Technology and Self-Control

Technology and Self-Control

by Khairy Farhan

Download this dictionary app on your smart devices for your children to study!

You can download it to be available offline so that you can still prevent your child internet access to YouTube etc.

This is the 21st century! If your child is still flipping through a thick dictionary, then trust me when I say this: you seriously limiting your child’s opportunities to learn.

Personally, I think that students who cannot be disciplined to differentiate time for study and time to play are probably the cause of parents who are not sure how to enforce it upon their children. But who’s responsibility is it then?

It’s extremely crucial that parents cultivate the value of self-control within their children because there have been concrete research showing that if children are able to delay gratification, they are more likely to be successful later in life.

Invest in your children’s future, by cultivating values of self-control, delayed gratification and allowing your children access to 21st learning tools and resources. You may not have self-control too, so why not make the learning a collaborative project in the family.

Here’s Dr Walter Mischel, whose research was focused on self-control and delayed gratification, the most famous one known as the Marshmallow Experiment:

Here’s a TEDx Talk on the Marshmallow Test by Silvia Barcellos:

Here’s a repeat of the Marshmallow Test:

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 1.00.21 PM

Insightful Grammar Tips

Insightful Grammar Tips

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

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 2.27.31 pm

The Science of English: STEP BY STEP for Comprehension Cloze Passages

The Science of English: STEP BY STEP for Comprehension Cloze Passages

by Karl Gan

Now that exam month is here, I thought I’d share some general tips for scoring in exams. (These tips can be applied to both English Comprehension Cloze, and Chinese Comprehension Cloze – but of course the specific terms used here such as “phrasal verb” and “noun” are applicable specifically only to English.)

A lot of children find it difficult to score for Comprehension Cloze. The problem almost everyone contends with can be narrowed down to the three following problems –

1) “How do I know if it is a ‘grammar’ word or a ‘vocabulary’ word?”

READ THE SENTENCE. Does the sentence sound correct to you? If it sounds odd, or something doesn’t MAKE sense somewhere, you need to fill in a “grammar word”. If everything makes sense grammatically, it’s a vocabulary word you need to put in.

2) “What vocabulary word do I put in? I’ve put in one word I thought was right in this situation but the teacher marked it wrong.”

First of all, is this a verb? An adjective? A noun? Or an adverb? STEP ONE, you should identify what kind of word goes in there.

Step TWO, is this a PHRASE? For example, phrases such as “taken aback” are fixed, and so no other word can go into “___________ aback”.


Step THREE, if this is NOT a phrasal verb, is the word you used to the right DEGREE of importance?

Q: He was writhing on the floor in __________________ pain.

A: If you put “much” here, it would be wrong. He is writhing on the floor! So the answer has to be “excruciating”.


Step FOUR, can you identify a clue that helps you?

Q: “She was _______________ with theft”.

A: The answer is NOT ‘convicted’, because it would be ‘convicted OF theft’. The answer is ‘CHARGED WITH theft’. Therefore, all these clues exist in passages to help you.

3) “I put ‘run’ but the answer was ‘ran’!”

Now that you know what word should go in there, DON’T be careless! Always be aware of the tenses of the passage and each sentence.


Parents, did you get these questions right? Let your kids know about these three KEY TIPS and the FOUR STEPS to keep in mind, and Comprehension Cloze won’t be a worry anymore.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 8.52.25 am

5 Common Mistakes in Synthesis and Transformation

5 Common Mistakes in Synthesis and Transformation

by Jerry Lee

For the Primary School English exam paper, you do not want to make silly mistakes for the Synthesis and Transformation section.  Yes.  Of all the sections, please do not make your silly mistakes here.  Each questions consists of 2 marks, contributing to a total of 10 marks overall for the entire paper.  So if you have done your paper until this segment, drink some water or slap your face lightly to wake yourself up.

Here are the silly mistakes I keep seeing in this section.  ( I feel like vomiting blood even as I type these mistakes out!)

1.  Tom likes to cycle.  Jane likes to cycle too.

Blur Student’s Answer:  Both Tom and Jane likes to cycle.

Mistake: likes >>> like

Comment:  Strangely, the simpler the question, the more overconfident students become.  They will blindly copy-paste and move on to the next question.  There you go! 2 marks gone just like that! Ouch!

2.  Tom did not know that there were lessons today.  Jane did not know that there were lessons today.

Blur Student’s Answer:  Neither Tom nor Jane knows that there were lessons today.

Mistake: knows>>>knew

Comment:  In this case, the blur student forgets that the word ‘did’ in the question shows that this event had taken place in the past.  Past tense must be used.  Always be sure of the time frame of the event.

3.  Tom’s mother asked Tom, “Where were you last night?”

Blur Student’s Answer:  Tom’s mother asked him where was he the previous night.

Mistake:  The answer should be –  Tom’s mother asked him where he had been the previous night.

Comment:  When students look at indirect speech questions, they feel so excited and focus so much on changing “last night” to the “previous night”.  Good job! Sadly, because of this single-minded focus they always forget these other 2 rules for indirect speech.

– past tense in direct speech (dialogue) must be changed to past perfect tense ( had +_______[past participle]) in the indirect speech. In this case, were >>> had been

– when the direct speech is asking a question, make sure that when you convert it to indirect speech, your phrasing must suit a full stop.  Do not phrase it in such a way that it still sounds like a question mark sentence.  E.g:

  • Tom’s mother asked him where had he been the previous night.  (WRONG. Notice that when you read this sentence out loud it ends with a question mark tone.)
  • Tom’s mother asked him where he had been the previous night. (CORRECT. Now when you read this sentence out it ends with a full-stop tone.)

4.  Tom ate his dinner.  He went back to do his homework.

Blur Student’s Answer:  Having ate his dinner, Tom went back to do his homework.

Mistake:  ate >>> eaten

Comment:  Students always forget that there is a grammar rule called Present Perfect Tense.  Somehow, they only view sentences in Present Tense and Past Tense, which sadly, is not the case.  Present perfect tense consists of:

  • has/have + ________ (past participle)
  • Students also forget that there is such a thing called past participle
  • E.g of past participles –  eaten, forgotten, drunk, slept, driven, sung, swum…etc.

5.  Tom put in a lot of effort.  He still did not win the race.

Blur Student’s Answer: Despite putting in a lot of effort, he still did not win the race.

Mistake: he>>> Tom

Comment: Once again, due to copying-pasting without thinking, students forget that ‘he’ could mean anybody.  We need to make sure readers know that Tom is the subject mentioned in this sentence.

Practice makes Perfect

The good news is, although Synthesis and Transformation may seem difficult at the start, with thorough practice, I have seen some of my students master it to get full marks consistently.  After doing a number of questions, you will start to see some similarities and patterns.  This will make doing Synthesis and Transformation questions much easier for you over time.

Remember, English, like any other language, is just made up of a set of rules.  Practise and remember the rules and you will be fine!

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.00.25 pm

How to Write Descriptions in Your Essay

How to Write Descriptions in Your Essay

by Jerry Lee



When it comes to primary school or lower secondary essay writing, the ability to describe well  plays a crucial role in the marks you score for your composition.  Primary and Lower Secondary composition writing is probably 50-80% descriptive.  The sad thing is: students still don’t get it!  Whenever new students sign up for my class, they all have the habit of trying to push the plot of their story along, never once bother stopping to just describe the scene or actions taking place.  Here are some tips on how to write good descriptions.

Describing Scenery


One of the mistakes students make when describing scenery is that they don’t have a general flow or direction in their description.  They simply just write down the first thing that comes into their mind.


Fluffy white clouds like cotton candy…

Fresh green grass…

Crystal clear lake…

Rocky mountain…

Hot sun…


Instead, what they should be doing is to have a planned direction of travel.  An easy way to get into this mindset is to imagine yourself standing in the picture above.  Start scanning from the left to the right, top to bottom, or simply walking along a path and taking in the sights/sound/smell of the scenery.

You need a general direction when you describe!

For e.g:  The fluffy white clouds floated across the sky like cotton candy.  When I stared ahead, I marveled at how clear the crystal clear lake was.  I took a few minutes to enjoy the tranquility of the lake before heading off.  My boots trudged along the fresh green grass as I headed towards the rocky mountain.  I was in for a steep climb.  I wondered if I had brought enough water since the sun was so hot.

Not only did I describe with a direction in mind, I interweave my description of the scenery into the actions taken by my character.  Describing a scenery does not mean you have to just describe a static picture in your mind.  You have to immerse yourself in the scenery!


Describing Action


The next problem students face is when they describe action.  No wait.  Students don’t even describe action!  What students do is write one sequence after another like this:

Johnny ran as fast as a cheetah to the finishing line and won.  He then drank a bottle of water to hydrate himself.  He heard them call his name and he went to the podium to retrieve his prize.  It was his best day ever!

Most students can’t help but write a new action after every sentence.  They can’t seem to find the words to describe and elaborate on a few actions.  Hence, their compositions just comprise of action after action to mask their inability to write descriptively.

In my creative writing class, I train my students to focus just on ONE ACTION only and write a detailed description on it.  For those that have been writing for months, they can usually write a full-page description on one simple action.  Now imagine you are in my class and my task for you is simply – describe the man running.  You are not allowed to write anything else!

Now you are forced to be very detailed.  Imagine an up-close view of your character.  You must be able to picture him vividly in your head.  Now focus on just the action of running and put yourself in his shoes.

As John ran, beads of sweat dripped down his forehead.  His feet fell into a rhythm and his thigh muscles propelled him forward, stride by stride, relentlessly, like a piston.  The sun was behind him now but it’s rays shone down mercilessly on his back.  He felt his wet, sweaty shirt clinging onto his skin.  A pain slowly developed on the right side of his torso but it was still bearable.  Nevertheless, he shrugged it off.  The strange thing was:  the longer he ran, the lighter he felt. 

This is how descriptive writing should be.  Not just saying “John ran as fast as a cheetah” and be done with it.  Anyway, cliche idioms like that won’t win you any marks!  Take your time to dwell upon an action.  Focus on it.  Imagine it up-close in your mind.  Slow it down like a slow-motion replay.  Refrain from jumping to the next scene.  If you can do that effortlessly, you are almost there!


Describing Characters

swag kids


Students also forget that they can describe characters.  In all the essays I review, the main character/s of the story tend to be soulless machines, merely carrying out the whims and commands of the writer, which in most cases, is to perform one activity after  another.  The students who are relatively new in my creative writing class will simply write like this when I tell them to describe the character.

 Tommy is wearing a white fedora hat.  He is wearing blue pants.  He looks playful.  

Other than just describing the physical and aesthetics of the character, you need to give him life.


– what’s his background or history?

– what’s his personality?

– any habits?

– hobbies?

– what are his mannerisms?


Once you think of all these other factors that make up his character, describe him, with your physical descriptions of the character interspersed into the writing.

Tommy always had a knack for dressing well.  His mother, a fashion designer, bought him a cool, white, fedora hat for his birthday and he had been wearing it ever since.  Tommy was hyperactive.  He could never sit still.  Whenever he is forced to sit down to do his homework, he would find some excuses to get up  and move around.  He was also very expressive and confident despite his age, never shying away from the camera.  The moment the camera lens turn towards him he would jump at it and give a playful pose.  With his high cheek bones and big doleful eyes, his mother thinks that he has a chance to be a model in the future.

Focus on the Details

One general guideline I can give for descriptive writing is to focus on the details.  You need to be able to not just see the scene vividly in your head, but also imagine that you are there.

Although descriptive writing is one of the hallmarks of a good essay, being overly-descriptive may also result in pointless sentences that serve no purpose to the plot or the reader.  Strike a balance between moving a story along and dwelling on a description.  Relevance is key in keeping your reader’s interested.

With that, I hope you put my tips into good use in your next essay!


Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.00.25 pm