ESSAY writing is a language task commonly treated as mundane homework for most students.
But for Form Six students Carrie Ann Lim Yi Wen and Shalina Shamsul Bahri, it has become an exciting undertaking ever since they discovered a writing platform in The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout for secondary schools.
It all started in 2019 when Carrie Ann, through her mother’s “keen eye for detail”, came across call-outs in The Star newspaper asking Form Six and pre-university students sitting for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) to submit essays in response to the writing tasks provided.
Without hesitation, the St. John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur, student took up the challenge. Two years on, the 20-year-old has since seen her essays published three times – the latest of which was featured in this year’s first NiE publication, rolled out last Wednesday.
It was due to her active participation that her classmates like Shalina were inspired to also submit their essays to NiE’s Earn Your Band 6 column, which has been renamed Earn Your Band 5+ this year in keeping with the latest revision of the MUET syllabus, and changes to the test specifications.
In fact, Shalina went on to have her essays selected twice for publication, each time earning her three stars – the highest rating – in the column aimed at improving the English proficiency of those taking the MUET.
Apart from seeing their essays in print, the students – both of whom obtained Band 5 (the second highest grade) in the recently released MUET 2020 Session 2 results – won cash prizes and certificates of recognition endorsed by Star Media Group Bhd.
Carrie Ann expressed gratitude for the support shown by their MUET teacher, Ng Wee Mei.
“She was very supportive when we approached her for guidance. She also used printouts of our published essays, alongside feedback from NiE’s specialist writers, during our writing lessons so that all our classmates would benefit from the column, ” she said.
Shalina attributed her growing confidence in writing to her participation.
“When I read the feedback, I felt a sense of pride. Before this, I was always scared that my essays would be out of topic or my grammar would not be up to par.
“Writing the essays also helped improve my knowledge of the given topics. To complete the tasks, I had to do a lot of research, ” she said.
Spurred on by their positive experience, the duo, who described themselves as “writing buddies”, signed up for NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme 2021.
Open to students aged 14 to 22, BRATs offers a platform for participants to hone and showcase their writing skills, and interact with peers from across the country.
Carrie Ann, who aspires to be an English language teacher, hopes her experience as a budding journalist would serve as an inspiring story to tell her future students.
“Perhaps some of them would eventually develop an interest in writing, ” she said, adding that her participation has brought her out of her comfort zone as she sought out strangers for potential interviews, and wrote on topics beyond her usual scope.
Besides serving up writing platforms for students, the 16-page NiE resource is filled with a variety of content catered for use in an English language lesson.
Activities are organised into elementary, intermediate and advanced levels, focusing on three major segments – the English language, literature enrichment and character building. These three segments are titled NiE English, NiE Literature and NiE Life, respectively.
The pullout follows themes in the national syllabus and is endorsed by the Education Ministry.
It also includes key indicators that signal the types of 21st century skills practised in each activity – among them critical and creative thinking, and collaborative learning.
Other sections in the pullout offer PT3 and SPM exam worksheets, grammar games, mental health coping tips, and an episodic comic on We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, a novel which Form Three students are using as part of their English language literature component.
What Carrie Ann found “extremely helpful” as she browsed through the first NiE publication of the year are the infographics in the NiE English and Earn Your Band 5+ sections.
“Not only are they beneficial for factual essays, but the information also serves as general knowledge that may come in handy in our daily lives, ” she said.
“The BRATs creative responses to the NiE Literature section offer a more personal touch to the pullout, ” she added.
Shalina, on the other hand, took delight in activities designed based on comic strips taken from The Star newspaper.
“I love reading comics very much. So, having a chance to design my own comic strips is interesting to me. It also adds a little entertainment to classroom learning.
“Students can develop creativity as well as they are free to complete the speech bubbles as they like. There is no right and wrong answer. It can help boost their confidence, ” she said.
Entering its 24th year, the Star-NiE programme will continue to bring authentic, fun and interactive lessons to the English language classroom despite the disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teachers can plan their lessons ahead by referring to the topics listed in the NiE 2021 planner handed to them upon subscription.
Published bi-monthly on Wednesdays, NiE is written by a team of experienced English language teachers and specialists.
There are 20 issues a year, and each issue comes with a copy of The Star newspaper.
For more information, call The Star’s Customer Care Unit at 1-300-88-7827 from Monday to Friday (9am-5pm), or get in touch with the marketing representative closest to you.
Subscription is through schools only.
To join NiE’s online community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.