READ & REVIEWED: Top 10 Popular Composition Themes for PSLE (plus, Chinese compo writing tips)
Updated: Oct 8
Top Ten Popular Composition Themes for PSLE by Singapore Asia Publishers covers common Chinese compo themes, and model essays students should aim to write. Plus, link to score 20% discount off SAP guide and assessment books, and five compo writing tips from yours truly!
I don't have a kid taking PSLE this year - this is for Little E who is preparing for her primary five end-of-year exams. Not being kiasu here but I'm sure some of you notice as well that in primary five, the kids' Chinese and English compositions are already marked according to primary six standards. This is also why you quite often see a drop in grades when they reach primary five.
Hence, I feel that it's actually good to start exposing your child to primary six model Chinese compos from primary five onwards, and not only wait till they are in primary six to get them accustomed to the compo themes and the standard of writing required of them.
This Top 10 Popular Composition Themes for PSLE by Singapore Asia Publishers lists the common themes often seen in PSLE and provides model essays for them. Here are the ten themes:
Within each theme are various titles with model essays for each title. Just a note that these look like 命题 compos, which are those without pictures. But the book notes that these include themes for picture compos too (there are no pictures inside but I assume some of the themes are commonly seen in picture compos too).
You'll probably notice some familiar themes that your child may have attempted before like 这件事让我明白。。。的可贵。
Here's another common theme 一件令。。。的事 .
I read through some of the model compos in the book and I think they are good examples for children - they have realistic and interesting storylines with the right amount of good vocabulary or 好词好句. They are also not too daunting for your average student.
I've read some model essays that use terms that are too "cheem" or deep for the standard they are pitched for - my kids' Chinese standards are quite average so either they won't understand the terms or if you ask them to memorise the terms, they won't be able to remember them. Likewise, I've also seen model compo books with compo titles that don't seem likely to come out in PSLE and also those with too simple stories that I doubt would help kids score. So it's really good that this book's compos are pitched at the right level.
I reckon this SAP book's compos are what P5 and P6 students should aim to write. Of course, there are kids who are stronger in Chinese and might be able to produce even higher standard of work but I'm speaking from the POV of a mum whose kids' written and spoken Chinese are quite average.
What makes a good compo?
Despite my kids' Chinese standard being quite average, they score quite well for both Chinese and English compositions and their compos have been used as model compos or 范文 in their classes - this is especially so for Big E during P5 and P6 (she's now in sec one). Little E is slowly catching up to her sis and recently had her Chinese and English compos used as model essays in her class.
My kids don't go for tuition, so they don't memorise 好词好句 or have tutors drilling them. Their compos are not peppered with bombastic terms and phrases either. But they are able to do well in their compos because they know what makes a good story.
Though I'm an author, I don't profess to be an expert in compo writing. The tuition centres that specialise in compo writing and many specialised tutors are probably more of an expert than I am in writing compos. But my girls don't attend tuition so it's up to me to coach them. Writing novels is not entirely the same as writing compo but there are some similarities and you can use certain fiction writing techniques in compo writing.
Well, since I'm reviewing a compo-writing book, I thought I also share some of my own tips on how to write a good compo. Do note that these are geared towards writing Chinese compo but some tips can be used for writing English compo too.
1) Add some Hao Ci Hao Ju 好词好句
Wait, didn't I say my kids don't memorise 好词好句? While you don't have to pepper your entire compo with them, you'll still need some in there.
My girls pick up 好词好句 through reading Chinese books (background: I read Chinese books with my kids and when I come across good Chinese words and terms, I will point it out to them) and model compo essays like the above Top 10 Popular Composition Themes for PSLE by Singapore Asia Publishers. You might want to ask your child to keep a notebook to jot down these terms whenever they come across them.
I find picking up 好词好句, 成语, or 俗语 is easier for my kids when they pick them up from reading. They are also able to better understand their meaning and know when to use them when there is context. So I seldom buy books that only teaches 成语 or 好词好句, mainly because there are simply too many to learn and my kids are unlikely to remember all of them.
But do note that even if you have loads of 好词好句 in your compo, you might be able to score in language usage but not so much in content. So, you'll still need to be able to come up with a good story. So...read on!
2) Be creative with your story
I told my kids, for their compos to stand out, their stories need to be creative and different. I remember Big E had to write a compo about losing something precious and rather than write about losing a pet dog (which is what many of her classmates ended up writing), she wrote about losing a pet bird instead which made her story more unique. A story that is unique and different from the majority is refreshing for markers. This is mainly how my kids are able to score in their compos without tonnes of 好词好句, that is, they do so with good content.
So encourage your child to use their imagination to come up with interesting storylines (kids have fantastic imagination!) and when going through possible compo titles that may come out in exams, you can do a brainstorming session with your child and come up with possible story ideas that your child can use. Sometimes when I come across a story I read or hear about, I will share them with my kids and tell them it might make a good story idea for their compos.
Generally, I find that 命题 compos have more room for creativity. I know some teachers encourage students to go for the picture compositions because it is more guided and it's less likely you will write out of point. But for picture compositions, there is usually less room for creativity, so you will really need a lot of 好词好句 to stand out and score. And since 好词好句 is not what my kids are good at, I rather they work on their content. But of course if you are able to write a creative and unique story AND have lots of 好词好句, then I'm very sure you will do even better!
3) Be realistic with your story
While being creative with your story is important, you also need to be realistic with certain scenes in your story. I know Chinese lessons in school is also about teaching children the right morals and values, so you often have to have a lesson learned at the end of the story.
But honestly, I really hate reading model essays which over simplify things. Like how after X apologises to Y, Y readily forgives X or simplistic endings with your character accepting that he was wrong and would never do something again. Maybe in a utopian world all that can happen, but in real life, I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be the case. Surely there would be some reluctance or indignance or unhappiness before we reach the lesson learned stage?
For instance, both my kids wrote this essay with a scene where a boy has to coax his young sister to leave a playground because their mum is unwell at home. So in some of the model essays which I later read, they had the boy reasoning with the young sister that their mum is unwell, so they need to be home asap and the sister readily agrees to go home. In contrast, my kids wrote that the sister was unwilling to go and had started to cry, such that the boy had to grab and carry her all the way home while she bawled and smacked him. The latter is much more realistic, no? And there is also so much more drama and conflict (which are always great for stories!) compared to the former.
Another example is in stories where X apologises to Y for some wrongdoing. In such cases, my kids usually will not have Y readily forgiving X until proper amends are made. Y will not forgive X just because X said sorry. In their stories, X would have to replace a book he ruined before Y would forgive X or Y would never forgive X because the wrongdoing is too grievous to Y (and of course, X would have to regret his action and learn a lesson from it. See below on writing a good ending). This is because the above scenarios are closer to reality: how many adults are that magnanimous to just accept a 'sorry' and readily forgive someone who ruined a treasured possession, let alone kids?
I often remind my kids, yes, in Chinese compos you're required to show values like forgiveness, obedience and politeness but be honest about what actually happens in real life. Both my kids have received feedback from their teachers that their stories are very realistic.
Another lesson here is if you come across certain unrealistic, cliche scenes in model essays, please don't use them. I'm sure teachers often see such cliche writings in compos and while they won't mark you wrong (hey they are in model essays right?), your story is unlikely to stand out with these cliche scenes. But if they read something different - like you being able to capture reality in your compo - your compo would more likely be able stand out from the crowd.
4) A good ending to your story
Similar to what I mentioned above, cliche endings - like the character apologising after learning his lesson and swearing he would never do a certain thing again or enemies becoming good friends in the end - are unlikely to let your story stand out.
I tell my kids to aim for bittersweet endings (likewise for English compos). I do this in my books as well - your protagonist may have triumphed against the antagonist but your protagonist has to lose something and become a different person in the end.
For instance, Big E wrote an ending where - instead of having these two persons becoming good friends in the end - she made it the start of these two persons' friendship while providing hope that this friendship could become something stronger in the future.
In the pet bird story, Big E ended with her being sad to have to let the bird go but being grateful for the short time they had spent together.
In another story she wrote about a teacher she admired. She had the teacher as a relief teacher, so after helping her main character achieve something, that teacher eventually left the school but her character said she will always remember and be grateful to this teacher. Bittersweet, right?
Bittersweet endings invoke emotions in your reader and they are often more realistic and closer to real life which is not perfect. Such endings will help your story stand out.
I often tell my kids if they had previously written a good English compo that can be used for their Chinese compo, they can always reuse the storyline for their Chinese compos and vice versa.
Likewise, if they encounter an exam question which is similar to a compo they had written in the past, they can tweak the storyline slightly and reuse the story. For instance, 一件令我又惊又喜的事 and 一件令我感到意想不到的事 can be about the same thing e.g. a story about putting in a lot of effort then getting good grades. And always make sure to repeat the title in your compo to remind the marker you are writing to theme (and of course, write to theme!)
I hope you find these tips useful when coaching your child in compo writing!
Full disclaimer that the book is provided by SAP for my review but as always, I'm quite particular about what I recommend - if it's not something I like or find good or useful, I wouldn't bother recommending it. Writing tips are complimentary from me!
As promised, here's a link to get a 20% discount off SAP assessment and guide books. Just clicking through my referral link https://sapgrp.com/?ref=vivianteowriter during SAP's 10.10 sale on 7-10 October and you'll automatically get 20% discount during check out. No code needed and no minimum spend required - the discount will be automatically reflected (excludes books on sale).
Do you have any other Chinese compo writing tips? If so, do share in the comment box below!
Disclaimer: My opinions and reviews here are strictly my and my family’s own.
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