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Some ESL learners did not attempt to write an essay at all or write very little in examinations. This is a common occurrence in many schools. However, how can ESL teachers differentiate those who genuinely cannot write and those who can write but are simply reluctant or possess little motivation to do so?

In this write-up, I wish to share a technique which I have been employing to identify genuine poor and fallacious; capable but reluctant ESL writers. I have been using it with my Form 4 / Form 5 pupils for years. The technique is simple. I would ask my weak ESL writers to do these:

  1. Read and understand any of the three essays below, one by one.

  2. In each essay, they are required to underline any word which they do not understand.

  3. Count the number of the underlined words in each essay.



My name is Jehan Kaayaa. I am a smart student in SMK Kadok. I am a Form Five student. I always get a very good result in my examination. I always get all As for all my subjects. I always score 100 marks for English and Mathematics. Many teachers like me but I do not like my teachers. I do not like my English teacher. [65 words]

I have many friends. They are Boboi, Yaya, Gopal and Ying. We are very close. We like to spend time together. We always study together. I like to study at Ying’s house. Her house is big and clean. Sometimes, we study at Gopal’s house. His house is small and dirty. I do not like to study at Gopal’s house. I also do not like my friends to come to my house because my house is also small and dirty. [79 words]

Last week, Boboi, Yaya, Gopal, Ying and I joined our school language camp. The camp was held at a two-star hotel in Ipoh. We did not have to pay anything. Everything was sponsored. There were ten groups. I was in Group 10. The members in my group came from different classes. But all of us were form 5 students. [59 words]

Seri, from Class 5 Permai, was our group leader. Seri was a very pretty girl. I liked her so much. I knew the other boys also liked Seri. We named our group Seri Bombastic. In the first activity, we created our group‘s logo, motto and song. When we presented our song, everybody liked it. [54 words]

On the second day, we had many language games. We had spelling competition, vocabulary game, drama and many other games. Our group won the drama competition. We presented a very good drama. We presented a story about a princess who fell in love with a fisherman. Seri played the role of a princess and of course I was the poor but handsome fisherman. The activities went on until 10.00 p.m. We were very tired but enjoyed ourselves a lot. [79 words]

On the third day we had a jungle trekking in a forest nearby the hotel. We had to climb hills. We also had to answer many difficult questions. It was very challenging. Seri was not feeling well. She could not walk fast. I had to walk slowly. I did not want Seri to be alone. Finally, we reached our destination. Seri smiled at me. She gave me her photo and thanked me. [72 words]

I was very happy. Seri was happy too. After the language camp, Seri and I got closer. We planned to join the language camp again next year. [27 words]




I am the most handsome boy in class. I look like the hero of Hindi movies. I am very happy with my good look. My friends call me Alif the Handsome Hero. I have a girlfriend. She is very beautiful. She is beautiful like Miss World. No, I think she is more beautiful than Miss World. I call her Peah the “Bomb!” [62 words]

I have a handsome father. My father looks like Shahrukh Khan. Shahrukh Khan is a very famous Hindi superstar. My father is 49 years old. He is a businessman. He has six restaurants. His restaurants are very famous. Many people like to eat at his restaurants. [46 words]

Yesterday, I followed my handsome and caring father to visit my uncle at a hospital. We left home at about 5.00 p.m. and reached the hospital at 6.15 p.m. The hospital was a new hospital. It was opened two months ago. It was clean and big. There were many people at the hospital. [53 words]

My uncle was also handsome. He was more handsome than my father but I was more handsome than my uncle. In short, I was the most handsome man. I was happy to be the most handsome man in the family. My uncle was a chronic diabetic. He was in the hospital because his sugar level was very high. [58 words]

My uncle‘s ward was at the second floor. The lift was very big and fast. I saw a nurse in the lift. The nurse was my mother‘s old friend. She talked to my father. She told us that my uncle was doing alright. After talking to the nurse, my father and I went to Room 515. My uncle was very happy to see my father and me. [67 words]

There was a young doctor. The doctor said that my uncle was getting better and he could go home soon. My father talked to my uncle for one hour. I felt bored so I went out of the room. I went to level one. I saw a young nurse. She smiled at me. I smiled at her. She looked like Seri, my girlfriend. [63 words]

Then, I went to the hospital café. The café was not big but clean. I saw the young nurse again. She smiled at me again. The young nurse came to my table. I smiled at her. I did not know what to say. I ate my fried rice quickly. After that I ate my burger. Later, I ate another plate of fried rice. I did not say anything to the young nurse. [72 words]

Suddenly, the young nurse stood up and left me. She still smiled. I quickly went to Room 515. My father was waiting for me. I said goodbye to my uncle. Then, my father and I went home. I could not forget the young nurse. [44 words]



SPM 2005 - Describe an enjoyable weekend you have experienced.

SPM 2015 - Describe what makes you happy and explain why

(what makes you happy is to meet and go out with your idol)

I am a 20-year-old girl. My name is Lofa. I am cute. I am still single. I have many idols. One of my idols is Fatah Amin. He is a very handsome actor. Some of my friends say Shuib Sepah is more handsome than Fatah Amin. I disagree with them. I watch all his dramas and movies. Fatah Amin is my hero. He is my prince. Last weekend, I went to Bintang Mall for shopping. I went there alone. I went to my favourite boutique, Kaseh Atikah Boutique. I wanted to buy a blouse. It was the most enjoyable weekend.

It was the best weekend in my life because I met Fatah Amin at the boutique! Fatah Amin was alone. He wanted to buy a dress for his sister. He came to me and said, “Excuse me, can you help me? Can you help me choose a dress for my sister?” I was too shocked to see my idol in front of me. He was so handsome. He was more handsome than all his photos that I kept in my album! I quickly said, “Yes!” I helped my hero to choose a pink dress for his sister. I walked close to him. I could smell his perfume. I was in heaven!

I told Fatah Amin I was his great fan. I told him I watched all his dramas. I told him he was my greatest idol. He smiled. He thanked me. Then, Fatah Amin asked me to choose a blouse. He said he wanted to buy the blouse for me because I was his great fan. I screamed happily. I wanted to cry. I felt like I wanted to hug him but I knew I should not do that. I took his photos a lot. He was so sporting. I could take many photos with him.

Then, he asked me to have lunch with him. “OMG ….OMG…. OMG!!!” I was very happy. We walked to Mekar Cinta Café near the boutique. We walked together. I could still smell his perfume. It was really the best weekend in my life! I walked close to him. I felt so happy. I wanted to hold his hand but I was afraid people would gossip us. Many people were looking at us. I did not know what was in their mind. Maybe some of them were thinking that I was his girlfriend. I would be happy to be his real girlfriend!

I ordered chicken chop and apple juice. He also ordered the same thing. He said he wanted to eat what I ordered. Wow! He was so romantic! Suddenly, his mobile phone rang. He said he had an emergency. He had to leave. He quickly ate his food and then he left. He gave me his contact number. I continued eating alone but I was the happiest and luckiest girl that weekend!


ESSAY 4: SPM 2006 - How to keep oneself healthy

SPM 2016 - What is the best way to help teenagers to stay fit and

I am Dean. I am 16 years old. I am a handsome boy. I have a girlfriend, Nina. I want to be slim and healthy all the time. I do not want to be fat. People always laugh at fat people. They must not do that. I know I must keep myself healthy. I must not eat a lot. I must exercise a lot.

Firstly, I love to swim to exercise. I swim at Nina’s house. She comes from a rich family. She has a big house. The house has a big swimming pool. I swim because I want to keep myself healthy, not to show my sexy body. I go to Nina’s house on Friday, Tuesday and Monday. I swim from 10.00 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. sometimes I swim alone. Sometimes I swim with Nina. Sometimes I swim with Nina’s mother. Nina does not like to swim. She likes cycling.

Sometimes, I also cycle to exercise. Nina likes to cycle so Nina always joins me cycling. She rides her pink bicycle. I ride my green bicycle. We always cycle at Taman Kempas. The roads at Taman Kempas are not busy. Sometimes we cycle at Taman Jati and Taman Kemuning. Cycling is good for my health. Cycling makes me sweat more. I like to cycle in the morning. Sometimes, I start cycling at 7.00 a.m. If I wake up late, I will start cycling at 9.00 a.m. I do not like to cycle in the afternoon.

My friends get angry because I always exercise with Nina. They also want to exercise with me so sometimes, I jog with my friends. I jog with Nurin, Misha, Chung, Kent and Vishnu. They are classmates. We go jogging at the playground near my house. The playground has a good jogging track. There are many trees. Some trees are very big and tall. The air is fresh. We can breathe in fresh and clean air while jogging. It is a safe place too. We always jog for two rounds. Sometimes we jog for six rounds. All of us want to stay fit and healthy.

I love to exercise. I like to do many things to exercise. I know I must not stop exercising if I want to stay healthy.



SPM 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.

The bus was ready in front of the school at 7.00 a.m. I was ready. My friends were also ready. I was so happy to go camping. It was my first experience. The bus only left school one hour later and reached Ulu Rembau Forest Reserve at 10.00 a.m. The forest reserve was so quiet. I could only hear nature and smell fresh air. I saw some monkeys. I saw some eagles.[72 words]

We hiked a small hill for ten minutes. It was easy. It was not difficult. All forty students and ten teachers said the hiking was an easy. Then, we reached our campsite. It was an open space and it was surrounded by many big trees. There was a river in front of the camping site. I was very happy to see the river. I could see some fishes. I could not wait to jump into the river and have fun with my friends. I took a lot of photos. [89 words]

Our first activity was setting up our tent. I was in group seven together with my classmates Shaun, Halim, Gopal, Budriz and Jason. They were able to set up our tent in less than twenty minutes. I was very happy to see how fast they worked. Jason and Budriz were really good. They gave a lot of commitment. I wanted to help but I did not know what to do. I looked at what they did and learned slowly how to set up a tent. I felt bad for not helping them much but they said it was alright. [99 words]

Then, we had lunch. After lunch we had a break. I went to the river bank and I was very happy to see a group of fish swimming freely in the river. At 2.30 p.m. we went jungle trekking in the forest. Mr. Khan, our History teacher was with us. We walked for about one hour and I was very happy to see some wild animals such as monkeys and colourful birds on the trees. I was so happy and could not believe my eyes when I saw a very beautiful waterfall in front of me. I took so many photos along the way. Before it got dark, we walked back to the campsite. It was really a great jungle trekking. [121 words]

After dinner, our teachers told us to sit in our group and discuss our plan for our performance. My group members agreed to sing an English song, Perfect by Ed Sheeran. All of knew the song very well. We practiced until 10.00 p.m. We were confident we could sing well but had to stop as we were so tired. I could not open my eyes but I was super excited led for the next day. I knew there would be other challenging yet interesting activities for me to experience. [89 words]

[TOTAL 469 words]

The words that they underline can reveal to us many things about our learners. The number of the underlined words in each essay can tell whether they are genuinely poor learners or fallacious poor writers.

Note: The descriptions shared above are based on my personal experience coaching and guiding weak learners to write. Those descriptions may not fit exactly your learners’ backgrounds and/or your teaching context.

To conclude, as teachers, we need to know the truth among those who submit a blank paper or write very little for their essays in examinations. Is it because they can write but are very reluctant and unmotivated to do so or they genuinely cannot write due to their very low proficiency? As teachers, we must be able to identify all our learners very well. We must have a valid and convincing tool to know the potential of our weak and reluctant ESL writers. It is obvious that not all those who refuse to write essays in examination are poor writers who cannot be treated at all. We must always do our level best to develop our learners’ confidence and motivation to write. How? It is up to each individual teacher (As for me, I have been embracing these self-developed strategies; KONA, GORENG and Q-SCOPE. Please refer to the previous write-ups if you are keen to know about them). I know, it may not be easy in most cases but if we do not do it, who would? If not now, when?

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