The changes in the Primary and Secondary school English syllabuses/syllabi are targeted at children being more involved in the language than just answering examination questions in the correct way. The aim is for them to be good speakers, wide readers, have an extensive vocabulary, good grasp of grammar and possess excellent writing skills.

Personally, I feel it is a pretty tall order for our multilingual, multicultural society but I am not here to debate the changes. My concern is how we can prepare the children to meet these expectations as best and as early as possible. It has taken me awhile to post on these changes because I wanted to be sure how these changes would look like when converted into examination format (This is Singapore, after all :p ) *Whatever I am posting now is what I have gathered from doing research, discussing with my ex-colleagues who are Pri school teachers & what my P3 & P4 students have done this year. If there are any changes along the way, I will post them.

The new P3/P4 changes fall largely in how Oral/Writing/Comprehension OE components are tested.

(A) Oral

I have recently posted on some examples and tips about the new Stimulus Based Conversation. To recap, in this part of the Oral Exam, students will be given a picture of either 4 items related to a theme (e.g. different types of children’s games/different gifts) OR an advertisement (e.g. an art competition/a pet shop) OR any other type of graphic stimulus and will be asked a few questions based on the picture.

The first question will most likely be along the lines of:

Which item would you choose? OR Do you own a pet? OR Have you ever entered an art competition?

The student will then be expected to respond accordingly with more than just one sentence. Continue with Why you would choose the item OR What type of pet you own or would like to own OR Give the personal story behind the art competition.

Depending on the response the teacher will ask approximately 2 more questions. Please take note this is not prompting but as a means to test the child’s ability to carry on a conversation on any topic. Marks will not be subtracted if questions are asked. However, if the child gives one word answer or just one sentence, teacher will have to prompt- not good.

How can parents help their child?

Look for advertisements or interesting pictures in magazines/newspapers that might interest your child. (Popular Magazine has a lot of items that children love!) Ask your child questions like Which one do you like? Tell me why you like it? Which one do you not like? OR
Why would you like to enter this competition? Tell me how you will prepare for it?

Do not become impatient with your child if he gives one word answers to you in the beginning. Explain to him that you need more information. The goal is to let your child practice having a conversation in a structured way. With sufficient practice he will get used to these types of questions and pictures.

(B) Composition

This year some schools retained the 3 picture + create your own ending and added on the aided Situation Outline. Students could choose which they wanted to do. Other schools did not give a choice and only had the Picture. One school even told their P3 students not to choose the Situation Outline because they were not prepared!

Personally, I think  this is one of the most challenging changes for lower primary students (including the P4s 2014). Writing skills are difficult to teach. Some parents get their children to memorize whole compositions (which never really translates well in writing). However with this new change, this is not a real option. How many themes and compositions can a child memorize? Any topic can be tested on and without guided pictures that sequence the story for the child, he has to learn how to come up with interesting  and realistic plots, create settings & characters and organize his story in order (more difficult for younger children) plus have a good grasp of grammar so that marks will not be liberally taken away for Language.

In the Situation Outline the student may be instructed to write a story based on a topic. 3 pictures of an object or a person will be given in no apparent order. The student may use 1 or all of these pictures. For example :

Write a story based on An Accident. Along the page there may be a picture of a child lying in a pool of blood, a speeding car & a worried child using a mobile phone. 

The student has to decide:

  • Where & when the accident took place. 
  • Who are the characters involved – a child/ a neighbour/ an old woman and if the student is part of the story or the narrator.
  • What did the driver do
  • Who called the ambulance
  • What happened in the end

How can parents help?

Start by coming up with themes – an accident/a lost item/witnessing a crime. Give your child three ‘pictures’ (If you are not artistically inclined- like me!-  then simply write out the three pictures in words). Begin by letting your child use all the 3 pictures as a guide and slowly progress to using just 1 picture.

Give your child a tool to plan writing and get him to practice for every piece of writing. I have simplified the one I use for my P5s & P6s which looks something like this.For the full planning and composition done by one of my students please visit www.thinking-factory.com

  • Introduction 
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Ending

NOW is the time to get your child to read as widely as possible. From books like Diary of the Wimpy Kid to Chicken Soup for the Soul, the new syllabus expects students to be able to discuss and write about a wide variety of topics by the time they are sitting for their PSLE.

Please do not wait for this to miraculously happen. If your child does not like to read, try to be proactive by taking your child often to the library & bookstores. Putting aside 30 minutes reading time for the whole family as often as possible and discuss with your child what he is reading and how that can translate into story ideas.

(C) Comprehension Open-Ended

The good news is that this component is now easier for the student. Instead of giving long answers with 1/2 marks taken away for grammatical mistakes , a few questions will be replaced with boxes with short questions and one word answers /phrases. This will test the comprehension and vocabulary of the student while helping him not to lose marks unnecessarily.

The challenge comes in the inferential questions which will be asked. E.g. What have you learnt from this story? How would you describe the character? Support your answer

How can parents help?

Aside from practice, parents can ask such questions to their children after watching a movie or reading a book. Prompt your child to explain why he has given that answer.Try to get him into the habit of using appropriate adjectives (demanding, persistent, tenacious).

I hope this has helped in some way : )


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