Sunday, April 18, 2010

Teaching Sentence Construction to my Rural Kids

     I just had dinner after an exhausting but fun program with my pupils during the weekend. The first thing I did when I reached home was write a status update in Facebook.

     Well, needless to say, my teacher friends want me to share what I did with my pupils. So this blog post is written especially for them.
     First of all, dear teacher friends, I need to clarify that what I did with my pupils was what I think the best for them. I know my pupils - their strengths, their weaknesses - and so what I came up with was what I think would work for them. I guess what I am trying to say is, our pupils are different. The level of proficiency might be the same, but the surroundings and level of exposure are not. Therefore, for any activities at all to give a fruitful result, teachers need to be creative to adopt and adapt in order to suit their pupils' needs.
     Secondly, I have to warn that my activities are mostly very simple, because most of my pupils are quite slow learners. Some of the things that I do might not meet the approval of some hard core examination-oriented people, but I am just trying to be practical and realistic. My main objective is for my pupils to have fun in learning English, and hopefully, would be able to apply whatever that they have learned in answering the examination questions.
     Let me start with Sentence Construction.

Sentence Construction

     For Sentence Construction, I have drilled my pupils with some simple sentence patterns since January, in order to help them to have some ideas on how to construct sentences based on the picture given. I think most Year 6 teachers already know that the candidates do not have to use all the 10 words given. Because my pupils are very weak, I encourage them to concentrate on the picture instead of the words. My rationale? My pupils tend to use words that they do not know and so most of the time would come up with annoying sentences that do not have any meaning.
     My objective: to help my pupils to write sentences, however simple, that would at least make some sense. Heheh! Okay, so this is the method that I use. I give each and every pupil a card (I call it the 'SC' Card 1) that contains some guidelines for writing sentences, like this:

  1. Place / Location / Event
This is a (name of place / location / event).
e.g. This is Royal Paris Circus.
      This is a school canteen.

  1. People / Animals / Things / Plants
There is a (singular noun).
There are (plural noun).
e.g. There is a lion on the stage.
                   There are several pupils at the school canteen.

  1. Activities
(Singular subject) is (verb + ing).
(Plural subject) are (verb + ing).
e.g. The clown is holding the fire ring.
      The pupils are queuing at the counter.

  1. Adjectives (Feelings / Look)
(Singular subject) is (adjectives).
(Plural subject) are (adjectives).
e.g. The lion is brave.
      The canteen workers are busy.

     My pupils would bring the card everywhere, and every time I give them the Sentence Construction exercises, I would encourage them to refer to the card as guidance. Some hardcore markers might complain that this is actually 'template writing', but I beg to differ. My pupils have very little if no basic in English whatsoever. I spend almost a year to teach these kids whatever I can manage on Singular and Plural Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives. A year ago I had to start with zero. Applying this method enable me to help my pupils to write grammatically correct simple sentences, and I am floating on air now. We have been doing this since January, and not only can the children write simple sentences on their own, in the process they acquire a lot of new vocabulary because in order to complete the Section A task, they need to identify the location and the activities in the picture, as well as the appropriate adjectives that are related to the picture given.
     After several months of doing this, I notice that a few of my pupils have the potential to do more. And so, I come up with another card (the SC Card 2):

  1. Add adjectives
e.g. This is a busy school canteen.
      This is a crowded circus.
  1. Add adverbs:
e.g. The clown is smiling happily.
      The lion is jumping bravely through the fire ring.
  1. Write compound sentences
e.g. There is a lion and a clown on the stage.
      There are many types of food and drinks at
       the canteen.

  1. Write complex sentences (if you can)
e.g. The boy, who is carrying a basket of fruits, is
       helping the old lady to cross the road.
       The pupils, who are queuing at the counter,
        are buying something to eat.

     Now look at Number 4. I attended PGSD Head meeting last year where one speaker who is also a UPSR marker announced that complex sentence is actually not included in the KBSR syllabus. From the way she put it, I believe she did not recommend teachers to give our pupils a hard time by forcing them to do something that they are not supposed to learn yet. I agree with her with all my heart, but I went on and exposed my pupils to it anyway. To my pleasant surprise, at least two of my pupils are now able to write complex sentences almost perfectly. Well, for me, if they can do it, why limit their potential?

     Combining SC Card 1 and SC Card 2 has enabled me to provide a guidance for my pupils to write sentences that are grammatically correct. At first, my pupils would tend to write the same type of boring sentences that have the same structures, but after a lot (and I mean A LOT) of practise, the sentences that the pupils are able to give become more varied and more interesting.

     In a nutshell, what I actually did was:

     Number 1, I give my pupils a guide. I provide them with a set of sentence patterns. Call it 'template writing' if you must, but that was how I started. I have no other choice. My pupils are that weak.

     Number 2, I try to identify pupils who have the potential to do more. I expose them to ways on how to make their sentences more interesting by adding adjectives and adverbs. I also teach them how to write compound and complex sentences.

     For pupils who are still struggling, I just keep on doing Number 1 until they get it perfect. Hopefully someday they would be ready for Number 2. For the pupils in the 'almost there' category, I shower them with more vocabulary and reinforce their grammar knowledge.

     I think that is all there is to it, on Sentence Construction. Hope this helps. I will continue with Information Transfer and Verbs and Tenses in my next post. ;-)

P/S: Comments on how to improve the activities above are very much appreciated. Thank you! ;-)


  1. guess that u r teaching in kunak? bravos for the efforts! i m deeply encouraged by what you are doing for the kids, i m not a teacher...just someone who is living here for the past few years and noticed the lack of interest for English...have been trying to communicate with my staff but though they understand, they refuse to reply in English. Probably unable to construct a full sentence. Glad that you took the bold step forward! I wish you all the best in your teaching career and hopefully there will be SC4,5,6 and hundreds!

  2. Rena Bay, yes I have been teaching in Kunak for the past 6 years. About the lack of interest in learning English among Kunak people, unfortunately, I guess I have to agree with you.
    Thanks for the word of encouragements, I truly appreciate it. Coming from a non-teacher, it means even more! Thanks again!

  3. u rocks cyn!!!!! been thinking about this for a long time but couldn't really put it into actions- but you just do it so effortlessly....thanks a lot for sharing!!!;-)))))))))

  4. Haha! Cris, you know what, I believe every Malaysian teachers who teaches in rural areas must have had more or less the same idea. That's why I like to share. I hope by receiving feedbacks from others I might be able to improve on my 'method'. Hehehe...anyway, I'm glad you find this useful. ;-)

  5. nice tips and it's quiet good for me n my weaker pupils ... but still i can't downloading ur fully tips from ur blog.... anyway tq for e sharing...

  6. Hi Diana...unfortunately blogger does not support file downloads, so I am not able to provide anything other than ideas and tips. However, you may try to download files that I have uploaded in Scribd, here is the link: You may also find this file useful:

    All the best and keep in touch!

  7. i am not a teacher yet but soon will be. i'm taking special education course but this sem i got ELT methodology for LD students. for five hours I've been sitting in front of my laptop searching for materials for my presentation, and i saw your blog, voila! it's help even for just one subtopic. thanks for sharing! love your couragement! keep it up!!

  8. Thank you for everyone who has read this. However, I need to modify this 'technique' a little bit, after listening to a lot of talks by some very distinguished UPSR examiners. Please check out my latest posts!

  9. I am also a teacher in rural Malaysia, Lenggong, Perak. I have been working on sentence structure and struggling and came across your blog. Great ideas!! Thank you!

  10. Superb ideas you have got there. I would like to hear more ideas from you on teaching English. Well done! We need more teachers like you here. Thank you.....

  11. thank u ...i will use this magic method to teach my pupils..

  12. Hallo there!thank you so much for the tip!I am definately going to try it...I am in need of any help!Teaching is my great passion, but seems to come natural to me is hard to my Grade 1,s...what a challange!We will speak soon again...I am sure of that!

    Franzel Steyn

  13. thank you so much.. this is my first year teaching english in rural area and after a long time for not teaching English(teaching another subject instead).. and i have the same problems as you.. will try to applied this..hopefully is not late for them...

  14. Hye, i would like to ask for your consent if could use this method in my action research


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