Category: Master Class

02 Mar 2016

“Some Ramblings on Reading…(and a few recommended titles)”

Anne-Marie Idowu: Some Ramblings on Reading…(and a few recommended titles)

Books are absolutely fabulous. One thing is for sure: they can never be replaced, no matter how far or fast technology advances.

For this year’s World Book Day, I have included some of my own recommended titles for kids, teens and adults below. These titles are not necessarily current bestsellers but they are great books (in my humble opinion) with stimulating material and unique lessons to learn.

Click here for: Recommended Titles

My medical/scientific background always makes me curious about things and their effects on us complex human beings. Amongst everything else, I have developed great interest in cognitive science and applied psychology; but most of all a passion for learning and all the processes it encompasses.


I truly believe that there is a major difference between believing something based on somebody else’s knowledge rather than one’s own knowledge (whether it is true or rational or not). That is why Milestones Methodology encourages the use of reflexive questioning in our lessons so that students are encouraged to come to their own conclusions. It can be quite tricky to separate the objective from the subjective but we try to create a healthy balance of the two.

I like to encourage my students to always initially explore the understanding of a topic because it lays the information down in the part of our brain responsible for higher cognitive functions and thinking. For example, I avoid making sweeping statements such as, “global warming is bad for the planet”. I help them to discover the information and encourage them to make their own conclusions.


That is not to say that I do not challenge them or pass on my own knowledge and opinions but I want them to be analytical and inquisitive from early on. I am not interested in developing passive kids that can regurgitate textbooks; I am here for the next generation of actively brilliant minds that create their own theories and challenge the beliefs of our society. It is always great to get kids to question you and not get irritated; if you really think about the questions they ask, it can teach you a vast number of things and help you open up your mind.


How does this relate to reading?

Well…scientifically, reading has a profoundly significant effect on how we think; it lays down the cognitive processing infrastructure that we use all day, every day, throughout our lives. Don’t worry that’s a topic for another day.


The amount of exposure to reading material also positively correlates with vocabulary growth. In fact, studies carried out by Dr Keith Stanovich et al. show that the amount of reading one does can predict vocabulary and reasoning abilities, independent of the education they’ve had.

We can testify to this. At Milestones we have had students from low performing State schools that have transformed their grades and learning progress across all subjects simply through our intensive engagement to reading programme.


An additional benefit is the development of critical thinking skills such as the ability to decontextualize. What I mean by that is the ability to stand aside from a media context and process it in an abstract manner. This is analogous to the non verbal reasoning tests kids sit these days for entrance exams and those aptitude tests some us had the pleasure of sitting when applying to law or medicine or competitive jobs in the financial world.


I guess my message is…do not underestimate the importance and effects of reading especially for those kids of ours that are still developing those incredible brains. Get them to read everything: recipe books and instruction manuals!

31 Dec 2015

How to improve your creative writing

When it comes to creative writing a lot of students can feel they simply do not “get it”. Telling stories might not be their forte and adding on the time pressures inherent to exams can cause a real dilemma. It is important to remember that we all tell stories in our everyday lives and that there is a formulaic process for creative writing. This formula involves three key tips that will guarantee success.

Let’s be honest: you’re going to need to plan. Some of this planning should occur in the exam room. But some can happen before you walk through the exam door.



Before you go into an exam you should have thought about characters. Here’s how to get started on the task.

  • Take inspiration from the greats, all writers take elements from “stock characters”. Stock characters can range from the orphan, to the geek, to the misunderstood genius, to the loner.
  • For example, think about some of the main characters in the much loved Harry Potter series and ask yourself what about them makes those characters makes them special, memorable and relatable?

-HARRY POTTER- he is an orphan, this makes the audience SYMPATHISE with him. He has a distinctive facial feature (a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt), this signals he is somehow SPECIAL. He is signalled as different from the Dursleys who he lives with. This importantly makes the reader want him to SUCCEED.

-HERMIONE- is not from a wizard background and people make fun of her for this this makes her RESILIENT. She is also quite bossy and this often creates HUMOUR through its contrast to the laid back nature of characters like Ron.

  • Having well rounded, thought out and varied characters who interact with each other and who DEVELOP is very important in creating a story that someone will actually want to read.

Can you think of any characters of your own?

They might not spring to mind immediately but think about strong characters in your life. Your grandad, your favourite character in a TV show, your best friend or invent someone new. Make sure you can explain to yourself how they act and why. To help you do this you can create a character profile, what is their family like, what do they look like, what do they like to do, how old are they – how has their life experience affected them and why?

Make sure you have a small portfolio of characters who you think are interesting. You do not have to use these in an exam and shouldn’t use them if the question isn’t appropriate but it will acclimatize you to the process of invention and how it is actually just a process of collaboration between things that you have seen, read, heard, thought or even dreamt of.



This is essential, unless you’re Jack Kerouac you simply cannot just start writing. But don’t worry there are tools to help you do so.

Top Tip: If you are completely stumped for ideas you can create a mind map of different ideas and start to draw inspiration.

Think about your story as having four points:

Point number 1: Introduce your reader to a scenario.

  • Where are we?
  • Who is the reader meeting?
  • What do you want the reader to focus on first?
  • WHO IS SPEAKING- what is the voice the reader is hearing
  • How are you going to set the tone of the theme your story will be about.

Top Tip: familiarize yourself with the difference between first and third person narratives and how this affects what you read.

-It is easier to focus on characters as you can go into an exam with a stock list of them. (as mentioned in STAGE 1)

-DON’T GO TOO FARFETCHED. Writing about aliens, explosions and disaster is hard to do in a limited amount of time and can divert attention from your narrative arch, characters and descriptive language. Keeping the story simple will allow you to broadcast all of your talents without getting swept up in writing Mission Impossible 5.

Point number 2: Set up a challenge to this scenario.

Is the challenge emotional: the main character is lonely, the two main characters have had an argument, an important building is going to be demolished, somebody has died, somebody has to move away.

Think about what you want the reader to FEEL about this experience and think about what your characters would FEEL about this experience. Is one character more emotional, is another more withdrawn?

Think about how to convey these emotions.

  • TRY TO SHOW EMOTIONS INSTEAD OF NAMING THEM. In order to show an emotion, describe the physical and internal responses of your characters.

Let’s say you want to convey the emotion sadness.

  • Bad description: Sally wept and wailed and beat her fists and thought she would never feel happy again.

This description is too clunky and over the top.

  • Good description: Sally kept her gaze on a few squares on concrete at her feet, she could feel her shoulders arching forwards towards the ground and after a few moments, sensed that a few cold warm tears were trickling down her cheeks.

This description uses body language attached to certain emotions to help convey how Sally’s feeling are impacting her.

Point number 3: Have something change in the plot.

  • This change will either be to improve the situation or to leave it on course for an unhappy ending.

Point number 4: Resolve the story.

  • It can be happy, or unhappy or best of all, a little bit of both.


Use descriptive language!

  • Talk about what you see: colours, talk about the weather, talk about the feel of the air around you, talk about the smells around you.
  • Talk about you can touch: textures, soft, hot, cold, velvety.
  • Talk about the smells around you: deliciously freshly baked bread, grass after it has just rained, polluted city streets.
  • Talk about what you can hear: birds chirping, your little sister crying, two people shouting.
  • Talk about what you can taste: are you in a location with a particular type of food.
  • Think about the TIME OF YEAR: Practice stock phrases for winter, summer, autumn, spring. “The morning had the rejuvenative feeling of Autumn- I was surrounded by my favourite fiery shades of red.” , or Winter “icicles crunched beneath my feet like splinters and it was dark”.

If you do all of these things you should get by swimmingly.

31 Dec 2015

How to read a poem

Poems can be intimidating. But the most important thing to remember before approaching a poem is not to feel intimidated. Poems are abstract and defy immediate “understanding”, and therefore reading a poem requires developing a new skill set.

Unlike typical forms of literature, poetry is not about understanding in a literal sense. Poets such as T S Eliot acknowledge that: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” .

T S Eliot is highlighting exactly what is spectacular about poetry, the fact that it is simply about getting a feel for the words and trying to extract who you can. It’s like being a literary archaeologist. Any archaeologist will need tools. Below you will find the necessary literary tools to understanding poetry better.


Top Tips: Always read poetry with a pencil in hand. Read the poem once SLOWLY. Then re read it underlying anything that strikes you.

Voice : Work out who is talking. Are they young? Are they old? Are they female? Are they male? Are they an animal? Do they represent a particular race?

World view and themes: Are they making an argument for/ against something. Are they representing a particular historical or political viewpoint. Is the poem about race, class, memory, gender, death? Top Tip: Look at the title for clues as to the subject matter. Also, look for clues in the language – are certain words repeated.

Tone: one of the most important things to grasp. Does the VOICE seem happy, anxious, sad, angry?

Setting/ Plot: Where is the poem taking place and is there a particular activity happening. Top Tip: poems are condensed, try paraphrasing what exactly is happening in the poem, this will help you unpick it.


Sensory language: Are there words that evoke particular sounds, smells, colours, textures or tastes. Acknowledge them!

Simile : When two things are compared using ‘like’ or ‘as’. I.e. ‘our new lamp shone like the sun’, ‘our new lamp was as bright as the sun’.

Metaphor : A metaphor is when something is compared to something else without using the word ‘like’. I.e. ‘Samuel is a pig when he eats”.

Personification: When something inanimate (i.e. a table, the sun) is described as having human emotions/ doing a human activity. For example, ‘the sun smiled’ or ‘the sea heaved a great sigh’.

Symbolism: This is when you use an object or a word to represent an abstract idea.

  • Life is a roller-coaster: A famous line from a Ronan Keating song, this is symbolic because it indicates that there will be ups and downs in life.
  • If a character is wearing a certain colour it could symbolise something.

Hyperbole: Is when you exaggerate for effect. For example, ‘the minutes of my exam crawled by like years’.


This can start to feel very abstract when you are a newcomer to poetry. But keep calm- even if you find the terminology confusing you should get used to looking out for the definitions. I.e. always check to see more than one word in a sentence that start with the same letter (AKA alliteration). Or checking how the poem SOUNDS- does that line sound harsh, is it hard to say? Or does the line sound softer, is it easy to say?

Top tip: point, evidence and explanation is still required. So scan the poem for these sound tips then explain their effect. I will give some examples of what the effect might be.

Constanance: Repetition of the same consonant two or more times in short succession, as in ‘pitter patter’ or in ‘all mammals named Sam are clammy’.

Effect: Constanance can alter the rhythm of the poem. Making it a bit slower a bit heavier, in the above example you can argue the language itself has become a bit ‘clammy’.

Assonance: Resemblance of sound between syllables of nearby words, arising particularly from the rhyming of two or more stressed vowels, but not consonants (e.g. sonnet, porridge). The sound created by repeating vowel sounds can be very light and soft.

Dissonance: The use of harsh-sounding, unusual, or impolite words in poetry to create a disturbing effect or to catch the reader’s attention by interrupting a smooth flow of words.

Sibilance: Repeating the ‘s’ sound. For example,‘The sausages sizzled slowly’.

Onomatopoeia: A word that sounds like what it is. I. e. ‘POW’ and ‘BAM’.

Here are some poems for you to practice on:

A Donkey and The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth, Stealing by Carol Ann Duffy and The Follower by Seamus Heaney.