Objectives of the Stimulus-Based Conversation Component
According to the Ministry of Education, the Assessment Objectives (AO) of Stimulus-based Conversation in the Oral component of the English Language Examination seek to assess whether candidates are able to:
AO3: Express their personal opinions, ideas and experiences clearly and effectively in conversing with the examiner
AO4: Speak fluently and with grammatical accuracy, using a range of appropriate vocabulary and structures
Objective AO3: Express their personal opinions, ideas and experiences clearly and effectively
The ability to articulate one’s ideas and express one’s opinions are crucial life skills. It would help tremendously if parents could initiate conversations with their child on matters relating to their games, their friends and their activities in school or outside of their school.
Key questions that will help your child to develop and articulate his/her ideas and opinions include:
- What do you mean by…? [Elaboration]
- When did it happen? [Elaboration]
- Why did your friend… ? [Elaboration]
- Why do you think…? [Personal opinion]
- How has it changed the situation/ friendship/ your opinion of…? [Personal opinion]
More often than not, students have difficulties with the personal opinion questions in the stimulus-based conversation. Help them to articulate by giving them the right vocabulary (adjectives) to label their feelings about a situation and/or behaviour, and then to prompt them to continue to elaborate by saying why they felt that way. Through constant practice, your child would have internalised the habit of elaborating his/her ideas.
Objective AO4: Speak fluently and with grammatical accuracy, using a range of appropriate vocabulary and structures
The use of Standard English is expected in the examinations. When speaking with your child, model to them complete grammatical sentences with accurate vocabulary. Point out to them instances when they have used Singlish like:
- “finished already” (already finished)
- “anything lor” (it doesn’t matter either way);
- “the friend was like so bad…” (the friend was really mean);
- “chope seat” (reserve the seat);
- “also cannot” (cannot be done/ not acceptable);
- “always liedat one” (he always behaves rudely), among others.
When a child hears and speaks Standard English, he/she will be more likely to speak and write in Standard English. Also, as children read and write less, they are less attuned to Standard English, and this will affect their speaking and writing in the examinations. Therefore, encourage your child to speak Standard English where possible, and when they are able to do that, they will be able to code-switch when the situation arises.
You might want to listen to an American high school student speak about her dilemma with code-switching because she had thought that by code-switching, she would lose her culture and values (link below). The topic of her speech is about the necessity of code-switching to survive in a new environment. More importantly, you cannot help but notice how confident she is because, as she states about the First Eight Rule, “People often judge you within the first 8 feet, 8 seconds and 8 words that come out of your mouth.” Also, she has code- switched to using Standard English in her speech, instead of using the African-American vernacular language. For the purpose of the Oral Exam, students need to code-switch to a formal style of speaking using Standard English, even if they have been using the vernacular form of Singlish at home and in school.
How Can I Help My Child?
For the stimulus-based conversation component, you can help your child by asking him/her questions about topics that s/he has experiences about, and knowledge of.
Common topics include:
- Public transport (road safety);
- Spending family time;
- School and CCA;
- Community Involvement activities/ projects (outreach to welfare organisations);
- Environmental conservation;
- Internet and technology;
- Health and fitness
Past Years’ PSLE Oral Stimulus-Based Conversation Topics
- PSLE 2017 Topic: Day 1: Teachers’ Day Celebration – showing appreciation by writing a poem (birthdays, festivals and special occasions); Day 2: Class Cleaning Competition.
- PSLE 2018 Topic: Day 1: Choice of Secondary School; Day 2: Speech Contest (oral presentation).
- PSLE 2019: Day 1: Reading (Poster shows 3 different genres of books); Day 2: Poster in a computer lab encouraging students to switch off the computer, check they’ve not left their belongings behind, and to clean up the workspace.
- PSLE 2020: Day 1: “Neighbourhood Breakfast Time Talk” (Poster shows residents gathered around communal tables spread with delicacies, and the date and time of the event).
- Look at the picture. Would you want to attend this event? Tell me why, or why not?
- Look at the different types of foods shown in the picture. Tell me what you think about it.
- What do you think being a good neighbour is?
- What is there in your neighbourhood, and what would you suggest to improve it?
Day 2: P6 Graduation (Ticket to a graduation ceremony).
- Who would you invite to your graduation?
- What special programme would you / your class put up?
- Would you prefer to be behind the scene or be a performer?
- Give an example of a performance that you’ve watched.
*Note: Questions may vary as they are given according to students’ recollections.
How Many Questions Will The Examiner Ask?
Generally, the examiners will ask three main questions in the stimulus-based conversation. Sometimes the examiner will ask prompt questions to elicit more elaborations and details from the candidate. However, if the candidate is able to elaborate by explaining her points and sharing relevant personal experiences, the candidate may end up with less questions being asked. The reason for this is due to the fact that the candidate has already covered the next question(s) on the examiner’s question paper.
What Are The Types of Questions?
The three main question types are: Picture-Specific, Community-Related, and Global.
Example Topic: Community Involvement Activities
More often than not, the first question in the stimulus-based conversation is specific to the picture. The candidate is required to study the picture carefully and use details in the picture to elaborate on their points, and relate back to personal experiences to support his/her answer
For example: “Would you take part in this activity (referring to the picture)? Why/ Why not?”
*REMEMBER (first question): The candidate MUST use details from the stimulus to elaborate his/her response. And do not forget to give a recount or personal experience to illustrate his/her point [See PEEL below].
The second question is usually a Community-Related Question. The question will apply to a wider context including school and the neighbourhood.
For example: “What are some of the community involvement activities you have been involved in?”
Or: “What has your school done to promote community involvement?”
The third question is the Global Question which is related to the topic. This type of question entail personal opinions about the topic.
For example: “Do you think community involvement activities are important?”
For each of the three questions, the candidate is expected to share his/ her personal experiences relating to the topic, and students should use the PEEL method to structure their answer to each question.
What Is The PEEL Method?
The PEEL method is a structured approach to answering expository questions. The stimulus-based conversation questions lend themselves to using the PEEL method to structure the answers. For example if the question is: “Have you witnessed any kind of bullying taking place in school or even outside?“
Point= (answer the question). Yes, I have been a victim of cyberbullying (or I have witnessed an incident of cyberbullying at school).
Elaborate= (Who/ What/ How?) I was targeted by two classmates whom I used to be close with. They posted nasty remarks about me on Instagram. Sometimes they would take photos of me in the class without my knowledge and used the photos as memes to ridicule me.
Example (*Give a personal recount/story): It happened last year and I recall I was with my best friend in the canteen then, and these two girls were standing just behind us. Suddenly they said out loud that I was very ugly and fat and they laughed. I chose to ignore them. A few minutes later, my best friend tapped me on my shoulder and showed me an Instagram post of a meme with my face. It had a nasty caption.
(How did you deal with it?) I showed my form teacher the meme and she assured me that she would deal with the situation. I believe my teacher had dealt with the problem because the two classmates stopped their cyberbullying, but they were definitely more hostile towards me.
Link: Opinion – conclusion (restate your point and how you feel about it). Well, it has been quite a traumatic (feeling) period of time for me because (why?) those two classmates used to be my very good friends; however, through this episode, I’ve learnt to be brave and to tell myself that I am not what they make me out to be (how has it changed the situation?).
What Do I Do When I Cannot Remember the PEEL Structure During The Stimulus-Based Conversation?
This could just happen when you are very nervous. However, you must always ask “Why”, “What” or “How” after stating each sentence. For example if your response to the question is: “Yes, I have witnessed an incident of cyberbullying at school.” Then, what do I say next?
- Ask yourself “When?”
- “It happened during a Social Studies lesson in the computer lab last year.”
- Ask yourself “Who?”
- A classmate who sat next to me was typing furiously on the keyboard.
- Ask yourself “What did she do?”
- She also giggled uncontrollably while staring at her monitor screen.
- Ask yourself “What was my reaction?”
- I was curious so I took a peek at her screen. [What did you see?] I could not believe my eyes when I saw a photo of another classmate magnified the full size of the screen with nasty words written across her photo.
- Ask “How did I feel about it?”
- I was really uncomfortable (feeling) with what I’d seen. [What did you do about it?] I did not want to cause any commotion if I were to confront her, so I reported the incident to my Social Studies teacher.
- [Final thoughts] I was very shocked at what my classmate had done because I had not expected her to do such a thing. It was such a horrible thing she had done, because I cannot imagine myself as the victim. I’m glad I did the right thing by telling the teacher, and I hope this classmate of mine will learn from the incident.
Preparation time (5 mins):
- Predict the three main questions and use the PEEL structure to answer them;
- Use keywords to remember your points;
During the Exam:
- Sit upright, smile and maintain eye contact;
- Place your hands on your lap because you do not want to be seen fidgeting to ease your nervousness;
- Share your personal experiences or experiences you’ve read or have heard about;
- Ask the examiner politely to repeat the question if you did not hear the question clearly;
- Above all, exude confidence because first impression counts. It always does.
All the best!