Thursday, October 22, 2009

Descriptive essays


THIS week we look into descriptive writing where you may be required to describe a person, a thing, a place, or an event.  

Typical questions: 
1 Describe a teacher who has influenced your life 
2 Describe a scene at a crowded bus station 
3 My mother 
4 My favourite person 
5 My dream car 


Let's say you have decided to answer the first question. 
Topic: Describe a teacher who has influenced your life 

1. Brainstorm for points about the teacher.  
* Appearance
* Personality 
* What he/she has done for you (How has he/she changed your life or influenced you?) 
Remember that the focus here is on the teacher who has influenced your life. 

2. Add details that you feel should be included; write down the vocabulary and phrases. 

3. Organise your points. Decide which characteristics of the teacher you will 
emphasise. This is a subjective description as you will be giving your impressions of the teacher. 

The essay: 

Introduction: Describe her physical characteristics and your first impressions. 
Body: His/Her characteristics and how he/she influenced you. 
Conclusion: Describe what he/she means to you. 
Look at my previous lessons on how to add descriptive details to make your essay come alive. 


In the examination, there is a short essay subject consisting of only one or two words, which is quite popular with students. 
Typical exam questions: 
1.        Dreams 
2.       Friends 
3.       Memories 
4.       Teenagers 
5.       Water 
6.       Computers 
7.       Time management 
8.       Examinations 
9.       Holidays 
10.       Social Ills 

Note this 
These essays are “open” in the sense that no help or focus is given and students have to plan and concentrate only on certain aspects. 


There are many ways to tackle “open” essays. Let's look at some examples. 
1. For the topic “Memories”, you could write a short story in which someone remembers certain things that happened to him. You could even write a story on a girl named “Memories” and it would still be accepted. 

2. The essay on “Teenagers” could be planned as follows: 
Introduction: Say something in general about people's impression of teenagers 
Body: Discuss the problems faced by teenagers (including causes and effects) and give solutions 
Conclusion: Close with an opinion or what you hope for. 
The same treatment could be done for other topics such as “Social Ills” or “Water”. 

3. For the essay on “Examinations” and “Computers”, you could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the topics. This is by far the best way to answer a question if you ever run out of ideas. 

4. One way of tackling the question on “Time Management” is to discuss ways to manage your time, pitfalls to avoid, and some advice. 


Be careful when you have to write about a plural subject such as “Dreams”. If you write only about a dream you had recently, you are not answering the question. The same goes for “Examinations” and “Memories”. 


1. Do not use “etc” or et cetera (meaning “and so on”) to list something in your essays. Example: She likes to play games such as badminton, table tennis, etc. ( X ) 
She likes to play games such as badminton, table tennis and tennis. ( / ) 
2. The verbs “happened”, “died”, “occurred”, “arrived” cannot be used in the passive. 
Example: Something was happened last night. ( X ) 
       Something happened last night. ( / ) 
       My grandmother was died in her sleep last night. ( X )  
My grandmother died in her sleep last night. ( / ) 
3. Do not use “about” with the words discuss, consider, describe, study and explain. 
Example: We will consider about your application tomorrow. (x) 
       We will consider your application tomorrow. ( / ) 
Let's look at a model answer

I can still remember the first time Mrs Pauline Kuah walked into my class. Clad in a modern kebaya with a matching handbag, she sashayed into the room and into our hearts. We had heard about our new English teacher but nothing prepared us for this little dynamite. 

Mrs Pauline Kuah revolutionised the way I learn English. Instead of the dull chalk and talk method, she took us for walks and taught us to play language games. English lessons were transformed into a big game. Everything had points and everyone had to contribute. Even the hard core among us were not spared. She just swept us off our feet with her enthusiasm. 

What struck me most about this petite and slender woman was her honesty. She calls herself 'WYSIWYG' - what you see is what you get. She did not lie to us if she did not know something. I could still remember the time when she had to teach us Mathematics. She told us that although she was only a step or two ahead of us, she would try her very best to teach us until another teacher came along. 

She is also a very outspoken woman. She is not afraid to speak her mind to her superiors in order to fight for our rights. Once, we were all under a lot of stress and the school was organising a jog-a-thon just before our trial exam. We spoke to her and she immediately solved the problem by getting the jog-a-thon postponed. However, she did not spare us if we were wrong and most of us would rather die than face her "lectures". 

She also taught me that action speaks louder than words. While some teachers shied away from the heat during Physical Education, she would make sure she was involved in the activity with us. During recycling campaigns, she did not hesitate to help us carry the newspapers. We were all inspired to work even harder for the project. 

However, what struck me most about Mrs Pauline Kuah was her unending belief in us. She saw the potential in us to be good and by showing us a little attention and love, we were obliged to at least try to better ourselves. I was very lazy and rebellious when I met her. No one bothered to find out what was wrong with me. My parents were heading for a divorce. Mrs Kuah went after me relentlessly and I finally broke down and told her everything. I saw that she truly cared (for me and all the others with problems). 

Come this December, I shall be leaving Mrs Pauline Kuah and the school. I want to express my deepest gratitude to her and to let her know that I shall never forget what she has taught me. I thank God that such a dedicated soul once entered my life and left footprints in my heart. 

Note this: 

The writer started out by giving us a brief introduction of the teacher. The use of phrases such as ' little dynamite' gives us an idea of the teacher.  
The body of the essay gives us some characteristics of the teacher and how the teacher has influenced the writer. 

Note that when the writer makes a general point about the teacher, she gives an example to make the point clearer. In the description of the teacher, the point made is, “She is also a very outspoken woman.” This is supported with an example: "Once, we were under a lot of stress and the school was organising a...." 
In the conclusion, the writer closes by paying a tribute to her teacher. 

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