Sunday, 1 October 2017

Out of Afrika - New Charity for Blackhen Education

For the last few years Blackhen Education has been supporting a charity in India and decided that this year it was time for a change. We still wanted to support a charity dedicated to providing education for less fortunate children, but we thought we would look to another continent.

After a lot of discussion and reading through of websites/links and information we decided upon 'Out of Afrika', based in Kenya. I can't say the name didn't have anything to do with the choice. I love the film 'Out Of Africa' starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford; and as a teenager I watched the drama 'Flame Trees of Thika' about a British family settling in this part of Kenya.

However, the main reason that we decided on this particular charity, amongst so many worthwhile causes, was the impact that sponsorship could make on the lives on individual students here. For a very small amount of money a year, our two sponsored children will be able to attend school and eat regular meals.

The main aim of the charity is to provide an education for the very poorest of children from Primary to Secondary age. Many of these children come from large families, often with only one parent. In addition to poverty they often have to face a range of other social problems. Education can quite frankly change their lives for the better. Needless to say, education is prized and valued greatly by many in the local community.

Meet our two sponsor children:

Blackhen Education will sponsor two children, allowing them to have a basic education. We have two pupils; Francis and Lucy. We will receive school reports to follow their progress and photographs from their school.

This is Francis and he is 14 yrs old.

This is Lucy and she is 14 yrs old.

Blackhen students will be involved in writing handwritten letters to them and designing and making homemade Christmas cards.

The charity has its own website, where you can read all about the work they do and how you can work with them as a volunteer:

They also have a facebook page which you are welcome to follow: 

This blog post was written by Sue Aitken, founder and director of Blackhen Education. For more information about our online English courses, please visit our website: www.blackheneducation,com 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Top Tips for Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is a really important skill to develop in English. Not only will you need it if you take English IGCSE, but it can also help to improve your overall writing style. We’ve come up with a few guidelines that will help you create a truly original and detailed piece of descriptive writing. Follow these tips and you’ll be sure to succeed!

1.      Use the Five Senses
This is something we’re often taught about in primary school, but we start to forget about them as we get older. Descriptive writing is all about creating a clear image for your reader. If you want your reader to truly feel like they are experiencing a scene with you, then referring to all five senses is a must. For those who have forgotten, they are: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. If you master using these, you could consider using them metaphorically, for example: I could taste the fear in the air.

2.      Zoom In
When writing to describe, it’s important to focus in closely on certain items or objects. For example, if you’re describing a haunted house, you might start by describing the overall appearance of the house, and then zoom in to talk about specific things. You might talk about the dusty doorknob that creaks when you twist it in your hand, or the cobwebs delicately hanging from the window frames. Imagine yourself in the situation you are describing, and think about small details that could help create a bigger picture.

3.      Don’t tell a story
Remember that there is a difference between narrative and descriptive writing. Narrative writing is where you tell a story. You will often have characters and a clear plot. In descriptive writing, you don’t need these elements. You may just have one character, who you speak as in the first person. I often advise my students to imagine themselves standing still when they are writing to describe. Stand still, and describe what is around you. Once you’ve started writing, you may wish for your character to begin moving round to explore, however you don’t need to have dramatic plot devices like cliff-hangers.

4.      Use ambitious adjectives
Because you won’t have a dramatic plot in your writing, it’s important to keep the reader’s interest in other ways. One way you could do this is by using ambitious adjectives. The best way to do this is to have a thesaurus handy (either in book form or on the computer). You don’t need to do this for every word, but if you’re struggling to find a different adjective, then the thesaurus will be able to recommend an alternative word.

5.      Use a variety of sentence starters
Once again, because it isn’t a story, your writing won’t be broken up with speech and other narrative devices. Instead, make sure you hold the reader’s interest by using a variety of sentences. This involves using short sentences for effect, maybe even using one word paragraphs and varying the way you start sentences. If you read back through your work, and find that all your sentences start with ‘The…’ or ‘A…’ or He…’, then you’ll need to rearrange the word order. For example:
·         The dark tree bent crookedly over the stagnant swamp ->
·         Over the stagnant swamp, the dark tree bent crookedly ->
·         Crookedly, the dark tree bent over the stagnant swamp.

You can see how the same sentence can be restructured to vary the way your sentences start. Play around with your sentences, and try starting them with: an adverb, a pronoun, a noun, a verb and adjective or a preposition. Mix it up and you’ll keep the reader on the edge of their seats!

This blog was written by Lucy Taylor, one of our IGCSE English tutors at Blackhen Education.

For more information about any of our English courses, please contact me at: or visit our website: 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Summer Activities for Children

Treasure Ahoy!
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy some outside learning. Many studies have shown that it has numerous benefits for children: better health, decreased stress levels, enhanced communication skills and increased motivation, being just a few.
Treasure hunts and scavanger hunts are a great way to get children learning and exploring away from I pads and computers, either in your own garden or in a supervised outdoor space, such as woods or a park. They are also a means for children to practise reading, writing and communicating in a fun way. For all of the activities outlined below, there is the option of the adult writing and child reading or vice versa, one child writing for another child to read and with very young children, working together on both writing and reading,
Creating maps:This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of treasure hunts. Using a large piece of paper, create a map of the garden, encourage children to label important parts, e.g vegetable patch, chicken run, swings. Of course, you don't have to stick to reality; the sand pit can become quick sand and the pond a swamp filled with alligators! Your garden could be Narnia, or Arendelle, or anywhere that your child is interested in at the moment. X will mark the spot for the hidden treasure (the possibilities are endless). An alternative to using paper, is to use chalks to mark out a route and leave signs, such as “Danger”, “Go forward 10 steps”,  “Proceed at your peril” or “Welcome to Narnia”. Maps are also an excellent way to introduce the idea of keys.

Clues and codes: Setting up a treasure hunt around the garden or any space you’re familiar and comfortable with, can again be done by you or your children. The hunters are looking to uncover a succession of clues leading them ultimately to the hidden treasure. The clues can be hidden in all sorts of places and is very exciting. Whether the children write the clues or decipher them, both activities entail using creative thinking and will certainly lead to lots of discussion!

Scavanger hunts: Slightly different to treasure hunts, scavenger hunts are a race to find as many items as possible on a list, so are great if you happen to have loads of children in the garden during the summer holidays.
The site below has 10 fantastic ideas for scavenger hunts, many of them outdoors.

Another fabulous resource is the Woodland Trust, which has free spotter sheets on everything from butterflies, creepy crawlies, tracks and leaves to poo!
I have used the Woodland Trust spotter sheets with whole classes and individual children, with great success. The children are so excited to be finding leaves, birds, flowers etc, they hardly know they are reading. If you want to involve a bit of technology, help the children to take photographs of their finds, upload and label, describe and catalogue alphabetically.
Alternativley, children can easily create their own spotter sheets for each other. A great way of doing this is encourage them to  select 10 toys (plastic dinosours, cars, teddies) write the names on a piece of paper and then place them around the garden for another child to find.
Finally, just in case we have some rainy days over the summer, treasure hunts and scavanger hunts are easily played indoors too. If you want to challenge older children, searching for adjectives, proper nouns, adverbs etc in books works well as a timed competition.

However you decide to organise your treasure or scavenger hunts, you and your children are sure to have lots of fun while reading and writing!
We would love to see your designs for your treasure maps. So why not send them to us at: 
This blog post was written by Bernadette Whiteley, one of our English tutors at Blackhen Education.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017


With exams around the corner, you’ve probably already started revising, but by now your revision should start picking up. If you struggle with motivation, something that could really help you is creating a revision timetable. Set our certain hours of the day to revise different subjects; remembering to refer to your exam timetable so that you prioritise the exams you will sit first. In preparation for your English exams, we’ve created a list of tasks and exercises you could complete to thoroughly prepare you.

1.       Have a go at past papers- head to the Edexcel website  (, and you’ll find past papers that you can browse and attempt on your own. Some of these are specifically locked for teachers, but many can be accessed by anyone.  Attempt whole papers, or just the questions you struggle with. You’ll then be able to look at the mark scheme and so how well you did.

2.       If you’ve exhausted the past papers, try creating your own writing questions. Remember that you could be tested on writing to: inform, explain or describe in Paper One, and explore, imagine, entertain, argue, persuade or advise in Paper 2. Ask your friends or family for a topic you could argue an opinion about, or a situation you could advise on.

3.       Make a list of different literary techniques you could use- not only will it improve your exam if you are able to identify techniques such as metaphors and personification, but you’ll also need to apply them in your written exam. Write a list of effective examples of different literary techniques. Remember that examiners are looking for students who stand out from the crowd for those top grades, so try to think of examples a little bit outside the box.

4.       Look on YouTube- you’d be surprised how many students and teachers add revision material to YouTube. Whether you’re looking to revise an individual poem or looking for tips on how to write a strong argument, this is a great place to start.

5.       Re-read the texts- if you start to become tired practising exam questions and making notes, and would like something a bit more relaxing to do, try simply re-reading chapters of your key texts. Have a pen and notebook handy so that you can jot down any quotations or ideas that spring to mind. Reading things like newspapers and magazines can also help prepare you for the creative writing part of your exam.

6.       Head to BBC Bitesize- from specific revision tips to general advice about writing styles and genres, BBC Bitesize has lots of interactive resources including videos, quizzes and self-mark questions.

7.       Redecorate your room- So I’m not suggesting that you should repaint the walls with quotations from Shakespeare, but you’ll find it easier to take information in if you see it everyday. Write key quotations, effective vocabulary or even definitions of key terms around your bedroom, or even around the house. Simply walking past these sheets of paper everyday will help you absorb the information.

8.       Ask people to test you- create thematic flashcards, and then ask a sibling, parent or friend to test you to see what you’ve learned. You’ll also find lots of quizzes on the internet if you’d rather just test yourself.

Remember, it’s important to balance out revision and your free time. Spending hours and hours shut in your room revising non-stop isn’t healthy. Timetable yourself free time so that you can have dinner with your parents, see you friends or simply watch television. Do your best and I’m sure all your hard work will pay off!

This blog post was written by Lucy Taylor (IGCSE English tutor at Blackhen Education). For more information about our IGCSE English course, please contact us at: or via our website:

Monday, 3 April 2017

Blackhen Education's Top Easter Reads

During the school holidays, you deserve to be relaxing and putting your feet up, and what better way to do that than with a good book? Research suggests that children who read regularly are more imaginative, and it is said to improve your writing skills too. However, finding a book can be tricky; there’s millions out there. So we’ve compiled a list of some recommended reads to help you pick the perfect book for you.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
(Ages 5-7)
Duncan wants to colour, but when he opens the box he finds that all his crayons have gone, and there is a note saying ‘we quit’. Will Duncan get them back?

To Wee or Not to Wee by Pamela Butchart
(Ages 6-8)
Izzy is asked to tell her friends some SUPER hilarious and scary stories. Izzy knows how funny Shakespeare was, so exaggerates some of his best stories in this funny book.

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside
Ages 6-8
Jenny has a lot of worries. So many worries in fact, that she has to carry them around in her big blue bag. The bag goes everywhere with her. Finally, Jenny decides they will have to go, but will anyone help her?

The Parent Agency by David Badiel
(Ages 9-11)
Barry hates his parents and wishes he had better ones. But far away, there’s a world where children get to choose who their parents are…

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
(Ages 9-11)
Daisy and Hazel set up their own secret detective agency at school. It’s all quite quiet, until they find their science teacher lying dead in the gym. Will they catch the culprit before they strike again?

Holes by Louis Sachar
(Ages 10-13)
Stanley is cursed. At least that’s how he feels when he’s accused of a crime and then sent to Camp Green Lake instead of prison. Camp Green Lake is not green and there’s no lake. Each day Stanley has to dig a hole, and it feels more like prison than he could have imagined. Then, one day he finds something that changes everything…

Once by Morris Gleitzman
(Ages 11-13)
This book tells the story of Felix, a little Jewish boy living in Poland during World War 2. Felix escapes from the orphanage where he lives to try and find his parents and save them from the Nazis. If you enjoy this book there are five more books in the series.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
(Ages 13+)
The first book in this trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go tells the tale of Todd, the only boy left in Prentisstown, and in one month he will become a man like the rest of the town. But this is no ordinary town, as here, no thoughts are private. Todd realises secrets are being kept from him, and he’s left with no choice but to run…

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
(Ages 13+)
Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a Nought. The dark-skinned crosses are the ruling race, whilst the white skinned Noughts are members of the underclass, who were once enslaved by the Crosses. The Noughts become increasingly frustrated with their social position, and war erupts. But amidst this a romance builds between Sephy and Callum.

Other Recommended Reads:
Rosie Revere, Engineer- Andrea Beaty (5-7)
The Thirteen Story Tree House- Andy Griffiths (6-8)
Oh The Places You’ll Go-  Dr Seuss (5-9)
Beetle Boy- M.G Leonard (8-11)
My Brother is a Superhero- David Solomans (8-11)
The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe- C.S. Lewis (8-11)
An Eagle in the Snow- Michael Morpurgo (9-12)
Tom Gates Series- Liz Pinchon (9-12)
Ketchup Clouds- Annabel Pitcher (11-14)
One- Sarah Crossman (14+)
Broken Beautiful Things- Sara Bernard (14+)

This post was written by Lucy Taylor (IGCSE English tutor at Blackhen Education).

Friday, 24 February 2017

Making Books - Everyone Can Be an Author

World Book Day is just around the corner; one of the highlights of the school calendar for teachers and students alike. Its magic is two-fold, because we all get to indulge in dressing up (I have been The Queen of Hearts, Winnie the Witch and Professor McGonagall to name but a few). We also get to share our favourite books from home and enjoy book related activities all day long.

Writing is always more enjoyable when it has a purpose, so what better purpose than creating your own book to share with friends and family? One of my students’ favourite activities on World Book Day was making a book of their own. This was always inspired by the writing of other’s, for example, a new adventure for Winnie the Witch or creating a new character in the world of Harry Potter. It culminated in the children sharing their own newly created books at the end of the day. Because the children knew this would happen, they took extra care with their presentation and writing, as well as planning an excellent story or new chapter.
Of course there is a long history of children creating their own stories and books, the most famous being the Bront√ęs. Their fantastical stories of the lands of Angria and Gondal were written in miniscule handwriting in tiny handmade books.

Book making really gives children ownership of their work. They are author, editor (parents can be sub-editors if required), illustrator and of course, publisher. Many children even like to put a barcode and price on the back of their books. This is also a great space for a blurb. Summarising the plot without giving away the ending is a great skill to develop.
The books don’t have to be complicated to make. The simplest is a piece of folded card, with the required number of pages folded and either glued or stabled into place. For very young children, a great place to start making their own books, is writing about themselves. Writing about their family, pets and favourite food and places really engages them. 

For many years I treasured my first handmade book, “All about Me.” I made it at the age of four, with help from my teacher, lots of yellow wool hair and two blue buttons for eyes. Today, of course, you can use the computer to produce equally thrilling results and multiple copies for grandparents, for example.
Homemade books can come in many different materials and open and close in a variety of ways. Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, is an American teacher who is passionate about bookmaking for children. Her varied and interesting projects can be found on the link below:  

Homemade books can come in all shapes and sizes and be about anything! For children who prefer reading and writing non-fiction, these can fit very well with a favourite topic.  In the past, we’ve made books shaped like Viking boats, cats, Tudor houses and trains. The link below shows one example of how to create a book shaped like a house.

Pop-up books are great fun to make too. Because they are not much more than a card, they are not daunting for younger children. The writing needs to happen before the pop-up is made, so can work as an incentive. Parents may to help with some of the more intricate designs on the link below.

So whatever your child’s interests, there is a book in them just waiting to be written. For lots more advice and ideas on helping your children to create their own books, see the link below.
Happy World Book Day!

This post was written by Bernadette Whiteley, one of our Key Stage 2 tutors at Blackhen Education.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Blackhen Education - 2016 Review

The New Year has well and truly started. Whilst most people use this time of year to de-clutter, stash bust or turn over a new leaf, for us at Blackhen Education, it is a time to reflect and celebrate the year that has just finished.

So what did our students do in 2016?
We ran several successful competitions, starting Valentine’s Day. This is always a popular competition and the entries were lovely.

In September, students entered our Roald Dahl Day competition. As one of our best loved authors, we feel this is always an important day to celebrate.

To celebrate Christmas, students were asked to write a ghost story or design a new sledge for Father Christmas. We had a lot of fun looking at the wonderful entries and choosing our winner.

IGCSE English Exams
In May and June our IGCSE English students sat their final exams, (despite industrial action and travel disruption). And in August we received the brilliant results. Our students had achieved 100% A-C grades, including an A* and 2 A’s.

New Courses
In September, we were very excited about launching two new English courses at Blackhen Education. A Foundation English course for 4-5 year olds and Key Stage 1 (5-6 year olds) course. Both courses were written by Karen Crichton, one of our specialist English tutors at Blackhen Education.These now complete the series of 14 courses we offer for age groups 4 –16 yrs. Students can now start with us at the age of 4 and continue up to and including IGCSE. We also launched our new one year 14+ English course. After Key Stage 3 (11-14 yrs), students can now opt for 14+ English, without sitting any exams at the end.

New Tutor
In October we welcomed Bernadette Whiteley to the team, making us up to 5 tutors. Bernadette is a KS2 ( 7-11 yrs) specialist teacher and has been an invaluable addition to Blackhen Education.

Our Students
Of course we cannot finish the year without mentioning the impressive standard of work our students produced, from the youngest aged 4 through to the eldest ages 16. Considering our students complete their Blackhen work along side their French school work ( and other countries), it is truly amazing what they produce!

Our History students continued to produce excellent work. The course, now in it’s second year, covers Anglo Saxon Britain through to post war Britain.

What does 2017 hold in stall for Blackhen Education?

New Charity to support
IGCSE English Language & English Literature exams
Monthly blogs and more……

For more information about any of our courses, visit our website at: or contact me at: