Day in and day out, primary school students plough through the standard examinable components of Grammar, Comprehension, Synthesis and Transformation, Vocabulary, the list goes on…

By the time students reach the ripe old age of 12, few would greet yet another Situational Writing or Oral exercise with enthusiasm. How do we get kids excited about writing a formal complaint letter or expressing their views extempore on a topic?

IT’S ALL IN THE CONTEXT. That means the context in which the questions are nested has to be current and something kids can relate to, care about, or can learn something from.

Example A – Oral

PSLE English Oral

Common Context: Why do you think exercise is important? (accompanied by relevant visual stimulus)

Clever Context: Imagine you’re a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health. What would you say at a press conference to allay the fears of the citizens about the spread of the Zika virus? (accompanied by relevant visual stimulus)

By putting some thought and effort into the crafting of the question, we open up a whole new bag of learning opportunities. We can talk about what the local government is doing, the prevention measures that every household should undertake, and even discuss how a such a speech would differ from say, a speech given by a principal during morning assembly.

Example B – Situational Writing

Common Context: Write a complaint letter to a restaurant manager about the fly in your soup.

Clever Context: Write a complaint letter to the Sports Hub about the poor sound system quality at a recent concert you attended.

At this age, children like to talk about their idols or favourite music, so relating it to a real-life recent event (Jay Chou concert) would get them revved up for the task ahead. Educators could also bring up the idea of petitions, and in the name of fun, perhaps even give them the opportunity to write one to the classroom teacher to appeal for something they feel strongly about (since the “we protest” classroom chant is something every teacher has been terrorised with at some point in their career).

A Balancing Act

PSLE English

Some educators prefer to restrict themselves to examination-safe contexts so as not to ‘confuse’ students. The key is always in balance. We should mix standard assessment style questions with not-so-standard style questions so that students get exposure to both what they have to face in school and what they have to face in life.

Instead of restricting children’s potential at the onset based on our judgement of what they’re able or not able to do, let their output and response be our dynamic guide. Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. A toddler who grows up conversing in 2 languages never confuses English with Chinese!

The idea of putting things in Clever Context may be simple, but executing it well requires terrific talent in curriculum writing and superb skill in teaching. Well, if that sounds like a lot to ask for (which it indeed is), you could always enrol your child at Joyous Learning! 😉

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