How to teach writing (Language/Humanities)

While working in the public education sector, I read an author who said that writing couldn’t be taught, merely encouraged (by getting the learner to imagine that they were writing to someone for specific purposes). Well this book presents another view. Marilyn Lewis puts quite a few ideas and tips in Teaching writing (2009 / Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre). I present some notes below; and pushing beyond what Lewis opines, I believe these ideas can also be used in Humanities besides non-English language writing.

Selected approaches

Structural focus (p.2 – 4)

  • sentence creation/replication via reading and samples
  • danger: English becomes error prevention or reduction

Content centred (p.13 -14)

  •  cross subject
  •  general knowledge (relatable/contextualised to age, location, community etc.)

Teaching Practices

  • (p.18) cloze passage of texts/answers (possibly words / phrase)
  • sentence sequencing of texts/answers (SAT, run by the US College Board and the Cambridge English Assessments at the B2 and C1 levels utilise sequencing as test questions)
  •  (p.23 – 28) teaching concepts of coherence and cohesion where cohesive devices are subsets
  •  (p.41) true/false (potentially for testing?)
  •  (p.47) collaborative writing; maximum of 5 learners to discourage free-riding
    •  pass it round (3 students/ 3 sheets each/ group): learner writes topic sentence to argumentative essay; next student writes counter-argument; next student writes rebuttal to counter-argument; groups read and check whether process is properly done; best examples via students’ self-selection are read to whole class (adjust the group size as needed)
  •  (p.53 – 54) peer feedback
    • requires checklists e.g. for conclusion / whole essay
    • danger: may become too rigid; need to avoid embarrassing or discouraging learners
  •  (p.61) set up and supervision of a class webpage

Marking (p.64 – 70)

In my view, it is vital inform the learner what exactly you are marking for. If you mark everything in great detail then efficiency may fall, and you might suffer burnout… At any rate, Lewis refers to:

  • marking for ideas
  • appropriateness e.g. formality, tone
  • student initiated focus e.g. evidence of wider vocabulary; distinguishing of introductions and conclusions
  • consultations
  • single paragraph zoom in (with symbols to induce learner to identify errors, missing punctuation/words etc; praise beautiful vocabulary); this is combined with more basic general comments elsewhere
  • full sentences to make clear, constructive suggestions / areas for improvement
  • observe student responses to marking and adapt accordingly

Translating French – Napoleon III

[Timeline for Napoleon the Third] Vie et Regne de Napoleon III. (accessed 6 Oct 2019). Fondation Napoléon.

1863, 11 août (August): Ratification du protectorat français sur le Cambodge.

  • Ratification of the French protectorate over Cambodia. (PONS GmbH, Stuttgart – DeepL Pro)

Les États membres ont ratifié l’accord. = The member states have ratified the agreement. (Linguee)

Les deux pays ont signé l’accord commercial. = Both countries have signed the trade agreement. (Linguee/DeepL Pro)

The member states have ratified the agreement. = Les États membres ont entériné l’accord. (Linguee)

La commission a entériné le projet du ministre. = The commission endorsed the minister’s project. (Linguee)

Elle a signé les formulaires avec un stylo bleu. = She signed the forms with a blue pen. (Linguee)

1864, 25 mai (May): Loi sur les coalitions accordant le droit de grève.

  • Coalitions Act granting the right to strike. (Systran Translate)
  • Law on coalitions granting the right to strike. (PONS GmbH, Stuttgart – DeepL Pro)

Je vous accorde une heure, pas plus. = I’ll allow you one hour, no more. (Larousse dictionnaires bilingues)

Voulez-vous m’accorder cette danse? = May I have this dance ? (as above)

Ils sont jeunes, je vous l’accorde. = They’re young, I grant you that. (modified from above source)

See also:

  • For an Historic Review of Napoléon III. Nicolas Bustamante. (accessed 6 Oct 2019). The Medium.

Translating French – Charles de Gaulle

It was generally a pleasure to use Easy French reader : a three-part text for beginning students (2015) by De Roussy de Sales, R. (Richard); it comes under the McGraw-Hill Education (New York) brand. [Apart from several hardcopies from the National Library Board (Singapore) branches, there are e-books on Overdrive.]

This post combines French history with very limited French translation derived from the above book. Translations can be identified by Blockquote / italicisation. Cross references can be found at the end of the post.

Charles de Gaulle

De Gaulle was a French general and statesman, leader of the Free French during World War Two and the architect of the Fifth Republic. His political ideology, ‘Gaullism’, has become a major influence in French politics…

After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, de Gaulle was given a hero’s welcome in the French capital. As president of the provisional government, he guided France through the writing of the constitution on which the Fourth Republic was based. However, when his desires for a strong presidency were ignored, he resigned. An attempt to transform the political scene with a new party failed, and in 1953 he withdrew into retirement again…

In 1958, a revolt in French-held Algeria, combined with serious instability within France, destroyed the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle returned to lead France once more. The French people approved a new constitution and voted de Gaulle president of the Fifth Republic.

BBC. (2014 / accessed 19 Sep 2019). Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970). History. 

La nouvelle constitution a approuvée par référendum à quartre-vingt pour cent des voix en 1958. La Cinquième République a proclamée, et de Gaulle a élu président de la République en 1959. Mais au mois de mai 1968, des étudiants et ouvriers ont demandées la démission du général de Gaulle.

The new constitution was approved via referendum by 80% of the vote in 1958. The Fifth Republic was declared, and de Gaulle was elected its president in 1959. But in May 1968, students and workers asked for the resignation of general de Gaulle.  

He managed to stave this off. Nevertheless, he fell from power in 1969 and died in 1970.

References / Further study

Shortly after his return to Paris, de Gaulle announced that the citizens of France would determine their future governmental system as soon as the absent prisoners and deportees could be repatriated. That process was largely completed by midsummer 1945, soon after Germany’s defeat, whereupon de Gaulle scheduled a combined referendum and election for October. Women, for the first time in French history, were granted suffrage. By an overwhelming majority (96 percent of the votes cast), the nation rejected a return to the prewar regime. The mood of the liberation era was marked by a thirst for renovation and for change…

The structure of the Fourth Republic seemed remarkably like that of the Third; in actual operation it seemed even more familiar. The lower house of parliament (now renamed the National Assembly) was once more the locus of power; shaky coalition cabinets again succeeded one another at brief intervals, and the lack of a clear-cut majority in the country or in parliament hampered vigorous or coherent action. Many politicians from the prewar period turned up once again in cabinet posts…

Many of the new men who had emerged from the Resistance movement into political life, business posts, or the state bureaucracy retained a strong urge toward renovation as well as to a reassertion of France’s lost greatness.

This altered mood helps to explain the economic growth that marked the later years of the Fourth Republic… The only serious flaw in the boom was a nagging inflationary trend that weakened the franc. Short-lived coalition cabinets were incapable of taking the painful measures needed to check this trend.

A less fortunate aspect of the national urge to reassert France’s stature in the world was the Fourth Republic’s costly effort to hold the colonial empire… The constitution of 1946 therefore introduced only mild reforms: the empire was renamed the French Union, within which the colonial peoples would enjoy a narrowly limited local autonomy plus some representation in the French parliament…

On the night of October 31, 1954, barely six months after the fighting in Indochina ended, Algerian nationalists raised the standard of rebellion. By 1958 more than a half million French soldiers had been sent to Algeria—the largest overseas expeditionary force in French history…

Gabriel Fournier, Jeremy David Popkin and Others. (18 Sep 2019 ). France. Encyclopædia Britannica.

Cartoon Learning & Thinking

Recently I used 5 cartoons to provide an overview of the Cold War (for General Paper/Singapore GCE A Level syllabus i.e. pre-university). This was a first for me. (Earlier I also experimented with ‘This Day in History’ to induce learners’ interest, in other words, it was to capture or hook class attention before entering the main topic).

By way of reflection, I read (before class) and re-read (after class) That’s Funny: Political Cartoons in the Classroom by Thomas DeVere Wolsey [Teaching Visual Literacy. (2008). Corwin Press. Chapter 6]. This post records my notes and thoughts.

(p. 117) Wolsey begins expounding on Cartoon Thinking (paraphrased where possible)

  • Look at all the details from the cartoon, as far as possible
  • Link to existing knowledge on the subject/topic
    • (p. 120) Where students lack the background knowledge to recognise, say a figure in the cartoon, the teacher should give a direct answer.
  • Infer (guess) the causes and effects
    • (p. 120-121) Teachers may need to inject questions about the arrangement of the cartoon characters, their size, the word/thought bubbles etc.
  • Create “personal connections”
    • (p.122) Encourage students to produce their own questions that fuse the themes in the cartoon to their present concerns; this builds in depth learning.
  • Use (other) evidence to buttress the inference (guessing)
    • (p.122) Consider showing similar cartoons by the same artist (thus additional cartoon exposure is one cure: and I agree!)

I believe alternatively that we could use cartoons that contradict the initial cartoon to activate discussion.

Previously, I had also used one cartoonist biography to spark learning.

(p. 123) Based on a 7 Jan 2006 interview with Social Studies teacher John Little, with time students become more competent at cartoon analysis and gain more joy from it. They likewise become more inclined to view the news to aid their cartoon discussions in class. Hence, information gathering remains vital (and unsurprisingly so).

See also:

Lee Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards Spalding. (2016). A Brief History of the Cold War. Regnery Publishing.

Global Financial Crisis (2008) – Math Lens

This post – Markets Crashing (2008) – Math/SS/GP – is my third try to explain the financial crisis that exploded from the US in 2007 (of course you can argue that it was the international excess of credit which created the conditions for the widespread mortgage loans within the US in the first place); the fallout then hit much of the world, including Singapore.

You can distinguish the latest attempt in that it uses statistics, probability, and some science to breakdown the reasons for the crisis. It was originally meant as a teaching tool. Hope it proves to be a good read!

Earlier efforts / Relevant posts

French – by translating – 9/11/2018 – Book

Roger-Pol Droit. (9 Nov 2018). Robinson Crusoé à travers les siècles. [] Paris. “… Les Echos is the leading French business and economics daily. Owned by luxury brands group LVMH… characterized by a liberal political outlook.” Les Echos. (18 Jan 2017). [Note: This post was adapted from Brant deBoer’s translation, The Timeless Relevance Of Robinson Crusoe, published 3 Jan 2019 in Worldcrunch].

Les raisons de ce triomphe sont multiples, trop nombreuses pour être méthodiquement cernées. Pérégrinations et péripéties sont décrites avec une précision minutieuse (plus étonnante encore quand on sait que Defoe n’a jamais voyagé !). Censé décrire un itinéraire spirituel – la rédemption d’un ancien négrier qui découvre l’humanité -, le roman est devenu, comme malgré lui, une référence incontournable des lectures de jeunesse.

There are multiple reasons for this success, too numerous to be methodically defined here. Crusoe’s travels and adventures are described with meticulous precision (all the more surprising given that Defoe never actually travelled!) Supposed to describe a spiritual journey of redemption of a former slave trader who discovers his own humanity, the novel despite itself, has become indispensable youth reading.

‘Pérégrinations’ = ‘travels’

Il nous a raconté ses pérégrinations en Chine. = He told us about his travels in China.

‘quand on sait que’ = when you know that = ‘given’

‘n’a jamais voyagé’ = Passé Composé tense used with never = ‘never actually travelled’ [actually added for emphasis in English version]

‘Censé’ = ‘supposed’

‘itinéraire’ = path (figurative) = ‘journey’

‘comme malgré lui’ = (how) ‘despite itself’

‘une référence’ = OMITTED: for smoother translation = Linguee ( gave one rare translation as ‘standard’ which is probably the most suitable

‘incontournable’ = (inévitable) que l’on ne peut pas éviter = that can’t be overlooked = ‘indispensable’

Additional references

Join us in the fight for Truth!

In December 2018, I was privileged to meet someone who travelled the world more and has seen it much more than I have.

This post is partly inspired by him as I seek to promote News Literacy. This post takes two tracks. The first discusses – the Lügenpresse (German: lying press). The second explains how one achieves greater objectivity (impartiality).


In Dec 2018, news broke that Claas Relotius, the German Reporter Award 2018 recipient, admitted to fabricating news. He resigned thereafter. From the same Deutsche Welle (or DW, international German broadcaster) article, we see that Relotius took the 2014 CNN Journalist of the Year award for writing on US prisons. This sparked attacks on news media through cries of “lügenpresse”.

The phrase “lügenpresse” means “lying press” in German. While its roots have been said to go back to the 19th century, it is mostly known for its use by the Nazi party to delegitimize the media and invalidate its reporting.

Eric Cortellessa. (24 Oct 2016). Trump backers berate journalists with Nazi-linked term at rally. The Times of Israel. 4 Washington Street, Jerusalem 9418704, Israel.

And this led Sandra Petersmann of DW pleading:

I implore readers not to punish our profession based on the the misconduct of individual journalists. Relotius is a dangerous outlier. There have been other fraudsters before him who played into the hands of those seeking to push the narrative of the “Lügenpresse” (lying press), but in fact, the “Lügenpresse” does not exist. Indeed, the majority of us work hard to give an honest voice to children like Alin and Ahmed from Aleppo.

Sandra Petersmann. (20 Dec 2018). Opinion: Truth is the first casualty of Claas Relotius. Deutsche Welle. Bonn/Berlin, Germany. [A 13 Jun 2018 article by the Afghanistan Times described her as “a DW South Asia expert” –]

Achieving Objectivity

If you review the above section, you would notice 3 different sources from 3 distinct regions (Europe, Asia, Middle East). I excluded other sources from Wikipedia, RT (Russian broadcaster), NBC News (US) which I consulted but did not include. I believe cross referencing is vital for judging news in this information overloaded era. (This seems limited to the subjects of History, Social Studies and General Paper or other similar humanities / social science subjects at pre-university level. One tends to find more critical thinking practice at university level).

When acting on news (e.g. buying shares or voting or selecting medical treatment or forwarding it), it is best to read or listen to different media outlets from different countries. It would be ideal to draw from various languages: French, Chinese, English to German and Bahasa Melayu/Indonesia etc. Countries possess contrasting censorship levels or research focus areas while foreign languages structurally allow for differing viewpoints (by virtue of culture and linguistic rules). Aim for at least 3 sources. In addition, speak to someone whom you consider wise and cares for your well being (or loves the truth) – you must accept though that the person may strongly disagree with you.

Another way to verify news authenticity is to use a few sites like AFP Factcheck – AFP (Agence France Presse), an international news platform, occupies offices in Uruguay, France, Cyprus, US, and Hong Kong. You may also consider Encyclopædia Britannica – – it celebrated 250 years in 2018.

If you wish to dig deeper, do background checks on your news sources. You would find 3 samples below.

Our editorial board is a small group of exceptional individuals who offered support for The Times of Israel during its planning stages, and from whom we will seek input as we progress.

It comprises Sharon Ashley (former editor of The Jerusalem Report and former director of Israel Engagement at Hillel), Irwin Cotler (human rights activist and former Canadian justice minister), Efraim Halevy (former director of the Mossad, ambassador and national security adviser), Saul Singer (journalist and author of “Start-Up Nation”), and Ehud Yaari (Arab affairs commentator for Channel 2 news, journalist and author).

Yehuda Avner (former ambassador and adviser to a succession of Israeli prime ministers) was a treasured member of our editorial board until his death in March 2015.

About the Times of Israel and its staff. (accessed 4 Feb 2019). The Times of Israel.

Asahi was founded in Ōsaka in 1879… It is particularly noted for its political coverage and its foreign news. The paper is known for its liberal and progressive views… Like the other two major Japanese newspapers, Yomiuri and MainichiAsahi publishes a much greater proportion of foreign news than is usual in the West. In the early 21st century its daily circulation was one of the largest in the world, with more than six million subscribers. The readership of Asahi is drawn mainly from the upper and middle classes.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (revised 16 May 2018). Asahi shimbun.

The Jakarta Globe has provided readers with authoritative reporting on Indonesia since the launch of the newspaper in November 2008… the Globe shifted its focus to updating readers through its website after discontinuing the print edition at the end of 2015…

We offer in-depth news coverage, informative business stories and colorful features about Indonesia and the greater region. Our website,, offers a daily e-mail newsletter, breaking news around the clock and a searchable archive of stories. You can find us on Facebook (, or follow us on Twitter ( and Instagram (

About us. (accessed 4 Feb 2019). PT Jakarta Globe Media. BeritaSatu Plaza, 11th Floor, Suite 1102, Jl. Jend. Gatot Subroto Kav. 35-36, Jakarta 12650, Indonesia.