One of the questions that I am usually asked by parents of my new students is this.
How do you teach creative writing in Thinking Factory?
When I first started tutoring I did not realise that there were many ways that creative writing was taught in private centres and among private tutors. All school teachers have a standardized way of teaching composition writing. We were allowed to add in our own techniques if we chose to..usually after attending courses arranged by MOE. However, as all parents know, composition writing is not part of the weekly lesson plan due to school time constraints.
When I started tutoring, I used a mix of what I had done as a primary school English teacher and the short-term and long-term goals I set for my students.
Short-term goal for writing
The most obvious goal is to improve the marks scored in each examination.
I do this by teaching the students how to plan correctly, create interesting plots and characters and lengthen their stories with as few grammatical mistakes as possible.
My goal for all my students is to wipe out grammatical mistakes by the time they hit PSLE year. Tenses need to be correct and sentence structures need to be as perfect as possible.
Every time we write a composition, planning is the first part of the process. As I always tell my P6 students before sitting for the PSLE,- take the time to plan. It is better to spend a little more time planning then to realise 25 minutes into your story that you hate it and need to start over!
After handing out the composition for the week, I remind them to look at the picture and theme and brainstorm ways to use that theme in their stories.
Introduction and Conclusion
I believe that the way you start and end can make or break a story. I do not like the use of flashbacks. I do not see any benefit in spending a paragraph on talking about cleaning your attic and discovering a photo or a trophy. Why waste space on a paper? It is better to jump in straight to a setting – soccer field? Stormy day? Boring Math lesson? Or introduce a complex character – a bully? a sad child? a best friend about to betray you?
We like our characters here in Thinking Factory. In fact, over time, some of my students just love their characters! I always make sure that our characters are realistic. A child from a home facing financial difficulties due to a father’s sudden job loss, tempted to be dishonest. A student with learning difficulties, ostracised by other classmates, who unexpectedly teaches everyone about kindness. A best friend, influenced by social media and peer pressure, who betrays you.
After writing out their compositions in 50 minutes set for my students, I will mark their scripts and the following week, each student is called out, for me to go over their mistakes individually. Anyone who scores less than 15 marks for P4 and less than 30 marks for P5 & P6 must re-write their compositions as corrections.
For the others, they simply need to re-write the sentences with mistakes in them.
Again, I am not a fan of re-writes. Writing shouldn’t be a form of punishment. The re-write is a way to improve one’s first story or correct persistent grammatical mistakes.
After, I hand out the model composition. Like every year, in the first few months, the model compositions are usually from my previous students. This will change as the months progress. Models will then be chosen from existing students.
Long-term goal for writing
To develop a love for writing and to carry over this love to Secondary school.
While I have classes from Primary 4-6, the bulk of my classes are PSLE classes. Primary school writing mainly consists of a composition of about 150 words and Situational writing. However, writing in secondary school reaches much further. In fact, most subjects require analysis and writing of some kind.
When I see a student’s writing grow from a simple plot to one that involves complex characters and interesting plots, my heart swells with happiness. I know that the love of writing is developing and will continue to grow later on in secondary school. It is a tool that is simply necessary.
Most importantly, I can see it as soon as they receive the theme and pictures from me. The concentration, the thought process and the furious scribbling as they plan even before I have given them the instructions, and most importantly, the excitement they show as they tell me and the rest of the class their story.
I believe that this is why the model compositions that I sometimes put up on my blog are so well-written. It really isn’t just me. I only teach the skills. It is up to each student to take them and use them to create their stories. Every student has their unique style and their own unique character. If a person actually looks at the models that I have put up on this blog over the years, he/she will realise that there is no one style, no one technique and no uniformity. Aside, from following the boundaries I set, like using the theme well and avoiding flashbacks as introductions, each model has its own unique personality. Some students love a sob story, others enjoy exciting settings and plots, others just like to keep it simple but describe the simplicity well.
For this reason, I do not provide model compositions to be read before each student has written their own story. I do not ask students to copy out other students’ model compositions and I do not provide models written by me. I believe that every student needs to take ownership of his or her own writing piece. If you write a bad piece, we will sit together and correct it until it is acceptable and then the student re-writes it out again.
Models from other students are there to show my students another style of writing and to motivate them..usually at the start of the year..to reach their highest potential.
It is true. I am proud of my students’ writing. It takes a lot to change mindsets and create good plots. It also takes effort to increase length and add in descriptions. Recently, one of the parents of my new students told me that a few years back, her son’s class teacher had printed out one of the models from my blog and distributed it the class as a model composition. I was thrilled when I heard that and I am sure that my student who had written that composition would have been over the moon as well!
I hope that this post gives some insight on how writing lessons at Thinking Factory are conducted. As results come in, I hope that everyone is satisfied with theirs. In my next blog post I will discuss analysis of marks and ways to improve.