What laziness might really be about

lazy teenager

Having spent my career so far working with teenagers, I know that they can be simultaneously the most rewarding and the most trying age group to work with. As both a teacher and a parent I have been guilty  of using the label “lazy” for children, rather than thinking about the reasons behind this behaviour. Simply, labelling a child “lazy” creates a dead end when working with these students, and instead parents and teachers can benefit from thinking about what is driving this behaviour in order to overcome these obstacles to learning and progress. Here are some ways to perhaps reconsider some of the more frustrating behaviours they sometimes display. 

Organisation 

One reason for perceived laziness is that teenagers have not yet developed the skills needed in order to become effective organisers. We get frustrated when they forget things or do not meet deadlines, but this is actually a skill that our brains do not master until young adulthood. The reasons for this are rooted in neuroscience. The frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop, and this is the part that helps us with planning and organisation.

 It can make time management and multitasking tricky for teenagers, and is a skill that we need to actually teach them and support them with, rather than just punishing them when they go wrong. Whilst they do need to take responsibility for their own organisation, we can give them tools to help them do this, such as planning tips and resources they can use to schedule their time and ensure deadlines are met. 

Spending too much time online 

Many parents lament how much time teenagers spend online, especially on their mobile phones, and not enough time working. However, at the same time it is easy to overlook the fact that this technology was not available to anything like the same extent when we were younger. No other generation has had to deal with a world that relies so heavily on online technology. Teenagers now are saturated with online distraction and stimulation, especially in the form of social media, which feeds upon addictive patterns of behaviour and encourages users to be on there as much as possible. It is not surprising that teenagers can find it hard to control their use of online technology, especially when their brain development means they are in the most impulsive stage of their lives, unable to always appreciate the long term consequences of their actions. 

Again, it is something that we need to help them with rather than just berating them. We need to ensure there are boundaries in place, and we are not unconsciously encouraging bad habits, for example by letting them have televisions and computers in their bedrooms, when in reality this is not a good idea. Setting time limits on technology and helping them see it as a privilege to be earned, for example a reward when they do a piece of homework, can support them in establishing these boundaries. 

Sleeping all the time 

It can feel like teenagers are being lazy when they spend all morning in bed, but science does support their need for extra hours in bed. Their circadian rhythm means that they feel tired later than adults in the evenings, hence why they struggle to then wake up earlier in the morning. The timings of the school day do not actually work well with the natural sleep cycle of teenagers. Whilst there is not a huge amount that parents can do about the school day start times, it is worth remembering that your child may actually genuinely be tired in the morning, and need some time to wake and adjust before being ready to learn. Encourage him/her to make sure they are organised for school the evening before, so that when they do wake up in the morning they are ready to go and do not need to do too much before heading out the door.  

Is there an undiagnosed SEND? 

If your child is reluctant to engage with their school work, make sure that the avoidance is not a defence strategy to avoid admitting they are having difficulties. Sometimes, students with SEND that have not been diagnosed may understandably feel embarrassed and upset about their difficulties, and avoid the academic activities that may expose them. Furthermore, some SEND such as dyspraxia may mean that students lack the ability to organise their time and work effectively, and can get mistakenly labelled as “lazy”. If you are concerned about your child’s attitude to work, talk to their teachers and see if they share any concerns. 

Is their mindset an issue? 

Following on from the previous point, lazy behaviours can sometimes stem from a lack of confidence and a fixed mindset. For some students, it seems easier to not try than it is to risk failure. He/she makes the choice to resist work and school, thinking that this option will protect them from getting it wrong. Some students also go into a state of “learned helplessness”, where their brains tell them it is better to wait for someone else to do a task for them than to do it themselves and make a mistake. 

It can be very difficult to work with students when they are in this fixed mindset, but it is important to teach them that it is something that can be changed. Neuroplasticity means our brains can be reprogrammed to think about things differently, but it does take time and practice. Students can improve their mindset with techniques such as journaling or using positive affirmations. Start by talking to your child about the thoughts that go through their head when they have a piece of school work to do, and why they do not want to try. You may be surprised by what you uncover! 

Get them a vision! 

Talking to your child about what they want to achieve can help him/her rediscover their focus and motivation. Very few people genuinely want to do absolutely nothing with their lives! If you can tap into the things that motivate him/her, it gives you something to refer back to when they need a little extra push. Making a vision board can also be an effective way to turn their dreams and ambitions into a visual prompt, that they can go back to when they are lacking in motivation. 

If you are looking for English tutoring that will help your child feel motivated and inspired, then get in touch today at hello@brightskytutoring.com

Moving to Secondary School

secondary school

Starting secondary school is an exciting chapter for children but also one that can be extremely daunting for many students. They have to get used to a very different style of education and one that often requires a far greater level of independence. Here are five tips to support your child with the transition from primary to secondary school: 

  1. Pack your bags the night before – Get your child into this habit now, and it will pay off later. Avoid the rushing around in the morning looking for textbooks and PE kits, and this will not only reduce the chance of things being forgotten but ensure your child arrives at school calm and ready to learn, rather than stressed and anxious. 
  2. Have a means of recording homework ready to go – In the past, schools would issue students with homework diaries, but many schools have moved over to online systems such as Show My Homework. This suits some children better than others, so talk to your child about how they are going to keep track of their homework. They will be having to coordinate a lot more than they are used to and cope with different deadlines, and recording it effectively will be paramount to helping them manage this process. If you feel your child would be better off with a physical diary, then make sure you have one purchased and ready to go. 
  3. Double-check the extra-curricular activities schedule – Whilst these activities are really important for your child’s personal development, his/her schedule is going to change now he/she is at secondary school. They will likely be starting their day earlier and finishing later, as well as potentially getting used to a bus/train journey as well. They will feel more tired at the end of the day, and will need time to recover, as well as completing their homework. This does not mean they cannot attend their extra-curricular activities as well, but be careful he/she is not overloaded and in danger of burning out. 
  4. Know the key people at the school – A big difference between primary and secondary school is that you will have less day-to-day contact with your child’s teachers. If problems arise, it is not always clear which member of staff it is best to talk to, and the school receptionist will be dealing with a much larger number of children and may not always immediately know where to direct you, although of course they will do their best to help. Make sure you know what the norm is in terms of contacting teachers at the school – often email will be the best way to make contact initially, as classroom teachers will not always be available on the phone. Check who your child’s form tutor and head of year are, as sometimes these may be the first port of call rather than the subject teacher. Furthermore, if your child is on the SEND register, make sure you know how to get in touch with the school SENCO, as he/she will normally be the best person with whom to discuss provision. 
  5. Talk about your fears and concerns – It is completely natural for your child to feel anxious about starting a new school and all the changes that will take place. Make sure you talk about September with your child, and address any concerns he/she may have. This is much better than bottling it up, and you will find it easier to support your child in September if you have an idea of what he/she may need help with. You can make a plan together of coping strategies, and think about potential problems that may arise. Remember to talk about the positives as well – change is scary but exciting, and necessary in order to move forward in life. 

If you are looking for further English support for your child as he/she enters secondary school, or if your child is already in Key Stage Three, Four or Five, then get in touch today at hello@brightskytutoring.com.

Results Not Grades

boy showing success

And so another Results Day has been and gone. This is the point at which some educational establishments will begin calculating and publishing grade percentages. But I will not be doing that. Not because there is anything wrong in doing so. And not because I am not incredibly proud of my students and not because I have anything to hide. Indeed, some of my students have achieved exceptional results, including two A Level students who have secured A*s across the board. The reason I will not broadcast grades in this way is that they are only ever part of the story, and I do not want to let this get in the way of the main work I do with students. 

Indeed, one of my proudest moments as a teacher was when my class all achieved Ds. Now this may seem a bizarre thing to be proud of – but makes a bit more sense when you realise these students came to me on G grades. Over the two year course, they improved by three grades and their progression scores were the highest in the school. Grade summaries cannot always show where a student has come from and do not show the whole picture. Likewise, I have been working with students whose experiences of education have been highly traumatic, and some have had to leave mainstream school. Grades cannot tell these kinds of narratives and reflect how momentous an achievement it is to secure a Grade Five. They have gone from feeling that education is a closed door to them suddenly having prospects or opportunities. 

Another key area of English tuition is about developing confidence and self-belief – invaluable skills that again cannot be measured effectively by grades alone. The breakthroughs in tuition can be grade-related, but they can also be the first time that a student completes a piece of work independently, without my scaffolding and intervention, and has an extended piece of writing of which they can be proud. Or the day when they genuinely get so excited about the creative writing piece they are producing that they begin to bounce up and down in front of the computer screen. Or sometimes it is the day when they want to share what they have been reading with you, or ask for a book recommendation. Often a sign of a breakthrough in tutoring sessions is when a quieter student begins to ask me questions or to cover a particular topic – showing that they are feeling relaxed enough with me as the tutor to start directing the learning themselves. 

It is absolutely right and fair to celebrate students’ success academically, but the tutoring process is about far more than just getting some numbers and letters on a piece of paper. One day the grades that were the centre of their universe will seem less and less important, as they move on to pastures new. However, the skills that their teachers and tutors cultivate in them as a teenager, during their most vulnerable and formative years, are what will remain. And this is equally worth celebrating. 

Bright Sky Tutoring offers secondary English tuition for both one to one and small groups. If you would like to find out more about how your child can flourish with Bright Sky Tutoring, get in touch today at hello@brightskytutoring.com.

Five tips on dealing with exam disappointment

disappointed student

It is the results season, and next week will see a Results Day like no other. For the first time ever, GCSE and A Level results are coming out in the same week, which means it is going to be an intense one! 

Despite the hard work of both students and teachers this year, there will still be disappointed teenagers out there – it is sad but inevitable. Some students take longer than others to get to grips with a subject and the examination requirements. At university, I had a module where my coursework essay marks were low, as I just could not get my head around what the tutors were after. However, in the last few weeks before the examination, something clicked for me, and I secured a First in the exam. It is always possible to turn your progress around, and there will be students who felt they were not given long enough to shine. 

So what to do now? Here are some tips on dealing with exam disappointment. 

Be kind to yourself 

There are some processes that will need to be started as soon as possible, particularly if you decide you would like to sit the examinations in November. However, try not to rush into anything. You may be in a state of shock, and you cannot make important decisions about the future in this condition. Take the time to accept what has happened. I often advise students in this state to go home, take an evening to wallow, watch rubbish films, eat tonnes of chocolate, and then come back to school the next day ready to make an action plan and move on. Failing an exam is not the end of the world, but it can feel like this to some students, who have put their all into their studies. You may need time to adjust and reset, before you are able to move on. 

Discuss it with your teachers 

Once you are ready, do not be afraid to discuss the grades you received with your teachers, if you think that this will help you move on. Your teachers know that the grades they have given will impact your future, and in some cases, it will have been a difficult decision to make. Make sure you do fall into the blame game trap. Your teachers would much rather have not had to be in this position. 

You may not be able to face the subject teacher, but there should be a senior member of staff available to talk. This is their job after all. Schools have systems in place to support students through this, so make sure that you use them. If you were planning to move to a new school or college for post-sixteen study, and you have not met the grade requirements, reach out if you can. Whilst schools do give minimum grade expectations, I have seen these waivered sometimes, normally with conditions in place, such as taking alternative subjects, for example switching from A Level to BTEC. It is so important to reach out and communicate as soon as you are ready. 

Avoid social media 

I would strongly advise not going on to social media. You are likely to see other students celebrating their results, which is not going to help you. Furthermore, people may want to ask you how you got on. Do not be afraid to turn off your phone if you cannot face talking to anyone. If your friends are true friends, they will understand how you feel, and they will still be there when you are ready to talk again. Family members are harder to shut out, and your parents in particular will want to help you, but may not quite understand what you need. If you need space to think, reassure them that you do want their help, but you need a few hours to yourself before you are ready. 

Focus on the future 

You cannot undo what has gone before, but you can start making plans for the future. You have options. In particular, you can sit the examinations in November if you wish to. Think carefully about this option, as it may be better to move on, especially if it is a case of wanting a particular grade, rather than needing it. You will be sitting an examination on content you have not studied for several months, and depending on your school, the support you get may be limited. If you feel passionately about proving yourself in the exam room, then do it, but consider the option carefully, and also listen to the advice of your teachers. 

Instead, think about the opportunities that lie before you. Are there any lessons you learn to help you move forward? Do you know deep down that you could have worked harder earlier on in the course, instead of relying on a last minute surge to carry you through? If you have had to change subjects or options, think of the new pathways that may have opened up. Life has a strange way sometimes of leading us to the places we were meant to be, and you may look back in ten years time and see that this disappointment you are feeling now, was actually all part of a bigger plan. 

Seek professional help 

Sometimes however much we try to move on and focus on the future, we cannot. If you think that you might be experiencing something more serious, then make sure you seek help. This is where talking to your parents or another adult you trust, such as a form tutor, is really important. Be honest with others about how you are feeling, and do not try to put on a brave face when inside you are really struggling. This will pass, but sometimes we need a bit of a helping hand to get through it. 

If you are a parent or student looking for further support with English, please check out Bright Sky Tutoring. I am a qualified secondary English teacher, offering one to one and group tutoring. To find out more about my services, please get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com.

Strategies for Dyspraxia

Family high fiving

Dyspraxia comes under the umbrella of developmental coordination disorder and is believed to affect six to ten percent of all children. It causes difficulties with coordination and organisation, as well as issues with social skills and inference. Dyspraxia can make secondary school an extremely stressful place to be and this can be highly frustrating to both the student and parents/teachers. We need to help students deal with these barriers to learning by putting in place supportive strategies that allow them to cope. 

Many children with dyspraxia suffer from temporal organisational difficulties. These children do not have an inbuilt awareness of time, which creates real problems when it comes to managing deadlines of any kind. Using calendar apps or Alexa can be a first step in managing this, since they provide a physical reminder of when tasks are due. If a project is long-term, for example coursework, then it may be beneficial to break it down into a series of mini deadlines and put these into the calendar. If the parent or teacher also makes a note of these deadlines, then it means someone can also hold the student accountable. When students are dealing with shorter deadlines, such as working in class or completing an assessment, it is important that they can see a countdown timer, which will help him/her be aware of time passing and how long they have left to complete something. 

The most difficult part of a task for dyspraxic students is getting started and this is where they may need the most support. They may require tasks to be repeated to them clearly and will also need to alter their mindset in order to get started. Telling themselves “I am only” can be useful for breaking down feelings of overwhelm at the beginning. For example, “I am only going to write my introduction” or “I am only going to do questions 1-3”. This may seem unambitious but for these students it is actually a way of tricking their brains and reversing the pattern of self-sabotage. Articulating what they are going to do and asking somebody to hold them accountable can also be a big help, for example getting them to text an adult before they start their homework and asking them to check in after half an hour. The more focused and specific their objectives for the half an hour, the better. 

It is also important that tasks are made as accessible as possible to these students in terms of how to present them. Handwriting is a real issue for students with dyspraxia, with 83% struggling to write fast and 79% struggling to write neatly. These students need to be allowed to type up their work wherever possible, as otherwise their ability to fulfil their potential will be severely limited. If your child does not already have an access arrangement in place, then talk to the school’s SENCO, who will be able to facilitate this. They will most likely need to be assessed by a trained professional, unless there is also a medical diagnosis of dyspraxia from the GP. 

Thinking about learning styles can also be a useful means of supporting dyspraxic students. Whilst learning styles have gone out of fashion in recent years in education, I do still believe there is a place for the idea. For example, I know that I do not learn well with an auditory style of learning, as my brain begins to wonder. I need visual and kinesthetic stimulation in order to learn effectively. Dyspraxic students may have less conventional learning styles, for example other senses such as smell and texture may prompt them to learn. Spelling in particular is an area that can definitely be taught using multisensory methods, for example by writing letters/words in sand/water/shaving foam. A little thinking outside of the box can make a big difference. 

Planning is another area where dyspraxic students can sometimes feel mystified and get highly overwhelmed. It needs to be broken down and they may need a concrete example to help them. Methods such as grids and mind maps are very useful to help them break an essay into chunks and visualise the structure of the piece. Dyspraxic students are not always able to make links and connections on their own, so a clear guide can make a big difference to them. They constantly need work recapping and to be explicitly shown how it all comes together. 

For reading tasks, inference is likely to be an issue. Many students will struggle if the answer is not immediately obvious and they find it difficult to read between the lines. Unpicking the text by highlighting words can help draw out what they otherwise would not be able to see. For example, if you are trying to get your child to judge the tone of a piece of writing, highlighting all the adjectives can visually demonstrate how a character is feeling. Also, taking key quotations out of the text and getting your child to analyse them separately, one at a time can also stop your child feeling so overwhelmed when they look at a piece of writing.

Dyspraxia is a condition that can leave students feeling extremely unmotivated, and they can sometimes fall into a state of ‘learned helplessness’. This is where they decide to bury their head in the sand and avoid all work. There are strategies that can help these children get through school, but they do ultimately need to ensure that they take responsibility as well for helping themselves find ways to cope. Like all SPLDs, it is a condition that can be managed with the right support, as long as the child engages with the help. Once they find the strategies that work and are able to ensure these are put in place with your support, then they will find that they can begin to unlock their potential and show what they can do.

Are you looking for support for your child with secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group lessons. Get in touch at hello@brightskytutoring.com to find out more. 

English and Transferable Skills

Skills image

English is a core subject for all students until the age of sixteen – but why? English is about more than just the study of books; it is a fundamental set of skills that every student needs to possess in order to succeed in life. Here are just a few of the transferable skills that your child will gain from the study of English. 

Reading

Being able to read is a key skill that every adult needs to possess. In secondary school, a child’s progress in the English classroom will directly impact their progress in other subjects. I often hear teachers of other subjects remark that the main problem their students have is not academic knowledge, but the ability to actually read and interpret the question. Every subject is going to require a certain level of reading ability and English lessons are where this ability is often developed and cultivated. 

The benefits of reading extend far beyond academic purposes however. Children who are readers will develop a natural empathy with others and grow up more broad-minded and tolerant of other cultures, perspectives and beliefs. Reading also has great benefits for our mental health. It is a naturally relaxing experience that has been proven to relieve stress levels. There is nothing better than escaping the stresses of modern life by losing yourself in a book. Furthermore, children who read the news and are informed on current affairs are going to be well-rounded individuals with the knowledge needed to become responsible and active citizens. 

Writing

Writing is another skill that every student needs to master. We may not have to write creative stories inspired by images in real life, but most of us are going to need to show writing skills at one time or another. Every subject is going to involve writing in one form or other, even mainly practical ones such as PE or Dance. Many students find the idea of essay writing hugly overwhelming, and do not know where to begin. English is often the first place they encounter PEE paragraphs, which are a vital essay writing tool that can easily be carried across into other subjects. Students need to know how to plan their writing and break an essay down so that it flows in a logical order. There is a reason many English graduates go on to become lawyers; they have had a rigorous training in the process of constructing a compelling argument. 

Writing will of course play a vital part in their future study and career plans as well. If your child is planning to study at university, then he/she will need to write a 500-word personal statement. This statement plays a huge role in the selection process and it is vital that it is articulate and well-structured. If your child goes down the apprenticeship route, they will still need to produce a statement of application. Job application forms and CV writing will of course also require strong writing skills from students. Training a writer means more than just preparing him/her for an English examination – we are also equipping them with the skills they will need to succeed in the wider world. 

Oracy 

Another significant area of English that is often overlooked is oracy. This means spoken communication skills – something teenagers are sometimes accused of lacking. The issue I have found in some students is an ability to put into practice what we refer to in Linguistics as Accommodation Theory. This is where individuals adapt their language usage in line with the demands of  that particular social situation. A job interview will require a different lexis to a conversation with friends in a cafe. English helps students think more about purpose and audience, and how to adapt spoken language effectively. Through debates and discussions, we also help them to grow the confidence to speak articulately and in detail about their thoughts or feelings. This will help them become more assertive in their future life as well, and ensure that they can represent themselves coherently and articulately. 

Of course every subject plays its part in the development of young people, but the skills that are taught and developed in the English classroom can sometimes be overlooked. As English is predominantly skills-based rather than knowledge-based, students underestimate its importance. The skills tend to develop over a longer period of time without the student even always realising the ways in which they are growing and changing. The subject is about far more than just helping students to pass an examination – it is about changing lives for the better. 

If you are looking for further English support for your child, you are in the right place! Bright Sky Tutoring offers English tuition for KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5 students. To find out more, email hello@brightskytutoring.com

Ten Fun Ways to Thrive in English This Summer

summer image

Students need time to unwind over the summer (especially after the year we have all had), but it is also important to make sure they do not fall victim to the six-week slide! Here are some suggestions of fun activities that will not keep your child tied to a desk for hours this summer, but help him/her keep their English skills sharp. 

  1. Watch a play – this does not have to be live at the theatre (although how lovely would it be if theatres were up and running again this summer?) The Globe Player, RSC and National Theatre all have services where you can access recordings of plays. Reading a play can be very hard work – after all, this is not how we were ever meant to access the text. Watching a play will only take an hour or two and can be of just as much value to students. 
  2. Spend ten minutes a day on a reputable news website or app (BBC News, Guardian, Telegraph, The Times, The Independent are good suggestions). Your child can read whatever he/she wishes on the site, but they have to be on there for at least ten minutes! 
  3. Write a journal entry – the important thing with journaling is that students understand that it really does not matter what they write. The key is to engage with the act of writing as a way of releasing thoughts and feelings. Here are a few journaling prompt suggestions: 
  1. What one thing about the world would you change right now?
  2. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
  3. If you had a time machine, where would you go?
  4. If you could write to your ten year old self, what would you say?
  5. What is the best mistake you ever made?
  1. Write a blog post on a topic that interests you – many students love making use of modern technology in their English studies, and arguably, blogging is the most relevant form of writing for many of them today. The key here is they pick whatever they are most interested in, they need to enjoy it! If they are feeling brave, they can publish it, but they can also keep it just for them. 
  2. Subscribe to a Word of the Day service to improve your vocabulary – many students know they need to improve their vocabulary, but they do not know how to. Many websites offer this service where they can get a word emailed or texted to them each day. They can then challenge themselves to use the word at some point during the day! 
  3. Read a biography/autobiography of someone you admire – it is quite common for students, especially boys, to prefer non-fiction to fiction. Biographies and autobiographies are a good way to engage a reluctant reader. Get your child to think about who they admire and then have a look to see if there is a suitable text about this person. It does not matter if it is a popstar or a politician – the important thing is reading something they will enjoy! 
  4. Watch a film or television series you have not seen before. This may seem like a surprising one to have on the list, but film and good quality television can be just as effective as reading at teaching students the fundamentals of narrative and character development. Furthermore, they can be a good source of ideas for students’ own creative writing. 
  5. Write an extra scene that you think should be included in the film you watched – a fun way to use number seven as a source of creative inspiration! 
  6. Write a review of the film/television series – as well as creative writing, it is also a good opportunity to practice transactional writing skills. 
  7. Play a game of Shakespearian Insults – make it a mission to use the insult as many times as possible over the summer! To access the generator, click here

How to Become a Planning Master

Planning is an essential writing skill, but one that is often overlooked. It is something that we assume students know how to do and is therefore rarely explicitly taught. In reality, many students understand that they need to plan, but few actually know how to produce one that is effective. 

Why do we plan? 

At GCSE and A Level, the English examinations in both Language and Literature are looking to award marks for the structure and organisation of a piece of writing. They want to see a clear sequence of ideas that are linked together effectively. It is very unlikely that a student is going to be able to write with the correct level of focus and clarity unless they have first produced a plan. Writing an essay without writing a plan is like trying to travel somewhere new without directions. You may somehow stumble across the right path, but it is going to take you a lot longer, and can be a highly frustrating process. You are likely to repeat yourself, confuse ideas and contradict your own argument. Many students often end up struggling to write enough, as the flow of ideas dries up. 

Mastering essay writing means learning how to produce points that are simultaneously concise and detailed – not an easy thing to achieve! It requires a razor sharp level of focus and this is where you rely on your plan to remind you exactly what it is that you are hoping to achieve. Many points in students’ essays either lack sufficient detail or become too drawn out and confusing. Students sometimes end up trying to make two or three different points in the same paragraph, meaning they do not give each idea the space it is required in order to develop. 

How to plan? 

There are many different styles of planning and everyone has their favourite way. Post-it notes can be a useful tool in planning, since they can be used to brainstorm ideas and then rearranged later in order to create the structure of the essay. One tip is to get students to different coloured post-it notes, so that they can build up each paragraph, for example one colour for points, one for evidence and so on. This strategy is also a great one for students who are kinesthetic learners. 

 Mind maps also work well, since they are a visual way of creating the structure of the essay. Each part of the mind map represents a different point in the essay, and students can then add on evidence, techniques and explanations. It is easy to see where links could be made between different ideas, and it helps to see how their essay will flow together. Bullet points also work, and are probably the simplest way to plan in an examination, where space and time are short.  

When you are producing an essay plan, you should always begin by establishing the key points. These points are your very basic answer to the question and should never be longer than one sentence. Once the points are down, then it is time to look for evidence. Some students try to bypass the point and go straight to the evidence stage, but they do need to establish their point first. In English, evidence will nearly always be in the form of a quotation. In other subjects, it may be research facts or statistics. After the evidence, then the explanation/analysis can be added. 

When students are planning, they need to have the assessment objectives in mind as well, to ensure they are not leaving anything out that could cost them marks. For example, in English, there is a need in some questions to consider the historical context of the piece. 

If a student is planning a piece of creative writing, the same principle can be used. They need to establish the topic/focus of every paragraph in their piece of writing and the secondary ideas that will follow. Some students will put devices into their plan, but there is no point in having a list of devices and no actual story structure to follow! 

Students also often feel (very logically) that the first thing they should plan needs to be the introduction. However, it is very hard to plan an introduction until you know what it is that you are actually introducing. Thus it is necessary to get the points of the essay set down first of all, so you know what the overall line of argument entails. 

How can my child get better at planning? 

Like any skill, it is only going to truly develop and improve with practice. Practising planning needs to be incorporated into a student’s revision timetable. Sometimes they may go on to write out the essay in full, but at other times, it may be enough to just produce a detailed essay plan, as this will take them through the thought process they need to have in the examination. 

Planning can be a collaborative process, and working in a small group to share ideas can really help some students. Encourage your child to study in small groups with their friends, and work on planning together. When I am working in small groups or one to one, I also find it can help if I act as the scribe for the group, recording the ideas and points as they are made. This is so that the students can concentrate on idea generation, and are less likely to get distracted by the actual writing process. 

Another benefit of planning in a group is that students can talk through their essay plan. This is a really important way for them to check that it actually makes sense! It can highlight sections that do not flow together or areas where their points are not actually that clear. Discussing the plan first can also make him/her feel more confident about what they are about to write. 


Are you looking for additional English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group sessions for KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5. To find out more, email hello@brightskytutoring.com today.

A Guide to GCSE English Literature

GCSE English Literature

What is English Literature? 

The other half of English studies is the GCSE English Literature course. This differs from English Language, in that it is focused on in-depth study of themes and characters, rather than English Language which considers all the different ways we use language to communicate. English Literature focuses predominantly on fiction (although there is a literary non-fiction genre as well) and is concerned with how writers develop ideas across a whole text. It is much more centred on forming interpretations of a text and generating debate. 

What is the examination? 

As with English Language, there are two papers to sit for English Literature. Students will study set texts, and these will be selected by the school/teacher from a number of set options. The format of the papers will differ depending upon the examination board, but as with language, they will tend to assess similar skills in each one. 

English Literature Paper One 

Shakespeare and the Nineteenth-Century Novel 

For the first section, your child will have studied a Shakespeare play in class with their teacher. The examination normally includes an extract question and a question about the whole play. 

Similarly, the second section on the Nineteenth-Century novel, and again there will be an extract question and one on the whole novel. 

English Literature Paper Two 

Modern texts and poetry 

The first section of the paper will focus on twentieth-century texts, such as An Inspector Calls or Lord of the Flies. It could be either prose or drama. 

For the second section, your child will have studied a collection of poems with their teacher, linked to a theme. They will write about some of these poems, and there will also be an unseen poetry section of the examination. 

What skills does my child need? 

One of the key skills needed to achieve high marks in English Literature, is the ability to form interpretations of a piece of writing. This means deciding for themselves what the key message of the text is and what effect the writer was trying to achieve. The top level students will understand that texts can be interpreted in a variety of ways and that it is possible to come up with different readings. 

Another crucial skill is being able to come up with the evidence in order to support these interpretations. Since the examinations are normally closed book, this means students will need to have spent some time learning quotations as part of their revision. 

Once they have identified the evidence, they must also show that they understand and analyse the methods that the writer has used. These can include the use of language (metaphor, simile, adverb and so on), the use of form (narrative voice/perspective, dialogue and so on) and structure (flashbacks, cliffhangers and so on). The vital thing the examiners are looking for here is not just that the student can analyse these devices, but also that they can fully evaluate how these techniques are used by the writer in order to develop his/her key message. 

Another element of GCSE English Literature that your child needs to explore is the historical context of the set text. This means thinking about the time period in which it was written, and how this may affect the way in which we see the text and understand it. For example, when studying A Christmas Carol, students need to have an understanding of the conditions that the poor were living in during the Victorian period, and institutions such as the workhouse. Without this knowledge, students cannot truly understand Dickens’ full message. 

How can my child develop these skills?

Read the text multiple times – I am always surprised at how many students have only read their set text once in class with their teacher. Rereading a set text is not a waste of time – it is a valuable process that is necessary in order to develop the required knowledge to be able to write about it effectively. Reading also needs to be an active process, whereby students are annotating in their copies or using sticky notes to mark key passages they may wish to come back to. Having their own copies of their set texts is also a must, as it is their most important revision resource. 

Devise effective strategies for learning quotations – this is something that students tend to find tricky. Learning quotations can be a highly overwhelming task, unless there is a clear process in place. Students should ensure that they are selecting the quotations to learn by theme or character, and that they are not attempting to learn quotations that are too long. Often students are not selective enough when it comes to which quotations to learn, and they are wasting their time learning long quotations that they are never going to use. 

Look at exemplar answers – exemplar answers will show your child how to develop and extend their own answers to achieve greater depth. They can also see that there is no one strategy for achieving top mark answers and it is about them finding the style and technique that works best. 

Get involved in discussions and debates about the texts – This can include class discussions, but if your child tends to withdraw in classroom discussions, then meeting up with a few friends to revise together can help with this. It is really beneficial to have to come up with a point of view and then practice defending it, with evidence from the text. 

Work on planning skills – structuring answers is another area that students struggle with. They have lots of excellent ideas on the texts, but they do not know how to actually express them effectively. Planning answers can help with this. In particular, mind maps can be a good way to follow the development of an argument in an essay, and to check that the ideas flow together. Every paragraph in a literature essay needs to have a clear point, that is then developed with evidence and analysis. Mind maps naturally lend themselves to this structuring, and help students to organise their thoughts more clearly. 

Looking for further English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tuition for KS2 upwards. To find out more, get in touch at hello@brightskytutoring.com

A Guide to GCSE English Language

GCSE English Language is a core GCSE, and along with Mathematics, a pass in this subject is normally essential to stay in education. However, many students often get confused about how it differs from the literature part of English, and what exactly they need to in order to achieve a high grade. 

English Language is the study of communication through words. It is concerned with the mechanics of how a written text is put together, and how the writer achieves their intended effect and purpose. Students are tested on their ability to both analyse extracts of writing, and also reproduce their own writing pieces in a given style. It is a skills-based GCSE, in contrast to English Literature, which tests students’ knowledge and understanding of the texts they have studied. This can mean students do not always know how to prepare for the English Language examination, and fall into the trap of thinking they do not need to revise. 

What does my child actually have to do? 

Each examination board will produce its own  paper for English Language, but there are strong similarities between all the boards in terms of which skills are being assessed. Each paper normally focuses on the same type of writing and asks students to demonstrate the same skills. 

Language Paper One 

The first part of this examination is reading-based, and normally focuses on fiction. There will be a series of questions that will test the student’s ability to read, understand and analyse an extract. The questions centre on language techniques used by the writer, as well as the way in which the writer has structured the piece. Furthermore, there will be a longer question that requires students to evaluate the overall effect of the piece of writing. 

The second part of this paper is writing-based. Students need to produce their own original piece of creative writing. They will either produce an extended description or they will be asked to write a narrative. They may be given images or story prompts. These are to help them generate ideas, and do not have to be used if they are not required. 

Language Paper Two – Non-Fiction 

In some ways, Paper Two follows a similar structure, but focuses on different skills/styles. The first part again is reading-based, but in this paper it is normally focused on analysing non-fiction and there are normally two extracts for students to analyse. The examiners again assess the student’s ability to analyse language and structure, as well as evaluating the intended effect/purpose. However, in this paper there is also normally a requirement for students to compare the two texts as well. 

In the second part, the task is again writing-based, but rather than creative writing, students need to produce a piece of transactional writing. This could include writing to argue, to inform, to persuade, to review and so on. 

What skills does my child need? 

Your child needs to be able to read a variety of extracts, and not just understand them, but also analyse them. This means breaking down the specific techniques that are used by the writer, and thinking about how the text has been constructed in order to create a particular effect. At this level, we are not so much concerned with what a writer is saying, but more focused on how and why something is said. Analysis can be word-level, focusing on individual words used or linguistic devices, and it can also be whole-text level, for example exploring the structure of a piece of writing. It is important that students learn to see every piece of writing as a construct that has been put together by a writer in order to achieve a specific purpose, and that they can evaluate how this purpose is achieved. 

For the writing tasks, the examiners place a lot of emphasis (and marks) on the structure and the organisation of the piece of writing. Technical accuracy is very important, and marks are awarded for spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and sentence structure. However, they are also looking for evidence of careful planning. The piece of writing needs to draw the reader in, with ideas that are clear and linked together in a complex way. The student also needs to demonstrate that they understand the appropriate style, tone and register to use for different types of writing. 

How does my child develop these skills? 

As it is a skills based qualification, practice is absolutely essential. Ideally, students should practice with extracts that are the same length as those that they will be writing about in the examination, and they need to work with both fiction and non-fiction texts. Practice answers are important, but there are other activities that students can do with these texts before they launch into writing. They need to get used to annotating pieces of writing, which means actively making notes and highlighting the techniques that the writer is using. They need to be able to quickly identify which parts are significant, and need further analysis. 

Furthermore, they will benefit not just from writing practice answers, but also planning them. This is often the stage that students will miss out, and it is not so much from laziness, but from a lack of understanding about how to plan. There are different strategies students can use in order to plan, such as mind maps or post-it notes. They need to make sure that they are thinking in terms of topic sentences, and thus identifying a clear focus for each paragraph in their answer. Once they have a focus, then they can start collecting the relevant evidence. Venn diagrams (overlapping circles) can also be a good technique to help students plan comparative answers. 

For writing tasks, exemplar answers will help your child to get a sense of the level required in their writing, and will hopefully inspire them to experiment more with their structure. Again, students need to practice planning in order to really help them understand how their ideas should be organised and presented. An initial brainstorm with post it notes, that can then be reordered if necessary to create a more striking effect for the reader, is a good strategy to try. Vocabulary activities, such as finding synonyms of overused words, will also help to develop your child’s writing. 

With some students, it may be helpful to have a set story that students practice and perfect before the examination. They may need to tweak it slightly to the demands of the question, but it can be useful with students who lack confidence and are frightened by the idea of coming up with a story in an examination situation. 

Are you looking for further English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tuition for KS2, 11+, KS3, KS4 and KS5. To find out more about how we can help your child flourish in English, email hello@brightskytutoring.com