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.


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!