GCSE writing for a purpose: formal letter

In our second English Language blog post we talk about writing a formal letter to express a point of view. Here is an example of the sort of question you might see in your exam:

Many people prefer to spend their holidays in Great Britain rather than travel abroad. Write a letter to a magazine editor giving your opinion on this topic.

Here’s a sample answer:

Dear Mr Smith,

              After reading several articles in your magazine which suggest that it is unethical to travel abroad, I felt compelled to express my contrasting point of view. As a child I spent many happy summer holidays in Wales and Scotland and I love rambling in the countryside, but I cannot agree that we should all stop taking holidays abroad.

              One argument put forward is that air travel is detrimental to the environment. However, a single flight abroad just once a year is inconsequential compared to the millions of tonnes of pollution pumped into the atmosphere by coal power stations around the world. I am not a global warming sceptic; in fact I passionately believe that we are facing a climate emergency. My electricity at home is generated by solar power and I vigilantly recycle my waste daily. Considering all my efforts, surely I should be allowed to take one holiday abroad a year?

              Having spent every childhood holiday listening to the rain hammering on a caravan roof I think I have earnt the right to lie on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun, and swimming in a crystal clear (pollution-free) sea. In all honestly, who wouldn’t prefer to do so? According to a government survey one in five people in Britain today are vitamin D deficient. Therefore, a week in the sun is important for our emotional, mental and physical health.

              Spending time abroad also opens our minds. It allows us to meet different people and to experience new cultures. Our horizons are broadened by visiting famous sites like the pyramids, the Statue of Liberty and the Amazon rainforest. Only by experiencing the world first-hand can we truly appreciate its wonders. I’ve learnt about volcanoes from visiting Mount Vesuvius, and Roman history by visiting the Coliseum. Learning from books and the internet just isn’t quite the same. Moreover, many countries rely on tourism. What will happen to their economies if tourism is taken from them?

              I appreciate that air travel has an environmental cost which is why I choose to travel just once a year. Foreign travel makes a huge difference to myself and to my whole family. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when she fulfilled a lifetime dream and climbed to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge. The memories I have from travelling abroad are priceless, and I would encourage your readers to keep expanding their horizons by travelling both inside and outside Great Britain whenever possible.

Yours sincerely,

Nicola Higgins                              

When writing a formal letter like this you need to include the following:

  1. Addresses

In the top right hand corner write your address and then leave a space before writing the date underneath. The date should be in long form eg. ‘July 14th, 2020’ rather than ‘14/07/20’.

Just below your address, on the left hand side of the page write the name of the person you are sending the letter to, their job title and their address.

For the exam, you can make up both addresses. Make sure you use capital letters for proper nouns.

2. Salutation

This is the greeting. In the sample letter here we’ve written ‘Dear Mr Smith’, but if you didn’t know the person’s name you would write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

3. Complimentary close

Sign off your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the name of the person (as in the sample letter), and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you’ve stared the letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.  Sign the letter with your signature, and beneath your signature write your name eg. ‘Nicola Higgins’.

4. First paragraph

In the first paragraph of your letter clearly state your point of view and use a tone that is more formal than your everyday language. Do not use contractions (don’t, I’m, can’t, it’s) or vague words like ‘good’ and ‘nice’. Always be respectful and polite even if you are writing a letter of complaint.

5. Use persuasive techniques

When expressing a point of view check that you have used at least 6 of the following techniques:

  • Anecdotes
  • Comparison
  • Counter argument
  • Direct address (‘I’)
  • Emotive language
  • Facts
  • Imagery (simile/metaphor)
  • Opinions
  • Repetition
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Statistics
  • Triples

How many different techniques can you spot in the sample letter?

6. Final paragraph

In the last paragraph of your letter restate your point of view as strongly as you can using a persuasive technique and suggest a course of action.

Read the final paragraph of the sample letter. Has the writer’s point of view been restated effectively? What persuasive techniques are used? What course of action is suggested to the editor?

Do you need help with GCSE English Language?

TutorMyKids offer GCSE and IGCSE English Language tuition. All our tutors are experienced, professional, and have a passion for their subject. They have expert knowledge of exam board requirements and a thorough understanding of the curriculum.

Whether you are struggling with a particular aspect of English Language or need more in-depth tuition, please get in touch to discuss your needs.

What are learning gaps and how can a tutor help?

Learning gaps are the difference between what a student is expected to have learnt by a specific point in their education and what they have actually learnt. For example, by the end of Year 2 most children are expected to have reached Gold band reading level. However, if a child is placed on Gold band reading books before they can read the Year 1 high frequency words and sounds then this will slow their progress further because they will be wasting time staring at pages they cannot read. In maths, if a young child is unable to count backwards they will struggle with subtraction later on. 

Learning is like a child’s wooden block tower – each block builds upon the last. If a block is missing from the tower then it is hard for a student to progress.

What causes learning gaps?

Learning gaps are caused when a student is pushed on to the next level of learning before they’ve fully grasped what came before. 

Learning gaps occur for all different reasons, for example:

  • A student has missed a lesson due to illness or other circumstances.
  • The student cannot focus in class due to bullying, difficult circumstances inside or outside school, or lack of confidence in the subject.
  • The teacher didn’t cover the concept adequately for the student.
  • The pace of the lesson was too fast for the student.
  • The teacher thought the student understood the concept because they mechanically followed the steps but they didn’t really understand what they were doing.
  • The student didn’t master the concept well enough to be able to apply it.

How are learning gaps identified?

If a student is struggling, a teacher or tutor will need to carry out a diagnostic assessment to find out whether there is a learning gap and the nature of the gap.  For instance, if a child seems to be having difficulty in a particular area of maths a quiz is a useful starting point.  Analysing the child’s maths books and talking to them directly will also help to pinpoint problems.

How should a learning gap be addressed?

The only way to address a learning gap is to specifically provide instruction to fill the gap. This could include revisiting activities and topics from previous units and previous years.  Material may need to be presented in a different way than it was before bearing in mind the particular student’s preferred learning styles, and the pace of teaching may need to be slower. The student will need plenty of opportunity to ask questions in order to address misunderstandings. They will also need opportunities to apply their knowledge to a variety of situations so that understanding is secure.

At school, ideally the teacher would find time outside the classroom to provide individual instruction. In the classroom environment, the teacher would need to adapt the content of new material so that the student with a gap can access it as well as those who have a more through grounding. In maths, this could mean using smaller numbers and more straightforward problems so that the struggling student isn’t handicapped by their lack of understanding of prior material. 

How long does it take to close a learning gap?

It depends upon the nature of the learning gap and how soon it is addressed. It can take a week or several years. The quicker a gap is identified the less of a knock-on effect there will be for the student. Once a student falls behind, it’s a difficult cycle to break.

How can TutorMyKids help?

One-to-one tutoring by a qualified teacher is the most effective way of addressing a learning gap. A private tutor can adapt teaching to meet a student’s specific needs.  They can personalize instruction to suit a particular student’s level, pace and unique learning styles – something that’s very difficult for a teacher in a busy classroom to achieve.

Equally importantly, students tend to be more comfortable to talk to a tutor about their difficulties than they are to draw attention to themselves in a classroom.  By talking they become partners in their learning, asking the questions necessary to further their understanding.

At TutorMyKids we know that learning gaps should be addressed as quickly as possible through regular and rigorous teaching.  For fast, effective tuition call us today on 01223 858421 or email: hello@tutormykids.co.uk

10 of the best (free!) maths games websites for primary children

Most children love interactive games so they’re a brilliant way to practise maths at home. Children can choose games that appeal to their interests and take control of their own learning by selecting the level of challenge that’s right for them.  All the games here are suitable for playing on a PC, and most work on Macs and Ipads too.  Before children play remind them about internet safety, particularly the importance of never giving away personal information online.  We recommend reading Kaspersky’s Top 7 Online Gaming Dangers & Risks for Kids and Teens.

Here’s a selection of our favourite maths games websites.


Topmarks divide games into age categories: 3-5, 5-7, 7-11, and 11-14 years.  Categories cover all relevant areas of the National Curriculum. 

Mental Maths Train for 5-7 year olds is one of our favourites.  It’s a bright, attractive game that enables children to choose an operation (adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing) and a level of challenge.  A sum appears on the screen.  When children click on the truck with the correct answer the train whistles and whooshes away.

2. ICT Games

Each game is aimed at both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 so children select the number range and operation to match their ability.  Learning objectives, which are organized by year group, appear alongside each game. 

We love Duck Shoot.  It’s a fairground game in which children count in multiples ranging from 2 to 12 depending upon their preference.  When they click on the correct duck there’s a ‘ting’ and when it’s the wrong duck the cowboy running the game yells ‘youch!’

3. Maths Frame

These games are supposed to be aimed at Key Stage 2 but when you click on some of them you find they’re suitable for Key Stage 1 too.

Key Stage 2 Maths Invaders is great fun.  Children choose an operation, say fractions, and they select the type of fractions they want to work with (halves, quarters etc).  Levels range from ‘very easy’ to ‘very hard’ so children can self-differentiate.  A question appears in the starry sky and children shoot the rocket displaying the correct answer.

4. Oxford Owl

Oxford Owl games are for children aged 3-5, 5-7 and 7-9 years old.  There are printable worksheets to reinforce the skills practised in the games.  Many of the games follow exactly the same format so there is the danger of boredom. On the plus side this means that they’re easy to understand and so even very young children can play independently. There’s also an audio button so the instructions can be read aloud to young children. 

Match the Shape is a lovely game for 3-5 year olds in which children drag and drop shapes onto real-life scenes.  In a park children drag a triangle onto a kite, an oval onto a balloon, a square onto a window and a rectangle onto a waste bin etc.

5. BBC Bitesize

This is more of an interactive learning experience than a set of maths games.  Children click on a skill they would like to learn eg. ‘How to multiply and divide by 0, 1, 10 and 100’ which takes them to a learning page.  There they find a video teaching them the skill beneath which are step-by-step written instructions.  Each written instruction is accompanied by an interactive activity so children can practise what they have learnt at each stage. 

If children are having difficulty mastering a particular mathematical concept at school then this is a particularly useful website to explore.

6. SplashMath

This is a US website with games for children in primary and secondary school.  There are logic games, puzzle games and racing games for practicing skills across the mathematics curriculum.  Games are easy to understand so they can be played by young children independently.

The Ruler Game is a fun way to teach measuring skills.  There’s a child’s voice narrating the instructions and gentle sound effects bring the game to life.

7. Crickweb

Here you’ll find seventy-four maths games for children from 4-11 years old covering the topics in the Early Years Foundation Stage and National Curriculum.  Most of the games use Adobe Flash Player which can be downloaded for a fee.  Games are easy to understand with audio instructions to foster young children’s independence. 

We like Sweet Shop –  a money game in which children choose items to buy and then drag and drop the correct coins to pay for them.

8. Hamilton Trust

Hamilton Trust Quick Maths games cover Years 3 – 6 and they all require Adobe Flash Player to work.  The games are designed to accompany the Hamilton Trust’s maths plans for teachers but they’re free and can also be used at home.  They are a fast-paced, exciting way to reinforce children’s maths skills.

One of our favourites is Jigsaw Subtraction Facts for 14 and 15 in which children piece together puzzle pieces to make the target numbers 14 and 15.

9. Nrich

Nrich is a Cambridge University initiative which aims to develop both children’s mathematical thinking and their problem-solving skills.  These games or ‘interactives’ are aimed at primary aged children and they really do challenge children’s thinking because even the instructions can be difficult to understand, retain and follow. 

We recommend trying activities yourself before suggesting them to your children in order to avoid frustration. 

10. Math Playground

This is a US website with innovative games suitable across the primary age range.  They have a ‘game spotlight’ which encourages children to try a game that’s new to them each time they visit.  Children can play games with a friend or by themselves against the computer.  Beneath each game ‘learning connections’ or objectives are listed.  These include a breakdown of both mathematical and thinking skills.

The Grand Prix Multiplication game will appeal to all vehicle lovers.  Children choose a car colour to race.  When a sum pops up if they answer it correctly their car zooms ahead!

Does your child need extra help with maths?

TutorMyKids offers both short-term and long-term mathematics tuition for children from primary age onwards.  Whether your child is struggling with a particular area of maths or needs to master a greater range of skills we are here to support them. 

We aim to foster a can-do attitude which in turn will raise your child’s achievement.  Get in touch today!

GCSE writing for a purpose: articles

This is the first in a series of blogs to help you to ‘write for a purpose’ in preparation for English Language Paper 2.  In this post we talk about how to write an article which requires you to argue a point. 

This is a sample question from an AQA English Language paper, June 2017:

 ‘Parents today are over-protective. They should let their children take part in adventurous, even risky, activities to prepare them for later life.’ Write an article for a broadsheet newspaper in which you argue for or against this statement.

Here’s how you could tackle it:

1. Gather your ideas

Decide whether you are for or against this statement.  Think of at least five strong points to support your argument and jot them down, perhaps as bullet points.  Each point will become a paragraph in your article.

2. Plan for skills

You need to demonstrate the following skills (which you can remember as ‘DAFOREST’):

  • Direct address.  Address the reader as ‘you’ to make them feel the article is personally relevant to them.
  • Alliteration.  Alliteration is a great technique for making statements memorable.
  • Facts.  In an exam you will make up facts. For a newspaper article invent some quotes that will support your argument.
  • Opinions.  Use your own opinions (this goes without saying here!).
  • Rhetorical questions.  These are questions which don’t need an answer but help to strengthen your argument eg. ‘Do you think today’s children are smothered and cosseted?’
  • Repetition.  Like alliteration, repeating words or sentences reinforces your message.  Some stories and poems, for example, start and finish with the same sentence.  Politicians use repetition in speeches to argue their points eg. Tony Blair’s famous quote, ‘Education, education, education…’
  • Emotive language.  Again, this strengthens your argument.  Words like ‘smothered’, ‘stifled’ and ‘oppressed’ elicit a strong emotional reaction.  Instead of the word ‘bad’ you might use ‘torturous’ or ‘barbaric’.
  • Statistics.  This is linked to facts.  Use made up statistics to support your argument.
  • Three (rule of).  For example, ‘By overprotecting children parents are undermining their self-esteem and confidence and causing rebellious behaviour’.

Jot down how you are going to demonstrate each of these skills in your article (perhaps at the same time!), for example:

Direct address/rhetorical questions: ‘Do you tidy your child’s room or put away their clothes?’ ‘Do you interfere with their friendship choices?’

Alliteration/rule of three: ‘If you ease up on the reins your child will be more confident, contented and courageous enough to bounce back after failure’.

3. Plan the counterargument

You need to predict how your reader might argue against some of your points.  Jot down these ideas as bullet points and consider how you will defend your arguments.  For example, ‘You might think that tidying your child’s bedroom is kind, but it causes them misery in the long-term because when they leave home and live with another person they will become unpopular if they don’t help with household chores’.

4. Plan your headline and subheadings

Headlines are much easier to write when you know what your article is going to be about because the job of the headline is to tell the reader, in an instant, what to expect from the article. 

Write a headline that pique’s your reader’s curiosity and draws them in.  Use action verbs and remove any unnecessary articles.  You can use persuasive devices such as alliteration, rhetorical questions and the rule of three in your headline.

Subheadings are important too because they ‘hook’ your reader as they are scanning through the article. Subheadings outline the key idea in each paragraph – the shorter they are the better!  You don’t need to use a subheading for every paragraph; always consider where you think they’re most useful.

5. Plan connectives

What connectives will you use to join paragraphs and sentences?  Try to include a variety.

Adding information: and, also, as well as, furthermore, moreover, too

Building upon an idea: as long as, if

Cause and effect: because, consequently, so, therefore, thus

Comparing: as with, equally, in the same way, like, likewise, similarly.

Contrasting: alternatively, although, apart from, but, except, however, in contrast, instead of, on the other hand, otherwise, unless, unlike, whereas, yet

Emphasising a point: above all, especially, indeed, in particular, notably, significantly.

Giving examples: as revealed by, for example, for instance, in the case of, such as.

Sequencing ideas: firstly, secondly, afterwards, eventually, finally, meanwhile, next, since, whilst. 

6. Write your answer

Planning your answer as above should not take more than 10 minutes.  The only way to speed up the process is to practise exam questions.  Sample questions from the English Language GCSE Paper 2 can be found online.  The more you do now the quicker you will be on the day. 

After 10 minutes planning you will have 35 minutes to write the rest of your answer.  Don’t forget to leave some time at the end to read through and check your writing.

When writing your answer:

  • Write an engaging opening.  Use emotive language or a rhetorical question to draw the reader in.
  • Look at your plan and write your paragraphs in an orderly sequence.
  • End with a clear and firm conclusion to your argument, perhaps using the ‘rule of three’.

7. Edit your answer

You’ve finished – hooray!  Take a few minutes to check for SPaG – spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Make any improvements you need to.

Would you like further support?

TutorMyKids offers one-to-one tuition for GCSE English Language and English Literature students.  Our tutors can collaborate with you and your teacher to address the areas you’re struggling with, strengthening your skills and giving you an extra boost of confidence on exam day!

Pop, Bang! 6 super-simple science experiments

It’s World Science Day on 10th November.  Part of the purpose is to highlight the relevance and importance of science in our daily lives. 

Here we’ve compiled six of our favourite experiments.  They’re really easy to follow and you will find all of the ingredients in your kitchen cupboard or local supermarket.

Go ahead and stoke the fire of enthusiasm by amazing your child with the magic of science!

Animated Stickman

You will need:

Dry wipe marker pen

Glass bowl or plate



  1. Draw a stickman on the plate or the bottom of the bowl with the dry wipe marker.
  2. Slowly pour water into the bowl or onto the plate and watch the stickman slowly rise.
  3. Gently swirl the water around to see the stickman move.

What happened?

Marker pen ink contains alcohol and different pigments.  The alcohol dissolves leaving behind the pigments as a solid.  The solid slides about when the glass gets wet because glass is so smooth.

Bag Explosion

You will need:

Bicarbonate of soda


Mixing bowl


Toilet paper


Ziplock bag


  1. Make a bicarbonate of soda pouch by putting one tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda on a square of toilet paper.  Fold the toilet paper and cellotape closed so that the bicarbonate of soda doesn’t leak out of the sides.  Don’t overdo the cellotape though!
  2. Pour 75ml vinegar into the ziplock bag.
  3. Zip the bag so it is almost closed, but there is enough of a gap to fit the bicarbonate of soda pouch in.
  4. Insert the pouch into the bag but don’t let it touch the vinegar.
  5. Zip the bag tightly shut.
  6. Carefully place the bag in the mixing bowl.
  7. Swish the bowl about to mix the chemicals and watch what happens.

What happened?

When vinegar and bicarbonate of soda mix they react to produce carbon dioxide, water and sodium acetate.  The carbon dioxide builds up and is trapped in the bag and so the bag explodes!

Fizzing Snowballs

You will need:

Bicarbonate of soda







  1. Fill the teacup 1/3 with bicarbonate of soda.
  2. Gradually add water to the teacup until the bicarbonate of soda forms a compact snowball.
  3. Place the snowball in the freezer overnight.
  4. Take the snowball out of the freezer.
  5. Pipette drops of vinegar onto the snowball to see it fizz.

What happened?

When vinegar (an acid) is added to bicarbonate of soda (a base) they react to produce carbon dioxide.  Change the experiment by warming the vinegar before squirting it onto the snowball.  You could also try freezing the vinegar instead of the bicarbonate of soda and sprinkling the bicarbonate of soda onto the vinegar. 

Lava Lamp

You will need:

Alka Seltza tablet

Clean, empty lemonade bottle

Food colouring


Vegetable oil



  1. A quarter fill the bottle with water.
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle up, almost to the top, with vegetable oil.
  3. Add a few drops of food colouring.
  4. Drop half of the Alka Seltza tablet into the bottle.
  5. Turn off the light and shine a torch at the bottle as you watch the lava fizz!

What happened?

You will notice that the oil floats on top of the water – that’s because oil is less dense than water.  The food colouring sinks through the oil and mixes with the water because it is the same density as water.  The Alka Seltza tablet dissolves producing carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is lighter than water and so it floats to the top bringing some of the coloured water with it.  When the carbon dioxide is released from the coloured water the water becomes heavy again and sinks.  This process repeats until the Alka Seltzer tablet has completely dissolved.

No-pop Balloon

You will need:


2 pieces of cellotape about 6cm long

Sharp needle


  1. Blow up the balloon.
  2. Make a cross shape on the balloon by sticking the two pieces of cellotape.
  3. Stick the needle into the centre of the cross and leave it there.

What happened?

The cellotape stops the balloon from popping quickly.  What causes a balloon to pop is not the sudden release of air but the widening of the hole.  As the balloon’s hole gets bigger the balloon rips and pops. The cellotape slows down this process.  You can try experimenting with different sized balloons and different sorts of tape to compare what happens.


You will need:

Food colouring

Dessert spoon

Pint glass


Shaving foam



  1. Half fill the pint glass with water.
  2. Spray shaving cream onto the water until the glass is 3/4 full.
  3. Spread the shaving cream evenly over the top of the water with your finger so that it’s flat.
  4. Half fill the teacup with water and add 10 drops of food colouring.
  5. Add the coloured water, spoonful by spoonful, to the shaving cream and watch a storm form under the foam!

What happened?

Like the shaving foam in the glass, clouds in the sky hold onto water.  When the water gets too heavy for the clouds it falls out (precipitates) as rain, hail or snow. 

Does your child need extra help with science?

TutorMyKids can put you in touch with an experienced science tutor who can help your child to understand tricky concepts and rekindle their enthusiasm.  To talk about your child’s requirements, please call us for a chat.

10 stress-busting tips for students

The 6th November is International Stress Awareness Day which focuses our minds on caring for our emotional wellbeing.

Most students at one time or another suffer from stress.  This can be due to workload and deadlines, exams, family expectations, social problems, relationship issues, money worries – so many reasons. 

A little bit of stress is good.  It can motivate you to prepare for exams, for example.  However, too much stress can cause anxiety, depression, and other health issues.  That’s why it’s important to learn to manage stress effectively. 

There will always be stressful times in your life, so stress management is an important life skill to master now.

  1.  Sleep

Sleep is number one on the list because students are famous for late nights!  You need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night to be productive, focused and safe.  However, if you are feeling stressed then it’s much harder for your brain to shut down so from this respect sleep should be last. 

The main thing is to avoid too many late nights and to keep a consistent sleep pattern.  Go to bed early and read or listen to gentle music for an hour or so to switch off.  If you can’t sleep don’t obsess about it because, of course, this makes the problem worse.  Anybody who has cared for a small baby will tell you that months and even years without adequate sleep is not ideal but will not kill you!

For more about sleep see: Why is sleep important for academic success?

2. Exercise

For your mind and body to function effectively you need regular exercise.  Exercise helps you to concentrate and it improves memory and general cognitive ability as well as lifting your mood and improving your sleep. 

Choose exercise you enjoy so you’re more likely to do it.  If you like to dance, join a class.  If you want to lift weights, join a gym.  Find a gym that runs from a school or leisure centre and doesn’t require you to be locked into an expensive contract.

Meet a friend and go for a jog.  For those who want a challenge check out Couch to 5K.  You could take regular brisk walks combined with a high-impact exercise DVD that raises your heart rate.  If you’re time poor search the internet for 15 minute exercise routine programmes.

Intensive exercise before bedtime can make it difficult to sleep, so stick to Yoga or stretches in the late evening.

3. Healthy eating

Your diet can sap your energy or boost your brain.  A balanced diet is made up of carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables.  Include some of each with every meal.  Here are some examples.

Carbohydrates: brown rice, wholemeal bread, potatoes cooked in skin, wholewheat pasta, low sugar breakfast cereal, oats.

Protein: eggs, fish, read meat, beans, lentils, poultry, milk, cheese, yoghurts.

Fruit and vegetables: carrots, tomatoes (fresh or tinned), frozen peas (and other veg), salad vegetables, onions, peppers, oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tinned fruit in unsweetened juice.

Food doesn’t have to take long to prepare.  Beans or sardines on toast, boiled eggs, jacket potatoes and vegetable-based pasta dishes are quick and easy. 

Avoid takeaways and fast foods.  Cook from scratch by finding yourself a student cookbook.  Don’t deprive yourself of treats though – all in moderation!

4. Relaxation techniques

There’s a book called 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom by Tammie Prince which, although not aimed at students, contains a wealth of easy-to-follow and very effective relaxation techniques that are great for everybody.

The techniques in the book draw upon the following:

  • Breathing
  • Active meditation
  • Guided meditation
  • Mindful walking
  • Positive thinking
  • Yoga

The internet has a wealth of information about each of these too.  See Relaxation coping skills – activities to help kids calm down at home and at school.

5. Do what you love!

What makes you happy?  Is it socialising with friends?  Being immersed in a craft project?  Playing basketball?  Whatever you love doing, make time for it alongside your studies.  Remember to have a work-life balance.  If you do you will feel:

  • More motivated and therefore more productive in your studies
  • Have higher self-esteem
  • Happier and friendlier towards others.

6. Listen to music

Music has many benefits.  It can:

  • Help you to concentrate by making you feel calmer.
  • It can inspire creativity, getting your ideas going.
  • Make you feel better.  When you enjoy music your brain releases a chemical called dopamine which lifts your mood.
  • Motivate you to exercise.  Running, spinning or dancing to music keeps you going!
  • Be sociable.  There’s nothing like a shared love of music to bond friends.

7. Think positively

Negative thinking can be paralysing.  It can stop you from moving forward in life and achieving your goals.  Thinking positively boosts confidence, makes you feel happier and reduces stress levels. 

But what is positive thinking and how do you achieve it?  See the NHS Moodzone (below) for ways to manage unhelpful thinking habits.  Also see 7 practical Tips to achieve a positive mindset.

8. Explore Moodzone!

The NHS provides free mental well-being podcasts to help young people who are feeling low or anxious.  Each podcast gives simple advice to boost your mood.  There’s a mood self-assessment to help you to choose which guide will help you the most.  You will find:

  • Anxiety control training
  • Overcoming sleep problems
  • Low confidence and assertiveness

9. Manage your time

Create a study timetable and stick to it as far as you can.  Make sure the timetable is realistic.  It’s vital to rest, exercise and socialise too.  Remember that work can often take longer than you think it will so be kind to yourself when you’re planning.  Set yourself up to succeed.

Choose the best place to study.  Where are there fewest distractions?  Where are you less likely to daydream and procrastinate?  Some people study better when there is a buzz around them and others prefer quiet.  Be honest about which one is you.

10. One step at a time

When you’re on top of your studies you will feel more relaxed.  Sometimes you might feel like you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start.  This becomes a vicious cycle because then you’re too frightened to begin and so the mountain becomes a daunting climb.

So take small steps.

Decide what you want to (realistically) achieve today.  Don’t work for more than 40 minutes in one stretch.  Take 10 to 15 minute breaks with an hour for lunch. 

At the end of the day reflect upon what you’ve achieved.  If you need help from your tutor because you’re grappling with a difficult concept then get help as soon as you can.  Don’t allow any difficulties to become road blocks.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your studies?

If you feel you need extra help TutorMyKids can find you an experienced, qualified local tutor who will support and motivate you with your studies.  We offer tuition in the evenings, on weekends and during the holidays. 

Whether you need regular tuition or short-term, intensive revision sessions please get in touch.

Why use a tutoring agency to find a tutor?

It can be cheaper to hire a private tutor directly, so why should you use a tutoring agency?

The biggest reason is that tutoring in the UK is unregulated.  Anybody can set themselves up as a tutor.  They don’t need to have formal qualifications, experience or be particularly skilled in the area they teach.  Tutors working alone cannot process their own DBS check (a DBS check is carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service and is a record of a person’s criminal convictions and cautions).  In order to obtain a DBS check tutors working alone need to go through an organisation such as the Tutors’ Association, but many choose not to join because individual membership is costly.

Should I use a private tutor directory website?

Private tutor directory websites are created all the time and they have thousands of tutor profiles you can browse.  On the face of it that sounds brilliant, but there are significant drawbacks:

  • Many websites list tutors from all over the country and don’t specialise in your particular locality, which means you have to sift through a lot of profiles to find a skilled, local tutor.
  • Not all directory websites undertake DBS checks making it easy for criminal offenders to slip in unnoticed.
  • Most directory websites do not interview tutors face-to-face.  This wouldn’t happen in any other professional field – especially one involving children!  Personal interviews are a vital aspect of the selection process. 
  • If you’re unhappy with your tutor, a directory website will take little or no responsibility for the problem. 

Why use a tutoring agency?

  • Your tutor will have been properly vetted saving you having to ask awkward questions about DBS checks, references and qualifications.  A reputable agency will follow safe recruiting practices by:
    • Obtaining DBS Certificates and reviewing them annually.
    • Obtaining references from previous employers as well as personal references.
    • Verifying qualifications.
    • Interviewing tutors face-to-face.
  • Your child will receive a higher standard of tuition because you will be assigned a tutor who is specifically matched their needs.  When matching tutors and students consideration is given to:
    • Whether the tutor is qualified to teach the subject at the student’s level and beyond.
    • The tutor’s and the student’s personalities.
    • How well the tutor can tailor their teaching to the student’s learning styles.
  • Tutors must agree to follow the agency’s quality standards.  If they do not follow best working practices the agency will act because their reputation depends upon the quality of their home tuition service.
  • Your tutor will be local making it easier to organise regular tutoring sessions at a time that suits you.  They may also have taught at schools in your local area. 
  • If your tutor is ill or on holiday, an agency can find you another tutor to at short notice.

Why choose TutorMyKids?

TutorMyKids is a premium home tuition service, so in addition we:

  • Meet you and your child at home to discuss specific learning requirements and to answer any questions that you have.  This consultation is free of charge.
  • Liaise with your child’s teacher to identify areas of need so that we work with them to ensure your child reaches their full potential.
  • Find you a local tutor.  We specialise in providing maths, English, humanities and language tuition in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.
  • Match your child to a well-qualified, experienced tutor.  With a few exceptions, all of our tutors are qualified teachers working in UK schools.
  • Match you with a tutor who is:
    • up-to-date with the current syllabus;
    • has high learning expectations for all students;
    • organised and prepared so that lessons are structured, active and engaging;
    • able to adapt their teaching to keep motivation levels high;
    • able to form a positive, warm relationship with your child to ensure they achieve;
    • committed to communicating with you after every lesson to discuss your child’s progress and next steps.
  • Provide tutoring in your own home, unless you specify otherwise, so that your child feels secure and comfortable.
  • Talk to you regularly about how your child’s tuition is going, so that if any adjustments need to be made then action can be taken.

Qualified teacher and founder of TutorMyKids, Rachel Law, is committed to helping all children to reach their full potential.  Rachel only selects private tutors who share her dedication to achievement.  

To find out how TutorMyKids can help your child, please get in touch for a free consultation.

Poetry’s not boring! Fun ways to ignite your child’s interest

National Poetry Day on Friday 4th October is a yearly celebration that inspires people to discover a love of poetry.  Poetry celebrates being human.  It draws out a whole spectrum of emotions – amusement, delight, joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and everything else.  Poetry can be silly or serious.  It can brighten up your day or change the way you view the world.  Here we talk about why sharing poetry with your child is worth your time, and how you can make it an active, fun experience!

Poetry is worth it because it…

  1. Develops your child’s speaking, listening and concentration skills as it’s often read aloud and then discussed. 
  2. Builds comprehension skills.  When reading a poem aloud children learn to read expressively and, in order to place emphasis and emotion into words, they need to understand what they’re reading.
  3. Introduces children to the playful nature of the English language which fosters a love of reading.  Poems can rhyme and have a catchy, musical rhythm.  They can use dynamic, noisy, joyful, luscious language like Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake.
  4. Improves children’s reading and spelling.  Children’s reading and spelling improves when they read the same material over and over again.  When a child loves a particular poem they will be happy to read it many times. 
  5. Builds vocabulary.  Through poetry children hear words they haven’t heard before.  Talk about meanings together and look words up in a dictionary.
  6. Inspires children to write and think creatively.  Poetry shows children how to choose the right words to create different images and effects.  As poems follow a pattern, their patterns can be used as a framework for children’s own writing.  Christina Rossetti’s poem What is pink? is often used by teachers who ask children to replace colours and objects with their own ideas.

Try these autumn-themed activities…

  1. Leaf poetry

Find the biggest, best leaf. What colours can you see when you look very closely?  What shape is it?  What does it smell like?  What does it make you think about? 

Find the biggest, best leaf. What colours can you see when you look very closely?  What shape is it?  What does it smell like?  What does it make you think about? 

With a dark pen, cover the leaf in your thoughts.  When the leaf is covered with words, repeat the exercise.  Make a leafy, poem picture by gluing all the leaves onto large card. 

2. Disgusting Halloween

Brainstorm all the disgusting things to eat at Halloween.  For example, ‘rotten fish’, ‘juicy eyeballs’, ‘slimy slugs’.  Then write a poem with the following pattern:

‘I went trick-or treating and I devoured…

One rotten fish

And two juicy eyeballs

I went trick-or treating and I devoured…


And four…’

3. Macbeth

Find Shakespeare’s famous poem Double, Double Toil and Trouble online.  Watch a traditional performance on YouTube, and also the Harry Potter version. 

Perform the poem with your child by reading a line each (perhaps dressing up and stirring a cauldron!).  Look at the words in the poem.  Are there any words your child doesn’t understand?  Use the internet to find meanings.

4. Funnybones

Funnybones is a picture book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg which ends with the poem, ‘On a dark, dark hill there was a dark dark town…’  If you don’t have a copy you can find readings on YouTube

Make a book by copying lines from the poem and illustrating them on black paper with white chalk.    Older children could change the places in the poem eg. ‘hill’ becomes ‘mountain’ and ‘town’ becomes ‘cave’.

5.  Acrostic Halloween

Hide Halloween themed objects or characters around the garden eg. pumpkin, wand, witch, wizard, ghost.  Children find an object and then write an acrostic poem.  For example:







6. Songs are poems!

Listen to and learn some classic Halloween songs like The Monster Mash and The Addams Family.  Change some of the lyrics and perform new songs.

7. Shape poem

Write an autumn or Halloween themed shape poem.  Start by thinking of an object (tree, leaf, woods/the park in autumn, Halloween party, trick-or-treating) and write all the words and thoughts the object inspires.  For example: ‘Halloween party: spooky, dark, dressing up, trick-or-treat, monsters, ghosts, scary’.

Draw or print out an A4-sized outline of the object and write words/sentences around the outline: ‘Cold, spooky night.  Faces concealed by masks.  Apple bobbing.  Dripping chin…’ 

For clarification, type ‘shape poem children’ into Google Images.

8. Adverbs alive!

Give your child an adverb, which could have a Halloween theme, and ask them to write a poem in which every line starts with that adverb.  Encourage use of adjectives and verbs to bring their poem alive.

‘Spookily ghosts creep around the halls

Spookily spiders scuttle

Spookily the night draw cold and misty…’

Find lists of adverbs on the internet.

9. Autumn alliteration

Write a numbered alliterative poem with an autumn or Halloween theme.  Here’s the pattern:

‘One slimy slug

Two spindly spiders

Three ghouly ghosts

Four wicked witches.’

10. Feeling emotional

Go for an autumnal walk.  Stop and sit quietly together.  Ask your child how they are feeling in that moment.  Write down the word they say.  Later, use that word to write an emotion poem:

‘Peaceful is sitting quietly

Peaceful is curling up with a book

Peaceful is not feeling worried

Peaceful is closing my eyes…’

Find wonderful poems…

Find poems your child will love! Visit the library or bookshop and choose anthologies together.  We enjoy:

  • Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, Puffin, 2018.  (See Michael’s YouTube video too).
  • Kings and Queens, Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon, Puffin, 2015.
  • Michael Rosen’s Book of Very Silly Poems, Puffin, 1996.
  • Poems to Perform: A Classic Collection Chosen by the Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson, Macmillan, 2014.
  • Revolting Rhymes, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, 2006.
  • The Day I Fell Down the Toilet and Other Poems, Steve Turner, Lion Children’s Books, 1997.
  • 100 Brilliant Poems for Children, Paul Cookson, Macmillan, 2016.

And finally…

Poetry is worth it because:

‘…it lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.’ — Percy Bysshe Shelley

Support your child’s literacy every day: quick tips

Most adults take literacy for granted.  Think about the tasks you have already completed today – how many of those tasks relied on your ability to read or write?  If you couldn’t read and write how different would your life be?  Most school subjects involve reading and writing, so children with poor literacy quickly fall behind.  Literacy has the power to lift people out of poverty by opening the doors to educational and employment opportunities in our ever-changing technological world. 

Even if your child is an unenthusiastic reader and writer, there’s plenty you can do to ignite their enthusiasm because words are everywhere! Help your child to see that reading and writing has a purpose.  It’s woven into our everyday lives.  Involve them in your daily literacy activities and they will quickly develop the strong skills they need to thrive.

  1. Model reading and writing.  Let your child see that you read and write for practical purposes and for pleasure too.
  2. Write shopping lists together.  When you’re out shopping ask your child to follow and read the list.  Help them to match the words on the list with the packets and boxes.
  3. When you’re queuing in a supermarket ask your child to read the names on chocolate bars and sweets.  You might not leave empty handed, however!
  4. Label objects around the house: ‘door’, ‘window’ etc. so that your child absorbs different words.  You could also label toy boxes and containers.  Your child might help you to write some of the labels and stick them up.
  5. When you’re out and about encourage your child to read the writing on road signs, shop fronts, posters etc.  Do the same indoors.  Read cereal packets, board game boxes – any written material that’s around.
  6. When your child is playing a computer game ask them to read words and instructions on the screen.
  7. Find songs on YouTubeKids that have the lyrics displayed – you will find this really helps with your child’s sight reading.  Never let children search YouTubeKids without supervision as unsuitable advertisements and material can slip through the net.
  8. Cook together so that your child has the chance to read recipes with you.  If they love cooking encourage them to invent their own recipe.  They will have fun being messy in the kitchen.  Tell them that it’s a good idea for them to write down their recipe for future use. 
  9. If your child likes crafts they can follow instructions in craft books.  They could also create their own craft instructions for another person to follow.
  10. Put letter magnets on the fridge.  Write messages for your child to read, and ask them to write messages to you.
  11. Leave secret notes for your child in different places.  You could write a special note and put it in their lunchbox so they have a lovely surprise at school.  At home, you could even experiment with invisible writing.  Your child might write notes back to you.
  12. When you go to restaurants ask your child to read the menu and place their order with the waiter themselves.
  13. Feed your child’s enthusiasm for reading by visiting the library regularly and sharing books together. 
  14. Let your child choose and buy books.  Charity shops are brilliant because they always have so much affordable choice.
  15. Play games.  If your child has been given tricky words to learn for homework, copy them onto strips of card and turn them over.  If your child can read the word they’ve picked then they keep it.  If they can’t read the word then you keep it.  The person who has the most words at the end of the game wins. For a range of free word and phonics games visit Pinterest, Topmarks, and Phonics Play.
  16. When reading to your child, occasionally follow words and sentences with your finger, pointing out sounds or words they’ve just learnt or asking them to read those sounds/words.  Don’t do it too often though or your child may stop enjoying listening to stories!

One final tip:

When it’s time for your child to read their school book to you, break reading into small chunks.  Ask them to read just one page in a sitting.  You can build this up over time.  Think about why your child is resistant – is the book at the right level for them?  If you’re not sure, speak to your child’s teacher.

If you continue to feel worried that your child is falling behind, get in touch with TutorMyKids.  Our dedicated, specialist literacy tutors are here to help you.

Encouraging reluctant readers by taking reading outdoors

Why is sleep important for academic success?

We all know that sleep is vital for our mental and physical well-being.  The damage from lack of sleep can be instantaneous (like an accident) or it can harm us over time by raising the risk of chronic health conditions.  Here we look at why sleep is important for academic success, and how you can help your child to get the sleep they need. 

How much sleep does my child need?

The NHS website gives the approximate number of hours’ sleep a child needs by age.  A six-year-old needs nearly eleven hours, a ten-year-old almost ten hours, and fourteen to sixteen-year-olds require about nine hours.

Sleep and memory

While we sleep we consolidate memories, and that’s essential for learning new information. Memory functions are described as:

  • Acquisition – introducing new information into the brain
  • Consolidation  – the way the brain processes information so that it becomes embedded
  • Recall – recalling the new information we have acquired.

All three functions are necessary.  Acquisition and recall happen while we are awake, but consolidation happens most effectively when we are asleep because that’s when our neural connections strengthen.

Some studies have shown that certain types of memories are consolidated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – when you dream.  Other studies conclude that some types of memories are consolidated during slow-wave, deep sleep.  There are still plenty of questions for scientists to answer on this subject!

Sleep and focus

A sleep-deprived child cannot focus fully and therefore cannot learn effectively.  Sleep deprivation impairs children’s ability to concentrate and think by:

  • disrupting the levels of hormones like cortisol, dopamine and serotonin that affect mood, energy and thought.  Your child will feel irritable, perhaps aggressive, and certainly unable and unwilling to work.
  • over-working the body’s organs and muscles so you child starts to feel ‘icky’.

A lack of focus can result in poor judgement, excessive mistakes, and physical accidents. 

What are the benefits of adequate sleep?

  • Being in a better mood – happier, motivated, and thirsty to learn.
  • Better decision making skills and judgements.
  • A sharper memory that is able to consolidate knowledge.
  • Being more able to solve problems and feeling more creative.
  • Making fewer mistakes and having less accidents.
  • Improved gross and fine motor skills.
  • Faster reaction times.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Feeling more sociable and less irritable with others.
  • Being generally more capable and productive throughout the day.

What can I do to help my child have a good night’s sleep?

  1. Ensure your child has plenty of exercise during the day, but be aware that exercise too close to bedtime can actually stop your child from sleeping well.
  2. Avoid fried food, sweets, caffeine and soft drinks from late afternoon onwards.
  3. Set a bedtime that suits your child.  Some children get up at 6.30am no matter what time they go to bed.  If that’s your child, then ensure they go to bed early enough to get their full quota of sleep.
  4. Try to keep bedtimes and wake-up times consistent even on weekends (as much as possible, anyway!) otherwise your child will feel jet-lagged and it’s hard to get back on track.
  5. Have a consistent bedtime routine.  Whatever your routine (eg. bath, in bed by 6.30, three stories, a song and lights out) keep it the same so your child knows what’s coming.
  6. Turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime.  Screens emit light and light makes the brain think it’s daytime.  Light stops the body producing enough of the hormone melatonin which makes us sleepy. 
  7. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom for the reasons above and to stop your child from using them when they should be asleep.
  8. Reduce stress levels.  Keep bedtimes very calm otherwise your child’s body will produce the stress hormone cortisol which stops them being able to shut down.
  9. Create a sleep-friendly environment.  Make sure your child’s room isn’t too hot (or too cold), and that it’s dark, comfortable and quiet.  Think about your individual child’s preferences.  Some children sleep better with their bedroom door open a crack and some low-level noise from the living room below.  Do what works best for them.

Having stressed the value of sleep, it’s important to make sure your child doesn’t worry themselves if they can’t sleep (“You’re in bed and resting so that’s okay”).  We all know that the more we toss and turn fretting about the sleep we’re losing the worse we make the problem. 

Although continued sleep deprivation is detrimental, most people survive as any mother who has nursed a baby through the night will know!  If your child has an ongoing problem consult your doctor for advice.