Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reflective Essays

Here’s a model answer for a reflective essay. Read through the essay and identify the topic sentences of each paragraph and the supporting details.

Question: What would you do if you had a lot of money?

When I was small, I often dreamt about being rich as my parents were quite poor. We had difficulty making ends meet each month. So, if I had a lot of money, I would certainly fulfill my dreams.
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. I would also get a maid to help her with the household chores. I will ensure that my family is comfortably settled in this house.
The second thing I would do is to go on a world tour with my parents. I have never been overseas but I long to see the places I have only read or dreamt about. First, I would like to visit Europe, especially Italy, the city of romance. I would visit all the museums and buildings I have heard so much about. My next stop would be Hong Kong or China. There is something mystical about China and her people. This would be my dream come true.
Apart from that, I could finally go on a shopping spree, which is my favourite pastime. Thus far, I could only go window shopping and if I had a lot of money, I would go into these stores and buy whatever I fancy. Just imagine that for once in my life, I do not need to look at the prices of the items that I like. I could just shop till I literally drop. The salesgirls would be hovering near me with their latest outfits and my wish would be their command. Ah, I would not be ignored anymore as I walk into their stores!
Besides shopping, I would also remember the poor and the less fortunate. First, I would certainly build a better home for the orphans in my town. In fact, I would also sponsor their education till they could stand on their own. They would receive an allowance monthly and I would definitely take them shopping.
Finally, I would take the opportunity to further my studies. When I was younger, my parents could not afford to send me overseas. So, I would love to pursue a course in interior decorating in London and once I graduate, I would like to set up my own business with the rest of the money.
They say that a fool and his money are soon parted. Thus, I would be very careful with how I spend my money. I would invest my money with my parents’ advice and keep some for rainy days.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Power Writing - Writing effective paragraphs

Today, we will look into ways of elaborating an idea in a paragraph.

What is a paragraph?
A paragraph is made up of sentences.

What is a good paragraph?
A good paragraph has a clear topic sentence and it is well supported or elaborated. This means that the paragraph has one main idea and a few supporting details.

Look at the following paragraph:

According to a newspaper report, snatch thieves are
getting more violent. Some of the criminals have resorted
to slashing their victims with knives before escaping with
their victims’ bags. On May 18, a woman was attacked
by two men on a motorcycle while she was walking home
from work at night.

1. What is the main idea of this paragraph?

2. What are the supporting details?

3. There are many ways to support your topic sentence such as giving examples, explaining by giving reasons, stating facts or statistic, or giving further descriptions.

What method did the writer use to support the main idea?

4. Now, it is your turn to write a good paragraph (add three or four more sentences) with the following topic sentences. The first one has been done for you.

a. I like hot and spicy dishes. ( give examples and a reason)

I like hot and spicy dishes such as asam laksa and chicken curry. I also cannot resist a hot bowl of tomyam, a sweet and sour dish. These dishes never fail to lift up a dull and boring day.

b. Playing computer games is a good pastime. (explain or give reasons)

c. Homework is a waste of time. ( explain)

d. School life can sometimes be very boring. ( give examples)

e. Cigarette smoking is hazardous to health. (give facts)

f. Boys should learn how to cook. (give reasons)

g. I dislike people who cannot keep a secret. (describe or give examples)

Monday, May 12, 2008

How to improve my writing?

I receive a lot of e-mails and queries from my students asking me to give them advice on how to improve their English, especially their essay-writing. Here is my advice.

1 Use it or lose it
There are times when I wish I have a magic pill that I could give to students. The fact is, there are no shortcuts. To learn a language, one has to use it. Start today. Speak to your friends.
If you are shy, start with a few words or phrases in your conversation. Practise speaking in front of the mirror.

2 Read it
Read the newspapers. I would recommend the sports pages if you are a sports enthusiast, or the letters to the editor. You will learn how to give opinions, to complain and to elaborate your ideas. Go to your school library and borrow a book.
Make use of pockets of time during school such as in between classes. I am quite sure you are able to squeeze ten minutes a day for reading. Do not get bogged down if there are words that you do not know. Just read the easier stuff first.

3 Write it
My students are required to keep a journal in my classes. What is a journal? Is it like a diary? A diary is a record of your daily experiences but a journal is more than that. It is a collection of your thoughts, responses to events in your life and it may also include any interesting article, poems or even a song. I keep a journal of articles and quotations that are motivating.
There are many types of journals which you can keep. Check out the bloggers on the Internet for more examples. Search also for examples of journals to help you get started. (To read all about journalling and how to get started, go to www.wakimbo.com/htdocs/tools/jrn/pyp/jar.html)
I would like to invite you to join my students in a journalling programme. I have provided seven prompts below to help you get started. Get a notebook or any old diary and begin your writing journey with me. Make the notebook special by decorating it. Just use the prompts (questions) to help you get started.
Read the prompt and respond instantly with the first thing that comes to your mind. Do not stop at one sentence or two. Write for as long as you want without worrying about your grammar.
We will come to errors later. Apart from writing, you can also add pictures, photographs, poems, drawings. Be creative. See you next week with more prompts. Remember, use it or lose it. Bye.

Day 1: What is something that you like about yourself?
Day 2: Write about three fears of your life.
Day 3: Which quality do you dislike most about yourself? Is it laziness, selfishness, or childishness and why?
Day 4: What is something that makes you happy? Why?
Day 5: Do you have a favourite subject in school and one that you dislike? Write about these subjects.
Day 6: Do you have a favourite teacher?Write about his/her class qualities. What makes you look forward to his/her class?
Day 7: Have you ever had a crush on someone? Write about your experience(s). If you have never had a crush, what do you think about falling in love? Is it advisable? Is it a waste of time?

Monday, May 5, 2008



Let’s say we are going to write a reflective composition titled “What would you do if you had a lot of money?” Use the acronym B.A.G. to help you plan your essay.
B – Brainstorm for main ideas
A – Add supporting details
G – Get Organised.

STEP 1 BRAINSTORM for main ideas
Write any idea that you may have concerning the topic above in the box below.

STEP TWO: Add supporting details
From the main ideas, add more facts or ideas that support each main idea.


Look at all the points and determine which paragraph is stronger and should have top priority. Rearrange the points and make them into a list. Think of an interesting introduction and a suitable conclusion. Your basic structure should roughly look like this.

Main Idea 1.
Supporting details
Main Idea 2
Supporting details
Main Idea 3
Supporting details ……..


There are many ways to organise your essay depending on the types of essays.
i. Chronological order – according to the order of how the events occurred
ii. Cause and effect – discuss the causes (reasons) first, then give the effect.
iii. Problem to solution – discuss the problems, then give the solutions
iv. Spatial order – describe from one spot to the next . This is suitable for descriptive writing.
v. Climactic order – starts with the least important to the most important.
Reverse climactic order – starts with the most important to the least important


The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give her an idea of the essay's focus.

Introduce your essay with an attention grabber.
Here are some ideas:
• Use some startling information or facts
A recent survey on teenagers who smoked revealed that 20% picked up smoking before they were 13.
• Use an anecdote.
An anecdote is a short story that illustrates a point.
Be sure your anecdote is short and relevant to your topic.
Raj and his friends do not go home after school. They hang out daily at shopping complexes after school. They are just the tip of the iceberg of the loafing syndrome.

• Use a question
Do you know that Malaysians throw away 1.2 million tonnes worth of newspapers daily? For every ten newspapers bought, only four are recovered for recycling.
• Use a general statement and lead to your topic
Use a few sentences to explain your topic in general terms. Then, lead the reader gently to your main point or thesis of the essay. Each sentence should become gradually more specific, until you reach your thesis.

Of late, there has been increasing concern about the impact of pollution on the environment and our society. How do we reduce pollution?

1. Nowadays, we hear of many snatch theft cases…..
2. Everyone in this world needs a friend …….
3. The dictionary defines a computer as …………….

These are overused introductions and teachers are tired of reading these introductions.

The conclusion (in three or four sentences) sums up your points or provides a final perspective on your essay.
• Express your hopes about the topic
Finally, it is hoped that as people become more aware of the need to recycle, more will come forward and get involved in environmental issues.
• Call for action
Shall we just sit back and wait till all our landfills overflow? Let’s get involved and do something to save our environment.

Other ideas:
• include a brief summary of the essay's main points.
• ask a provocative question.
• compare with other situations
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