Mentoring quote

Hi team,

I wanted to share this quote I found about mentoring that I felt could be applied to the work we do here in Study Skills.

I know I often find it difficult to strike the balance between telling somebody ‘you should do it like this’ and encouraging them to find their own way. For me, little quotes like this serve as a reminder that our goal isn’t necessarily to create the perfect writer in 50 minutes, but rather to set them on their way equipped with all the tools.


And then hopefully this one will make you smile…


I hope you all have a great week!




Hi team!

I hope you are well.

I wanted to offer a reflection of a session I had this morning in which a Childhood Studies student came to me with a task I had never encountered before.

I am particularly interested in what you would have done in the same situation, so please do feel welcome to leave your thoughts and comments below.

The task was to create a 1000 word ‘vignette’ and then a 2000 word annotation of the ‘vignette’. 

The material I (or rather we!) had to work with consisted of two case studies outlining two childrens’ childhoods. There was no accompanying task sheet, just the above statement in her notebook.

I asked the student if there was a task sheet or PowerPoint slide available that we could refer to, but she said there wasn’t.

Not knowing what a vignette was (and Google not offering much help either) I was truly stumped, and found myself almost guessing what she had to do. I guessed that she needed to write an assumption of how the children in the case studies’ future would turn out, and then the annotation would consist of research to back this up.

However, terrified of setting her off on the wrong foot, I advised that she went and saw her tutor to clarify what she needed to do.

My heart really went out to the student and I felt like I hadn’t helped at all in –  what turned out to be – a very short session.

Can anybody offer some enlightenment on writing a vignette in an academic context?



Grammar point: Participles

Hi everyone,

I thought I would share something else I have been working on from the Palgrave Study Skills: Improve your grammar. (This book is quickly becoming my baby I recommend it to you all!)

This time I have been looking at participles to enhance students’ writing. I find this a particularly useful grammar point to focus on when the student already writes well and coherently, but it’s lacking flare. In other words, the classic stuck in a B graders!

So, what is a participle?

In Maisie speak, it’s being playful with the sentence. Twisting the order and varying this from sentence to sentence. Basically it’s a step further than just adding your usual connectives (and, because, or).

However, I feel the book writes this slightly more eloquently, describing a participle as:

  • A present participle is a form of a verb ending in – ing (eg. facing)
  • A past participle is often a form of a verb ending with -ed (eg. worked, although could include done, driven, known etc).
  • A past participle can also be used after ‘having’ (eg. having worked)

“But stop!” I hear you cry. How an earth do we put this grammatical jargon (as it may seem to the student) into practice?

First, I would get the student to try and use participles to enhance the following sentences. Note that the original sentences are grammatically correct, they’re just missing that oomph, if you will.

Example 1

The country’s car industry was obliged to restructure in the 1990s because it faced the effects of a recession.

This could be improved with the help of a participle, changing it to:

Facing the effects of a recession in the early 1990s, the country’s car industry was obliged to restructure.

Example 2 

Exports grew over the next few years. They were driven by an international marketing campaign.

This could be improved with the help of a participle, changing it to: 

Exports, driven by an international marketing campaign, grew over the next few years.


The book gives a few more examples, however I feel it would be more beneficial (given we only have 50 minutes) to try and enhance some of the sentences in the students’ own work.

I’m sure for many of you this is something you do quite naturally without thinking about it – I know I do! For this reason I have found this resource so helpful because it’s a concrete way to make writing ‘better’, something which can seem a terribly daunting task when faced with a student who is already using a good variety of simple, complex and compound sentences.


Problems with past forms

Hello everyone,

This is a useful activity I use to help students improve their grammatical expression.

It is taken from Palgrave Study Skills, Improve your Grammar by Mark Harrison, Vanessa Jakeman and Ken Paterson (2012)

It takes the form of ‘find the mistakes’ in the following sentences, so very easy to fit into a session and feel like you have done something concrete which they can then go away and apply to their whole essay.

Why not have a go yourselves?

What is wrong with the following sentences?

  1. The organisers should of been able to predict the press reaction to the show.
  2. After extensive negotiations, Select Design could make an exclusive agreement with Topshop.
  3. My Frock Ltd did not need to go bankrupt if they had restricted their business to the UK.
  4. The designer handbags on sale at £25 each must not have been genuine. 


This is a great activity to get students thinking about grammar, especially those guilty of ‘writing as they speak’!

See the answers below:

What’s wrong?

  1. In spoken English have may sound like of, but it is never correct to write of as part of a past modal form.

    e.g The organisers should have been able to predict….

  2. You cannot use could for a specific achievement in the past. Instead, you need to use was/were able to

    e.g Select Design was able to make/managed to make/succeeded in making…

  3. Did not need to + verb is used for things that did not happen (because they were not necessary) and Need not have + past participle is used for things that did happen (but they were not necessary).

    e.g My Frock Ltd need not have gone bankrupt if they had restricted their business to the UK.

  4. To express the opposite of must have been, you need to use cannot or could not have been, not must not have been .

    e.g The designer handbags on sale cannot have been genuine.

If you have time, you can extend this activity by going through the student’s essay and seeing if there are any specific examples of these errors in their work.