You either love it or hate it.
For our children who are in school, they have to write, whether they like it or not.
In Lower Primary (P1 and 2), children are taught Picture Composition. They are usually given 4 sequential pictures that tell a story, and some helping words. Students have to write a story of at least 80-100 words, based on the given pictures.
With the new PSLE Format, writing composition is no longer so straightforward. You have to know how to write a solid introduction, develop the plot, have good content, create suspense and end your story well.
The marking scheme for Composition usually comprises of two aspects - Content and Language. Content refers to how well the story is developed and Language is the technical aspects such as grammar, punctuation and spelling.
I think the technical aspects of the language is rather straightforward, as there are specific rules which one can learn and follow.
It is the content development part of the writing process that is more abstract and which many children are weaker in.
As content is important in composition writing, children must be taught ways to develop a story.
In Lower Primary, students are required to write stories of about 80 to 100 words, based on a series of 3 or 4 pictures. The marking scheme for Primary level Composition consists of two areas – Content and Language.
Content refers to the way students develop their story while Language refers to aspects of the story such as grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and spelling.
In general, it is easier to teach the Language part of composition writing than the Content part. For Language, students can be taught grammatical rules and correct spelling of common words used. However, teaching a child to write great content in his/her composition is something more difficult and abstract.
There are some steps that your child can take to develop his story and hopefully get a higher score in Content.
Writing Better Content: 5 Ways to Develop a Story
1. Have a Captivating Beginning
Many Lower Primary children like to begin their stories with a weather or timing phrase. Perhaps those two are easier ways to start a story. However, they have become such boring and typical ways of beginning a piece of composition. Imagine a teacher marking 30 to 40 pieces of compositions, all beginning with the same weather and timing phrases, such as:
“One fine day,…”
“One day during the school holiday,….”
“It was a hot and sweltering day,…”
Is there any other ways to begin your story? Can you think of more captivating story starters? Definitely! Put some thought into it and you can come up with some interesting ways to begin your story.
For picture compositions, get students to observe and study the pictures provided.
Is there a character shown in the picture? Begin your story by describing the character.
What could the character be saying, thinking or doing? Begin your story with speech or action.
What place is the character in? Begin your story by describing the setting. Is it a beach, at home, a classroom, a park? Describe it.
Encourage your child or students to put some thought into the above questions. Choose the most captivating opening for that particular composition.
Picture / Topic provided: An outing to the beach.
Instead of the typical:
One sunny day, John and his family went to the beach…
Students can begin the story in these more captivating ways:
Begin with Dialogue:
“Don’t forget to bring the picnic mat,” mum reminded. Dad loaded the picnic basket into the boot of the car as John ran back into the house to grab the picnic mat. “Is everyone ready?” Dad asked. “Yes!” came the excited reply.
Begin by describing the Setting:
Imagine yourself at the beach. Use as many of your senses as possible. What could you see? What could you hear? What could you smell? Describe them.
2. Imagine Yourself as the Character
Very often, children will come to me and say, "I don’t know what to write!”
I usually pose them these questions, “What would you do if you are (the character in the story)? How would you feel? What would you say?” And I’ll ask them to describe it. Somehow, they will begin to realise that there are many things which they can write about the character, once they start to imagine themselves as the character!
3. Think about the Setting
Is there anything worth mentioning that can contribute to your story? For example, if it is a picture of a busy street, is there anything at the background that you notice and can describe it in your story?
Get your child to imagine being in the picture.
What might he hear? What might he see? Describe the sounds, smell and sight.
4. Vary Your Sentence Structure
Lower primary children tend to write in short sentences. Too many of such sentences makes your story abrupt and curt. Get your child to combine his short sentences using conjunctions. In most schools, lower primary students should have learnt synthesis and transformation in their English lessons, where they had to combine two simple sentences into a complex sentence, using conjunctions. Composition writing is where they can put what they have learnt in their synthesis lessons into practice.
These are examples of simple, short sentences which lower primary children tend to write:
Sean heard a sound. He was scared.
(Two very short and simple sentences.)
Combine them into a complex sentence with the word “when”:
Sean was scared when he heard a sound.
A simple change like this can greatly affect the enjoyment level of a reader reading your story.
Having said that, it is also important not to have ONLY complex and long sentences throughout the entire story! Once in a while, insert a short sentence for impact.
The rule here is, VARY your sentence structure.
5. Have a Good Conclusion
Due to either a lack of imagination, lack of practice or simply a lack of time, many children end their composition abruptly. This is especially so during examinations, when time is a factor.
This is a typical conclusion in lower primary compositions:
The ambulance sent John to the hospital. He stayed in the hospital for two weeks. (The end)
Now, this makes the ending very abrupt.
Get your child or students to stretch their imagination a little by asking them what the character (or those related to him/her) could be thinking about after the incident. What would he do or not do next.?
A better ending would be:
The ambulance sent John to the hospital. He had to stay in the hospital for two weeks and felt really miserable. John felt bad making his parents worry for him and was glad that they did not blame him for his silly mistake. This is an incident that John will remember for the rest of his life!
If you teach children to put a little thought into their story endings, they should be able to come up with something more interesting and less abrupt. (Given lots of practice!)
A word of caution.
Although it is good to elaborate your conclusion a little, children must also be careful not to over-elaborate it. Do not write such a long ending until the story gets out of point. 3 to 4 sentences for an ending will suffice.