Since my post on How We Learn Comprehension (The No Tuition Way), many have asked me about how we tackle Composition. So, I am going to share what I have learnt in the PSLE Parent Workshop for English by Marshall Cavendish Education mainly on the pitfalls, the common mistakes and some good tips. Some of the below are Rubrics that examiners used for evaluating Compositions too.

1) The Hamburger Proportion

In each Composition, there should be an Introduction, Body and Ending. If a student writes too much on Introduction, and a small “Body” (Main story) and rush through Ending, this will make an out of proportion Composition, just like a hamburger with a big bun on the top. Same goes to short Introduction and lengthy “Body”, etc. Do remember to not overwrite on any one of these.

2) Time for Planning before Starting to Write

Planning is important. When a student gets carried away in writing, he/she may miss out an important connecting part of the story. Do spend 5-10 min to do a quick planning. I think most students, including myself, do not plan. But according to the Trainer in the workshop, he highly recommends this step from his years of experience that planning helps greatly, especially for weaker writers. I would encourage my kids to do the same too.

3) Writing the Introduction

Weather – This is a favourite opening line of many students. However, if weather is not going to be related to the content of the story, please DO NOT start with writing about the Weather.

Recount – Writing Recount stories can be very interesting and yet dangerous too. Just remember to make a note somewhere on the writing paper to remind yourself to tie back to the beginning of the story before concluding the Composition. Further, the trigger of the recount must be related to the main story.

‘One day’ – This 2 words should be avoided in any Composition opening line.

Smooth transition into the main story – Introduction has to be written such that it introduces the story’s mood or atmosphere appropriately.

4) Writing the “Body”

Description – Writing in good details and vivid descriptions will add mood to the story. There should be an ability to “SHOW” and not “TELL”. I am always attracted to good descriptions in any storybooks, and encourage my kids to take note of how authors describe a scenario, weather, facial expressions, etc. Writing description can allow the reader to picture the entire scene you are writing about, and it helps to raise the Composition marks.

Dialogue – Writing an interesting and relevant dialogue to reveal the character and to further plot will help to make a Composition interesting. Try to write a couple of dialogue to help boost the story.

Initiating event and Problem/Conflict – Take note to write a clear initiating event leading to the problem. The conflict should be clearly defined too. Events and Conflict should be linked.

Characters – There should be one or more well drawn characters that are well described and interesting. Too many characters may take away focus from the main character.

Language – Take note not to overuse words and try to vary the words with same meaning. This will show examiner that the language command is strong and it makes the story more interesting. Avoid starting with the word “I” too many times.

Sentences – Vary the sentence structure. Avoid writing lengthy sentences and using too many “and” in a sentence. Use modifiers. (What are modifiers? They are a word, phrase or clause which functions as an adjective or adverb to describe a word or make its meaning more specific.)

Plot Twists – Writing plot twists take some practices and skills. We should encourage our kids to write plot twists as they can lead the reader (examiner) into the story and shed light at the end. This will boost the story greatly.

5) Writing the Ending

Tie back to the story – This is especially for Recount stories. Remember to tie back to the beginning of the story.

Changing for the better – One of the common mistakes is that students may, without explanation, conclude that the main character “realises” his/her mistake “suddenly” and decides to change for the better! This will make the Ending too abrupt. Students sometimes spend too much time writing about the Introduction and “Body” and rush through the Ending. It is important to allocate enough time to conclude nicely.

Policeman, Paramedics, Rescue – This is a common Ending for most Compositions. If this is needed to conclude the story, try to describe in more details, eg, how does the inside of the ambulance look like, how having rescue team affect the character in the story, etc. Or instead of rescue team, try to write with the character as the rescuer or problem-solver by himself.

6) Trademarks of weaker students’ Compositions

I would like to share trademarks on weaker student’s Compositions as it will serve as a reminder to teach our kids not to make these mistakes.

Lots of Grammatical Errors – Weaker students have lots of grammatical errors such that the content is confused or lost. If your child is weak in Grammar, you may like to drill them in basic Grammar rules from the start. It takes time, but it will slowly help the child improve his/her language which will go a long way.

Not Enough Vocabulary – Lack of Vocabulary will make a story boring. Build up a Vocabulary Bank by jotting down new words when you are reading books, newspaper, etc. This is a long term learning and will help in the long run.

Lack Organisation Skills and No Flow – Here is where planning helps. You can be a strong writer but if the organisation is missing, the story will not be a good one.

Lack of Immersing in the Story – When a student is writing a Composition, he/she should imagine himself in the story. It will help him to describe the 5 senses (see, hear, taste, smell, touch) better and bring the reader into his/her world through the description.

Length of Composition – A weaker writer tends to write too short and a strong writer may write too long. Writing about 3,4 pages long is sufficient to not bore the examiner and not too short to miss out content.

7) Checking the Composition

Finally, check through the Composition and look out for G.P.S (Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling)! Replace words that are overused with better words.

I hope the above 7 Steps will help your child to write better. After writing this post, I am going to let my kids read these tips and guide them along!

If you like this post and find it useful, do share with your friends who are struggling in Composition or preparing for PSLE like us. I want to selflessly teach everyone what I know and how I teach my children in academics. I do have a small ambition: To inspire more parents to go the NO-TUITION route like us! Let’s save money and save time for our children to play and unwind more! I think there is more to life than academic and tuition.

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Hope this post is useful to everyone out there who has a kid in school! Stay tune for the next post!