Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Basics of Writing an English Composition (in primary school)

There are actually a number of resources available online which discuss about how primary school students should go about writing their narrative composition. I agree with them wholeheartedly and have some points to add on or even to simplify.

I have been fortunate to have had the chance to teach students of all abilities in the upper primary levels i.e. average-ability pupils, weakest classes of the average-ability pupils, foundation classes, high-ability classes and also foreign pupils from Korea, China and Japan. I dare not say I am very experienced. There are so many incredible teachers whom I look up to and respect so much. I am just more fortunate to have had taught classes with such varied abilities. So I have my own insight on how my students can score well for writing.

Writing: The Basics

All teachers will tell our pupils to PLAN before writing anything. However, planning is something very elusive to the average child out there. Here is my take about 'planning' and the basics of writing a composition:

1) Setting (Planning)

  • After examining the given information, start to picture the setting of your composition. Some guidebooks define setting as where the story begins or unfolds. I think this is very misleading and not helpful.
  • I'd advise my students to think of where their story begins, then the place it proceeds to ..., then where it ends at...

For Example:

An Unlucky Day
Home, in bed (late)--> stairs (missed a step) --> outside school gate (stepped into puddle) --> in the classroom (brought your sister's school bag) --> Home (dad bought least favourite food)
-Along with the various places, images of what might happen pops into your mind. This creates a structure or storyboard for your composition.

2) Brainstorm (Planning)

  • Usually if my pupils are attempting a picture composition, I'd get them to brainstorm words / phrases related to the picture first. An even more organized approach might be to brainstorm in terms of verbs (action), adjectives (describing words)
  • If it is for continuous writing, it would be a good idea to brainstorm after you have given some thought to the setting. Seriously, there are so many possible words and ideas, being able to focus your brainstorming will really make the activity so much more constructive

3) Plot & Development

  • We can think of the plot as the highlight of the whole composition. (Planning)
  • While developing (writing) your composition, always keep the plot that you have decided on while developing your story. Like many other teachers, I also use the 5W1H approach i.e. Who, Where, When, Why, What and How to help develop the story. (Since one can easily find resources on the use of this approach online & in guidebooks, I will not discuss the details here)

  • Remember to use paragraphs. A new paragraph should be used whenever there is a major change in events and possibly when there is a change in the scene of the story.

4) Proof-read & Review

  • Many pupils are just so relieved to complete their composition that they do not proof-read their work. One of the greatest loss to a student is a brilliantly written story which goes out of point because the story develops away from the requirement of the given question.
  • I always tell my pupils to feel proud of their work and re-read it after writing. In the midst of checking for grammar, spelling mistakes, keep a look out if the ideas link well with one another. Imagine while watching a television drama and the scene skips to somewhere else and you have no idea what is going on and why events are occurring. If reading your composition makes you feel somewhat confused, then the ideas have not been linked properly!

For tips for Struggling Writers please click here.
There will be a lot more resources coming up. I promise. So do check back! 

Happy New Year and have a great weekend ahead!


  1. thank you for your advice now am perfect .

  2. Hi! Thank you!
    Do you know you can find even more writing resources at Do visit the website and have a look! I hope the resources there can bring your writing up to an even higher level!

  3. Um i don't understand

  4. Hi Anonymous, I do not know if you are the same person who posted on the 2nd and 9th Feb. Thank you for visiting ''. I have another website dedicated to helping children with their writing at ''. There are more examples and new ideas in that website. Just copy & paste the second web address to your browser in Google search. If you need more help or need further clarification, feel free to email me. : )

  5. we are doing a test on a composition can u help me with advice on how to use grammar correctly,write fast and use nice phrases

    1. Sure. Why don't you email me? Just scroll up and use the contact email! Thank you for your interest in my work!

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Its a useful and concise resource that all struggling parents (like me) need!

    I've just gone through two rounds of essay practice with my son and realised that he doesn't have a lot of the fundamentals in place. Need to devote more time to sharpening and shaping his writing.

  7. Hi Walter,

    How old is your son? Writing does not come naturally to everybody. So do give him some time to develop both his interests and his skills. My latest work is available at the following link. Do have a look. There are a lot more resources for you and your child. Similarly 100% FREE, no hidden links, no suspicious pop-ups etc.

    Thank you for your kind words and your interest in my work too!


  8. Thank you but I have a question. What if I don't have time to brainstorm during a composition exam? We have those in Singapore and yet we have little time to brainstorm and without good ideas we get lower marks

  9. oh I forgot this is for singapore haha this is the same guy

    1. Hi! No problem. Firstly, thank you for visiting my blog. This is an older version of my online resources. You can find a newer version at Secondly, to answer your question, the latest English Syllabus is really directing students towards reading widely. Hence, no textbooks and the changes in the examination format for Oral Examination. So if you read widely, you will have more exposure to a wider range of vocabulary, real or made-up situations (which can be serious or just funny or fun). When you are given pictures to work on for your compositions, you can tap on the knowledge you have learnt to help you shape your writing. This will reduce the time spent brainstorming and give you more time on re-organising those experiences and knowledge to form your own story / composition. I hope this makes some sense. I am back to teaching in a school now, so I do not have a lot of free time to write more. Hopefully by the end of the year, I can find some time to update my websites! Take care!