Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, July 2017

Letters from a Lighthouse, by Emma Carroll (Faber).  July 2017.

I read Emma Carroll’s first novel, Frost Hollow Hall, and loved it. It was clear then that she was destined for great things as a writer. This is a story set in World War II, but it isn’t just another ‘evacuation’ novel. It is great for background reading of the events of the time and it touches on some deep themes that are very relevant today. You find yourself drawn to the characters because they are so well-rounded and believable. This is a book with everything for the young imagination:  a mystery, the drama of war, evacuation to Devon and a lighthouse!  

I wouldn’t mind betting that this book becomes a rich source of texts for comprehensions of the future.  A modern classic and a great summer read for competent younger readers aged 8/9 -11.



Story Writing for Exams

Story writing for exams.

Story writing comes with practise, so the more you write the easier it becomes to think of ideas. The difficult bit is coming up with those ideas –especially in a short space of time.

Use your own experiences and bits of other stories. It’s OK to borrow ideas as long as you change them a bit:

1. Make a plan – especially the first and last paragraphs.
2. Always finish.
3. Keep it neat.
4. Have 5 – 10 power words in your head that you know will impress and that you can spell.
5. Don’t lose marks for careless grammar and punctuation.
6. Balance the story in 5 paragraphs.
7. Stick to the title. Don’t make too much happen, but keep the story interesting with similes, senses and descriptions.

A story should flow with each paragraph leading to the next.

That’s it, piece of cake really...

VA Richardson

Yellowbird Education

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, June 2017

DOTTY and the Calendar House Key: by Emma Warner Reed.

This is a magical, fantasy adventure for 8-12 year olds (although the young at heart will love it too). It is the first in the DOTTY Series (paperback – Nov 2016) and it is a great read. I think it works for both boys and girls, but especially girls.

Story in brief: tragedy strikes and poor Dotty is sent away to live in a huge, sprawling mansion in the depths of Yorkshire. It’s set in the winter around Christmas time and the early evenings add to the sense of gloom. The house is a spooky place with strange scratching noises coming from the fireplaces and out of the dark in the chimneys.

It’s a fun book, though, and Dotty is a strong character. She explores on her rollerblades and Mrs Gobbings (the housekeeper) is also a great character. Cooking scenes are fun too. However, it’s the mystery that holds the reader. It is scary at times as Dotty tries to work out what’s going on. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil a very enjoyable read.  It’s Yellowbird Education’s book of the month.                                             

Viv Richardson


Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, May 2017

Unreal, by Paul Jennings. 

This is a book of short stories in the ‘Un’ series of books by Australian author Paul Jennings (some other books in the series are: Unbearable, Unbelievable, Undone). These books were published in the 1990s, but are still easily available and they are just as appealing to young readers today.

The stories are funny and irreverent, but, above all, they are great examples of well-crafted short stories. There’s a lot to be learned from the (seemingly) effortless way Paul Jennings structures the story... something that may help with compositions at school. 

Ideal for competent readers aged 9 up to 12 (and beyond).

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, April 2017

The Knights of the Drop Leaf Table, by Kaye Umansky.

8+ Reading Age 8

This April, it’s great to find a book we can recommend for reluctant readers and also for young readers with English as their 2nd language. This one will suit boys particularly. King Arthur is having trouble with his knights who are always pestering him. It’s a funny clash of personalities with a slight elbow in the ribs to the self-important. 

Barrington Stoke is an excellent publisher of dyslexia-friendly books and also for reluctant readers. It’s worth checking this publisher’s list out.

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, March 2017

Who Let the Gods Out? By Maz Evans.          Published Feb 2017 by Chicken House

This is Maz Evans’ debut and it’s great. Who Let The Gods Out? is a funny adventure story that will keep both boys and girls gripped.

The story in brief: Elliot is in trouble. His mum isn’t well, he’s in trouble at school and they have fallen on hard times. Things don’t look good for Elliot, but then a strange star crashes to earth. It turns out that the star is Virgo. She is a goddess on a mission to Earth. Elliot teams up with her, but they accidentally release Thanatos. Thanatos is a wicked daemon that has been imprisoned under Stonehenge. So they turn to the old Olympian gods for help.  Zeus and the other gods are enjoying retirement, but they return to help save the world. But do they still do that? And can they solve Elliot's problems while they do? Read the hilarious Who Let the Dogs Out? and you’ll see.

March 2017. Yellowbird Education Recommended Read for ages 9-12.

Joined-Up Thinking

“Finland has become one of the first countries to ditch joined up hand writing classes for young children in favour of teaching keyboard skills.” Daily Mail 1/8/15

Interesting choice of word “ditch”. To ditch means to leave behind, get rid of - to do away with the unnecessary. Admittedly, it was the DM’s choice of word rather than the education officials in Finland (whoever they are) but it immediately rang an alarm bell with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the purist, holier-than-thou crew that extol the virtues of some mystical connection between hand and brain – even though I happen to believe there is one. As a writer I admit I’m always at the keyboard. I couldn’t live without one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a biro too.

For me the idea that learning to write by hand is now suddenly irrelevant to our modern lifestyles simply because we use computers is just plain wrong. For a start the article claims that a third of adult respondents had not written anything “properly” (ie by hand) in the last six months. Well, that also means that two thirds had (written properly, I mean, assuming there was no one who didn’t know or wasn’t sure if they had written anything by hand).

The computer is designed to do a lot of our thinking for us. We Google everything we can’t quite remember mainly because we know Google will remember it for us. It was the computer that first made it possible for anyone and everyone to write a book – gone were the endless manuscripts (manu as in manual) and typed-up copies that made writing so hard most would-be authors gave up around about Chapter 3. Computers did away with 75% of the perseverance needed. Before computers writing was very, very hard work.

Why? Because when you write things by hand you have to think carefully before you start. You have to frame the sentences as well as the story. You have to get it right first time or start all over again. There’s no fall-back position with a pen, no cut and paste, no spell check, grammar correct, thesaurus. It all has to come from your head. In short you have to use brain power - writing by hand is a brain gym.

So this is why we would be very unwise to follow Finland’s lead and fly-tip cursive in some forgotten corner of our computerised world. We need to write more by hand and encourage our children to do the same: not because of some arcane wish to return to the sepia days of writing letters, but because it means we would all have to think more about what we are doing and how we are doing it. It’s not just about stringing words together, it’s about joined-up thinking too.

VA Richardson

Yellowbird Education’s Five Point Plan for surviving the 11+ exams

1. Year 5 is the key
Remember Year 6 is really only a term long because the exams start in early January. Actually only the first half of the Autumn Term is really very effective for extra learning because the children get very tired towards the end. The second half of the Autumn Term is often full of distractions: concerts, carols, bugs and colds etc..

2. Get ahead of the game
If you can start early do some work with your child over the Easter holidays and the May half term.  Everyone is fit and well and raring to go in spring and summer. It’s the best time to get ahead of the game while the pressure is still off.

3. Check progress
Mock exams are a great way to establish a starting point and then to monitor progress. They take place throughout the year at key times. They also soothe exam nerves and are good practise.

4. Identify areas that need support early
Nothing builds your child’s confidence better than by helping them to feel in control. The best way to build confidence is by incremental steps. Give your child a weekly boost throughout the summer in any areas that need support.

5. Don’t overdo it
Think: training for a marathon - you can’t sprint all the time. The brain is like a muscle, it needs constant exercise. The slow build up will bring your child to the peak of mental fitness for January.

Remember, from the end of January onwards they have the best year ever. Post exams, Year 6 is what education should always be – fun. And you’ll feel so much better too!

Comprehension Tips – 11 Plus

Here are some useful tips when taking your 11+ English Exam.


1. Before reading the text of the passage, read as many of the questions as you can. You might think this will slow you down, but in fact it doesn’t. It helps you to focus on the important parts of the passage when you read it.

2. Then read the passage: if you see something that you have read in the questions quickly mark the place in the margin with the number of the question.         

3. If you find yourself losing concentration – stop; take several deep breaths before carrying on. It’s important to read the passage carefully. It my help you to focus if you follow the words with your finger or pencil.

4. The passage is usually been taken from a book. ALWAYS read the name of the book. You will usually find this at the end with the name of the author. There may be a clue in it for the place or time.

5. Underline names when they appear. You are likely to be asked about the characters in the piece when answering the questions. If you underline the names you will find them more easily later.

6. Underlining names will also help you to use them if you are asked to continue the story in the composition.

7. Highlight or underline important words or phrases – but don’t underline everything!

8. If you don’t understand the meaning of a word try to read on to see if you can work it out. Do not get stuck . If you can’t work it out move on. 

9. When looking for answers in the text remember the questions usually come in order. This means you should find the answers to the first five or so questions at the beginning of the passage, the middle questions in the middle and the last questions nearer the end of the passage.

10. Be aware of the number of marks for each question. Always try to answer the questions with the most marks. It makes sense!


1. It’s OK to answer 1 mark questions with a single word or short phrase. Don’t waste too much time on the low mark questions. You don’t need to write out a full sentence it takes too long.

2. Look at the marks. With questions worth 2 or 3 marks you need 2 or 3 parts to your answer. These are usually straight forward questions like:

When the ship first started sinking what happened? (3 marks)

You are looking for 3 things that happened and you should write your answer as a full sentence. Your answer might read:

A. When the ship started sinking the siren went off (1), the people started gathering on deck (2) and the crew began launching the lifeboats (3).

3. High-mark questions: 5 or 6 marks+ are designed to test in-depth comprehension or understanding of the passage. You must have a go at these questions. They are usually near the end. This is how to answer them:


1. Make your point (1 mark).

2. Give an example to support your point from the text (1 mark).

3. Explain why you are using the example to back up your point (1 mark).

For example, if the question is:

Question: What indications are there that lifeboats were in danger of sinking? (6 Marks)

Make your point: The boat was full of people and the sea was rough.

Find an example in the text: “The water was splashing over the sides and slopping around their feet.”

Explain: When a boat is overloaded it sits low in the water and the waves splashed into it. If it starts filling up the boat will sink.

But remember you need 6 marks remember and you only have 3 so far!

So find another point: The people aboard the boat were upset and calling for help.

Another example: “A woman burst into tears and her husband comforted her.”

Another explanation: The people in the boat wouldn’t have been upset if they knew they were safe.

If you do this you will have 6 marks!                                                                                                     


Remember Comprehension means Understanding. The examiners want to know if you have understood the question as well as the passage.

Watch out for these key phrases in the questions and answer them correctly:

1. ‘in your own words’

2. ‘with reference to the passage’

3. ‘use evidence from the passage to support your answer’

If you see any of these in question then watch out! This is what they mean and how to answer them:

1. ‘in your own words’: rephrase the relevant part of the passage, but do NOT quote or use the words used in the text.

For example, if the text says: ‘The ship’s captain was a strong, silent man with a neat white beard and the crystal blue of the sea in his eyes.’

Don’t write:  ‘The captain was strong and silent with a neat white bread and his eyes were crystal blue like the sea.’

Why? Because you have used silent, crystal, strong, white and sea in your answer.

Try to make it more you: ‘The captain hardly ever spoke. He was a big man with a clipped beard that covered his chin like snow and his eyes were clear and pale blue like the sea.’

2.  ‘with specific reference to the passage’: they want actual references or reasons using evidence from the words in the text.

For example, don’t just say: the ship was sinking, say, the ship was sinking because of something (give the precise reason why). You can use words from the passage here, but remember to put speech marks if you use the exact words.

So your answer could be written:

either: The ship was listing badly to starboard and sinking because it had hit an iceberg and had was holed under the waterline. (words taken from the text: listing, starboard, holed, waterline).

or: The ship was, “Listing to starboard and sinking,” because it had been, “Holed beneath the waterline by an iceberg.”

3.  ‘use evidence from the passage to support your answer’: When answering this question always quote from the passage as in the second example above.

REMEMBER to look at the number of marks: you may need more than one example and/or quote for the answer.                                                                                                                    

© Yellowbird Education. Exam Help 11+ English 3.