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.

50% off all 11plus English tuition books until our precious children are allowed to return to school

The headline says it all, so if you want to skip to the books, please do. Goodness knows how we make it through this, but we have to believe at some point that schools will reopen and your hoped-for grammar school will admit the next intake. It could be sooner than we think or later than we think, but it will happen.

Whatever you are doing to stay safe and occupied, we must keep our children learning.

The good habits you and schools have established to help your children learn are crucial at this moment. Learning provides much more than a distraction from worry – it paves the way for tomorrow’s generation of heroes and humans who will shape and build and grow the best future possible. It sets your child on their best path.

11 plus exams will at some point be a normal reality again. Please – little by little – stay learning with precision and purpose. We need our children to be progressing and prepared, not in a spirit of competition or worry, but in a happy spirit of continuing the love of learning and the happiness and stimulation that come from achievement and focus. It is good that our highest goals as humans remain at the core of what we do. It is not easy, but it is good.

I’m now running a 50% off coupon on all books in the 11plushappy range, including the bundle. (From an already low bundle price of £47, you now invest just £23.50 for the 4-book 11 Plus English Masterclass Bundle, giving you months of targeted learning).

Use the voucher code ‘stay at home’ in the cart.

Please have a look at the books. I believe so strongly they can help you and your child continue learning together.

I’m sorry I am not in a position to offer them for free. With social distancing in place, all my tuition students can, of course, no longer come, so my own income and ability to keep my family food coming is under pressure. I hope that 50% off everything can help everyone survive and thrive. Please share the coupon with anyone you feel might benefit – there are no restrictions. The creative writing guides are also very suitable for upper KS2 and KS3 children. Included in the purchase is an opportunity to send a piece of your child’s written work for free, so that I can read and suggest some next steps for your child to take. This is specific to your child, not generic.

Simply add your books to the cart and write ‘stay at home’ in the voucher code box. Your 50% discount will be applied immediately.

Stay learning, stay safe, love your children, be patient, be caring, be funny, strive to be happy. In dark times, we must be the extra light.

Thank you for caring for and teaching your children. I hope that as you stay at home, your 50% off voucher code helps you and your child on their path to eventual eleven plus success.

Children, keep creating, keep learning and keep laughing. Every smile, every word, every number, every picture is worth it.

My best, Lee


Reason 4 of “5 Reasons NOT to wait until Year 5 to start preparing your child for 11plus entrance tests”

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:

  1. 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 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

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,


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

Are you thinking about the 11plus? Think multiple choice! Here’s why…

Half term has been full of teaching and tuition, which I absolutely love, and here’s the one urgent lesson that’s come out of every lesson, from Y3to Y5, and from every chat with parents after each lesson:

Multiple choice. Multiple choice. Multiple Choice. To put it another way –

Q: Which of the following is absolutely the gatekeeper to nearly all good grammar schools, and thus must form a huge part of you and your child’s 11 plus learning journey?

A) Multiple choice

B) Multiple choice

C) Multiple choice

D) Multiple choice

E) All of the above

Of course, it’s E. This is a big, big deal. Nearly all grammar school tests use multiple choice tests as either the only test your child sits, or as a Stage 1 test which acts as a very real gatekeeper to a school’s Stage 2 test, which will be written, full answers and not multiple choice. Your child HAS to pass the multiple choice test to be invited to the Stage 2 test.

So, if your child is a brilliant writer of stories, persuasive letters, descriptions and full written comprehension answers that give brilliant explanations and answers, they may never get the chance to show their glory! Unless, until, they pass the multiple choice tests.

The solution? Patience, action and practice – but don’t just let them sit the papers. Teach them how to sit the papers. How do you do that? By exploring how they are laid out, by exploring the tricks and kinds of questions multiple choice tests are made up of.

For example, your child has to answer on a separate piece of paper by marking a series of lines like this:

Teach your child to beware of 3 dangers!

  1. Don’t think it’s easier because you don’t have to write anything. It’s a reading test, not a writing test. I’ll come back to this point in my next blog post.
  2. You can identify the correct answers on the question paper, perhaps by circling or underlining them, but forget to transfer the answer straight onto the answer sheet. Suppose your child finds the correct answers to the last five questions, but runs out of time to transfer them onto the sheet – they lose the five marks, even though they found the right answers. It’s best to transfer one answer at a time as soon as the correct answer is discovered.
  3. It’s very easy to mark the right answer in the wrong box. Suppose your child misses out a question that is taking too long. Suppose also that the next question turns out be easy to answer and they mark the correct letter on their sheet – but accidentally put it in the box that belonged to the previous question. Again, a mark missed. How often does this happen? Very often. Children sometimes don’t realise until they reach the end of their paper and find that either they have spare rows of answer boxes at the end, or else there is not enough space to answer the question they are on. Dangerously, if this isn’t realised until the end, there may not be enough time to figure out the first place they skipped or wrote in the right answer to the wrong question. This means lots of questions which they have answered correctly are all in the wrong place, so lots of points are lost. From one mistake comes wipe-out.

Encourage your child to dot or put a very small mark on the answer sheet next to the numbers of any questions they are leaving out, so they know a) to skip over that row of boxes, and b) can quickly return to any questions they missed out when they have finished the test. (They should have spare time left if they are using the 7 Superhero Powers of Time, which you can sign up to learn about for free on this website. The sign up form should be to the right of this post.)

Encourage them to do the simple repetitive step of checking that each question number matches the number on the answer sheet. Small step, huge difference.

So, wherever and however you are learning, remember: multiple choice, multiple choice, multiple choice.

Good energy and luck for today’s learning.

Stay 11 plus happy, Lee