To capture her students’ attention, oral communication specialist Renée van de Bult relies on a personal anecdote.
“When my son was in Primary 5, he was barely passing his English exams,” she recalls. “Nonetheless, he was scouted by his teacher to take part in the Odyssey of the Mind competition, which is about creative problem solving. His team ended up representing Singapore in the world finals in the US. When my son returned, he had gained tremendous confidence and his English scores improved—not just for his oral exam, but overall as well.”
Her son’s experience inspired Renée to instil confidence in other children, and she found her calling at enrichment centre LiteracyPlus.
“LiteracyPlus provided me with a platform to encourage children to embrace the English language in a holistic manner,” she says. “In my classroom, I emphasise respect. As communicators, we respect one another with preparation, practice, and doing the best that we can. We also practise respectful behaviours such as not speaking out of turn.”
With the PSLE oral exams scheduled for mid-August, we spoke to Renée about putting together a daily preparation plan for these final weeks.
If students have 15 minutes to spare every day leading up to the oral exams, what can they do to improve themselves?
The PSLE oral exam consists of two sections: Reading Aloud (10 marks) and Stimulus-based Conversation (10 marks). Students should read aloud as often as they can to themselves, or to a parent, sibling, or friend. They should focus on avoiding monotony, that is, reading with one tone or with little variety in pitch.
More important, they should record themselves when they read. The best way to find out whether they need more practice in pronunciation, intonation, and fluency when reading aloud, is to listen to how they read.
What reading material should they use?
They can read a newspaper article aloud for vocabulary exposure. Newspaper articles have the added advantage of being current, and these topics may appear in the exam. They can also read short passages from their favourite books. Books contain dialogue, and this is a perfect way to practise delivery skills such as:
Pitch: when one’s voice goes up and down
Pace: how fast or slowly one reads
Pauses: whether one uses short pauses for commas and conjunctions—such as “and,” “so,” and “because”—or longer pauses for full stops and change of paragraphs
Power: how loud or soft one’s volume is
Pronunciation: the way a word is said
Stress: the way emphasis is placed on specific syllables and words
What about the conversation section?
Parents can engage their children in conversation every day, at meals or during car rides, by talking about current events or the newspaper articles that have been read aloud.
To encourage children to think deeply about a topic, ask them for their opinions, and remind them to back these up with reasons and examples, using phrases like “I think…” and “In my opinion…”
Ask open-ended probing questions, as this will train children to think on their feet and handle any difficult questions that an examiner may pose.
Where possible, children should also be encouraged to converse with different people to expose them to speaking to others.
Once children are more comfortable engaging in discussions, parents can correct errors in sentence structure, tense, or pronunciation, and get children to repeat the corrected words or sentences. Let them know that it’s fine to make mistakes—that’s how we learn best.