Monday, April 28, 2008


let’s look at another type of essay called argumentative writing. Here, you may be required to either state your stand on a certain issue (agree or disagree) or to present your point of view.

Some typical exam questions:

1. Co-curricular activities are a waste of time. Do you agree?
2. Large families make happy families.
3. More land should be used for agriculture than for industry. Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons to support you opinion.
4. Parents do not spend enough quality time with children. Do you agree or disagree?
5. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of homework.

Question 1, 3 and 4 require you to make a stand and proceed to support your stand with a few paragraphs.
For question 2, you may present both sides of the argument and finally, state your stand.
For question 5, present both sides of the argument as you are required to discuss the issue.


Let’s say you have chosen question 1 –
Co-curricular activities are a waste of time. Do you agree?

STEP 1: Analyse the question carefully to make sure you understand exactly what you have to do.

TOPIC: Co-curricular activities (The general subject)
THE FOCUS: Co-curricular activities are a waste of time. (The part you are asked to concentrate on)
THE COMMENT: Do you agree? (You have to make a stand whether you agree or disagree).

Then, apply the acronym B.A.G. which stands for B – Brainstorm, A – Add supporting details and G – Get organised. (as discussed last week in Lesson 5)
Brainstorm for ideas. Note down all the points you have about co-curricular activities. You should have at least four points. Let’s say you have made your list below. Add supporting details.
Get organised. Throw out any ideas that are not relevant.
Decide the order of the points.


STAND: agree
Provide a chance for students to learn about themselves, …

Develop other skills not learnt in the classroom

Provide leadership training

Provide an outlet for students to rest and relax



1. INTRODUCTION: Give some background information about the topic and state your stand.

Example: Co-curricular activities are activities that are planned for students after school through activities in clubs and societies. Students in schools are required to join at least one uniformed society and a club. In my opinion, co-curricular activities play an important role in a student’s life and it is certainly not a waste of time.


There should at least be three or four paragraphs with good topic sentences and body sentences.

Example: First and foremost, co-curricular activities provide students with a chance to develop their talents in music, sports and other living skills. Some students are unable to shine in the classroom but they are superb athletes and musicians. Co-curricular activities provide an avenue for them to become fulfilled individuals.


Example: Many students and parents are of the opinion that co-curricular activities are a waste of time and they should be substituted with more beneficial activities. I certainly disagree with that. As we have seen, co-curricular activities play an important role in a student’s life. They complement the activities of the classroom. A well-planned co-curricular programme helps students become wholesome individuals. Thus, co-curricular activities are definitely not a waste of time.

4. Remember to edit your work.
Read your first draft once through and check the following things:

a. Have you arranged the points well? Is the first point the most important or the least important?
b. Have you included all the points and left out all the irrelevant points?
c. Are there any phrases that are not very clear or sentences that are too long?
d. Are there are spelling mistakes?
e. Have you used punctuation correctly?
f. Are there any grammatical errors?



What is a paragraph?
A paragraph can be divided into three different sections. The first section is the topic sentence which is usually at the beginning of the paragraph, the body and the closing.

The Topic Sentence
This topic sentence tells you what the paragraph is going to be about, and how it relates to the subject of the essay and the previous paragraph.

Body Sentences
Body sentences support the topic of the paragraph. There are supporting details and elaboration in these sentences.

Closing Sentence
This sentence completes the idea expressed in the paragraph. It should also set up a connection to the next paragraph.

1. A good paragraph has only one main idea and one or two supporting details.
First and foremost, I would buy a house for my parents, preferably a bungalow, in a quiet town. I would equip the house with the latest technology so that it would be a smart home. My mother would have a state-of-the-art kitchen as she loves cooking. There would also be a robot to clean and vacuum the house. I will certainly make sure that my family is comfortably settled in this house.

The main idea of the sentence is ‘buying a house for my parents’ and I go on to describe in detail what the house would be like.

2. How to elaborate or add supporting details?
To support a topic sentence, consider some of these possible ways:
• Add examples
• Supply further details or explanation
• Tell a story that illustrates the point you're making
• Discuss a process
• Compare and contrast
Most word processing software gives you several options for printing. You can print a copy or several copies of the same document with different fonts. Besides that, you can also print a range of pages. What is more, you can even preview a document before printing it out. You can finally say goodbye to the good old typewriter.

Topic sentence: word processing software – several options for printing.
Body sentences (Supporting details): print a copy, several copies, different fonts, a range of pages, preview.
Note that I have given examples and explanation to support my main idea.
Closing sentence: I end the paragraph by implying that now that you have the software, you can say goodbye to the typewriter.

3. Choice of words

i. Do not use tired words like ‘beautiful’ or ‘nice’. Use: magnificent, breathtaking, inspiring, fantastic, and so on.
i. Do not pepper your essay with words that are superfluous. If a sentence means the same thing with a word taken out, take it out. Using extra words and phrases which do not add anything to what you are saying will imply to the examiner that you are running out of things to say.
Do not write:
Ever since Mr Tan came into my class, he transformed it, changing it so that it was altogether different from what it has been like before.
Mr Tan transformed my class. (Here, give examples of how he did it.)

ii. Do not use words or phrases that are either unheard of or too bombastic.
Chin Yit, a student from Pahang wrote to ask whether using ‘beatiful words’ will gain her more marks. She had taken these words from a thesaurus. Her teacher is right. She will not gain more marks as she is testing the examiner and boring her readers.

Example: propitious (favourable), ebullient(cheerful),affray(scuffle,fight), edacious.

The Narrative Essay

GREETINGS EVERYONE! I have decided to create another blog just for SPM students. Some of the articles have been published in my previous blogs or from my books and articles.
This week, I would like to look at writing stories.

Writing a narrative essay

A narrative is a story with a sequence of connected events. It could be about a personal experience or an imagined event or events.

Let’s look at some typical exam questions:
1. Write a story of a man who returns to his home after many years.
2. The day I lost my temper.
3. Write a story ending with, “I shall never forget this day for the rest of my life.”
4. Write about an occasion when you got into trouble.
5. Write a story beginning with, “I could not believe my eyes….”

How do I write a narrative essay for the exam?

ACTION PLAN: (1 hour)
A. Planning = 15 minutes
B. Writing = 35 minutes
C. Checking = 10 minutes
This plan is for those who are quite weak in English. For those who are proficient, you may only need 10 minutes for planning.

This is how we do it.

Let’s say you have chosen question 3, - Write a story ending with, “I shall never forget this day for the rest of my life.”

1. Read the question carefully and underline important phrases. Pay particular attention to the ending.
2. Brainstorm for ideas and jot down notes. For exam purposes, the simplest way is to divide it into three parts:
i. ii. iii.


Now that you have got the skeleton of your story, it is time to begin writing. Use linkers and phrases which link the events to move your story in a chronological order. Some phrases that are suitable are:
It was very dark….
I will never forget …..
A few minutes later….
When the disaster happened, …..

Use sensory details to reveal the events and to get the reader involved. Do not merely tell but show the events through words and phrases.

a. I went into the restaurant.
b. I walked into the restaurant.
c. I sauntered into the restaurant.

Sentence a. merely states that I went into the restaurant and sentence b. gives a little more information as to how I went into the restaurant. Sentence c. uses a more specific word to show clearly the idea of how I went into the restaurant. Sentence c. allows the reader to see what I am doing. The word ‘sauntered’ means ‘to stroll’. It gives the image of a person walking slowly into the restaurant. Thus, sentence c. is more effective in narrative and descriptive writing.

C. Checking
Read your essay once through and check for the following things:
• Is the spelling accurate?
• Is the punctuation appropriate? Did you use too many commas in a sentence?
• Did you vary the sentence structure? Are your sentences too long?
• Does one thought follow the next in a logical order?
• Did you stick to the topic? Did you use words so that your reader could experience the incident?
• Did you use the appropriate tense of the verb throughout?
Make any corrections neatly.
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