Last year's PSLE English composition question raised many concerns among candidates and their parents alike. Rightly so, because coming up with a story that revolves around 'a secret' and based on one or more of the three pictures within an hour or so is no mean feat.
For the story to succeed, the writer will have to come up with
(a) a compelling secret
(b) a dramatic revelation of the secret
One of the critical decisions a candidate has to make is the number of pictures to be used in the composition. Many teachers prescribe using only one picture. This is a logical suggestion, for each additional picture imposes new conditions on the plot of your story. If the pictures happen to lend themselves naturally to the development of your plot, then by all means, go ahead and weave them into your storyline. However, if it requires skillful manipulation to fit all the pictures into the story, then this option is not a luxury we can afford under examination conditions. (Practising using 2 or 3 pictures in the compositions that you write for leisure is good for honing your creativity, though)
Now, for the sake of exercise, spend 5 to 10 minutes to try and come up with a story that ties in "girls whispering" with "envelope marked 'secret'" with "padlocked fence".
Not exactly easy, is it? Remember, we can't afford more than 10 minutes to plan and come up with a credible plot because we have to devote the rest of the time to the actual writing!
Nowhere in the marking rubric for PSLE Continuous Writing (nor in the instructions in the actual PSLE question) does it state that the use of more pictures merits more content marks, so rest assured there's no penalty for choosing to use just one picture.
Here's how I think about the pictures.
I feel the picture of the girls whispering offers the widest berth for interpretation - the secret could be trivial or important. The envelope suggests a secret of some importance since it is recorded in a document. The padlocked fence necessitates that the secret be centred around a physical location.
So here's a sample response pitched at a level that I think primary 6 students can reasonably achieve in terms of content and language within the time limit. Keeping in mind that the minimum word requirement for PSLE compositions is only 150 words, I've kept it to what I think is an appropriate length.
Sample Response - A Secret
It is the uneasy feeling you get when you sense that you are the only person not let in on a secret.
This feeling germinated when I chanced upon Haley whispering to Aishah during recess. Haley had a hand cupped around Aishah’s ear while she mouthed inaudible words.
The duo straightened up and acted casual when they spotted me. Eyeing them warily, I walked across the classroom and settled into my seat in front of them. I pretended to tend my own affairs while keeping my ears pricked up like a nervous rabbit. Not a sound was heard; the girls had either stopped conspiring altogether or switched to using sign language.
While I fretted for reasons unknown, the rest of my classmates streamed into the class. Call it paranoia, but I thought I detected subtle smirks on their faces as they stole glances at me. What was more: I could have sworn some of them exchanged knowing looks with Haley and Aishah!
It all became unbearable. I whirled around, glared at Aishah and Haley, and demanded, “What were you girls whispering about? What’s going on? Why’s everyone looking at me in a funny way?” The questions shot from my mouth in rapid fire like bullets.
Just then, the classroom lights went out and the entire class broke into a familiar song. Mrs Lim, our form teacher, entered the classroom, bearing a cake with twelve lit candles.
“Happy birthday, Stephy!” Mrs Lim said, beaming. “The girls kept this a secret from you because they wanted it to be a surprise. It’s their way of saying thanks for being a wonderful monitress and leading the class to victory in the Exemplary Class Awards!”
My eyes brimmed with tears. I was touched to have such a great bunch of friends. I guess sometimes secrets can be kept from a person with good intentions after all!
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