As a mom of a Primary 2 boy, I admit that composition writing is the most challenging subject to teach. It requires a confluence of several complex skills, and it’s quite possible that a child may not have mastered all those skills by the age of 9 or 10.
In Singapore, our children start learning picture composition from Primary 1 (age of 7). In Lower Primary, students are required to write stories with 80 to 120 words, based on a series of 3 or 4 pictures.
Today, I’m so glad to share with you FOUR great tips for Composition Writing. This article is brought to you by Jan & Elly – my favourite English Language School. I’d like to thank Ms Elly Sim, Director and Founder of Jan & Elly, for sharing these wonderful tips with us.
4 Great Tips for Composition Writing
When it comes to composition writing, or writing in general, many of us stumble and find ourselves in a complete blank state. We either struggle to come up with ideas or struggle to put them down in words. Even more so when it comes to teaching our children how to write.
Sure, there are helper words, pictures and prompts to help with composition writing, but very often, these big words and phrases are short-lived in our children’s stories.
To really write well, we need to understand how to use these prompts. Here are some tips that have come in very handy for our students at Jan & Elly:
1. Read widely and variedly
If there is only one thing you take away from this post, make it this.
To write well, you need to read well. Get your children to pick up reading as a habit. Read daily, weekly, whatever it is that works, but read.
We’ve heard it all a million times, but it never gets old. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand. Students can only begin to understand what a good composition looks like if they have read enough good compositions and stories.
While at times reading can feel like a step backward when other homework or studying could have been accomplished in that same duration, the benefits your child will reap are well worth the effort.
The reason why so much emphasis is placed on reading, is this – it opens up the imagination, giving students freedom to put themselves in unfamiliar situations. Reading forces the brain to comprehend, visualise and predict stories and situations independently. Unlike movies, the setting isn’t laid out. Students are made to draw out the story in their head, to imagine what the place looks like, the time of day, the character’s faces and the little details, based solely on the writer’s words.
Because so much effort is put in to understand and visualise the entire story, students are able to remember how words and phrases work together to bring a point across, making good English almost second nature to them. In turn, good grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure – key components in writing, will become ingrained in them.
2. Visualise your story
A lot of times, students write mediocre compositions not because they aren’t imaginative. In fact, most children have wild imaginations. It’s just the transferring of thoughts to words that somehow gets lost along the way.
Walking through the entire story step by step can greatly help students visualise their composition, and come up with realistic and creative ideas. That is why it is important to plot out compositions. As a general guide, it is always good for students, especially young writers, to plot out their story in three main sections – beginning, middle and end.
This way, they won’t be tempted to lose focus when a new idea pops up, but simply add it to the beginning, middle or end of their plotting process.
With each writing exercise, spend a couple of minutes with your child to help plot out the story. Talk through the beginning, the characters involved, the reactions of each character, the main plot of the story and the ending. As a start, it helps to question your child about his or her ideas. When talking it out, put yourself in the story – ask your child questions such as “Would mummy react this way? Would daddy get mad at you if you really got into an accident?”
Once this becomes a habit, your child will begin to use reason and logic when writing, while staying focused on the plot. It may seem tedious at first, but with practice, this much-needed step will be a quicker process.
3. Keep a journal
This tip is a well-known one and has been a great help to many students. Always keep a journal – for recording new words and for free reign of writing.
Every time your child comes across a new word or phrase, get him or her to write it down. It could be a completely new word or a simple word used in a completely new context. Jot it down and then come up with one or two sentences using those words. Some students even take it a step further by consciously using the word in conversation.
When we apply newly-learnt words to our daily lives, it sticks with us and gives us the confidence to use it creatively.
4. Write simply and clearly, but make it powerful
We all love reading stories and articles that are well-written and simple. Complex sentences can make our brain shut down and often leaves us skipping entire paragraphs just to get the gist of the story.
When it comes to writing, always keep it simple. Remember that simple isn’t boring. A lot of times, students try to make their writing sound polished and impressive by using big words in long sentences. At times, it may work but when it’s overdone, it becomes a nuisance to read.
The golden rule here is to use simple but powerful words. Always show, don’t tell. Don’t simply tell the reader that you’re angry. Show it to the reader. In other words, paint the picture in words.
Let’s take a look at the examples below:
I was extremely angry when I heard his voice.
I was fuming at the sound of his voice. I started trembling in rage, my blood boiling in anger.
Both these examples tell us that the writer is angry, but Version 2 does it with so much more impact that as readers, we can visualise the extent of the anger.
This is what writing simply yet powerfully means. There are no extremely big, complex words – just simple words merged together to form strong sentences.
A helpful exercise is to practice identifying adverbs, and replacing them with power words. Typically, most adverbs end with an ‘ly’ and are used unnecessarily, such as “running quickly”, or “shout loudly”. Instead, try using words such as “sprinted” or “yelled at the top of his voice”.
These tips can be used with all writing exercises so try them out with your child and have fun exploring different writing styles as you go along.