PSLE Series - How We Learn English

I must admit that Primary School English these days is so much more difficult than what we learnt in our own Primary School years. We never had Comprehension Cloze! We never had Editing! We never learn the word “Prospectus” and whatever is that? We only know MCQs, Comprehension, perhaps some fill in the blanks but with helping words and we only know the word “Leaflet“.

If my own English is not good enough to score a Primary 6 Exam Paper, how do I teach this subject to my girl, especially when we have no tuition?

I am currently learning along with my kids whenever I teach them on this subject. I feel that I am re-learning English all over again and I am appreciating the specific usage of tenses, and even simple things like punctuation! I find myself flipping through the dictionary often and explaining the meaning to Missy 12, sometimes in Chinese. Apparently my Chinese is better than English by a great margin. Maybe because Chinese is so much more straightforward without complicated Grammar rules and phrasal verbs. I feel so paralyzed by my lack of English vocabulary words that I regret tremendously not having read enough books when I was young.

Hence, my number one advice in learning English is really to READ MORE BOOKS! No hard and fast formula, just READ, READ and READ!

Kel and I decided to devise an English learning plan for Missy 12 starting from January this year. It is kind of late and we get interrupted on our schedule due to the intensive volleyball training that sees my girl returning late and tired. I have yet to see results since there is only one school test so far, which is taking place as I type. But I have certainly put more ticks than crosses on Missy 12’s English assessment book lately, and that has been encouraging enough to raise her confidence.

I will be elaborating on a few methods that are shared by kind friends and even strangers. Although some are not yet tried and tested on my girl yet, I would still wish to share with you as maybe some of you are struggling like us on doing a crash course on English and would not be able to wait for our verdict at the end of the year. I would suggest that if you do use these methods, please DO NOT bet 100% on them to create miracles over a short time. You can, of course, use them as a guide or try them out on your own, or tweak them to suit your child’s learning ways as you wish.

Our Daily 30 minutes English Revision

I use the Longman Mastering English Grammar & Vocabulary book recommended by a good friend (The picture below from Google image shows Hodder Education, but it is the same. Popular Bookstore is selling Longman publisher). It is separated by topics and each topic has exercises to test the understanding of the student. I also bought a Complete Practice Book for Grammar, Vocabulary & Comprehension to help me test my girl’s understanding of what was taught.

                                           Longman Master English Grammar and Vocab   Complete Practice book for Grammar and Vocab

First of all, I assign each topic, for example, Nouns, to be taught by me in one week. Then once the topic on Nouns is completed, we concentrate on the Complete Practice book on the second week on the same topic, Nouns. Hence, this is a 2 weeks block for each topic. If the topic needs more time, for example, on Tenses, then it will be 2 weeks teaching, 2 weeks practices.

Secondly, I prep my girl that we will have daily 30 minutes of English revision. I emphasized that it will only be 30 minutes and not more than that, hence, she should be able to give full concentration during these 30 minutes. I find that prepping her on this revision plan helps greatly. Both of us know that it will only be 30 minutes and not more or less, as compared to a stretchable time period that may see both of us losing concentration and patience.

On the first week
For the first 15 minutes, I will be teaching a topic on Grammar and once 15 minutes is up, I will stop teaching.
For the next 15 minutes, she will start doing exercises in the Longman book for 10 minutes and final 5 minutes will be marking and explaining mistakes.

On the second week
For the first 15 minutes, Missy 12 will do as many exercises as she can on the Complete Practice book.
For the next 15 minutes, I will mark and go through the mistakes with her.

The above is our lesson plan for English revision. Both of us are surprised at how fast 30 minutes pass us by and the real challenge is calling it a day after 30 minutes! I have to stop my urge to continue beyond that but since I have promised that it will be a 30 minute revision, I have to keep to it.

So far, apart from some interrupted schedule like Chinese New Year break and days that she returned late and too tired for any revision, it has been working out fine for us. I can also see her improvement in understanding the topic more in depth. This is certainly better compared to my previous way of assigning numerous practices for her to do in the afternoon while I was at work and then marking the practices and explaining to her on another day. She has given feedback that she understands English Grammar better now than previously blindly doing assessment books.

Tackling Comprehension Cloze

This method is with courtesy from a close friend.
I learnt that most students fail this section badly, and perhaps including me too! There are no helping words and unless you read newspapers regularly and read widely, chances are the students will have no clue on what words to fill in.

Tips: I learnt that for each word to be filled up, there will be clues around the word to hint at the right answer. Although this is not always the case as some are phrasal verbs, this method can still be applied for most of the words. You can find these clues in 1-2 sentences before or after the word.
Below are some clues that I have tried to find with my girl. For example: the highlighted words are clue to the blank word, like “read and write” hints to you that the blank is “school“, “determination” hints that the earlier word is “determined“, “raked the ground” and “harvesting” hint that the next answer is “planting” the seeds.

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Memorizing Method

This method is shared by a stranger whom I had a chance to learn an unorthodox way of crash course English. I have not tried this method yet, but it seems a possible approach when one is running out of time. Do let me know what you think of this method!

Since we are talking about running out of time to clam all English words into the brain of a 12 yo, memorizing answers on practice papers may be a good way for some students. Basically, for all MCQs on English Vocabulary or Grammar options on practice papers (In this case, we bought the English set of practice papers called “Primary 6 English Exam Package by PhD Education” from Popular but have yet to try it out), parents can highlight the right word option in yellow and write down the meaning of the word beside the right word. So, that means that Parents have to be diligent to DO the practice paper for the child! For the rest of the wrong words, the stranger shared that there will be NO TIME to go through them and those will not need to pay attention to. In fact, highlighting in yellow aids the child to remember better and whenever the child comes across the same sentence or similar phrase, he or she will be remembering that this “Right Word” will go hand in hand with these words before and after. Whoa! Does this even make sense?

Now before you go all out to dismiss this unorthodox method, let me share a success story of a Korean family whose son joined his Secondary 1 class in June, half way into the academic year for the first time in Singapore. Everyday, his stay home mother would spend time to underline words in a comprehension passage or books that she thought her son did not know and write down the meaning of the word in a separate notebook. When the father came back from work, he would spend time going through these words and his son would re-read and memorize till he understood the words and sentences. This went on for 3 months before the son took his first English examination. Guess what? He did it well enough to move on to Sec 2! This is from a boy who did not know much English to taking English medium classes and passing an English Exam within 3 months period!

So perhaps this unorthodox method may help for some.

Composition

My girl attended the Marshall Cavendish Education PSLE English Workshop for students. They shared about plot twists and My “Friend Has Diarrhea” way of concluding plus some Synthesis tips. I shall not repeat them here. You may check out the post here for what she had learnt and happily applied to her recent Composition Test.

That’s all for my sharing of teaching and learning English at home. Do you have tips and ideas on tackling the English Paper? Please, please share with me and all other readers so that we can learn from each other!

Disclaimer: These methods are not meant to be in any way official guides to learning English. Some are tried and tested and some are not. Some methods may work for me but may not work for you. I do hope that by sharing some of the methods that I have heard and used or not used, some parents out there may find them beneficial for their children. I really welcome comments and even your own tips, so that whoever reads this post, is able to learn and hopefully take away some positive ideas 🙂