Tell a Story

Today in my Tuesday/Thursday TOEFL class, they were asked to write an essay answer to the question “What would it be like to lose a friend, even for a good reason?”

These girls are 10 and in fourth grade. It’s a pretty heavy topic. And a page long essay? In their second language? These kiddos usually write 5-7 sentences. Not a pageful. And certainly not in the 25 minutes I have them.

For the first bit of class, we discussed the question. First and foremost: How could you ‘lose’ a friend? We first talked about how they could move away or change class so you don’t see them any more. We talked about how they could die and you would lose them forever (the Korean ferry incident was fresh in their minds, so they could actually really relate to that, even at 10 years old). Finally, we talked about how you could get into a fight so bad with a friend that you stop being friends, and lose them that way.

We always have these discussions before we start writing. It ensures the kids understand the question and how to answer it fully. Well, after discussing how one could ‘lose’ a friend, we moved on to how they would feel if the lost a friend. Their collective verbal answer? “Sad”.

Even if I got them to say that in a full sentence, they’d still only have one sentence and a page full of empty lines.

So I suggested to them that instead of directly answering the question, that they try writing a story about losing a friend. We talked about how the beginning could be about how good the friendship was; the middle about how the friend was lost; and the end about how bad it felt after they were gone.

I told them that the story didn’t have to be true for a test like the TOEFL, it just had to be well written and interesting. And that a story is sometimes easier to write instead of a direct answer. Especially if you needed to fill a page full of lines.

The good news is that Cindy followed my advice and her story turned out really good. I just hope that she remembers what I told them for future classes and future questions. I think that if she does, she’ll do well.

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