My Twitter is back up!

Sometimes students look at the articles I’ve saved on my own reading list app (I use pocket), and they wish that they had a nicely curated series of articles (like mine) to read. So I’ve revived my Twitter account! I’ll be posting tweets with links to articles that I think people should read.

If you’re doing the O-levels, you should understand the vocabulary in these articles, at the very least.

If you’re doing the A-levels, you need to go one step further: please be able to analyse each article, and be familiar with all the underlying issues.

Happy reading!

What should I read to prepare for argumentative essays?

On 29 January 2016 at 17:04, XXXX wrote:

SUBJECT: Greetings from Vietnam!

Hi Kevin,

I have recently discovered your blogs and I’m truly grateful for all of your advice and tips on English essay writing. My 13 years old younger brother is revising for a scholarships offered by the Singaporean government at the moment and your blogs improved his writing tremendously. The format for this examination is quite similar to an O level english test where test takers are required to complete an essay in one hour using the topics listed. They can either be argumentative or narrative. He is doing ok with argumentative topics but I think it’s not quite enough to get him this scholarship. Having another four months until the actual examination, do you recommend reading model essays bought in Singapore? If you do, which publisher or writer should we look for?
I’m sorry for the lengthy email. I just really want my brother to get this scholarship. It would alleviate a huge financial burden on my family. I was lucky enough to succeed when I had the same opportunity many years ago but I chose to adopt trickery and work around for my O level examination. You see the one word essay question can leave room for so much pre-planned stories with multiple endings even if your English is sub par. You can guess that such tactic wouldn’t work for the A level. I flunked terribly and remained devoid of any useful advice for my bro . From my judgement, my little brother is capable of excelling and it would just take him abit more exposure to good English writing.
Yours sincerely,



Your email is quite heartwarming, you obviously care about your brother a lot!
As for reading material for a 13-year-old, it can be a bit tricky for me to recommend stuff without me knowing more about him, but here are the general principles.
  1. We need to read material that is difficult to understand, but not so difficult that we cannot understand it.
  2. We shouldn’t read only for the sake of doing well for an examination — we should care innately about what we’re reading about.
  3. Books tend to be better than shorter articles, but news articles can keep us updated on the latest going-ons.
  4. The reader needs to stay engaged, and his brain needs to stay activated.
  5. If there are other issues stopping the person from reading, these need to be dealt with. Issues I have encountered include:
    — not having a conducive environment to read
    — eyesight issues (e.g. headache when reading in excessively bright conditions)
    — addiction, particularly to video games and mobile phones

With those principles in mind, I would recommend the following

  • Adult novels from various genres
  • Opinion articles, like those from…
  • Books that support and challenge our worldview
    • If you guys are Buddhist, you might want to read a few of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books in English first. (I also enjoy the Dalai Lama’s writing.)
    • Following that, read anti-Buddhist material, like Chapter 14 (There is no ‘Eastern’ solution) in Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great.
    • The idea behind this is that we are able to see the reason behind why we have to learn how to write argumentative essays. The need for proper paragraphing and clear claims becomes clearer when the matter at hand is our religion.

Hope this helps!

Why I love reading non-fiction (this one simple trick will add years to your life!)

(First off, apologies for the buzzfeed-y sub-title, but ever since I saw VisakanV make a joke out of it on his facebook, I’ve been doing it in my head as well. It’s entertaining, la!)

I recently was reading (listening to) a book that talked about the wisdom of grandparents. If you have people around you that are, say, 70 years old on average, and you have ten of these old people around you, what do you first think of? Do you think oh, all these old people are so troublesome, I have to take care of them and they’re so much hassle, there’s so much farting and oh no no no? Or do you stop to consider that around you is the accumulation of 700 years of life experience and wisdom? Hmm.

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates why I love non-fiction so much. Authors put in years of research and energy into putting these books together, and those of us who read quickly can ingest that information in a few days. In my buzzfeed-y headline I wrote that “this one simple trick will add years to your life”, and sometimes it really feels this way. It feels like I’m living years of other people’s lives from the books that they have written.

When I read Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, the intensity of her prose and emotions made me feel as if I was living through the 2004 boxing day tsunami with her. When I read The Art of Happiness, it felt like I was accessing years of wisdom from the Dalai Lama, and years of research from psychologist Howard Cutler. When I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, I marvelled at how much effort went into turning scholarly research about the historicity of Jesus into a fast-moving, readable narrative mixed in with historical fact and conjecture. Since I know some of that scholarly research, I also understood why Christian scholars were complaining that Aslan presented scholarly debates as resolved to one side or the other, without touching on the complexities of some of the debates.

Living in this modern age, where we can download ebooks almost instantly, is a massive, massive privilege. But it is also a kind of disadvantage since so many things are calling out for our attention. The choice that faces me daily is this: will I let media outlets, websites, the rush of social media, or trite entertainment shape my brain? Or will I direct my attention to things that I judge to be more helpful to me in developing my mind, my maturity, and my overall sense of well-being?

The pleasure of reading non-fiction is a pleasure that can be hard to get into, but I promise you, it is worth the effort. And for all your kids who need to write argumentative essays, listen up. The pleasure of reading non-fiction is one that will help you get that A for your English, General Paper, English Literature, and any subject that requires critical thinking and an ability to write well. So get cracking. Read some non-fiction today! 😀


Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

For editing and proofreading services, email or call/SMS/whatsapp +65 97700557 for an obligation-free quotation. I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me a message to let me know your requirements.

Stanley Fish — How to Write a Sentence (And How to Read One)



This brilliant little book is really opening my mind up to new ways of writing, reading, and teaching — and I’m a graduate in English Literature who has supposedly spent a number of years thinking about the language. Well, if I’ve spent 10ish years thinking about the language, Professor Fish has spent…. well, he’s spent a lot more time than me on thinking about this thing we call “English”.

It’s not for everyone — this book requires some ‘slow reading’ to be done, especially if you’re not familiar with the technical terms Fish uses. I suspect that people who consider themselves linguists might get annoyed by some bits that are perhaps a little bit unnecessary. Still, I’m finding this a productive book, in terms of the ways that I’m re-examining the way I teach students how to write a sentence.

Here’s a taste.

Quote 1 (Chapter 1):
My wife is a serious painter. When she and I go to a gallery we might both be impressed by the same painting, but she will be able to tell me, in analytical detail, what makes it impressive, how the painter did it. So it is with writing: the practice of analyzing and imitating sentences is also the practice of learning how to read them with an informed appreciation. Here’s the formula:

Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation.

Quote 2 (Chapter 2):
For decades researchers have been telling us that “the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or . . . even a harmful effect on the teaching of writing” (Research in Written Composition, 1963). I agree if by “the teaching of formal grammar” is meant memorizing the parts of speech or rehearsing the distinction between dependent and independent clauses or listing the uses of the subjunctive. That kind of rote knowledge is merely taxonomic. It explains nothing; students who acquire it have learned nothing about how to write, and it is no surprise when research demonstrates its nonutility.

 Quote 3 (Chapter 4):
In his great book How to Do Things with Words (1962), J.L. Austin considers the apparently simple sentence “France is hexagonal.” He asks if this is true or false, a question that makes perfect sense if the job of a sentence is to be faithful to the world. His answer is that it depends. If you are a general contemplating a coming battle, saying that France is hexagonal might help you assess various military options of defense and attack; it would be a good sentence. But if you are a geographer charged with the task of mapping France’s contours, saying that France is hexagonal might cost you your union card; a greater degree of detail and fineness of scale is required of mapmakers. “France is hexagonal,” Austin explains, is true “for certain intents and purposes” and false or inadequate or even nonsensical for others. It is, he says, a matter of the “dimension of assessment” — that is, a matter of what is the “right or proper thing to say as opposed to a wrong thing in these circumstances, to this audience, for these purposes and with these intentions.”


More quotes from this book here.


Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

For editing and proofreading services, email or call/SMS/whatsapp +65 97700557 for an obligation-free quotation. I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me a message to let me know your requirements.

Reading may be awesome, but not all books are good for you

Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

From “Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’


The study quoted above confirms what bookworms have known for generations: reading is good for you. But I’d like to clarify something. When we bookworms say that reading is good for you, we don’t mean that all books are good for you. If I could boil it down, I’d modify my reading creed to this. Read what you find fascinating, for your mind will be invigorated. (invigorated = energised)

I hope we’ve all had that feeling of in-the-zone learning. That feeling where you encounter something that “blows your mind”, that gives you an entirely different perspective on how you can exist in this world. For many people (of my generation), that happened when we watched The Matrix for the first time. When we were confronted with the idea that reality could be questioned, many of us were absolutely gobsmacked (utterly astounded, shocked beyond words, etc). That’s what learning feels like, to me.

Of course, we can’t always be having daily OMG moments. When I learn something new that’s not completely astonishing, I still feel a small sense of “wow!” or “aha!” that accompanies that learning process. For example, I recently read a book that challenged my own attitude about my relationship to entertainment. I was forced to consider that spending an hour on YouTube or Buzzfeed isn’t entirely innocuous (innocuous = harmless), and that it might have political, psychological, and moral implications. I was forced to consider that when taken to excess — as I frequently do — I might be falling victim to a process that would make me less thoughtful and intelligent (or more stupid, considering your current opinion of Mr Seah).

What does this have to do with reading?

Well, to go back to the study’s claims that reading boosts your brain function, it probably is true if you read things that fascinate you, that help you to learn. When we read a good novel, we frequently come away with a new way of thinking about the world. For example, if you read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you might come away questioning the very basis of how we organise society.* If you read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you might come away questioning the basis of Christianity (though you could always read another book to strengthen your faith, if you are a Christian). If you read any of Philip K Dick’s brilliant novels (A Maze of Death is a really fun place to start), you might come away questioning your own reality. Those are definitely new ways of looking at the world!

However, if you read something that’s not suited to your intellectual or reading level, your brain might suffer for it. It happens to many of my fellow literature graduate friends, for example, when we read something absolutely daft (daft = silly/foolish). Many of my friends who have slogged their way through the Twilight series have reported that they have lost a few IQ points. I don’t think they are exaggerating. I think that being lulled into an intellectual slumber really does make people stupid.

So get off the internet, go find a cozy corner, and go curl up with a good book. It strengthens your brain!


*You probably will end up asking a whole lot of other questions about the world. Soma, feelies….. yikes. We’re there, people.


Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.