Quick English Aid #2: Making Cool Sentences

Quick English Aid #2: Making Cool Sentences


The Issues with Grammar

How does one learn grammar? You know the drill. We spend the first six weeks of every school year drilling and re-drilling  parts of speech, phrases, clauses, types of sentences, punctuation, usage …. before realising that the students are only able to do well in sequential grammar exercises.

They can’t transfer it to their writing!

So what gives?

There have been multiple research studies over the last 75 years on the transference of students’ use and knowledge of grammar. What they found is that  students do not transfer grammar concepts learned in isolation to their writing.

When students see virtually NO relevance in their daily lives or in their future work lives, they are unable to use it. This is due to most grammar instruction focuses on the analysis of language rather than the use of it. Students in general do not remember what they learn about grammar from year to year because they only retain it in their short-term memory!

Use Grammar as a Tool to help Students write Better

Many times, you will hear teachers and tutors to use certain phrases or copy certain phrases or just read, read and read… All in the hopes of students being able to pick up words and use them easily just like that. However, there are really many skills that these students need to pick up in order to write better – especially if they do not have the habit or reading and thinking critically from a young age.

Before we can talk about our students using all sorts of description or embedding detail, imagery, and figurative language in their writing, we first need to have students practice sentence construction techniques that include specific grammatical structures.

Creating Cool Sentences with Grammar

One way to allow students not to practise grammar in isolation is to have them  practice sentence construction techniques that include specific grammatical structures.

Step 1

Start with an ordinary sentence that consists of an article, a subject, and a verb.

Step 2

Next, we add adjectives and adverbs.

Step 3

We then add prepositional phrases.

Step 4

Next, let’s try an appositive phrase.

Last Step

End with a subordinate clause for extra oomph.

Of course, it is not necessary to write such long sentences continuously. Yet, it does make a welcome variation from the constant stream of short active sentences.

Comments? Thoughts? Feel free to share them with me!



Quick English Aid #1: Word Bank vs Word Cline

Quick English Aid #1: Word Bank vs Word Cline

by Alyssa Chen

Recently, a few parents approached me if I am currently providing tuition in EL since I taught English in a secondary school for the past 7 years. Though I am not providing this service at the moment, I decided to start a series of posts to provide EL tips to aid your child in this subject.

Word Bank

The first tool that I will be talking about is the Word Bank.

This particular exercise helps to increase the range of vocabulary. This list can consist of adjectives, adverbs and nouns. One of the oldest exercises in the book, primary school teachers usually encourage their students to fill in words that they come across during reading so that they can use at a later time. One useful site that I have come across is this where it separates word banks by themes for K-12 grades.

However, I noticed that most students tend to copy these vocabulary words blindly and often string a sentence of mumbo-jumbo in hopes that they will receive marks for vocabulary. It is often extremely clear to examination markers when a student is really trying to ‘wring it’. The sentences, more often than not, don’t make sense.

Most students tend to think that having a wide range of vocabulary is just knowing synonyms of a certain word and simply substituting one for the other. What most students don’t know is that these synonyms have varying intensity to express 

So what does that mean? Does it mean that word bank doesn’t work?

Yes, it does. You just need to complement it with a word cline.

Word Cline

A word cline shows how related words are placed within a slope to show degrees intensity of strength when presenting an idea.

A simple example will be like this:

source: www.littleleapsoflearning.com

Instead of the usual “hot ” and “cold”, the word cline shows synonyms (related words) that can be used.

“Hot” – “warm, “burning”, “scorching”

“Cold” – chilly”, “freezing”

However, it does not end there. Using the slope, the words are placed to show HOW hot or cold each synonym truly describe.

Let’s use a more advance example – “Rich”.

In this example, the word “rich” takes on 4 different meanings. Starting with the least intense at the bottom, the presentation of its meaning increases as it moves up the ladder. In the thesaurus, the words may come under the same section. However, the intensity presented is different.

source: eslcarissa.blogspot.com

Thus, a way to truly understand and increase vocabulary words – create a word bank AND a word cline. This will help readers of your child’s/student’s work to truly understand the expression behind the idea it all. If your child/student is an extremely visual learner, this is a very good website to use for word cline. An online graphical dictionary, Visuwords shows how the words are related to one another.

Have fun exploring!

The Science of English – Code Switching

The Science of English – Code Switching


by Karl Gan

Much has been said and made of the battle of words between Dr Gwee Li Sui and the Prime Minister’s office lately, incited by Dr Gwee’s op-ed piece in the New York Times where he champions the use of Singlish, discusses the Singapore government’s war on Singlish, and subtly hints at their failures to adapt to Singlish for the purposes of local appeal.

The Prime Minister’s office then replied, saying that “Using Singlish will make it harder for Singaporeans to learn and use standard English… [and] not everyone… can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English.”

Who is right in this war of words, and why is there a code to be switched?

According to the field of linguistics, code-switching occurs when a speaker is able to switch between two or more languages, or language varieties, effortlessly when speaking to others, while being able to replicate the authenticity of each language or language variety.

Basically, I can speak Singlish one second to, for example, someone at the hawker centre, and the next second, take a call from London and speak to that person in perfect, grammatically- and syntactically-correct English.

In my experience, code-switching depends a lot on the environment the child is raised up in. A child with parents that speak a lot of dialect or mother tongue at home, will result in difficulties in grasping the English language. The reason for this is simple: language is something that is trained through familiarity. If a child is unfamiliar with the proper way English is supposed to be said, he or she will not grow up knowing English the right way.

So how do we fix this problem?

Of course, parents learning how to speak proper English is one thing. But an easier way, if the parent does not have this ability or finds it difficult, is to let you child watch TV and read more books.

            1) TV

That’s right, television. As a platform for trained actors and writers, English television will have a higher standard of language than what you’d encounter in daily life. Of course, you’d have to limit your child’s viewing and choose educational, good shows, but many shows such as “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader” or cartoons feature strong English speakers.

            2) Books

I always advocate children reading books. This goes beyond just textbooks. Children should read any books that interest him or her. Limiting him or her to only “educational” books dampens his creativity and imagination, and makes him or her associate language learning with boredom.

As a tutor, I have come across this problem of children interchangeably using Singlish and English many times, especially when my kids display two notable phenomena in class: “usage of Singlish words and colloquialisms”, and “structure of Singlish”. Here is some insight on the problem, and some tips on how to correct this problem.

Usage of Singlish Words & Colloquialisms

This is the easiest to correct, but again, it depends on the environment. Words like “lah”, “orh”, “loh”, are commonly emphasized as Singlish words. How about words like “blah” and “meh”? While seen commonly online, these are also colloquial terms, which means that they are used in everyday speech but should not be formally used in your child’s writing. Words such as “duh”, which is recognized by many English speakers and the Oxford dictionary, should not be used as it is considered colloquial as well.

Teachers of course, will constantly do their best to reinforce that these words should not be used in the examination setting. Parents should also tell their children there is a clear distinction between what you say in everyday life, and what you write or say in an examination condition.

Structure of Singlish

As Singlish is essentially a combination of English and multiple other languages and dialects that can be found in Singapore, the structure of the language is different from English.

For example, I once had a student who wrote, “I do this, can?”

Of course, the proper way to write it would be, “Can I do this?”

With its roots in Mandarin, as you can see, this results in students who speak Singlish a lot, placing the modal verb behind instead of in front.

To solve this, parents need to actively try to not combine languages in daily life. It is a habit of many parents to drop mother tongue phrases into their English sentences, which greatly harms the child’s ability to process the structure of pure English.

If the parent wants to communicate with a child, do it in one language only, and do it cleanly, with no other influences from other languages.

Since Singlish is essentially a combination of other languages, is this advice to not speak Singlish? No, but rather to keep it as it is: as another language altogether. By keeping in mind the Singlish language is not English as it should be applied in the exam or in formal situations, children will treat Singlish as separate from English and thus will be able to code switch with greater ability. It is just like how they would speak in English and their mother tongue separately, to people who may not understand their mother tongue.

That is the trick, and with this trick, code-switching would not be as major a worry as it has been.


5 Effective Ways To Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

5 Effective Ways To Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

by The Kidz Parade


File 10-4-16, 1 47 46 PM


A strong vocabulary paves the way for a child’s ability to learn, their ability to understand the world and their ability to communicate effectively with other people. The more words they know, the more they are able to make sense of what they learn. Now, what can you do to build your child’s vocabulary? Research shows that a child needs to see the usage of a word 5-7 times, before it is stored in their long-term memory. Here are some specific tips to make the vocabulary acquisition more fun.

Word Games

Children learn vocabulary the best with repeated exposure and opportunity to practice that in a non-threatening atmosphere. Games are best to enforce the words after you introduce it to them. You can do inexpensive ways to play games like synonym cross word puzzles, Word search, Scrabble. There are many online sites where you can play interesting and engaging vocabulary games with your child. If you need more, you can find some cool vocabulary games here.


Peer Reading

Introduce your child to the vocabulary used by their peers. Reading literature by children is the best way to do that. This will give them the motivation and confidence to learn and use new words. Reading the works by peers will also inspire them to focus more on writing. You will be able to find a lot of such literature at Kidz Parade literature by children and The Kidz Parade.


Keep and Idea Book or Journal

Does the word ‘journal’ put off your child? Introduce the concept of an ‘idea book’ to them instead. Let them write all their aspirations, imaginations and observations in that book.

Encourage them to write lists if they do not want to write long paragraphs, ask them to write only a couple of sentences every day when they start with, ask them to write about something close to their heart. You will see your child building vocabulary and writing skills gradually. Research shows that writing journals has both physical and psychological benefits while improving their writing skills and vocabulary.


Read aloud to your child (even if they are older)

Jim Trelease, the author of Read-Aloud Handbook says, “Children have a reading level and a listening level and they are usually not the same. A 4th-grader may be reading on a 4th-grade level, but can listen to stories on a 6th-grade level.”

You can read aloud to older children, even to those who are upto 14 years. Reading aloud to teens helps them with finding the right vocabulary to express their emotions. This is a great bonding activity, while building your child’s vocabulary.


Talk, Talk and Talk: A very effective way to build your child’s vocabulary

Learning words is helpful only if it is practiced. Have conversations with your child in various topics. This will give them the opportunity to listen to new vocabulary as well as to express their thoughts using the new vocabulary. Communicating with people with varied interests is also a great way to acquire new vocabulary.



How To Study: English Grammar in its Parts

How To Study: English Grammar in its Parts

by Khairy Farhan



Did you know that Grammar marks for PSLE Paper 2 make up to 40% of the total marks of 95?

Here’s the tabulation:

1. Grammar MCQ – 10 marks
2. Grammar Cloze – 10 marks
3. Editing and Spelling – 5 out of 10 (approximately 50%, other 50% is spelling)
4. Comprehension Cloze – 5 out of 15 (30%, other 70% are vocabulary and comprehension)
5. Synthesis and Transformation – 10 marks

Total 40 marks out of 95 = 42%

Tips for Studying Grammar:

– The key idea is the ability to explain the grammar structure!

– When doing practice papers and assessment books, make sure the answer key is available.

– By having the answers, the idea is not the ability to know the answer but the ability to explain why the answer fits the question.

– Tutors, teachers and parents will need to find explanations that make sense for students, and this may require knowledge of Parts of Speech (Word Types) and understanding relationships between the Word Types.

– Students need to then do one or both of these to strengthen their grammar knowledge:

* a) Create similar questions – this will make sure you know what are the conditions/clues that need to be present for the answer to be correct.

* b) Write daily journals or blog entries or use the grammar structures in writing to enable real life application and experiential learning

Advanced Response to Critics

While I know many English tutors would disagree with my prescribed methods because many tutors would even promote the idea of practising over and over again (which is practically and even has a close resemblance to rote-learning), this method actually promotes many types of learning in students:

1) Inquiry-based learning that encourages curiosity and learning complexity through its simpler parts
2) Creates rationale and importance to learn fundamentals of language, realisation that different languages have different grammar systems
3) Encourages a Growth Mindset – Focusing on a students’ effort to figure out the relationship between words and actively seeking help from A Knowledgeable Other (AKO)
4) Promotes deeper learning through analysis of sentences and consecutively understanding of semantics


Age Old Advice Still Applies: Read! 

The old advice for students to read often and widely becomes far more important when you approach reading as an exposure to an innate and natural ability to recognise general and exception rules to English grammar.

Have you already been doing this? Share what you have done and other ideas that you may have! :)