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Be it PT3 or SPM examination, candidates are often given essay questions which require them to give descriptions in their essays. Their essay question could be about descriptions of a school event such as Canteen Day. It could also be about a picnic or camping with friends. Besides, the essay question could also involve the description of the cleanliness of their school canteen, an outing or educational trip.

Some PT3 and SPM candidates especially the average and weak ones sometimes do not know how to write descriptions well. When they do not know the way to describe, for example, a Canteen Day or a picnic, they will have problems in term of development of ideas. Most probably, their ideas are not well-developed and this will affect their mark especially among the PT3 candidates.

Therefore, what can ESL teachers offer to their average and weak learners who must develop ideas well? In this write up, I would like to share a strategy which I developed in 2012; 42211. It is created for my PT3 candidates who had difficulties to develop ideas well. They always asked this question, “What else should or can we write?” Based on my experience implementing 42211 among my PT3 candidates in the past, it is evident that this strategy could help them to expand the notes given with the relevant ideas and details. Similarly, 42211 has also been useful among my below average and weak SPM candidates; they are able to develop ideas and write more in a simple manner.

42211 stands for these items:

  • 4 descriptions of the place/ event/ person/ activity/ surrounding mentioned in the essay question

  • 2 actions done (what I or someone did – by the characters in the essay

  • 2 senses (things seen, smelt, touched, tasted or heard by the characters)

  • 1 feeling (felt by the characters)

  • 1 wish (hoped by the characters)

These numbers (4,2,2,1,1) are just guidelines. They are flexible; they can be changed. For an instance, it is fine for the candidates to write 3 descriptions, 3 actions, 2 senses, 2 feelings and 1 wish/hope. Moreover, it is also not compulsory for them to include all the five aspects each time they write (descriptions, actions, senses, feeling, wish) a paragraph. It is up to the candidates how they want to apply 42211 in their essay depending on the requirements of the essay question and the time they have to write each paragraph. Teachers must also highlight to the candidates the order of writing 42211 is also flexible; feelings can be written first, followed by actions and so on. The point is, as ESL teachers, we must highlight that 42211 is a PRACTICAL OPTION; a strategy that can guide them to write paragraphs which are more well-developed.

Sample Paragraph 1:

Last week, my family and I went to Jinjang Waterfall for a picnic. The waterfall was very spectacular (Description 1). It was surrounded by unique plants (Description 2). The two small waterfalls beside Jinjang Waterfall made it more beautiful (Description 3). My brother and I swam at the waterfall (Action 1). The water was very clear (Sense 1: sight) and it was also icy (Sense 2: touch). I taught my brother how to swim (Action 2). I liked swimming there (Feeling 1). I felt radiant (Feeling 2). We tried to catch a fish with our hands but we failed (Action 3). After swimming I felt very fresh (Feeling 3). I wished my mother and father could swim with us (Wish 1). [88 words]

Sample Paragraph 2:

My birthday party was great. I was happy (Feeling 1). I invited many friends (Action 1). My mother bought a big cake (Action 2). I loved the cake (Feeling 2). My friends came. Siti, Marissa, Nurul and Hasnah came to my party (Action 3). My friends and family members sang the birthday song to me (Action 4). My boyfriend, Alif also came (Action 5). He was handsome (Sense 1: Sight). He looked like Shahrukh Khan (Sense 2: Sight). I loved him (Feeling 3). We played games (Action 6). We played music chair (Action 7). It was the best party (73 words).

To conclude, no doubt our learners depend on us to guide them to develop ideas in their essays. Therefore, we need to offer them some kind of guidelines or tips how to do so. 42211 is just a simple strategy. However, it has worked well in my writing classrooms. Perhaps, you may want to offer 42211 or a revised version of 42211 (you adopt and adapt my 42211) to your average and weak learners. Hopefully, this shared strategy is able to help your learners become better writers, in shaa Allah.

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