How to Revise 1: Build a Story

In school recently, my 6 year old was given ten words.  Ten words to learn by Friday.

They were: jacket, giraffe, gem, adjust, jar, join, energy, jog, magic and giant.

At first, this seemed like an impossible task:  G. wanted to know the answers to some understandable questions:

Why is ‘jacket’ spelt with an e, not an i?

Why isn’t energy spelled enerjee?

Thus followed a soliloquy about the quaint awkwardness of the English language: Learning its intricacies felt like a rite of passage for me as an English person, rather like learning to make a pot of tea (I still feel lazy if I use a bag) or learning to hide one’s emotions, maybe behind a pretty pink pashmina –  although I wasn’t so good at this one, being a northerner: We splurge our feelings and wear nice thick scarves (it’s cold up north).

But the affection I have for our quirky tongue didn’t alter the fact that those ten words are bloody hard for a kid to learn.

So how did we do it in ten minutes flat?

Here’s how: First we highlighted all those pesky words that had a ‘g’ that sounded like a ‘j’:

jacket, giraffe, gem, adjust, jar, join, energy, jog, magic and giant.

Next, we made up a story (drew a picture) that connected those five words.  “You see, there was this giant with a pet giraffe, and he had a gem.  It was a magic gem, and that gem gave him energy“.

On the way to school the next day we practiced the story:

Me: So there was a ……

G: Giant

Me: And he had a pet …………

G: Giraffe

Me: In his hand he held a ………

G: Gem

Me: And the gem was …………

G: Magic

Me: And the magic gave him ……………..

G: Energy!


All that was left was for him to learn the ‘j’ words, and then – boom, ten out of ten!  Minimal pain for me too.

Now, does this work with older children and other subjects?

You betcha!

Let’s have a go with French vocabulary:

First slip on your pants (un slip).  Over the pants go your long trousers (un pantalon). Pull on a jumper (un pull). Get set with socks (des chaussettes), but be sure to wear your shoes (des chaussures).  Looking sharp with a scarf (une écharpe).

You can add layers of detail too.  For example,  You have two feet, and there’s a double ‘s’ in the middle of chaussures and chaussettes.

When building a story, some words are easier to utilize than others.  So be bold in being as tenuous as you dare.  For example: The man is covered from top to toe in a coat (un manteau).

“On his hands – des gants” – It rhymes!  Well, nearly.  Perhaps you could think of him putting on gloves to stop ants from biting his hands… whatever works for you!

The point is, you can have fun with this, utilising your kids’ imaginations to build stories that commit words to memory.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are – it works with all ages – whether you’re six, sixteen or sixty!

And you create fun family memories as you go.

We’ve become quite attached to our gem-wielding giant!

He’s called Gerry, by the way.


Laura Mears is a coach at Blue Caterpillar, who among other things, deliver revision seminars to schools (

Revise the Rugby Route!

14th September 2015 | bc_admin | Revision, Motivation

What can we learn from the Rugby World Cup about revising more effectively?

By David H.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup starts this Friday.

The current favourites are New Zealand.

Have you seen their team run through the haka before a match?
If not see here:

Taking part in the haka helps the players access the right mood for the match they are about to start, and it can put their opponents into a poor mood for the battle ahead too.

Do you get in to the right mood before revising? If not, you’re really wasting your time.

Make sure you are focused and relaxed at the start of your homework or revision session. Then you can make the most of the time you have.

Nobody would start a rugby match in the wrong mood and expect to win. 

Recently, I asked a  group of Year 11 students to think about a sporting activity in which they excelled.  I then asked if they got in to the right mood beforehand and they all said they did.

That’s what made the difference and it only takes between three and 20 seconds.  They did it before sport, but none of them did so before revision!

What a wasted opportunity.  Get your Revision Haka sorted today!

There’s more about the importance of mood in the Brain Box book. The tips are easy to implement and will have a positive impact on your results.


Tim adds: This is a great idea.. What might your ‘haka’ look like?  Maybe it’s putting on some music you love (and dancing in your room?), perhaps it’s saying to yourself “Come on, you can do this”.  Maybe it’s setting an alarm for 20 mins – and then promising yourself time on Facebook after your 20 mins of work. Perhaps you have a cat or dog and you spend a few moments with it to lighten your mood. Maybe watch something funny on YouTube…   My ‘haka’ is tidying up my desk and getting my work area nice for working in.  Maybe your ‘haka’ is just making a cup of tea and finding a nice biscuit (I do this too!).  Whatever you do, do it with a smile and raise the mood.  What doesn’t work?  Having a row, shouting at family members, putting it off indefinitely.  You’ll just get ‘haka’d off!  Geddit? Hacked off..  Sorry. I’ll go now…


David Hodgson is co-author of The Brain Box.  To find out more about David, visit:

Binge, Splurge, Spew!

9th September 2015 | bc_admin | Revision

Binge, splurge and spew…

By David Hodgson


Which of these learning tactics are best?

Can you rank them in order of best to worst?


1. Using a highlighter/underlined pen on your notes or text book

2. Rereading your notes

3. Summarizing the main points after reading notes

4. Cramming

5. Test yourself using flash cards or aps like quizlet

6. Spaced learning and practice


According to research by John Dunlosky at Kent State University in the USA the above list is accurate from worst to most effective.

Methods 1 to 4 are very ineffective! One of the best ways The Brainbox helps you is by sharing the tactics that make your learning both effective and efficient. So you won’t be wasting your revision time. Professor of Surgery, B. Price Kerfoot, at Harvard Medical School replaced the ‘binge, splurge and spew’ learning model with a spaced learning and practice model and improved student exam performance by 50%.

David Hodgson is co-author of The Brain Box.  To find out more about David, visit: