Storybird Website Review

It’s not often that I recommend a website, but when I do then it’s because it ticks all the boxes for me a s a parent and a teacher.  Storybird is:

  • designed for children and adults to use

  • is simple to use

  • can be used to teach children of all ages and abilities

  • is hours of fun on a rainy day

What is Storybird About?

It’s a website which allows users to create and share their own written personalised stories.  The stories can then be published for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends.  Children age 13 and above can create their own account but younger children have to give their parents email address.  Teachers can add children to their accounts by creating classes.  What I love the most about this site is that it allows children to express themselves in modern, interactive and tech-savvy way.  Even the most reluctant writers want to write a Storybird!  If I asked a child to give me 5 words to do with a “train journey”, they would struggle.  But give them a picture like this and the task doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.  Storybird is the key that has unlocked some of my students minds and got them writing.

How Does It Work?

1.  Start by choosing a picture.  You can either browse the themes or search for a particular subject.  I prefer to search for a topic like “pets” or “Christmas”.  Choose the picture you like and use that artwork to start a storybird.  The artwork provided is by professionals and is colourful, detailed and imaginative. It is designed to kick-start children’s thinking and get their ideas flowing.

2.  Once you have decided on the artwork for your first page, it will appear in the centre of the screen with images as thumbnails surrounding it.  You click and drag images onto the page, add pages and change the layout.

3.  The stories can then be published online for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends. The end product has a professional finish even if there is only one word per page.

Here is a storybird written by one of my students. Tolu is 7 years old and is a budding writer.  Please feel free to add your comments to encourage him.

Take One Storybird Picture…..

You don’t have to write pages and pages to create a storybird.  I take one picture and get children to write just one page worth.  Here are some ideas to try

  1.  Use the picture as a prompt for some descriptive writing.  For example if you search the word “dragon”, choose the best picture and describe the dragon.

  2. Find a picture of a scene like a beach or party or playground.  Use this as the opening scene of a story.

  3. Choose three different characters, and dedicate one page for each character.

  4. Choose 3 different types of weather scenes, and write a diary entry taking place in each type of weather scene.

  5. Younger children love to make lists.  They can just use it to make lists of things they would like to do, things they would like to eat and places they would like to visit.

  6. Use it to make an illustrated dictionary.

The key, in my opinion, is to help children with the planning of their writing. You can help them by listing related vocabulary, brainstorming ideas, putting them in a logical order and deciding how to connect their ideas.  Why don’t you give it a go?

Fast Track to Success – Kip McGrath Luton Summer School 2012

Click here for the 2014 Summer School Programme.

When a child starts school in September after a 6 week summer break, I have to spend at least a couple of lessons going over work they should know.  Sometimes I have to go down a level of work because the child has forgotten the basics.  Most teachers will tell you that this is called “THE SUMMER BRAIN DRAIN“.

Children have too much time on their hands during the summer and they forget some of what they learn during the school year.  Avoiding this can save time, and for children who have exams coming up, this can be the difference between a pass and a fail.  Academic summer schools can help, as long as the work is tailored to your child’s needs and they have a target to aim for.

How To Avoid the Summer Brain Drain

Past experience has taught us that parents want a more structured approach to their children’s summer learning.  They want to see proof of progress.  Parents want to take advantage of the free time available during summer and are looking for more than just a child care provider.

The Kip McGrath Luton Summer School will run every Tuesday and Wednesday in August from the 1st August 2012 to the 29th August 2012.  Classes are from 10.00 am.  This year, the format of these 2 hour classes will be the same format as normal term time Kip lessons, but with a little added extra to cater for your child’s specific needs.

The three programmes that will be running are the 11+ and Common Entrance Programme, the GCSE Maths and English Programme and the Kip Summer Booster Programme.

To enrol your child or for more info, please call Dr Samina Rashid on 01582 402225 or fill in the online form at the end of this article.

If you are a new student we can offer you a free assessment to pinpoint your child’s learning needs and design an individual programme of work to target their areas of need over the summer months.

The 11+ and Common Entrance Programme

The 11+ exams will be in November 2012 and common entrance exams will be in either December 2012 or January 2013 depending on which school your child will be going to.

Kip McGrath Luton will be offering intensive summer courses in 11+. The courses will familiarise the students with all the types of questions and teach them strategies and techniques to raise their chances for success. Children will be tested before and after the course to monitor progress.  It is recommended that children attend the Tuesday and Wednesday classes for this programme.  We will cover:

  • verbal reasoning

  • non-verbal reasoning

  • English

  • maths

GCSE Maths and English Programme

This programme is open to all year 10 and 11 students and any year 9 students who are sitting their exams early.  Many schools enter all year 11 children for early entry GCSE English and Maths exams in the November before they leave school.  This means that when children start year 11 in September, they have just less than 2 months in which to prepare for the exam.  Children (and parents) panic when they realise this and often it is too late to get help. Please my blog post on this topic to get a more in-depth view.

The summer break is an ideal time to work on key skills needed to pass exams.  As well the academic content of the GCSE subjects, we will also teach your child how to answer exam questions and how to revise.  All too often children lose valuable marks in exams because they have mis-read the question or not answered it fully.  Some children need to be taught how to revise and we will teach them different ways in which they can remember what they have learnt.

Summer Booster Programme

This is our most popular programme designed to give your child that extra boost before going into the next academic year.  All children from age 5 to 16 can attend.  The added extra options are:

    • spoken English

    • science

    • essay writing

To enrol your child or for more info, please call Dr Samina Rashid on 01582 402225 or fill in the online form below.

If you are a new student we can offer you a free assessment to pinpoint your child’s learning needs and design an individual programme of work to target their areas of need over the summer months.

Simple Ways To Help Your Child With Maths.

My Child Can’t Do Maths

A solid maths foundation is vital for children to succeed. Without solid math skills, children will probably have a lot of trouble in school and afterwards.

I often get asked the question “how can I help my child with maths at home”?.  If your child is struggling with maths, there are many ways to help, but before you do that you need to know what the problem areas are.

Some of the traits that I see in children who are weak in maths are:

  • They don’t understand the language used in maths like “less”, “more than”, “half of”, “share”, “total” and “difference”.

  • They have difficulty retaining basic number facts.  They will take a long time to work out something in their head and often make careless mistakes.

  • They often use long-winded ways to work out something on paper.  For example, I saw a child work out the sum 100 – 42 by drawing 100 dots and crossing out 42 of them.  I saw another child work out the sum 250 ÷ 5 by writing out the 5 times table.

  • They cannot “translate” number word problems into maths calculations.  For example: if Sam, Tim and Emma each eat 4 sweets, how many is that altogether?  Children either don’t know that this is 3 x 4 or they may know that this but not know their 3 times tables.

Your child may not have such general difficulties; it could be a more specific problem like understanding fractions, or getting to grips with geometry.  The point is that you need to get to the root of the problem.  Fractions are related to division and multiplication.  Is it because your child hasn’t grasped the basics of these skills yet?  Difficulty with geometry could be just a simple matter of not learning the rules for working out angles in a triangle.  Whatever the cause, there are ways in which you can help your child fill in those gaps.

Help Them Learn Their Times Tables.

Times tables is the bricks and mortar of basic maths knowledge and it is crucial that your child has plenty of opportunities to learn them.  Don’t rely on school to the job for you, as many children will need a lot of exposure to learning times tables.

First get your child to write out the times tables, and then try to get them to learn “parrot-fashion”.  If it’s just not sticking then an easy way to help is to write them on your child’s fingertips or use stickers as shown in the pictures below.


Another place for great ideas is here.  I also get children to recite times tables going forwards and backwards, and sometimes I get them to recite from half way through the tables.  It just breaks up the monotony and introduces a new challenge.

Use a Multi-Sensory Approach.

It has been shown that children retain information better when they not only see it, but when they hear it and also when they can put it into practice.  Making maths practical and relevant to everyday life can get a child to use all of their senses and at the same time giving it a purpose.  Maths is all around us and we can use our surroundings to help our children with maths.

To teach measures:

  • teach your child to use a ruler or a tape measure with accuracy.  If you are into gadgets then why not invest in an electronic tape measure (often used by estate agents).

  • Point out quantities of things on food packets to show them the difference between grams and kilograms or litres and millilitres.

  • Look at angles on objects around the room, see how many right angles your child can spot.

  • Involve your child in cooking, getting them to read the scales when weighing out ingredients.

  • If you are baking cup cakes and the recipe only makes 12 but you want 24, use this as an opportunity to teach about ratios and equivalents.

  • Play with water using different sized containers, predict how many small cups can fill a large container and measure how much water the containers hold.

To teach place value and money:

  • Show your child a till receipt and look at the quantities in pounds and pennies.

  • Take your child shopping and equip them with a calculator.  As you shop they can work out the bill.

  • Get your child used to handling money, recognising coins and working out if they have/don’t have enough money.

  • To teach about tens and units, read our blog post here.

  • Play Monopoly.

Talk Maths Language

Use mathematical words like “total” and “difference” when talking to our child.  Other words to use are “rotate”, “divide”, “more than/less than” and “fewer than”.

Here are some more ideas:

  • Plant sunflower seeds and get your child involved in measuring how much water to give each day, measuring how tall the seedlings are growing and comparing the length of the seedlings.

  • Make sandwiches and get your child to decide how many pieces of cucumber to put into each sandwich, how much cheese to weigh, or how many slices of bread to take.

  • Get your child to help you with spring cleaning.  They can sort things into different groups for you, place objects in order of size, measure the amount of space they have made by clearing out the clutter and simply just counting all their possessions.

  • Invest in a dart board to get children working out the totals, for younger children you can buy a simpler version of a dart board which uses Velcro darts.

  • Use every opportunity to count things, whether it’s during a walk to the shops, or how many bounces on the ball or timing how long it takes to take a shower.

Case Study 2- Perseverance Always Pays Off in The End

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So today, I am going to tell you about a student who we shall call Alan (this is not his real name and is used to protect his identity).

When Alan’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, he was 14 years old and had a reading age of 7 years and 5 months.  His spellings were also poor and he thought that punctuating sentences wasn’t important.  At school he was not getting any timetabled extra support.

I urged her to speak to the school again and to get him properly assessed for learning difficulties and specifically dyslexia.  Alan definitely had dyslexic tendencies, so I decided that he needed to concentrate on improving his reading.  This problem with reading held him back in other subjects.  I put him on our reading programme which consists of a series of reading booklets, accompanied by audio CD’s, computer programmes and workbooks specifically designed to tackle reading strategies.

The reading scheme would:

  1. Teach him how to break down a word into syllables
  2. Help him to learn the sounds made by different letter combinations
  3. Make him become more fluent by recognising sight words.  Sight words are the most commonly used words in the English language and must be learnt by rote.  An example of a sight word is the word “the”, which cannot be worked out by the sounds of each letter in the word.
  4. Free up some more working memory when he is reading so that his reading comprehension improves.

Alan has recently been diagnosed as having “mild dyslexia” by a professional and it is now acknowledged at his school. The school are now giving him extra one-to-one support in reading and spelling and he will be given extra time in exams.  We re-assessed his reading this week and found that his reading age had gone up by 11 months in just 6 months.  His attitude to learning has changed and he now “takes pride in his work” says his teacher.  When I shared this good news with his mum, she said that at the last school parent’s evening he got an “outstanding” whereas previously he was getting “satisfactory”.

Children like Alan can easily slip through the net and learning difficulties like dyslexia can go undetected throughout a child’s schooling.  But once it is diagnosed, then it is fairly easy to rectify.  In Alan’s case, he had to read and do certain reading drills 2 or 3 times a week each lasting at least 30 minutes and he had to attend the centre twice a week.  I remember at times we nearly gave up because the progress just didn’t seem to come.  So it was a big commitment and it paid off.   And I think I’ll end with an appropriate quote …

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American writer and philanthropist.

How to Teach Halving


Before teaching a child to halve a number, make sure that they can halve a shape.   Most children find it easy to halve a shape and don’t realise that halving means the same as splitting into 2 equal parts. So before teaching your child how to halve a number, please make sure that they have understood the following common misconceptions:

1.  When you half a shape, you must make sure that it is split in the middle.  This teaches the child that halving must be fair and that both halves must look the same.

2.  There is more than one way to half a shape.  Ask your child to halve a rectangle or square in as many ways as possible.  This should include diagonally as well.

3.  Draw and inaccurately half some shapes so that some are split unequally, some are split into three or more pieces.  then ask your child to find out if they have been halved.


There are many ways to explain the term of “half of”; sharing equally between 2 people, counting in 2’s, dividing by 2, opposite of doubling and splitting down the middle.

Different ways of working out half of a (2)

Therefore, there are a variety of ways of teaching halving.  Choose a method that your child finds easy, and stick to it.  Once they are confident with that method, try to teach a different way of halving.

I always start off teaching a child how to share equally.  I usually use counters and draw 2 smiley faces on a whiteboard or piece of paper representing me and the child.  The child has to share the counters between the smiley faces.  Sometimes you have to teach a child “one for you, one for me” and once they have learnt this they find it quite easy.  Make sure that once all the counters have been shared between the 2 smiley faces, that they have been shared equally.  the child needs to check every time. “How many do you have and how many do I have” seems to work well.  What if the counters have not been shared equally?  The child can repeat again or if they have caught on, they will be able to move some counters around to make the distribution fair.  I use this method for up to 24 counters.

For numbers larger than 24, using counters can be time-consuming and often ends up with the child miscounting.  By now the child should know half of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 without working them out. So I break down larger numbers into manageable chunks, and then ask the child to share equally between 2 smiley faces.

Example 1:  Draw 2 smiley faces.  Half of 30 = 10+10+10 Draw three 10’s in circles at the side as in diagram below.

How To half 30
How to half 30

Then share as in the diagram below, the smiley faces will get 10 each and then, there will be 10 left which will have to be split into 5’s.  So each person gets 15.

Halving 30
How to halve 30

The same method can be used for bigger numbers and it’s easy and simple.

half of 34 = 10+10+10+4

half of 50 = 10+10+10+10+10

Do try this with your children and let me know if it works.

When Private Tuition Is Not Enough

I did an assessment on a year 12 pupil yesterday (age 17), who will be sitting her GCSE Maths in 9 teaching week’s time. She wanted to get a C grade, but when I tested her, she was working at a low E grade.

She was also re-taking her GCSE and got an F the first time round. That meant that she had only improved by 1 grade since starting her course 7 months ago and that’s with approximately 4 hours of maths per week at college. So it’s not difficult to do the numbers here. It’s plain and simple that 9 weeks of tuition (an 80 minute session per week) is not going to get her that C! In fact it would be nothing short of a miracle if she did. And that’s exactly what I told her.

From all my years of teaching experience, I have learnt that to pass maths you need to

  1. Learn the different methods of working out maths problems

  2. Memorise formulas

  3. Practice using these methods and formulas

  4. Go over past exam questions

Revision and learning is like building a wall. One brick at a time is laid and cemented together to make a wall. But if those bricks are not solid enough or the cement hasn’t had time to set, then the wall will be weak and inevitably break. So don’t leave your revision to the last minute or think that having a few extra lessons is going to be enough to pass your exams. It takes hard work, organisation and dtermination!

Investing in Your Child Will Reep Rewards….

Many of us think that exams are everything and that the only way of measuring success is to look at improvement in test results.  I cant deny the importance of exams and they do show what a pupil has learnt, but I want to share a story with you which may change your mindset.

I have been teaching a 6 year old boy called Ali for about 9 months.  He is a bright boy and learns quickly but he hasn’t shown significant improvements in test results.  He lacks confidence and test performance often depends on his mood.  At school he is easily distracted and is under-achieving.

Last term his mother was invited to the end of year school play in which he was performing, but he kept his part in the play a secret.  The 30 minute play was narrated by this little boy, who had been labelled as “the naughty one” in years past.  He had memorised the whole script and kept it a secret from his mother to surprise her.  His teacher had chosen him because she had noticed an improvement in his behaviour and attitude in class.  He was also the best reader in the class.

His mother truely believes that he would never had done this if he hadn’t been tutored to give him the confidence that he needed.  She felt guilty that she was pushing him too much yet she knew that he would benefit from it.

I never believed this was possible- but I do now.

I never thought that a student could improve their reading age by 2 years after just 14 weeks of tuition.  And I didn’t discover this until I started teaching at Kip McGrath. 

The reading scheme we use is the best in the world in my opinion, and without telling you the trade secrets, here is how it works:

  1. teaching the child how to break down a word into sound groups (phonemes)
  2. drilling words over and over again
  3. drilling high frequency sight words to improve visual recognition of words.  A sight word is to be recognised without being broken down into syllables and phonemes. For example the word “the” is a sight word because it cannot be “sounded out” as “t”, “huh” and “eh” and put together again.
  4. understanding what the sight words mean and using them in sentences.

I believe that if parents and teachers stick to the above 4 techniques when teaching reading, then progress will be much quicker.

Testimonial of the week.

I’ve just received this testimonial this morning and it has made my week.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to you for the help you have given Emma and the flexibility you have shown. You have not only built up her confidence as we set out to do but you have managed to created an environment that Emma was happy to come to and enjoyed learning in, I can only remember one occasion where she did not want to go! I would happily recommend you and should Emma or her younger sister Hannah need help in the future I will not hesitate to be in touch.

I wish you every success for the future and again thank you very much.”

Emma started tutoring 2 years ago. She was bright but lacked confidence in Maths. She was particularly slow with mental calculations and didnt like problem solving. I put her onto our “timed tables” which is a computer programme designed to make learning times tables fun and to improve speed. In the first lesson her highest score was 12, but by the time she had done one term of tuition, she was getting 32.

Because she had made so much progress in Maths we then decided to do some english as well, and we have worked together with school and parents to overcome learning blocks in this area.

I wish Emma the best of luck in the future and will miss her – as I always do.

If you would like extra help for your child, call the Kip McGrath Education centre in Stevenage on 01438 746986 or the Luton centre 0n 01582 402225.