What Makes an Average vs Good Composition? (Primary English)
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Journalist William Wheeler once said, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”
This holds true even when writing a composition for primary school as well. It’s not enough to pen 120 (or 150) words on a piece of paper – students have to think about how it’ll be seen by the reader.
So what makes the difference between a mediocre and good primary school composition?
Today, we’ll break down a few examples of English compositions to point out key markers of good writing.
Note: These were all written by one of our P4 students over a period of time, so you can see how she gradually improved her composition writing skills.
An Example of an Average Composition
The first is a composition that our student wrote at the beginning of her time with us.
Example of an average composition
You’ll probably notice a few things about this piece.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
First off, quite a few of the descriptive phrases are repeated over two paragraphs. Phrases like “the palm trees swayed gently in the wind,” “some respite to the picnicking families,” and “the waves [crashed steadily / lapped against] the shore” are common stock phrases memorized from assessment books.
There’s nothing wrong with the phrases per se, but in this case, they merely inflate the word count without adding anything of substance to the plot development. Using a plot graph to plan out the story beforehand would’ve eliminated a lot of the fluff.
Gaps in the Plot
You’ll also notice that the storyline tends to “jump” around a bit:
“Suddenly, Tom spotted a clamshell…”
“Immediately, Tom ran to his parents for help…”
“Quickly, [they] drove him to the nearest clinic…”
This forces the reader to have to fill in too many gaps. It also means the reader doesn’t really connect with the story; instead, the story just feels like a very dry, factual account of a jellyfish sting. Focusing on the rising action, climax, and falling action (again using a plot graph) would’ve helped to create an airtight plot.
Also, using the Show, Not Tell technique would help the reader emotionally connect with Tom as the story unfolded. We know that he was in pain, but what were his facial expressions conveying? And his parents – what were they thinking or feeling? Did they say anything along the way?
A Rushed Ending
“Tom received an injection to alleviate the pain from the jellyfish sting. He was prescribed painkillers. Tom never want to go to the beach again and was also relieved that the injury is not that serious.”
What an abrupt ending! It’s as if the writer is in a hurry to wrap up the story.
However, while this ending “closes” the case very quickly, it doesn’t give the reader a sense of closure at all. As we note in our Quick & Easy Checklist for Great Endings, the conclusion needs to evoke feelings in the reader. The Show, Not Tell technique would also be useful for this purpose.
An Improved Composition
Written by the same student a few months later, this 2nd composition on A Mischievous Act shows improvement in her use of descriptive language and in the setup of the story.
Example of an improved composition
You’ll see that there are still a couple of problems to work on though. For instance, there are still certain plotholes:
Tom goes from playing with his best friend to randomly going for a walk. What happened to Jerry in between?
We see that Tom chances upon a kitten. The next thing we know, he’s picked up a handful of pebbles and proceeded to torture the poor kitty. That was sudden! What was his thought process leading up to it?
Later, Tom and Jerry bring the kitten to the vet. They decide to “take care of the kitten,” but the details are fuzzy – did they take turns while still at the vet? Or did they bring the kitten home and take turns caring for it?
How did their parents react when they brought home a stray cat? For that matter, how did they afford the veterinarian fees in the first place?
The ending here was also abrupt, though the student tries to add more detail this time. Like in the first composition, it doesn’t give the reader a sense of closure or evoke any positive (or negative) feelings.
Finally, An Example of a Good Composition
This last composition was written by the same Primary 4 student much more recently.
You’ll notice that she’s used the A/C/S/S technique for the introduction – and the dialogue places the story right in the thick of the action. No more fluffy openings!
Secondly, she’s now learned to use the Show Not Tell technique, which helps the reader better connect with the protagonist. Here are a few examples of it in action:
I started to feel anxious but was determined to win this competition at the same time. “You can do it! You can do it!” I muttered to myself as I cast a steely gaze at the coveted golden trophy.
Hesitating slightly, I walked up to the stage nervously.
A smile was plastered on my face as I started belting out the lyrics to the song.
The competition was stiff and I was not confident of a sure win. I drew deep breaths to steady my palpitating heart.
I was over the moon. All my hard work had paid off! I thought as I grinned from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat.
She smiled weakly while looking at the trophy in my hand.
Thirdly, the story doesn’t jump around like in the first two compositions. With lots of practice with the plot graph, she’s consistently managing to create airtight storylines.
Her endings are also MUCH better now. In the above mentioned composition, there’s a definite sense of closure, and the reader feels satisfied at the close of the story.