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 (

I am a List Maniac! Goals or Black Holes?

10th February 2016 | Tim Benton | Revision, Motivation


I don’t know about you, but I sometime struggle with motivation.

That might seem like a strange confession from a motivational speaker and writer, but it’s true.  Sometimes I don’t seem to be able to get started.

It’s easy to mistake this for laziness – I don’t do anything because I’m lazy.  Well that’s not really true.  If any of you have seen me work, you’ll know I’m pretty energetic, passionate about what I do and give it 100%.

Yet when I’m at home, with the day ahead of me, and much I could accomplish and should accomplish, it’s a different story.  I end up wasting time on stuff that really isn’t important at all.

What I’ve learnt though is this behaviour isn’t laziness, it is often just a symptom of my lack of focus.  I find it hard to get started, because I haven’t drilled down into the specifics of exactly what it is I have to do.

Imagine playing a game of football without any goal posts, or jumpers for goal posts.  You’d aimlessly run around, passing the ball from one to another, but not actually get anywhere. Maybe you’d get distracted playing a round of ‘keepy-uppy’. Maybe you’d just get bored and go off and do something else instead.  Ice cream, anyone?

We need goals.  Goals give us focus. Without goals, you’ll just find hours of your day will vanish into The Black Hole – you’ve no idea where the time went and you’ve done nothing.  The Hole has swallowed your life!

If you see four months ahead of you until your GCSEs or your A Levels, but you don’t know what you want to do next year, or beyond, you’ll struggle to stay motivated.  You’re essentially playing without goal posts.  It’s hard to get up each morning, slope into school, work hard in lessons, take the grief from teachers (and you know they don’t hate you, right?), come home and revise, if you don’t see the point of it all.

The students I meet who work the hardest and focus the most are the ones who know what they want.  It gives them the edge.  Great exam results, I believe, are less about intelligence and more about focus.

How much do you want it?  Is that sharpening your vision? Can you see the point?  Work out what is, for you, the Big Picture.  Then go for it.

But what about maintaining that focus? Well, mini goals are also important.  We need simple victories daily.  Teenagers, particularly struggle with conceptualising the future.  Long term is hard to get your head around.  Short term is easier. So start thinking about what you can achieve in the NOW.

I have an ongoing ‘To Do’ list on my phone.  I add to it daily. I tick things off it.  Sometimes I add things I’ve done already and then tick them off, to make me feel like I’ve accomplished even more!  That’s ok. It motivates me.

Maybe you need to do that too.  At the start of the week, make your To Do list and use it to focus your efforts.

Maybe think about the order of importance too.  Somethings need to be done NOW, others soon.  What about the things you really shouldn’t do?  Maybe they need to be on the list as well.  Why not have a ‘Must Not Do’ list too.  How about rewards?  Have you made a Would Like To Do list? Everyone needs down-time.  If you’re working hard six days a week, you deserve a day off.  You’ll also work better on the other six days if you do.

I’ve found the grid below is a really good method for arranging my priorities and helping me focus.  Try completing a matrix like this now, for this week. It will help.  What are your priorities (Have To Do)?  What is the stuff that isn’t urgent, but you need to be working away at it (Should Do)?  What will make you happy as a reward for working (Want To Do)?  What must you avoid – such as watching Netflix until 3am or playing FIFA until the small hours, sitting next to your mate in science who always distracts you and stops you working (Must Not Do)?

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 13.57.54

As for me, I need to crack on too.  I have a massive to do list and I’ve just got side-tracked writing a Blog.  But it’s all good – I’m going to add it to the Should Do column… and then I’m going to tick it!

Good luck!


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!

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:

Tear and Share

14th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Revision, Motivation

It’s good to work together.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

So divide up the work and put your heads together.


You learn one bit.


Your mate can learn another bit.


Then come back together and teach each other.  You’ll learn it because:

  1. You have to teach it.
  2. It’s easier to learn from our friends.


Tim Says:

I used to live in Dudley.

There were two year 11 lads there who were fast approaching their GCSEs.

They had to revise, but they’d rather play basketball.

So what did they do?

They took their books down to the basketball court.  One would ask the other a question.  If he got it right, he got a shot at the basket.  If he scored, he got to answer another question. If he missed, or got the answer wrong, they swapped.

Then more of their mates joined in.

Then their girlfriends came along too.

Soon there were about a dozen of them, at the basketball court, taking shots at the basket and quizzing each other for their exams.

And that’s how they did their revision: working smart. Not hard.


Teacher tip:

Why not have a mini basket ball hoop in your class?  If students get an answer correct, they have a shot at the hoop. Motivation!

Brain Box – A review “Highly recommended”


This Brain Box is a book that focuses upon guiding students through that sticky period of preparing for and taking exams at all levels. This encompasses presenting good learning habits and how they can become habitual and normal practice as well considering motivational issues. The book is written primarily for students as it is part guide, part notebook, part reference book. However, I would argue that the book would be of great use for teachers, as the book contains easy to implement activities, particularly for revision, which can be used in lessons for any subjects, as well as parents, as there is plenty of practical advice which can enable parents to support their child effectively in that nervous exam season. I would also add, that this book would be an ideal resource for any teachers who oversee their school’s PSHE programme, as the activities in this book can (and might say) should be implemented in a Year 11 PSHE provision.

The book is well structured and starts with considering effective habits of success and motivation issues, which are clearly rooted in theory and modern thinking as mindsets and the theory behind flow are covered extremely effectively here. Indeed, this resource would be very effective in a CPD session on how these ideas can be implemented in the classroom. Then, it takes us through exploring effective ways of working including some great strategies and the best explanation I have seen on how to use the popular idea of foldables. Then the book methodically looks at how to deal with revision, exams and results, which all students and parents should read as they would gain great advice and confidence from the information given here.

As with all Independent Learning Press books, The Brain Box is gorgeously and attractively designed which makes this wealth of great advice and information eye catching and well-structured. Benton and Hodgson have adopted an informal and accessible writing style which adds greatly to the value of this book and helps communicate a range of potentially challenging and demanding theoretical ideas effectively. This is a resource, which can help all those – teachers, parents, and, most importantly, students – who are stakeholders in the examination season maximise performance at whatever level they are at or role that they carry out. Highly recommended.

Reprinted from Jivespin

App, App and Away!

11th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Revision

Revision has changed! 

These days there are so many new apps and websites to help you navigate your way through the madness of revision, and more and more are coming on the market all the time..

Here are a few we’ve discovered to get you started (we’ll add to this page over time – let us know if you find any other great apps or sites that work well for you, and we’ll share them):



Revision Buddies

Top 20 Revision Tips App

Learners Cloud

Collins Revision App

GCSE Exams


GCSE Revision App

Ultimate Revision App

Simple Mind (for mind mapping)

Evernote (keep all your notes in one place)


Maths Alarm Clock (if you struggle to get up – solve a maths problem to turn off the alarm!)

Timeline Maker (organise events in order – can be printed too)




CPD Revision Guides

Revision World

Get Revising (pay site, but lots of user driven content)

BBC Bitesize

My Maths

Education Quizzes


Badger Learning

Blue Caterpillar (obviously!)


If you struggle with online distractions, try this software:

Mac – Self Control

PC – Cold Turkey

The software blocks chosen websites for a certain period of time.


More revision app ideas:


How to make an revision planner (also see our Brain Box book):


To get you thinking about podcasts;

Here’s a teacher whose made a load of history podcasts and put them on iTunes!  You could do the same and, if they’re good, you’ll make some money at the same time! Win-win!


Happy searching!