Primary English Tips | An Exciting Story with a Great Problem (Application to NEW PSLE Format Questions)

Let's recapitulate on what we have mentioned in part 1 of creating a problem in your story: The presence of a problem is important for an exciting story and there are 5 types of problems that can be formed. (To read about these 5 types of problems in detail, you can check out the full post here.)

The new PSLE format provides a theme and three pictures in the question. Candidates are required to use the theme and at least one picture. As these pictures will not provide a complete story flow to the candidates, it becomes challenging for the pupils to think of a storyline and a problem in it.

Hence, we are going to look at
1.  How thinking of the problem starts from the theme.
2. How a COM statement will give a story idea to aid coming up with a problem
3. Stuck? How we can use the 5 types of problems to think of one.

An Exciting Story with a Great Problem

Tip 1. It all starts from the theme.

ANY theme can have an exciting problem. (Even "positive" ones.)

Looking at the given theme is definitely important as the problem of the story will have to reflect the theme that is given. Children have given me feedback that "negative" themes like "An Accident", "An Unfortunate Incident" or "A Mistake" are easier to tackle than "positive" themes like "Honesty" and "A Good Deed". Their explanation is that since the positive themes are so positive to begin with, it is hard to think of a problem for these stories.

However, there are always two sides to a story! Hence, "positive" themes can become negative when you look at their opposites. For example, a story on "honesty" can be a story about "dishonesty". "A Good Deed" can arise from something which is negative, for instance, a crime or a mistake on someone's part and the main character will hence perform the good deed by helping. 

Hence, look at the theme and break it down or flip it to become negative if you need to. Start writing down any possible problems that you can think of as you unpack the theme. Then, move on to look at the pictures and apply the "I see, I think and I link" strategy to know what else the question requires you to include in your story. As your mind fills with words related to the theme and the given pictures, you can start to generate a COM statement.

Step 2: Think of a COM statement.

Since a problem basically happens when the main character wants or needs to do something and something stands in his or her way, you need to come up with a COM sentence. COM stands for Character On a Mission and your COM statement will need to answer the question,  "What does the main character want or need to do?" or "What is your character and his/her mission?" Having a COM statement will help you to see the big picture of your story and is essential to make sure that a problem fits in nicely with the story. 

- A mischievous and playful girl needed to do grocery shopping with her mother

- A young man would like to go for an interview for his dream job.

- A lonely schoolgirl wanted to befriend the most popular group of girls in the school.

- The star player of the soccer team wanted to compete in the championships that weekend. 

You will realise from the examples above that this COM sentence needs to address who your main character is and what he/she wanted (to do). With the COM sentence formed, it will be easier to identify a problem or what is stopping the character. Remember, you need to take note of how the problem can fit into the theme and match the picture(s) given for the question

Step 3: Stuck: Use the 5 types of problems to brainstorm

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Sometimes, a possible problem may already be given in the question in the form of a picture e.g. a picture of a fire, a barking dog etc. Go ahead and use the problem provided if that is what you are most confident about. However, if you are really unable to think of any problem for your story or if you would like to explore alternatives to the obvious problem, the 5 types of problems learnt in the previous post is a useful and structured way to help you brainstorm about possible problems.

What should you do to prepare for the examinations?

Practise forming COM sentences before examinations! As mentioned at the beginning, the pictures will not give you a story flow and we need to know at least a rough idea of what our story is going to be about. A COM sentence will serve that purpose. For each COM sentence that you come up with, think about the 5 types of problems that the main character may face. This exercise helps you to build up ideas so that during an examination, you have a bank of COM sentences that you are ready to extract and apply to the theme and picture(s). Below is a sample of how you can record this down. (I added in some shapes and colours to make it pretty but you can do a simple map (: )

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I hope you will have a clearer idea on how to prepare yourselves and what to do during the examination to brainstorm for a good problem. Like, share and subscribe if you find the tip useful! Leave a comment if you have any questions and I will be happy to help. 

The Write Recipe - Composition Paper 1 Online Course

The Write Recipe

  1. Learn about how to plan your writing
  2. Know the key ingredients to create exciting content during planning
  3. See the flow of your story with our unique paragraph-by-paragraph structure (New!)
  4. Application to questions with the PSLE format