Posted in children, Education, K-12 Tutoring, school, student, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Uncategorized

Students Ask the Darnedest Things

In the last few minutes of a session, I had a student hit me with this question, just out of the blue:

Does anyone have one googol dollars?

For those who aren’t familiar with “googol”, it’s actually not a misspelling of everyone’s favorite verbed search engine. It’s this very large number:
… or, with commas:
… because those commas, of course, make all the difference.

It’s probably for the better I wasn’t taking a sip of water when this question came up, since I almost did the dry version of the classic spit-take, but I caught myself in time, paused, and instead said, “… Ok, well, let’s have some fun with this.”

Hint? You’re going to have about as much luck cashing one of these…

The average dollar bill weighs 1 gram. For ease of transport, dollar bills come in “straps”, or bundles of 100. We’re going to do ourselves a couple favors and say (1) that we’re only going to use $100 bills, to minimize the number of dollar bills we will have to create, and (2) the paper strips holding the straps magically have no mass. Sure, this is entirely wrong, but, trust me, we’re going to need all the mass we can have available for $100 bills.


According to the US Federal Reserve, there were 38.1 billion currency notes in circulation in 2015. While this doesn’t just mean dollar bills (it could include other valid notes of value), this provides us our first estimate: If we convert all of these notes up to $100… we’re nowhere close. That would give us $3.81 trillion, which gets us a paltry 3.81 x 10^-88 percent of the way there. In numbers?

This clearly won’t do, not if we’re trying to become the richest person ever known, and quite possibly in past, present, and future, at that. So, let’s do something mathemagical here.

Our home, good old Planet Earth, has a mass of 5.972 × 10^24 kg, or in grams like our money, 5.972 × 10^27 g. I’ll spare you writing out the big number, but that number, in grams, is also exatcly how many $100 bills we could have if we could turn every single atom of the Earth into $100 bills (this is where we put the “magic” in “mathemagical” – this would take ridiculous amounts of energy that we’re going to magically ignore the need for right now). By doing so, we get a grand total of $5.972 × 10^29. We also now lack for a place to store all of these $100 bills (one of the downsides of no longer having a planet), but I’m sure we can just grab a spare black hole for a wallet. Unfortunately, we need 70-and-a-half more zeroes, so we’re going to need some more mass…

… so we’re going to use the entire Solar System!

But it turns out this doesn’t actually help too much more. The Sun, all the planets, every moon, and all sorts of other objects like asteroids and comets and other items (oh my!) comes to a collective mass of 1.991 x 10^33 grams, or $1.991 x 10^35 dollars, and we’re still just under 65 zeroes too short. Can we go bigger?

Of course! Our Solar System isn’t just floating around in space. It sits on a far arm of the Milky Way galaxy, which has a mass of 1.153 x 10^45 grams. I’m going to guess now though, my savvy reader, that you’ve caught on to the pattern – the number of dollars is two more than the number on 10^##. At $1.153 x 10^47 dollars, we’re just under half the number of digits!

And this is where we reach the point of impossibility. Best estimates state that there are on the order of 100 billion galaxies, and even if we take all of these into account, we’re going to need some of that as-yet-undiscovered dark matter to get things to work – converting every single galaxy, with generous estimates, only gets us to approximately $1.153 x 10^58 dollars. To put this titanic number into perspective, compared to our $1 googol? Halfway to $1 googol would be $5 x 10^99.

At this point, it’s safe to say we’re not going to get $1 googol. If we somehow could get this to work though, we wouldn’t have a planet to put it on. We might be able, somehow, to arrange in space, but this much money just might make for the strangest galaxy of them all…

Money Galaxy.png
Money Galaxy


About the Author: Jason Orens – a Math and Computer Science Instructor, has been tutoring with Oxford Tutoring for over nine years.  Utilizing the student’s existing knowledge and a touch of humor, Jason strives to remove students mental barriers between themselves and the difficult, technical materials.  He combines his years of tutoring experience and expertise in the fields of Math and Computer Science to give his students the tools they need to succeed in these challenging classes.

Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, ELA, family, Homework Help, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, Reading, Uncategorized

4 Steps to Develop Comprehension and Analysis Skills at Home

The world of education centers on using new research and experience to identify what students need to learn and how teachers can present that information better.  While this system has been trusted to help students reach their academic goals in the classroom, what are students and parents supposed to do if they feel that more can be done to enable students to reach their goals?

Many parents have come to Oxford Tutoring with that very question, and there are times when instruction with our trained and knowledgeable tutors is warranted, if not necessary, especially since the Common Core has changed the way students’ skills are evaluated.  However, when it comes to improvement in English Language Arts, there are a number of activities that are effective, free, and fun which students and parents can work on at home.

The Challenge

The most common request our English Language Arts instructors encounter from students is help with comprehending and analyzing plots and arguments.  The interesting thing about most of these requests is that the real problem is that they are simply unfamiliar with explaining what they know.

Prior to the last couple years, students were only asked to summarize, or repeat back, what they read, but the new requirements ask them to explain themselves.  So, the problem isn’t that they don’t know how to comprehend or analyze, it’s that they aren’t being taught to explain their findings.

Given this revelation, let’s give students some credit for the skills they do have and help them learn to explain their ideas effectively.

The Usual Fix

Most of the time, when a student comes to us because his or her reading and writing scores are less than impressive, we begin by asking the student to read a passage and answer specific questions about what was read.  Then, to the tutor’s surprise, the student answers most, if not all, of the questions correctly.

This is surprising to us because the student asked for help with something they already know how to do.  So, the tutor ponders the situation for a moment and realizes that the student actually needs help explaining how he or she got those answers.

Thus begins the process of guiding the student through each step of his or her internal analysis process and making it an external process with spoken and written words.  The trick is helping the student realize that once they’re finished analyzing the passage, the hard part is over.

An Alternative Fix

I must admit, I love teaching students to comprehend and analyze texts.  But I also think that students can try to develop their own strategies and processes without my help.  Such an endeavor could even be entertaining and might even begin a lifelong fondness for thinking critically.

The entertaining aspect comes from the fact that students are not limited in their choices of practice materials.  One might think that we have to use the same texts provided in English and Social Studies classrooms, but that is just not the case.  A more effective option is to use a medium that truly engages the student, and this is easily accommodated when dealing with only one student.

Therefore, the first step in the process of developing comprehension and analysis skills is getting the student to identify the material that will be most engaging.  For example, because novels can take so long to get interesting, I like to begin by discussing the student’s favorite movie.  Yes, I know our goal is to improve our skills with texts, but, in the beginning, the most important task is getting started – just finding an idea the student finds worthy of putting forth effort to figure out.  Even if the student isn’t a movie/television aficionado, the initial and most engaging themes and plots are guaranteed to already be present in the student’s everyday life.

The Actual Practice   

So, you’ve decided to conduct some at-home practice, and you know what topic(s) your child is truly interested in.  Now, let’s talk about some activities that can help him or her learn to comprehend and analyze the content and then present his or her findings in an effective way.   If I write out the process in a list, you might get intimidated and shy away from this whole process, so I’ll start by explaining the core activities and then we’ll get into the process.


workplace-1245776_1920Step 1: Oral Exercises

The most entertaining activities are the oral activities in which you’ll just talk to the student about one of his or her interests.  That is, you’ll strike up a conversation with him or her about the thing that he or she really wants to talk to you about.  Let’s face it; we are talking about young people here.  If you give them an excuse, they’ll talk all day and night, and you are going to give them the perfect excuse.

For example, if your student is an avid Netflix user, strike up a conversation about what he or she is currently binge-watching.  The goal of this simple sounding activity is to get the student to think critically about what they’ve experienced and decide what is important enough to be included in the explanation and what is not.  Then they will have to analyze the content in order to explain how each of those “important” scenes/episodes fits together into the overall plot of the story.

I know; just reading all of this makes it feel like a college level activity, but the student will want to do it and will enjoy it immensely.  And you the “instructor” will have to do very little to make it work; just show interest in what the student finds interesting.  The only challenging aspect of this first activity is keeping the student on track – focused on the same topic throughout the entire conversation.


light-bulb-1246043_1920.jpgStep 2: The Socratic Method

The next activity in the process is applying the infamous Socratic Method.  You may be familiar with this form of questioning from your own educational experiences or from modern media’s distortion of it through the angry college professor’s lecture.

However, at heart, the Socratic Method and our main goal in this second type of activity is based on trying to truly understand what the student likes about the topic he or she has chosen to discuss.  What makes him or her so passionate about it?  Why is it worth talking about?  The difference between this activity and the previous is that you are more of a participant now.  In the first activity your goal was simply to keep them talking about the same thing.  Now, you want to understand that thing, game, sport, skateboarding trick, movie, whatever.  It’s kind of like the game children like to play with adults, where they ask you a question and then keep asking “why?”  It’s hilarious and frustrating when the kids do it because there’s no point except to keep you talking.

For us though, there is a point – deep and true understanding, not only of the thing itself, but of the student’s relationship with and to it.  You will probe for more and deeper understanding through a back and forth conversation that tests and then expands your and the student’s conception of the topic.  To make this work, you’ll want to channel one part: that annoying kid who asks “why” all the time, one part: wise person who says, “hmm” and “that’s interesting,” and one part devil’s advocate who challenges what is known by pushing the idea to the extreme and taking the idea and standing it on its head.  Doesn’t that sound fun?  I thought you’d think so.

Once you’ve completed these two oral activities a few times, the student will become accustomed to thinking critically about the things he or she cares about.  Then, the student will be ready to start writing about what he or she has been thinking about.


coffee-1128136_1920Step 3: Written Exercises

The first stage of getting comfortable with writing about what’s on our minds is based on the tried and true method called Journaling.  The great thing about Journaling is that there are no rules, so you can’t mess up.  For this to work, the student need only put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Ask him or her to fill a page with text about a single topic.  These pages will not be subject to reading or critiquing, just ask the student for a quick glance so you can see that writing took place.

The reason this activity is so informal is that the goal is to get the student to put more than a single thought or sentence into the writing process.  His or her teachers are expecting more than a yes or no answer and more than just a sentence or two in response.  Asking a student to fill a page with text, even if it’s not the most eloquent text, helps him or her to get comfortable with putting ideas together and building on or expounding on an idea.  Just give the student some time and a comfortable place to work and watch the ideas trickle and then flood onto the page.

Once the student is able to fill a page with text, it’s time to move on to actual essay writing practice.

Instructional/Informational Essays

Before you get too excited and feel the need to remind me that I said this would be easy and fun or that you might not be an English teacher, let me assure you that my use of the term essay in this passage is rather loose.  I, and you, don’t want your student running for the hills at the very mentioning of these activities.  Given that, let’s think of essays as writing down thoughts in an organized fashion.  Just as with the prior activities, we are focusing on helping the student think critically and fully about an idea, not on the technical correctness of their expression.

When presenting this activity, remind the student that you are not asking him or her to think up anything new.  He or she will have already informed you about the basics in the first oral activity.  You both will have thought about the ins and outs and finer points of the idea through the Socratic Method.  He or she will have already written about it in the Journaling activity.  All you’ll be asking for now is an “organized” presentation of the information.  In the Journaling activity the student was asked to fill the page, so there was no organization, just thoughts recorded as quickly as they entered the brain.

Now we want to organize those thoughts into an intelligible sequence.  If the idea the student wants to express is about explaining how to drive a car, help him or her put the steps in the proper order.  Should he or she write about the finer points of shifting the car into fifth-gear before putting on the seatbelt and starting the ignition? No.  That’s the kind of organizational awareness we are going to be looking for.  If you knew nothing about the topic, was the information presented in a way that would make it possible for you to understand what the student was trying to explain?  That’s it.

Neither you nor the student need worry about effectiveness of the hook or if the imagery was descriptive enough for you to feel like you were there in the car hammering the gas pedal while simultaneously feathering the clutch and yanking the E-brake hard enough to make the car Drift through the S-curves like Vin Diesel in a “Fast and Furious” movie.  That’s my job.  You just need to help the student present all of the really important parts and put them in order so that you can follow along.  The same goes for an essay where the student is trying to present his or her opinion about something.

In these analytical or critical essays, ask yourself if you can identify the student’s position or feelings about the issue and why he or she feels that way.  Think of it like watching a story on the news or reading an article; don’t worry about how well it was presented as long as you get the important parts.

books-1605416_1920.jpgLevel 4: It’s the same, but different

At this level the student will make the transition from working with an idea that he or she is completely familiar with to an article or novel that is new to him or her.  This is the stage where you and your child can work together through each of the first three level’s activities.  You will work together to build the student’s comprehension and analysis skills as partners.

In the previous activities, the student was teaching you something only known to him or her.  Now, you will work together to build each other’s understanding through a genuine partnership.  You will read the text at a similar pace and you will think about and discuss the text with the same level of unfamiliarity and newness.  By completing each of the first three level’s activities with a new text, you will be able to operate from the perspective of a peer rather than a know-it-all teacher.  There will be no wrong answers, no errors, just two people’s unique perspectives on a singular topic.

Keeping It Real and Really Fun

The first thing the more pragmatic of you might think about is, “How long is this going to take?”  While it is a good question, the answer depends on how motivated you and the student are.  Ideally, you could complete one activity every other day, but I know that life and complicated schedules can get in the way.  So, in the end, this can be as formal and regulated as you desire.

You can work with a set schedule so that you and the student can be fully aware and accountable for completing the activities, or you can play it a bit looser and focus on the oral and journaling activities that can be done during car rides and lazy weekends.  You know your student best, so you will likely know how best to motivate him or her to start this process as well as what it will take to get you both to stick with it and keep practicing.

My most fervent hope and strenuous recommendation is to keep it fun at all costs.  Save the “work” aspects for the classroom teachers and us here at Oxford.


Meet the Author: Alex Claude is an SAT and ACT ELA Director and an ELA tutor at Oxford Tutoring.  He takes the time to get to know his students so he can learn and apply how to best teach them.  Alex teaches his students how to effectively communicate through writing, and how to analyze informational texts and novels.


Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, family, Parent, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, Reading, student, Uncategorized

Thank You, Jim Trelease! – The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

Picture copy.jpg
My son, Matt, reading to my four grandchildren.

Reading aloud to my four children is one of the fondest memories I have of their growing up years.  They are all adults now with their own families and busy lives, but I have wonderful memories of cuddling on the couch with them, reading stories together, watching their eyes light up as we traveled to other lands and other times through story.

As a teacher, reading to my children seemed a natural part of the parenting process.  Even when they were babies, they would sit on my lap as we enjoyed books like Pat the Bunny.  As they grew older, we graduated to story books.  Some were fairy tales, some were Bible stories, but all were chances to bond together over printed word. They had their favorites that they asked to be read to them over and over and over. We went to our local library’s story time and listened to books read aloud that we would then books that we checked out to take home to enjoy again and again.

However, it’s a common belief that when a child begins reading on his or her own, there is no longer a need for parents to read aloud to their children.  I confess that I held that same view until I met Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook. He was advertised as a guest speaker at our local library.  The title of his book sounded intriguing, so I went to hear what he had to say.

I am so glad that I did.

Jim Trelease’s idea that reading aloud can and should continue long after a child is an independent reader powerfully impacted both my parenting approach to reading as well as my own teaching  philosophy.  His belief was that children will be excited about reading if we are excited about reading.  They will think it’s fun if we think it’s fun. That evening, Trelease read aloud to us, an adult audience, the Bernard Waber classic, Ira Sleeps Over. He read it with energy, enthusiasm and wonderful vocal animation.  That’s all it took.  I was hooked!

Read-alouds became a fixed part of our family routine.  We cried together through books like Where the Red Fern Grows, laughed together through books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and experienced the  thrills and adventure of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  I am happy to report that I have raised children who love to read.

Now, as a grandmother, I am enjoying reading some of those same familiar stories to my six grandchildren.  What is even more rewarding to me is that my children are reading to their children; the torch has been passed!

I have never forgotten the way Jim Trelease closed his evening talk, reading from a poem by Stickland Gillian, titled “The Reading Mother.”

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

About the Author: Kathy H. is a tutor at Oxford Tutoring who enjoys tutors because she can make a difference in the lives of her students.  Her goal is to make learning fun by teaching to each student’s unique method of learning.  For fun, she likes to read, binge-watch TV shows on Netflix, serve at her church, and spend time with her grandchildren.

Posted in college, College Admissions, College Planning, Education, student, Uncategorized

College Consulting and Readiness Services with Oxford Tutoring

With college applications due in November, it is important to make sure that you are presenting your best self to the college of your dreams. This where Oxford Tutoring can help!  We have helped our students get into UCLA, UCI, USC, UC Berkley, UCSD, UCB and more.  Come receive college consulting services in any of the following areas:


This is an ideal stage for 8th grade and up.  With competition for top colleges as fierce as they are, it is never too early to start planning your high school pathway.  This includes assistance in deciding which high school classes to take, what extracurricular activities to participate in, and what volunteer work to choose.


Once you are on the college-bound road, there are difficult decisions that crop up along the way.  For example, if you are struggling with an AP class and do not believe you are going to pass the test, should you drop it or stick it out?  This is where our college consulting services can help.  Receive advising for GPA management, course evaluation, and difficult decisions.


The application is your introduction, the first impression you make on your application reader.  And we all know that first impressions are hard to change, which is why it is imperative that your application makes you shine.  We can help with UC and private school applications, determine essential content that needs to be included, and address any lapses or gaps in your application.


Many tutoring centers can help you write a personal statement that is well-written and grammatically correct, but this is only part of the requirement.  The most important job of your personal statements is to make sure that your writing matches up with the self you presented in the application.  At Oxford Tutoring, our college consulting services can help you do just that with personal statement help, making sure you engage the reader, and then crafting a polished essay.

Our College Consultant

Bob Oxford PicOur college consultant, Bob Trudeau, is one of a kind, as an application reader for UCLA and UCI, he offers a vital perspective on college applications.  Furthermore, he has more than twenty-five years of teaching experience and understands how college admissions officers read and score student applications.

By applying his knowledge of the 2,000 plus applications he scores each year with his skills in writing and grammar, Bob can help each student present him or herself as vividly and professionally as possible. Additionally, he also helps mom and dad make the tough planning and advising decisions necessary to excel academically.

Having earned his Bachelor’s degree in English and with a teaching credential from UCI, Bob is also qualified to tutor all high school English courses, high school Spanish, ACT and SAT English, and high school history.

Want to Learn More?

Attend our informational sessions “Coffee, Cookies, and College.”

These sessions, led by Bob Trudeau, discuss what college admission officers are looking for and how to plan for your high school pathway.

Bob details what it takes to be a competitive college applicant and stand out from the crowd.

Sessions will be held on the following dates:

October 4th of 6th @ 7:00 pm

Novemeber 1st or 3rd @ 7:00 pm

February 7th or 9th @7:00 pm

March 7th or 9th @ 7:00 pm

Call us today to sign up for “Coffee, Cookies, and College” or receive college consulting services. (949) 681-0388.

Posted in children, Events, family, Orange County Events, Uncategorized

OC Events: Redwood Hike

File:Sequoia sempervirens Big Basin Redwoods State Park 4.jpg

Join the OC Parks staff every first Saturday of the month for a light 1 mile hike to see the Coastal Redwood grove.  This interactive hike will encourage children to use their 5 senses and allow them to learn about other native plants as they walk along the trail.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park

1st Saturday of Every Month

Recommended for ages 3-17

Admission is free; parking is $5

Posted in ACT, Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, Private Tutoring, student, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Uncategorized

The Power of “We” – Tutoring Stories

by Julia M. – tutor at Oxford Tutoring

She sat across from me, completely defeated.  Tears slipping through the cracks of her calm demeanor.

When I first began tutoring her, she wanted to study the writing section of the ACT, and she wanted to study it at rapid speed.  She is a visual learner, so once she viewed the standards of grammar she needed to know, it was imprinted in her memory, utilized easily when she answered questions.  We whizzed through that section, my voice relaying information at the speed of an auctioneer just to keep up with her alert, competent mind.

Approaching the reading section I anticipated more of the same.

Yet, I quickly learned that she is a perfectionist. Hard on herself in school, sports, and life.  She demands a lot of herself.  I admire her work ethic and willingness to push herself in order to complete her goals, however, in this case, her high expectations were holding her back.  She could not finish the reading section in a timely manner, while still maintaining respectable marks.  The ACT is a test that requires students to think critically, move quickly, and work efficiently. In a desire to do well right away, she overwhelmed herself, not realizing that it takes time to build up the stamina and skill necessary to complete this task well.

It was my job to show her.

I spent much of the weekend thinking of a way to reach this sweet, intelligent girl.  I wanted her to feel bolstered and help her to realize that with time, she would be able to master the reading passages.  I had tried to explain this to her on our last session, but her emotional state made it impossible for her to process any new information.  She was simply too entrenched by discouragement to hear me.

I needed to find the words to reach her.

Then, I remembered a few years back when I was going through a particularly difficult situation, disappointment encircled me in the same manner.  A friend of mine was helping me through this challenge.  I will never forget what she said to me as I sat across from her feeling defeated.  She said, “Julia, we are going to get through this together.”  We.  She said we.  That meant that I was not alone in my troubles.  I had someone supporting me and with her help I would be able to make it through to the other side.

Remembering this pivotal moment, I realized that this is exactly what my student needed.

At our next tutoring session, I hoped that these same words would bring the comfort to my student that they had brought to me.  Calling upon the student’s background as a gymnast, I asked how she knew when she was ready to attempt a new move.  She explained that her coach served as her spotter, teaching a new technique and not letting go until the coach was certain her gymnast could handle the new move on her own.

After hearing her response, I looked at her and explained that, just like in gymnastics, the ACT required time and practice in order to be able to master it.  And, I was going to be her spotter.  We were going to work on the new techniques together, and I was not going to let go of her until I was positive she could handle the ACT on her own.  I paused, trying to read her expression to see if I was getting through to her.  Her mind was busy processing; she stayed silent.

“You know,” I added, “We are going to get through this together.” She breathed.  Her shoulders relaxed.  She sighed, relieved, “Okay, good!”

Ahead we moved, student and tutor together.

Meet the author:  Julia M. is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years.  She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support.  Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.

Posted in children, Events, family, Orange County Events, Uncategorized

OC Events: Pumpkin Patch

With Fall right around the corner, now is a great time to start planning fun family activities for the upcoming Holiday Season.  Starting, of course, with Halloween.

Beginning September 29th, Tanaka Farms in Irvine is hosting a Pumpkin Patch!  Complete with wagon rides, a corn maze, petting zoo, carnival games, food and more this event is sure to be an enjoyable time for families and kids of all ages. Check it out this fall!

September 29 – October 31

Recommended for all ages

Tanaka Farms

Admission is $2

Learn More



Posted in Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Reading, Tutoring, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Tools

How to Truly Understand a Text – The Reading Process

by Justin L. – Tutor at Oxford Tutoring

Reading is one of the most deceptively challenging skills to master. Once you’ve learned how to sound out words, it can feel like riding a bike downhill. You coast on momentum until coming to a stop at the bottom. You push your line of vision across the page until coming to a stop at the end.

Except, there’s more to riding a bike than balancing and pedaling, and there’s more to reading than sounding out words and scanning pages. You have to know your destination and how and why you made it there.

To learn how to read properly, you must understand the goal, the tools, and the process.



The #1 mistake people make when reading is approaching a text with the wrong mindset. They are looking to react to or critique what is presented. Reactions and critiques are valuable, but they are an entirely different process that follows reading. In fact, they are dependent on it.

To understand the goal of reading, you have to understand the goal of writing. Every writer wants to change your mind. That desire is not as nefarious or complicated as it sounds. While a lawyer, politician, or philosophy may pen a composition to change your opinions or actions, a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist crafts a story to entertain you. Still, either end requires the same means–your mind has to change. How? By communicating new information to you.

Thus, your goal as a reader is to understand what is being communicated to you. How? By knowing the tools the writer has at his disposal.



The basic tool of the writer is the word. However, like the process of reading, the word is not as simple as it seems. It is more than a collection of sounds. It is a symbol. What does it symbolize?

Every word represents a concept you hold in your mind (or will hold if you’ve never heard the word before). Concepts are placeholders in your mind for either concretes or abstracts. A concrete is an observable (by the five senses) thing. An abstract is an idea or emotion.

For example, the word “tree” symbolizes the large amount of observable traits of trees in the world. When you read it, you think of all the important traits of trees summed up in one image or “concept.” Additionally, the word “love” symbolizes the idea or emotion that can only be believed or experienced. When you read it, you think of all of the different ways to understand or feel love in one “concept.”

Thus, a writer uses symbols to make you think of the world in a specific way in order to show you new parts of it, or information, that will change your concepts.


The Process

The challenge of reading, then, is to understand all of the information being presented to you and how it is both different and the same as the information you already have. To do so, you must use a process similar to the Scientific Method.

Every writer has one Overall piece of information he is trying to communicate to you–usually called the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme. Once you figure it out, it becomes your Touchstone or Key to understanding everything else the writer shows you in that same piece of writing. The challenge is that you’re shown everything else first and can’t be sure of the Overall until you’ve read it all (and sometimes even after you’ve finished).

Ask a Question

Before you even consume a word, you have to decide which of the almost-infinite amount of books to pick up. If you’re completing an assignment for school or work, that decision is made for you, but your work on this step isn’t complete. You have to understand why you are reading what you’re reading. How does the text reflect your (or your teacher’s or company’s) values, interests, beliefs, tastes, and goals? Once you understand the context of your efforts, you can open the cover.


With a book or essay in front of you, it can be easy to flip to page one or find the first paragraph and start pressing forward. If you do so, however, you’ll miss out on a lot of important information. Gather all the background information you can to have an idea what the text is about.

Ask yourself: What is the title? Who is the author? When did he write the text? What content does it contain? How long is it? What type of sections and how many, if any, is the text divided into? Also, make sure you didn’t miss gathering any general information about the book’s subject when completing the previous step. (Ex: If the book is about architecture, learn about the basic purposes, principles, and people of architecture). The answer to all of these questions provide you all the information you need to complete the next step.


This step is where using the scientific method to read becomes really important. Based on all of your knowledge of the book and the subject, come up with a proposed Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of the text. This proposed Overall piece of information will be the umbrella you try to fit every other piece of information you learn while reading into. It is the starting point that you will slowly craft into your end point over the course of your consumption of the text.

Experiment + Analyze

In sciences, this step is divided in two. Reading, however, has a much less clearly defined line between the physical task (experimentation) and the reflection on it (analysis). In fact, that experimentation and analysis often occur at the same time is what makes reading so challenging. In a science experiment, you set up the physical process, run it, and collect the data. It is only then, when the physical process is complete, that you analyze the data to determine its significance.

When reading, you are collecting data and analyzing it at the same time. As you consume each new word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter, you try to fit it into your hypothesis. If you can explain how it fits into your hypothesis, you can move on. If not, you must change your hypothesis or create a new one. Thus, there are two important guidelines to follow for this step:

  1. Your hypothesis is always in flux until you finish the text. Until you have all the data, you can’t have a complete conclusion. However, as you read more and more of the text, your hypothesis should change less and less.
  2. Set up checkpoints for yourself to stop consuming new data and think about the data you have. Typically these checkpoints are the ends of sections or chapters, as the author included those breaks to signal the information because it is a data subset.

Basically, once you read the first word of the text, you enter into a loop of Experiment + Analysis and Hypothesis until you read the last word of the text.


Now that you have all the data and have finished looping, you should have a hypothesis that explains why the author included everything in the text. The key here is being able to explain the hypothesis and how it explains everything. To do so, write a one sentence summary of what you think the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme is. This sentence serves as your shorthand for the text. Any time anyone brings up anything about the text, you refer back to your conclusion and use it as the foundation of any thinking you do. (Keep in mind, if anyone presents you with new information you may have missed when you read the text or a new understanding you may have not thought of, you may have to re-enter the loop.)

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Right now you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenge that reading presents. You may not want to put in so much effort every time you read, especially if it is “just for enjoyment.” It’s important to remember that just as everyone who learns how to ride a bike isn’t going to become a professional BMXer and medal in the X-Games, not everyone who learns how to read is going to become a Shakespearean scholar and earn a PhD in Literature. Still, just as riding a bike well can add to your life immensely, so can reading.

Truly understanding the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of a book can greatly increase your enjoyment of it. By knowing why everything was included, the importance of each line of dialogue and event becomes clear and impacts you more. Likewise, comprehending what the author is showing you can improve your life by helping you to consider complexities of life that you may never have before. Or, if you’re assigned the book for school or work, it can help you earn a good grade or complete your project perfectly.


About the Author:
Our Oxford Tutoring, Justin L., tutors Middle School through High School English Language Arts, as well as SAT and ACT English.  As a published writer and former college English teacher, Justin has extensive knowledge of the reading and writing process. He uses his knowledge to challenge his students to think critically, encouraging them to go deeper with the texts they read and the essays they write.

Posted in children, Education, K-12 Tutoring, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Uncategorized, website design

The Light in Their Eyes – Tutoring Stories

by Nuria T. – ELA, Graphic Design, Math, and Social Studies Tutor at Oxford Tutoring


At Oxford Tutoring, there are many different types of students. Some students who are advanced, some in the middle, or others who just need a helping hand. Regardless, one thing has always been the same: when students finally grasp an unknown concept, their faces light up!

This summer I began to teach website design. The subject is in my area of studies, and I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to teach it.  I spent time writing the curriculum and doing extensive research on new program updates. I was greatly looking forward to putting all of my efforts into application and having the opportunity to teach the class.

When the class started, I noticed that even though my student did not want to pursue a career in the area of website design, she was still interested in the material. She asked as many questions as she could, gobbling up the information I presented. What impressed me the most is even though there were moments where she was having a hard time, my student would often ask if she could try it out on her own before my stepping in to help.

We went over Photoshop and Dreamweaver.  To learn two programs in four weeks is not easy on any student.  The student picked up Photoshop relatively easily, but Dreamweaver proved to be more challenging for her.  This is because the program has a very different interface. She often would ask me for “hints” when attempting to work with this program. Even though she struggled in class, she never failed to turn in the homework I assigned.  Not only would she complete what I assigned, but would also work on extra work that she assigned herself. When I asked her why this was the case she simply stated, “It looks so cool when you do it! I want to try too!”  As an tutor, it’s always fantastic to see and hear your students desiring to learn more.

The last class was my proudest moment. My student admitted that she was slightly overwhelmed, but was ready to learn the final steps. For the quiz I gave her thirty minutes to design one page of her website. She sighed but she told me not to help her throughout the quiz no matter what! I knew that she would succeed and agreed to let her handle it all on her own. And she did it! Not only did she complete the quiz, but even excelled at various font changes, DIV boxes, DIV color changes, margin spacing, padding spacing, navigation, links, and creating a footer.

The student proved that although there may have been many difficult moments, it was still worth it to try. Students often think that when an instructor assigns a harder task it’s for no reason. That’s not the case; a tutor challenges a student because he or she is confident that the student can rise to meet the challenge.

At Oxford Tutoring, when a student and tutor come together striving to learn, the sky is the limit.

Posted in Child, children, Education, Parent and Child, Tutoring, Uncategorized

Sometimes Great Things Come in Small Packages – Tutoring Stories

by Kathy H – tutor of ELA, Math, Social Studies, History, and Speech and Debate

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His name is Emmanuel, and he is a force to be reckoned with.

He is a cherubic, bespectacled five year old darling who came to visit me in my little tutoring room this past spring.  He was just finishing his kindergarten year, but his father was told by the teacher and the school district that Emmanuel was not ready to advance to first grade.  His papa could not accept that decision. He knew his son, and he knew what I would soon come to learn.

Our little Emmanuel was not only bright, but inside that tiny frame was the bulldog determination of a never-give-up hard worker. His wise father became Emmanuel’s advocate, and convinced the district to retest his son one more time before the final decision to retain him in kindergarten. That is how Emmanuel came to work with me for several hours per week this past summer.

And work we did!  He memorized sight words, segmented phonemes, read countless nonsense words, beat me over and over at The Train Phonics Game, and learned the names of geometric shapes.  I still smile when I think of that little voice flawlessly saying difficult terms like “rectangular prism.”

When we first began working together, Emmanuel had two teeth missing.  It was a challenge getting him to be able to pronounce the “th” sound without those teeth, but he practiced and practiced until he got it right. I can still see that determined little face working to form the words.  Small but mighty, Emmanuel did anything and everything I asked him to do, without a whimper or complaint, as we vetted him for the retest mid-July.

As the day of the retest came, I prayed and waited to hear if he had passed.  When his dad arrived at our center, he was all smiles as he proudly showed me the congratulatory email on his phone.  There were high-fives all over our lobby, and we took Emmanuel’s photo, with both thumbs-up, to put on our bulletin board to celebrate his victory.

At Oxford, we are in the business of helping all of our students achieve their individual goals.  If one strolls through our center during a busy day, one might hear Shakespeare, calculus, chemistry, or physics concepts wafting through the air. We take pride in our high school students who score high on their SAT’s and go on to Ivy League schools.  But we also take every bit as much pride in the success of a kindergartener like Emmanuel.

At Oxford Tutoring Center, there are no small victories.

About the Author: Kathy H. is a tutor at Oxford Tutoring who enjoys tutors because she can make a difference in the lives of her students.  Her goal is to make learning fun by teaching to each student’s unique method of learning.  For fun, she likes to read, binge-watch TV shows on Netflix, serve at her church, and spend time with her grandchildren.