After a restful 6 weeks of school holidays, we are ready to re-start our Secondary 4 English classes! In this post, we turn our attention to the Narrative Comprehension (Paper 2 Section B), in which you will face many questions that require you to appreciate and interpret the use of (vivid) language in the passage. We will look at tackling comprehension questions that ask you to describe the implication or impact of certain words or expressions used.

Good and compelling narratives usually show, rather than tell, the reader what is going on, by describing actions, thoughts and speech, for example. The following excerpts you will read contain some of this vivid language. They are followed by questions that require you to make inferences about feelings or explain what effect such language has on readers. Three examples will be discussed.

Example 1

Read the excerpt below.

As I sat there, scratching, and wondering where I would spend the night, I suddenly heard the sound of music coming from a nearby street – not the Spanish kind, but waltzy gusts of Strauss played on accordion, flute, and fiddle. Curious, I went off to have a look, and found three blind young men bashing out a back-street concert in the midst of a crowd of wide-mouthed children. Men has halted their mules, women stood listening in doorways or hung from balconies overhead.

– From As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee

Question: What does the expression ‘wide-mouthed’ tell us about how the children felt towards the performance?

Tip:

Ask yourself – what does the children being ‘wide-mouthed’ tell you about their feelings? Also consider – in what context are their mouths wide open? Having your jaws drop at a birthday surprise and looking in wonder at a double rainbow in the sky signify two quite different types of feelings.

In this case, they are watching a musical performance, together with men who had “halted” and women who “stood listening”. Taking these hints, it must have been a captivating performance. What would these children be feeling in response to this?

Answer:

The children were amazed / awestruck / impressed at the performance.

Note: Adjectives use must be emotion words. Hence, words/phrases like ‘captivated’, ‘attracted’ or ‘glued to’ are not acceptable as feelings. These words describe their behaviour.


Example 2

Read the excerpt below.

Political uprisings in Syria have compelled millions of Syrians to undertake risky journeys across the sea to seek refuge in neighbouring Europe. As these refugees continue to arrive in droves on the shores of countries such as Greece and Italy, world leaders have been left wringing their hands over an appropriate policy response.

Question: What does the phrase ‘wringing their hands’ suggest about how world leaders feel about the refugee crisis?

Tip:

Ask yourself – what is wringing your hands a sign of? Do you remember the time you were waiting to receive your PSLE results or when family members desperately await news about their loved one undergoing a critical operation? These world leaders are in a similar position. Think about possible emotion words to describe their feelings.

Answer:

They are feeling distressed / very troubled about it.



Example 3

Read the sentence below.

A bicycle rickshaw with a teetering mountain of hose pipes balanced on its passenger seat.

– From The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, Tarquin Hall

Question: Explain how each of these words is effective in illustrating the difficult nature of the rickshaw driver’s job.
a) teetering
b) mountain


Tip:

Beyond explaining the meaning of these two words, you need to explain how they are effective in showing the difficulty of the rickshaw driver’s job.

First, let’s start with the meaning of the words.

– ‘teetering’ means to move unsteadily or wobble
– ‘mountain’ gives you an image of a towering heap, something piled very high

Next, ask yourself:

How does this unsteadiness (of the hose pipes) make the job challenging/difficult?
How does this huge pile (of hose pipes) make the job challenging/difficult?

Answer:

(a) ‘teetering’ is effective in showing that the hose pipes were balancing dangerously / precariously {meaning} and thus at risk of toppling {link to difficulty}, if the rickshaw driver was not careful enough.

(b) ‘mountain’ is effective in showing that the hose pipes were stacked to a great height{meaning}, resulting in a heavy burden{link to difficulty} that the rickshaw driver had to bear.

Admittedly, these questions are one of the more challenging types that require you to understand word meanings and be able to articulate their effect. Don’t shy away from such questions that potentially put your vocabulary to the test, because there are techniques to unpack these questions and structure your answer. Of course, don’t forget to keep practising!

If you’re interested, more of such types of questions can be featured. Or, if you’re keen to learn about other types of questions, do let us know as well!


*Note: All excerpts and questions have been taken (some adapted) from Comprehension Illuminated Volume I by Resources for English Academic Learning (R.E.A.L.).