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 (

Help Me! I’m Stressed!

1st October 2015 | Tim Benton | Motivation, Parents

Stress is a very real part of studying, whether for GCSEs or A Levels.

Students worry they are going to fail.

Students worry about workload and getting everything done.

Students worry that they won’t be able to remember everything.

Stress in itself is not a bad thing.  Some people need a bit of pressure to help them work and some won’t work at all if they don’t feel at least a little stress.  As the stress piles up though, things can get tricky and students will revert to one of the stress responses:

Fight:  Are you finding your son/daughter is getting more aggressive?  Every time you offer encouragement or help you get a volley of abuse.  This is fairly normal.  It’s important not to add to the stress and make sure that they know you are there for them.  Try not to argue back or end up retaliating.

Flight: Work stresses them out so rather than doing it, they avoid it – they’ll do anything other than what they should be doing.  This will drive you mad! Obviously the downside of avoidance is that the work builds up and they become even more stressed.  Sometimes the hardest thing is to just begin.  Encourage them to start, even doing just a bit, as this will improve the sense of being in control.

Helpful hints:

Remind them of the Big Picture – Yes, getting great grades is important and will open more doors, but the road to success is filled with failure and missing the mark doesn’t mean the end of the road.  Don’t heap on the stress by reminding them of what a ‘good result’ will look like.  Don’t nag.

Manage behind the scenes – Hot meals, cups of tea, letting them off chores, keeping the house quiet and younger siblings out the way will all help them in their studies.  Also (particularly important for ever-hungry lads) make sure there is plenty of food there for them to raid!

Organisational help – Sometimes students just feel ‘at sea’ and don’t know where to begin.  Buying ring-binders, and folders, and helping them organise their notes can be a very practical and very useful thing for students who seem to be lost in the mire of their own chaos.

Know their diary – There will be key dates; exams, mocks, essay deadlines, coursework and so on.  If you are aware of when these things are coming up, you’ll find it easier to coach them in doing the  work in the right order.

Time manage with lists – We all know ‘To Do’ lists are helpful.  It might also be useful to get them to do ‘Must Not Do’ lists, as well as ‘Should Do’ and ‘Want To Do’.. All these will help them arrange priorities.

Manage distractions – As teenagers, they aren’t always great at making the right choices – eg. Sleep or Fifa until 3am!  It’s worth having early discussions about tech in bedrooms – consider a family phone amnesty, where you all put your phones in a drawer at bedtime.  Removal of the x-box controller after 10pm or until work is done.  Turning off the wifi router at certain times and at night.  It will always be better to get them to make these rules, rather than imposing them.

Self Control on a Mac or Cold Turkey on a PC will help filter unhelpful distractions for set time periods (see post on Apps).

Encourage targeted practice – The golfer Tiger Woods took a sizeable period of time out from playing in tournaments to improve his swing.  He didn’t practice whole games; just his swing.  He then came back and won 14 major tournaments.  The same principle applies to exams – don’t encourage them to do whole papers, just focus on certain skills at a time, e.g. short answer questions, vocab, essays, writing to time, equations, etc..

Be a quizmaster – One of the most helpful things you can do to alleviate stress is test your son or daughter.  It will make progress quick and really help cement important facts.

Encourage regular breaks – it’s been suggested that our concentration span is our age plus or minus a couple of minutes.  Revising in 20 minute chunks may be really helpful.  These blocks should be punctuated with 5-10 minute breaks.  Students should also be encouraged to have one day a week when they don’t do school work.  A ‘mind-sabbath’ will do them the world of good and reduce stress.

Win the Battle of the Sexes – Generally lads will want more autonomy and girls will seek more active involvement.  Obviously these are broad stroke comments, but there is enough evidence to suggest a distinct difference in the sexes.

How might this look?

Boys will be less stressed if they have the opportunity to continue their extra curricular activities – playing football or rugby or hanging out with mates will let off steam and reduce stress levels.  Give them the freedom to make these choices.

Girls, on the other hand, will more actively appreciate your involvement – testing them, etc.  They will also be more likely to push themselves too hard, so your job may be to make sure that they aren’t overdoing it, and sometimes saying, ‘that’s enough’ or ‘have a day off’.

Overall remember RSVP:

R – Respect.  Respect that they may learn differently to you.  We’re all different, let them work in the ways that suit them best.

S – Support.  Support with all the ways mentioned in this post.  Always be open to listening without judgement.  If they feel you are ‘on side’ no matter what, they are more likely to trust you and come to you for help.

V – Value.  Value what the school is doing and communicate with them if you are concerned.

P – Praise. Praise effort rather than achievement.  If you praise their achievement it makes your approval conditional on their ability rather than work ethic.

Brain Box in Parenting magazine

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 19.40.28

We didn’t get to be Editor’s pick in this magazine – but to be fair, Malala is more deserving, so fair enough, but it’s still nice to be included.

Remember, even those teenagers in your life on the Naughty List should have a copy of The Brain Box in their stocking this Christmas!

Parental Reading List

11th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Parents

At the Tears, Tantrums and Tiredness parent nights, I suggest certain reading materials.  Here are a few recommendations. I’ll add more as I find them.


Inside the Teenage Brain  

A useful, American book which looks at what happens to teenagers’ neurology alongside practical parenting tips and ideas.

Sheryl Feinstein  R&L Education    isbn: 978-1-60709-118-9


“The New Science of  the Teenage Brain” 

Article in National Geographic, exploring recent discoveries in teen neurology.  You can find it online here:


The Parenting Book

First class book which covers all aspects of parenting, from babies to teenagers and beyond.  Possibly the best book on parenting on the market right now.  Highly recommended.

Nicky and Sila Lee  Alpha  isbn: 978-1905887


The Brain Box 

Tim Benton and David Hodgson

See link here:


Do you talk teen?

9th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Parents


Confused by what your teenage son or daughter is doing online? The i published this handy guide the other day! You may find it useful to de-code what mischief they are actually up to!