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1. Describing People
Let’s start looking at what you shouldn’t do. Read this text:
My Best Friend (250-300 words)
“My best friend’s name is Stephen. He is tall and thin. He is strong. He has got brown eyes and brown hair and his hair is quite short and curly. Stephen is my friend because he is a good person he is happy and he helps me. He broke his leg once and he cried but he is usually a happy person.
He has got two sisters one older than him and one younger than him and he lives in the same town as me. We went to the same school together and he was very naughty, like me. Now he goes to University because he is very clever. He is bad sometimes but sometimes he is quiet and shy.
I met Stephen when I was six years old at school. At the beginning we weren’t friends but now we are because he is a good person and we always have a good time when we see each other. He smiles a lot but we don’t see each other very much now because he is at university and I am still in our town. It’s a bit sad I don’t see him so much but when we see each other we meet and have a drink and talk about things together and I like that.” (215 words)
What do you think of this description? Grammatically, it is perfect- there are no mistakes in spelling either……. but I would not give it more than 5/10. These are the reasons:
Doesn’t explain (Good? Bad? Clever? Quiet? Naughty? Shy? Give examples!!)
Badly used punctuation
Basically, this fails because it does not do the job- I do not know anything real about Stephen because he has not been described. So let’s try again:
My Best Friend (250-300 words)
“I met Stephen on the first day of primary school. Although we live in the same town we had gone to different infants’ schools and we hadn’t known each other since then…..”
-Bang! That’s a good start. We have a structure, which means we know what we are going to say, which is essential.
A structure is basically a washing line where we can hang all our grammar, vocabulary and so on. If we don’t have a structure and we don’t know where the composition is going we’re going to repeat ourselves and the text will be very basic: Here, for example, we have already used three tenses (Present Simple, Past Simple and Past Perfect) which is more than the whole first text, and now we can go on to use Past Continuous….
“It was raining outside when we went into the classroom. I was feeling nervous and I wanted to sit next to my cousin Patrick, but Stephen – who knew him from infants’ school- was already there. I don’t remember what we said to each other but we were both punished- What a way to start school and start a friendship!”
-It is far more specific in its detail than the first text (and I am inventing) which makes it much easier to write more, automatically using a wider range of grammar and vocabulary:
“Now me, Patrick and Stephen are best friends: we’ve had a lot of fun times together, and we’ve done a lot of things we shouldn’t have- knocking on people’s doors and running away, changing people’s washing with their neighbours’ – doing what kids do everywhere. We’ve had some bad times too- Stephen once broke his leg when we wanted to see who could climb a tree the fastest!”
-We have a much better idea of Stephen- the image is becoming clearer. Grammatically we have now used the Present Perfect and put a Modal (should) in the past.
-We have started from the beginning, using Past Perfect, Past Simple and Past Continuous. We have moved on in time to use the Present Perfect. Now we are going to use the Present tense and finish off with a Future or/and a Conditional- A structure does not have to be complicated!
“Although we were (and still are!) quite naughty together, Stephen is in fact quite shy- especially when he meets a girl! He’s good-looking: tall, slim with wavy, light brown hair and blue eyes, and I think girls like him because he has a very warm and friendly smile. We always make fun of him because he acts very politely. Really, Stephen is the type of person you can go to when you have a problem. He has helped me hundreds of times, lending me money, bringing and taking me to places, giving me good advice.”
-Here I’ve included a comparison, which always gives an extra factor to the composition.
“I am a lot more outgoing than he is. Stephen is quieter and he isn’t as impulsive. We don’t see each other as much as we used to- He studies Philosophy at Oxford University, and I’m working with my Dad. I’d like to think that even if life takes us on different paths, we’ll still meet up together in fifty years and laugh about that first argument we had together!”
-I have gone over the word limit! This isn’t a good idea, but it shows that when you stop and think about what you are going to write, you’ll have no problems with ideas (and remember: this is completely invented!)
-If you start writing the first thing that comes into your head, the composition will be poor, and you will end up wasting time in the middle: ‘And what do I write now?’
Barcelona is my favourite city. It is in the north-east of Spain on the coast and it is very big. It has got beaches, cathedrals and museums. You can see Gaudi’s architecture. The Sagrada Familia is very blablabla………
Not Good! Basically, the idea of describing a place is the same as describing a person, and you should follow the same guidelines:
– Think of a Structure (Past-Present-Future)
– Try to include some comparisons.
– Don’t just use a list of adjectives: Justify and demonstrate each one with examples.
– Repeat as little as possible, and never in the same paragraph.
– Use your paragraphs and punctuation to make reading easier.
– You can give us a better idea if you explain your relationship with the place, and what it means to you personally.
My Favourite Place (250-300 words)
“I had been born just one month before when my family packed their bags and we drove to Cornwall to visit my gran. Every year and every summer of my childhood this was repeated, and this county has always been for me a second home.
As a child, Cornwall meant wide beaches with terrific waves that knocked you over when you went into the sea, or smaller coves flanked by rocks, leaving pools at low tide where you could look for crabs and shellfish. When I was a bit older my parents often left me with my brothers to walk along the coast, and in the evenings we used to eat pasties and icecreams in the fishing ports on the South coast.
As my parents now live in this county, it is still an important part of my life. I love the rough and wild landscape of the North side; up on the cliffs by the empty tin mine chimneys, looking down at the lines of white surf. I have got to know the South coast more, too- its softer lines and quieter coast, the impressive Falmouth bay, and the genteel elegance of the capital, Truro.
Cornwall isn’t for everybody- It is the rainiest region of a rainy Island, and you can feel far away from the action and the events of England’s big cities. Everything seems slower, quieter, more in the past. If I was asked if I wanted to live there, at the moment my answer would be no- but I will always return to Cornwall, and Cornwall will always be with me.”
Did you like it? (This one isn’t invented).
Notice the division of paragraphs:
Short introduction – Past – Present – Comparison/Conditional/Future (including passive)
I understand that as a native English speaker I have an advantage with the language- ‘smaller coves flanked by rocks’, ‘up on the cliffs by the empty tin mine chimneys’ are not likely to be written by anyone who isn’t a native English speaker (and doesn’t know Cornwall well)- but you can’t use this as an excuse, because the general guidelines that I have given you can be applied to any level.
3. Your turn! Try writing about:
Someone who is an example for me.
My best holiday destination.
A friend I have lost touch with.
A painting, building, or work of art.