Part 2 of seriously un-serious* ways to help your child remember serious words

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!

For example:

Admonish (verb)

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…

  1. Councils have left up signs to admonish people who continually drop litter in the parks. (Main verb)
  2. Mr Round, the head teacher, admonished Stephan for drawing only triangles in his maths book. (-ed past tense)
  3. Carter’s ears drooped, his tail ceased wagging and his head dropped, looking like an admonished school boy. (Simile) (Admonished becomes an adjective here!)
  4. The storm was an admonishment from Mother Earth for the farmer’s failure to gather her harvest in time. (Metaphor) (admonishment is a noun)
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

What is happening to the eleven plus exam? How to name and get rid of your worries about the 11+ . (The write way to worry!)

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:

  1. 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.

Everything.

 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!)

But…

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?

Done?

How do you feel? Worse, or relieved?

However you feel, shake your own hand for what you’ve just done.

 Why?

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.

Not facts.

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!

My very best, Lee Mottram

Superinfluence Part 2: Deciding what and how starts with where

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.)

SUPERINFLUENCE: “I am the single most important factor in my child’s 11+ success.”

I know you could have told yourself that, but here’s what that one truth means. 

Your child:-

 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

superinfluence.

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.

Best, Lee

Please make sure your child’s Christmas is 11plushappy!

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.

Best, Lee

Mr Happy

Are you half-term happy? Holidays are fantastic 11plus learning gifts!

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

Reason 5 of “5 reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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!)

  1. Underline or dot the date on the question paper, so you know what you are being asked.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Check the digits and the order of the digits to make sure you have the right choice in the answers.
  5. 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.

Best, Lee

Reason 3 of “5 reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests”

Today’s reason is a big one, often overlooked, even denied. Remember that if you missed the first two reasons, you can catch up on

Reason 1 here,

and

Reason 2 here

Reason 3, then, is that starting early, at least in Year 4, gives your child one of the biggest advantages when it comes to scoring highest in tests: time to seek out, find and show your child specific test strategies. In short, you can go a long way to teach them how to sit the test.

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning tend to have repeated styles of questions, many of which your child will not have been taught at primary school. Neither subject is part of the primary curriculum. Nevertheless, if you watch videos or look at practice books in both subjects, you will see that patterns and sequences often follow similar steps that your child can and will get better at if they are shown the pattern or code structure, then practise this on a range of material that gradually increases in difficulty. For example, there are only so many ways a picture can change: size, colour, shading, spots or stripes, direction of arrows, overlapping or separate shapes, moving around corners, and so on.

It’s a very similar story in multiple choice English. It is not taught in any depth at primary school, yet often forms the first, sometimes the only, part of the English entrance exam. Over the years, my students and I have discovered more than fifty ways tests try and trick children. Although I didn’t set out to, I ended up needing to write a valuable book about Multiple Choice English tricks, together with hacks to help children beat them. I found I needed a way to log them to help explain and illustrate to children what to look out for and what they could do about it.

What strategies and practical tips am I talking about? There are far too many to cover in even multiple posts. I’ve ended up writing four books just about the English part of the test. Here, though, are two factors to engage with.

  1. A huge multiple choice English trick is your child is being tested THREE times, not once. Children can be fooled into thinking it is easier than a written test; they won’t have to write lots of complicated answers with evidence, and the answers are already there! They only have to find them. Easy? Not so. It is a reading test, not a writing test, and your child has to know three ways to read the test. First, they have to know how to read the comprehension properly and swiftly; secondly, they have to learn to read the questions properly and fully – and to watch out for the dozens of tricks that may be hidden inside them; lastly, they have to read the answers very carefully, as incorrect options are designed to look right and catch children out. Again, there are dozens of ways they attempt to do this.
  2. Time. I wrote at length about how to get the most out of time in my first book. I’ve recently serialised the chapter on time into a free e course, which you can sign up to in the yellow box to the right of this blog post or blog page, assuming you’re reading this online. There are seven major ways to play with and manage time. Knowing these is essential when you remember your child has around 40 minutes in each subject to show 6 years of primary education, one of which they won’t even have completed!

Of course, starting early ensures that you can be thorough and gradual in the learning and practice of these strategies. You may worry that there are too many and that they will only confuse your child further. If you try and teach them a few weeks before the test, you may be right. Strategies are best thought of as habits, learned over a period of time, which become natural and almost immediate. For example, while teaching and looking for the different tricks hidden inside questions, practice papers will be slower to complete. This is fine when using practice tests as a teaching tool, not as an end in themselves, which is an effective way to squeeze more value from practice tests. We know that it is not practice that makes perfect, but deliberate, targeted practice that allows lasting breakthroughs to be made. With time to spend learning strategies, your child can adopt them as automatic thinking patterns, like putting on a seat belt before a journey, brushing teeth at night, or stopping and looking for traffic before crossing a road.

Remember as well that while every question may contain a trick, or at least have a strategy to answer it effectively, not every question contains every trick! If your child has learned the range of strategies and ways to approach questions, (and actually, there are not that many – most children can name the children in their year group, or a couple of football teams, which is about the same number), they are best placed to recognise question and answer traps and be able to work around them.

I hope today’s reason helps you to feel good about starting the learning journey as soon as you can. You are not putting pressure on your child; the longer you can spend, the more relaxed, thorough, and most of all, happy you should both be.

Yes, the first step, always, is to know lots of things. Here is where you can point out and encourage your child to listen well, work actively and positively in class, to be fascinated generally by how amazing learning and information is. This is surely the main aim – to love learning. To love finding out. To love turning not knowing into knowing.

Nevertheless, the second step is to know how to show what you know, how to work through a paper properly, in time, how to read questions properly, how to avoid wrong answers in multiple choice, how to sit the various tests your child will be sitting.

Thank you for reading this far, and for nurturing your child and giving them the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the 11+ represents.

Click here for more information about the Multiple Choice English book. You can look inside the amazon version to see just how many areas are covered. For your information, it’s available in three formats: on kindle, as a standalone printable ebook on this site, and as part of the 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle, which carries a better-than-half-price discount on all four titles.

In writing this post, as I did a day back, I realised a seventh reason for not waiting, which needs its own mini-blog rather than a couple of lines at the end of today’s blog. So in the spirit of expansion, this 5 reasons mini-blog series will now last for 7 days. I really hope each reason helps you feel confident about beginning your child’s future today. Please come back tomorrow for Reason 4. Start learning, stay learning, stay happy. Lee

Reason 2 of “5 Reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus exams”

Yesterday, we admitted the important truth that starting to prepare in Year 5 could be simply expecting too much for some children, given the amount of material to be covered versus the amount of time available. Today’s reason, Reason 2, is actually an extra one I realised while writing the reason 2 I was going to tell you about today. I was planning to add a couple of sentences onto yesterday’s post, a sort of P.S. to Reason 1, but there was too much to say on the subject. It was too important to brush over. So, in fact, there are 6 reasons not to wait. Expect this 5-part miniblog series to now have 6 parts!

Reason 2: The age factor. How old is your child? If your child is younger in their year – sometimes they are nearly a year younger than others – that can be an influence on how much they can learn within a given time. As importantly, as a teaching consideration, are the ways they may learn best at a younger age. If you start in Year 4, you have time to develop learning games in the home that can hook their imagination, sense of fun and need to play. You can still maintain a lot of these throughout Year 5, while at the same time developing their stamina to sit longer exam papers.

Two powerful effects of play-based learning:

  • It’s more fun and will often lead to longer sessions, as well as helping to build your learning relationship;
  • It’s more likely to be practical, and for many children, this ‘concrete’ experience of doing things will help them thrive.

Here’s a link to a simplypsychology article on Kolb’s Learning styles, giving a brief overview of this ‘concrete’ learning style, alongside other learning styles, in case you’d like to have some context. As an illustration, my daughter and I, towards the end of Year 4, opened a Problem Shop in the kitchen. She was the owner, ‘the boss’, and I would post written maths problems in an envelope through her shop door. She would then call me up on a pretend phone (sometimes a real one) and try and explain how she would solve it for me. I would sometimes ask if I could come to the shop so she could show me on paper, which she always agreed to because she was in role as a polite shop owner! This matched her love of drama and was an excellent way to have several, very short ‘lessons’ at spare points in the day. When similar problems were met in practice papers, I would remind her of the similarity to a problem her Problem Shop had solved for me.

Children love to play, and sometimes fun, unusual approaches will stick in the memory longer or clearer than only sitting with a book. (You still need to do this, of course.) To help with measurement, estimation and approximation, we measured spaghetti sticks and then predicted how many we would need to make a path to reach the garden. It goes without saying that we had a lot of fun making the path, especially when it came to going down the stairs. We were also able to discuss how much the pasta would weigh, using the mass of one pack. (Food can be an amazing learning tool.) A similar game was to make a Book Path, laying out every book we had in the house, then learning probability from trying to work out the likelihood of landing on a fiction or non-fiction title, or a title by a favourite or least-favourite author.

It goes without saying (teach your child this sentence opener as a rhetorical phrase they can use in persuasive letters – because, of course, I am going to say it) that what made these games so enjoyable and effective was that I had started long before the test, so I knew I had time to meander and spend important time going through this process. There was less pressure than if we had started a few months before.

Age is not the defining factor, but it is most definitely a strong influence. As I wrote yesterday, part of the reason for starting earlier than Year 5 is simply because you can. So many children can learn ideas and topics not covered until Year 5 or 6 when they are in Year 4 or earlier. Perhaps a more precise way to think about it is that it is more to do with stage than age. What stage of learning is your child at? Of course, you may not know until you try them with material from later years, so go ahead and introduce these materials. For example, I use the picture-rich CGP KS2 Maths Book on children in Year 3. At this point, they have only entered KS2, but the book covers material right up to Year 6, a lot of which children can grasp, or at least begin to grasp as they move on into Year 4.

Okay, that’s the end of an extra reason not to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for eleven-plus entrance tests. Thanks for letting me add an extra reason. Please come back tomorrow for Reason 3 – the one I said at the end of Reason 1 that your child cannot afford to you to miss.

Why not sign up to the blog to get the reasons automatically sent to your email? (Remember to check spam or the gmail promotions tab, and to whitelist the blog post.)

You can also grab a free email course on why time is so important to the 11plus – and what you and your child can do about it. If you’re reading this on the 11plushappy! website, check out the yellow box to the right of this blog post.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving your child the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is the eleven-plus. Have an amazing week of learning together. Stay learning, stay happy, Lee

How a simple dice transformed my children’s 11plus learning and brought us closer together

Along with time, a second superhero of eleven plus success is going to be vocabulary. The more words you know, the more precise, nuanced and expansive are your thoughts. Leading on from this is the certainty that equipping your child with words, words and more words is going to help in at least six areas of the entrance test (one for each face of the dice):

  1. In creative writing, your child is going to write better descriptions of everything – the five senses, moods, locations and scenes, persuasive reasons for or against. In dialogue and action, synonyms for said and synonyms for verbs will help convert writing from satisfactory to outstanding. Your child will write higher quality metaphors, similes, personification and alliteration because they have a greater choice of words with which to do the job.
  2. In comprehension, unknown words catch out many, many children. Answer options in multiple choice make this worse by playing tricks, for instance, offering the easy misunderstandings that result from not knowing a word, such as choosing a similar sounding word, or a similar looking word. It therefore follows that the more words your child knows, the more likely it is that they will understand the words in a comprehension, which means they will answer more questions correctly in a time-efficient way.
  3. In choosing a word to fill a gap in the text (cloze), they will have a higher chance of selecting the correct option and rejecting incorrect options because they will know the meanings of both the right and wrong answers on offer.
  4. A good understanding of the most common prefixes and suffixes will help them select the correct prefix/suffix needed to complete a word, as well as to choose the correct meaning for a word that uses a particular prefix.
  5. The more words your child knows, the more they will be able to say what type of word a word is: nouns, adjectives, adverbs of time, abstract nouns, etc.
  6. The more words they know, the more they will recognise right and wrong spellings, which is going to help them with any spelling questions. (For example, meeting lots words ending in -cial or -ious is going to cement that spelling string in their minds.) They will also spell more words correctly in any writing.

ENTER THE DICE…

With a dice, any list in the universe is a game. How?

  1. Focus on one area at a time. For example, abstract nouns.
  2. Google a list, print off a copy. This list is your game board.
  3. Choose your path, or let your child decide. Player 1 could start at the first word, player 2 could start at the last word. First to reach the opposite end is the winner. Or perhaps it’s simply a race, with you both starting on the same word.
  4. Roll your dice (or die, to use the singular – you only need one). Each word is a step on the board. Roll a 5, move your counter on to the fifth word.
  5. Either say or write a sentence using this. Anything you don’t know, you pit stop and look up, or write down to look at after and move on. Perhaps you only allow 2 chances to move on in the game, otherwise you have to take a pit stop and look up the definition.
  6. At the end of the game, add the words you have used to a new list, or let your child choose their favourite five. The next step is for your child to use all of these in their next piece of writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. (P.S. Get informed about the 21 must-haves your child needs to have in every piece of fiction or non-fiction piece of writing.)
  7. You could vary this by having two copies of the same list, which you hide from each other. Use the dice to find six words from the list, at which point use a dictionary or your own knowledge to write or read a description of the word out loud. The other player has to find the word that matches your description.
  8. Use different lists over the days and weeks to make sure you cover all types of word.

My son’s favourite type of writing was description (which came to even greater fruition a few years later in GCSE English Language writing; everything your child learns is leading them to greatness), so he loved finding new adjectives and verbs to help him with this. My daughter loved the games more than the writing, but still ended up knowing and being able to use her words very competently! Either way, it kept us laughing and having fun while learning. This made it easier to spend more time together learning; ultimately, she learned more. (I don’t say this to gloat that teaching her was easy; it wasn’t. Most of the time, it was more like guerrilla tactics. I had to helicopter in, teach her something, then get out before she realised I had taught her something, as she was quite a rebel. (I love you, dear daughter, you know that!)

I love dice. I have yet to teach anyone who doesn’t get carried away by the gaming transformation and potential of this most portable of friends. You can take dice anywhere you want to go and learn. Better still, keep one in your pocket or pencil case. Few people want to read lists; nearly everyone loves to play games.

If you found this post helpful, please share with friends, family and colleagues; you never know who might be looking for help. Please visit www.11plushappy.com for more posts, as well as niche, bespoke, ebook information targeting your child’s success in the 11plus.

Start learning, stay learning, stay 11plushappy!

Lee, London.