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PSLE English Composition Topics

PSLE English Composition Topics > Composition Guidelines

Composition Guidelines

PLANNING YOUR STORY

Step 1: YOU MUST PLAN!

Before we discuss about how to plan a composition, I always ask my students whether they plan their compositions at all in the first place. Although some students claim they plan their composition, after careful enquiry, you will realise very, very few students indeed plan their compositions. It is always an uphill task to persuade any student of the necessity of planning their composition since most of them have survived to-date without having to do so. "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" seems to be the over-riding principle of inertia for young students.

Well here's a new rule, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail".

You MUST plan. Don't just use the first idea that pops into your head. That is quite like playing Russian Roulette. You're relying on pure luck whether that idea is a good or bad idea. We all know that it's a bad idea to answer any (test) paper relying on plain luck, but for some strange mysterious reason, when it comes to composition, students abandon all logic to trust in their Stars/Ancestors/Relevant Deity to provide them with inspiration. While we're at it, let's also walk across the PIE blindfolded. Remember: you MUST plan!

More often than not, the first idea that pops into your head is the most obvious idea. It also means it will be first idea that pops into every other student's head. Your composition will drown in a flood of hundreds of other almost exactly identical stories. Unless you relish the idea of writing the exact same thing as everybody else, consider other alternatives. Take for example a typical composition title: A Day At The Beach. I have marked at least hundreds of picnic compositions on that theme. By the time I have finished marking the hundredth picnic account, I'm just about ready to take commit ritual sepuku except thankfully, I'm not Japanese.

Some brighter sparks (that means you of course) add in a bit of originality and excitement by including a drowning, accident, criminals, daring rescue and so on. Unfortunately, the very same idea has occurred to all their classmates. Come on, Beach... Drowning... not exactly original material. Unfortunately, if you don't plan, that's the kind of story you will come up with. My point is, YOU MUST PLAN! Or have I said that already?

How To Plan

Now that I have made put my point across, we ask: how to plan? Strict planning formulas are almost as bad as no plan. I've seen some quite horrifying tables and guidelines in student guides that has the words "Introduction", "Body" and "Conclusion" somewhere in there. Well, actually I'm making that up. But my point is - there is no instant formula. No great author ever came up with an original work by filling in some table. Well, maybe except Adam Smith and we all know what happened to him.

Just guide yourself with the following basic questions: Who, When, Where, Why, How and What. This is not meant to be a magic formula. The reason why I suggest these is because they are the most basic questions I could think of. If you can think of anything more basic, please e-mail me your suggestion. The order in which you answer them is also not important except What is always answered last, and I will explain why later.

Who

Who are the characters in your story? You? A 3rd party? Your friends / classmates / family / relatives? John? Who?

Pick your characters to improve your story. If the topic is A Day At The Beach, pick characters that will add to the story. Naturally, throwing in a sky-diving champion would be better than throwing in a lawyer. But what would be better than a sky-diving champion? A sky-diving grandmother? A sky-diving iguana? Don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself.

Where

Where did it happen? In School/at the graveyard/in the toilet?

Of course sometimes you can be limited as in the example A Day At the Beach would have to happen at the beach. But a good student always asks, which part of the beach? A better student asks where is this beach? It can range anywhere from East Coast Park to Madagascar.

When

What day did the story occur? Yesterday? Your birthday? Last Christmas? September 1939? When?

Don't forget the time! What time did it happen? It is shocking how many students forget about the time. Obviously a story set in the afternoon would be very different from one set in the middle of the night.

When did it happen? In the morning? At night? While you were in the toilet? Eating cornflakes? Reading the newspapers? Doing all three?

Have fun with the facts. There is no limit.

Why

Why? What do you mean why? If the topic is "A Heartbreaking Christmas", why was it heartbreaking? If it was "A Joyful Reunion", obviously it is not necessary to ask why it was joyful. All reunions are joyful except maybe old school reunions but that's another story. Why were they separated? Why did they take so long to reunite?

For some topics it may be harder to explain why. For example, "A Day At The Beach". Why were you there? Was it for a picnic (no!) or for some other reason (yes)?

How

How did it happen? This may overlap with "What" which I will explain later. Sometimes people have more fun reading how something happens than the fact that it did happen. Especially if the method is especially clever or amusing. Sometimes, you don't need to tell how something happened (how you went to the beach), sometimes you do (how the prisoner escaped from jail). Use your common sense.

What

Lastly, What happened? This is a blow by blow account of the whole story. In other words, it is a concise summary of everything you intend to put into your story. Once you have put together WHO, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW, you are now ready to say answer WHAT happened. It is like putting meat on the skeleton of an animal except without all the blood and stuff. Actually it isn't like it at all, but I could not think of a better analogy.

A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE

Back to the example of A Day At The Beach. One teacher I know told me about a student who wrote about a picnic he had with his friends. It began optimistically with them finding a nice shady spot to set up. It went downhill from there as he began to narrate they had sandwiches (nice delicious sandwiches), fried beehoon (nice delicious fried beehoon), fishballs (nice delicious fishballs) and packet drinks (nice delic... you get the idea). By the time the teacher got to packet drinks, it was so boring it could physically drive breath out of your body. If you are that student, I apologise for using you as a negative example.

Be Realistic

Use your common sense. Don't go overboard. A story that is wholly absurd is as bad as a story which is boring. Don't insult your reader's intelligence by expecting them to believe ridiculously exaggerated heroism. Really don't. Really.

If you set up your story right, you won't have to resort to extreme solutions. Nobody is going to believe you beat a man with a machine gun by dodging through a rain of bullets and karate chopping him on the neck.

Last Words

Have fun. Planning makes it more fun, not less. Because it depends only on your imagination, every student is as good as another. It is the only place where the competition is completely fair. Go for it.

Raymond Ang
raymondangcc@hotmail.com
 
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