5 Ways to Start a Primary School Composition
“What should I even type?” Ms Xie wondered. The stark whiteness of the blank page seemed to take up her entire field of vision. She was hit by writer’s block. Since her blog post was due on Monday night, she had to find a way to write something to wow her readers—and fast.
Was that introduction attention-grabbing? Wouldn’t you like to read more? Hi, I’m Ms Xie, and I’m thrilled to share with you five techniques on how to write a good introduction to your school compositions.
Students must be strategic when tackling composition questions and from the beginning of the story, there is already ample opportunity to capture the reader’s attention and to score. Adding on to our previous post on brilliant beginnings, I would like to share with you a few more ways to get your readers glued to your story right from the start.
Instead of “Last Sunday,”, or “One sunny day,”, students should make their compositions stand out by using the most appropriate method given for the topic. Here are five ways to help students.
1. Start With a Line of Dialogue
This is a great method to try out because it is suitable for almost any topic given. Let’s say that the topic is “Dishonesty” and the character found a wallet on the ground. Many students would write, “One sunny day, I was walking home from school.” However, the story would be improved with a line of dialogue. Using a line of dialogue to start should instantly add relevance and life to the story.
Before writing the line of dialogue, the student has to ask himself either one of the following questions:
How is the character related to this story? (Main character or a character that shows the setting e.g. a staff working at a cinema?)
What is the character thinking?
What is the character feeling?
What does the character want when he sees this?
An example of an eye-catching line of dialogue will be the following:
“Great! Now I can buy some ice cream!” I exclaimed as I picked up the wallet.
Not only is this a line of dialogue relevant to the story crafted, it also leaves the reader curious as to what is happening in the story by starting at an exciting point in the story.
What will an ineffective line of dialogue then? Some students tend to give very general lines of dialogue and write statements such as:
“We have arrived!” Or some other variant of “I am here!”
To make this more impactful, try being specific and stating where the location was in the story itself.
E.g. “Wow! I wonder what flavour I should choose,” I squealed while my eyes darted from one tub of ice cream to another. Last Sunday, I was at the ice cream parlour with my family.
Another example of a line of dialogue that is too general is the following:
“Bye, John!” my mother said.
This does not pique the reader’s curiosity and make him or her want to find out more. It also does not show how the character feels and what she is thinking.
“Remember to take out the trash, John!” my mother reminded me before she left the house.
Here is another pitfall. Can you tell why it is not ideal?
“I have found a wallet!” I exclaimed to myself.
This is an action. It’s far better to start a story by showing the action than to narrate it to the audience. Imagine that you are picking up a wallet. Do you say the action as you do it? No. Therefore, in such situations, if the student starts with a line of dialogue, he or she has to imagine what the person is thinking when he says it, which brings us to…
2. Start With a Thought
This is very similar to a line of dialogue, but what’s the difference? This technique would be used effectively especially if the character cannot say this thought aloud. Saying this thought aloud would get the character into trouble. Imagine that the character is about to take a test. Does the character say:
“Oh no! I didn’t study for it!” Jim shouted.
Jim probably would not be able to say this because he feels so nervous. Moreover, examination halls require silence. Instead, show his thought:
“Oh no, I didn’t study!” Jim thought as panic engulfed him. He started to sweat as he rifled through the pages.
Other scenarios in which this technique can be used are as follow:
A teacher is about to call on the student:
“Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me,” Jim prayed.
The teacher is about to end class:
“Oh, I hope Miss Lee forgets about assigning homework,” I crossed my fingers and prayed.
*Do bear in mind that the use of quotation marks to punctuate a thought (or internal dialogue) is not necessary. You will notice that many writers tend to express thoughts without the quotation marks like this during writing:
Oh no, I didn’t study! Jim thought as panic engulfed him.
Therefore, do not be alarmed if you come across thoughts that have been expressed as shown above.
3. Start With an Action
Not with any action, of course, but with an action that is usually happening at the climax or leading to the climax of the story. This opening action is particularly great for scenarios with violence in them, such as bullying. While we do not condone violence, we do acknowledge that problems such as bullying happen often in school. This is also a commonly tested topic in the examinations.
In this story, the bully is about to punch me, the victim.
We can start a story like this.
The bully raised his fist and glared at me.
This is a great way to begin a story because it creates a suspenseful atmosphere with the action by starting at an exciting point in the story.
This also works well for running a race:
I dashed down the racetrack, slightly behind my rival.
This technique lends well to the story about races because we get into the action quickly. Some students may use this technique for stories that deal more with emotions, such as sitting for an examination that one was not prepared for. Here’s what they may write:
I sat down in my seat and stared at the paper.
Do bear in mind that while there are no right and wrong answers for compositions, the action can more active to capture the reader’s attention. Try this instead:
I scribbled the answers to the questions.
4. Start With a Sound
This can be used for many stories, but are much better for emergency situations or stories about fires. This technique also lends well to action-packed stories with a lot of sound effects.
“Sizzle!” The frying pan crackled as I poured hot oil on it.
However, don’t use these sounds too often! If not, the teacher will get tired of reading them. Some common beginnings to avoid include:
“Chirp, chirp!” The birds sang.
“Riiing!” My alarm clock/ The school bell rang.
“Ding dong!” I rang the doorbell.
While it’s not wrong, many teachers have read this sort of beginning and it is not memorable. instead, focus on the loudest or the most important sound in the scene.
Alternatively, you can also write sound like this:
The car screeched when the driver pressed on the brakes.
5. Describe the Picture Used
Lastly, you can start by focusing on describing the picture given. For example, if the picture is important in the story, such as a fire, it would be wise to describe the fire at the start of the story.
Bright orange flames licked the base of the pan. Last Sunday, my mother was making pancakes.
If the weather is crucial to the plot, is the given topic or picture, then it is safe to start the story by describing the weather. Some topics may include “A Sweltering Day” or “A Storm”.
Remember, descriptions about the weather may not be helpful all the time. Many students still tend to describe the weather, even when the main character is indoors:
White magnolia clouds drifted across the sky and the sun beat down on everyone.
Thunder roared and lightning flashed.
While this may be acceptable, it does not jump straight into the setting straightaway. Neither does it start at the location of the story. Due to this, the student spends time creating one extra paragraph about making his or her way to the location of the story. It’s always wise to set the story at the location itself. The main character should only leave the setting towards the end of the story if need be.
Now that you know all of these five strategies, here’s your chance to make your school compositions more interesting! Although a lot of common topics may seem boring — A Fire, An Honest Act, An Accident — it’s up to you to find the joy in writing and make your story come to life! Hopefully, with these five beginnings, you’ll be able to come up with an engaging opening to pull your reader into the story.
Which of these beginnings would you use? Let us know in the comments!
Ms. Xie is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. Her best subject has always been English and she's been writing ever since she could hold a pen. Her first book, Dragonhearted, was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award in 2014 and published in 2016. It was also shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards in 2017. She also likes hugging fat cats. The fatter they are, the better.