Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: An All-Rounded Character

Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: An All-Rounded Character

by Lily Chew

Previously, I mentioned that while describing a character’s emotions, it is important to talk about the Inside, Outside and Action taken by the character. However, emotions is only one aspect of character description and to create a character that readers can really visualise, the character needs to be TAMED.

TAMED?Not literally, of course (: but the character needs to be

Here is an example of how a character (Dave) can be TAMED:

“What should I do now? Should I make a dash for the staircase or just wait until the coast is clear?” (Thought) Dave tried his hardest(Manner) to focus as the questions swam in his mind. Beads of perspiration were forming on his forehead and his heavy breathing sounded thunderous in that confined space. Rubbing his clammy palms against his trousers(Emotions), Dave took a peek by pushing the closet door open(Action) gingerly(Manner). He could not be hiding in that closet forever. Those boys were bound to discover him sooner or later. With his heart beating wildly(Emotion), he made up his mind(Action). Just as he was about to take his one chance to escape(Action), the closet doors flung open and a pudgy face with a sinister smile greeted him. “Well, well. Look whom I have found,” chuckled Jim the bully in delight as he whistled to beckon his sidekicks over. Dave gulped in terror(Emotion) as he could only imagine what was about to happen to him(Thought).

The above only describes the character, Dave, and Dialogue was the only component not used by the character. However, that component can be easily used in other parts of the composition. In fact, thoughts and dialogues are components which should be used in a light-handed manner as overuse may disrupt the flow of a story. My pupils find that this approach helps to paint a vivid image of a character’s personality through a structured manner. For writers who are rich in content but lacking in character description, this is also helpful to beef up their characters easily.

If I was to identify the components for Jim the bully, it would be as follows:

“What should I do now? Should I make a dash for the staircase or just wait until the coast is clear?” Dave tried his hardest to focus as the questions swam in his mind. Beads of perspiration were forming on his forehead and his heavy breathing sounded thunderous in that confined space. Rubbing his clammy palms against his trousers, Dave took a peek by pushing the closet door open gingerly. He could not be hiding in that closet forever. Those boys were bound to discover him sooner or later. With his heart beating wildly, he made up his mind. Just as he was about to take his one chance to escape, the closet doors flung open and a pudgy face with a sinister smile(Emotion) greeted him. “Well, well. Look whom I have found,”(Dialogue) chuckled(Action) Jim the bully in delight(Manner) as he whistled to beckon his sidekicks over(Action). Dave gulped in terror as he could only imagine what was about to happen to him.

As with other strategies, practice makes perfect. It is important to keep practising to train the brain muscle so that this becomes more automated as you write along (: Keep calm and write on!

This article can be found here.


One Simple Tip to improve your English Comprehension

One Simple Tip to improve your English Comprehension

by Jerry Lee

“Help! My child keeps messing up his comprehension section!”

 That’s a cry that I have heard from worried parents countless times.  There are many reasons why a child does not do well for comprehension, but the most common problem is one which I have constantly noticed from observing how my students tackle their English Comprehension questions.  I often hand out comprehension passages of varying difficulties to my students and as practice, go through question by question with them to guide them through the thought process and actions of coming up with an accurate answer to the question.  There are many fundamental mistakes that students make, (I can’t go through all in one post), but one of the most common and the simplest to rectify is this:

Students fail to refer back to the passage before answering the question.

It may seem like it is pure common sense to us adults but the truth is, children’s brains are not as developed as ours yet.

My students, from Primary all the way to Secondary level, all commit this silly mistake of not referring back to the passage to double-check the information before giving the answer.  They will straightaway try to attempt the answer, with preconceptions in their mind. 

The simpler the question, the stronger the preconceived answer appears in their mind, the faster they act.  The result:  They will write out the answer without ever performing the simple act of flipping the pages to check a specific paragraph to see if they are correct.

Here’s an example.

Question:  What contributes to global food wastage?

Without checking the passage, some of my students immediately write based on preconceptions.

Student’s Answer:  Throwing away left over food in restaurants and supermarkets contributes greatly to food wastage.

Although the answer is not totally wrong, the students fail to get full marks for it.  Upon referring back to the passage, the students are surprised by additional information given by the writer, which is not seemingly obvious if you try to answer based on your “general knowledge” or  “common sense”.

Correct answer :  In less developed countries, food wastage occurs due to inefficient methods used in storing and transporting food.  In more developed countries, food wastage occurs in restaurants or supermarkets where leftover food is thrown away.

Hence, you can see why, the more obvious an answer seems to the student, the higher their chances of making a mistake.  Make sure your child avoids such complacency.  Make sure he/she go through this simple process to answer comprehension questions:

Comprehension English skills

After pointing out this simple process of Q>C>A to my students, they all answered their comprehension questions more accurately.  However, after a few weeks, I noticed that they have gone back to their old ways of complacency again.  So you see, even though it seems so EASY, students still FAIL to follow this process.  The best way is to make sure the student does it so often enough that this process eventually becomes a HABIT.

Many times, as adults, we have difficulty trying to understand why something so seemingly simple, can be such a huge obstacle for our children.  By thorough observations, we can read our children’s behavior and root out the mistakes, behaviours and thought processes hindering their learning progress.

I strongly recommend that when guiding your child in comprehension, make sure he/she follows this simple process of Q>C>A.

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Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: Starting It Right

Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: Starting It Right

by Lily Chew

Creative writing: Starting it right

If you are thinking about the introduction or beginning of a composition when you read the title of this post, you are wrong.

Writing a composition begins from the point when you are reading the question. Only with understanding of the question requirements that we are on our way to success with the composition. With composition questions set in the new PSLE format in mind, here are some pointers on how to start your composition on the right foot:

1. Unpack the theme/topic.

If the topic is “A Mishap”, what does the word “Mishap” mean? Or “Making a Difference”, does it mean that something has changed? It will be helpful to make quick notes (Mishap –> unfortunate –> accident, OR difference –> no longer the same) on the topic so that you have a clear idea and will proceed to generate ideas that stay on topic.

2. Highlight the requirements of the question shown in the guiding questions.

Does the question ask for “you” to be a character in the story? (E.g. “What were you doing when the mishap took place?” vs “How did the mishap take place?” –> no character requirement)

3. Bearing the topic in mind, look at each picture and write down 3 to 5 words/ phrases about each picture. 

These words or phrases (e.g. soup pot, boiling hot, burnt, unattended stove) serve two functions:
– It makes sure that the pupils are aware of what is provided to be used in the composition.
– It helps pupils to make a link between the topic and the pictures as they brainstorm.

4. Decide on the idea and circle the picture(s) that you will be using in your story.

(At least 1 picture needs to be used but if you would like to use more pictures and they are relevant to your your story, you may do so.) The first idea that comes to your head will probably be the first idea that goes into everyone’s head. Explore the other ideas that you have come up with so that your story has an edge over what others are writing.

5. With an idea of your story in mind, do a check to see if you are indeed staying on topic by answering the guiding questions and writing down the main point beside it.

These 5 things should happen as you read your question and should take no longer than 3 minutes. Following this, a brief planning of your story should take place and you will be ready to put your great ideas into words!

The article originally appeared here.


Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: Using Emotions & Expressive Phrases

Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: Using Emotions & Expressive Phrases

by Lily Chew

Upon hearing that the penguins are visiting, a wave of jubilance swept through Polar. A big smile spread across his face as he thought about the fun that they were going to have. Unable to contain his happiness, he began doing a little celebratory dance.  (Source of picture: thisisthecoolestplace)

Upon hearing that the penguins are visiting, a wave of jubilance swept through Polar. A big smile spread across his face as he thought about the fun that they were going to have. Unable to contain his happiness, he began doing a little celebratory dance.  (Source of picture: thisisthecoolestplace)

How do you get your child to use emotions and expressive phrases for the characters in a story? Lots of children find it challenging to use descriptive phrases to help their characters express their feelings. In the case of anger for instance, many children either use mundane words like “angry” or “furious” repeatedly or they use a cut and paste method of memorizing a whole chunk of description in their compositions without considering how appropriate what they have memorized is for the context of their compositions.

A quick tip for helping your child to have a balanced approach in describing emotions is this:

Divide the descriptive phrases of feelings and emotions into 3 categories
Outside (what you can see) e.g. Upon hearing what happened, his face turned an ominous red.
Inside (what you cannot see inside of the character) e.g. He was boiling with rage.
Action (what the character does because of the emotion) e.g. His hands were shaking uncontrollably. OR In a fit of anger, he punched the wall.

The problem is that a lot of children do not see emotions in a composition as a symphony of the “outside“, “inside” and “actions” happening together.

Hence, instead of having your child memorize tens of phrases blindly, help him to see how description of emotions should be meaningful because when we feel (e.g. angry), these 3 areas respond together and are not separated from each other. Have your child imagine and remember sets of emotions consisting of the “outside“, “inside” and “actions“.

Having a mixture of what the character looks, feels and does will provide a nice balanced description of his emotions.

“How dare you betray me? I trusted you!” James bellowed, boiling with rage (inside). His hands were shaking uncontrollably(action) and his face turned an ominous red(outside). In a fit of anger, he punched the wall(action), leaving a fine crack on the white surface. Before Thomas could react, James grabbed him by the collar and threw a fist at him(action).

Try this with the list of descriptive phrases you have now!

Original article can be found here


How to Score for your English Oral Exam ? (part 1)

How to Score for your English Oral Exam ? (part 1)

by Jerry Lee

The oral exam for PSLE English has a total of 30 marks and makes up 15% of your overall English Score for PSLE.  For students taking O – Level or N(A) – Level, the oral component takes up 30 marks or 20% of your overall English score.  For this blog post, we will be covering the reading portion. I will be highlighting some simple ways to show you  how to score for your oral English exam.

1.  Be mindful of your pronunciation


As Singaporeans who are used to speaking Singlish, we don’t really focus so much on our pronunciation during our everyday dialogues.  (It’s okay, I don’t speak Perfect Queen’s English too.  I speak like a Singaporean and I am proud of it!)  However, when it comes to your oral examination, it is time to code switch.  Be 100% aware of your pronunciation of words!

– be wary of words ending with ‘-st’.  Make sure you say “first” and not “Firsss”.  “Cast” and not “Casss”

– articulate words ending with ‘-ed’.  But do not over do it!  Keep it light and subtle

– the ‘th’ sound requires you to put the tip of your tongue against the back, near the bottom edge of your upper 2 front teeth.  Now pronounce the word “The” instead of “Der”.  Again, keep it light and subtle.  Overdoing this may end up in you spraying spittle all over your teacher.

Also, do not start faking a British or American accent.  Having an ‘ang moh’ accent won’t impress your examiners!  Be natural!


2.  Pace yourself

pace yourself

Students taking oral examinations are usually nervous and can’t wait to get over the whole ordeal.  It shows in their reading.  Don’t let your nervousness get the better of you!  Keep calm and slow down!  Remember to pause at the comma and take a longer pause at the full-stop.  Take a deep breath before the start of each sentence and make sure you maintain your pace according to the punctuation and phrases used.  In some cases, I have seen students pausing too long at difficult words and speeding up when they get over the word, then pausing to catch a breath when there is no comma and rushing through full stops.  The punctuation is there to help you pace yourself and catch your breath.  Follow it!  Keep to the momentum dictated by the commas and full stops.  If you choose to ignore it, your entire flow of reading will be gone.


3.  Sit up straight, keep your chin up.

good posture

Proper posture plays a huge role when you are reading.  When you slouch or rest your head on your hand, your reading will be affected.  Sit up straight, hold the paper in front of you with your hands/arms resting on the table and read confidently.  Make sure your head is not tilted down so low that the movement of your chin is restricted as your throat will become scrunched up or squeezed.  You want your head to be facing straight ahead so that your voice will be projected loud and clear, not soft and slurred.  Good posture will allow you to read better and keep you from mumbling.

4.  Read with enthusiasm and feeling.


Many students become extremely self-conscious when examined for their reading prowess.  They become so tensed and so conscious of points 1 and 2 that they forget about the tone of their voice.  They end up reading in a monotone so robotic that they can all go audition for the upcoming Terminator movie.  Add some oomph to your reading!  For the older students, don’t worry about sounding dorky or uncool!  The only person who can hear you read, other than yourself, is an examiner whom you will probably never see in your entire life again!  Read in a lively manner!  ( Of course don’t overdo it, if not your examiner will suspect that you have not taken your medication.)

5.  Practise reading out loud while waiting for your turn

nerdy baby

When it is your turn to be sitting on the waiting chair, make sure you take the time to fully prep yourself.  Read. Out. Aloud. To. Yourself.  Yes, don’t be shy.  Again, no one is going to judge you or laugh at you.  This preparation time is important because reading the passage a few times will help you loosen your tongue, stretch your mouth and clear your throat.  You will also get used to the rhythms and fluctuations of the passage.  You must also use this time to practise pronouncing that one difficult word that always pops up in the passage.

6.  Oh My God.  How do I pronounce THAT word?!

shocked face

It seems like for every oral english test or exam, you will always encounter that one word that you are not too sure on how to go about pronouncing it.  It seems like examiners always have some form kind of sadistic streak.

“Hey let’s see if the kids can pronounce ‘Otorhinolaryngologist’. Hahaha!”

If you see evil words like that, don’t panic.  You won’t lose 5 marks just because you can’t pronounce 1 word properly.  Break the words into smaller parts and try your best saying it out.  You might want to practice it a few times (see point 4.)  Try not to pause too long when reading the word, and after you get over that torturous moment, refrain from speeding up.  The trick is to maintain the momentum of your reading as much as possible.  Don’t let a few difficult words mess up your flow.

7.  Relax! Relax! Relax!

relaxed cat

The key thing to take note for oral is to relax.  Your examiner is not some troll who lives under a bridge waiting to eat little children.  Your examiner is just a bored teacher who can’t wait to get this over and done with so that she can go home and actually — have a life.  The more nervous you are, the more mistakes you make.  Even if you fumble, keep calm, relax, and read on.  To err is only human.  Not all of us are born with the linguistic skills of Eminem or Barack Obama.  I have a tendency to stutter when I talk too.  But does that stop me from doing public presentations or creating my own online teaching courses?  No!  Once you realise people are more worried about what others are thinking of them, you will stop worrying about what others are thinking of you.


Take a chill pill.  Smile at your examiner.  Be polite. Sit up straight.  And read without inhibitions!

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