Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writing an 'A' essay

NO-NOS: Do not use the SMS style of writing and do not use slang.
I hope you have done your homework on directed writing. If not, quickly refer to last week’s article and write away. First, let’s analyse the question.
Task: You are required to write a report.
Purpose: It is for your school magazine.
Instructions: Use all points given and you are also asked to encourage students to join the society.
Let’s look at a sample answer written by a student.
The English Society enjoyed tremendous support from its 250 members this year. It was established in 2000 with the aim of helping students improve their English.
Many activities were organised with the help of our advisor, Puan Zarina bt Amin. Firstly, members took charge of the English assembly every Tuesday, taking turns to make announcements and presenting sketches, poetry recitals and story-telling.
Besides that, the society also organised popular activities such as pop quizzes and treasure hunts. Attractive prizes were given for each activity.
The highlight of the year was the English Camp. It was attended by 85 members although more than a hundred signed up for the camp. During the camp, members had the opportunity to play some language games such as Boggle, Wheel of the Fortune and Win, Lose or Draw.
In May, the society launched the English Week where students were encouraged to speak English throughout the week. Various competitions such as poetry, drama and story-telling were also held. Many potential Malaysian Idols were discovered that week.
Finally, the committee members organised an annual party to celebrate its success as well as to bid farewell to members who were leaving the school. Active members were awarded certificates in appreciation of their outstanding contributions to the society.
The English Society is, without a doubt, one of the most active societies in the school. What is more, all the members have improved their English by leaps and bounds. Thus, we would like to encourage all students to join us, as more exciting activities will be held next year.
Reported by,
Tan Tze Keng
• This candidate started off with a suitable introduction, making use of the first three points given. Can you identify the rest of the points?
• All the points are appropriately elaborated, or supported with examples. (in italics)
• The essay is also appropriately linked with linkers such as Besides that, Finally, Thus ?..
• There is a logical progression in the report.
• Word choice is varied and suitable for a report : – launched, appreciation, outstanding contributions, leaps and bounds.
• The tone is formal as this is a report for the school magazine. No informal or colloquial language has been used.
• Since the question does not state the required number of words, it is safe to write about 200 – 250 words.
• The essay ended with a suitable closing, encouraging others to join the society.A total of 35 marks are awarded for content and language. This sample answer is an ‘A’ script because it fulfils the following requirements:
i. Ideas – All the points given have been used and elaborated on, and the ideas are concrete.
ii. Arrangement – Paragraphs are cohesive and linked.
iii. Style – The tone used is appropriate and the sentences are varied with interesting expressions.
iv. Mechanics – There are no spelling or punctuation errors and the language used is accurate.
• Do not add too many points of your own or forget to include all the points. Marks are given for content as well as language.
• Do not use American English. Be careful with the spelling of words such as ‘colour’ and, ‘favourite’. Stay away from slangs such as gonna or wanna.
• Do not use casual words or phrases (words used in our everyday speech) such as guys, gals, okay in a formal report. Stay away from contractions such as I don’t know, can’t, we’re?. Spell out the words in full.
• Do not use the SMS style of writing. For example: i wish to tell you?.. or u are the best.
• Punctuate your sentences carefully.
• Watch your grammar. Your essay is read and every error is underlined. So, the more mistakes you make, the lower your marks.
The following errors are commonly made by students in their essays. Can you correct the errors below?
i. He sat down in the floor. (preposition)
ii. She were given a scholarship. (subject verb agreement)
iii. My grandmother was died in an accident. (tenses)
iv. She colour like much no black, just regular. (multiple word error)
v. I born in Terengganu. (Tenses)
vi. Last week, the members come to clean up the room. – ( Tenses)
vii. The boys is playing football tonight. (subject/verb agreement)
viii. My children is come home and visit to me. (tenses)
ix. I dunno how to answer the question.(spelling)
x. When she came home. She heard a strange noise. (Fragment)
Corrected sentences:
i. He sat down on the floor.
ii. She was given a scholarship.
iii. My grandmother died in an accident.
iv. She is not very dark.
v. I was born in Terengganu.
vi. Last week, the members came to clean up the room.
vii. The boys are playing football tonight.
viii. My children came home to visit me.
ix. I don’t know how to answer the question.
x. When she came home, she heard a strange noise.
Here is another question to try.
You won a trip to Taiping, Perak. Write an e-mail to your mother in Terengganu, describing the places you visited and the things you did. Use the following notes to help you.
- staying in Seri Malaysia Hotel
- visited the Zoo,
- Night Safari
- ate delicious food at restaurant
- jogged in the Lake Gardens;
- joined line dancing
- hiked up Bukit Larut,
- see amazing flora and fauna
- shopping, bought some clothes and souvenirs
- went swimming,
- waterfalls
- visited a theme park
You must add relevant details to make your e-mail as interesting as possible.
This is a descriptive essay. Use sensory details to make your description more interesting. Do not merely tell what you saw or did but show it through your words. When you merely tell the events, your essay becomes boring.
Compare the two paragraphs below:
Student A:
I went to Bukit Larut with some friends from Taiping. We started at 6.30 am. and reached there at 10am. It was a very tiring journey.
Student B:
I hiked up Bukit Larut with some friends from Taiping. I thought I was very fit but by the time I reached the half-way mark, I was huffing and puffing. The steep and winding road made matters worse. My T-shirt was drenched even though the weather was cold.
Obviously, student B will score better marks for language as he is able to describe his feelings through sensory details (what he felt, what he saw?) but do not get carried away. This is only directed writing.
Your task:
Get a clock and time yourself. Write your answer in 45 minutes and remember to use all the points given.
Here is another set of journal writing prompts for the week. If you have not started your journal, it is still not too late.
Day 8: You have just been given RM100,000. What would you do with the money?
Day 9: If you could open a business of your own, what type of business would it be and why?
Day 10: Your favourite television show has just been cancelled. You decide to write a letter to the station manager.
Day 11: Do you remember the first time you learnt how to ride a bicycle or the first time you fell in love? Write about one of your ‘first’ times.
Day 12: Do you think you would make a good friend? Why? What qualities would you look for in a friend?
Day 13: If you could be your parents for a month, what changes would you make at home?
Day 14: What do you think is the greatest invention? Give reasons to support your answer.
Q & A
1. What is the appropriate length for directed writing? (From Susan Ritchie)
If it is not mentioned in the question, then it would be safe to write about 250 words. I would not encourage students to count the words. So long as you have covered every point given and elaborated on some, it should suffice. Remember that you have another essay to write which carries 50 marks.
2. Why are there two grades for one exam? (From Chin Yit, Pahang)
If you look at past results slips, you will notice that there are two grades given for the English 1119 paper: one for SPM and another for the GCE 'O' level. It is said that the marks for GCE are based on your essays and there is a separate conversion table. So, one may do very well for the SPM English 1119 but if you cannot write your essays well, your grade for GCE will be affected.
I will be back next week with more exercises and tips on writing essays.

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