At the heart of helping my own children learn, at the heart of every session we had together, was a single, simple and profound truth: I got to spend extra time with them.
There was nothing else I wanted more.
It built our learning relationship, helped give them information, habits and ways of thinking that will hopefully serve them a lifetime, but it also built our relationship, the relationship I had with them as a father.
I could not ask for more. We always have those memories: the memories of the adventure, the memories of daring to go for it, the moments of breakthrough, the moments of frustration, the memories of not running away, of being there for each other.
I got to spend extra time with them.
I hope you enjoy those moments with your own children.
My son just came down the stairs and gave me the biggest hug. We are now heading off for a cycle ride, to grab one more moment of time together.
You know your child, you know what they like. The single rule might be: “Many ways for different brains.”
Here is a happy handful of word-learning games. Feel free to use these as springboards to get into the activity of designing or improvising games with your child as co-inventor.
1. Does your child sing? Have him sing the word, the whole list, or just sing-spell a word. It can be turned into a full impromptu kitchen concert! Try singing a well-known song, but replacing your target word for one of the chorus words, or adding a target word in to rehearse it:
“You’ve got a gregarious friend in me, you’ve got a gregarious friend in me.”
She might write a nonsense (or sensible) song using some of the words.
The extra pattern boost from melody can be powerful. It may get to the point that when she remembers, she’ll sing the word. (I once taught a very musical Y5 student to sing the formula for the area of a triangle; 3 years later, he could still sing the formula!)
2. Allocate words to numbers on a dice. However it lands, the next sentence in a story has to try and use the word in any way possible. It really helps for your child to know and apply; use the serious words in their creative writing. Words are democratic; they belong to us all. Rehearsing them helps solidify spelling, meaning and the confidence to use them again and again. Over time, your child could be encouraged to settle on a handful of lovely, adventurous words to use in more than one story, perhaps saving them for the real writing exam.
3. Use the target words when rehearsing and writing other features.
Inventing a bank of new, favourite similes (fresh, original ones), favourite adjectives (perhaps a couple of compound adjectives), favourite verbs for key actions (e.g. interesting synonyms for walking, running, eating, going, seeing, saying) and moods (happy, sad, angry, frightened, uncertain, euphoric, livid, etc.) is a great way to build options which can be used in all kinds of writing.
You could use a different target word for different features, or…
4. Take a word for a walk. Choose a word each and have a time-controlled, short game of adding the word into as many different techniques as possible. If the word has to change form to make the grammar correct, or so it can be used as a different type of word, even better. Give extra points for handling that!
Meaning: to warn against doing something, (or in some cases, to do something, but perhaps there may be better words, like advise, for this positive purpose); to disprove of something, but in sort of a kind way. Hmm, this word is looking quite slippery already, but let’s have some fun with it.
Start a countdown timer. Give enough time to write a few different features, but not so long that you lose time to learn something else, and definitely not until your child falls asleep because they’ve written a hundred sentences! Either side of 4/5 minutes should work, but in the moment, you’ll know what’s best. Here’s my shot…
Councils have left up signs to admonish people who continually drop litter in the parks. (Main verb)
Mr Round, the head teacher, admonished Stephan for drawing only triangles in his maths book. (-ed past tense)
Carter’s ears drooped, his tail ceased wagging and his head dropped, looking like an admonished school boy. (Simile) (Admonished becomes an adjective here!)
The storm was an admonishment from Mother Earth for the farmer’s failure to gather her harvest in time. (Metaphor) (admonishment is a noun)
Deeper and deeper, the wind forced its way into the forest, moaning and shrieking through the branches as if it were admonishing the trees for standing too close together. (Personification)
Caring and graceful, kind and thoughtful, Marjory Duck quacked an admonishment at her ducklings to waste no time in entering the water, in case the clever, winter-starved fox had left its den in search of a delicate, youth-flavoured dinner! (With a paired adjective sentence.)
I definitely know the word admonish better than I did before writing that.
5. Collect challenging words alphabetically. You could supply a list and your child can see if there is a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
6. Similar to above, but use another prompt: the letters of your child’s name, or their favourite food, etc.
7. Rhyme as many words as you can with your target word in 30 seconds.
8. Draw quick pictures or diagrams around a word to illustrate what the word means: imagine you are translating the word for a person who doesn’t speak any language apart from pictures.
9. Have your child host a quick quiz for you and another grown up. You have to supply the meaning to words she gives from a challenging list. If you don’t know them, she gets a point; if you know them, you get a point.
Occasionally giving a wrong meaning on purpose can help your child learn a word by giving you the correct meaning. It is okay if you don’t know the meaning of a word. We need to let our children feel relaxed about not knowing something and share an excitement for moments when we do learn something.
10. Draw a word tower from the top, starting with the 1st letter, then 2 letters, 3 letters, etc., until the whole word is at the bottom.
It looks cool and can make syllables and suffixes clearer. The last, full word could be drawn in a different colour to help it stand out. Let your child discover that the last letter of each row also spells the word! These designs can be put up around the house – an un-serious exhibition of serious words.
11. Do you have a licence to use that word? If there are words she loves and would like to use, then you could do a spontaneous spelling permit game at odd times in the week. Stop what you are both doing, and say something like: Excuse Me miss, Pedantic Permit Police Patrol, can I see your license to use this word? She has to spell or write it out and show you. You could be given the list at the start of the week and use that to check the licences for each word.
12. Who needs Wimbledon? Word tennis is fun as well. You don’t even need a bat or ball, although you could do it with the real thing in a garden, or a paper ball in your hands. Take a list of anything – connectives, adverbs, etc, that you want to focus on.
Speak out a sentence either beginning with a word/word type, or else use the word somewhere in a sentence. Your opponent can’t hit back until they use another word. If you want, each have a list or a single umpire list that you can run to if you can’t remember the word. Give a time-limit to how long the person has to speak a sentence. Award tennis points however you want.
P.S. No word is too serious. You can have fun with anything. Be playful and listen to the sounds of words, the look of words. Fastidious is not a better word than fussy, or even the phrase incredibly clean, or spotless. If your child knows them all and can use them with their slightly different meanings, it gives him options for creating similes, alliteration, etc., that sparkle. A fastidious flower arranger is a beautiful phrase, but then a gardener who was fussy could also be described as being a fusspot for flowerpots, which has a different sound and feel and contains a pun on words as alliteration.
True, VVV (Very Varied Vocabulary) is a powerful tool with which to dazzle the exam marker, but it is also simply more fun to use!
Hope these help.
*Big disclaimer: Before you tell me off, before you admonish me against using incorrect prefixes, un-serious is not really a word, I just like the sound of it! The preferred prefix is non-serious, so perhaps teach your child that one, although possibly hold onto the hyphen to be safe, rather than nonserious.
I’m right in the middle of sending some lovely learning to an online student when BANG…a new idea comes for a game, so I’m sharing it with you straight away. You will probably play it before us, as we are not skype-meeting until Friday. It’s amazing to think an idea might spread into the Learning Living-rooms of the world!
Words are slippery.
Some words can be nouns, some words can be verbs, while others still can be adjectives. Meanwhile, hundreds of words can be all of these word types and more.
They change form, become shape-shifting tricksters that turn up in multiple choice papers. For instance, which of these is the odd one out?
cut slice rip tear crevice crack
Only word-types will save you here! They are all nouns or verbs, except crevice, which is just a beautiful noun.
So…a game to play. First, choose a number that is on a dice you have. (You can use an online dice if you don’t have one to hand.) We’ll come back to this number shortly.
Choose 10 words each that can be more than one word type. I found a wide selection here:
This site has a huge list of sentences that show the words in their different roles.
2. Write them as two lists. You don’t have to choose the same words. You could choose a word one at a time to prevent this, or make up a fun rule that if you both have the same word, you both have to do a bird impression or a press up if one of you lands on it- it’s totally up to you!
3. Roll a dice. (Lots of variations: 6-9 sided dice, 2 dice and 12 words, etc.)
4. Count down the list to the word. (Keep going down and up the list, or chart your own path, like jumping in 3s.)
5. Both of you write sentences that use your word in different ways. E.g. call as a noun and a verb. First to finish both sentences wins a point.
6. Remember your special number from the start? If you roll that number, you have a chance to battle for one of your opponent’s words.
7. Let’s say you choose your opponent’s word clean. Each of you write in secret, behind your hand, a sentence using that word in any way you want.
8. If you both use the word as the same word type in your sentences, e.g. as an adjective (Water is a lovely drink when clean; Auntie’s car was incredibly clean.), you win the word from your opponent.
9. But…if it is different, your opponent can choose one of your words and battle for it.
When that battle has played out, you continue taking turns to roll.
Your winner could be:
the first person to have all the words;
the first person to win 3 words;
the person with the most words after 5-10 minutes. (Quite useful for keeping pace and also stopping the game running on.)
What’s the point of the game?
Secret learning about words that are more than one word type, which could help in multiple choice language tests or comprehension.
A warm-up to a writing lesson in which these multi-jobbing, slippery words are used on purpose to practise.
A springboard to creating more games between you.
A quick learning boost when there are 10 minutes to spare. Note: I challenge you to keep a dice close at hand throughout your child’s childhood. They are portable learning legends!
Writing practice. You could set extra rules around the types of sentence you use. For example, your sentences need to be compound or complex, not simple. This reduces the risk of writing an over-easy sentence in order to finish writing first!
The game element could make the learning more memorable. We often remember more of what is unusual. Think of a crowded street of people in ordinary clothes, among which strolls a lady in a yellow and purple suit, two golden walking sticks, one silver shoe and one welly which is filled with water. Who do you think you might remember from that street?
If it’s fun, it can grow enthusiasm for the next learning session. You can repeat the game – your child might even ask to play it again, perhaps with a different rule. Sometimes, if a child is initially reluctant to start a learning session, I simply say, “We’re going to play a game,” and begin. I don’t call it a learning session. The appearance of a dice can be magical! Games can help enormously with those moments, whether they come at the start or the middle of a lesson.
I’ve created an instant ebook bundle for you of targeted 11+ happy learning material to share and learn together with your child. Click here for 50% off until our precious children return to school.
A conversation with a close friend, who is worrying about their daughter’s 11 plus in these difficult times, has prompted this post.
In truth, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen. We can predict, though, that something will happen. Either the tests will be rearranged, postponed, or a new system will be temporarily introduced. The first two of these are most likely; the third is not impossible to imagine. Schools could re-open earlier or later than we could predict, with the likelihood of some form of social distancing in place. It is, quite honestly, a horrible situation for our children, and for us, their carers and educators, who want to to do the best for them.
Simply, it is a reminder that we cannot control all events. We never have been able to. The current situation just makes this very, very obvious. Perhaps less obvious is the idea that this is okay, that not controlling all events does not mean we cannot control any events.
It is not, I think, about doing the right or wrong thing. No one knows enough. Instead of right or wrong, far better to think in terms of helpful or unhelpful. What is a helpful thing to do now? How can we help our children? This question opens up a world of opportunity and the realisation that there is so, so much we can do.
For me as a dad and as a teacher, two of the most helpful things we can do are:
Continue to allow them to study for the 11 plus. Continue to support them, continue to find resources and use them, over time, to make deliberate improvements in skills and knowledge, one by one, folding in new skills on top of practising old skills and knowledge.
Remember, this is helpful or unhelpful – not right or wrong. Although there are only around 4-5 months remaining before the typical 11plus entrance test season starts, your child possibly has a lot longer than that in terms of extra time through being at home and being able to spend more time focused on 11 plus learning. In effect, the extra time to spend on targeted learning each day means it is more as if they still had 6-8 months to prepare, simply because this time wouldn’t exist under normal conditions.
I’ve written before how holidays, particularly the summer holidays, are true gifts of learning for the time they create to learn undisturbed. I don’t mean your children should study 6-8 hours a day and do nothing else – that would be unhelpful! However, three hours a day, plus reading, leaves so much time for childhood, while also offering unrivalled moments of learning among the people they love most – you!
This is certainly no holiday. But if we are thinking helpful or unhelpful, then it is definitely a learning moment to seize.
2. If we must worry, and worry, it seems, we often must, then we can try and find a really helpful way of worrying, a way that actually leads to less worry and more learning. There is a way, it is very simple, and if you haven’t tried this already, I invite you 100% to try this. It is going to help a lot.
The ‘write way to worry’ means simply this: the right way to worry is to write.
Write down what YOU worry about, both in your own education, and in helping your child to get as ready as they can be for the entrance test.
Do you have gaps in your own learning? Are you worried about verbal reasoning or non verbal reasoning, possibly because, like me, until you start out on the grammar school journey, you’ve never heard of them? Do you worry about the effect of ‘pressure’ on your child? Are you unsure of what is in your chosen school’s particular test? Are you comparing your child to others?
Maybe you fear your maths isn’t good enough, or maybe it’s just one area – division, or percentages, for example.
Is English your second language? Do you get spellings wrong? Would you worry about writing a letter?
Getting your worries – all of them – down in writing (and don’t judge yourself on HOW you are writing down your worries!) might take you half an hour, an hour at the most (trust me, you’ll run out!)
it will save you and your child weeks of time on your 11+ journey.
Please – do this. Remember, this is about helpful or unhelpful. Grab a piece of paper and get going. Think-writing is amazing at bringing thoughts up you didn’t even know you had, including worries you might be pretending are not there but are nevertheless holding you back from helping your child right now. Enjoy a good worry-write. My worries about my education/What I think I don’t know/What are my gaps?/What do I think I can’t help my child with?/What are my barriers to helping my child?
How do you feel? Worse, or relieved?
However you feel, shake your own hand for what you’ve just done.
Because now you know that what you are worried about is what YOU are worried about.
Your child is not worried about the same things, and you don’t have to pass on your worries to them. None of them. At all.
Admit it, not knowing some things? It’s pretty normal. It applies to every human being on Earth, right?
Not knowing we don’t know, refusing to accept we don’t know, or pretending we do know, can be a bit more risky to your child’s success: because of superinfluence, there’s a risk they will absorb your worries, or learn to believe it doesn’t matter if you don’t know some things.
In superinfluence, we’re only passing on the helpful stuff that actually supports their 11+ success. Well, now you know your worries, you can leave them behind or keep them with you.
So not passing on your worries, that’s one great result of writing them down and exploring them. Two more things to think about.
A second benefit of getting your worries down is you’ll probably realise that a lot of the time, that’s all they are – worries.
One of my worries at the time my daughter was preparing was non-verbal reasoning. I had an almost superstitious doubt (in that I had no evidence to support the worry, it was just fear) about my ability to see patterns and work with pictures. Rather than help my daughter, I worried I would actually make things worse for her. It stopped me covering the topic. I was a primary teacher, yet nowhere in the curriculum at the time was anything about non-verbal reasoning.
Of course, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I hadn’t done it, so had never learned how to.
Going through various books and website resources,step by step, at a pace right for both of us, my daughter and I learned the various types of shapes and sequences. Over time, our score in tests reached the level they needed to be. That would not have happened without time, and time would not have happened if I hadn’t admitted my worry months before.
The point is this: knowing you don’t know something is a strength because you can now find about it and learn it to a level that will help support your child. This is the third benefit of worrying in this helpful way. We can look at each worry objectively and take steps to deal with each and any step that moves our child’s learning forward. Isn’t that amazing?
It might help to bear in mind, too, that whatever you do not know, you are not expected to know anything a curious, interested 11 year old is not capable of learning.
That’s a helpful perspective to keep in mind.
This doesn’t mean that you wait until everything you worried about is dealt with, that you must be ready before you start helping your child – this will lose you time. You are never ready, you become ready by doing. There are actions that you can do to help right now. Pick one and do it. My science teacher, when I was at school (Hello, Mr Jackson) taught me one of the most helpful quotes I’ve ever heard: “Don’t worry, work.”
Perhaps the most common worry is the ‘What if..?’ kind. What if they don’t get in? What if I miss something? What if they find it too hard? What if I ruin it for them? What if I show myself up and can’t understand the learning myself?
Nothing is guaranteed in life, but the possibility of things not working out is never an excuse for not striving for those things anyway. Better results often come when you believe in something as if it is already a fact, and then work backwards to map out the plan to get to that reality.
I began my son’s 11+ journey with the end in mind – I already saw him getting in to his grammar school, and then worked backwards to find all the ways needed to get him to that truth. Did I have proof that it would happen? Not a chance!
I didn’t know all the ways – I knew close to nothing. Instead, I believed that there were ways, and if there were ways, then I could find out what they were, learn them and follow them.
I invite you to do the same.
One helpful tip to stay one step ahead of your child’s learning is to read through the lesson or part of a book or resource you’re going to use by yourself before reading through it with your child. In Bond, How to do 11+ Maths, for example, read the chapter on ratio before you teach them it.
A week, an hour, even ten minutes is sometimes enough to grasp the general learning you’re about to cover. By the second or third time, as you read it with your child it will probably make sense. Even if you don’t understand a concept completely, you can lead the situation confidently and honestly by saying,
‘Well, it looks tricky, but so did the other things and we worked on them, and we can do them now.’
Another tip is to do some of the work they do with them. If you are asking your child to practise writing an extended metaphor paragraph, then have a go at writing one as well. If you are showing them long division, have them give you questions to solve, or do the same questions your child is doing, modelling a couple, then hiding your answers and turning it into a game.
Thank you for teaching and nurturing your child, you are making a difference to the world.
If you are looking for help in multiple choice English or creative writing, I invite you to a 50% discount on the 11 Plus English Masterclass 4-book Ebundle, with immediate downloads available to save even more time. Enter ‘stay at home’ in the cart. The discount is good for any book, any purchase, until our precious children return to school.
Wherever your child is in their eleven plus journey, I hope they are safe, always making progress and remain in love with learning as much as ever. Education is amazing!
The headline says it all, so if you want to skip to the books, please do. Goodness knows how we make it through this, but we have to believe at some point that schools will reopen and your hoped-for grammar school will admit the next intake. It could be sooner than we think or later than we think, but it will happen.
Whatever you are doing to stay safe and occupied, we must keep our children learning.
The good habits you and schools have established to help your children learn are crucial at this moment. Learning provides much more than a distraction from worry – it paves the way for tomorrow’s generation of heroes and humans who will shape and build and grow the best future possible. It sets your child on their best path.
11 plus exams will at some point be a normal reality again. Please – little by little – stay learning with precision and purpose. We need our children to be progressing and prepared, not in a spirit of competition or worry, but in a happy spirit of continuing the love of learning and the happiness and stimulation that come from achievement and focus. It is good that our highest goals as humans remain at the core of what we do. It is not easy, but it is good.
Please have a look at the books. I believe so strongly they can help you and your child continue learning together.
I’m sorry I am not in a position to offer them for free. With social distancing in place, all my tuition students can, of course, no longer come, so my own income and ability to keep my family food coming is under pressure. I hope that 50% off everything can help everyone survive and thrive. Please share the coupon with anyone you feel might benefit – there are no restrictions. The creative writing guides are also very suitable for upper KS2 and KS3 children. Included in the purchase is an opportunity to send a piece of your child’s written work for free, so that I can read and suggest some next steps for your child to take. This is specific to your child, not generic.
Simply add your books to the cart and write ‘stay at home’ in the voucher code box. Your 50% discount will be applied immediately.
Stay learning, stay safe, love your children, be patient, be caring, be funny, strive to be happy. In dark times, we must be the extra light.
Thank you for caring for and teaching your children. I hope that as you stay at home, your 50% off voucher code helps you and your child on their path to eventual eleven plus success.
Children, keep creating, keep learning and keep laughing. Every smile, every word, every number, every picture is worth it.
Interestingly, the truth is we never absolutely know, but we sort of do. The first big mistake would be to do what I deliberately did above and use the wrong article in front of ’11+ test’.
THE 11+ test does not exist. An 11+ test exists. Lots of them.
Schools, perhaps more precisely the schools in a borough, develop different formats, albeit they are testing similar knowledge. Broadly, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning is becoming less of a thing, while English and Maths are more of a thing.
Children are tested on English and maths knowledge and skills taught in primary schools, with one big exception, which is that they are tested on knowledge and skills that include and sometimes go beyond that learned in Y6, at a time and age when they have only completed Y5, or pehaps recently started Y6.
Returning to the fact that the 11plus test does not exist, but rather lots of similar, but different, tests exist, on the one hand, this is incredibly annoying and frustrating. After all, we know what the KS2 SATs look like. Indeed, children do lots of practice tests for these, so they are familiar with the format.
Similarly, in GCSE English, we know the format and the types of question that will be asked. Students can do lots of past papers to rehearse their answers, even following mark schemes that tell students the difference between low and high mark answers.
So why not the 11plus? No one really knows. Other than the fact that the number of places is small and there would not be enough capacity to take in every child who was in line to perform brilliantly at the SATs, it remains a bit of a mystery.
On the other hand, other providers, websites and publishers do provide the test models. Precise books like mine, which teach skills to help your child know how to sit the tests, can be used alongside the excellent resources and practice papers elsewhere that show your child WHAT an approximation of a paper looks and feels like. Thankfully, there is a lot of information and resources within education to help you.
It is worth asking the schools you are interested in if they do have an example paper or sample questions to look at. The response is variable – some do, many don’t.
With this in mind, it becomes really important to know the schools you are interested in. There are many excellent sites that try and gather test information for various grammar schools. Test information is sometimes vague, but as we’ve mentioned, some schools don’t publish the precise content and format of tests.
Below, then, are three sites I want to share with you to help you find that information. As well as having gathered information regarding different grammar schools, the providers produce brilliant learning resources. I use practice papers from all three sites to complement my own books and techniques, to provide a really thorough grounding and preparation in both what and how.
My own passion and belief as a teacher is not enough skills, techniques and child-friendly hacks are taught that help children know HOW to pass the tests. Practice papers are essential, they are the WHAT, but they are far from enough on their own. Every child I’ve ever taught, starting with my own children, has needed help to learn how they are being tested or tricked in each test. With multiple choice in particular, there are dozens of tricks in both English and maths. Remember that Stage 1 multiple choice tests are often there to sift out students. What’s really surprising is some schools do not even use the Stage 1 results towards a child’s final mark! Stage 1 acts as a gatekeeper to Stage 2, school specific, tests. It is this Stage 2,written test, that provides the final assessed mark in some schools.
Yesterday, I decided to split this superinfluence episode into two. It might be better if I split it into three or even four parts. Remember that all this searching for information, all this understanding of the how and the what of your child’s test, is your job, your responsibility. It is the superinfluence in the background. If you create the learning moments, your child will live them. Make sure they are the right learning moments.
Have a good look around the websites below for information relating to the school/s you’re thinking about. Obviously, if your school in question is not covered, then the school is your direct port of urgent call, as we mentioned yesterday. The first link is from exampapersplus.co.uk. Below I’ve linked to a sample page for Wilson’s school.
I’ll see you in the next post as we continue to dive deep into the superinfluence you have as a parent or carer of your child. There is so much I want to cover and help you be super prepared, for, in order that your child is super prepared and ready with a smile on their face.
I was you a few years ago. My children were your children!
If I can help make the journey successful and pass on knowledge and skills that can help, I’m doing the right thing. My children thrived in grammar school, so can yours! See you in our next post.
Start 11 plus learning, stay 11 plus learning and stay 11plushappy!