Support your child with spelling


Imagine trying to write in a different foreign language every time you wrote something. Think how difficult that would be. That’s how I heard reading and spelling described to be by one dyslexic learner.
A key point you need to remember before a child can start to learn to read or spell is that they need to recognise what each letter or blend of letters stands for. For most people reading or spelling the word ‘shout’ is probably fairly easy as it can be broken into manageable frequently used letter blends: sh/ou/t.
Ensuring your child has a confident knowledge of these blends will set you off in the right direction. If necessary go right back to the beginning and practice/learn the sounds that each individual letter in the alphabet makes. (At the end of this section I shall give you some ideas of games to play to assist you with this).
Once the child is confident with each individual letter; start working on the simpler, most common blends. By working through them in a systematic order will give your child confidence as it will support them in reading and spelling a larger number of words rather than choosing blends at random. You will no doubt find that your child is already familiar/ confident with some of the blends and you can skip over them fairly rapidly. Others you will need to spend more time on. Before you start looking at these blends please do ensure your child is confident with spelling simple cvc (consonant, vowel, consonant words; cat, dog, hen, ten…) as rushing too quickly ahead now will have detrimental effects as you try to progress on. Trying to run before you can walk, nearly always ends in failure.
Where to start:
1. Once you are confident your child is familiar with every individual sound in the alphabet and can spell simple cvc words, move on to double letter blends where each letter in the pair has the same sound: -ll, -ss…
Show them how to blend the sound (let the letters run into each other) before introducing them to words. Although there are obviously more, these two blends alone will assist with spelling/reading words such as:
Bell, bill, fill, hill, ill, kill, mill, pill, till, will, well, tell, wall, tall, fall, doll.
Boss, loss, toss, kiss, miss
This has already introduced the child to many new words.

2. Next move on to groups of words where the sounds are made up of single consonants such as: cl, tr, br, dr,
cl tr br dr
Clever Trot
3. The next closely related group is –ck. Two different letters that create the same sound: duck, truck, muck, pack, sack, lock, dock

4. The next group of words are those which start with two consonants that make different sounds: st, sp, tr, gr, pl, fr, sl, tw, gl, sn, sw, dr, fl, sk, cl. As you can imagine this opens up endless new opportunities for words. In the table below are just a few examples from the many available:
st sp tr gr pl fr sl tw
stun Spell
spot Trip
tram Grip
Grit Plod
plug frog Slam
slop Twin
gl sn sw dr fl sk cl
glum Snip
snap Swig
swam Drop
drag Flag
Flop skip Clip

5. This then leads us on to words that end in two syllables that make a different sound. Again these open up endless possibilities: -st, -ck, -lt, -sk, -ft, -nt, -mp,
-st -ck -lt -sk -ft -nt -mp
Nest Duck
Sent Camp
6. Moving on we come to: sh, th and ch. Start with words that start with these sounds first, then look at words which end with these blends
7. Having mastered the above 3 blends, look at wh.
8. The next set of words is the ing words and this introduces many words which by now will be fairly easy to read: ring, sing, bring, fling, king, bling…
They will also notice that many of the doing words (verbs) end in ing: singing, bringing, talking, snowing, jumping and walking. Again the list is endless.
Here you will also need to point out that many of these doing words (verbs) double the last consonant when the ing is added: running, swimming, stopping, skipping and slipping.
Most of the time the rule:
Double the last letter when adding “ing”
will work, and is a great guide to go by.

9. Next come the vowel blends: ee, ea, oo.
“ee” and “ea” are tricky as they have the same sound, so start with ee and then move on to ea rather than trying to tackle both at once.

10. “-ar”, “-or” and “-er” are the next set of words to focus on. This set of blends includes words such as:
ar or er
Hard Or

11. The “magic –e”.
This really is a tricky concept to understand that the e at the end of the word, is affecting the sound of the vowel with in the word. Normally, the rule is when a three letter word has an e at the end of it, the vowel name is used instead of the vowel sound (a becomes ay).
An example of this would be: hop +e = hope.
Again please do wait before introducing this concept to your child as it is an important one to grasp and rushing in too soon will just cause frustration and undo all your good work up to this point.
12. Finally we are left with the silent letters, augh (laugh) and ough (cough), ph when it sounds like f and the soft letters such as g in gentle.

How do we teach these sounds?
As the child learns these blends, point out to them how a word can be broken down into individual blends making it more manageable. Always, support them if required. Remember to build their confidence: as the theory of self-fulfilling prophesy suggests: if you believe you are able to do something you are more likely to succeed. Equally if you do not have this confidence in having the ability to succeed, the likelihood of success if dramatically reduced.
Below I have outlined some of the more popular games I have used in my lessons. Obviously you may want to tweak them to suit your child’s own individual needs. But hopefully they will give you food for thought:

Create two playing boards. On each one put a word belonging with that particular blend in each square. You then have two options:
1) Create a set of cards with the same words on as the ones you used on the playing boards, or
2) Create a set of cards which have a picture pair for the words mentioned above. Eg the word sheep would be matched up to a picture of a sheep.
You then lay all the individual playing cards face down in front of you. You turn it in turns to turn one over. The person who has the corresponding playing card on their playing board covers that word on their board. You may need to help read the words for the child. You don’t need to be a great artist to create this game as it can be done through simply pasting images from Google if it is for your own usage.

Similar to above except, this time all the cards are cut up into individual playing cards. They are all laid face down in front of you. You need to turn over a corresponding pair (2 matching words or a matching word and picture). Don’t use too many words as the game becomes too complicated and too timely. This is a great game for helping with short term memory issues.

Fishing game:
Again this is a similar idea to above. This time each word and picture is stuck to individual paper fish. Each fish has a paperclip slipped through it. Make a rod (I use short garden canes, with a piece of string attached to one end. At the other end of the piece of string I attach a small magnet which can be brought quite cheaply). Lay the fish out on the floor (I normally have them facing up, but this is entirely up to you) then take it in turns to “fish” out a corresponding pair of fish; matching word and picture or two matching words.
Write a selection of short riddles based around the blend you are learning. Ask the child to complete the riddle using the correct missing word. If you are doing this, it is always advisable to have the words written on the page so the child can copy them to assist with their spellings.
Word searches?
I’ve put a question mark next to this as some researchers argue that given a dyslexic child a jumble of letters and asking them to find specific words is not to be recommended. However, I have found that most children enjoy doing word searches, and if you do it yourself and set it at a level your child will not find too difficult they can then participate in activities similar to every other child. Work with their abilities.
Make a phonics book:
Buy or make a cheap notebook. On each page put a letter blend at the top of the page as a heading. Each time a child learns a new word or blend, ask them to write the word down on the appropriate page. Maybe they could draw a picture next to it, or cut out a relevant picture from an old magazine. This can also be adapted to making posters.
I have chosen these six activities as children I have worked with have enjoyed them. And, like I have said previously, I am a firm believer that if a child is enjoying themselves, they are more likely to be relaxed and to be in a suitable frame of mind to learn.
I have put together handmade phonics packs which include each of these activities (apart from the phonics books) and are available to buy through my website if preferable to making them yourself.

Can anyone recommend an 11+ tutor? TIA

looking for an 11 plus tutor tia

Choosing a tutor for your child is a big thing.

There are so many considerations and so many variables.

Imagine you are going on a picnic and you ask a group of friends’ what type of bread they recommend for making the sandwiches.
One friend might respond that white bread is best. That’s the only bread their children will eat.
Another will suggest brown bread, it’s the healthier option.
“Best of Both” might be suggested as a good compromise.
Someone else may say you shouldn’t have bread, it’s too high in carbs!
This is a simple question which is really very trivial, but each friend has given a completely contrasting answer.

Imagine the implications when the question is as important as “Can anyone recommend a tutor?”
That’s why I’ve put together this list of points I think it is worth considering for yourself before making a commitment.

Once you think you have found a suitable tutor, look at their website, speak to them, ask if you are committed to a set number of lessons before you commit.


A key question is what do you want the outcome of the 11+ to be?

This sounds ridiculous but it’s something that a lot of parents speak to me about.
Some parents are completely focused on their child getting into a specific grammar school. In their mind there is no other reasonable option.
Other parents have spoken to me about the evils of the grammar school system and the prospect of sending their child to such an “institution” would be like committing child abuse!
Then, there are the parents who want to leave as many options open for their child as is possible. They appreciate that not every child is destined to go to grammar school but they want to give their child every opportunity. As long as their child is happy though, they are happy. (Though I often thing these parents do have a slight preference).

When my oldest daughter went into year 6, we had just moved back down here from Yorkshire, where they didn’t have the Grammar school system. We decided it wasn’t fair to throw her into a formal test within weeks of starting a new school. We were confident that Lord Williams would be a good school and she would be happy there. We were not aware that entering the 11+ was the norm, rather than just be the top few.
A year later, my son came of age to do the 11+. My (ex-) husband and I couldn’t agree on the route to take. His belief was Lord Williams’ had been good enough for him, it would be good enough for his son to. My opinion was doors should be kept open. We agreed that he would sit the 11+ with no tuition and preparation. If he passed on his own merits, we would consider the grammar school. A week before the exam we looked around the Grammar school and loved it. He sat the exam and missed the pass mark by 3 points. We had agreed we wouldn’t appeal and he went to Lord Williams’.
2 years later… My youngest daughter came of age to sit the 11+. We had the same debates with the same outcomes. Literally! With no tuition or preparation, she failed by 3 marks – and went to Lord Williams.


Why am I telling you this? Over the years I have kicked myself and asked whether we should have appealed. Should we have entered Clara? She has an amazing eye for detail and would no doubt have breezed the non-verbal reasoning but fallen flat on her face with the spellings. Should we have got them a tutor, spent more time preparing them ourselves? I don’t know.
What I do know is that our former neighbour of ours when we lived in Yorkshire was the head of department in a well-regarded secondary school. His attitude was a dedicated child will do well wherever they go. A child who is not motivated will always struggle.
Now with the benefit of hindsight and many conversations I’m happy with the choices we made. All 3 have done really well (Clara works as a Business Manager at the head quarters of a national company, after his GCSE’s (at Lord Williams’) Jamie excelled at his A’ Levels (At the Floyd Grammar School) took a gap year to Australia before coming back to do Economics at Manchester. (Which in all fairness he really didn’t enjoy. He is now doing Geography and Development at UEA is amazingly happy and has been to many places around the world doing voluntary work).

Angel, matched Jamie’s A’ Level results (but stayed at Lord Williams’ to do them) before taking a paid internship in Parliament and now works as a lobbyist for “Shelter”. She debates on a daily basis, whether or not to go to Uni. As a parent am I proud? Very.

Could they have done better? Not in my eyes because each one of them has been able to do what has made them happy. Would going to a grammar school have made a difference? No, I don’t think so.

Once you know where you stand with the outcome it becomes easier to choose an appropriate tutor.
But you also need to bare in mind, whether your child has the same commitment that you have.

Taking the 11+ is a big commitment.

It will take more than just an hour a week with a tutor. You will both need to dedicate time, energy and money.
I know a lad who was tutored EVERYDAY by his mum for 2 hours (no exception). He passed but he was already labelled as gifted and talented in several subjects, yet that was the dedication needed.
I know another family who I started tutoring when she was in year 2. I thought it was just English, but it quickly became obvious it was for the 11+. She had already had to quit her clubs that she attended and had a huge pile or work books to work through. She attended Kumon and a second tutoring establishment. She and her parents, were dedicated. She failed (though got in on appeal). I genuinely believe she burned out before the actual exam.
Another lad, whose brother I tutored maths, started working with me for an hour a week from Easter of year 5. The parents were very much of the view he was a clever lad and they just wanted to leave options open for him.
They brought him some books and I spent an hour a week with him (often in the garden) between holidays. After the exams were over, the parents offered me the books as they had hardly been opened. He passed with flying colours!

Everyone is different.

How we learn also differs for everyone. This will also affect the tutor we choose.
The tutor we choose will, I suggest be influenced by the following 3 personal factors.

 I believe you need to consider the following points, when deciding which tutor is the best fit for you and your child:


Where do you want the lessons to take place?

Online? These will be cheaper but the resources available will be a lot more restricted.
In a tutoring centre or at the tutor’s house? Or in an ideal world would the tutor travel to you?
(I’ve written a much longer handout on this, drop me an email and I will happily forward it on to you:


What is your budget?

If you are hoping to pay little more than £10/hour, you are probably looking at online lessons with a student.

The next step would probably be group lessons in a central location where you have the benefit of the tutor present to support the child as they work through the resources.

The other option, which is probably the most expensive option is to have a tutor come to your house and offer a one to one lesson that are completely focused upon the needs of your child. (We charge from £30/hour for this).


How does your child learn?

When I was at school, I loved covering the table with books, making notes and writing! If I proposed this to any of my children, they would think I was insane!
We all learn differently. Some people like to work through text books, some like to play games and do quizzes. For some people a black biro is suitable for everything, for others a range of coloured pens and coloured paper is what’s needed to complete the task.
You need to ensure the tutor you choose, uses a teaching style that supports your child’s learning. I believe that a range of resources work best (again I have written about my opinion on this, many times in the past so I will not go into it in great depth now, but if you do have questions, please do ask).
I’m guessing this has thrown up a million more questions and you are now even more confused. But I hope it has given you food for thought. If you do have any questions, please do get in touch and I will do my best to answer them.

Good luck in making your choice!

As a parent what can you do to help your child through the 11+?

As this year 6 parents breathe a sigh of relief as the 11+ comes to an end, the year 5 parents take in a sharp intake of breath as they realise what is dawning!

As a parent what can you do to help your child through the 11+?

These are some of the activities that we do at Starr Tutoring. I hope they offer you some inspiration.

Obviously encouraging your child to read is going to support them in all areas of their lives. It will boost their abilities in spellings, grammar and punctuation.


Confidence with the times tables will also help your child through life and help with the fundamentals of maths. I won’t go into the games we play here as I have talked about them previously in many other blogs, the most recently being:



There is a long list of words (100+) that I have downloaded from the net


What I have done is split this list into smaller lists. I have then split these into groups of about 12 words. Each sub set I have then made into pairs games. I have used definitions from the Oxford English dictionary to achieve this. The aim of the game is to create a fun way of expanding the child’s vocabulary. Many of these words are quite obscure and not used often in modern day English.

Children are normally more receptive to doing something more than once when it is fun. This repetition will help reinforce the child’s knowledge of these words.


Spot the difference is a great way to help your child easily spot the difference in patterns and sequences.Sudoku is another brilliant way to help your child spot number patters,
The brilliant thing about these is that they can be purchased for very little money or downloaded for free.
Taking a leap back in time Rubix cubes are also great at helping children solve problems and master the skills needed in non-verbal reasoning.



Rummikub was introduced to me a couple of years ago and along with being a truly addictive game, it is also a great way to practice simple number sequences.
There is a word version which is equally fun and a really a good way of looking at spellings and vocabulary. Bananagrams and scrabble are also great games for playing to assist in these areas.

To support spellings, I often take the list of words we are practising. We then choose one of the words from the list, take the letters needed to spell the words and mix them up. You then pass them to the other person who has to rearrange the letters and work out what the words is.


5 Minute Challenge.


I have also created a selection of 5 Minute Challenges (challenges NOT tests). It is simply a sheet of A4 split into 4 columns and approx.12 rows. In the first column on the left-hand side I will write a category:

Synonyms for xxx
Antonyms for xxx
Places beginning with xxx
Words ending with xxx
Things you would find in xxx

You then have 5 minutes to think of 3 words for each category. The aim here is to get the child used to working in timed conditions. If you both do it together you can compare answers at the end making it more enjoyable.


I hope these ideas get you started and offer some inspiration.

There is also a huge range of books that can be purchased and worksheets that can be downloaded on line.

Good luck and if you have any questions, please do comment below and I will do my best to answer. If you think these ideas would help someone else, please do share the link.

Best wishes