Gone are the days when reading aloud in class or chanting grammar exercises by rote (stuff you used to do at school) was the norm. Children in P1 now enjoy creative, expressive and interactive activities like show and tell, journal writing and multimedia experiences like those found on the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Stellar.
But they now face new and different challenges. For one, there used to be less emphasis on “speaking up”; the more outspoken ones volunteered or were picked for activities like story-telling, while the introverts expressed themselves through writing and still developed the confidence to voice their thoughts without pressure.
“Now, when a child enters P1, she’ll need the ability to listen well and converse confidently with her teachers and peers,” observes Helen Marjan, managing director and director of studies at Lorna Whiston Schools. And it doesn’t stop with being able to connect with others verbally. “They will need to be able to attempt writing tasks with confidence and understanding. And to be able to read is key in all subjects.”
But Duncan Rose, head of schools, and Sarah Louise Mills, pre-school coordinator, from the British Council Singapore, caution against pushing children into areas that they may not be ready for: “Although most children pass through a predictable sequence of learning stages, they progress at different rates and in different ways. It’s vital that parents understand this.”
Our experts share some general expectations of the abilities and skills in the English language required of the average child.
WHAT IS EXPECTED
String sentences together According to Helen, kids should be able to pronounce words clearly, speak in compound sentences (“I carried the ball and Henry carried the skipping ropes”) and complex sentences (“After I went to the toilet, I washed my hands”), use correct grammatical structures for the most part and have good-sized vocabularies (about 5,000 words) that continue to grow rapidly. She says: “Children this age enjoy initiating conversations, should know how to wait their turn to speak during a dialogue and are typically able to include appropriate details when sharing personal experiences.” These details should, at times, include adjectives (“He is a naughty boy”) and adverbs (“I have to walk slowly; I’m having a tummy ache”).
Be descriptive “P1 pupils should be able to describe themselves, people familiar to them, and also comment on their immediate environment,” says Estee Tan, a trainer at Discovery Edu Cove. For example, a seven-year-old should be able say things like “I am tall and thin” and “I live in an HDB flat, but my living room is huge”. They should also be able to express basic needs, preferences and desires, she adds. These include statements like “I don’t like red; I prefer pink” and “I prefer the character to be in a park rather than on a beach”.
Say it in their own words After reading a story or having a book read to them, they should be able to answer questions about it, says Estee. Tackling a comprehension passage requires pupils to be able to ask and answer the five w’s of reporting: what, where, why, when, who. For example, “Who are the characters in the story?”, “What happened to the character in the story?” and the like. They should be able to tell stories and participate in simple role-playing activities, like narrating an act from a favourite storybook like The Three Little Pigs.
Understand about 100 common words Your child should be able to read and comprehend simple chapter books by the time she enters P1, says Helen, like the humorous Henry And Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant. More advanced readers may be able to tackle challenging chapter books such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. While the MOE doesn’t set a fixed number of English words that kids this age must know, Helen says: “The ability to recognise and read the 100 most common words (in the English language) – which make up a high percentage of print – is extremely useful.” What are some of these? Take a quiz at tinyurl.com/MostCommon.
Read aloud fluently Pupils are expected to be able to do this at the appropriate level, with normal sounding speech, says Estee. They should be able to apply the use of simple punctuation (such as question marks and periods), and vary their tone and inflection appropriately. In one-syllable words such as “meet”, they should be able to distinguish between the initial (“m”), medial (“ee”) and final sounds (“t”). They can make a list of rhyming words, then add, subtract or change sounds to make new words, such as “cap” to “cat” to “pat” to “at”.
Form basic words Understanding the basic letter sound system is essential, as it helps to spell the basic words or approximate the spelling of these words, says Helen. “Pupils are expected to spell three- and four-letter words, and use exclamation points, question marks and periods correctly in writing,” says Estee. Adds Helen: “Spelling may not always be correct at this stage, but it’s the content that’s of importance when children first start writing compositions. The spelling errors can be corrected together, so that the child can see how the word should be spelt.”
Compose a tale “The ability to form the letters correctly is an area that should be covered before your child enters P1,” says Helen. “By the end of K2, children should be able to write a short story of their own composition comprising at least three or four simple sentences.” Adds Estee: “They should recognise
the need to capitalise proper names, the first word of a sentence and ‘I’ as a pronoun. Pupils should be aware of the proper use of singular possessive pronouns (mine, hers), and they should be able to use the correct plural forms of nouns (child, children).”
Follow instructions Finally, being able to concentrate for longer periods, and having the ability to follow simple instructions and tasks, such as “Copy this down in your notebook”, are also indicators of whether your child is ready, especially when involved with writing tasks, say the Lorna Whiston experts.
Related: 10 fun English games for children
TRY THIS AT HOME
Share her experiences Ask her opinion on a variety of topics, and expose her to as wide a range of life experiences as possible, says Helen. “A child is much more likely to be able to talk knowledgeably about a train ride, for instance, if she has actually been on one,” she adds.
Stretch the fun Estee suggests that after reading them a story, parents can ask their children questions such as “Who are the characters in the story?”, “Where does the story take place?” and “What happens in the beginning, the middle and the end?”
Write it down Have a notebook available for her to write down the corrections, suggests Helen. “This can help her become more accurate with the spelling of words and these words can then be used for future reference.”
Communicate in proper English No matter how much input comes from tuition and school, it’s still essential for parents to be involved as much as possible with their child’s studies, says Helen. “Parents should communicate with their children in proper English – even when at home – to motivate them to continually improve their command of the language,” she adds. Encourage her to read. “When a child reads, she internalises new words and phrases, and picks up language in meaningful contexts that can then be used in her own speech,” says Helen.
Enrol her in speech and drama classes These can help tremendously in building children’s confidence and spoken language skills, and are a fun and effective way for them to become more effective communicators, says the Lorna Whiston Schools team.
Have her jot down her thoughts Children will be writing every day and recording journal entries throughout the week in most P1 classrooms, says Estee. She suggests that pupils can prepare these entries by generating their thoughts verbally, listing them on paper and then organising them into a first draft. After that, they can edit and revise to add detail and description.