An Interview with Liza Tay

Liza Tay Mei Ling is an Arts and Social Science (Mass Communication and Sociology) graduate from the National University of Singapore and a qualified childcare professional in the state of California, having completed her Basic and Advanced Certificates in Early Childhood Management from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA Extension).

She has been teaching English to primary school students in Singapore for the last 15 years and runs L’Attitude, a tuition and enrichment centre for developing English language and literacy skills. Liza is also an SPH English Masterclass trainer who has given public seminars on how best to prepare for the PSLE English papers.

Liza is the author of Primary 5 English Scoring the AL1 in Situational Writing. This book helps students to contextualise the various situations they might encounter through the lives of five friends. The aim of this book is to help students cover the PSLE Situational Writing syllabus in a fun and engaging manner as they discover ways to better express the needs of the given task.

Today, Liza shares more about performing well in English and Situational Writing.

About my book

Primary 5 English Scoring the AL1 in Situational Writing by Liza Tay

1. How will this book help students to excel in Situational Writing?

Much of understanding effective Situational Writing revolves around establishing context – something that many students are weak in. This book is written from the perspective of 5 children who are friends in the same school. Both the P5 and P6 books will follow the lives of these 5 children throughout the book and establish a relationship between them so that students can better understand the context of the situation that the tasks involve as they move through various situations throughout the year.

Hopefully, this will help to cultivate a keener understanding of context so that when they are given a task at school, they will be able to apply the same understanding of context to their given tasks.

2. What are some important skills students must possess in order to write well?

They must be able to plan, organise and understand the context of any given task in order to do well. Hence, these books provide a planning structure and an approach that will help students organise their answers in a clear and systematic manner.

3. Can you share what examiners typically look out for as good answers to Situational Writing?

Examiners look out for the fulfilment of the 6 tasks as set out in the bullet points provided in the question. They will mark the students’ work according to Purpose, Audience and Context, or what they call the PAC of Situational Writing. The sender and recipients of the letter or email are important factors in accuracy and contextual understanding.

4. Is there an ‘ideal’ way that answers should be organised and laid out?

Ideally, the purpose of the task should be expressed in the first paragraph along with the context of the situation. The next paragraph or two should organise facts logically by grouping information systematically. The link back must remind the reader of the initial purpose of the letter/email and the sign off is important in reinforcing contextual understanding of the task at hand.

5. Are there any common mistakes that students usually make and how should they avoid making these mistakes?

Some common mistakes include:

  • Simply ticking off the bullet points without organising the information logically and seamlessly
  • Getting the sender and recipient mixed up
  • Forgetting to include the year. The date and month are often insufficient
  • Forgetting to write according to context

6. In addition to this book, what else can students do to improve their Situational Writing skills?

Always remember to put yourselves in the situation you are writing about. That way, context becomes easier to understand.

About myself, my work and expertise

  1. Why did you choose to teach English?

    I love the English language. It’s fun, expressive and filled with humour, history and meaning. It helps children express themselves accurately and mastery of the English language opens doors for children to learn about other important skills in life so I see it as imparting a critical life skill to young people. When you have fun with the English language, you’ll wield it superbly and it enriches your life tremendously.

2. How have your Early Childhood Management skills complemented or enhanced your teaching skills?

In early childhood, developmental milestones are an important part of understanding where children should be at different life stages. The cognitive development of a child is closely linked to his/her emotional development so knowing what the appropriate milestones are helps me develop my students effectively and appropriately.

3. Do you have any interesting experiences to share as an SPH English Masterclass trainer?

As a Masterclass trainer, I remember the live sessions we had before the COVID-19 pandemic as fun and enthusiastic. Although it was tiring for the students (because we had to do so much in such a short time), I believe they had fun and I’ll share two memorable takeaways.

One was when the children saw the snacks during the break. They were thrilled and devoured the Milo and curry puffs with gusto and one child exclaimed, “This is the best Milo I’ve ever had and the most fun holiday programme I’ve ever been to!” I think that when young children are involved, you cannot ignore the need for sustenance and when their physical needs are met, they learn better.

The other incident was when I finished the class and a young girl walked up to me and asked if she could email me her personal work for my comments. As an educator, it is very heartening to see students responding to a learning session by actively embracing all that she has been taught and wanting to constantly improve herself. It reinforced my decision to leave the corporate world many years ago and embark on a path of enriching young lives.

4. What are some best practices in revising for PSLE English?

English is not a subject you can ‘cram’ for. It has to be systematically and consistently used in order for the student to fully embrace the joy and beauty of the language. Once you are consistent with your work, the improvement will show gradually over the years. So I would say, begin your PSLE preparation by reading extensively from Primary One and practise writing on a consistent basis.

Master the rules of grammar and synthesis and enjoy the language in your daily lives. That way, you will find meaning in the language and when you find meaning in it, you will do well.

5. What are some of the common student weaknesses you have observed in your 15 years of teaching?

Inconsistent practice, having the wrong work ethic and not consciously speaking well are some of the most common weaknesses/bad habits I see in students.

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