Frequently Asked Questions
I tend to go to the student’s residence or to a place of the student’s/parent’s choice more. I used to teach from my residence more before 2020, but the current work-from-home arrangements make this slightly more tricky. Online tuition is also an option.
I enjoy writing my own materials! That was the impetus for the birth of this website anyway, when a student observed that I was simply discarding so much of my own writing that I was churning out for my sessions. I create materials so often partially because different types of learners need different types of assessments and training, and partially because it’s good practice for me.
While this depends on the syllabus, I tend to make use of the TYS for O-level English and a combination of other assessment books if the student’s needs call for it. Something I learnt early on in my educational career was that some students simply LOVE structured assessment book exercises, even to the extent that we can use those as a “wake up” kind of exercise.
Very few parents actually believe me when I say this, but BELIEVE ME, I’ve seen “lazy” students get stumped by a question I ask (something that I plan for) which then allows us to transition to something easier, like an editing or vocabulary exercise (i.e. assessment books).
While I mainly teach in person, especially with older students I can teach online. The human factor may be lost when we have tuition sessions online (body language can convey a world of information), but when a student is focused, material sometimes can be covered more rapidly online than in person.
For younger students with problems focusing, I recommend avoiding online tuition, though it definitely is viable, as 2020 showed all of us.
The best thing to do for a tiny child is to start reading aloud with them from a very early age as a fun and relaxing parent-child activity. Getting older children to love reading is trickier, especially if they have never had the experience of having fun with books.
It’s a good idea to have the goal in mind here: we want everyone to have the experience of anticipating settling down with a book into a comfortable space to spend hours savouring a good story. We are playing with competing desires, so it isn’t simply a move towards books that we want to see, it is also a move away from the obstacles that prevent a person from reading joyfully—sometimes it’s as simple as getting good enough lighting. And one person’s favourite reading lamp could be a torture for someone else!
Generally speaking, you will want to grant the child some level of autonomy together with some level of guidance. The trick is in the balance!
With writing skills, we want to work with what the student already knows. Unfortunately, for students fresh from PSLE English or even the O-levels, sometimes things have to be unlearnt, especially when students think that “big words” are always appropriate for essays, by default. Of course, there are also ways of writing that are suitable for particular exams that we have to learn. Beyond that, I place an emphasis on being able to read well so that we can write well; to write in a particular style, we first have to read in that style.
The current English syllabuses tend to value ways of reading and writing that literature students learn. However, the comprehension exams are a different kind of beast when we compare them to literature exams. That being said, if we look at the 1184 English syllabus (the O-level English syllabus examinable from 2023), it is quite clear that besides learning the exam “game”, students will need to be able to reason like literature students.
I always want to respond to the student’s needs within this context. With those who are more immediately anxious about the exams, I tend to work on exam papers first before using their errors to open lessons into more organic spaces (the kind that literature students almost always get). With the students for whom exam and practice papers are nothing but a drag, I tend to jump immediately into using whatever curiosity they have about the world to push different kinds of text. The 1184 syllabus demands a familiarity with a range of texts, including social media texts, so that allows me to use things like Shakespearean sonnets, Reddit comments and Twitter chains.
This all eventually leads to two things: working on foundational language skills and on exam skills.
Because many students taking English Literature tend to think they are good readers while in reality being mediocre readers, I first check the basics. Can the student appreciate the most immediate meanings they see in a text? To what degree can the student read, write, and think in figurative terms? If they write poetry, do they appreciate the range of meanings that readers could derive from their text?
After checking the basics, we look at responding to texts as individuals. Sometimes I even write sample literature essays for my students! You will see none of those literature essays on this website, since it is such a common assumption that there are only certain “correct” answers that teachers will accept. Because responding to a literary text is such a human, organic and messy thing, I do not want to run the risk of students memorising my points.
With my approach, one sign that a student is “getting it” is when they argue (passionately, even!) against my interpretations of texts. When a student manages to argue so eloquently and persuasively that I end up changing my point of view, THAT is exactly when I feel like I’ve succeeded as an English Literature tutor.
(This response applies to O-level English Literature, A-level H1 or H2 English Literature, and IB English Literature. Of course, students of different ages will require engagement at different levels.)