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!



How To Get Real Face Time With Your Teen

How To Get Real Face Time With Your Teen


by Focus on the Family

Teenagers – don’t we sometimes wish we understood them a little better, or knew what they were thinking? Why are they always staring at their screens? Why do they keep talking about finding meaning in life? Today’s teenagers are growing up in a generation different from ours, facing more societal pressures and challenges than we ever did. We may not fully comprehend or agree with their thoughts or views, but knowing the differences between our generation’s thinking and theirs might help us understand them a little better.

Communication Today

Do you find that our young ones have shorter attention spans? Technology likely has a part to play in this. Being digital natives, they are adept at quickly and easily sourcing for new information at any place and point in time. Indeed, a webpage that took two minutes to load in the past now can load in two seconds! However, though they may find difficulty in focusing on something for extended periods of time, they are often better at multitasking and managing several activities at the same time.

Also, gone are the days when face-to-face interaction was the only way to communicate with someone at length. Our teens have communication at their fingertips, keeping in touch with their friends through various forms of instant messaging and social media. Due to this, they may be more comfortable communicating virtually as opposed to meeting face-to-face or making phone calls.

It is still good to make—and guard—face-to-face interaction with them as a family. For example, you can agree as a family to ensure that there’s no digital devices at the dinner table, so that everyone can focus on quality conversations. We should also model such behaviour for our teens by being intentional in not checking our phones or laptops constantly when spending time with them.

Engaging on Values

What was considered taboo in the past is now more widely accepted. Youth’s attitudes toward things like media consumption, dressing, and sex, among many other areas, have become more liberal. One of the reasons for this is that our culture has changed. For instance, today’s culture is markedly more accepting of sexually explicit content, where it can be found from product advertisements to music videos.

Someone once observed that the older generation seems to be the “What” generation: They know what is right and wrong, and they will do as they have been taught. But the younger generation seems to be the “Why” generation: They want to know why something is right or wrong, before they do it.

This mindset can be a productive one to engage with. The benefit is that youths want to know for themselves the compelling reasons behind something, rather than accept it blindly. And once they have thought or wrestled through it, they will likely have ownership over their own convictions.

Engaging with our youths in terms of values can also take the form of inviting them into a conversation about why they think the way they think. How did they come to such a view? Whom or what do they consider major influences in their lives? What do they cherish and what do they dislike? This also helps us to understand them as a person, and what their inner world is like.

The Bottom Line

Your teen may hold vastly different views from you – some may make you squirm or even recoil in horror. Before you start on a “You know in my time, this would never be allowed…” lecture, take some time to truly listen and evaluate your teen’s views. Opening up safe spaces for dialogue lets them feel valued because they are being heard, which allows them to express their views more openly. This then creates opportunities for you to learn from them, and also to help them to clarify—and when the need arises, to gently correct—their beliefs and attitudes. Ultimately, our aim in parenting is to teach them how to think, not what to think, and empowering them to make healthy decisions themselves.

In all honesty, youths today share many similarities with you when you were teenagers – they are still finding their way around the confusing world they are in, still desire to be accepted, heard and loved. You may not completely understand (or appreciate) their psyche, but you can be the present and loving parent to them, guiding them as they grow into adulthood. Dads and Mums, may you be your teen’s coach and cheerleader so that they can run the race of life well.
© 2016 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Want to learn the secrets of keeping a parent-teen relationship strong during the most critical years of your teen’s life?
Find out more about the 
Parenting with Confidence workshop at www.family.org.sg/parenting 


5 Effective Ways To Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

5 Effective Ways To Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

by The Kidz Parade


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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.



Secondary 1 Math: The 4 Golden Rules of Negative Numbers

Secondary 1 Math: The 4 Golden Rules of Negative Numbers

by Jimmy Ling


In my previous post for secondary 1, I have went through “Number Line and Negative Numbers“. You have learnt how to do addition and subtraction which involve negative numbers.

Now, I want to share on how to do multiplication and division which involve negative numbers.

You need to memorise the 4 golden rules.


Rule 1: Positive x Positive = Positive

I am sure you are very clear on this. When you take a positive number multiply by a positive number, the answer is positive.

Example: 2 x 3 = 6

Note that 2 and 3 are positive numbers. The answer is 6 which is positive too.


Rule 2: Negative x Positive = Negative

When you take a negative number multiply by a positive number, the answer is negative.

Example: -2 x 3 = -6

You can think of it this way. You don’t have any marble. You need to give 3 people 2 marbles each. So the total shortage is 6 marbles. You can treat the negative sign as a shortage.


Rule 3: Positive x Negative = Negative

This is similar to rule 2. When you take a positive number multiply by a negative number, the answer is negative.

Example: 2 x -3 = -6


Rule 4: Negative x Negative = Positive

Now things start to get a bit interesting. When you take a negative number multiply by a negative number, the negative sign will cancel away and the result will be positive.

Example: -2 x -3 = 6

Why does 2 negatives give us a positive?

You can think of it this way. Treat positive as “Do” and negative as “Do not.”

If I put 2 negatives together and say “Do not do not study,” what am I trying to say?

The answer is “Study!”

The “do not” and “do not” will cancel away and the final result is “Study”.

The same logic applies for multiplication and division.


The Same Set of Rules apply for Division


6 ÷ 2 =3

-6 ÷ 2 = -3

6 ÷ -2 = -3

-6 ÷ -2 = 3


How to Memorise the 4 rules

There is a shortcut. If you multiply 2 numbers of the same sign (for instance positive and positive or negative and negative), the final result will be positive.

But if you multiply 2 numbers of the opposite sign (for instance positive and negative or negative and positive), the final result will be negative.


Some other Tips:

When a number has no sign, it means it is positive. Example “5 = +5″

Sometimes we put brackets around a number to avoid confusion.

Examples: 2 x (-3) = -6

(-2) x (-3) = 6

-(-2) is the same as minus times minus 2 which is equal to 2.


Extending the Same Rules to Algebra

The same rules apply for Algebra as well!

2a x 3 = 6a

-2a x 3 = -6a

2a x -3 = -6a

-2a x -3 = 6a


Do memorise and know how to apply these 4 rules because you will be using them many times in secondary 1 math and later years.



How Dillion jumped from F to A2 (Upper Secondary English)

How Dillion jumped from F to A2 (Upper Secondary English)

by Jerry Lee


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Dillon was my student in Primary 6.  I wrote about his PSLE success story here.  He came back for Upper Secondary English tuition last year.  He was Sec 3 then, and he had to come back because he just failed his English CA1.

Failing Upper Secondary English was a wake-up call for him.  It was also shocking to me too as he was always scoring B on average and never once did I remember him going below a C grade.  However, the syllabus changes and increased difficulty of Upper Secondary English was a bit too much for him to handle.

When he came back to find me, he was still at a lost for what he did wrong for English.  He is not a lazy student; in fact, he is one of the most hardworking students I have taught.  He is also not playful; He is one of the most obedient and respectful students I have taught.  His good attitude, his determination, his discipline, his drive to do well…made him a very easy student to teach.

I love teaching students like Dillon.  All they need is a little tweak, a little push, and soon enough, you get to see some pretty ‘miraculous’ results. From F to A2 – in about 6 months.


Pretty amazing, right?


I would like to go around bragging about my SUPER-STAR ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD that will GUARANTEE A1 but alas, very few students can replicate Dillon’s fast improvement results.

But I dare say, if a student has Dillon qualities,

– Discipline

– Respect

– Diligence

– Obedience

– Initiative

– Responsibility

My SUPER-STAR ULTIMATE MASTER ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD will work for him. 110% results or money-back guarantee!

The problems that Dillon face with Upper Secondary English aren’t new.  Almost all my students face the same problems.  After looking through his test papers, I understood how to help him and how to push his grades up in the shortest time possible.

I am going to share my SUPER SECRET ULTIMATE MASTER ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD.  But I will only summarise the main points – if I were to go into detail I might end up writing a book with as many pages as Lord of the Rings….

So here it goes:


1.  Refocus on Grammar

After Dillon got his A’s for PSLE and happily went to Xinmin Secondary, he stopped tuition.  Nothing wrong with that.  Only as time passed, his grasp of English grammar slowly got thrown down the drain.

The English language is best learnt through application and habit.  And when the Bad Habits start creeping in, they may just take over the  Good Habits and replace them for good.  It was appalling to see his Grammar degenerating to such a lousy state.  I was almost tempted to believe that he scored A for his PSLE by fluke!

I forced Dillon to refocus on grammar by nit-picking on every single mistake he makes, and making him do corrections for every sentence that has a mistake.  This process was so tedious and painful that he soon learnt to be more aware of what he is writing so that he makes less mistakes.

I also got him to refocus on time frames and subject-verb agreement rules.  I wanted the Good Habits to come back and kick out the Bad Habits.

His grammar was getting flabby.  I made sure it got back in shape again.  Dillon learnt fast and cut down on a lot of mistakes.  He started scoring an average of 8/10 for grammar editing, and all his sentences for his compositions and comprehension had less mistakes.


2.  Tackling Inferential Questions

Dillon is your typical, good in math and science, struggle-with-languages-type of boy.  Due to this inherent weakness, he had difficulty tackling the harder questions that deal with inference.  In case you didn’t notice, most English questions in Upper Secondary deal with inference.

Inferential questions require a higher degree of thinking :

– seeing from perspective of a character or the author

– making logical interpretations based on the words used or evidence/ fact available

I trained his thought process to not read or see things so literally, at face value.  I got him to think harder of hidden meanings.  I got him to infer more from paragraphs, sentences and words.  This thought process took some time to cultivate.  But Dillon was a smart kid who was determined to learn.  Soon, he got better with such questions.


3.  Tackling Language Questions

Just like inferential questions, language questions are aplenty for secondary English.

“What does this phrase mean?”

“What does this sentence mean?”

“Why did the author used this word?”

I helped Dillon expand his limited vocabulary.  But because there’s so many English words in the dictionary, I taught him to a smarter way – to infer the meaning of words, phrases or sentences based on the context of the passage and the adjacent sentences.  All he needs now is a little common sense, a little logical thinking, and he should be able to get most language questions right.


4. Writing Expository / Argumentative Essays

All Upper Secondary students struggle with their essays.  Not only do they have a lack of knowledge in general subject matters, they also do not have the skills to phrase a point across.

This is a tough area to teach.  But I got Dillon to understand the requirements of Expository and Argumentative essays.  I taught him how to come up with sound logical points, organise them, and back them up with evidence.  I taught him how to write powerful introductions and strong, body paragraphs.  I taught him how to construct a sound compo.

Dillon loves writing overly-long, complicated sentences with flowery words that are usually out of place.  He is also prone to repetition of the same point again and again just to make up for the lack of content in his essay. I made him cut down on unnecessary words, phrases or sentences that provided no value to his essay.  I taught him how to get his point across in the clearest and most succinct way possible.

Although he still can improve further in this area, at least he is not writing gibberish or failing his compos anymore.


5.  Situational Writing

For situational writing, many students (including Dillon), worry so much about the format and structure of the situational writing that they forget all about the tone and context.  I got Dillon to understand the nuances between different writing tones:

– Persuasive

– Polite

– Informative

– Reporting

– Motivational

Next I made sure he matched the right tone with the right context.

E.g “Write a graduation speech for your school”

– context=graduation speech for school

– tone= motivational and polite

I taught him the right words to use for the right context and tone.  I taught him how to vary his sentence structures for greater impact.  I made sure his points are well organised.


Improving Upper Secondary English

Once a student reaches Upper Secondary, his grammar application should be sound (hopefully), and he should be focusing on learning the harder content such as the last 4 points mentioned above.

Again with the right attitude and mindset, half the battle is already won.  All Dillon needed was someone to coach him and guide him in the technical aspects of the English language.  With sufficient coaching, he was able to boost his marks so ‘miraculously’.

I hope this article has been helpful in providing an insight on how to prepare your child for the Upper Secondary English syllabus and of course, the eventual, big O-level.

Stay consistent in your learning and you will reap the results of your hard work.