Tips for Poor Essay Writers – Part I

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This article is useful for parents whose children are deemed to be poor in essay writing.

Their children’s struggles in writing is a cause for concern but parents may be at a loss on how to help them. For one, parents may not understand why their children do not understand how to write their essays.

In addition, English has always been viewed as an “art” – it has always been deemed as a subject with no clear rules or structure and parents may have no idea on how to tackle this… essay writing mumbo jumbo. This is especially so when the parents had a love-hate relationship with English during their days as a student.] They may try to teach their children but fear ineffective instruction that wastes even more time.

Such essay-writing-instruction limbo may be particularly aggravating for some parents. This article was written in hopes of alleviating some of that aggravation.



Tips applies to students of all levels (Primary to University) – This entry however, caters primarily to primary and secondary school students.


I have been tutoring English essay writing across all levels from Primary to University for years now and have seen plenty of students who find essay writing highly elusive, deeming it a chore to write. I can empathize with them. My English was not fantastic and I struggled with essay writing for quite some time till I discovered a solution and saw light at the end of the tunnel.

Essay writing, especially at the JC level can be challenging. I’ve also seen far too many students with decent English standards in reputable JCs failing General Papers (GP, like any other A level subject, requires A LOT of preparation. Unfortunately, students – particularly those who can speak decent English think – otherwise and thus adversely affecting their chances of University entry.)

English writing has a methodology

The reason why students are unable to solve their essay writing crisis is because they just do not know how and where to attack the problem.

A common advice to essay writing improvement is to read lots of story books. But many students read without knowing what to look out for and they end up merely remembering the content and not the language used in the story (there are of course, handful of students who improved just by reading alone without guidance).

When I was in Primary School, I read tons of Enid Blyton and Smarty books. I could remember the content well alright – Smarty being a detective, some female character basking in her fantasy world- but when it came to actual application in my school’s essay, I was stumped.

As a side note, reading is not essential for Pri/Sec essay writing. For GP essays however, it is of prime importance.

Like any subject, English has a METHODOLOGY to fulfil the exam requirement for essay writing. You can call it a step-by-step approach, a structure, a system to learning.

Different tuition teachers and agencies have their self-developed methodologies. Similarly, I am offering my methodology that was developed over the years when I was struggling to beat, or at least survive in the education system.

Some parents may be pretty leery about a methodological approach to learning, for the word “methodology” has stigmatised impressions of “regurgitation”, “memorising”, and basically a brain-dead affair, stifling active and creative learning when essay writing, for primary and secondary school in particular, is ironically creative writing.

Unfortunately, active learning is adopted by students who pursue essay writing with a passion – in which I am positive your kids do not (Reading this entry is proof of their lack of passion for writing). What I do is to impart my writing methodology to my students in hope of them gaining a passion for writing after gaining enlightenment and scoring well for their school essays. After all, people develop a passion for things they excel in. I have been writing fiction as a hobby for 7 years now, alongside with Sociology research papers as homework. (As a side note, Sociology is not social work. It is simply GP essay x 5)

Essay writing comes in two forms – fiction writing (Pri and Sec) & argumentative / expository essays (JC / Uni – Arts).  Both require vastly different styles of writing and content.

Keeping this forum’s audience in mind, I shall just offer tips on how to write a proper fiction. Parents who require advice for their kids, who are struggling with GP essays/ term papers (social sciences) in JC / Uni, feel free to voice your request and I will post another entry on writing essentials / tips for such essays.

Do note that secondary school essay writing further breaks down into narrative, descriptive and argumentative. I’ll be focusing on narrative as it is the prevalent form / choice of essay writing throughout primary and secondary levels. Secondary school students who are weak in essay writing should always opt for narrative essays over descriptive (requires excellent vocabulary) and argumentative / expository essays (requires a totally different set of skills).

Important things to look out for in narrative essay writing

I am assuming that the student is able to construct basic sentence and grammar structure (past & present tense etc.). If the student is unable to do so, he/she is in no condition to attempt essay writing. Please sign the student for basic language/ grammar classes instead.

There is a limit to how much advice I can offer via text. So I will just offer two key points.


1. Essay Flow

Essay flow means no break in the story plot. A disjointed narrative threatens a fiction essay, and as a side note, absolutely fatal in GP essays (Immediate failure).

Common e.g (pri sch level):

Annie was walking back home from school. Suddenly, she saw a cat stuck in the tree.

(Let’s just focus on the disrupted flow of plot and ignore the rest [vocab, sentence structure variation etc] – it is not a great sentence for sure but I have seen this exact same sentence in my student’s work when she was writing a picture composition on some cat getting stuck in a tree.)

As you can see, there is a break in the story flow – no link between the two sentences. The student did not apply the 5Ws 1 H technique, with ‘Why’ and ‘How’ being the most essential.

Why was Annie’s attention drawn to the cat? The cat was meowing loudly as it was stuck in the tree.

Annie was walking home from school. Suddenly, she heard a loud meowing coming from the trees. Upon closer look, Annie found a cat stuck in the tree.

(Remember – primary school level. Secondary level has to be a lot more descriptive)

It looks really easy, doesn’t it?

I had three Primary school and JC students (and a bunch of University peers) who had this chronic problem of disjointed narrative. Upon enquiry as to why they did not apply the 5Ws 1H technique and link the sentences together, the answer was:

“It is commonsense. So why should I write it down?”

Common sense. Higher level studies call it logical thinking.

My students assumed that the examiner’s logic would conclude that Annie’s attention would have been caught by an incessant meowing. Annie would have shifted her gaze to the canopy above and spotted the ill-fated cat. So since this is common sense, practically “duh”(teen slang), why should they include it in their essay?

In response, I have always told them to assume that examiners are stupid. They require students to express thoughts explicitly.

In view of this problem, the obvious solution is to TRAIN YOUR CHILD TO EXPRESS COMMON SENSE ON PAPER. In severe cases, when this problem is so naturalized into your kid till he/she is unable explain why, in this case, Annie’s attention was drawn to the cat, you will have to first TEACH YOUR CHILD COMMON SENSE.

I used to suffer greatly from this problem as well. Initially, I forced myself to employ the 5Ws and 1Hs technique with every, yes every, sentence I wrote. Right now, it is beyond a piece of cake.

Logical flow of thinking is an essential skill to train. With that particular skill in their arsenal, students will be able to write or articulate clearly in future.

2. Character’s Emotions / Feelings

This was the one that made me ace my O levels English (from a C6 / D7 to an A2 and fiction writing from then on was a breeze). What made it even more incredible was that I discovered point (2) only three months before O levels. I taught this trick to my primary school student three years ago and it worked, as expected.

Examiners are looking out for three-dimensional characters. They do not want unfeeling robots who betrays no emotion as the poor cat is about to fall off the branch and break its back. Students fail to score in essays as their characters have no life. So what if Annie ran off to find help for the poor cat? She was neither anxious nor shocked. Examiners want characters to react emotively to the given situation. They like drama.

**Character emotions form the crux to the climax (conflict) of the essay**

The emotions:

Happy – elated
Excited – brimming with excitment
Sad – melancholy
Angry – enraged, inflamed
Anxious – dilated pupils, adrenaline rush
Shock – paralyzed with fear

The trick is to find synonyms and phrases that describe these six emotive states. Formulate these synonyms and phrases into your child’s spelling list and lengthen the list over time. Thereafter, the magic begins. You would have to formulate templates for these six emotive states (1 paragraph for primary school, 2 paragraphs for secondary school students) for your child to remember, and ‘cut and paste’ into their essays, before refining it over time.

Why create templates of emotive states? In any fiction essay, it is definitely guaranteed that characters will be basking in one of these six emotive states. As simple as that.

Point (2) works like a charm. But its complexity to express it in text has led me to merely summarise the workings of this extremely powerful concept. My apologies. If anyone is really interested in point (2), feel free to voice your request as well.

Side note – Character emotions allowed me to predict essay questions easily for my O levels- This comment is probably god sent to students who are desperate for some sort of miracle in the face of impending major examinations. As mentioned earlier, character emotions form the climax (conflict) of the essay and with only 6 different emotions, students can form essay templates with standardized introductions, essay settings, emotions etc. to memorise and regurgitate during exams. However, I am not going elaborate on this point. The major English exams have passed, so no one should be desperate for miracles.

Teaching method counts

So you know a couple of tricks to salvage your child’s ailing essay grades. Unfortunately, that’s half the battle won. The way you teach is crucial. The tricks are constant repetition for internalization and essay question standardization (there are other methods too, but it will probably kill me to list all). That sounds highly loaded, but I assure you it is pretty simple.

  • Constant repetition
    • Basically, by the tenth lesson, you should be repeating concepts taught for the past nine lessons before embarking on the tenth lesson plan. Same applies to vocabulary, with an ever lengthening vocab spelling list for every lesson.
  • Essay question standardization
    • During the initial months, ensure that your child practices with only a couple of essay questions. If your child chooses a picture composition of the cat stuck in the tree and an open-ended essay on a surprise birthday party, do ensure that your child only practices those essay questions repeatedly during the initial months.

This is so that your child has a basis for comparison (IMPT). It is essentially a before and after comparison.

Simple example:

1st essay lesson: Allowing your child to write her first essay

Annie was walking back home from school. Suddenly, she saw a cat stuck in the tree.

2nd essay lesson: Teaching her essay flow, employing 5Ws and 1H technique

Annie was walking home from school. Suddenly, she heard a loud meowing coming from the trees. Upon closer look, Annie found a cat stuck in the tree.

3rd essay lesson: Giving character more life

Annie was walking home from school. She was thinking about her lesson earlier on. Suddenly, she heard a loud meowing coming from the trees. She snapped out of her thoughts. Annie went forward to check. Upon closer look, Annie found a cat stuck in the tree. The cat was not able to climb down the tree.

4th essay lesson: Vocab (advance level)

Annie was walking home from school. Her thoughts were preoccupied with her lesson earlier on. Suddenly, a loud meowing from the trees snapped her out of her stupor. Annie went forward to investigate. Upon closer look, Annie found a cat perched precariously on a tree branch. The cat was not able to climb down the tree.

5th essay lesson: Sentence structure variation (advance level)

Annie was walking home from school, her thoughts preoccupied with her lesson earlier on. Suddenly, a loud meowing from the trees snapped her out of her stupor. Upon closer examination, Annie found a cat perched precariously on a tree branch, making futile attempts to climb down the tree.

By then, this child would have 5 similar essays to compare and boost his/her confidence – the child’s improvement in essay writing was clearly visible on paper. One of my tuition kids had a good laugh after comparing her third attempt with her shoddy first. It gave her the confidence to further improve her essay writing.

Do not change a different essay question every time your child attempts to brush up his/her essay writing skills for your child will not be able to learn well. They need structure and time to tame a dangerous animal called essay writing. As newcomers to the essay writing scene, they are pretty adverse to change.

Just to demonstrate the effectiveness of essay question standardization: You have noticed that I’ve only used one type of example throughout this entire entry – the essay on the cat getting stuck in the tree. It gives you a clearer understanding of the concepts forwarded. Comparing and contrasting becomes easy.

As a side note, if you do not have patience to explain a concept repeatedly, or pace yourself to accommodate your child’s learning curve, things are going to get ugly if you really do attempt to teach. (My mom was not cut out to be an educator. So were my aunts, uncles, sister, cousins … the list is never-ending) This brings me to the next section…

Set realistic expectations; let students learn at their own pace

You can’t expect your child to improve his grades within such a short period of time. My situation was different. With a couple months left before O levels, desperation spurred me to seek for a solution to my less than flattering essay grades. Your child probably does not have that sort of death sentence hanging over his/her head for motivation.

Some students may show significant improvement within six months. Others might take years. It depends on the student’s English capability. When I teach, I usually give the students’ parents ample notice of how their kid(s) would fare in the coming exam. More often than not, I will tell them straight in their faces that their kid(s) are going to fail. I do not expect my tuition kids to produce miracles within months. In some cases, forecasted performances were set in terms of years. A P2 tuition kid of mine was so lacking in his English capability, I halted his P2 learning immediately and stuffed him almost entirely back into P1 syllabus, much to his chagrin (a pride issue for sure). His mother was initially uncertain but she was quickly won over (I was pretty lucky to have understanding parents). There is no way a student can proceed without solidifying their foundation / basics.

Essay writing is an art form that takes practice and wit to score. I was only able to provide the barest essentials of fiction writing in this entry. Should you have any question(s) on your child’s inability to write essays, feel free to voice your concerns.

It gives me no greater satisfaction than to witness the improvement of a student essay writing ability through my methodology.

 Follow-up article posted on 29 May 11

UPDATE (as of September 2016)

I do not get notifications of new blog or profile comments. As a result, I may only stumble upon new comments many months after they are posted. Much apologies to 3kidsmum, P2D, Gxmas, Ling Chan and many others who tried to contact me.

Do visit for more information about essay writing for primary, secondary and JC students. (The address may change in future. For now, it will be powered by weebly.) My response times are much higher should anyone tries to contact me via the ‘essayrescue’ website.

Best Regards,


Need help for my P4 girl



Hi, my girl English is no good and her composition is really bad even with tuition so I really need your help.  Could you please email me for more advise at [email protected]


Thank you!



Hi my son is P4 this year and i have been trying to look for good tutor who can mentor him on his written expressions.

Please contact me – [email protected]


Hi! I am looking for a

Hi! I am looking for a English compo tutor for my P6 boy. Could you please contact me at 97817201?

Need help

Hi, Thank you so much for sharing. I need some advice from you. My email: [email protected]

Many thanks 🙂

This is a very good article

Thanks for sharing this article.

Very useful tips to share with my pupils.

Thanks for sharing

Very good information Amanda. Could I have your contact to send my kids to ur tuition class?

How to improve my Child English Essay writing


I am a father of a  9yr old who is current in primary 3. I have difficulty in guiding him in his composition writing. I saw in his composition that the teacher often commented that he does not keep to his story line. I do not have the intention of sending him for extra lessons in creative writing skills, could you advise me on how i can guide him on improving his writing skills.

I wish to know more about the applying the principle of 5W and 1H. Hope you can email me the details and whatever recommendations such as assessment/guide books which can further enhance his learning experience for essay writing. My email is [email protected].


need help

Hi, thanks for your sharing!

I would like to coach my p3 kid composition writing, but i do not know how to start. Is there a skeleton guideline of what to start off, middle and ending? and what and how to go about the 5W 1H rule? Greatly appreciate if you can email me at [email protected]

Thanks in advance! 🙂

Help Required for P3 Compo

Hi Amanda,

Grateful for all the sound advice and tips which you have shared. As it is, i am taking baby steps to try out some of the methods that you have recommended. But nothing beats seeking professional help like yourself.

Appreciate if you can contact me @ [email protected] soonest. Looking forward…

5W 1H techniques in composition writing


Thanks for sharing.

My gal will be going P1 next year.

My English is not so good but I am able to teach her grammar, comprehension and vocabulary.  I am unable to guide her in composition writing.  

I had heard of applying 5W 1H techniques to write compo.  Appreciate that you could guide me further on how to get her start writing using 5W 1H.  Kindly email me at [email protected].

thanks in advance


Thansk for sharing, can you kindly email to me at [email protected].  I would like to find out more.

Seeking your help to be tutor please.


Thanks for sharing and I coud associate the writing block many students faced.  I was no exception.

My p4 girl loves to read.  English is not too bad but composition is another dimension for her altogether.  I am not equipped to help her.

Wish to seek your assistance to tutor her please.  Kindly contact me at [email protected] .  Hope to hear from you soon.





In need of a tutor

Hi, I am Aye Sa. I have a son who is going to be sec 2 next year. If you have time, could you email me at [email protected]. I was hoping you could tutor him or have some tutors to recommend. Thank You so much.

How to apply 5W 1H in composition?


First, pardon me for my poor english. Coz i’m from a chinese educated school. 

I need help for my P1 son composition writing. How to apply 5W 1H in composition writing? My vocab is limited, so how can i help him? How to start? Thank you.


Warm regards,


Very interesting

Thanks for the useful tips.

My son needs some help in writing.  Would you be able to help him?

kindly contact me at [email protected]

Thank you.


essay writing

hi, can i check is this suitable for sec level or pri level?

Interesting Topic

I’ve just come across your post and I’d say I’m amazed and you’ve hit a lot of points there. I am looking at improving the way I write not only for the purpose of education but also to apply it on my work as well. I have a lot to improve on and these info you shared are valuable…kudos to you..and keep the posts coming 😉 




love ur writing skills

Hi Amanda,

Would you be interested to tutor my son in P3. He has execellent imagination, with trouble to pen his ideas down.

Do email me at [email protected] or may contact me at 9832 0222.


Thanks for sharing these excellent article!

Hi, Amanda. If you have time, can you e mail me [email protected] or you let me know your email address. Hope to receive your email. Thanks.

Great Tips!

Dear Amanda,

Thank for sharing here & your interesting great tips of essays writting. Would love to sent my kids to your tuition center. May i have more info about your tuition center? Please write to me at [email protected]. Thank you.



 Thanks, Amanda, for sharing. My kids also have fun reading your "cat stuck in the tree" examples.

A frustrated mom

Hi Amanda,

Thanks so much for your kind sharing on great tips on essay writing. I am really feel frustrated on the essay writing skills of my P3 son. Always get mad when he spent 2 hours doing a weak piece of writing.

For the emotion description in Point 2, would you mind sharing more phrases to describe the 6 feelings. I do have a great need to start building up those "templates" to enhance my kid’s writng. Also may I have the titles of your fictions?

Looking foward to hearing from you. Please email me on [email protected].

Thanks a lot.

Great Tips

Hi!  Great tips, Amanda…thanks for sharing.

Could you please contact me at [email protected] for me to ask you a few questions?  I am trying to help my son improve his writing.. 🙂  Appreciate your help.

Need Help

Hi Amanda,

Would appreciate that you can email me as I am also facing the same problem for my girl writing.

I hope to understand more from you.  My email is [email protected]

Help needed.

 My daughter needs help in English.  Are you able to help?

 Hi, Can you email me? I


Can you email me? I desparately need one to one home tuition for my son who is in P3. Thank you so muh fr the excellent article n looking forward!

Big Thanks

Hi, Amanda.  Thanks for sharing all these great tips.  May I have your contact number for writing tuition? ðŸ™‚

My email is [email protected]. Concerned about my P3 daughter’s writing skills. Would love for her to develop the love for writing and build her confidence. In story writing, she’s weak in character development and ends her story all too quickly after reaching the climactic moment. Please email me your contact details. Thanks agn for your excellent article!

Great article!


Thanks for sharing. May I have your contact? I like your teaching style and would like to send my kids to your tuition class.

Thanks alot!

Thanks for sharing your tips on composition writing, I hope my kid will improve!  My kid also finds the article helpful! 🙂



GP for A Levels

Hi Amanda,

Appreciate if you can offer tips / writing essentials on how to tackle the GP Paper. 

My daughter is currently in her first year of JC and is having difficulty in writing argumentative essays..her teacher’s comments are having ‘weak argumentative skills’.

Thanking you in advance for your help.





My own experience

I took my GP many years ago. The GP teacher once conducted a General Knowledge quiz and my score was the lowest in class. Not surprising – considering that I had not even heard of "10 Downing Street" at that time! Knowing that my General Knowledge was so poor, I steered clear of essays that require me to substantiate with hard facts and figures (e.g. height of Himalayas mountains, Prime Minister of Egypt etc..). 

Instead, I looked out for argumentative essays – especially those that require me to give only my opinions. e.g. Do you agree that teenagers should be encouraged to work part-time after school hours? – that sort of questions. My opinion is my own – and as long as I could argue my points persuasively, the examiner cannot fault me for any wrong info.

And guess what? I obtained an A2 for my A levels GP – surprising even myself (considering that I actually messed up & cancelled out my first essay and rushed a second one just half an hour before the time was up). I guess it must be the "compre section’ that helped to pull my grade up. The moral of the story is… identify which type of essay you are most suited for and develop your strength only in that area. My opinion is (there goes my opinion again 🙂 there’s really no point in trying to be good in all types of essays – you won’t be asked to write all essay types in the exams anyway. Sorry for my long story… I intended this to be a short note only and didn’t realise that it would end up as another GP essay! 






THX a lot for spending ur time to write n share with us this info for essay tips to write GOOD ESSAYS.I do appreciate ur efforts .

    Keep up ur wonderful work!!!


Simple & Easy to understand


Thnks for your article. Pls email me your contact at  [email protected]



Great tips

 Hi Amanda, thanks for the great tips you had share with  us.  I hope to apply yr teaching technique to my ds and please do share more tips with us here.  Thanks


Thanks for sharing :)

Thanks for sharing 🙂 May I have your contact? I’ll like to send my kids to your tuition class .

Hi Amanda, thanks for your

Hi Amanda, thanks for your tips on improving essay writing! I’m trying to teach my P3 kid the skills of writing & yet more often than not, i’m as equally stumped as him even at the introduction. I noticed he spent a lot of time mulling over how to begin.. could you email me as i would really appreciate your advice on how i can help him? My email: [email protected] Many thanks!


Character's Emotions / Feelings

Hi Amanda,

Thanks for sharing your tips on essay writing.  Appreciate if you could share with me on the point no.2.  Please email to [email protected] thanks.  Looking foward to hear from you.


Giving characters feelings and emotion -Great tactics!

Hi Amanda, Thanks for Great tips on essay writing. After reading your article, I do see light at the end of the tunnel in helping my P1 daughter to write. I am just curious about the point 2 (emotion description), would you have some more phrases to describe the 6 feelings. I am very interest to start building up those "templates" to enhance my own writing too. Would you care to share? Also may I have the titles of your fictions? Looking foward to hear from you. Please email me on [email protected]. Thank you. Ida

indeed a good article to learn.

Glad that i read your article.Thank for sharing.


Hi there.

I would love to tutor you. Unfortunately, my agenda is extremely packed due to work commitments and spare time is a luxury. I am afraid I would have to turn down your request. I apologise for that.


I need help

Hi I am a student with poor writing skills.I hardly go for English tuitions,and my parents would like to hire a female English tuitor to guide and teach me English,in preparing for my upcoming gce olevel(next year).as u mentioned above,you’d teach is it possible to get u as my tutor?thanks.

Hi Kiddo, The way you signed

Hi Kiddo,

The way you signed off made me lol quite a bit



Superb sharing Amanda,Thanks

Superb sharing Amanda,Thanks !

from an uncritical graduate in the working world 

Its awesome.

 I do essay writing for students but I have never seen such a solid writing like this one. Its very helpful to poor writers ,even for those who are native.Keep workig one this and looking for Part ii.

Hi Charcoal & Susu,Thank you

Hi Charcoal & Susu,

Thank you for your interest. However, I have mentioned in part 2 of this article about my unavailability for tuition in the coming years due to job commitments. 🙂

@frustration: Could you PM me your concerns instead and I’ll follow up from there?


Can I have your contact no.

Need your help

Thanks for sharing !

Thanks for your detailed points.

Could I have your contact? Would like to send my kid to your class.

Thanks for sharing. Could I

Thanks for sharing. Could I have your contact? I like your teaching style. Would like to send my kids to your tuition class .

Great stuff! Nobody teach me

Great stuff! Nobody teach me these when I was in Primary school.

very detail. thanks a lot

very detail. thanks a lot

Thank you for sharing!!

Thank you for sharing!!

Great article! Thanks for

Great article! Thanks for sharing.

Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this post! 🙂

Thanks for sharing :)

Thanks for sharing 🙂

Excellent Article

This is an excellent article.. kudos to you!!!! Thanks for sharing