6 Easy Steps to Writing a Book Report

Tips On Writing A Book ReportWhat are the steps to writing a book report that will earn you an “A”? Check out these helpful tips from San Diego tutoNatalie S

Every student will be expected to write a book report at some point or another in his or her scholastic career. This is a great assignment for students who want to hone reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. Book reports often seem scary and overwhelming initially, however, if you follow these steps to writing a book report, you can easily and successfully complete your next report!

1) Pick a book that interests you.

Sometimes your teacher will give you an assigned book and other times, you’ll be allowed to choose the book that you want to write about. You’ll spend a lot of time working with this book, so make sure you pick one that you will really enjoy. Consider the type of genre that you like best. If you don’t know, think about the types of movies that you gravitate toward, and choose a book in that category, or ask your friends who their favorite authors are.

2) Read the whole book.

I know it may be tempting to just do a quick Google search for a summary of your book, but there really is no substitute for reading a book in its entirety. The main purpose of writing a book report is to build your reading comprehension skills; these skills will be important for all of your academic endeavors, so take the time to read the whole book. If you only read the summary, you will miss some of the small but important details that take place in the story. Online summaries should only be used if you’re confused about the plot or some other element of the book. They should be a supplement to the reading, not a replacement.

3) Take notes as you read.

Always read with a pencil in hand, especially when you have to write about the book at a later date. When you are reading, take notes in your notebook. Highlight, underline, and make comments in the margins. Did something significant happen in the plot? Did you notice a recurring theme? Write it down! Jot down anything that you find interesting in the book, and make sure to write down the page number as well. If you take notes as you read, you’ll have less work to do when you sit down to actually write your report, because you won’t have to hunt through the book for information.

4) Write your book report in chunks.

The best way to avoid procrastination is to break down the assignment and do it in three sections. Check out this story map graphic organizer, and use it as a guide for writing your book report. Read the first few chapters, and then stop and write about the beginning of the book. In part one of your book report, include a discussion about your main characters, the main conflict, the setting, and the first one or two most important scenes in the beginning of the book. Go back and read the middle chapters of the book, and then stop to write about the most important scenes leading up to the climax. Complete the rest of the book, and then finish writing about the climax and the resolution. Breaking these steps to writing a book report down will help you manage the assignment more easily.

5) Ask an adult to help you proofread.

After you’ve finished writing your report, make sure to ask someone to look over your work for any spelling or grammatical errors. Look for suggestions on writing style as well as issues with word choice and sentence structure.

6) Start writing your book report early.

You have to read an entire book, so don’t wait until the last minute! It’s too stressful to read and write a report in a few days. If you start when the project is originally assigned, you’ll have weeks to read. Instead of spending hours on it in one day, you can do short, 20-minute chunks every day.

Remember, if you need additional help with these steps to writing a book report, you can always find a TakeLessons tutor to help you successfully work through the process!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and test prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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3 Must-Read Books for Every Child’s Reading List

14331863909_d36505c11a_hNeed some reading ideas? Before you head to the library, check out some of the best children’s books in this guest post by New Milford, NJ tutor Matthew H...


Children’s books are a great way to establish good habits that kids will take with them throughout their lives. Reading not only helps develop strong vocabulary, but also makes it easier to learn new information and retain already existing material. Finding the right book for your child may seem like a difficult process because of factors like age, difficulty levels, genres, and interests, but some stories are just plain good. Below is a list of some of the best children’s books that are worth reading, even more than once.

“Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a genius storyteller and one of the great children’s authors. Many of his books are beloved by children and adults, such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Witches”. What makes “Matilda” the Dahl book to make this list is a bunch of unique qualities that adds to its timelessness. For starters, like all of Dahl’s stories, the book is filled with some truly memorable characters. Ranging from the bizarre and grotesque to the sweet and cuddly, you will find people to love and others you love to hate. Besides the somewhat magical title character, who is a great role model for both boys and girls, Mrs. Trunchbull is a great villain that readers will be captivated by. Noteworthy is one of the book’s themes of reading, so it reinforces the idea of reading as a tool that brings about great change and power. It was also recently turned into a Broadway musical, so along with the film version and books on tape, you have a whole collection of Matilda to supplement the reading experience.

Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series

The Wayside School books are a hilarious collection of books that adults can find just as amusing as children do. Louis Sachar is no stranger to the children’s fiction genre, with his novel “Holes” having two sequels as well as having been made into a Disney film by the same name. The Wayside series consists of five books that delve into the mysterious, magical, and wacky nature of the eponymous grade school. Primarily following the exploits of Mrs. Jewls’ class, these absurdist novels have a charm that is so distinct from anything else written, particularly for children. Imagine the television program “Adventure Time” mixing with “Zoo Story” and finally blending with “The Magic School Bus”. What’s great is that while three of the books follow a standard chapter book experience, although with high levels of critical thinking, humor, and abstract concepts, two of the series’ books are largely math and logic puzzles intertwined with related stories from the main characters. Thus, readers get a truly well-rounded educational experience that incorporates high-level thinking, comedy, and math. You might learn something from this just as much as your own children do!

“The Legend of Pearl Cave” by David Akseizer

David Akseizer is a new author who just released his first book. While “The Legend of Pearl Cave” may not have the same legacy as anything written by Roald Dahl or Louis Sachar, it’s a great read for 8-12 year-olds, especially those who are on the shy side. The book’s main character is bullied at school, which is difficult for most children in and of itself, but factor in that both of his parents died when he was young and that he has been raised by his grandfather, and you have a very trying childhood. What’s so good about this book, though, is that it never gets to be too heavy or depressing, and in fact inspires kids to find the courage within themselves to overcome whatever problems they face in life. There’s obviously a huge magical action/adventure component to the story, yet the characters are so relatable, you’ll find yourself completely empathizing with mystical creatures. With the author’s light touch, he juxtaposes many opposing ideas, such as humor and tragedy, fantasy and reality, and so on. It’s an excellent read for boys and girls, particularly those who might need a little push to break out of their shell.

There are so many different children’s books out there that are waiting to be read. Your children may have preferences and genres they gravitate toward, which is totally fine. The idea is to get kids reading, so if that means mainly sports books for your athlete or mystery novels for the budding detective, then so be it. The books listed above are all very distinct from one another, yet share something in common: the ability to get kids who might not normally be a reader interested in the unique stories. Each  is great because they impart life lessons that your children will take with them forever. And that’s what reading is all about.

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 



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5 Things Every Book Lover Can Relate To

Always have your nose in a book? Here, New York, NY tutor Lauren P. has rounded up a list of some familiar feelings most book lovers will relate to: 

1. The only time you truly feel regret is when you find yourself waiting in line or on public transportation without a book. A unique type of anxiety overwhelms you in those situations. The grocery store, airport security, train, or even being on hold on the phone are unbearable without a book to fill the time. The same feeling occurs when you have just finished a book during your outing and realize you forgot to bring a spare. Normally, if you have fewer than 50 pages left, you carry the next choice in your library to begin immediately. Otherwise, you find yourself reading about the author or flipping back to page one again.

2. You are not sure every person in this whole vast world has just one soul mate, but you know what might convince you. The only way you could believe someone was your one-and-only soul mate would be if moments after meeting, they happened to mention their favorite line from their favorite book, and it happened to be the very same line and the very same book that left lasting impressions on your own life. How could you not spend eternity discussing the social repercussions and perspective-altering epiphanies inspired by your shared readings?

3. You are completely and totally against Kindles. Why? There are several reasons.

First, you do not want your children or grandchildren to think about books the way you think about vinyl records. You do not want to have to explain to them what a bookmark or dog-eared page is. How could you relate to your own family members if such a world existed?

Second, you know the books you’ve read have made you who you are. You once again have your future, maybe-not-yet-existent family in mind, and you feel very strongly about sharing your books with them. You envision them scanning your bookshelf and spotting your favorite novel, pulling it off the shelf and being just as engrossed as you were. You do not envision this happening in a Kindle library.

Third, how would decorate your home without choosing your favorite books to stack on your bedside table, next to your couch, under the coffee table, on top of your refrigerator, and next to your television?

4. You tie all names in books back to real life. You cannot help but compare real people with their namesakes in your favorite novels. And every time you read a new book, you make a mental note whether any of the character’s names would be perfect for your future child, grandchild, or pet. You still hold out hope that you will find the perfect name in the pages of your favorite book.

5. Any ideal day, no matter the season or occasion, involves books. Your ideal vacation is spending a week lounging on the beach reading — you really do not want to go on that six-hour fishing charter or historic tour. You get anxiety for every moment that you are not enjoying the pure bliss of outdoor reading in the perfect combination of sunshine and breeze. Conversely, your ideal rainy or snowy day — that you sometimes feel guilty about fantasizing about on a beautiful summer weekend — is to spend all day under a blanket, next to a window, reading something cover to cover.

Most avid book lovers can relate to the above fantasies. A significant part of who you are is a result of the lessons, epiphanies, and knowledge gained through your extensive reading. Your view of the world, and your plans for the present and future, are always influenced by books.

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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The Music of Reading: How to Help Your Struggling Reader

reading skills

Is your child struggling with his or her reading skills? Here are some helpful tips from Brick, NJ tutor Elizabeth C. to incorporate music with reading…


Does your child know all the lyrics and melodies to their favorite songs yet can’t read a simple sentence? Is your child the one dancing in front of the television or computer copying the latest dance moves from a pop video yet can’t read a grade level book? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you have a “struggling reader.” If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you also have a musical learner.

Musically inclined children have a natural aptitude for rhythm and tone. These children also have strong audio discrimination skills that help them understand and retain what they hear (hence the ability to rock out to their favorite music). These skills, when recognized, can be utilized to foster reading development and written language fluency.

As a reading specialist and a piano teacher, I have encountered numerous students with these characteristics. Unfortunately, reading in our schools is not often presented as a musical skill, but a passive memorization of phonemic sounds and blends made into words that when combined make sentences that tell a story, share ideas, or give information. However, if we break down reading skills to a musical form, there are sounds (phonics), beats to words (syllables), rhythm of sentences (phrasing), and tone (expression/voice).

If you have a musical learner, by all means do everything you can to foster this gift. You have been blessed with a creative mind. Instrumental or vocal lessons are a great way to develop your child’s natural talents and expand their learning in both math and reading.

If your musical child is struggling to read, there are things that you can do to insure that your child’s reading experience is both musical and magical. The following suggestions are used almost daily within my classroom to reach those talented souls that have “rhythm and soul.”

When learning new words or sounds, have your child “sing” the material using a genre (e.g. opera, country style, hip-hop, rap, etc.). When my students learn their new words and sentences their favorite style is “heavy metal” (head banging and all!).
When learning new words, have your child tap their foot or snap their fingers for the individual sounds for blending. This provides rhythmic context for word reading.
For larger words you can have students segment the word by syllables. Have your child open one palm and make a fist with the other. To count how many “beats” (syllables) a word has you “beat the drum” while saying the syllables of the word. For example: personality = per (beat) son (beat) al (beat) it (beat) y (beat). Then ask your child how many beats are in the word. This skill teaches students to break larger words into parts, making it easier to read.
Sing your sentences!
Give your child the lyrics to their favorite songs and have them read and sing along. This creates the visual component of their audio learning and puts two and two together.
Last but not least, speak with your child’s teacher about your students’ strengths and ask him/her to provide musically based reading activities. You may also inquire if your district has specialized reading programs like Wilson Reading® that utilize rhythmic instruction with kinesthetic and spatial related activities.

The musical learner is a gifted learner. When educators and parents tap into this natural gift the learning can be enhanced and last a lifetime. The struggling reader can become fluent in reading text and reading music. When these skills come together the sky is the limit!

ElizabethCElizabeth C. teaches music theory and piano lessons in Brick, NJ. She is a state-certified teacher with extensive experience working with children of all ages, including individuals with special needs. Learn more about Elizabeth here!



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Writing Strategies: How Can a Writing Tutor Help My Child?


If your child is struggling with writing or reading, you may be wondering if hiring a tutor will help. Here, St. Paul, MN teacher Marilyn G. shares what to expect from a tutor, and how you can continue helping your child along the way…


I have been tutoring students periodically throughout my career. I started as an academic tutor for high school home-bound students in a local school district. Since then I have worked with students from kindergarten through adult who have wanted and needed to learn better writing skills to experience success at school or in the workplace. A tutor can help your child in any of the following areas.

1. Grammar:
• Different word types, nouns, verbs, conjunctions, pronouns
• Punctuation: commas, capitalization, quotations
• Sentence structure: subject or predicate, compound sentence structures, writing a statement versus a command or a question
• Vocabulary development

2. Paragraph development:
• Writing an introductory paragraph
• Creating a strong main idea statement
• Using details to support the main idea
• Using interesting, precise word choices
• Writing in complete sentences versus phrases or run-on sentences
• Writing a conclusion paragraph.

3. Overall organization of various forms of writing:
• 3-paragraph essays
• 5-paragraph essays
• Stories
• Non-fiction reports
• Varied forms (e.g. persuasive essays, descriptive essays, cause-effect, comparison-contrast, process analysis, narrative, poetry)

4. Big picture skills in writing:
• Audience
• Voice
• Theme
• Character development
• Settings
• Plot development
• Unity and cohesion

Writing strategies will vary depending on your child’s needs and interests, and most tutors will prioritize their tutoring around the areas which present the most difficulty for the individual student, or those that you as a parent request be specifically addressed. Once you and your tutor have determined what your child needs to work on, how can you as a parent help to teach those skills? Here are some specific writing strategies you can use to teach the skills listed above.

1. Teach your child how to use graphic organizers to help outline ideas. Graphic organizers will help your child get creative ideas out of their minds and onto paper. Combining the organizing requirements with their ideas is very empowering for children. Graphic organizers are especially helpful if your child’s first language is not English, if your child has any form of learning disability, if your child struggles with attention issues, or if your child is significantly below grade level. This task helps break the writing process into manageable steps.

2. Record your child retelling a story. Read your child a short story. Afterward, have him or her retell the story to you while you record it. Listen to the recording together and then discuss the main idea, characters, setting, and the conclusion of the story. This retelling and discussion will help your child internalize the structure of stories and writing, which is a helpful step not generally included in regular classroom instruction.

3. Co-write a story with your child. Doing this with your child can make the task fun and interactive rather than a “lonely” activity. Some kids need this personalized attention to help them improve their sense of being a capable writer. Silly stories, fairytales, and comics are all usually exciting for children. Type up a copy for you and your child, and hang a copy on the refrigerator, which will increase your child’s feeling of accomplishment. Over time, your goal should be to gradually encourage your child to do more and more of the writing on his or her own.

4. Determine the learning goal. Children struggling with writing can be overwhelmed with the many errors they know they’re making. To help, try working together with your child to pick one or two goals for each writing assignment. This eliminates the need to over-correct your child’s work, as you can quickly revise those parts of the assignment that are not stated as the goals you and your child have chosen. Discuss only corrections for the areas stated in his or her learning goals.

5. Choose a book that demonstrates the skill your child is learning and read the book together. Discuss how the writing impacts the story. How did the author convey sadness? Was this word the best choice in this spot? Reading and writing are inseparable, so read together daily when possible and share what you like and don’t like about how the story is written.

MarilynGMarilyn G. teaches math, reading, social studies, and ASL in St. Paul, MN. She holds an MA in English as a Second Language from Hamline University in St. Paul. Learn more about Marilyn here!



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Speed Reading – Can it Really Be Done?


Want to learn how to read faster? Tempted by all the promises of speed reading programs and classes? Find out if there’s truth behind the strategies in this guest post by Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R


Imagine a library full of frantic-looking students, their eyes darting back and forth as they flip through textbooks. These students are attempting the controversial art of speed reading. Unfortunately, many of these students will probably find that they remember very little of the information they are so busily scanning.

This begs the question: do these strategies for learning how to read faster really work? Or is it a fantasy thought up by busy students? Let’s explore the concept of speed reading, whether or not it works, and what might work better.

What is Speed Reading?

Speed reading involves quickly glancing through text. The goal of this type of reading is not to absorb every word. Instead, readers want to quickly understand the gist of the text. They want to be able to regurgitate important themes and summarize the text, even if they miss the details.

As you can imagine, speed reading only works in certain situations. Unfortunately, reading a textbook isn’t one of those situations. There are certain things you cannot scan through with good results.

Speed reading is best for simple reading, such as:
• Mainstream news articles
• Advertising emails and letters

Speed reading is bad for complex reading, such as:
• Textbooks
• Scientific articles
• Literature

Speed Reading Techniques

For lighter reading, here are some tried-and-true techniques that can help you glean the overall themes quickly. Although these techniques probably won’t help you read Chaucer any faster, they might help you clear your inbox or read the news in less time.

  • The glance-over: Look over chunks of text a few lines at a time, picking out important elements (such as nouns and numbers) as you go.
  • The diagonal: Cut a diagonal through each paragraph with your eyes, searching for these important key elements.
  • Just read faster: Look at each line individually, but at a very rapid pace.

Better Than Speed Reading

If you are tempted to try speed reading in an academic setting (you forgot to study for the big test, for example), know that you aren’t going to learn how to read faster in one night. Instead, here are a few techniques that may be more useful to you:

  • Read just a hair faster: Instead of attempting to read at lightning speed, go for just a slightly brisker pace than usual. Don’t go overboard – just be conscious of your speed and, while still reading and processing each word, see if you can handle a few more words per minute.
  • Chapter summaries: Many textbooks come equipped with summaries at the end of each chapter or section. Others have key words grouped at the ends of chapters. Use these! If you have to study a whole textbook in one night, read all of the summaries and look up any specific topics that are confusing.
  • Headings and tables of contents: You can also go through textbooks and look just at the headings and subheadings. Alternately, take a gander at the table of contents. Use this as a guide to help you revisit (and properly read!) the hardest sections.
  • Study buddies: Get together with classmates, compare notes, and test each other. If you don’t know where to start, try randomly flipping to a page in the book and asking each other questions from it. If one section is no problem, move on to the next one.

This goes without saying, but the best way to get to know the material is to actually read it. Learn how to manage your time so that you can complete assigned readings, take notes, and really absorb the material before crunch time. Not only is a natural reading pace more effective, it can also be fun. If you have trouble managing your time and studying well, consider hiring a tutor to help you hone these skills.

ElainaElaina R. is a writer, editor, singer, and voice teacher based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her book Slaying Your Admissions Essay Dragon shows how to write application essays that are actually fun to read. Elaina has served as an editor for several notable books as well, including NFL great Adrian Peterson’s autobiography Don’t Dis My Abilities. Learn more about Elaina here!


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The Benefits of Reading Aloud With Your Child (and How to Get the Most Out of It)


How important is reading aloud to children? Here, Chicago tutor Galen B. reviews the benefits and some helpful tips… 

Whether your child is not yet talking or is working on chapter books, reading aloud with her is a valuable exercise. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for building knowledge and eventual success.”1 It introduces vocabulary and word-sound association, which builds the foundation for literacy. It also creates excitement about books, which is essential for developing an avid reader. Finally, reading aloud builds an understanding of how books work and models fluency, which are essential for reading comprehension. Follow these tips to get the most out of your reading experience.

1. Build excitement about books. A child who is excited about books is more likely to choose to read on her own. Ask your child about his favorite page or character, and why he chose it. Be willing to read a beloved book over and over. Find other books by that author or illustrator, and learn about him or her online. Visit your local library together, and build your own library at home—just make sure that it’s low enough for your child to reach!

2. Expand vocabulary. The more words a child hears, the more words she will know. Choose books that have challenging vocabulary to introduce her to new words in context, and read books multiple times to reinforce the vocabulary. Move beyond the words provided by talking with your child about what’s happening in the pictures or how the characters are feeling, and guessing what will happen next. This will help your child learn vocabulary for emotions, describe what she sees, and make inferences.

3. Focus on the text. Familiarizing your child with printed text is important for beginning literacy. Alphabet books are a good place to start, but there’s no need to stop there. Notice the letters in your child’s name, or pick a letter of the day and find words that start with or include it. Books with repetition are especially helpful for early learners. Point to each word as you read, and notice repeating patterns.

4. Learn letter sounds. A child doesn’t have to know her letters before she starts playing with sounds. Point to objects in the illustrations that start with a certain sound (“I see something that starts with /b/… it’s a bunny! Do you see something that starts with /s/?”). Read books with alliteration, and emphasize the beginning sound in each word. Read rhyming books, and let your child finish the line (“Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in _____.”) Help your child connect letters and sounds by picking one word for each letter and referencing it often (D for dog, T for truck, G for gorilla, etc.).

5. Talk about the plot. Make guesses about what will happen next, talk about the book’s problem and solution, and have your child “read” the book to you using the pictures. Along with building vocabulary and interest, these exercises will help your child understand how books work and help him when he writes his own stories.

6. Build reading fluency. Even if your child is putting words together, she may not read fluently. Model fluent reading by reading aloud, and then let your child read a familiar book back to you. By listening and repeating what she hears, your child will learn how fluent reading sounds and become a more confident reader. Reading fluency helps build comprehension, which allows your child to see past the printed word and into the story.

It’s never too early or too late to read aloud with your child. The more words an infant hears, the wider his vocabulary will be in preschool, and the earlier he engages with books, the more he will see them as friends later. The benefits of reading aloud to children don’t stop when they can read of their own, either. Reading together is fun and shows that you appreciate books. Keep these reading tips in mind and make reading aloud part of your everyday routine, and your child will be reading before you know it!

1. Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, and Ian A. G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, U. S. Department of Education (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985), p. 23.

GalenBGalen B. tutors in a variety of subjects in Chicago, IL, as well as online. She has four years of experience teaching elementary Spanish, two years of experience teaching ESL, and one year of experience teaching reading and writing to K-12 students. Learn more about Galen here!



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How Can I Support My English Language Learner Child?


Parents, you play a huge role in helping your child learn in between private tutoring sessions. Here are some ideas to help your English-learner work on their skills, from North Hollywood, CA tutor Brittany G


When I first got my teaching credential, I was in suburban Connecticut. The majority of students in the classroom where I did my observations and student teaching were native English speakers, with a handful who spoke another language as well. When I moved to California, the most noticeable difference was the number of non-native English speakers in the classroom. This inspired me to get my Master’s of Education in TESOL, Literacy, and Culture from the University of San Diego. Through this program, I was given the opportunity to conduct an action research project investigating best practices for supporting Kindergarten English Language Learners in the mainstream classroom. These findings can be generalized to help parents and tutors uncover methods for supporting their English language learner children outside of the classroom as well in phonics and phonemic awareness.

Some Background on English Language Learners

Between 1980 and 2009, the number of children in the United States aged 5-17 who spoke a language other than English at home skyrocketed from 4.7 to 11.2 million, the equivalent of a jump from 10 to 21 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The California Department of Education website states that English learners make up 23.2 percent of the total enrollment in California public schools in 2010-11. Nearly 37.4 percent of the state’s public school enrollment speaks a language other than English at home, and the majority of these ELLs are enrolled in Kindergarten through sixth grade (California Department of Education [CDE], 2012).

Tools You Can Use

  1. AlphaFriends is an adorable program by Houghton Mifflin that introduces each letter with a corresponding song to highlight the letter-sound correspondence. If your child is having trouble matching letters to sounds, take some time during the week to introduce an AlphaFriend and practice singing the song. One teacher’s compilation is available here.
  2. Alphabet Bingo is a fun way to practice letter-sound correspondance. You can call out a letter, name the AlphaFriend, or choose another word starting with the same letter, and your child has to find and mark the picture on their Bingo card. Over time, you can increase the difficulty by having your child look for middle or end sounds, for instance, “Find the middle sound in the word ‘cat.’” Your child should break apart the word into /c//a//t/ and search for the letter “A.” Here’s a link to some printable Bingo cards.
  3. Let them write! Ask your child to write down their favorite food. Instead of being focused on the proper spelling, work with them to figure out what sounds they want to make and what letter best represents it. For example, I’ve asked students to write out “Ice Cream,” and the process looks something like this:

Teacher: What sounds do you hear first?
Student: I
Teacher: Okay, so what letter is that?
(Student writes “I”)
Teacher: What sound do you hear next?
Student: Ssss
Teacher: Great, lets write the /s/ sound.
(Student write “s”)
Teacher: Next up is /k/.
Student: That sounds like K…

When all is said and done, you might have Iskrem. This is a perfect opportunity to talk about how the letter “c” can make the sounds /s/ and /k/! Create a comfortable environment where your child feels comfortable to take risks and knows that even if they make a mistake, it’s better to try than not. Get your child talking and you will see amazing things!

Identifying letters and sounds are crucial skills for kindergarten and first grade students. Without these building blocks, it is very difficult to move forward into more advance reading and spelling skills. By setting aside 10-20 minutes a day to provide extra support, parents and tutors can help low-level English Language Learners (ELLs) catch up with their peers. It is so important to get involved early and help your child stay on track.

I hope some of my ideas can come in handy, and would highly recommend that you experiment on your own to see what other methods might work for your child.

BrittanyGBrittany G. tutors in a variety of subjects in North Hollywood, CA, as well as through online lessons. She graduated from the University of Hartford in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, and has also received a Connecticut Teaching Certification for Elementary K-6 and a Certificate of Clearance to teach in California. Learn more about Brittany here!


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5 Inspiring Books to Read for a More Creative Summer

Summer is the perfect time to get lost in a good book. Why not choose a book that will help  you see the world in a new way and revitalize your creative spirit? Whether you’re packing a book in your beach bag or toting an e-reader in your carry-on, these 5 good summer books are guaranteed to pack inspiration and creativity into the dog days of summer!

1. On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

on looking

Sometimes the best way to awaken your creative side is by looking at familiar things in a different way. In this good summer book, author Alexandra Horowitz takes the same walk around a city block eleven times, each time bringing with her another person who adds their perspective to illuminate what Horowitz herself is missing when she takes the walk alone. With companions ranging from a geologist or a sociologist to a dog or a child, Horowitz experiences an incredible range of perspectives. Take a walk with this book and find a fresh way to look at the world around you.

2. Letters to a Young Poet

letters to a young poet

In 1902, a young Austrian torn between joining the army or becoming a poet wrote a letter to his favorite poet and hero, Rainer Maria Rilke, seeking guidance and feedback on his poetry.  In an incredible turn of events, Rilke actually wrote back, and this collection of ten letters from the poet form a slim yet incredibly moving volume filled with ideas about life, art, and the relationship between the two. Rilke encourages you to find your own inner voice and to follow your intuition in the creative process.

3. The Writing Life

the writing life

Annie Dillard’s lovely guide to The Writing Life deals frankly with the uncertainty and pain involved in doing creative work. Dillard dives into the nitty-gritty of writing, exposing the commitment and bravery that true creativity requires. The Writing Life is a fine companion for any reader who is struggling with doubts about their work or abilities. This book will inspire you to keep working on your art, even through difficult times.

4. Effortless Mastery

effortless mastery

Have you ever felt like you were reaching a plateau in your work? In this good summer book, author Kenny Werner shares his experience with a creative plateau as a jazz pianist. Werner provides examples of ways to change your thinking and get back to the roots of what you love about what you do. In creative work, passion is key, so use this book to help get back into the joy of playing music, writing, dancing, or however else you express yourself.

5. The Book of Disquiet


For anyone who has difficulty balancing their creative passions with the demands of work and life, Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet can be quite reassuring, as a reminder that you do not struggle alone. Composed of short fragments written from the point of view of a struggling writer working as a clerk in Lisbon, you can easily dip into this book when you have a spare moment to reflect. Pessoa writes about everything from dream imagery and the creative process to human nature and poetry. It’s also very beautifully written, and the language might just inspire you to create something of your own to break through the every day.

Is there a special book that inspires you? Share your summer reading suggestions in the comments below!


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Photos by Alex Proimos, R. Nial Bradshaw, Jeffery James Pacres, Bryan Ong, and BenPrks.

Literature Study Guides: Supplements NOT Substitutes!


Think you can skip the book and go straight to the literature study guides or CliffsNotes? Not so fast! Check out tutor Matthew H.‘s advice here…


Many high school and college students will use some form of literature study guides during their schooling. These can be really useful tools when implemented appropriately. Unfortunately, too many people view them as a way to avoid doing the assignment rather than as a way to understand the material better.

First of all, let’s discuss the structure of most literature study guides. The general format (keep in mind that this will vary by brand) begins with a brief overview of the book’s major themes, a plot synopsis, short character descriptions, chapter breakdowns/analyses and ends with a dissection of quotes and key points. Important questions to keep your focus on the actions and impact of the literature will be included throughout the guidebook. This is clearly a great tool that presents the key concepts of the book or play in an easy to digest, accessible way. However, if you solely rely on a guide, you are going to be cheating yourself out of a fully fleshed out understanding and appreciation of the reading.

Why is that? Remember that study guides essentially are condensed versions of the original writing. That makes for a great reference, especially when factoring in all of the additional background details they may provide, such as the historical perspective of when the work was written. While this type of guidebook in and of itself is particularly helpful in honing in on specific elements, it never will replace the complete experience of reading a book and drawing from your personal experiences after emotionally connecting to a character or story.

This is why literature study guides should be supplements and not substitutes to reading!

I know what you’re thinking: “But the whole point is so I can free up my time. If I use that on top of doing the actual reading, I’m adding more work instead of less!” It’s true that students have increasingly more homework, projects, extracurricular activities, studying for SATs, the list goes on and on. While using a literature study guide after doing the reading may seem redundant, it actually will end up saving you more time in the long run.

If you opt to skip out on the reading and solely use an abridged version instead, you are not going to be able to connect to the reading in a substantial way to answer every question in class. You might feel like it’s enough to pass by, but if you are tested on the material, you may not be able to provide enough depth to earn a high mark. You even might have to retake a quiz or test to ensure a higher GPA, and that’s only if your teacher or professor allows it. Either way, it’s a big hassle.

Here’s how you should go about any reading:

  • First, use the synopsis and thematic overview portions of your study guide to know what to look for in terms of the general plot and ideas.
  • Next, read the book! If it’s a longer play or novel, break up your readings piecemeal by chapters or scenes. As you’re reading, write down any questions you have regarding the characters, their actions, and anything else. Be sure to take notes on any obvious symbolism or something that jumps out at you.
  • Once you’ve done that, you can use the guidebook to answer your questions and see how much of your own commentary matches theirs. If you spend some time to read the assignment, the literature study guide will clarify anything you weren’t sure about by introducing new concepts or reinforcing the ideas that you already came up with on your own.

In short, literature study guides like CliffsNotes or SparkNotes are good tools in addition to but NOT instead of the reading. They can provide you with another perspective that you might not have considered before, as well as affirm what you already thought. Either way, they will help you out tremendously when applied correctly. Use one (and your brain) today!

MatthewHMatthew H. provides tutoring in various subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ.  He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 




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