Secondary English Made Simple for First-timers

For secondary one students in 2014, the experience of transitioning between primary to secondary school will both be exciting and challenging. It is a new environment with new classmates and new teachers.

While most children adapt to new environments quickly, one area that takes some time is the increase in the number of academic subjects. Not only that, these once familiar subjects become more difficult.

How can your secondary one child handle the increase in difficulty in the English Language? While there are many areas to discuss, for this article we will be focusing on English Comprehension.

Secondary English Comprehension Text Types

In secondary English, three different text types are used as comprehension passages: Visual, Narratives and Expositions. Students are of course familiar with Narratives. However, the difficulty level has increased tremendously due to the addition of Language Use for Impact questions.

The difficulty is because Comprehension questions now require students to understand figurative meanings of words in the passage. This means that the words have a different meaning from their normal definition. To do this requires understanding of the methods authors use to create figurative language. These methods are known as literary devices. This is made even more difficult because assessment of literary devices at the secondary level is more difficult cognitively.

Most primary school children already have some awareness of simple literary devices such as similes and metaphors. In secondary school, children are exposed to cognitively difficult literary devices like hyperboles and irony. In the table below, I will explain why they are of a high cognitive difficulty.


Literary Device Example Cognitive Interpretation

A hyperbole is extreme exaggeration. It is like a comparison, only more extravagant or ridiculous.

The hyperbole creates a larger-than-life effect and overly stress a specific point that helps emphasise an emotion.

“People moved slowly then. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”– Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Children must be able to analyse that ‘nowhere to go, nothing to buy’ is an exaggeration. They can match it with the first statement, ‘people moved slowly’. The slow pace of life in Maycomb County is emphasised. Thus,this shows that it must be a boring place.

Commonly sub-divided into different categories like verbal, situational and dramatic, the basic idea of irony is a disagreement or incongruity between what is said and what is understood, or what is expected and what actually occurs.

Authors can use irony to make their audience stop and think about what has just been said, or to emphasise a central idea.

In the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, a young couple is too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts.The man sells his heirloom (a pocket watch) to buy his wife a set of combs for her long, beautiful hair.She, meanwhile, cuts off her beautiful hair and sells it to a wig-maker for money to buy her husband a watch-chain. The couple sacrificed for each other – both giving up something valuable and personal for the other. Yet in return, they received gifts that are “useless”. The author uses dramatic irony to make readers think about how they sacrifice their most valuable possession. Their “useless” gifts becomes incredibly valuable after all! As long as they have the gifts, they’ll be able to remember each other’s selfless love. This kind of thing can’t be bought.

As you can see, children are not only required to identify these literary devices, they have to analyse, evaluate and understand both the literal and figurative meaning that an author is trying to convey.


Many children stumble because of this cognitive shift in assessment objectives. However with a focus on cognitive development during the teaching of English, they will eventually master not only Language Use for Impact questions, but the many nuances in the English language.

RGC Future School has been offering English, Math and Science tuition and enrichment classes since 1988. We pride ourselves as subject specialists, creating exploratory, educational and inspirational programmes for each subject taught in the centre.

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At RGC, your children are not just our students. They are our extended family. We love mentoring them, following their development and seeing them turn into young adults.

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