Haikal has taught PSLE and ‘O’ Level English in various MOE registered tuition centres and international colleges since 2014. Drawing upon the knowledge he gained in the Master of Education (English) programme in the National Institute of Education (NIE), he spends his time creating useful and simplified materials to supplement his students’ learning.
Haikal is the author of the Primary 6 Creative Writing Guidebook. This book introduces the F.A.S.T. framework, and illustrates the thought process that students can follow during their planning of their English compositions. By using this framework, students learn to construct a skeleton of the story, supporting it with vivid sensory details and dialogue to inject life into the entire composition.
In today’s post, Haikal shares more about the F.A.S.T. concept and how it helps students to write an effective English composition, and how the Internet has changed the reading habits of students.
About your book
- How will this book help students to write their English compositions effectively?
This book is geared towards facilitating the brainstorming process as students plan for their compositions. It provides a clear direction of how a story should flow and how characters are developed, as evident in the F.A S.T. concept. In this way, students would have a clear direction on what to write and therefore write efficiently within the time constraints.
2. Can you share more on how students can leverage the F.A.S.T. (Feelings, Actions, Speech, Thoughts) concept?
Applying the F.A.S.T. concept allows each paragraph to appear more vivid and interesting to readers. Students are therefore encouraged to use a combination of two to three components per paragraph. This structure would also help the students to stay focused on how the character evolves throughout the story, with the relevant vocabulary to demonstrate the transition. This includes adapting various ways how a character ‘says’ something. For instance, if a character were to become angry as a result of hearing some upsetting news, the character could either ‘holler’ or ‘roar’ to demonstrate their anger, instead of simply ‘said in frustration’.
3. What important considerations do examiners have when marking compositions?
Firstly, examiners look out for how relevant a story is to the given theme. The words in the theme should be mentioned in the story as well. Apart from that, the story needs to be developed with good sequencing, paragraphing and coherence of ideas and facts, hence the need for the F.A.S.T. concept. In this regard, students are required to demonstrate a wide and appropriate vocabulary pool that conveys their thoughts vividly.
4. What are some common mistakes that you have observed in composition writing?
– Students do not sequence the events in their plot properly. As a result, there can be missing links throughout the story which makes the readers feel lost when they are reading. Students need to ensure that there is a natural progression for the character, especially in between the conflict and the resolution paragraphs.
– Students include too many sentences of direct speech which makes the whole story become more of a dialogue script. A good estimate would be two to four of such sentences throughout the story.
– Students fail to check if they have used the correct verb tenses in their compositions. Generally, past tense is required, especially when talking about an incident that happened before. However, present tense may be used for direct speech, to reflect what was being said at that moment in time.
5. What should students do when they get a writer’s block in the middle of their exam?
Students may think of supporting characters within the same particular setting to help the main character either move towards a difficult situation (when writing a conflict/climax) or move away from it (when writing a resolution). Otherwise, students could work backwards and think of the desired ending they want, and then retrace the logical steps required in order to achieve the ending.
6. How can parents help their child to improve their writing skills?
In terms of supervision, parents can ensure that their child sets aside time for his/her planning (about 10 to 15 minutes) before writing the actual story down. They could also read the story and point out any logical gaps that their child has yet to address.
In terms of practice, parents can bring up certain objects and get their child to practise describing them using the five sensory details; or point out pictures on the news or the Internet, and get their child to imagine what kind of characters and plots he/she would create that are relevant to the theme of discussion.
- What made you decide to focus on helping students with their composition writing skills?
As a personal fan of fiction, I derive joy in creating characters that are empowered to say and do what they do to bring across a strong and significant message to the readers. As such, I desire to help students to improve their abilities in mapping their imagination onto their compositions with effective and impactful language skills.
- What are some of the interesting changes that you have seen in English compositions over the years?
Following the changes in the English syllabus, the English compositions have interestingly progressed in the degree of freedom afforded to students in the expression of their ideas. Now that students are required to only choose at least one picture to write a relevant piece of composition, students can tap on more of their personal experiences and what they have read, to create their own written masterpiece. There is also greater encouragement for vivid portrayals of characters and plot developments.
- In your opinion, have the students’ reading habits changed over the years due to the Internet?
I would say that a significant number of students prefer to read content that is shorter in length and more insightful in nature, as opposed to lengthy novels. They are also intrigued when certain facts are melded into a fictitious plot, giving them the platform to imagine the possibilities of the theories upheld in the stories. Some of my students also prefer to read eBooks or from online platforms as they can easily fact-check or look up the meaning of words they encounter, with just a few clicks.
4. Some students may find that writing compositions is difficult as they do not consider themselves creative enough. What advice do you have for these students?
With reference to the three pictures provided as stimulus, students can consider the scenarios that could have happened before and after the pictures were taken. This would create the logical flow required in the storyline. Students may also look at various parts of a picture, such as the background/the role of the characters and therefore describe them with reference to the F.A.S.T. concept.
5. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses that you have observed about students when they sit for their PSLE English examination?
A key weakness is the student’s tendency to jump straight into writing and improvising the story as they write. Unless a student really has a strong visualisation of the entire plot, this could prove to be disadvantageous. They can end up missing out on the crucial parts of the plot that promote coherence and sometimes resort to finishing the story with unsuitable ideas.
A main strength that has been observed would be the desire to think of unconventional storylines that include an unexpected twist. This provides a refreshing spin to an otherwise typical storyline, based on the given pictures.
6. What advice would you give to students who wish to strengthen their command of English, especially as they transition to secondary school?
I believe that students can make use of the Internet to read up on a variety of topics on news websites from all over the world. This would expose them to a wider vocabulary pool, including certain references that are used in specific cultures or professions.
As a majority of the questions in the secondary school syllabus would require students to answer in their own words, it would be good for students to keep a word bank of synonyms and practise using them in paraphrasing short articles. In the long run, students will grow to be comfortable in the manipulation of language for various contexts and lengths.
7. Lastly, would you have any other advice for students who are preparing for their English examinations?
It would be ideal for students to review the grammar rules they have learnt, the various ways of constructing and combining sentences, as well as thematic vocabulary for various topics.
More importantly, students should keep a keen eye on contextual clues and plan their answers as much as they can before writing them down. Always have the big picture in mind, from start to finish!