Ideas for Chapter Book Reading With Your Child

Do you sometimes wonder how you can help your child develop reading skills while you’re reading a chapter book aloud together? Here are suggestions that I used with a child who was struggling a bit with reading Ramona and Her Father (by Beverly Cleary) but didn’t want to try another “easier” or “just right” book. You can use these methods with nearly any book that is at a “just right” level (no more than 5 “difficult words” per page) or a book that is challenging for your child, but she (or he!) really wants to read anyway.

First, we prepared for reading the book by looking at and discussing:

  • The front cover [What does the title suggest? What do you know about this author? Have you read other books by her? What were they like? Why did you choose this book? Did a friend recommend it? Why? What ideas do you get from the picture? What does the sub-title tell you about the story?]
  • The back cover [Read the blurb and discuss from it what might happen later in the book; look at the list/photos of other books in the series and discuss ones already read; talk about what is already known about the characters, about the way the stories go, etc.; read about the author (this may be inside the book, as may a list of other books by the author)]
  • Other pre-reading strategies: preview (as with the cover material; also pictures inside the book, etc.); personal connections (What does this story remind you of? Other books? Movies? Own experiences in your life?) and predicting (What do you think will happen next? Later in the story? What clues in the story make you think that will happen? What else could happen instead?); vocabulary introduction (an important part of comprehension: even if your child reads a word or sentence smoothly, if you aren’t sure she understands, stop and talk about it); KWL (What do I already know? What do I wonder about? and after reading, what did I learn?)

Then have your child start to read aloud. After each couple of paragraphs, I ask some objective comprehension questions (information that comes directly from the text) and some inferential questions (information that comes from clues in the text: “reading between the lines”). If there is a picture related to what she has read, have her look at the picture and re-tell that part of the story in her own words. Looking at the picture, her memory of even small details not actually shown in the picture, but told in the story, will be stronger than just remembering from the words. If she includes details that weren’t in the story, that’s fine–part of good reading is using your imagination. These activities will help develop a child’s graphical strengths and her story-telling abilities.

While your child is reading, watch for things that she needs to work on and things that will help improve her reading skills. Introduce these ideas as they come up in her reading, but don’t cover them all at once or you’ll only cause frustration. You might work on one aspect per reading session. Some may take repeated practice. Don’t overwhelm. Encourage slowly and steadily.

  • Punctuation: If your child seems to ignore punctuation marks (doesn’t stop momentarily at commas and periods; doesn’t use an appropriate tone for question marks and exclamation points, etc.) take time to discuss their use and read the sentence correctly to your child, then read it together, and finally have her read it herself.
  • Does your child tend to add, or leave out, small words such as articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (joining words like: and, so, but, if, etc.), or prepositions (words that begin phrases like: in, from, for, with, etc.). This can happen as she tries to make sense of what she is reading, and she may also be thinking ahead and kind of guessing what comes next or thinking how she would tell the story in her own words (this is actually quite common with children–and even adults–who are good story-tellers). Or her focus may be on what she considers “important” or “difficult” words. Just gently remind her to read all the words. Even those little words are important because they affect the meaning, and because reading correctly will be helpful in learning to write correctly.
  • Some children tend to mix up the lines or skip lines. Using a pencil or finger or ruler or bookmark to follow the lines can be helpful, but this can slow down comprehension of longer, more complex or detailed sentences. In that case, read the sentence to the child (using your own finger for her to follow), then read it together, and then have her read it. She’ll gradually be able to read these longer, multi-line sentences. For a child who has difficulty with lines that seem to blur into each other, try creating a paper “frame” that fits neatly around the words/line so she can only see one or two lines at a time; or try placing a piece of transparent plastic in a light colour over the page so the page isn’t so bright for her eyes (brightness can blur the words/line). Alternatively, a pair of light-tinted sunglasses might help, or move to a place without such bright overhead lighting.
  • Does your child have difficulty reading expressively? Some methods you can use to help include watching for punctuation clues and looking for “hints” in the text (words like “she exclaimed” or actions the character takes in the story). Other useful methods include reading “readers theatre” style stories, poems, and short plays (even acting them out), and doing you read/I read (modelled or echo reading) and choral reading). Talk about the value of reading aloud, and encouraged her to read to a “safe” audience–a sibling, friend, grandparent or even a pet or a stuffy! Have her read a paragraph silently first, then have her re-tell it in her own words, then have her read it aloud to you. This will build confidence, expressiveness, and comprehension skills.
  • If your child is having difficulty decoding words (sounding them out) try these methods: refer to picture clues; guess the word and then decide if the guess fits the sentence’s meaning (if it does but is still the wrong word, help her sound it out); skip the word or phrase then come back and try reading it again; sound it out with individual letter sounds and with “chunks” (combinations of letters she already knows the sound for). If a word really doesn’t follow “spelling rules,” write it down and add it to her “personal spelling and vocabulary list” so she can practice it, both in writing and speaking.
  • Some children can read smoothly–and yet they actually have difficulty remembering and understanding what they have read, not to mention things like drawing inferences and conclusions and making predictions. If your child has difficulty with comprehension, stop frequently (every paragraph or two) and ask questions such as: What just happened? Who did this or that? Why do you think the character did that or said this? Do you think that makes sense, and why/why not? What would you do if you were this character? What do you think will happen next? What is the problem in this story? How might the problem be solved? What would you do? What might this character do? Do you like this character and why/why not? Use questions that require more than a one-word answer! As your child gets better at comprehension, you can wait until she has read a full page or two, then a full chapter.

Here are a few other things you can do with your child as you read together:

  • Teach her to watch out for quotation marks. They mean someone is speaking. Tell her to glance ahead to see who is speaking, so she can use that character’s kind of voice. Encourage her to use a different kind of voice for each character.
  • Teach her to look for “key words” and actions that give ideas of how the person might be speaking (sighed, confided, contented, complained, calmly … jumped up, slammed the door, slumped into the chair, )
  • Have her watch for words that sound like the sounds and emotions they describe, and say them as much like the sound as possible (tee-hee, yuck, shrieked…)
  • If your child tends to read really quickly and is making errors because of it, encourage her to slow down. If she’s having trouble reading slowly and clearly, read together (chorally) as if you were singing a song or repeating a rhyme she knows together.

Here are some actual examples of how to help your child decode words, taken from my reading time with the child who was reading the Ramona stories. You can use these ideas with other words, of course!

  • since (find the small word “sin” … Ask: do you think that c sounds like “k” or like “s”? Try it both ways with “sin.” What makes sense?)
  • anxious (tough word … needs to memorize … discuss meaning and practice spelling)
  • newscaster (divide into words and sounds you know: news – cast – er)
  • strike (remember: magic e at the end of the word makes the “i” say its name)
  • merest (tough word … discuss meaning of root word “mere,” then with the ending)
  • smidgen (new word … sound out: smid-gen … discuss meaning)
  • ensnarled (take off the prefix en- and the suffix -ed … “snarl” is left … then add the prefix and suffix again … discuss change of meaning)
  • shudder (explain: when a word had a double consonant, we divide it into two syllables: shud/der … this usually happens when the vowel before the double consonant has a short sound) (then have her act out “shudder” and she’ll never forget the word!)
  • touched (take off the suffix “ed” = touch … then add it back on)

Want more tips? Check out the “Home Education Tips” page for links to all my posts, divided into topics; and also the Tutoring Tips on Quora page for links to more tips. If you feel overwhelmed and would rather hire a tutor, check the Tutoring Topics page for links to posts with how-to tutoring information. Specific questions? Share them in the comments for this article, or email me from the Contact page.

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More Fun Hands-On Math Activities

Math is a subject that can cause a lot of anxiety–for parents as well as for students. While lessons (school or tutoring) and homework help by parents is important, if you can make math FUN, your child will be less anxious and will learn more easily. I have posted quite a few ideas previously: you can find Home Math Tips: Games and Family Fun here and Everyday Math Fun for Families here. By the way, if you’re a tutor, why not use a few of these ideas to start a session, or for a brain break when a child is feeling anxious, or as something to look forward to at the end of a lesson? It really helps!

Here are a few more fun math activities that I’ve used with my tutoring students and my children:

  • There are some great books about the history of math that cover topics like the history of particular numbers, and children find these stories intriguing; for example: how Roman numerals developed, the Mayan math system, and how our numeral system developed; and the development of different computing devices such as the abacus and calculators (did you know that abacus-type devices were developed independently in several parts of the world? Did you know that abacus users are often able to solve complicated equations faster than those using calculators? Why not give it a try? It’s fun–and surprising).
  • Lots of table games use math skills … but so do sports like bowling and mini-golf. A lot of bowling alleys now have electronic scoring–but most of them still have paper score sheets available. Teach your kids to keep score on paper, and then compare their scorekeeping to the electronic results.
  • Strategy games can involve math, too. As you play these games (even games like Monopoly or Clue and card games), discuss the strategies you are using, and encourage your children to come up with their own mathematical strategies.
  • When kids are getting stressed with math that involves grids, introduce fun uses of grids such as drawing books that present a drawing on a grid, with a blank grid opposite, and the child can transfer the picture by following the grid lines. They can also put “points” on the original picture, and transfer using the points. You can also put letters up one side of the grid and numbers across the bottom, and then transfer the picture by “naming” grid points which the child can place on the original and then use those given points to do the transfer.
  • Check out the “Maths Mansion” YouTube videos. These 8 to 10-minute videos on a wide variety of math topics truly make math fun and entertaining!
  • Buy a geoboard–or, which is much more fun, and can be really inexpensive, using items you’ll find laying around the house, make your own (just google “How to make a geoboard”–there are so many options!). Draw designs on graph paper marked with as many points as you have on your geoboard. Show your child how to reproduce them on the geoboard with elastics (get a package of multi-coloured ones). Then let your children create their own designs, on graph paper to be transferred to the geoboard, or vice versa. You can reuse the same graph paper multiple times by slipping it in a clear acetate cover and drawing with erasable markers. A geoboard is a great way to introduce geometry concepts; for example, you can teach about right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles, and at the same time introduce the use of a protractor on the designs drawn on the graph paper.
  • Hands-on probability experiments are another thing you can do with simple objects laying around the house. For example, place crayons in a bag: 1 brown, 1 red, 1 yellow, 2 blue (or whatever colours your child chooses). Predict which colour will be drawn from the bag most often. Keep track of the results (do at least 40 draws) with tally marks (kids love doing this) and then chart them on graph paper. Were the predictions accurate? If not, why not?
  • Similarly, draw a coin from a container which has 2 pennies, 2 nickles, 2 dimes, and 2 quarters (to prevent the child figuring out which coin to draw by its size and shape, try using a simple magnet to draw a coin–kids also love magnets!). Which coin is most likely to be drawn? Again, use tally marks to keep track, and then chart on graph paper. Discuss the results. What could skew the results? The size and weight of the coins? The metal they’re made of (if using a magnet)?
  • Likewise, try using dice. Roll two dice together and record and graph how many times each possible combination comes up (1/1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 2/2, 2/3, 2/4, 2/5, 2/6, 3/3, 3/4, 3/5, 3/6, 4/4, 4/5, 4/6, 5/5, 5/6, 6/6). Do the combinations come up equally or do some combinations happen more frequently? What could cause differences? Might it have anything to do with the number of little holes on each dice face making a slight difference in the weight? Do 40 rolls the first time, then do another 40 rolls. Are the results more equal when you do it more times? Or try rolling onto different surfaces. Does that make a difference? Why? (Science and Math are closely interrelated–so be sure to bring up “science” related questions as well as straight math.) You can also “apply” these probabilities by playing Yahtzee (or another dice rolling game) and keeping track of how often different combinations come up in the game. Does it have any relation to the dice probability experiments? If so, could the probability experiment help you with game strategy?
  • Probability travel activities: predict, record and graph how frequently certain objects are seen on a road trip; predict what proportion of licence plates from different provinces/states will be seen and why; and so on.

What fun activities can you think of to make math more entertaining and “real”–and reduce math anxiety? Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Posted in adventures & explorations, anxiety, art and learning, family learning, homework tips, learning games, math, math games and activities | Comments Off on More Fun Hands-On Math Activities

What tutoring tips do you need?

It’s been a while since I’ve added useful new material to this blog–but I am going to change that! I am still tutoring regularly; in fact, that is part of the reason I’ve neglected the blog: I’m so busy with the tutoring I haven’t had a chance to add material here. But all the tutoring I’ve been doing has provided me with lots of new ideas and tips which I will be adding regularly now. Still, I’d really like to know what specifically you’d like advice about, so please feel free to let me know in the comments for this post, or send me an email from the “Contact” page or on my Pen and Paper Mama Facebook page (and I’d be happy to have you follow me there, and on this site, too).

I have been answering quite a number of questions about tutoring and home learning on my Quora page; you can check out links to my answers here.

Just a reminder: I have other sites, too. If you’re particularly interested in my writing and editing tips, check out my Norma J Hill site. You’ll find links to posts on different topics on that site here and answers on Quora here. If you’re interested in my other sites, you’ll find a list of them, with links, here.

Thanks for checking out this site, and remember, I’d love to know what tutoring and home learned topics you’d like me to cover.

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Updates and Changes

Yes, it’s been a while since I updated a lot of the pages on this site! So today I sat down and updated them–I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the menu items above under the banner picture:

  • Home: blog posts–you are here!
  • Contact: I’d love to hear what you think–why not send me an email?
  • Freebies: personally designed and thoroughly tested worksheets and other items you can use for your home education or school needs
  • Home Education Tips: links to posts on many specific aspects of learning and education
  • P&PM websites: descriptions and links to my websites and blogs
  • Pen and Paper Mama Services: introductions to the many ways I can help you!
  • Products: learning products and other materials available through my Teachers Pay Teachers site
  • Tutoring Answers on Quora: I answer many questions about tutoring, home education, lifelong learning, and related topics on Quora. Check out links to useful answers.
  • Tutoring Topics: a complete list of links to all the “tutoring” posts on this site
  • Workshops: a list of education-related workshop topics I’d be happy to provide for your group
  • Writing and editing topics: a list of links to writing and editing posts on this site and a link to my site where you’ll find many, many more posts on these subjects
  • About–me! Norma J Hill aka Pen and Paper Mama
  • Comments policy–Generally, I would love to see your comments on any of the posts on this site. However, you might want to check out my policy, just in case.

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Everyday Math Fun for Families

What are fun ways you incorporate math for preschool and primary children?

Recently I was looking at a Facebook thread discussing this question, and I was delighted to see some of the great suggestions. So I copied them down–and then added some of my own that I have used with my own children, grandchildren, and school and tutoring students.

To start: Focus on learning together–exploring, playing, household tasks, shopping. Kids love to be involved in real family life math from a very young age. If your kids are attending school, avoid bookwork, worksheets, technology learning programs unless they ask for it–and even then, limit it. If you’re homeschooling, follow one basic math system–no need for expensive systems that take hours and hours of tedious work. A half hour a day of “book and/or computer work” should be plenty at the primary level, and at the preschool level, just use paper and crayons (avoid computers or anything that “babysits”) when they want to “play school” and let them decide what they want to write/draw. Simple colouring books with a few dot-to-dots are fine for when they want a math workbook. “Learning tools” and “math programs/systems” can be very expensive; spend less time earning money to buy them, and use that time with your children as you learn and explore together.

Some great quotes from parents:
“My kids got to a Grade 3 level easily and very early, with nothing more than delight-driven math play.”
“Math happens all day at our place.”
“I find that following my children’s interests helps; they are more willing to learn and not drag their feet.”

Play, play, and play some more:

  • Play with dice (there are many kinds; you can use the ones from the games you have, or you can get packages of mixed dice very inexpensively–you do not need to buy expensive “learning game” dice!). Then use your imagination–or better yet, let your children use their imaginations! Same with:
  • Puzzles
  • Lego
  • Mazes (life-size ones: in cornfields, at theme parks, etc. Or outline a real-life route to follow on a map–around town, etc.)
  • Colouring by number
  • Counting books, cars, all kinds of things
  • Help matching socks
  • Charting with numbers on dice
  • Card games
  • Construction toys
  • Board games like Snakes and Ladders, Dominos, Uno, Blokus; there are “Junior” versions of many games, but kids love to play the “grown up” versions with adults!
  • Guessing games
  • Exploration
  • Building–simple things like stacking blocks; design “playhouse/fort” plans together and “build” indoors with cardboard, blankets, etc.; spagetti bridges; or follow plans to build birdhouses, tree forts, etc. Outdoors, use twigs, pine cones, rocks, etc., to design temporary houses, teepees, etc. What works? What doesn’t? How is real-life math involved?
  • Hopscotch
  • Nesting cups (think: what kinds of “math applications” do things around your house have?)
  • Books (borrow from the library!) that involve numbers. Lots of kids’ books that aren’t actually “number books” have all kinds of number involvement. Also magazines–especially “how-to” and “science” magazines–adult ones, too!
  • Skip count hopscotch or trampoline
  • Play outside – counting leaves, pine cones, arranging them in groups, patterning etc.
  • Divide any bunch of things into equal groups. Sort by colour or number or type or any other criteria. Great with M&M’s or animal crackers.
  • Singing or chanting songs that involve counting
  • Road trips: look for licence plates from different places; count particular items or colours; calculate distances based on highway signs; compare speed limits; memorize math facts, formulas, etc.–make up funny fact association rhymes like “12 and 12 is 24, get out the eggs and shut the fridge door.”
  • Play “store”–save up empty containers; use play money.
  • With food: Helping bake and measure; Cooking; Counting out the number of fruits on the plate (like grapes or blue berries) and then doing simple addition and subtraction gives a concrete visual of concepts; setting the table (how many utensils, etc. are needed for X number of people).
  • Keep inexpensive crafty items handy (you can get great deals on basic supplies at sales of leftover school supplies in mid-September; also save scraps from your own projects, left-over wrapping paper, packaging boxes, etc.): crayons, markers, paper, glue, various kinds of tape, rulers, scissors, etc. A great birthday or Christmas gift is a box full of bits and pieces–or a trip to the Dollar Store or a good sale, at which the children can choose the bits and pieces of “crafty” items they like (you can set cost limits, point out better deals, help them compare, avoid pre-made kits, etc.).

Some Real Life math:

  • Take along a calculator to the store and let the kids add up the prices of items; compare the difference between prices of different brands; calculate taxes; etc.
  • Open bank accounts for the kids and have them deposit a portion of each week’s allowance. Have them make “wish lists” (record prices from flyers, catalogues, shopping trips) and set up budgets from their allowances. Involve the kids in basic family budgeting sessions.
  • Plan road trips (or other travel) together–distances, costs (gas, flight or boat costs, hotels, etc. Find tourist activities (museums, etc.) that have mathematical applications. Even at theme parks, talk about design features of rides, etc., and how math is involved.
  • Use cash (rather than debit/credit cards) for shopping and have the kids figure out which bills and coins to use.
  • Sewing using simple patterns–how much fabric is needed, what will it cost, what size, etc.?
  • Involve the kids in gardening, constructing a shed or other outdoor furnishings, and so on–they can help measure, hammer nails, screw, etc. If you are getting them a dog, build a dog house together (make plans, determine amount of materials needed, shop together, build together).

Technology/Commercial “learning” products (minimal use):

  • There are lots of free or low-cost computer/tablet/smart phone learning games–reserve as rewards for homework completed, etc. and no more than 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a day.
  • Cuisenaire Rods; Geo stix; Inchamals; other “learning tools” — but use more for exploration and fun. If you are homeschooling, you can use them to illustrate theoretical concepts in the math program you use, but remember that counting, grouping, patterning, etc. can easily be done with what you have around the house: coins, pasta pieces, game pieces from table games, toys, and so on.

Are you wondering … how is all of this math? How can I use these things to teach math? What about my older children? Check out some more precise ideas here.
And check out the links to the many different math ideas under the math tips section here.

Your turn: What family fun math ideas do you recommend? Be sure to share them in the comments section!

Posted in adventures & explorations, art and learning, home learning, learning games, life-long learning, math games and activities, math manipulatives | Comments Off on Everyday Math Fun for Families

Strategies for Home Spelling Study

Many schools are using “Word Sorts” these days for teaching spelling. If you are wondering how you can help your child study his or her school spelling list, whether it is Word Sorts or any other method–or if you are teaching spelling at home–here are some strategies to improve spelling understanding and memory:

  • If doing “Word Sorts”: cut out the words and set them on the table in their groups. Discuss the reason for the groupings, such as the “spelling rule” that applies to each group. Explain and write down the “rules” for each group (example: CVC: short o sound; CVCe: magic/silent e makes the vowel say its name; CVVC: when 2 vowels go walking the first one does the talking and says its name and the 2nd one stays silent. Note: C refers to consonants and V to vowels).
  • Once the words are in their spelling categories, further sort them by rhyming words and/or other similarities. Then glue them onto a new sheet of paper as you have sorted them out, being sure to label each group, and even write the rule with the group.
  • Copying and dictation: On a sheet of lined paper, write the group labels at the top, then write the words in their groups for practice. First, do this by having the child copy the words; then do it by dictating the words in their groups; then dictate the words “mixed up” and have the child figure out which group to put them in.
  • Sentences, quotations, and song lyrics: When dictating words, always make up a sentence that clearly uses each word. Say the word, then the sentence, and then the word again. If possible, make the sentence interesting and relevant to the child’s life. Humour is always good. You can even quote a line from a poem you both know, or sing a line from a song that contains the word.
  • Rhyming spelling patterns: Think of non-list words that rhyme with the words in the list and have the same spelling pattern. Practice these similar words in groups–it will make it easier to remember the list words and the child will be learning several other words at the same time. When similarily spelled words are grouped together, they are easier to remember (e.g. road, load, toad; boat, goat, coat, float).
  • Create sentences that use the words. If you can combine at least 2 of the words in one sentence, it is even more useful, but a sentence for each word is also fine. Write the sentence, and underline the spelling list word(s). Under the list word(s), draw a little sketch. Long-term memory works much better by making associations, so drawing a picture and creating a sentence are both ways to build memory associations. If the sentence is funny, or rhymes, all the better. If the child can create the sentences and/or come up with the sketches him- or herself, it’s even more effective.
  • Silent letter combinations: For example, “knock” starts with the silent letter “k” in the common consonant combination “kn”. There are quite a lot of “kn” words such as knight, know, knowledge, knee, knack, knave, knit and so on. A fun thing to do, which helps with memory, is to write the words lined up one below the other, with the common letters lined up clearly. Then write a sentence (ideally a funny one) that uses as many of those words as possible. If you have a lot of words, use them to write a funny story. By learning words in “groups” like these, more associations are made (and the student also learns other similar words besides the list word).
  • Word history: Oh! And tell the child that in the old days, the “kn” words actually had the “k” sound pronounced. It is fun to practice saying these words with the “k-n” sounds and will help with remembering how to spell them. Looking up the history of words is another great way to help children remember the spelling, as a good dictionary will explain the etymology and development of a word (and its spelling).
  • Listening: While on the topic of “knock”: If a word has a “sound” associated with it, that also helps. So, for example, spell “knock” aloud while knocking on the table or door while saying and/or writing each letter in the word.
  • Taste and Smell and Colour: You can also use other “senses” to help make associations that will help the child remember how to spell a word. For example, if learning to spell “orange,” you could have the child TASTE an orange; SMELL an orange, and COLOR a picture of an orange. The senses of taste and smell create very strong memory associations.
  • Words in context: For words which are frequently used in a certain context, such as STOP signs, point the word out when you see it in context. Later, tell your child to close his or her eyes while spelling the word aloud, and “visualize” the word in its context.
  • Consonant blends: For words that start with a consonant blend (two consonants that are blended together to make a new sound), you can make good use of groups of words that use that blend (eg. drop, drag, drain, dry, etc.)
  • Oddball words: If you are using “word sort” style spelling lessons, to help with the “oddball” words (words which don’t follow the usual spelling rules, such as “love”–which has “o” for the “u” sound–and “one” which sounds like “wun”!), discuss WHY they are “oddballs.” Try to think of various other words that follow this kind of oddball pattern (e.g. love –> dove, glove … you can also point out other words that have the same pattern but make a different sound such as “cove, rove, stove, wove”, and even “move”, if the child enjoys these kinds of “exceptions” and won’t be confused)  and try to remember them together by using them together in a sentence or story.
  • Homophones and homonyms like “rode” and “road” can be really confusing. It is good to write each one in a sentence in which the meaning is clear. For example: I rode my bike to the store. The road was bumpy. Then try and put them together in one sentence, for example: I rode my bike to the store on the bumpy road. While doing so, illustrate the sentence!
  • Texture: For a “texture” type word like “rough,” the student can feel a rough surface while spelling the word aloud.
  • Speech and Listening: It is important to say and spell words aloud, as well as writing them, as this way you are using the senses of speech and hearing. Also, listening to another person spell the word aloud, and then spelling it together can help.
  • “Muscle memory” works really well for some kids. I already mentioned associating “knock” with the action of knocking. A child can also do things like bounce a ball, jump on a trampoline, climb stairs, etc. while spelling words. In fact, they don’t even have to be words that are action words; just the fact of involving the body in the spelling process can be effective. But of course associating an action word like “jump” with actual jumping would work very well.
  • Singing or chanting spelling works really well for some students. They can use a simple tune like those of nursery rhymes, and repeat the spelling with the tune. Or they can instead use a rap beat to chant the spelling.
  • Using different writing tools can also help. Pencil and paper, markers on whiteboard or chalk on a blackboard, using ones arm and hand to spell the word in the air, paint and paintbrush, finger paint, tracing the word in sand or in whip cream, and so on are very helpful for some children.

I hope these spelling strategies will be a help for your child (and maybe to adults in the home who still struggle with spelling, too).

You can find links to lots of related information on phonics, spelling, reading and writing on this page:  under the topics of “Tips to help you tutor your child at home: Reading” and “Tips to help you tutor your child at home: Writing.”

Posted in home learning, learning tips, Phonics, spelling, vowel sounds | Comments Off on Strategies for Home Spelling Study

Improve your tutoring to better support your student

On, I was asked what to do when a tutoring student has continued to have difficulty, has failed the exam being tutored for, and still wants more tutoring. You can read my full answer on Quora, but I will also post it in two parts here on my Pen and Paper Mama tutoring and learning blog. The first post focuses on possible reasons students fail tests, even with tutoring, and what a tutor should do next. This post will help you, as a tutor, to analyze your tutoring and hopefully be more successful in the future.



As your student’s tutor, besides thinking of why your student is not succeeding as well as hoped, you also need to analyze if perhaps your tutoring has been inadequate in some way, then figure out how to support him in future. This will require some serious self-examination, followed by a discussion between the two of you, and it may also be helpful if you can discuss your student’s test results (as well as classroom participation and homework completion) with the teacher and possibly with his parents. Here are some possibilities to consider:

1. Tutoring session preparation and progress:

Although your student may have attended tutoring sessions faithfully, did he come prepared with work to do, or did you just go ahead and assign work when he arrived? Did you ask him to email you his class assignments or homework before the lesson so you could prepare adequately? Did you check his progress since his previous tutoring session, at the start of each new tutoring session? Did you discuss your concerns with him, and then with his parents or teacher, if needed? Did you just “stick to the academics” or observe his ongoing progress, attitudes, and other issues, and deal with them as they came up?

2. Understanding your student’s needs:

Did your student know the “basics” of the subject before he started his tutoring sessions? Are you sure? Did you take time to analyze any learning issues he might have, such as gaps in basic knowledge which needed to be covered before even starting to work on current content? Did you ask to see previous report cards, and possibly IEPs (individual educational plans) and related documents? You may not always be able to access all these documents, but even seeing some of them, or discussing such issues with parents and/or teachers can be helpful as you plan future tutoring lessons. If you simply went ahead and focused on current work and/or direct preparation for the specific exam, perhaps you missed out on some pertinent information that would help with the tutoring.

3. Involvement of your student’s learning team–and regular reporting on your part:

Do you keep in close contact with parents and/or teachers? Do you send out a short email report after each tutoring session to inform them of what you have covered, let them know of any issues you’ve observed, and ask any relevant questions? Yes, this can take a bit of extra time, but it will improve your tutoring, build your reputation as a tutor, build important relationships with the student and other members of his learning team, give the parents good ideas on how to help the student study at home, let the teacher know how you are supporting the student’s learning, provide yourself with a written record to refer to in similar situations in future–and of course help your student pass his exams.

4. Becoming an independent, motivated learner:

Are you sure that your student understands your directions? Do you perhaps help him go through each problem step by step, but then fail to have him do a few questions on his own to make sure that he is really “getting it”? Are you perhaps “helping him” too much? As his tutor, your job is to help him become a strong, independent, self-motivated learner. You may need to back off a bit with your “help” and insist on him taking a bit more responsibility.

5. Previews as well as reviews:

At the beginning of each session, do you have your student try out a couple sample questions based on the previous lesson, and a couple questions based on the new material you intend to introduce in this new lesson–and then observe how he approaches them? If you just start right into tutoring/teaching, you may be providing information or skills he already knows or may be missing out on basic information and skills that he needs extra preparatory help with. Previewing is often just as important, and sometimes more important, than new teaching and end-of-lesson reviewing.

6. Relational issues:

Have you had difficulties in your relationship with your student? Since you’ve already worked together for a month, you should know each other well enough to both be honest with each other. Your student may have been holding back from you some of the difficulties he is having outside the tutoring time, or he may have been shy to tell you if your teaching methods and personality have been causing problems for him. You also need to be honest with yourself about any frustrations you have been having with him, such as if he has not been coming adequately prepared for the tutoring sessions. If you are frustrated, your student may be picking up on that and becoming frustrated himself but may feel he can’t say anything as he must treat you respectfully. You can and should encourage reasonable openness and honesty while still being professional.

7. Your ability to meet your student’s needs:

When you agreed to work with your student, were you comfortable that you would be able to help him with the level of work required? Did you later perhaps begin to realize the subject matter and/or his learning issues were more difficult than you expected? What did you do at that point? If you carried on with the tutoring, but were stressed, could that have affected both your interactions and your tutoring ability? Should you perhaps at this point refer him to someone else who can help him better, rather than continuing to tutor this student yourself? Or could you take some time to improve your own skills so you can tutor him more successfully?

Posted in become a better tutor, self-evaluation as a tutor, tutoring | Comments Off on Improve your tutoring to better support your student

When your tutoring student needs more help with exams

On, I was asked what to do when a tutoring student has continued to have difficulty, has failed the exam being tutored for, and still wants more tutoring. You can read my full answer on Quora, but I will also post it in two parts here on my Pen and Paper Mama tutoring and learning blog. This post focuses on possible reasons students fail tests, even with tutoring, and what a tutor should do next. The next post will help you, as a tutor, to analyze your tutoring and hopefully be more successful in the future.

Why, after the tutoring you have already done, did your student still fail the test? Here are some possible issues and some ideas on how to overcome them:

1. Inadequate studying and/or lack of energy:

How heavy is your student’s schedule? Does he work, participate in sports and hobbies, take several difficult subjects, or have family or other responsibilities that interfere with study time? If he has a very busy or distracting schedule, can you help him set up goals, priorities, and a practical schedule?

2. Study skills:

Does your student lack adequate knowledge of study skills? A couple of tutoring sessions focused on specific study skills such as organization, research, notetaking, and summarizing can make a big difference in test preparation and success. (Check out my website series on organization, time management, priority setting, and other study skills and techniques for more details. )

3. Lack of suitable space for studying:

Is your student’s homework space too loud or occupied by too many other people? Does he try to watch TV, listen to music, or constantly check his smartphone while studying? Is there too much chaos in his environment? Can you help him find a quiet study corner such as at the library, or set up a quiet corner at home? Can you encourage him to turn off electronic distractions such as TV, radio, his smartphone, and internet connections on his computer?

4. Difficult classroom environment:

What is your student’s classroom environment like (and for that matter, his tutoring environment)? Can he focus on his learning? Does the classroom teacher have time to help individual students? If the environment is not ideal, could he meet individually or in small groups with the teacher or an EA (educational assistant) or a peer tutor at school during breaks before, between, or after classes?

5. Anxiety issues:

Exam anxiety can cause even the most academically prepared student to fail an exam. Take some tutoring time to discuss methods to overcome anxiety, such as a good night’s sleep before the exam, no last-minute binge study, a healthy breakfast and/or lunch that includes “brain foods,” relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, calming music (without lyrics), and no “screen time” within 1 to 2 hours before bedtime or in the 1/2 hour to hour before the test. Time spent on relaxation techniques can be valuable in making that academic knowledge stick.

6. The test covered material he was not prepared for:

Did your student receive an outline from the teacher on the material that would be included in the test? If he has a textbook on which the test is at least partly based, and/or handouts from the teacher, has your student been trained in study methods using these materials (for example: use of methods like SQ3R and KWL, note-taking, use of headings, and creating and answering questions from the text)? Did the test cover material only from class time, or was your student expected to do extra outside reading, research, and study which he may not have done, or at least had not done sufficiently? These are issues you can discuss with him before carrying on with the actual subject tutoring. If your student lacks these skills, teaching them to him can be as important as the time spent on the actual course content.

7. Tutoring time preparation:

Did your student bring his everyday classwork with him to the tutoring lessons so you could see what he was covering in class? Did your student check with the teacher regularly to ensure he was covering the correct material? If you, as the tutor, had any questions about the test, did you also contact the teacher?

8. Test questions that all or most students did not expect:

Do a bit of investigation to find out if other students had similar difficulties with the test. What kinds of materials were in the test that weren’t covered in the class? Perhaps a group of students can to together to the teacher and respectfully discuss that (and, if necessary, go to the school counsellor or administration if this is a serious, ongoing issue). Also, when helping your student prepare for the next test, together think carefully about the unexpected material in the previous test and then think of what kind of “unexpected” questions might be asked on the upcoming test.

9. Inadequate presentation of the material by the teacher:

Sometimes a teacher knows the subject matter very well, but is lacking in some area of teaching skills, may have a heavy accent the student doesn’t understand, may be culturally unaware of his students’ situation, or may not be adequately trained to deal with special needs. Can you meet with the teacher in a non-confrontational way and make suggestions on how he or she might deal with your student’s specific issues?

10. Your student is not engaged in his learning:

Does your student pay attention in class, attend regularly, and do homework on time? Discuss this first with the student, and then with the teacher and parents if needed. If the student is not engaged in his learning, why might that be? A lack of interest in the subject? Distractions in the classroom or in other parts of his life? Possible learning differences? Try to help the student figure out his issues and help him to come up with solutions.

11. Difficulty with specific kinds of test questions:

While your student may have studied the test material itself, did he have difficulty with particular question formats, such as multiple choice, true/false, sentence/ paragraph/ essay answers, questions which require memorized skills such as formulas and math facts, questions which require creation and/or use of graphs and charts, and so on? If possible, have your student bring you his test; in fact, he can bring a variety of quizzes and tests from various subjects and leave them with you. Then you can analyze what question formats he needs help with, and really focus on guiding his development of those skills. Many times, “practice tests” are available from the teacher, or online based on the specific subject and location, which you can use in tutoring sessions to help him prepare for test-taking.

12. Special needs:

Is it possible your student has learning differences such as dyslexia, autism, FASD, ADHD or other special needs? Has your student been tested and/or diagnosed? Has he had ongoing learning issues over the years? If so, during school tests he may be able to have adaptations such as having a scribe read the questions to him and/or write down his dictated answers, be allowed extended test time, do practical examples rather than giving theoretical answers, or take the test in a quiet office area. Such adjustments can make his test-taking more successful.

13. Medical issues:

Poor eyesight, hearing problems, chronic pain, and medications (prescribed or self-medicated) can interfere with learning and testing. Often these kinds of issues are undiagnosed, but a good medical checkup with follow-up treatment can make a big difference.

14. Mental health issues:

In the one-to-one relationship between a tutor and student, you may notice symptoms that others may not have picked up on, or the student may more easily confide in you. While you cannot diagnose and treat the student yourself except in providing basic support and encouragement, you can refer the student to professionals who are in a position to help: the school counsellor/psychologist, social workers, medical specialists–and of course, his parents.

15. ESL, cultural differences, PTSD, discrimination:

In today’s world, as people move from place to place, not only may a student face challenges with learning a second language and adapting to cultural differences, he may also be a refugee from a war-torn nation, be facing religious or racial discrimination, and be trying to work through personal issues such as gender and sexual issues. A student may also be facing various kinds of abuse outside of (or even within) the learning environment. These are not easily solved problems, but if you suspect they are issues your student may be facing, you can discuss them with him on a basic level, then refer him to appropriate professional help and/or community or school programs that may be relevant.

16. Personal attitudes to learning:

Why did your student come to you for tutoring? Was it his idea, or was he being pressured by parents or teachers? If he came under pressure, was he feeling resentful or perhaps just didn’t care and so didn’t study after the tutoring sessions in order to pass his exam? If he still feels this way, is it worthwhile to continue tutoring? Can you discuss his feelings with him and help him change his attitude? If not, can you meet with parents and teachers and search together for solutions?

17. Parental attitudes toward learning:

By the way, it is wise to discuss with the parents their goals in having their child tutored, and find out if they have any strong feelings about your position as a tutor. If they insist that you “stick to academics” and not get involved in “personal issues,” you may need to decide if you are comfortable with that. You should be honest with them about your tutoring approaches and goals, so that if they are not comfortable with your methods they can find another tutor whom they feel they can work with better.

18. Learning styles:

Different students learn in different ways. Some students excel in theoretical reading and writing, while others are more “hands-on” and practical. Some students have strong skills in areas such as music, drawing or other arts, oral expression (listening and speaking), and so on. Perhaps your student has difficulty with the format of the testing (and even the classroom presentation) of the teacher. Can you experiment with different ways of presenting the material to the student? If you find a way that really seems to work, why not share your insights with the teacher, who may be willing to use some of those methods during classes and in testing.

Posted in adaptations, anxiety, exam tips, learning differences/disabilities, learning styles, parent-child relationships, scheduling, special needs, study skills, tutoring | Comments Off on When your tutoring student needs more help with exams

Back from holidays and answering tutoring questions

It’s been a month since I last posted here–I’ve had a wonderful, totally-electronics/screen free holiday on beautiful Quadra Island, and then had children and grandchildren visiting here in the sunny south Okanagan. And now I’m back to doing some summer tutoring, along with writing and editing.

I’ve also been answering several in-depth tutoring questions on — some of which I’ve worked on at a new local “Write-In” where writers meet at a cafe for a couple hours of focused writing time together. It turns out that I can really focus in that kind of environment–so I’ve produced lots of tutoring information which I’m also going to share here on my penandpapermama blog! Keep posted 🙂


Posted in tutoring, writing | Comments Off on Back from holidays and answering tutoring questions

Efficient Learning: How to Focus


This is the twelfth–and final!–post in the series “Organization, Time Management, and Priority Setting for Students.” For a complete listing of the posts, check out the topic on the Home Education Tips links page.

In the previous post, “Efficient Learning Using Tutoring and Other Help,”  we discussed how tutors, teachers, and parents can help you make your learning more efficient, and how you can participate most effectively. Today we’ll look at some practical tips on how to focus effectively on your learning and studying.

You can make more efficient use of your time if you learn to focus well. Here are 5 things to do if you’re having a hard time focusing :

  • If you’re bored: Plan to reward yourself with something you like once you’ve finished studying–maybe a fun activity or a tasty snack.
  • If you’re hyper: Get some exercise before studying and/or do pushups or jumping jacks between questions. Maybe get someone to quiz you while you shoot your hockey puck at a goal or jump on a trampoline. Record your notes and listen to them while jogging, biking, or hiking. If you’re just a bit fidgety, handwrite your work instead of typing, or stretch a rubber band or bounce a ball while you think of an answer.
  • If you’re tired: Take a 15- to 20-minute power nap (longer may not help!). Or take a 10-minute power walk (someplace cool) to rev up your brain. If you’re exhausted, go to sleep early and wake up earlier than usual after a good sleep.
  • If you’re busy: If you over-schedule yourself, you’ll feel swamped. Redo your schedule, removing less important things and setting priorities. Do keep some fun activities so you still have things to look forward, but remember that studying is really important.
  • If you’re distracted: Find a quiet study spot away from distractions like electronics, noisy people, and views of interesting activities and sights. Turn off your phone, the internet on your computer (unless you really have to use it to study), and music with vocals. If you’re distracted by problems or thinking of things you need to do, stop for a couple minutes and jot down a to-do list or some ideas to solve your problem.

Many times, some really simple solutions will help improve your focus:

  • Make sure you have a glass of cold water handy so you don’t get thirsty.
  • You might want to have a healthy snack handy. Some great brain food snacks are green tea, boiled eggs, wild salmon (dried or smoked), walnuts, dark chocolate, acai berries–in small snack-size quantities.
  • Before studying, use the washroom, wear comfortable clothes (but not so cozy they’ll put you to sleep!), and set the thermostat at a comfortable level.
  • If you’re a morning person, wake early and study then when your mind is fresh and clear; if you’re a night owl, work in the evening (but avoid screen use right before bed).
  • Try giving yourself some positive encouragement: “I know I can do this!” or words to that effect.

If you’re still having trouble focusing, try to analyze the reason(s) and then figure out solutions to your issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from parents, a teacher, counsellor, doctor, tutor, or other professional.

  • not being prepared to read and study;
  • a lack of interest in the material;
  • material that is too difficult;
  • lack of motivation;
  • lack of a suitable goal;
  • anxiety;
  • health issues such as hearing difficulties, sight problems, chronic pain, health problems that cause exhaustion, hyperactivity, and so on.

Now it’s your turn:

Which of these ideas could you put to use? What other ideas can you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Posted in health and learning, homework tips, organizational skills for learners, scheduling, study skills, studying tips, time management skills for learners | Comments Off on Efficient Learning: How to Focus