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What are Proverbs?

Proverbs are phrases that are commonly used and widely understood.  They can also be mantras that are passed down for generations.  Proverbs can be used to convey advice.

Here’s a common proverb that you may have heard before:

“Practice makes perfect.”

As children, we hear them from our parents and teachers. And as we grow up, we use some of the more common proverbs in our everyday conversations, sometimes without even realizing that the phrase that comes naturally to us is actually a proverb.

“He has tattoos all over his body, but you know what they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Having started work straight after my diploma to make ends meet, I only fulfilled my dream to pursue further studies after a good ten years in the workforce. But better late than never, for I can now proudly say that I am a degree holder; the first in my family.”

Proverbs can be in the form of a phrase or a sentence, for example, “The early bird catches the worm.” This one is frequently used to encourage the lazy bunch of us to rise or start early because it is believed that those who do so gain an advantage over others.

Another point worth noting about this proverb, and many others, is that it is in the form of a metaphor. Many proverbs use figurative language to personify their meaning. When we say “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, we are not literally referring to eggs, but rather the fact that you shouldn’t concentrate all your risks or efforts in one area.

Interestingly, proverbs make it easy and effective to teach your child lessons, or give him words of advice pertaining to concepts that are actually quite sophisticated.

More importantly, for your child, proverbs are a simple yet powerful tool to convey a strong message in his compositions.

Proverbs can be used throughout a composition, whether as an introduction, as a concluding statement, or even in the dialogue between the characters in the composition. The key is to use them moderately or even sparingly. They are like the spices you add to your dishes for additional flavour; whether it is a pinch of cinnamon or a dash of paprika, proverbs are not meant to be ‘spammed’.

Starting your composition with a proverb immediately captures the reader’s attention. A proverbial introduction can give insight into the gist of your child’s composition in a single line, or it can invoke questions and spur the reader to find out what the story is about. Either way, a proverb is a powerful tool to begin a composition as it leads the reader on to the rest of the story.

Because there are so many different types of proverbs, starting with one not only provides your child a unique introduction to her composition, but it also adds some depth and sophistication to the story that she’s writing.

Of course, the key is to use an appropriate proverb that is related to the crux of the story, or one that “teaches the lesson” in your child’s composition.

Consider this example:

Honesty is truly the best policy. I could not imagine how things would have turned out had I lied instead…

I’ve used this simple proverb combined with a flashback. In two sentences, I have basically told you the lesson I have learnt, about being honest. At the same time, I have hopefully intrigued you enough to read on to find out exactly what situation caused me to learn that lesson.

How to Use a Proverb in the Conclusion

You could also end your composition with a thought-provoking proverb, to leave a lasting impression on the reader. Instead of explicitly stating the “lessons learnt”, your child can display his maturity by ending with an inspirational proverb.

Consider this example:

 I reminisced onthe early days, recalling how everyone was sceptical about the route I was embarking on.

No one truly saw the vision that I saw. Yet now, I sat on the balcony of my penthouse overlooking the sea, soaking up the breeze of freedom, of accomplishment, of success.

The success that I dreamed of, that I willed myself to achieve.

No, it didn’t come easy; I suffered, I endured, but at every juncture where there was a will – the will to overcome any obstacle, the will to keep going – whenever there is a will, there will always be a way.

I’ve used the proverb “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” to show that determination and willpower can overcome all obstacles.

How to Use a proverb in the dialogue

Using a proverb in a dialogue is another way to boost your child’s language marks.  Adding a proverb further showcases your child’s breadth and depth of vocabulary.  It also conveys more complicated messages or wisdom that your child may have difficulty expressing in “normal phrases”.

Consider this example:

“Mr. Tan has got to be the most boring Math tutor I’ve ever had!” Peter exclaimed. “I really think we should leave and go to another tuition centre. I’m sure they also have Math tutors there.”
“I’m not so sure,” John cautioned. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

I’ve used the proverb to highlight what John thinks about Peter’s suggestion to leave the tuition centre. Without explicitly saying it, I am able to convey John’s doubt towards Peter’s idea.

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