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.
Okay, decision time. This level of superinfluence happens either before, or in the early stages of, helping your child be superhero prepared and happy.
Your child can’t do this because they don’t know the choices. They can’t see over the fence of the next hour without your help. That’s how children are; totally immersed in the moment. You are the strategic thinker, it’s your plan. Create the learning moments and your child will live them.
Here’s what you need to think about.
Deciding what and how starts with deciding where.
Why? Three reasons.
1. Each school tests slightly differently: don’t waste a minute on something your child isn’t going to be tested on.
By example, the three schools we chose for our son at the time tested English, Maths and verbal reasoning, but not non-verbal reasoning, so we ditched non-vr completely and devoted all study time on the first three areas. This freed up a lot of time, as we had been trying to learn everything. For our final school choice, only English and Maths were tested; knowing this allowed us an even sharper focus.
2. You need to know the catchment areas for schools you are interested in and how they work. Often, grammar schools have no geographical bias – getting in is based on ability in the test and that’s it. Nevertheless, some grammars may favour local children, at least for a percentage of admissions.
For example, if all children applying passed with the same high mark, the first 50-80 children (out of an average intake of 150) might be chosen from the nearby area, with the rest going to outliers. This may or may not influence your decision, but you need to know.
3.Travel time. How long will your child spend travelling to and from school? I drew the line at an hour, but there are children at my son’s school for whom two hours each way is the norm. It’s up to you and your child. Also, how will they get there? Is there public transport from where you live?
Finding out where the schools are is easy.
Visit www.ngsa.org.uk the home of the National Grammar Schools Association and do a geographical search across England or Northern Ireland. There are no grammar schools in Scotland or Wales. A google search will also throw up results quickly.
Ask at your child’s school and speak to other parents in the playground. (As complete newbies to both the area and secondary education, we found out about the local school – Wilson’s – from a neighbour who lived half way down our street and who we’d only ever had a couple of chats with. How thankful are we for that conversation and that lady’s generous information and encouragement to apply?) Parents and families may have inside and up-to-date information – an elder child who goes to a nearby grammar, for example. Your local education authority (LEA) will also advise you of any grammar schools in the area.
When you find a school that interests you, here are five questions you absolutely need the answers to, either from their website or from a telephone call to the ADMISSIONS department. Ideally, do both – check a website first, then follow up with a phone call to get things totally clear.
1. When and how do I apply to your school?
2. What’s in the entrance exam? What subjects will my child be tested on?
3. HOW do you test each subject? Is the test format
- A full sentence/calculation answer sheet, with working out shown for maths question?
- Multiple choice?
- A combination of both? If so, which parts use which format?
4. Does your school offer a sit-down ‘mock’ or practice test’? Do you provide sample questions or a sample paper?
5. When are the dates of any open days so we can visit your school?
It might help to zoom in a little on each of these points. Remember, your child cannot do any of this without you. Nor is it your primary school’s role. You alone are the power here.
Usually, you apply in the Spring term when your child is in Y5, around Easter time, April. The cut-off date may be early July, or sometimes as late as September of Y6 if the testing takes place later in the year. There are, however, some tests which take place closer to July, and which may have earlier cut-off dates. PLEASE DO THIS STEP ASAP!
Make sure you know this date well in advance.
In fact, if you are in a position to, stop reading this and find the date and as much of the information as you can now. It’s that important. Don’t miss it.
You must fill in a separate form for each school.
Depending on the school, you apply online, but may be able to apply by post. If you apply online, you need to upload a photograph of your child, but the process is easy, with full instructions given.
Later, in October of Y6, after you have applied separately to the school, and in some cases, after your child has sat the test for a grammar school, you fill the local authority shared Common Entry Form. On this form, you list all your school choices in order of preference. This form goes to the local authority, not the schools. Your child’s primary school will give out, and may help in submitting, this form. Do ask them.
If you have visited possible schools earlier in the year, choosing the order of preference may be easier. Note, I say easier, not easy.
A lot of thought and worry goes into choosing which school to put first, second, etc. Some people argue that if there is more than one grammar in the borough, it is risky to put 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice as grammars, simply because the pass rate for first choices is high enough to make it very hard to get a grammar as a second or third choice. Some parents put a grammar 1st, then choose the best secondary comprehensive they find. I can’t advise you on this, it’s your decision.
Personally, as my son had passed two tests before we filled the form, we risked it all and put the three grammars as our first three choices. I know we were not alone in doing this, and we also heard from one grammar school Head that several children had come to his school as a second choice.
Remember, each school does not know how you have listed your preferences. If your child passes with a high enough mark to be offered a place, they will be offered a place. The offer is submitted to the local authority, not you, and it is the council who look at 1st choice 2nd choice, etc.
If your child has sat an entrance test in September, and you know the result, this can help either way.
If your child hasn’t passed the entrance test, DO NOT continue to put that school down on as a preferred school – it will not be considered, and you waste a chance to put a good second choice as a new first choice. I know this is an obvious point, but each year people make this mistake.
It’s also worth repeating, so you are very clear on this, that you cannot list grammar schools, or many other state schools, on the CEF unless you have first filled out the individual school form and applied for the test earlier in the year.
Don’t miss the opportunity – fill in the school’s separate form. Even if you change your mind later, it’s better to have the option to put a school down on the CEF. It happens every year that parents leave this too late: you are not going to be one of them.
After you have submitted the individual school application, the school will confirm receipt, then write to you with the date and time your child will sit the test. Tests happen from as early as September in your child’s Y6 year (just a few weeks after they start Y6), to as late as January. You are given a morning or afternoon time – they choose, not you.
When you are given the date, congratulations! You’ve handled the paperwork that makes it possible; the opportunity to get into the school is now a reality.
I’m splitting this post into two, maybe three parts, as there is so much information to share with you. We’ll continue to zoom in on the above points tomorrow, starting with answering the question: what’s in the test? What will your child be tested on?
Have a happy day of learning, Lee
P.S. Do you know the 21 must-haves of creative writing your child needs to show in every piece of creative writing? Are you prepared for the multiple choice tricks all English tests play to try and catch your child out as schools reduce the number of applicants down to the most alert and prepared? Click here to get started or find out more now. (Do it before you run out of time to prepare.)
I know you could have told yourself that, but here’s what that one truth means.
1. Loves you.
2. Believes you.
3. Needs you.
4. Learns from you.
5. Learns everything about how to be, learn and think from you.
Your son or daughter at primary school age looks up to you – and is influenced by you – in way they will never be again.
What this means is that you are in a position of what I call
Every day, whether you try to or not, you influence your child.
If that’s true, then imagine how you can influence them when you do try.
Deliberate influence directed at a definite target – this is superinfluence. There are five happy steps to superinfluence when we are getting ready to sit and pass the 11+, plus one bonus step. (Begin developing your superinfluence with the English Masterclass Bundle – four books dedicated to multiple choice tests and outstanding 11 plus creative writing.)
1. Knowing that you do have influence.
2. Deciding what and how begins with where.
3. Naming and getting rid of your worries about the 11+.
4. Doing it: doing the influencing. My own mantra is ‘Only doing does.’ Because it’s true.
5. Repeating step 4. ‘Only doing does’ doesn’t mean ‘only doing once does.’
We’re going to go deeper into each of these over the next 5 posts, making this another 11plushappy! mini-series. P.S. You have one week left to grab your copy of the English Masterclass bundle sale – all four books – for less than half price. I urge you to seize the moment and move your child to the front of the line now.
1: Know that you have influence
We’ve been through it already: you do. Accept it.
You launch your child’s life.
Where are you launching them towards? What skills are you going to give them to make sure they don’t just survive life’s journey, but create life’s journey. Be guided by this statement:
Parents who put education first tend to develop children who come first in education.
It’s not rocket science. Speak French, they learn French. Speak telly every night, they learn telly every night.
Speak excuses, they learn excuses. Speak belief and achievement, they learn belief and achievement.
What you want to get across to your child is the message that what matters is
“You, me and learning.”
Because it is what matters.
I’m not saying the other stuff of life is rubbish or less important. I know I’m risking you saying, ‘Hang on, I want my child to play football, or chat with friends, or swim, I want my child to enjoy his computer games, to enjoy his childhood.’
Well, my son, and the other children we know who make it to grammar school, still played football, still swam – they simply did it as part of the learning schedule.
There is time for it all. But at the same time, there is only one time for a best shot at that grammar school.
Your child will enjoy his childhood if you love them, if he or she has a great relationship with you, if they know you care, if you guide them, if you believe in them, if you develop them. Develop them and you set your child up to enjoy childhood days and teenage days and adulthood days and old age.
Be careful of a strange fear in modern culture of ‘putting pressure’ on kids. It’s a feature of language and thought today that some grown-ups sprinkle their sentences with the word ‘stress’ like some people sprinkle salt on their food.
My instinct, from observations on children at school and in tuition, is it isn’t helpful and it isn’t true.
Sprinkling salt or stress isn’t good for you!
Technology-creep, obesity, selfishness, poverty of language, a material-craving, but work-avoiding celebrity obsessed generation – that’s pressure. Not getting a good job when you become an adult and are trying to make a home – that’s pressure. Getting up to your neck in debt because you can’t earn enough to pay the bills – that’s pressure.
Not thinking you are worth, or able, to go for your dream with everything you have – that’s pressure.
The truth is children love challenge. Leave them alone and they’ll argue to be the best at ANYTHING – my spaghetti is longer than yours, I can throw further than you, I’ve got to level 7 on this game, my team is better than yours, on and on it goes. Listen to children talk and very quickly you’ll discover a natural desire to be and do and have the best.
All you are doing is funnelling that natural, fun urge for challenge through the positive filter of superinfluence, and directing it towards learning and developing their mind and character in ways that will help them be ready to sit the test, as well as learning academic and personal skills they will use for the rest of their days.
Reassuringly, the 11+ process is about challenge, not competition. Being the best you can be is very different from being better than anyone else. How can they be compared with another child? Your child is unique – it is impossible. So let them know there is no need to worry or compare themselves to other children. By all means, however, let them compare themselves with themselves! What do they know this week that they didn’t know last week?
Parenting is your job, and superinfluence is your power.
Don’t leave parenting up to advertisers, phones, game developers, telly; don’t let it be influenced by your exhaustion at the end of the day. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
Join me tomorrow for the next part of this superinfluence series. Ready to go? Use your superinfluence and the English Masterclass Bundle to teach your child the skills they absolutely need to have the best chance of passing their 11 plus. You can still grab it at a bargain price, but only for 7 days.
I know how impossible it can feel and have learned how possible it is.
I’ve lived on both sides.
When we were sent the email from our local borough of Merton confirming our son had won his place, we exploded. We cried, hugged, laughed, then headed straight out for his celebration meal. My wife and I knew it was both a generation-changing moment for him and an incredible reward for the two years extra work he had put in.
But… the first step to your dream is to stop seeing it as a dream.
Instead, see it as a real outcome. Something that can actually happen if you find out what steps you have to take – and then take those steps.
Know what you have to do and do it till it’s done.
Yes, it’s two years of preparation for something that’s over in a couple of hours and has no guarantee. Regardless, you just have to commit to the path and give it everything.
You have to be your own guarantee!
One aim of this blog is to serve as a path to keep you motivated up to – and beyond – your child’s last sentence on their last test paper.
I wrote my first book as our son was finishing Y7, his first year, of grammar school. It was a year he absolutely loved – loved the thinking, loved the lessons that were never disrupted, loved the challenges teachers set to help him reach his best, loved the sport. The results from his first year exams were amazing: equivalent 7s and 8s in Y7.
I write books and this blog because my wife and I did so much stuff to help our son that worked that I didn’t want it to go to waste. I wanted to pass that stuff on, to help other children, other parents. I’m also hoping that having gone through the 11+ journey at the same time as being a primary teacher, I can help put this stuff into teachable, do-able, simple steps.
Why steps? I like steps for two reasons.
1. Your child already uses steps in the classroom. Every planned lesson at primary school has a learning outcome – we want the children to be able to do, know or understand something (sometimes defined as KSU, knowledge, skills, understanding) in the school curriculum).
To help get to that outcome, teachers often map out a set of steps for children to follow. Your child might know these as:
Steps to success
or another similar name.
You don’t try and do everything at once, but you do attempt all the steps.
Steps can help us stay on track, get back on track, and keep us motivated to see a job through; if we find ourselves going wrong or getting lost, a quick look back can show us where in the process we went wrong, or reveal a step we missed.
Without this step-by-step path, there’s a risk we decide something is just too hard and give up.
2. Perhaps the greatest power of doing things in steps is just that – you actually do it.You put a little information to work straight away and get moving toward that end goal.
The thinking is not, ‘How am I going to do all of this?’ but, ‘I’m now going to do just this.’
My English Masterclass Bundle follows this approach. Over 4 books, I show you the must-have ingredients of stand-out 11 plus writing one by one. As your child learns one feature, she or he can fold this into their writing. Moving onto another feature, your child then adds this to the next piece of writing, as well as the previous feature. Step by step, over time, your child builds skills to build incredible writing every time.
Also included in the English Masterclass Bundle are models of successful writing, which, as far as I know, are unique to 11plushappy! No one else is showing your child what successful writing looks like, so reading these books is going to put your child ahead. In school, children always learn by modelling. As do most of us in most areas of life: pictures of cake recipes with full instructions, lego and ikea instructions, cpr training using dummies, the millions of youtube videos dedicated to teaching guitar, dancing, computer building and any number of subjects.
Modelling is a vital step; show your child what success looks like.
Along with these models, I’ve written full explanations of why and how the writing works. I get close up to every technique and the job it is doing. All in a way that you and your child can understand and put to use.
Of course, the test is not just writing. In fact, Stage 1 exams are most likely to be multiple choice tests, which your child is rarely taught to do in primary school. As part of the Bundle, Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English is filled with 59 important traps and tricks your child has to be aware of.
I get quite cross that a lot of children are asked to do more and more practice papers without learning how to actually sit and succeed in these tests. Yes, they come with answers to check, but that is not teaching. Your child needs to know what kinds of questions are asked, what tricks are played in these questions (and they are tricks designed to catch children out), and the steps they can take to understand and answer questions correctly.
Another way of looking at this is to realise that you and your child need to know WHY they got any questions wrong. What fooled them? What did they fail to read and why? What trick did they fail to recognise? Armed with such a skillset, they are much more likely to score higher and higher in any test.
I’m not speaking negatively about all the fantastic 11plus resources out there. I’ve used and continue to use them all! Indeed, it was helping my children sit so many tests that allowed me to see the patterns and traps so clearly.
It’s just you need a way to help your child see through the tricks in multiple choice tests.
Are there tricks in Maths multiple choice as well? Definitely. I’m working on this right now. It will be included free as an extra in the bundle as soon as it is finished. If you buy the bundle before then, don’t worry – I’ll send you the book free when it’s done.
In closing, your motto for the new year can and must be –
“If someone can do it, my child and I can do it.”
It’s true. If it were impossible, the schools wouldn’t exist and no children would go to them!
Have an amazing year of learning. If you haven’t already, sign up for the Weekly Smile using the yellow form on the 11plushappy! website.
Here’s to an incredible year of deliberate, relevant, happy learning as you approach 11 plus success.
A huge motivational entrance test hello and a very short burst of happiness to remind you that holidays are the best learning present you can ask for – a gift of time to plan and weave in a few happy hours of intentional eleven-plus learning.
Your child can make huge progress during these long days, as well as having a fun break. Please find an hour or two a day to go over difficult subjects, to rehearse different genres of writing essays, or to focus in on a handful of test strategies and techniques to blast your child’s scores and progress. You can do it, your child can do it, you have to do it. As someone who teaches during the holiday – and as a parent who took both his children through the 11 Plus journey – I vow with everything I can that holidays are superboosts of learning. Whatever you are doing, do lots of it this holiday!
If you’re looking for 11 Plus specific English help, there’s a final chance to own and benefit from the creative writing and multiple choice 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle for less than half-price. You’ll find everything I’ve learned as a teacher, tutor, writer and father to help your child achieve their highest, happiest mark.
I wish you a productive, successful Christmas.
Good morning, Saturday. Time to smile and think about today’s learning.
If we remember that the latin root ‘educare’ means to lead out, to draw out the intelligence that is inside, rather than cram in, stuff full, it’s easy to see that praising your child is so important, so effective – and so correct.
When they achieve something, make a learning breakthrough, or simply work on understanding a problem or practising a writing technique, congratulate them and point out specifically what their efforts and thinking have allowed them to uncover.
It is not the information that matters as much as how that information allows your child to sharpen their mind, to uncover layers of intelligence, problem solving and creative power that are always inside them.
You teach your child to understand that they possess the intelligence and creative power as part of who they already are.
Yes, you have to teach – and they have to learn – content. Just bear in mind the purpose of that content, how it is interacting with your child’s brain, firing up the engines that are there just waiting. Learning is about so much more than a test, yet it’s also true that someone who loves to learn will often perform extraordinarily well in tests.
Learning is an amazing process, as it draws out, polishes and releases your child’s natural intelligence. It’s one of the main reasons I try so hard to show my own children and my students the sheer joy of learning.
Have an incredible day of shared learning,
A huge motivational entrance test hello and a very short burst of happiness to remind you the half-term is gifting you time to plan and weave in happy hours of intentional eleven-plus learning.
Your child can make huge progress during these long days, as well as having a fun break. Please find two to three hours a day to go over difficult subjects, to rehearse different writing essays, or to focus in on a handful of test strategies and techniques to blast your child’s score and progress. You can do it, your child can do it – you have to do it. As someone who teaches during the holiday – and as a parent who took both his children through the 11plus journey – I vow with everything I can that holidays are superboosts of learning. Whatever you are doing, do lots of it this week!
Looking for help? Consider the 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle as part of your toolbox. Targeted, specialised help is yours for less than half-price. You’ll find everything I’ve learned as a father, tutor, teacher and writer to help your child thrive.
If you haven’t yet, remember to sign up for your free course on why time is such a superhero of the 11plus. Just look at the box to the right of this post (assuming you’re reading this online). I’d love you to sign up to the blog to make sure you catch all other posts. (There have been some important ones recently, so make sure to visit and read over previous posts.)
Stay half-term happy! My best, Lee
Hello again. (Welcome, if this is your first time visiting). Leading on from Reason 4, today we come to the second big benefit, superboost 2, of starting with easier, younger material. (If you missed the last post, Reason 4, I’d encourage you to click back and read that first.)
Do you remember in Reason 3 we discussed the need to learn specific test and preparation strategies? (Click here if you missed Reason 3.) The second benefit is that
your child is going to have a much stronger chance of learning these strategies while practising on easier, age related material.
You could set aside a handful of practice tests just to learn these reusable skills. For example, many multiple choice tricks and techniques can be mastered early on. Consider how the answer options in multiple choice English tests are often cleverly similar, designed to look correct and trick rushing skim-readers. Using this to your advantage, if the questions and answers are fairly straightforward at first – which they will be in a test for ages 7-8 in comparison to a test for ages 10-11 – you can better teach the hacks that will help your child find the right answer, without your child becoming confused by the question itself. Indeed, tests for younger children tend towards simple, information-finding questions, whereas higher level tests will introduce more complex questions that ask why something happens, or ask your child to infer, to work out an answer that isn’t in the text using clues from other information that is there.
Let’s look closely at a trick and a hack in action!
A question asks for the year in which an event in the passage took place.
Use this opportunity to point out that when questions ask for a date, the test may actually try to play 4 tricks, discussed below. The fourth trick is more complex, but if your child has learned to look for the first three tricks, they can use the hacks for these to help solve the fourth one.
- It is likely that if there is a question on dates, more than one date appears in the text. A child can see the first date they come to in the text and use that.
- Answer options might use all the dates in the text. A child may see a date, recognise it from the text, then think – Ah yes, I saw that, it must be that one. The temptation to use what you see in the text quickly can be very strong. It just seems to make sense – if it’s there, it must be right. Not so fast…
- Incorrect dates may be similar, sometimes switching digits. E.g. 1789 becomes 1798 or 1879. When under time pressure, our minds are fantastic at finding small pieces of evidence and immediately turning it into the answer we need.
- The date may not even be mentioned in the text! What? Yes, really. What are you supposed to do if this is the case?
To hack date questions and supercharge your child’s test skill-set, you can teach them the following, extremely practical hacks. (WARNING: Before we start, here’s a thought point. What if you leave it late to show your child these skills? There appears to be quite a lot, especially when you consider we are only discussing dates, so it makes sense to begin early and learn the skills slowly and surely. There are dozens of other strategies that you can teach your child, so get them started soon!)
- Underline or dot the date on the question paper, so you know what you are being asked.
- Read the question closely (You can find lots of targeted, effective, child-friendly ways to properly question the question in the Grammar School Success in Multiple Choice English ebook, available individually and as part of the English Masterclass Discount Bundle), so you know what finished looks like. What are you actually supposed to do in the question? Misreading questions is one of the biggest causes of children losing marks.
- Check each date with the information around it in the text to see if this is the one being pointed to by the keywords in the question.
- Check the digits and the order of the digits to make sure you have the right choice in the answers.
- If the date is not in the text, do the next two hacks:
a) First, top and tail. Look above the text for an intro or title, then look below the text for extra info. Sometimes info you need is located here, either in context (it will tell you it was during WW2, for example) or openly written, e.g. the author and date of publication come as a footnote at the end of the passage.
b) Look for info in the text that helps you work out the date. Suppose you are asked in which year a character was born. It doesn’t tell you her birth year or birthday, but there might be pointers to the event, or other numbers which refer to it. It could say something like:
“Four years ago, on her fifth birthday, Jaya had been given an ancient piece of paper with a code on it. She stared, transfixed, at today’s newspaper – The Daily Spark, Monday 5th October, 2023 – and the headline on the front page: it was the same code.”
What information will help us answer the question? In the example above, the date is 2023. 4 years ago, Jay was 5, so we can take away 4 and 5 from 2023 to infer he was born in 2014, 9 years ago. Your child then checks the answer options for this figure. (Also teach your child to be check that answer options are not playing tricks even with this inferring information. For example, a wrong answer might be the date if you take away 4 years instead of 9.)
You can improve your child’s ability to solve date questions by having you both create questions designed to be tricky, hiding the date deep inside the writing, as we did above. You can have a lot of fun creating lots of layers and rules to uncover the answer.
Now, does this feel like a lot for your child to learn? The brilliant news is if you start early, you have the time to teach them one at a time. You also – and this is my favourite reason for starting early – allow all these hacks, all these techniques, to become just habits, automatic tests your child will apply to certain questions – as we said in our last post, like brushing teeth and looking for traffic before crossing the road.
The gold is that, as questions increase in ‘difficulty’, you remind your children that the tricks and hacks stay the same and can be used on all levels of question! This should create a virtuous circle, whereby the time taken to learn the tricks and hacks using easy material helps your child read and answer more and more complex questions correctly and quicker, as she or he approaches the creative challenge of aiming for 100% in later practice tests and on the day itself. The strategies they used to solve simpler tasks can be used on harder tasks! Thus, with the hacks learned and embedded, you can spend a large part of Year 5 refining knowledge, language technique, spelling, practising cloze, learning new vocabulary and grammar, reading lots, as well as creating incredible, stand-out writing.
That’s all for today. Please come back for Reason 6 on Saturday, or sign up to the blog to make sure other posts come straight to you. (We all need fewer clicks in our lives!) You’ll know from reading the start of the series that I quickly realised while writing early posts that there were more than 5 reasons not to wait. Hence, there’ll be 6, possibly 7 reasons in this mini-series.
I truly hope today’s reason makes it clear that starting early is without doubt the best possible 11+ action plan. Thank you for reading and for nurturing your child’s 11+ opportunity. Start learning, stay learning, stay happy.
Straight in today; your time is short and after 3 days of our mini-series blog/mini-blog series, I know you’re ready for the reason.
Reason 4 has two sides to it, both of which offer true superboosts to your child’s learning and enjoyment of 11plus prep.
Reason 4: Start early – Y4, Y3, Y2 – and your child will begin with easier, age related material. (Bond, for example, has books for 5-6, 7-8, etc.) Easier material at the start allows two magical things to happen:
- You give your child important early wins in their work, exposing them to the happy feelings of getting questions right, which can be enormously motivational. Securing early wins at a time when your main aim is building regular learning habits and a real enthusiasm and love for learning is turning the sails in your child’s favour.
Few children – or grown ups – like to get things wrong, especially in front of the person who cares for us. At least, not at the start. Working on harder material straight away – which is a real risk if starting from scratch in Y5 – can make some children worry. Even worse, if they consistently get a lot of things wrong in early sessions, the habit that can be created is a reluctance to work, a tendency to avoid the regular hours of home learning that make the difference.
However, if you are simply trying to introduce or supplement the knowledge they are learning at school through extra home learning, using materials for a younger age group, it is more likely that initial scores will be higher.
In effect, their first impression of extra learning is success.
Another recommended way you can play this as their teacher is to start with easier material regardless of their age. Again, what you want them to experience is the thrill of getting things right. It can lift self-esteem and build resilience for later, harder material. You want your child to think: Well, I got it right before, so I can get it right again (you can say this to them to encourage); you don’t want them to think, Well, I got it wrong before, so I can get it wrong again.
I would say always start them on easier material. If your child is in Y4, let them work through a Y3 age-related book or two. You don’t have to tell them it’s easier material. Let them tell you proudly that they find it easy, then simply move through the difficulty levels without labelling them as such. For non-verbal and verbal reasoning, this can be especially helpful, as much of the material will be brand new.
KEY TRUTH: When you start early, you give yourself and your child time to go through these different levels.
Okay, so we’re learning that kicking off the 11plus journey with easier, younger material helps secure early wins and allows your child’s first impression of learning to be success, which should:
- boost motivation,
- supply your child with lots of good learning feelings (children are often more emotional than rational at this early stage, so switching on good emotion could support the development of rational, question-based thinking and stamina),
- help build the crucial superhero habit of regular learning.
So that’s superboost 1. I said at the start there were two huge benefits to setting off on the 11plus journey by passing through easier, lower-levelled material.
Ready for superboost 2?
Come back tomorrow and we’ll go through that. I want each superboost to stand alone, framed in its own mini-blog, to give you time to think about each one, to help you grasp their power and inspire you to start teaching your amazing child now!
Thank you for reading and for nurturing your child’s learning opportunities. Visit 11plushappy.com to read the rest of the posts in the series. Why not sign up to the blog to make sure you receive the posts straight to your inbox?
Start learning, stay learning, stay happy. Lee