How to Build Your Teen’s Confidence

Confident teenager

As a tutor, a lot of my work is not just about developing a student’s academic knowledge, but also ensuring that they have the confidence to apply it independently. A lack of confidence is a major issue for many students and can seriously affect their academic and personal development. Some of these issues may stem from more serious psychological disorders, and it is very important that you discuss any concerns with a qualified professional. However, here are some general tips on how you can support your child and work with them in order to build their confidence. 

The Growth Mindset  – Having a growth mindset is essential to becoming a confident and empowered learner. People with a strong growth mindset are not afraid of challenges in learning, and recognise that even if they make a mistake, this is a sign of learning taking place, not failure. Often students with low confidence have developed a fixed mindset, which tells them that they cannot do certain tasks or subjects and there is no point in trying, as it will result in mistakes and failure. Cultivating a growth mindset means recognising the patterns of behaviour that are linked to this fixed mindset, and taking steps to rewire the brain in order to adopt a growth mindset instead. Students need to challenge their negative thoughts, and realise that learning is a journey that will sometimes consist of diversions and wrong turns, but is nonetheless a worthwhile endeavour. 

Turn perceived failures into positives – Students with a fixed mindset will often use disappointing results in order to reinforce their beliefs that they cannot succeed in a subject. However, students need to reframe feedback as an important learning opportunity. Making mistakes is a chance to learn how to improve, and feedback is not something to be frightened of, but something to be engaged with. Students should avoid dealing with feedback when they are emotional, as this is when we will often use it to confirm negative self beliefs and doubts about our abilities. When students are calm and focused, they can use feedback in order to construct a plan for improvement, identifying specific steps they can take the next time. 

Extra-curricular activities – For some students, secondary school can be a time when they withdraw from extracurricular activities, sometimes because they feel more self-conscious. However, taking part in these activities can be an effective way of building up confidence and self-belief. Encourage your child to take part in a new activity, or possibly get involved with a cause that is important to them. 

Assertive behaviour – There is a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Sometimes students who lack confidence can switch quickly from passive to aggressive behaviour, often out of frustration. Helping your child to express themselves in an assertive manner rather than aggressive can help them feel that they have the tools necessary to deal with any situation that may cause them discomfort. Small changes such as making eye contact with others when expressing your opinions or standing up straight and tall can make a big difference to how confident your child feels. 

Language for Success – The language that we use can often reveal a lot about subconscious beliefs that we are holding onto. Language is very powerful, and we can rewire a lot of our thought processes through changing the words that we use. Affirmations are a particularly effective tool, since they can help the subconscious to take on these messages and adjust our behaviour accordingly. One helpful strategy I find is to use the phrase “yet” when discussing strengths and weaknesses. So rather than saying “I cannot write PEE paragraphs”, the student should be encouraged to say “I cannot write PEE paragraphs yet”. This small word makes a big difference to the sentence and helps to encourage a growth mindset. 

If you would like to develop your child’s confidence and performance in secondary level English, then get in touch to find out more about how Bright Sky Tutoring can help, by contacting hello@brightskytutoring.com

Your Christmas Shopping List

Whilst academic gifts may not come top of your child’s Christmas list this year, it is a good time to double check that they are ready for the year ahead, especially if they have public examinations this year. Here are a few suggestions of English related presents you can sneak under the tree this Christmas! 

The E-Reader 

Looking for a bigger present option? A lot of teenagers prefer using an e-reader for their reading. There are advantages to reading on a device like this, for example students with dyslexia can alter the font type and size to make it easier to read. Plus, they can look up definitions of tricky words straightaway, rather than having to go and look them up. Not to mention the convenience of being able to carry multiple books around with you in just one small device. The Amazon Kindle is the market leader for the e-reader, but there are cheaper models on the market as well. If your child is a reluctant reader, this could be just what they need. 

Highlighter Pens

The highlighter pen is definitely mightier than the sword when it comes to school work! These are so useful to help students when they need to read and analyse pieces of text for their school work, and they can also be very helpful for revision. It is common for students to feel overwhelmed when they are confronted with large pieces of text, so teaching them to use a highlighter to pick out keywords is definitely worthwhile.  

Post-it Notes 

Another great little tool that can make a big difference to students in their work. Post-it notes are great for planning pieces of work, since they can be easily moved around and discarded if the student changes their mind about including it in their work.  

Index Cards 

I always used to make use of index cards in my revision. They are so handy because you can make different sets of notes, and write on both sides. You could have a key term and then write the definition on the back for example. They can also be very helpful if your child is revising quotations for their English examinations. I also like them as they are portable, so if your child has a spare ten minutes waiting at the bus stop, they have no excuse not to sneak in an extra few minutes of revision. 

Affirmation Cards 

If your child struggles with their confidence and self esteem, then affirmation cards are a great way to help them. Affirmations are incredibly powerful, since they can help the brain rewire itself and reverse the negative thought patterns that people sometimes get caught in. There are so many fantastic products out there that can help with your child’s confidence, and these cards make a lovely stocking filler idea. 

Journal

This can be another tool to help your child with their mental wellbeing. Journaling is a fantastic daily practice and it can allow us to process our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, if we have a difficult decision to make, journaling our thoughts can help us uncover subconscious ideas that could help us to understand what we really think and feel about something. Often when we have written our thoughts down, we feel so much better afterwards, as it gives us a sense of release. 

To find out more about how secondary English tuition can help your child, get in touch today at hello@brightskytutoring.com.

Busting the English Revision Myth

One of the biggest misconceptions about English is that you cannot revise it. I understand how this has come about, since English is predominantly a skills-based subject rather than knowledge-based. However, this does not mean that students cannot prepare effectively for their English examinations. With many students currently in the middle of mocks and end of term assessments, it is important to make sure that they are putting the right amount of time aside for their English examinations, and not assuming that they can make it through without any revision. Here are five tips on how your child definitely can and should revise for English examinations: 

  1. Practise, practise, practise! 

No one can improve upon a skill unless they actively practise. I often compare this to running – you can watch a video or read a book about running, but unless you actually put on your running shoes and get out there, you will never get any better at running. It is the same with English. If students do not practise their essay writing skills using example questions then they will not be able to see where their areas for development actually lie. Students need to build up speed and stamina when it comes to essay writing, as without these, they will not fulfil their potential in the examination. 

  1. Learning Quotations 

English Literature examinations require students to write without the set text in front of them. Students sometimes mistakenly assume this means they do not need to use quotations in their answers, but this is not the case. The examiners will expect students to have spent time learning quotations off by heart in order to support their points without having to slow down their analysis by constantly checking a physical copy of the text (you would be surprised how much time this can lose a student in an examination!) So it is essential that your child is putting aside time to learn quotations and thinking about which techniques they can use to help them remember. 

  1. Know the Assessment Objectives 

Different questions on the English Language and Literature examinations will be assessed according to different assessment criteria, so it is important for students to spend time thinking about what exactly the examiners wish to see in each section. Students need to make sure they know what the assessment objectives are, and what they actually mean. If they are in doubt about this, they need to seek support from their teacher! 

  1. Exemplars 

Students need to be exposed to high level exemplar material in order to understand what it is that they examiners are looking for. Going through example answers with different highlighter colours for each assessment objective can be a particularly effective way to see exactly how examiners award their marks. Teachers will normally provide this material as part of their normal classroom teaching, but it is also possible to view sample answers on the examination board websites. 

  1. Redraft 

Another valuable activity that students do not always engage with is redrafting. Going back to previous essay questions that they have attempted and looking at ways in which they can improve their answers is essential to making further progress. Students need to learn that redoing work is not a waste of time, and it is often by revisiting and improving work that the greatest progress tends to be made. 

Are you looking for further secondary English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring designed to help students find their spark and fulfil their potential. If you would like to know more, get in touch today at hello@brightskytutoring.com

Five Ways to Deal with English Block

English is one of those subjects where students do sometimes feel as though they have reached a plateau. When they seem to be getting the same marks on every piece of work, it can feel very frustrating. This perceived lack of progress can even make students start to disengage from the subject, deciding that there is no point in trying. Here are five suggestions for students to try when English block seems to be setting in.

  1. Drop the revision guides. When students are looking for additional support and inspiration, study guides can feel like a natural place to look. However, whilst they cover core skills and ideas, they also lack the subtlety that students need in order to achieve higher grades. It means that students produce a regurgitation of pre learnt notes and ideas, rather than original insights. Students are better off sometimes rereading the text itself, and thinking about their own interpretations and insights. 
  2. Stop looking for formulas – English is a subject that tends to resist attempts to use formulae, since the core skills of analysis and evaluation do not really work this way. Whilst approaches such as PEE are very useful for introducing students to analysis work, they do not lend themselves to more sophisticated analysis. Top level students do not worry so much about the formula, but instead are led by their evidence and the effect of the writer’s techniques. 
  3. Make it multimodal – Use some other resources in order to help you discover a different perspective on the text. For example, if you are studying a Shakespeare play, try watching a theatre production recording or a film adaptation. Look at the story through a pair of fresh eyes and think about how others interpret the text. 
  4. Make it multisensory – Bring in some different strategies for planning and presenting your learning. Reflect on whether your current methods are actually working effectively for you, or if a fresh approach might help. For example, you could try using post-it notes to plan an essay, or record your ideas verbally on your phone. Using images can also help with revision and creativity for some students, especially since 65% of us identify us visual learners. 
  5. Trust the process – I often think improving in English is a bit like learning to drive a car. You tend to stay at the same level for a while, and it can be tempting to think you are not making any progress. However, it is often when you feel like giving up that you are closest to a breakthrough. English does take time to see improvement, and students do need to trust that it will all come together in the end. 

If you would like further English support for your child, Bright Sky Tutoring has limited availability for one to one and small group tutoring. To find out more, get in touch at hello@brightskytutoring.com

An Inspector Calls – The Blame Game

An Inspector Calls is a play deliberately designed to elicit a strong response from the audience. As a deeply political writer, Priestley wants his audience to eschew the callous, selfish principles of the Birling family and embrace social responsibility. Writing in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Priestley saw the potential for a new beginning for British society, embodied by the new Labour government. He set the play in 1912 to remind his audience not to go back to the unjust ways of the past, but instead to move forwards and strive for a fairer future. However, not all the characters belong in this future, and whilst some characters achieve a sense of redemption, others continue on the same path of selfishness and cruelty. Every member of the Birling family has contributed in some way or another to the death of Eva Smith, but some of the actions are clearly less defensible than others. Who bears the most responsibility for the death of Eva Smith? Let us weigh up the evidence! 

Mr Birling 

Mr Birling’s wealth and privilege has been built on the backs of those less fortunate than himself. Rather than acknowledging this, he maintains he has a “duty” to preserve the status quo of low wages and high prices. In reality, he cannot he cannot entertain the notion of a wage increase, since it would mean sacrificing part of his own wealth. He turns Eva out of the factory, purely as she dared to challenge what he sees as his unquestionable right to money and power. Even when the full extent of the process he began by firing her is revealed, and he understands the “heavy price” he made her pay, his only concern is the potential loss of his knighthood. From the moment the play begins, till the moment it ends, he has no empathy and no ability to comprehend a world where those with more have a moral responsibility to help those with less. 

Blame game score – 9/10 

Sheila 

Sheila begins the play as an overprivileged and shallow young woman, who it would seem could not have less in common with a working class woman like Eva. However, it is also apparent early on that she does have the capacity to empathise, especially when she observes that those who work for Mr Birling, are “not cheap labour, they’re people”. Her actions towards Eva are spiteful and vindictive, but they can be understood when the context of the play is taken into account. As a middle/upper class girl, her education would have been confined to those accomplishments that were considered useful for attracting a husband. Her engagement to Gerald has very clearly been engineered by her father in order to secure a business relationship with the Crofts, who are not just business rivals but his social superiors. She spends much of the play being belittled and sent out of the room. Rather than being allowed to ask Gerald where he was the previous summer, she is told it is not a wife’s place to ask questions of her husband. 

When this is taken into account, her actions make more sense. The day she went to Millwards, she was accompanied by her overbearing mother, a reminder of how little freedom she has. Whilst Gerald and Eric can frequent theatres and bars whenever they wish, Sheila cannot even go shopping on her own. She has lived a life that is extremely narrow, and as the Inspector points out, in that moment, she took this anger and frustration out on Eva. Whilst it is cruel, Sheila is the character who shows the most understanding and remorse for what she has done. She does not try to make excuses or justify her actions, and instead opens herself up to the teachings of the Inspector. The audience feel by the end of the play that Sheila is ready for the new world society was heading towards in 1945.

Blame score – 6/10 

Gerald 

On one level, Gerald could be seen as the character whose intentions towards Eva were the least harmful. He took pity on her, recognising how desperate her situation was and how much she needed help. He gave her money, food and somewhere to live, and rescued her when it seemed prostitution was her only future. His initial grief on hearing of her death and realising Eva’s true identity seems genuine, and even the Inspector acknowledges he is the only character who brought Eva any sense of happiness. 

However, when looked at in another light, his actions towards Eva can be seen in a more sinister manner. He insists he did not set Eva up in the apartment “to make love to her”, and yet he does not seem to have done much to resist the temptation of a sexual relationship, even referring to it as “inevitable”. As the person in the relationship with all the power (bestowed upon him by class and gender), it would seem indefensible to begin a relationship that clearly could never develop. In 1912, the idea of someone from Gerald’s background marrying someone of Eva’s class would be unthinkable, and it is clear Gerald has no serious intentions towards her. As Sheila observes, the relationship was founded upon the idea of Gerald as the “fairy prince”, with Eva always destined to be the weak and vulnerable person. 

At the end of the play, Gerald seems to have forgotten his earlier grief at Eva’s death. He returns from his walk, having spent the time not holding himself to account for his actions, but thinking about the identity of the Inspector. Whilst Sheila and Eric understand that the debate about the Inspector is irrelevant, Gerald appears oblivious, even making the extremely ill-judged attempt to give Sheila back the engagement ring. By the end of the play, it would seem that Gerald has chosen to identify with the senior members of the Birling family, and is no more committed to social progress than Mr and Mrs Birling. 

Blame score – 8/10 

Mrs Birling 

In the opening stage directions, Priestley establishes Mrs Birling as a “rather cold” character, who is also “her husband’s social superior”. As the play goes on, the audience can see that this social superiority has led her to view the working classes as almost an alien species. It is ironic that she has been allowed to preside over a charity, since she clearly has no understanding of what true charity is. She has absolutely no compassion for what has happened to Eva and barely tolerates the Inspector’s presence in her home. It is clear that she sees him as inferior, and does not believe the lower classes can ever have the right to question the behaviour of their social superiors. 

When Mrs Birling recounts the events of Eva’s visit to the charity, it is clear she treated Eva as if she were on trial for a crime, talking about her “case”. She admits being “prejudiced” towards Eva, and is proud of the way in which she bullied others on the committee into refusing to help her. She interrogates Eva and humiliates her in front of the others, refusing to understand the reality of her situation. Whilst some of the other characters arguably did not realise the full extent of their actions, Mrs Birling knew that the charity represented Eva’s last hope, and that by turning her away, she was condemning both Eva and her child. 

She loses her composure momentarily when Eric discovers the truth of her actions, but this is quickly replaced by further arrogance and complacency. She does not show any sense of grief for her lost grandchild, and instead takes pride in her actions, boasting that she was the only one “that didn’t give in to him”. From the beginning of the play to the end, she is self-centred, cruel and arrogant, representing the very worst of the 1912 British upper classes. 

Blame score – 10/10 

Eric 

Our first impressions of Eric establish him as a character who appears to be unsure of his place in the world. In contrast to his father and Gerald’s self-assured manner, he is “half-shy, half-assertive”. However, like Sheila, he does seem to have some awareness of social responsibility, refusing to agree that Mr Birling had no choice but to fire Eva. The references to his drinking also convey to the reader that he is unhappy in his life.

That being said, his treatment of Eva is appalling. He is the only member of the family whose actions constitute a crime. His admission that he was “in that state when a chap turns nasty” reveals that he raped Eva that evening. As the Inspector states, he had no respect for her whatsoever, seeing her “an animal, a thing”. Although he tried to support her afterwards, he did so through crime, leaving her in a position where she could not accept the money anymore. 

Like Sheila, Eric’s behaviour cannot be excused, but it can be understood better when his upbringing is considered. He remarks himself that he is used to seeing his father’s friends around town with prostitutes, and he has grown up in an environment where it is considered normal for young men to frequent bars and visit “women of the town”. It is apparent that he has had no guidance or support from his father, remarking he is “not the sort of father a chap could go to when he is in trouble.” Likewise he tells his mother that she “never even tried” to understand him. The audience also discovers that his drinking cannot even be attributed solely to guilt and worry about Eva, since it has been going on for two years, suggesting that he is a deeply troubled individual. 

Once the truth about the family’s actions is revealed, along with Sheila, Eric can see the lessons that the family need to learn. He realises that it does not matter whether or not the Inspector was a genuine police officer, since “he was our Inspector all right”. He tells his parents he is “ashamed” of their behaviour, and he refuses to celebrate when the rest of the family believe they have uncovered the truth. Like his sister, he understands that he needs to change in order to move on, and that there is nothing to be gained by clinging on to the values of the past. 

Blame score – 7/10 

This activity is always controversial in class, and you may very well disagree with my scores and comments. Who do you think is most to blame? Or does it even matter in the end? As the Inspector says, “if we have to share anything, we have to share our guilt”. Every member of the family played a part in the death of Eva Smith, and Priestley wants the audience to understand that we are all “responsible for each other”, and need to face the consequences of our actions. 


Is your child looking for additional support in secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring to help your child flourish. To find out more, email hello@brightskytutoring.com.

Plus, we also have a GCSE English Literature online revision course specifically for An Inspector Calls! This is a 9 week course, with online teaching videos and marked assignments with teacher feedback. To purchase this course, go to: https://brightskytutoring.com/register/an-inspector-calls-gcse-aqa-english-literature-online-course/

Five Reasons to Write Spooky Stories

One of the questions I am often asked by students is which genre to pick when writing a story. I have always leaned strongly towards horror and Gothic as one of the most successful genres students can choose. It allows them to showcase many of the skills that GCSE examiners are looking for, as well as being a fun and rewarding genre to experiment with. Here are just a few of the ways it can help students show what they can do:

Suspense

Horror stories obviously rely heavily on a strong build up of suspense and students can think about ways in which they can create this through their written choices. For example, varying sentence lengths can allow for build up and dramatic tension in writing. Similarly, the use of techniques such as a one-sentence paragraph can also emphasise the tension in the story. The GCSE mark scheme specifically rewards the use of complex sentence structures and thus the stylistic conventions of horror allow students an opportunity to show this. 

Setting

Another reason horror stories are often a good choice for students is that they rely on the creation of effective settings, which can also be a source of inspiration for detailed description. Describing a frightening setting is often easier than describing a setting that makes us feel relaxed, and students are often familiar with these types of settings from television and film. This means it is easier for them to visualise a setting in their mind and turn it into writing. 

Show Don’t Tell

Whilst of course we would always hope that students have not had to go through anything genuinely too frightening, fear is an emotion that they are often able to describe using “show don’t tell”. This is a very important element of creative writing, where rather than just telling the reader how a character feels, the writer is able to use detailed descriptions to show us. For example, rather than telling us that a character is frightened, a skilled writer may describe the racing of his/her heart, or the prickle of their flesh. A story that is based on the horror genre is going to allow students plenty of opportunities to show the reader, rather than telling him/her. 

Cultural Heritage

We have a natural affinity with horror and especially the ghost story, since often these narratives have been passed down in stories for generations. Readers are instinctively drawn to the themes and the genre gives us a chance to connect with a different part of our nature and psyche. There is a rich tradition of writing in this genre that students can draw upon and use for inspiration. However much the world may have moved on and evolved over time, our collective love for these stories has not faded. 

Structure 

Horror stories need to be very carefully structured in order to be as effective as possible for the reader. There is often a large twist in the story, and for this to work, the writer has to plan the story out very carefully. Horror stories also tend to rely heavily on having an effective opening that sets the correct amount of tension and suspense, and draws the reader in. Structure is an often overlooked element of the GCSE English mark scheme. The examiners are looking to see evidence of careful planning that employs the five stages of narrative. Using devices such as story twists often impresses the examiner, as it shows the student is in full control of his/her craft. Again, the very nature of the horror genre means it is the perfect style to allow students to show what they can do and get those all-important marks. 

If your child finds creative writing a challenge, or is looking for additional support, then check out my free half term workshop, Stories of the Supernatural, timed to coincide with Halloween. We will be looking at how to write a ghost story that will leave an examiner feeling spooked, as well as heading towards the top of the mark scheme! To register your child for the workshop, go to:

One of the questions I am often asked by students is which genre to pick when writing a story. I have always leaned strongly towards horror and Gothic as one of the most successful genres students can choose. It allows them to showcase many of the skills that GCSE examiners are looking for, as well as being a fun and rewarding genre to experiment with. Here are just a few of the ways it can help students show what they can do:

Suspense

Horror stories obviously rely heavily on a strong build up of suspense and students can think about ways in which they can create this through their written choices. For example, varying sentence lengths can allow for build up and dramatic tension in writing. Similarly, the use of techniques such as a one-sentence paragraph can also emphasise the tension in the story. The GCSE mark scheme specifically rewards the use of complex sentence structures and thus the stylistic conventions of horror allow students an opportunity to show this. 

Setting

Another reason horror stories are often a good choice for students is that they rely on the creation of effective settings, which can also be a source of inspiration for detailed description. Describing a frightening setting is often easier than describing a setting that makes us feel relaxed, and students are often familiar with these types of settings from television and film. This means it is easier for them to visualise a setting in their mind and turn it into writing. 

Show Don’t Tell

Whilst of course we would always hope that students have not had to go through anything genuinely too frightening, fear is an emotion that they are often able to describe using “show don’t tell”. This is a very important element of creative writing, where rather than just telling the reader how a character feels, the writer is able to use detailed descriptions to show us. For example, rather than telling us that a character is frightened, a skilled writer may describe the racing of his/her heart, or the prickle of their flesh. A story that is based on the horror genre is going to allow students plenty of opportunities to show the reader, rather than telling him/her. 

Cultural Heritage

We have a natural affinity with horror and especially the ghost story, since often these narratives have been passed down in stories for generations. Readers are instinctively drawn to the themes and the genre gives us a chance to connect with a different part of our nature and psyche. There is a rich tradition of writing in this genre that students can draw upon and use for inspiration. However much the world may have moved on and evolved over time, our collective love for these stories has not faded. 

Structure 

Horror stories need to be very carefully structured in order to be as effective as possible for the reader. There is often a large twist in the story, and for this to work, the writer has to plan the story out very carefully. Horror stories also tend to rely heavily on having an effective opening that sets the correct amount of tension and suspense, and draws the reader in. Structure is an often overlooked element of the GCSE English mark scheme. The examiners are looking to see evidence of careful planning that employs the five stages of narrative. Using devices such as story twists often impresses the examiner, as it shows the student is in full control of his/her craft. Again, the very nature of the horror genre means it is the perfect style to allow students to show what they can do and get those all-important marks. 

If your child finds creative writing a challenge, or is looking for additional support, then check out my free half term workshop, Stories of the Supernatural, timed to coincide with Halloween. We will be looking at how to write a ghost story that will leave an examiner feeling spooked, as well as heading towards the top of the mark scheme! To register your child for the workshop, go to:

One of the questions I am often asked by students is which genre to pick when writing a story. I have always leaned strongly towards horror and Gothic as one of the most successful genres students can choose. It allows them to showcase many of the skills that GCSE examiners are looking for, as well as being a fun and rewarding genre to experiment with. Here are just a few of the ways it can help students show what they can do:

Suspense

Horror stories obviously rely heavily on a strong build up of suspense and students can think about ways in which they can create this through their written choices. For example, varying sentence lengths can allow for build up and dramatic tension in writing. Similarly, the use of techniques such as a one-sentence paragraph can also emphasise the tension in the story. The GCSE mark scheme specifically rewards the use of complex sentence structures and thus the stylistic conventions of horror allow students an opportunity to show this. 

Setting

Another reason horror stories are often a good choice for students is that they rely on the creation of effective settings, which can also be a source of inspiration for detailed description. Describing a frightening setting is often easier than describing a setting that makes us feel relaxed, and students are often familiar with these types of settings from television and film. This means it is easier for them to visualise a setting in their mind and turn it into writing. 

Show Don’t Tell

Whilst of course we would always hope that students have not had to go through anything genuinely too frightening, fear is an emotion that they are often able to describe using “show don’t tell”. This is a very important element of creative writing, where rather than just telling the reader how a character feels, the writer is able to use detailed descriptions to show us. For example, rather than telling us that a character is frightened, a skilled writer may describe the racing of his/her heart, or the prickle of their flesh. A story that is based on the horror genre is going to allow students plenty of opportunities to show the reader, rather than telling him/her. 

Cultural Heritage

We have a natural affinity with horror and especially the ghost story, since often these narratives have been passed down in stories for generations. Readers are instinctively drawn to the themes and the genre gives us a chance to connect with a different part of our nature and psyche. There is a rich tradition of writing in this genre that students can draw upon and use for inspiration. However much the world may have moved on and evolved over time, our collective love for these stories has not faded. 

Structure 

Horror stories need to be very carefully structured in order to be as effective as possible for the reader. There is often a large twist in the story, and for this to work, the writer has to plan the story out very carefully. Horror stories also tend to rely heavily on having an effective opening that sets the correct amount of tension and suspense, and draws the reader in. Structure is an often overlooked element of the GCSE English mark scheme. The examiners are looking to see evidence of careful planning that employs the five stages of narrative. Using devices such as story twists often impresses the examiner, as it shows the student is in full control of his/her craft. Again, the very nature of the horror genre means it is the perfect style to allow students to show what they can do and get those all-important marks. 

If your child finds creative writing a challenge, or is looking for additional support, then check out my free half term workshop, Stories of the Supernatural, timed to coincide with Halloween. We will be looking at how to write a ghost story that will leave an examiner feeling spooked, as well as heading towards the top of the mark scheme! To register your child for the workshop, go to: https://mailchi.mp/brightskytutoring.com/gothic

Writing a Personal Statement

It is that time of year again when the UCAS deadlines begin to loom, and students turn their attention towards that all important five hundred words. Universities place a great deal of importance on their personal statement, and that is why it is vital that students get it right. As a former sixth form tutor, I have read countless statements and helped students draft and redraft until it is perfect. Here are some tips to help students with the drafting of their statement, in order to make sure they truly shine! 

Do the research 

Before beginning a personal statement, students should be very clear on what it is they are applying for. They need to look at the course they wish to study and what will be involved. It can help to think from the perspective of the admissions tutors – what skills do students on this course need to have? What would they be looking for in potential students? The main point of a personal statement is to show the tutors that you are the perfect person for the course, so you should start by working out what constitutes “the perfect fit” in their eyes. The university prospectus is a useful starting point, but you can also check out the department website (there is sometimes a separate site for prospective students) and of course going to Open Days where you can meet the tutors is also a valuable experience. 

You will need to consider the entrance requirements carefully to ensure that your predicted grades indicate your will be able to meet these. However, it can also help to look at any list of student attributes there might be, and use these to help you plan and structure your statement. 

Why this Subject? 

Normally, admissions tutors will want to see first and foremost that you have a deep interest in the subject. Studying a course at university is intense, and they need to ensure that students will not get bored and decide they no longer wish to pursue the course. Plus, you will need to be highly motivated to work independently on your studies, and this will be harder to do if you do not really care about the subject. 

This means that they will want to see evidence of this interest. What reading have you done? Have you attended any courses related to the subject? Or undertaken any work experience? What is it about the subject that drives your passion and motivation? You only have five hundred words, so you do not want to produce an essay, but you do need to highlight the elements of the subject that particularly inspire you. For example, if you are applying for English Literature, are you particularly interested in studying black women writers? Or do you have an interest in Irish writing? They want to see that you will be an active participant on the course, and someone who is going to contribute to studies in that field. 

Relevance of A Levels 

The tutors will want you to write about your A Level studies, but you need to do this with a view to explaining how the skills and knowledge you have developed will be relevant to the course. This might be tricky if you are applying for French and you are doing A Level Maths, but there probably will be links and connections you have not thought of (both are all about a form of decoding and finding patterns after all!) Identify specific topics/units that have stood out to you in your studies and explain why you have found them inspiring, and how they lead you to a decision about what you want to study at university level. 

Remember as well that they will want to see that you have gone beyond the texts/topics on your A Level courses. What wider reading have you done? Has it inspired you to carry out any further independent research? 

Extracurricular activities 

This can be a bit of a controversial one and needs balance when discussing these in your personal statement. Tutors do want to see that you are an interesting individual who will contribute to the wider life of the university. At the same time though, they want to make sure you are not someone who overcommits themselves, and may find they do not have enough time for their studies. So when you mention your extracurricular activities, think about what you have actually gained from these, and if possible, try to link it to your course and the skills they are looking for. 

This will work better with some extracurricular activities than others, for example if you are on a debating team, this will have obvious benefits if you are applying for law. You do not need to rush out and find new hobbies suddenly, but do have a think about which ones are going to be most helpful in terms of supporting your application. 

Keep it real! 

On a side note, make sure you do not make any claims you will not be able to support later on. This is especially important if you are applying for a course where you may be interviewed later on. The personal statement will form a key basis of your interview, and you do not want to face the embarrassment of being quizzed on a book you have not actually read, or asked about a hobby you were planning to start, but never actually got around to. 

Writing tips 

Make sure you use paragraphs in your statement, and that each of them has a key focus, for example A Levels or extracurricular activities. If you change the topic, start a new paragraph. Furthermore, with your sentences, be wary of falling into the trap of starting every sentence with “I”. This is very easy to do when you are writing about yourself, but it can make your writing feel clunky and uninspiring – definitely a response you do not want from the tutor! 

Pay close attention to your opening and ending. Some students like to begin with a quotation or an anecdote to draw the reader in and make their statement stand out from the rest. Similarly, make sure you have a clear conclusion that reinforces why you are the perfect candidate for their course. 


If you or your child is struggling with their personal statement, why not book a power hour with a qualified English teacher? To find out more, get in touch at hello@brightskytutoring.com.

The secret of a great vocabulary

vocabulary words

Having a well-developed vocabulary is an essential part of GCSE English. Examiners are looking for evidence of ambitious vocabulary choices in extended writing pieces, and well-selected words can also make a significant difference to the clarity of reading analysis pieces. Students need to show evidence of a mature critical style in order to achieve the top marks, and having an advanced vocabulary will help students express themselves more eloquently. So how do students actively work on their vocabulary? 

The thesaurus 

This should be an essential part of every student’s writing process. Students can use a paper copy, but in this day and age the online world may provide a more accessible option. There are many websites that provide a thesaurus, although students should try to stick to reputable ones such as Collins, Oxford or Cambridge. Students can also download apps onto their mobile devices to help them find synonyms (words that mean the same as each other). Nowadays, students have no excuse for not accessing a thesaurus! 

Use the dictionary properly 

Dictionaries are also vital for building up vocabulary, but many students do not quite understand how to use one effectively. Words can have multiple meanings, and the first dictionary definition entry may not actually be the most appropriate one. Students need to read the whole entry, and then actively consider which definition they require, by looking at the context of the word in the sentence. 

Word of the Day 

Online dictionary and thesaurus sites often give students the chance to sign up to word of the day, where they can receive a new word via email or text message each day. This can be a fun and easy way to build and extend vocabulary. 

Vocabulary Games 

These often work really well as starter activities in lessons, and again they are a quick and fun way to develop vocabulary. Countdown is always a favourite with students, as are games such as Boggle and Hangman. The rise of online learning has necessitated the development of many online versions of these games, but they can still be played the old-fashioned way too. 

Log Book 

As well as collecting new words, students need somewhere to record them. Having either a vocabulary book or a spreadsheet is a key part of a student’s learning equipment, and they need to develop a routine for recording new words when they encounter them. 

The 100 word list 

If your child has high ambitions for GCSE English, then he/she should have a look at the 100 words to Sharpen Your Expression list. Students can use this list to challenge themselves and actively build up their vocabulary. 

Understand Morphology 

Morphology is the study of how words are formed. Having a better understanding of how words work can make it easier to decipher meanings of unfamiliar words. Knowing key prefixes and suffixes, such as pro/pre/anti, can support students and help them decode the words. An awareness of word classes such as nouns, verbs and adjectives can also help students identify the job a word is doing in a sentence and thus get closer to uncovering the meaning. 

Learn another language 

It may seem strange, but often exploring other languages can help students to develop a better understanding of their own language. This is particularly true of other Latin based languages such as French, Spanish and Italian, as the fact that they share a root language means that there will be words in common. A knowledge of words in other languages can help them to recognise unfamiliar words in English, as they can recognise patterns and connections. 

Reading Widely

If your child is really serious about developing their vocabulary in the long term, then it is essential that he/she develops a reading habit. Actively learning and recording new words will help, but students will take in so much subconsciously when they are reading everyday. E-readers can be particularly useful when helping students to develop their vocabulary, as students can look up words in the dictionary as he/she reads. Having to stop reading to go and find a dictionary and look up the word can be frustrating, but with the e-reader, students can extend their vocabulary without having to break their reading stride! 

Are you looking for further English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring in secondary English, delivered by qualified and experienced teachers. To find out more, get in touch at hello@brightskytutoring.com.

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.