Writerite Weblog

June 22, 2008

Writing a formal letter to the newspaper

The following shows a typical situational writing question. Analyse the question and consider its requirements. Afterwards, read the answer Sample A and consider why it does not meet expectations. Then, read answer Sample B to learn new skills to write a convincing answer.

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Recently, the newspaper ran an article on how students are under great pressure having to attend intensive classes during the June school holidays. While some parents welcome the efforts put in by the school and its teachers, others feel that such pressure exerted on their children is unnecessary, especially if these students are not in graduating classes. The following which is an extract from the article, reveals differing views on the issue:

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The four-week mid-year school holiday has begun but many students and teachers will not get a proper break until one or two weeks later.

 

A check with 25 primary and secondary schools showed that almost all have some form of classes, mostly for graduating batches of students – Primary 6s and Secondary 4s and 5s. Only two schools – Raffles Girls Primary (RGPS) and Hwa Chong Institution – said they are not holding classes at all.

 

Many parents, whose children have to return to school for such “compulsory” lessons, say they do not see the point in them, especially when the children are not sitting for major exams at the end of the year.

 

Over at Zhonghua Secondary, its Secondary 4 and 5 students have compulsory lessons from 8 am to 315pm every day for the first two weeks of the holidays. Principal Dolly Ong said parents were advised early in the year not to take their children on a vacation. “Unless there is a family emergency, we want students to come back for the classes. They need the time to prepare for the examinations,” she added.

 

Mrs Susan Kiew, 49, a housewife who has two children in Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary, said the lessons would benefit her elder daughter who is sitting for the O levels at the end of the year. “If she has problems she can ask her teacher – it’s extra help for her and is better than staying at home,” she said.

 

Schools say they are careful to set aside time for teachers to rest. As RGPS principal Tan Siok Cheng, who stopped holiday classes five years ago, put it: “The girls get so tired, and some don’t show up because of vacation plans … so we target them throughout the school year, rather than ask them to come back during the holidays.”

 

~ Excerpt from “School Holiday: WHAT HOLIDAY?” of “The Straits Times” dated May 26, 2008.

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As a student in the graduating year, you have to attend school lessons during the June holidays. After reading the article above, you feel strongly about responding to it.

Write a letter to the forum page, voicing your opinion on the issue, explaining why you appreciate or criticise such a holiday programme and what students can do to deal with the stress presented by such a programme.

Write in correct English and a convincing tone.

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Sample A

Dear Public,

 

I am a Sec 4 student of an autonomous school. I am writing to express my views on the recent article in your newspaper.

 

Although I understand why schools have holiday programmes for students, I feel that since students face a lot of stress throughout the school term, during the holidays, they need to de-stress. However, more homework is given to students and students are forced to attend classes daily from early morning till late afternoon. What kind of holiday is that?

 

Teachers are worried that students will be lazy during the holidays and eventually do badly in the national exams. However, I think most of the time, teachers are just worried about their own work performance which is highly dependent on students’ grades and the school is obsessed with ranking so the principal and teachers force students to do as much work as possible during the holidays.

 

Unfortunately, they don’t realize that students are not punctual for lessons or fail to turn up or don’t pay attention in class at all because they are in the holiday mood. Moreover, some parents complain about such a programme because they want to take their kids for an overseas vacation yet they don’t want their kids to miss out on what the teachers are teaching during these lessons.

 

Also, why should we need these lessons if the teachers do their job well during school-term? And don’t teachers themselves need a holiday? In fact, some of my teachers have told us that they actually don’t want to conduct these lessons but the principal has forced them to do so.

 

In conclusion, I just want to tell all the unreasonable principals and teachers out there this: Even if you don’t have a life, we teenagers do! So let’s do away with such ineffective programmes and give us a much-deserved break!

 

By an angry teenage reader

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Sample B

123 Flower Road

Singapore 123456

 

26 May 2008

 

The Editor

The Straits Times

1000 Toa Payoh North

News Centre

Singapore 318994

Dear Editor

 

Response to “School Holidays: WHAT HOLIDAY?”

 

I am a Secondary 4 student of an autonomous school who would like to express my views on a recent article in your newspaper dated 26 May 2008. Personally, I fail to appreciate the effectiveness of such programmes even though I appreciate the teachers’ efforts in preparing the learning materials and in conducting the lessons.

 

The purpose of school holidays should be for students to take a break from the usual hectic school-life that they face during term-time. A typical student in a local secondary school has official lessons from morning till 2pm, only to be occupied with remedial lessons or co-curricula activities afterwards until evening-time. When home, he has hardly any time to rest as he has to complete several assignments due the next day. In many schools, students of graduating classes even have to attend evening classes that stretch from 6 to 9 pm! Therefore, it is not demanding of students to expect time to relax during this period.

 

Moreover, teachers deserve their time to reflect on their teaching and be re-energised so that they can better prepare themselves for the new term. In addition, parents would like their children to be able to spend some time bonding with the family, no matter whether they intend to take a vacation overseas. Most importantly, students themselves must learn to be independent learners who can balance the time spent resting and that revising their work.

 

However, if unfortunately, students have no choice but to attend such lessons during the holidays, they should adopt a positive attitude towards the programme and show appreciation of the teachers’ efforts and the school’s concern. Besides, such a programme will provide weaker students a chance to catch up on their work and clarify their doubts with the teachers. There are also some students who are ill-disciplined so they need such lessons to motivate them.

In order to ensure a balance between holiday lessons and relaxation time, students should manage their time efficiently. Once lessons are over, students can still catch a meal or a movie with friends or engage in a game of basketball. Furthermore, students still have the weekends to catch up on their favourite activities and sleep. For as long as students pay attention during these lessons, there is hardly a need to continue daily intensive revision after holiday lessons.

 

I hope my views are reflective of most students’ views and my advice can benefit some students who are in a similar situation as me.

 

Regards,

Sanjeev Pillai

 

 
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June 21, 2008

“Courage”

Many students like to attempt the single-word essay title using a narrative approach, assuming that they can easily write a relevant story. Unfortunately, bland language and lapses of logic in their writing cause them to be awarded a less-than-satisfactory grade.

Sample A shows a poor attempt while Sample B is a much improved version. Note the underlined phrases in Sample B — you may want to learn to use these phrases in your own writing:

 

Sample A

It was a silent and warm night, as usual. John was tossing and turning in bed as the heat was unbearable. 

Suddenly, in the still of the night, John heard someone shouting, “Help! Help!”. Instinctively, he got out of bed and looked out of the window, trying to find out who was in trouble. In the distance, across the main road, John saw a flat bursting in flames and the residents in the flat trying hard to put out the fire but to no avail. He saw a man, a woman, and a child.

Scared but brave, John picked up the phone and dialled for the fire brigade. After that, he dashed out of the house and hurried to the burning flat. By this time, his actions had disturbed his family members’ slumber and they too found out about the fire. Following John, they all rushed over to the burning flat.

When they arrived, a small crowd of curious onlookers had gathered at the field next to the block of flats. John, without hesitation, ran upstairs to the flat and knocked the door down with all his might. The fire was burning hot yet John bravely dashed in to save the people. The flames almost burnt John alive but he did not give up. First, he opened the way for the man and woman to leave. Next, he grabbed the child in his arms and dashed out of the burning flat.

Leaving behind the thick smoke, all of them managed to escape the crisis and reached safe ground. By then, the ambulance and fire engine had arrived. The firemen quickly put out the fire and the ambulance fetched the people to the hospital. John coughed as the smoke had choked him. However, the crowd cheered as John had been a courageous young man.

The next day, the headlines of the local paper wrote: “Brave Teen Saves Lives” and showed a picture of John. John’s family was very proud of him.

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Sample B

The overbearing heat of the still night threatened to cause John to suffer another sleepless night. He was disturbed by the sound of his own heavy breathing as well as the drone of the whirring fan at the foot of his bed.

When he stared at the carbon sky, he noticed a flash of forked lightning and a great clap of thunder which signalled possible reprieve from the unforgiving heat. Just as John was indulging in deep thought, he abruptly snapped out of his reverie when an almost incoherent scream of “Help! Help!” pierced through the initially serene neighbourhood.

Once he had managed to surmise the severity of the situation, John jolted out of bed and peered anxiously out of the window. The view in front of his eyes robbed him of speech. A flat in the block opposite his was engulfed in ferocious flames. Billowing clouds of thick smoke enveloped the surroundings, such that John could barely see the trapped residents in the burning inferno. The man was waving frantically while the woman was desperately trying to shield their child from the onslaught of the menacing blaze that was threatening to char them alive

After John had regained composure, he instinctively called the fire brigade for help. Immediately after, he darted out of house and sprinted towards the conflagration. It was a race against time for the victims and a challenge for John – he knew that he had to do something, even if it meant risking his life.

By the time he arrived at the scene, a huge crowd had gathered at the field opposite the blazing flat – some were harassed and panic-stricken residents who had escaped from their flat unscathed, some were curious onlookers who were more interested in the night entertainment while the rest were fervently trying to douse the fire.

John wasted no time – he rushed to the entrance of the flat, only to notice that the main door was bolted and the scorching heat radiating from the flat posed great difficulty for John. Yet John, without consideration for his life, kicked down the door with all his might. While he was attempting to crouch low as he made his way towards the screaming trio, John was met with a deafening explosion that rocked the building and threw John to the floor. Loud cries followed.

Undaunted though filled with trepidation, John crawled under the canopy of the billowing smoke towards the family. Unfortunately, John’s right arm was severely burnt by the intense flames and his eyes teared continuously from the sting of the smoke. Yet, this teenage hero’s unflagging determination to save the helpless family spurred him on, despite his life-threatening injuries. Once he had reached the desperate residents, he grabbed the crying child from her mother and led the reluctant family out of the hellhole. All of them ambled their way to safety as the thick smoke choked and temporarily blinded them.

The moment the group emerged from the impenetrable column of smoke, the crowd cheered uncontrollably for the unlikely hero. John whimpered, “Take the child” before gently putting the inconsolable child down and collapsing to the ground when his feet felt the safety of the grass. Even the wail of sirens of fire engines and ambulances could not rouse John from his unconsciousness.

The paramedics were quick in attending to the victims while the firemen hosed the fire down as the police cordoned off the area. As if aided by the heavens, just then, a curtain of rain pelted from the skies and eventually extinguished the intimidating raging monster. As day broke, the chaotic situation returned to normalcy.

The next day, the headlines of the local paper flashed: “Brave Teen Saves Lives”. Even though John suffered second-degree burns which required skin-grafting, John had no regrets for having plucked up his courage to save lives. John’s bravery made him a local hero and a role model for his contemporaries.

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You would have noticed that Sample A falls short of expectations because it is certainly too short and the story is bland. The characters are not well fleshed out at all and there are some lapses of logic. On the other hand, Sample B consists of sophisticated language and is engaging. 

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