Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Art of Creative Writing

The art of creative writing in Primary school is totally different from what I expected when Dumpling was in Primary 1. Most of my friends’ children, like Dumpling, started on creative writing / composition in school in Term 3 of Primary 1.

Being a voracious reader from a young age, I had the expectations that writing would come easily to Dumpling. Though the flow was easy for her, I later realized that there is a difference in writing for pleasure versus writing for exams. The latter can get very technical in how (teachers / schools) they grade the children and what they look out for.

The kiddo previously trialed on online writing class which I have shared here. This course is great for parents who are stretched for time (no need to worry about transportation and parking) as the composition elements are watched online and the child (P3 onwards) attempts the homework piece and scans it over for the Teacher Hui Ing to mark.

If, however, you are looking at initial assistance for your child, here are some quick tips to share:

:: Time management and planning
This, for me, is one of the most important elements in taking any exams / tests. If the piece is not completed, it usually does not warrant a passing grade.

So sit down and work on time planning with your child. If your child is given for e.g 45 mins, then you can recommend 5 mins to read and plan, and the remaining 30 -35 minutes to write before the last few minutes to read through and check.

:: Format
As a general rule of thumb, I told Dumpling when she was younger that if there are 3 pictures in the composition, then write 3 paragraphs. If there are 4, then it will be 4. Unless your child is able to write quickly and plans his / her flow well, I would encourage such a format so as not to “underwrite”.

Additionally, it is not uncommon for children to only write perhaps 1 – 2 sentences per picture so this is where you can also give clear guidelines. E.g. Picture 1 ~ introduction: to write 2 sentences.

If it were to be a 4 picture composition, then the body needs to be longer to build up the story and this is where it will be for e.g. 3 sentences for each picture with conclusion back to 2 sentences. With such a format, it usually will fall within the minimum word count required.

Usually for P1 and P2, schools will use picture compositions and this can be 1, 3 or 4 pictures. Depending on level and schools, the word count can differ.

:: Technique
This is where it gets a bit more technical. Compositions are usually graded based on Content and Language at the lower level. Hence besides having a strong logical story flow, students need to be able to display their pen welding prowess and showcase a variety of skill sets.

Story starter
Instead of the usual “One afternoon” / "One day", work with your child to start a story differently. I personally prefer to start with a sound effect or dialogue but I do know many start with description of settings. 

I am wary of the last option because I have come across many compositions where the child starts with superfluous descriptions such as “fluffy white clouds dotted across the cerulean blue sky” and how “dragonflies with their iridescent wings were darting around the pond” only to realize that the story is about a trip to the Science Centre where it is not even related to the story. (I have shared my thoughts on this in a previous post.)

Sentence starter
Children have a tendency to start sentences in a similar manner.

Start with a continuous verb
Instead of always starting with “I” – e.g. I ran after the bus as it looked like it was about to pour”, consider starting with a continuous verb “Looking up, I saw dark clouds gather and realized that it was about to pour.”

Start with an adverb
Other sentence starters can start with an adverb (-ly).
E.g. Angrily, I stuffed my book into my school bag and stormed off.
Hungrily, I stared at the mouth-watering spread in front of me. 

Metaphors and Similes
Besides being mindful of technique, I have also learnt that teachers look out for strong vocabulary and good descriptive phrases. So you can remind your child to be more intentional.

Here’s a good poster to make reference to – words to replace “said”.

Additionally, you can also introduce similes or metaphors to your child so that they can describe the “moments” better.

So what are metaphors and similes and how are they different from each other? 

Here are some more examples of Metaphors

And some simple Similes here


You do not necessarily need to stick to these similes or metaphors; you can also encourage your child to create their own. I have to add on to say that it is not necessary to pepper the composition throughout with these similes and metaphors, otherwise it can be an "overkill". 

 :: Practise practise practise
Above and beyond all these tips, do note that regular practice matters. It matters because even in the "strongest" of children (in this area), regular practice allows them to hone this craft. They learn to plan better and write faster with more intentional use of such techniques.

What we also do regularly is to listen to audio CDs and when I hear good phrases, I'd usually pause and highlight that to the kiddo. :) 

If you like to consider reference guides, Susan from A Juggling Mom has shared some resources in this post

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