing a story well is only half the battle won.
The other half involves having a masterful grasp of writing techniques and the ability to know what writing technique or type of vocabulary applies to different story themes.
Therefore, writing well doesn’t just involve being familiar with stories, but also involves frequent practice in writing. It is the act of writing that ultimately helps a him or her master writing.
To help your child develop and expand his or her repertoire of vocabulary words, we have put together a comprehensive vocabulary activity sheet for your child. This practice will come in handy as your child prepares for an upcoming English test and hones his or her writing skills to become a more articulate writer.
Click here or the link below to download and try out these exercises.
Myth #3: Unconventional plot ideas help me stand out and do well
We’ve all watched exciting TV shows and movies that had us at the edge of our seats. Often, it’s the unexpected plot twists or dramatic plot developments that grab our attention and keep us hooked.
Throughout my years of teaching, I sometimes find that some students get inspired by these shows and movies and try to turn their compositions into heart-stopping, action-packed pieces.
Unfortunately, there are few students who can do this well. Without thoughtful planning, these stories often devolve into illogical plots that threaten to turn the composition into one that is irrelevant to the question.
My tip for your child: Keep your plot simple and yet exciting
Simple and uncomplicated plot ideas can be transformed into effective and engaging writing by adding descriptive elements of people, places and feelings.
It is far more important to come up with relevant plot ideas that are developed logically than to try to invent new plot ideas.
To illustrate this, let's look at the two different examples below of plot development examples for the topic, "A Lesson Learnt". Compare both examples and analyse why each plot is good or bad.
|Example of overcomplicated or illogical plot development||Example of simple and effective plot development|
|1. Michael likes to play practical jokes on his friends.
2. When he sees a poster outside school about a course where he can learn how to play tricks, he decides to skip school and attend the course .
3. However, the next morning, in his eagerness to board a bus to to attend the course, he does not see an oncoming car.
4. He is lightly injured and to his dismay, the driver of the car happens to be his principal.
5. He learns his lessons: that he should not skip school, should not run across the road and should not play tricks on his friends.
|1. Jane stays up late to play video games on the day before her test instead of revising her work.
2. The next day in school, she begins to panic and decides that she will cheat by at John’s test paper.
3. During the test, she keeps stealing glances at John’s paper. She is interrupted by a tap on her shoulder.
4. Her teacher, Ms Teo, has caught her cheating! Ms Teo lets her complete the test even though Jane is in tears.
5. After school that day, Ms Teo counsels Jane and Jane admits her mistake, apologising to Ms Teo and to John. She learns that cheating is wrong and that she should be responsible for her own learning.
This plot is too confusing
• Too many “lessons” learnt
This plot is relevant and simple
• A relatable and believable plot
• A clear "lesson" is learnt
Myth #4: I need to memorise good phrases to write well
Possessing a wide vocabulary is definitely one of the hallmarks of a good writer. The key, however, is whether your child can use good vocabulary in appropriate ways.
Most English teachers discourage their students from memorising and using stock phrases indiscriminately. This applies especially to descriptions of weather. For example, there is really no point describing the fluffy white clouds in an azure sky when the story takes place indoors.
My tip for your child: Remember to use "show-not-tell" when you write
A far more effective approach would be to master the use of writing techniques, not just stock phrases.
TLL teaches a range of writing techniques, for example, the "show-not-tell" technique, which is used to describe a character’s emotions vividly.
It can be more effective to describe the physical effects of what someone is feeling, rather than just state what the feeling is. For instance, instead of merely describing a character as "feeling scared", you might say that “his mouth turned dry” or “his heart pounded rapidly”.
It is important to remember that understanding how to use writing techniques helps to contextualise your child's use of good vocabulary.
When setting the scene in compositions, it is useful for your child to think of the "five senses" technique. Your child should not just merely describe what the character sees, but also describe what he or she hears, tastes, feel or smells (depending on whether this is applicable in the context of the story).
In this way, your child uses good vocabulary in a purposeful way — one that serves the story and not just to impress the reader.
The Right Resources To Help Your Child
Help your child master English for success in the classroom and beyond.
At The Learning Lab, one of the main focuses of our English programmes looks at developing your child's language skills — in school and beyond.
Through in-class presentations, media studies and an exposure to a wide range of text types, students learn to read and think critically, as well as express their opinions confidently and persuasively.
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