Quick English Aid #5.1: Handy Descriptive Phrases for “Say”

Quick English Aid #5.1: Handy Descriptive Phrases for “Say”


I was asked what are some descriptive words that can replace common ones. Indeed, most of the time I notice that many students like to use simple vocabulary such as “sad”, “say”, etc.

Thus, I create a list of words on useful vocabulary before I move on to Comprehension.

The first post starts with ‘Say’. You can download it at the end of this post.

Download the PDF here.

Quick English Aid #4 – Turning Jumbled Thoughts Into Coherent Ones

Quick English Aid #4 – Turning Jumbled Thoughts Into Coherent Ones


One of the biggest issues that plagued most budding young writers would be their disorganised thoughts. They would be everywhere…and I really mean EVERYWHERE.

Their thoughts are often jumbled and disorganised. Many students, who have little confidence in their writings, often take their teachers’ words either too seriously … or not seriously at all. Here are some of the more common ones that I had come across:

The Warped Time Machine

This common mistake often leaves many readers scratching their heads. Somehow, the student assumes that every reader is extremely intelligent and is able to either 1) read his/her thoughts or 2) fill in the blanks by themselves. When I interviewed one student on the rationale for writing like this, he replied, “I thought the examiners will know what will happen! There’s no need for me to fill in so many details!”


The Explicit Information Provider

This particular student of mine would provide every single detail..to the end. It would start with her waking up in the morning before having her breakfast. After which, she would talk about how her family would be waiting for her at the car and so on.. by the time she got to the plot, it would be her third page.


The Scene Jumper

Imagine watching a movie. Within the first five minutes, the scene jumps to another scene without warning. This second scene has no relation to the first one and guess what, it returns to continue the initial scene. It then goes back and forth repeatedly with some cameos by some other unrelated ones. By the end of the movie, not only are you confused.. you have a splitting headache. This is what it’s like to read stories from students who write like these.

Why Mindmaps or Sequential Timelines don’t work…alone

Teachers would often use the mind maps or sequential timelines for students to draft out their thoughts and ideas. However, I find that most students struggle with basic mind maps or these time lines because they tend to write in words. While they may help in one way, they are best complemented with sketches and doodles to help them visualise details and ideas.

Do you notice yourself doodling when you are listening to a lecture? Do you find your students doodling when they are distracted? If we doodle, can we stop our kids from doing something that may appear natural to them? This appeals to the visual learning style in many of us. Some may say ‘nay’ to learning styles but the truth is, most of us are multimodals; we utilise more than 1 learning style to help us learn. The doodling action helps to activate our brains as well.

If you read my earlier articles on the different learning styles, you will realise that many students don’t process leaning in words. In fact, most of us process this information visually. In short, they visualise information in pictures.


Try Doodling a quick Storyboard to Accompany

One way to do it is to create an extremely quick storyboard with doodles and sketches to accompany the written words. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate sketch. In fact, stick figures may be all that they need. The doodling helps them to visualise things in their heads and clarify their views in their minds.




Storyboarding is a tool that is often and frequently used by moviemakers, animators and such. However, the true purpose of it is to help organize and focus a story. By having a visual representation of their thinking, the story board helps the student to stay on track before they lost focus and add/omit details that hampers the story lines.

This technique is so useful that once the general picture can be obtained, they can advance it by using them for paragraphs.

Hope this tip helps! Next week, we will be progressing to Reading.


Quick English Aid #3: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Quick English Aid #3: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery


In 1824, Charles Caleb Colton made this famous quote “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery“.

What most people don’t know is that Oscar Wilde later made an extended quote which puts things in perspective for many people, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Let’s face it. Not all of us are born writers. While we hope and pray that our children can write fantastic sentences at the drop of the hat, it takes a lot of hard work to master the basics before they can master the more advance techniques. The only way to do so is to practise by aping sentences before remodelling consistently to make it theirs. In fact, many writers and copywriter use this technique to improve their writing as well.

While plagiarism is definitely out of the question, imitation of sentences is definitely the top of the list for students who are unable to create interesting sentences. This exercise aids students greatly, especially if they want to transit from simple sentences to complex ones. If used well, this exercise can even introduce figurative language such as personification and alliteration in the future.

Why Imitate?

When students imitate sentences, students become aware of structure, which supports their understanding of punctuation and promotes style awareness: word order, varied sentence lengths and parallel structure, for example. However, the main idea behind this is to really ensure the students are introduced to a wide variety of sentences.

Even Great Writers Imitate

It may be a shock to some but many of the greatest writers copy sentences from others in order to vary their styles of writing. They steal word, they copy styles and they borrow thoughts.  No masterpiece is completely original. Here are some examples of writers who copy from others until they make it:

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s style of writing  was heavily influenced by Ovid, the 1st century BC Roman poet. Many of his plays were similar to earlier histories and books ranging from history (the lives of Henry V, Richard III) to a novel titled  The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which was written 30 years earlier.

Steven Pressfield

When Steven Pressfield first started out, he copied Ernest Hemingway‘s works repeatedly in order to get a sense of his pacing, his storytelling, and his voice. He wanted to see how Hemingway constructed sentences, and how each sentence related to the ones around it.


Sentence Imitation

So how can we go about it? We can start by taking a sentence or paragraph and change  nouns, verbs, adjectives of the following paragraphs to alter the meaning.  We leave basic sentence structure the same (articles, prepositions, commas, colons, etc.) alone.

We will use an example from Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness:


Original: The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish.

Changed: The air was smoky, electric, powerful.


Original: The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances.

Changed: The long sets of music played on, overwhelming, into the hearts of excited youth.  


The main aim is to change the words accordingly to the context while maintaining the basic structure of the sentences. You can take samples from famous works and tweak accordingly.