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Previously, just like many other ESL teachers, I also encouraged my SPM candidates to write a story in answering Section B of SPM 1119 Paper 1. In the past, my fifth formers would be coached to compose a good narrative essay. The potential A learners would be equipped with interesting phrases and sophisticated words to be included in their story. The use of idioms was encouraged too. On the other hand, weak learners were given a standard structure to compose their story in the SPM examination. Due to their poor language proficiency, those weak learners were encouraged to memorise certain prepared short paragraphs to be adopted and adapted in the real SPM examination. In short, as a teacher I did my best to make sure all my weak candidates did not submit a blank paper for their essay and my potential A candidates were able to gain some merits in each of their paragraphs. I believe that was done from 1997 till 2013.

Beyond doubt, I can say that the Continuous Writing question that required candidates to write a story in 2014 surprised most SPM candidates and ESL teachers nationwide. Since this narrative essay question - “Write a story about a fisherman beginning with: “The wind blew strongly. Out at sea, ...” it is noticeable that the narrative essay questions have changed and they are getting tougher especially for weak learners. The narrative essay questions have become specific in terms of the main character as well as storyline. The questions give more challenges as they sometimes require the SPM candidates to highlight certain moral values in the story. Let us examine SPM 2015, SPM 2016 and SPM 2017 questions:

SPM 2015: Write a story about someone you know who took a big risk and had a good result. Begin your story with: “Everybody said that the plan would never work. It was far too risky...”

SPM 2016: Write about your experience helping Puan Ramlah, an elderly lady who lives alone. End your story with” “...I learnt a lot about myself by helping Puan Ramlah.”

SPM 2017: Write a story of a small town girl who worked hard to become a successful chef. Begin your story with: “She had used the last of her savings to get to the cooking competition in the big city and ...”

SPM 2017: . Write a story in which you had to keep a friend’s secret. In your story, give details of the secret and explain why it was important to keep the secret.

Surely, good or excellent candidates do not have problems to write a narrative essay based on one of the questions above. However, I am always concerned about my low intermediate and weak learners. They do not even understand all the keywords in the essay question. Therefore, due to the complexities of the narrative essay questions mentioned above, I have shifted my focus to descriptive narrative essays. I have been encouraging my weak learners to opt for this mixed genre. Why? Before I share my explanation, let us examine these past SPM questions:

2014: Describe an important family celebration and how you felt about it.

2015: Describe what makes you happy and explain why.

2016: There are many things to do after your SPM examination. Write about your plans for the next three months and the challenges you might face.

2016: What is the best way to help teenagers to stay fit and healthy?

2017: If you had the opportunity to move to another part of Malaysia, where would you choose to live? Explain your choice.

2017: Describe the first time you went on a camping trip. You should write about the activities at the camp and explain how you felt about the experience

To me, these descriptive narrative essays are much easier for weak learners to handle. In fact, since several months ago, I have been experimenting with my weak learners a writing strategy named “Q-SCOPE” to help them compose well when they choose this genre. So far, I have seen good progress. Alhamdulillah. Even some boys who did not attempt to write anything for their continuous writing in the previous examination had written more than a page in their mid-year examination. Using this strategy, some of the girls wrote more than 400 words for their continuous essay. What Q-SCOPE is all about? How to implement it? Well, it will be shared soon .... perhaps in the next posting, in shaa Allah.

For the time being, I hope my writing this time has given insights to some teachers about which genre of writing to be focused on among weak ESL learners. Of course, you are the best decision makers in your own classrooms. The choice is always yours.

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