Beast Quest Comprehension

bqcI’m not a literary snob, really I’m not – I’ll take a ‘thumping good read’ over a ‘short-listed for the Booker prize’ any day. Even so, when I began working with a child who hated reading but who said he was prepared to give the Beast Quest books a go, my heart sank. How on earth was I supposed to find anything of merit in Beast Quest?

The book Daniel* chose was Nixa the Death Bringer from the Avantia series. I decided to work on one chapter per one hour session, so I wrote down 10 questions for each one, which left time to read the chapter at the beginning of the session, and to make a prediction at the end as to what was going to happen in the next chapter. And so, with a sense of despair, I started reading it with a pen in my hand to write down questions.

Well…it surprised me!

Obviously I managed to write some retrieval questions – they were the easy ones. I hadn’t expected to be able to come up with much more than that though.

In fact, I was able to write a whole range from technique (Why did the writer use italics for this section?  What is the purpose of the ellipsis in the 2nd paragraph), to working out the meaning of difficult words (sliver, stifle, pinnacle), and inference (How is the character feeling at the end of this chapter? What makes you think this?)

There were opportunities for Daniel to give and justify opinions (Do you think the title of this chapter was a good one? Why (not)? Do you think the main character made the right decision at the end of this paragraph? Why (not)?) and also to pick out other people’s view points in the text.

There were chances for him to show his understanding by explaining what various pronouns referred to, some of which referred to things in the last or even last but one sentence.

I found examples of alliteration, similes, homonyms….even anthropomorphism!

As Daniel got quicker at answering the questions and at finding the evidence in the text to support his answers, we started to have a few spare minutes at the end of the sessions where we could look at short snippets from other books and even answer a question or two about them. The result? Daniel realised that not all books are boring…he has even started reading for pleasure at home! Last session he proudly told me that the previous evening, instead of spending all his time playing on his Xbox he had read the first 34 pages of Harry Potter.

I’m really glad I took a gamble on basing reading comprehension tuition around Beast Quest instead of just dismissing it out of hand.

* not his real name

For English tuition in the north Birmingham area (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Perry Barr, Streetly) get in touch via my contact page.

Grapefruit Grammar

A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a lesson on adjectives, in preparation for the children writing a poem later in the week. The plan I’d been given said “have a selection of different coloured items at the front of the classroom and get the children to describe them.”

First item up was a grapefruit. Now the children in this class are all EAL, and having just come back from a long summer holiday, none of them have been using English for several weeks, so this task was difficult. After pair talk and group discussion, they had come up with…… “yellow”! There the word sat, all alone in the middle of the board.

I managed to get them to add a few more to it by giving them choices: Does it feel rough or smooth? Is it heavy or light? Hard or soft? Warm or cold? “Yellow” was slightly less alone on the board, but we still weren’t awash with ideas.

In desperation I asked the TA if she could find a knife, and we cut the grapefruit into chunks and handed it round. Luckily it was a small class so everybody had a bit.

Suddenly the classroom was exploding with ideas. “Oooh, this is sour,” said one child screwing his face up.

“I like it – it’s juicy!” said another.

“It’s wet inside. I thought it would be dry.”

“It’s delicious.”

“My mouth feels funny – it’s all tingly.”

“Please can I wash my hands, Miss? They’re sticky.”

The board filled up really quickly – in fact I ran out of space – which just goes to prove that well-known rule. If you want to inspire children, bring food into your lessons.

 

 

How can I help my child with their English homework?

As a tutor, one of the questions I get asked most often by parents is, “How can I help my child with their homework?” They understand that they shouldn’t be doing the homework for their child, but are not sure how to go about supporting. My recommendation is to read through the homework yourself first, and then give your child a series of questions to answer.

For example if they have been asked to write a recount of an exciting day and they don’t know where to start, try breaking it down as follows.

Where did you go?
Who came with you?
What did you do in the morning?
What did you do in the afternoon?
What was the best bit of the day?

If their task is to write a review of their favourite book, you could break it down like this:

What is the book called and who wrote it?
Who is the main character?
What sort of book is it (adventure, mystery, horror, fairytale, etc)?
What’s the best thing that happens in the book?
Is the ending expected or a surprise?
Who else in your class would like this book?
Would you read another book by the same author?

In this way, you are giving them a framework to support their writing, but they are still having to think about how they will answer the questions for themselves, so the homework will still be their own work.

If you live in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton) and want to book a private English tutor for your child, contact me via my website.

Related post: How can I help my child with their maths homework.

Literacy in a School for the Deaf

Lessons are taught in a mixture of English, SSE (Sign Supported English) and BSL (British Sign Language) depending on the subject being taught and the needs of the class.

Literacy lessons are very visual. Just like in a mainstream school, teachers make use of cartoons and film clips to stimulate writing – the only difference is that here they  have to stand at the front of the classroom and interpret the film.

Independent activities are the same as ones you would see in a mainstream school: sequencing activities from film stills, comparing and contrasting two settings from a film and writing a word or sentence about them, drawing and labelling a superhero. The younger children copy words from a mini whiteboard (lower ability) or find the words they need in their own wordbooks. Older children write by themselves, asking for spelling as required. Words are recorded in wordbooks in writing (for spelling) and with a picture of the relevant sign (for recognition and understanding).

The children are also taught sentence construction, just as they would be in a mainstream school. They begin in the lower years by identifying the subject, verb and object and constructing simple sentences like “Jack plays ball”. Those children who have been brought up in a BSL household need practise with this order as it is different in BSL (which has the object first, then the subject then the verb). Each word is colour-coded, and the children have coloured cards blu-tacked to their tables to help them remember English word order.

Higher up the school they will come across words such as “a”, “the” and “is” – all tricky words for deaf children because they just don’t exist in BSL.

Many deaf children find it hard to understand that a thing (not just a person) can be the subject of a sentence, so this is something else that is covered in grammar lessons: The teddy bear is old. The ice-cream is cold.

Further up the school they learn how to use connectives, but again in a very visual way – for example pictures of various objects to choose one they like and one they don’t: I like ice-cream but I don’t like carrots. Connectives are also colour-coded, and those children that understand how to use them have the relevant coloured cards blu-tacked to their desks to help them order words correctly.

Related posts: Phonics in a School for the Deaf   Numeracy in a School for the Deaf xx