English inspirations – for bored children and anxious parents!

Breathe Stories!

Read something imaginative, such as CS Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ series, which is wholesome family reading, or Tolkien”s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ or Philip Pullman.

Read JK Rowling’s play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child together as a family, taking parts.

Read short stories – an excellent way of encouraging short-story writing.

Read together as a family, read to your children.

Listen to a wonderful storyteller, such as Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter – wonderful for long car journeys.

Visit a physical library such as Waterstones and ask for recommendations – librarians are wonderfully knowledgeable about young people’s books.

Tell stories – to your children about their childhood or yours.

Create stories about absolutely anything – the cow in the field, the pilot above, the family in the car next door, the baby rabbits nesting in the garden centre…

Create a family story: one person starts with an opening line and take it in turns to continue the story. Then try with the same first line and change the genre.

Watch stories come to life!

Go to the theatre– for instance The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park to see stories enacted.

Watch films – not just in the cinema, but choose classics as an introduction to great literature.
Write a playsciptf or your family or friends to act out.

Stimulate vocabulary:

Have a colour day: how many different shades of green can you see and name?
(Use paint cards, crayon names and synonyms. Hint: colours are often compared to food, vegetation or jewels.)

Have a shape day, a sound day, a smelly day, a touching day….

Collect homonyms …can you make up jokes or puns using them?

Create newspaper headlines for the day’s events: can you make them alliterate or exaggerated?

Play a guessing game: describe an everyday object without using its name or use: refer to colour, size, weight, touch, scent. Comparing it to something else can be both helpful and mischievously off-putting!

Take clichés, idioms or similes and turn them into your own original creations.

Have a rhyming hour – every sentence needs to end with your chosen rhyme.


Find instructions on anything: cereal packets, toys, notices and try to turn them into a rap.

Make up a series of haiku on a theme: sweets, dogs, balls…

Write someone else’s diary – a character from your book, your pet, a coin…

Write a thank you letter to someone who deserves it.

Most of all, play with words and have fun!

About a boy…

Let me introduce you to Isaac. I met him when he was fifteen going on sixteen. He attends a very good school with competitive entry but, not unlike many young lads, was disaffected with much of his academic study. He was, however, unhappy to be scoring D grades in his English class papers and school exams.

His parents spoke to me about his lack of motivation and asked if I would help him.

Three lessons later, he turned to me in wonder, declaring that he was actually enjoying the poetry we were studying.

We then planned a piece of reflective writing which he decided to base on a rugby match where a last-moment try won both the match and a trophy. Later on that term he used this as the inspiration for a controlled assessment at school based on memories. He was awarded an A grade.

He then asked me to help him with his school text ‘ Of Mice and Men’ as he had to redo his assessment, having underperformed initially. We discussed a chapter at a time, with tailored revision notes for support, culminating in a discussion on the role of Lennie. Some weeks later he casually told me that he had scored an ‘A’ in this recent assessment. He hadn’t even told his parents yet! I watched his elder sister’s jaw drop as he then informed his family.

At very short notice I was then asked to help him think through the relationship between Lord and Lady Macbeth in comparison to Carol Ann Duffy’s Miss Havisham. We had a couple of intense sessions brainstorming ideas, looking at passages and analysing the poem. After sitting his third controlled assessment at school his teacher took him to one side and congratulated him on his essay. Today, in the middle of a lesson on how to write persuasively he interrupted, with a grin, ” Oh by the way, did you know that I got an A * for my Macbeth assessment?”

The final proof, of course, is in the examination score.

Predicted a hopeful ‘C’ he actually achieved an ‘A’!

It is hard to say who is the most pleased: the young man himself, his teachers, his parents or his tutor!

All this lad needed was some targeted teaching, some confidence and some help with structuring his writing. He no longer needs my help – he has the confidence he can do this himself. Job done!

1:1 teaching allows time for an individual response tailored to suit specific requirements and for maximum results.

Can good English only be British?

I have been saddened by the announcements that American classics such as

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Crucible’ are to be removed from the GCSE English syllabus.

While Michael Gove may not personally have liked these texts, countless generations of pupils have learned so much more than ‘American English’ from these fine examples of social commentary and literary craftsmanship.

So many, myself included, claim ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as our all-time favourite novel. Of immediate relevance to emerging teens it has even more resonance for parents, especially single parents and victims of social injustice. But this is far more than a moral guidebook, important as that aspect is. This is a beautifully written, carefully plotted novel that justifies reading, rereading, teaching, learning and re-reading; with ever-growing appreciation for its wry humour and observational sure touch. A classic which is of its time but which transcends both time and place. What a shame to deprive British school children of the opportunity to appreciate this fine text.

The second named ‘banned text’, ‘Of Mice and Men’, is an extraordinary novella that has much to inspire the student of literature. This short story is beautifully crafted: framed with beautiful poetic descriptions that are not only symbolic but which demonstrate some of the finest, most original depictions of both nature and man I have taught. The novel is as much play script as it is prose; with depictions of room sets, gradual progression through the space of four days, artistic manipulation of light and sound effects and how they and the characters impact on each other.  Add to this a keen ear for dialogue and dialect, subtly shifting the readers’ interaction with the characters and yet again, an intense piece of social realism that while firmly placed in the American Depression is a universal exploration of the exploitation of workers, camaraderie, friendship and mis-placed hope.

‘The Crucible’ is, arguably, the most uncomfortable text of this blacklisted trilogy. Yet again, the inevitable rising of religious hysteria, fuelled by corruption amongst the powerful, is surely worthy of study in our times. The characterisation is powerfully depicted and the symbolism, parallels and contrasts that subtly set both scene and character against each other, repays close attention. The nuances of speech and rhetoric enliven the characterisation. This too is worthy of its classic status as a text to be studied as a fine example of historic re-enactment and compelling stagecraft.

While none of these texts are ‘British’ in origin, all three are written in the most compelling English. What a pity if we should determine texts by birthplace rather than merit. How would we feel if American schools removed the works of Shakespeare from their literary cannon? Should we dismiss

TS Eliot because he was born in America? By all means let us celebrate our best writers and be proud of our literary heritage, but let us not limit student’s horizons to the edges of our little island. The study of excellent literature should broaden and challenge both culturally and intellectually.

Ode to a Giraffe  by J Hain


Longest neck-owner in the world
Tallest animal of all time
Tiniest of dainty heads
Stretchiest of thin pink tongues
Titchiest of cute little ears
Spindliest of legs like stilts
In all, a superlative creature!

Are you reaching for the A* stars?

Are you ambitious?

You may be anxious because the amount of work covered in class is so great that neither you nor your teacher have the time to devote to as much detailed analysis of your texts as you feel you need in order to reach your potential.

You may have been stung by the recent changes in exam policy and had to abandon assignments you had already completed, leaving less time for preparing for the exams you will be sitting.

You may be feeling frustrated because you know you do not have a thorough grasp of your texts, be they poems, novels or plays.

You may want to do your very best in the GCSE’s or A Levels but feel that circumstances are conspiring against you.

You may think that asking for help is only for those who are really struggling.

Think again!

If you would like a helping hand to guide you thoroughly through your texts, showing you where and how you can improve your answers, practising exam questions with you, then you might consider contacting me. As a patient and experienced English teacher and examiner, I would be happy to help you achieve your ambitions. Do take a look at the testimonials page to see how other pupils have benefited from a little extra help with their English.



What are yours?

Are you challenged by the future  ….  tense?

Do you find your New Year’s resolutions hard to express?

I will…

I shall…

I hope to…

I most definitely shall…

If the future  makes you tense ...

…and the past  confuses you…

to  get a grip on grammar…

please  visit for more information as  to how I can help you untangle your presents from your past and future!

Are you afraid of the Unseen?

Are you facing the GSCE English poetry and prose paper with trepidation?

If poetry is just a jumble of words and random lines to you…
If you find it hard to untangle the meaning…
If you don’t see the point of it…
If a page of prose to explain makes you panic…
If you find it hard to unpack the paragraphs…

Then let me take the fear of that unseen paper away for you.
I can give you strategies to cope,
improve your confidence
and even help you to enjoy the challenge!

This is what a few recent pupils have said:

I am really enjoying the poetry section now “(GCSE student)

“You have given me real confidence in writing about poetry” (15-year old)

“My son was predicted C/D grades in English and has just achieved A/B with your help. Not only could he not have done it without your help, he grew in confidence and developed a real love for poetry with your enthusiastic support. We are thrilled with the progress he has made.” (2013 GCSE candidate)

To find out how I can help you, 1:1, by e-mail, Skype or Facetime visit:

Not sure which witch to use?


Bewitched, bothered and bewildered by spellings?

An experienced English teacher is available*
to help you make progress in this life skill
with a programme tailored
to your individual needs.

For more information visit via web, email or mobile
(sorry, no broomsticks yet!)
07960 377667
* 1:1, Skype and Facetime options

Keen to avoid apostrophe abuse in your writing?

Do you understand the rules as to when an apostrophe is to be used?

Using apostrophes correctly is a very confusing business because they can be used for:

  • Showing that something belongs to someone or something (possession)
  • An abbreviated word or phrase indicating that letters are missing (omission)
  • For an ironic or nuanced inflexion (otherwise known as ‘air quotes’)
  • For titles of books and papers
  • For quotations
  • For speech within speech

Do you know where to position apostrophes correctly?

When and where is an apostrophe relevant in the plural form of nouns?


Whatever your age, you too can have a high apostrophe IQ…