Hi parents. I am a private tutor and have been teaching English Language at the Secondary School level for the past 3 years. Within this span of 3 years I have realised that many students have the potential to do well, but some fail to do so simply due to a lack of knowledge on what works and what does not. Through the power of the Internet I hope to reach more students and add value to them. The following information is based on my personal experience and on what has worked with my students. I hope you will find that it adds value to you.
How do I improve my child’s results for the Reading Comprehension section?
What needs to be improved is the child’s ability to understand passages. As you may already know, “comprehension” comes from the word “comprehend”, which means “to understand”. This makes clear the purpose of the section – which is to test the child’s ability to understand the given passage and the way the author uses language in it.
So how do we improve this ability?
Read. Your child needs to pick up the habit of reading – this is one of the most effective ways of improving your child’s ability to understand passages, and also one of the best ways to pick up proper grammar “effortlessly”. According to experts, children learn languages most effectively before the age of 10. It is therefore recommended for children to pick up the habit of reading as young as possible.
But my child doesn’t like to read, what should I do?
A common misunderstanding is that in order to improve, the child must read books that are very “cheem” (Chinese dialect for “profound/ difficult”). This often backfires as it makes reading an arduous and dreaded task. What is recommended is actually to pick a book of a standard that is “just right” – not too easy, but also not too difficult for the child to understand. It is a good idea to pick books on topics that your child has interest in, which can be of any genre ranging from fantasy, mystery, romance to even personal development. The genre does not really matter, because even from a “fantasy” book, for example, the child can pick up grammar and subconsciously learn the nuances of language use as he reads it. The key is to find something that the child has interest in, and is of an appropriate standard.
How do I improve my child’s Essay Writing?
Most people have the idea that English is a subject that is impossible to have a firm grasp on. Unlike Maths, where most of the time there is one definite answer to each question and a fixed number of ways to solve it, there does not seem to be a standard way of writing an essay. This apparent lack of a “standard way” brings an element of uncertainty to the continuous writing component of the English Language papers, which may be one reason why so many students are daunted by it. However, this need not be true.
Indeed, writing is an art. But it can also be a science. A good piece of essay can be engineered. And like all things worthy of mastering, it takes work and effort to master the art of engineering good essays. In the following section I will be showing you some steps your child can take in order to engineer that “perfect essay”.
How to masterfully engineer expository essays
Step 1: Follow the PEEL format for the body
This is a format commonly taught in schools. It is fairly straightforward and provides a clear structure for the student to follow. It is recommended that students follow this structure as they build their competencies in writing. One advantage of this format is that it gives the essay a clear structure, and therefore makes it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s argument.
A very basic example:
(P)The television is a major source of information for many people. It is one of the main media through which we get in touch with news and current affairs. (E)By subscribing to informational channels such as the National Geographic channel, we gain access to programmes that give us a wealth of knowledge. (E)As we take in information on various topics, we become more knowledgeable and educated about the world around us, and this will hopefully make us wise. (L)Therefore, the television plays an important role in our lives as a major source of information.
Step 2: “E is for Evidence”
When writing essays, most students fulfill the first “E” by concocting examples of their own, on the spot. The main reason is that in an exam setting there is no way to search the Internet for concrete evidences, so coming up with an example on the spot becomes the only solution an unprepared student has. The risk of this is that the examples provided by the student may not be substantial or convincing enough to properly back a point, which will then cause the paragraph to become a flimsy one.
To mitigate the risk mentioned above, and to give your essay an edge over those of the others, you can prepare in advance. There are two ways to do this.
Firstly, you can read widely. Reading widely not only allows you to gather examples and evidences you can use in your essays, but also helps you gain a better understanding of "how the world works". Magazines such as Time and National Geographic provide examples in the form of global events and scientific facts that you can use in your essay.
Secondly, you can research on specific topics prior to exams. Some common exam topics include family, society, technology, education, etc. Types of sources to look out for include clinical studies, academic/ research papers, census of population, etc. For example, when preparing for an essay regarding the importance of family, we can search for research papers that show how the emotional support from a person's family improves his well-being and promotes his success. Google is your best friend here.
Step 3: Take a point and drive it deep
One focused, well elaborated and thoroughly explored point is much better than many, scattered points. A common mistake students make is that in an attempt to "elaborate" on the paragraph's main point, they have multiple sub-points within one paragraph, but all of them only touch the surface. Yes, the sub-points do elaborate on the main point, but they are merely touching different parts of the surface. They are not going beyond the surface to address the underlying issue, for example. This results in a vague and superficial paragraph. Instead of that, it is more desirable to have one or two sub-points within a paragraph and "drive them deep" – i.e., discuss them at deeper levels.
I may post examples at another time to illustrate what I mean in each of the "steps" mentioned above.
Parents/teachers/students, what are your experiences? What has worked and what has not worked for you or your kids?