PSLE English | Situational Writing: Step-by-Step Guide + Free Revision Card

After some Q & A for situational writing in the previous post, I believe a walkthrough on the process of doing situational writing is in order. A lot of children neglect the preparation process before doing the actual writing and this often results in missing information or a disorganised piece of writing. Before we dwell into the process, let's have a better understanding of the requirements for content and language for this component. 

Content

Content makes up 6 out of the 15 points in situational writing. Children are required to give information according to the list of prompts in the questions. Contrary to some children's understanding, answering all the prompts does not guarantee you full content marks. On top of finding all the required information, what else do candidates need to do? Based on SEAB's assessment objectives for Paper 1, in order for pupils to score in their content for their writing, it is crucial for them to show a good understanding and awareness of the purpose, audience and context.

This means that pupils need to be able to judge

Purpose: the reason that they are writing
Audience: to whom are they writing
Context: the situation for the writing and whether it needs to be formal or informal. 

It is only when all the key information is provided with a clear understanding of the purpose, audience and context that a full score of 6 points can be given. 

Language & Organisation

Making up 9 points, the language and organisation portion of situational writing can be secured when the writing is presented in a grammatically accurate manner with clear sequencing of ideas. This means that candidates should strive not to have any errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation. They also need to make sure that the key information are arranged in a sequence it easy for readers to understand and follow.

Even though the question usually states that candidates may rearrange the order of the prompts, I would advise my children to answer according to the sequence provided. Firstly, the prompts are usually arranged in a clear chronological order (e.g. purpose --> date --> what happened --> your feelings about the incident) so there really is not much need to rearrange. Secondly, following the order given actually aids the markers during marking as they do not need to hunt for the points which are rearranged. Aligning your answers according to the answer key that the markers have will definitely be something that markers appreciate.

Now that we have a clear understanding of the expectations for situational writing, here is my take on what should be done during the process of attempting a situational writing question

Step 1: Read the situational stimulus (pictures or poster etc.) carefully.

Read through the entire stimulus carefully. For comic strip-like questions, you may make notes on the pictures where there is no dialogue (e.g. boys falling down, covered in bruises). This may be helpful to aid you in your understanding.

Step 2: Read the information in the task box. Get ready to pick up vital information.

As you read the information in the task box, there will be vital information such as:

1. Who you are (At times)            [Is a name given or is it your name? Is a surname needed?]
2. The person you are writing to  [Dear Sir, Dear Mr Raj, ?]
3. The purpose for your writing   [request... appeal... complain... sharing]

Highlight and label all these vital information as they are going to be very useful for your writing later on. Here is how I would teach my children to highlight these points using the PSLE situational writing questions in 2012:

The three pieces of vital information to look out for have been picked out using different colours. 

The three pieces of vital information to look out for have been picked out using different colours. 

After reading the task requirements, you will be able to know whether your writing should be formal or informal. Remember, a formal piece of writing is usually to people of authority (e.g. the principal, manager) or people whom you are not familiar with (e.g. the residents of your neighbourhood). If you are writing to a friend or relative (e.g. "John" or your cousin), the writing will most likely be informal.

Step 3: Read and number the points that you need to answer.

As mentioned above, In order to have a chance of scoring full marks for content, the first step is to make sure that we have all the key information provided.

There are 6 marks given for content and the primary criteria to have a chance of getting full marks for content is to pick up the 6 points required. Whether there are 5 or 6 prompts, we should be able to split and number them into 6 points. 

Step 4: Highlight and number the answers for the 6 points

The answers to at least 5 out of the 6 points can be found in the stimulus or task box. Children often neglect the task box when it actually contains valuable information. In Step 2, I talked about identifying the purpose for your writing while looking at the text box and that is a common point that children are required to answer. Hence, pay close attention to the stimulus and task box. Highlight and number the points clearly so that you do not miss out any points during your writing.

Step 5: Write! Start it right!

Now that you know about your PAC (purpose of writing, to whom are you writing, whether the letter should be formal or informal) and have numbered all your points, you are ready to write! A few pointers to remember are:

1. Format: To the left, to the left!
Remember that all parts of the writing are flushed to the left except for the beginning of a new paragraph.

2. Salutation
Always use uppercase for your addressee: Dear John/ Sir or Madam (for someone who do not know the name of)/ Grandmother

3. Greeting
Use a greeting only when you are writing an informal letter ("How are you?"). Omit this if you are writing a formal letter.

4. Complete sentences
Only use standard English and complete sentences, even for informal writing. Informal writing only means that you can be friendly, it does not mean you can use slangs or non-standard English.

5. Tick the points
For each point that you have answered, put a tick to check it off. This ensures that you do not miss out answering any points.

Step 6: Write the right length!

Keep it simple. Do not be longwinded in your writing and include lots of irrelevant details because you feel that it sounds nice. Writing more does not give you more points! Remember, your focus is on answering the 6 points. It is important for your writing to sound authentic rather than just a few paragraphs listing the answers to the points. However, adding too much unnecessary details is not going to help. In fact, it increases your chances of making grammatical errors and cuts down your time for continuous writing.

To add fluency and connectedness to your point, add just a line or two that help to join the points. Using meaningful connectors and time phrases (e.g. In addition, Eventually, At the end of our meal) helps too. 


Pupil A: We had to wait for fifteen minutes before the waiter came over with the menu. When we were ready to order, we had to wait another fifteen minutes. The waiter was very rude and told us to wait. This ruined our celebration for my mother's birthday. 

Pupil B: From the time that we were seated, we had to wait for fifteen minutes before the waiter came over with the menu. When we were ready to order, we had to wait another fifteen minutes. To make matters worse, the waiter used a very rude tone to ask us to wait. The long waiting time and the waiter's rude attitude ruined our celebration for my mother's birthday.


While it is great that Pupil A was very straightforward in answering the points, it is also true that her writing showed very clearly how the points are being reported in an unnatural manner. On the other hand, Pupil B's writing made answering the points more authentic as he weaved in connecting phrases between the sentences. In addition, Pupil B demonstrated how fluency is achieved without needing to put in unnecessary details such as the food that they ordered or his family's reactions (which is not required by the question). 

Step 7: End right.

1. A smooth ending
Do not end abruptly. In my comparison chart in the previous post, I mentioned that signing off should be not abrupt. You may want to try and end off by giving a "I hope..." or a "I look forward to..." statement.

For formal writing, you can end off by restating the purpose of your letter or stating the action that you hope the management will take. For informal letter,  you can typically end off with "I hope to hear from you soon." or "I look forward to your reply." 

2. Signing off correctly

Informal writing

  • "Best regards," 
  • No surname needed (Anna)

Formal writing

  • A full name with the surname must be used.
  • Now, here is a tip on an area that SEAB is pretty strict about this year: the use of "Yours sincerely" and "Yours faithfully". Starting from this year, there is a differentiation in the two ways to sign off. This is determined by the term of address of the person you are writing to. 

Yours sincerely
The name of the person whom you are writing to is given. (e.g. Mr Raj, Ms Tay.)

Yours faithfully
The name of the person whom you are writing to is unknown (e.g. Sir or Madam, the store manager, residents in your neighbourhood)

Step 8: Read through.

At the end of your writing, it is time to read through to check that 

1. Content - all the key information is provided
                 - the tone and sign-off are correct
2. Language - the language is accurate and expression is clear.
 

Good news!

After the update I received about the how SEAB's particular about the usage of an appropriate sign-off (Step 7), I have updated the comparison chart for formal and informal writing to include signing-off.

More good news! 

Similar to the oral Lil' Steps to Success (step-by-step) revision cards, I have done up a situational writing revision card to summarise the steps above. If you had found our revision cards for oral useful, this will be a handy tool for your child to refer to when he or she practises writing too.

Download guide and card here.

Lastly, we are just 1 month away from releasing our 2016 schedule! During this period, we have received several enquiries from interested parents and we are just as excited as you are about the upcoming year. We will be doing an advanced release to our subscribers before 1 October so if you have already subscribed to our blog, do watch out for our announcement mailer!

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.