PSLE Compo Writing Tips: How to Write More Interesting Compositions
Have you ever experienced receiving your essay and reading your teacher’s comments, only to find that she has marked “add elaboration”, “describe your ideas” or “description needed” on them with red ink? When getting such feedback, do you know what to do to correct it?
What other descriptions does the teacher want? Haven’t I already described it?
Every student writing an English essay would no doubt have faced such feedback from a teacher. Students have probably heard their teacher tell them that they should describe character emotions, the weather, the setting, the movement of the characters, etc. Knowing what the teacher wants described is half the battle won, as the only hurdle the student will face next is how to describe these elements in the story.
However, every writer faces a terrible curse sometimes, one which is difficult to purge – writer’s block. Writer’s block made it difficult for me to describe things in my first draft. Many students also face a similar issue, and they sometimes think that knowing what something is like means that the reader and the teacher will also know what they are attempting to describe.
Students should realise that their teachers are human and not psychic. As such, they can only award them marks based on whatever is written on the paper. A lack of things written means a lack of marks. The teacher cannot grade the student based on what they think the student is trying to do. It is important that a teacher grades the students’ work fairly, without biases.
Here are 3 general ways students can improve their descriptions in their compositions:
Students should give their readers background information about their story, such as the events which have led up to the first moments of the story. For example, students could describe the motive of a character here by simply asking the question “Why?” until they cannot anymore, and then taking the information worth knowing to the reader and adding it.
Here are some examples of questions the student can ask:
– Why is the whole class at the train station?
– Why is your character known for being naughty?
– Why is there a monkey in your kitchen?
If you would like to know the answers to these questions, then it is likely your reader will too! These bits of background information can be woven into the composition and should usually be presented at the start of the essay to give context. This is similar to watching a movie and not knowing what is going on at the start until one of the characters does a voiceover to explain.
For example, if the essay is about an invading monkey in your kitchen, the student could include a brief description of the nature reserve near their house, like so.
Example of background information in a composition:
“The crickets sang, which was a common nighttime lullaby amongst the trees of the nature reserve by our house. All manner of wildlife was common in our area thanks to the lush forest of the reserve.”
When the reader takes in this example, there are two important details which foreshadow and explain the invading monkeys: (1) that there is a nature reserve nearby and (2) that the forest was full of wildlife. In this example, one or two sentences were enough to describe the setting, and the student should not go into too much detail. They should choose information which clearly and directly relates to the events in the story and drives the plot forward.
Humans are visual creatures, and will take every opportunity to look at something to interact with it. When writing essays, students should paint a picture (not literally, of course, unless you are in an Art class) of the object or event that they want the reader to imagine. Make sure that the reader has the best sensory experience possible, like they are actually inside the story.
The first step to painting pictures for the mind’s eye is to know which senses appeal to you. Think about the senses you use to perceive the world: sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. By describing things which relate to each of the senses above, students can write more vivid descriptions of the things they want the reader to experience. Students should use literary devices such as similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification to help them describe things.
Example of painting a picture with imagery in a composition:
“The blaring alarm ripped through the quiet of the morning, its sharp screech rudely jolting me from my slumber. I rolled over in bed with a groan, blinking in the warm sunlight that lanced through my windows. Cold dread ran down my spine like ice as realization hit me – I was late!”
There are multiple layers to the description above. In the first layer, the writer uses the sound of the alarm clock to describe how his character wakes up, and adds the description of sunlight to show the reader that he was late, as the sun had risen. The extra layer explain how he felt when he realised he was late for something important – a dreadful feeling that every student has probably experienced in one way or another at school.
A helpful tip for students who want to get good at sensory description is for them to make a notebook just for this topic alone. Students can look at books for inspiration, or simply write some of their own descriptions of seemingly mundane things like sitting in public transport, going to school, being late for something, having to wait in a line, etc. Remember to use the literary devices mentioned earlier to make your descriptions richer. Referring to these could give you ideas for writing your compositions in your exams.
We use dialogue every day – we hear other people talk and speak to them in return. As such, dialogue is one of the most useful writing tools to add description and elaboration. However, poorly chosen and haphazardly executed dialogue could backfire on the student.
When a character is written to say something, how they say it and what they do while saying it matters. Students can reveal a lot about the character’s mood, motives, and mental state when describing what they are doing when they are saying something.
Example of deliberate and descriptive dialogue in a composition:
“W-What are you saying? I didn’t trigger the fire alarm,” I stuttered nervously, glancing away from Ms Devi’s knowing glare as I hid my clammy hands behind my back.
When you look at the example above, it is clear that it forms a key dialogue in the plot, where the main character gives himself away as the culprit who pulled the fire alarm. The character’s nervousness and anxiety when he stutters gives away the fact that he did it, but that he is trying to cover it up. As such, the reader will think that the character is dishonest and untrustworthy based on how he denied that it was him who pulled the fire alarm.
In this example, the reader knows how the character is acting when they are saying their lines, based on the actions accompanying the speech. Glancing away furtively and clammy hands show the character’s anxiety due to being caught. These actions are also a telltale sign of dishonesty.
Students should avoid dialogue dumps where characters speak back and forth to other in quotes. Although this lengthens the composition, it does not necessarily enrich the writing as people generally speak with simple vocabulary. Students should aim for quality dialogue over a great quantity of dialogue in their writing which furthers the plot and saves them time.
An important trick for the student to learn is to plan their essays out first. By planning with a story curve or any other quick planning devices, the student will be able to choose the key plot elements they want to provide information for in their essay. Knowing what you will write next is half the battle won, and if the student has the skeletal structure of the essay locked down, elaborating further will be a breeze during their English exam.
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1. How Can I Help My Child With Writing Difficulties?
Firstly, identify the reason why your child has writing difficulties. At times, children have different problems, such as a lack of knowledge of the grammar rules or not enough variety in their vocabulary. At other times, students face difficulties in crafting a well-written plot. Then, after the problem is known, steps can be taken to remedy it and practice writing techniques.
2. Why is Writing Difficult for Students?
Writing is difficult as students must grapple with many aspects of good writing at one time – grammatical rules, vocabulary choice, sentence structure, plot and character crafting – students can feel overwhelmed dealing with the many aspects of writing to produce a good essay as a whole.
3. What Are Poor Writing Skills?
Students with poor writing skills will make many grammatical and spelling errors. Moreover, there will be a lack of cohesion and coherence in their ideas. Ultimately, poor writing skills are most clearly seen when the student fails to communicate their ideas to the reader.
4. How Do You Motivate Elementary Students to Write?
Letting elementary students write creatively to emulate writers of books they love reading as a child could motivate them to write more as they will see it as an opportunity to unleash their creativity, much like drawing or colouring or doing arts and crafts.
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