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How To Improve Your Writing

Replace Overused Words


We often advise our students who are looking to quickly improve their writing, to take the simple step of replacing commonly used words.  Words like very, said, look, and know are used so often and actually convey very little because of their overuse.

For example, if I was modifying something as very interesting, I am not actually providing a lot of description or letting the reader understand just how interesting I actually think the subject is.  However, if I wrote that it was exceptionally interesting or remarkably interesting, I have now made myself much more clear and made it certain my audience understands that something is outstanding.

Use this list as a reference guide when learning what words to replace and what words to replace them with.  You’d be surprised how much more enjoyable and understandable your writing can become from this easy first edit.

Paint a Picture


On the heels of using more specific words and less common words, we also encourage our students to paint a picture for their readers with descriptive language.  Much like an artist creating a vivid scene for a viewer to behold with a sweep of his paintbrush, so too is a writer detailing a moment that her reader will imagine with the stroke of her pen. The more concrete and colorful you are, the better your audience will relate and appreciate your hard work.

Let’s look at an example of well-done descriptive writing to learn how we can do this ourselves

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills…The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pinktipped waves were breaking into surf.

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Most would agree that this a strongly written description.  But what exactly makes it so powerful?  Three things:

Word choice

Figurative Language


Word Choice

First of all, the author’s word choice boils down to descriptors, strong verbs, and specific nouns.  Notice the adverbs and adjectives like “upturned”, “sandy”, “scarlet”, and “wild”: they are numerous, clear, and descriptive.  The verbs are powerful and active like “breaking” and “petrified”.  Lastly, the nouns are specific like “blossoms”, “billows”, and “swamp”.

Figurative Language

Figurative Language by Oxford Tutoring.png

Next, is the figurative language.  Metaphors, similes, personification, and others are all tools that an author will yield when wanting his readers to get an even clearer image of what they are writing about.  When Mitchell describes the earth as “hungry” she is using personification to make an inanimate object more powerful and real. When she uses the metaphor of comparing the house to an island in a wild red sea, we can gather that it is the only “human” creation in the middle of the wild.


Finally, the author uses imagery, which is what both of the above categories could fall under.  It is all about showing, and not telling.  The author does not just tell us that there are waves in the sea, instead, she shows us just what that looks like: “a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into a surf.”

Take advantage of the extra summer hours

Front Side of Flyer for Center

Summer is a great time to work on writing because the commitments and demands on students are far fewer.  While it is important for children to get the opportunity to rest and relax, it is also important not to let those extra summer hours go to waste (beware of the summer slide).  Working on your writing during the summer provides an activity to help the mind stay active, and is more enjoyable than the drudgery of homework.

Check out some of our Summer writing courses at Oxford Tutoring like Phonics Galore, 1st – 12th grade English Language Arts, Creative Writing, and an Essay Writing Clinic.  See our full summer course schedule here.

What about College Application Essays?

College Night Flyer

Most writing instructors can assist you with the grammar and sentence structure of your college application.  Yet, making sure your college application essay accurately conveys who are you are to an application reader and addresses any lapses from your application, takes an expert hand.  That is why we offer our Coffee, Cookies, and College nights where our college consultant, a UCI and UCLA application reader, discusses what it takes to be a competitive college applicant and how to stand out from the crowd.  Learn more here.

And Those Pesky ACT and SAT essays?

SAT Summa

We’ve got you covered there as well.  Check out our SAT and ACT classes to learn how to write these difficult essays. We discuss strategies, content, and tools to complete these essays in the allotted time and achieve a top score.  See the schedule here.


Although many people are intimidated by writing and do not see how they can improve upon this necessary skill, utilizing a few, simple tactics like painting a picture and replacing overly used words can easily and immediately improve your writing.  Give it a try.  Or post your writing to our Facebook page and we will give you our feedback.

Oxford Tutoring Reading Writing Math Science Instruction

Posted in Child, children, Education, K-12 Tutoring, Learning Activties, Parent, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, school, student, Studying, Tutoring, Uncategorized

10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed In School

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

Education is a valuable tool that can set children up for a successful future.  As a result, children getting the best out of their education is vital.  So, how, as a parent, can you come alongside your children and support them in their education?  Here is a suggested list of ways to help your child succeed in school.

#1: Set Up a Morning Routine

Rushed mornings can carry over into your child’s day.  We all know that there are days when hurried mornings cannot be helped, but for the most part, establishing a morning routine will help your child’s day start off right.  Just like children benefit from a routine at school, so too can they benefit from a predictable morning.

#2: Get to Know Your Child’s Teacher

This may seem like an obvious step, but it can be easy to become preoccupied with other priorities.  However, taking the time to meet and get to know your child’s teacher will open up the lines of communication.   When concerns or questions arise, having already developed a rapport with your child’s teacher will make possibly difficult conversations a lot easier.

#3: Volunteer at School

Furthermore, getting involved at your child’s school can be helpful in your child’s success at school.  You will be directly engaged with your child’s education by volunteering for field trips, after school activities, or in class help. With your help, your child will benefit from a more meaningful school experience.

#4: Stay Positive about Education

School is hard work, and when your children are feeling overwhelmed they are going to feel like their school experience is a negative one.  What they need is an education advocate.  By focusing on the positives of education and continuing your education through schooling, reading, and other learning activities, you will show your children why education can help them go a long way in life.

#5: Read Together

Children need to be able to read fluently, comprehend what they are reading, and analyze the text in order to excel in school.  Reading together provides you with the opportunity to help develop these skills.  Read together and talk about what you are reading with your child in order to build these skills and aid him or her do well in school.

#6: Talk to Your Child

Talking to your children about their day and what is going on with them is an important step to helping your child succeed in school.  This way, you will know what is going on with their friends, schooling, and other activities.  Even if your child is in the stage where his or her answers to your questions are “fine” and “good”, at least they know that the lines of communication are open, and they can come to you when they are ready to talk.

#7: Provide a Study Space

It is extremely helpful for students to have a quite place to study and get their homework finished. This can be as simple as a desk with a few office supplies on it.  What this does is provide a focused learning environment that children can consistently go to to get their assignment done.

#8: Prioritize Study Time

Make sure that your children are studying and getting homework done before moving on to other activities like TV and video games.

#9: Continue Learning over the Summer

Ever heard of the summer slide?  This can really affect a child’s learning as studies show that children can lose a full month’s worth of school learning over the summer.  Combat this with continuing education over the summer through reading, classes, and tutoring.

#10: Hire a Tutor

This may be last on our list, but it most certainly should not be a last resort.  Tutoring is a great opportunity for your child to get ahead, catch up, build confidence, and even more.  Check out our latest blog to find out why tutoring can help your child.


These are just some of the many ways you can support your children in their school.  Can you think of any other ways to help your children with their education goals?


Oxford Tutoring

(949) 681-0388

Posted in Education, school, student, Studying, Uncategorized

6 Ways to Prepare for Finals

Finals time is right around the corner.  Now is the time to start preparing.  Do not wait until the last minute to get ready.  Instead read our following list of the 6 ways to prepare for finals.

1. Plan Ahead

Many students make the mistake of studying the night before the test.  This is a mistake for a couple of reasons.  First off, the likelihood of retaining the information is significantly lowered.  If however, you study over time, you will find that remembering the information will be much easier.  Secondly, it is going to add undue stress to your studying and ultimately will affect you when it is time to take the test.  Planning to study ahead of time will give you the confidence you need to conquer your finals.

2. Create a Study Schedule

This goes hand in hand with planning ahead.  When you are prepping ahead of time, you will have the opportunity to write up a study schedule.  Spend more time on the subjects that are more difficult with you.  Also, consider switching subjects every hour or two.  This can prevent the tiring out we often experience when we spend too much time on one subject.

3. Form Study Groups

There is a great advantage to studying in groups.  This allows you to have assistance when you come across an area of the subject you struggle with or are unfamiliar with. Furthermore, you are given the opportunity to be taught and to teach – both of which are conducive to your learning the material.  So get together with a couple of friends from class to prepare for finals.

4. Take Breaks

You would be surprised how much taking a break – even just for 15 or 20 minutes – can increase your focus.  If possible, take a break every hour or so.  Eat healthy snack, grab some fresh air, or get some exercise.  This will help you come back refreshed and ready to keep studying.  Don’t watch TV, play video games, or go on social media.  These activities do very little to give your brain a rest – which is the goal of taking breaks.

5. Sleep Well

This may seem simple and obvious.  However, some students adhere to staying up all night the night before the final thinking that this will help them score higher.  There is not much evidence to back this up.  In fact, to function well your brain needs rest.  By studying ahead of time, you will be able to get to bed early the night before the finals and come to the test well-rested.  This will also decrease your chance of getting sick which can often happen to students during finals time as a result of high stress and little sleep.

6. Find a Study Partner or a Tutor

Find a friend (one that will focus and take studying seriously), grab your books, and head to the closest Starbucks for some study time.  If you find it difficult to focus when studying with a friend, consider getting a tutor to help you prepare for finals.  I hear Oxford Tutoring can help out with this.


Following the above steps will go a long way for improving your scores.  So start getting ready now and try the above 6 ways to prepare for finals. Call us today for a tutor who can help you get ready for finals. (949) 681.-0388.


Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, Parent, Reading, school, student, Studying, Uncategorized

How to Annotate – Close Reading

Is it enough for students to simply comprehend their school readings? While reading comprehension is necessary for doing well in school, in order to experience success in current and future schooling, students will be required to go beyond what they see on the surface and dig deeper into the text.

This is where the process of close reading can make all the difference.  Close reading is when we slow down and think about what we are reading.  An important step in close reading is to annotate, as this allows for greater focus and attention to detail. Keep reading to learn how to annotate when you are practicing the art of close reading.

Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

To help yourself determine the meaning of the vocabulary word, find context clues.  If necessary use a dictionary.

Main Ideas

Take notes on the central themes, clues or details that back up the main idea and themes.

Confusing Parts

Find unfamiliar details that you might need to clarify through re-reading, summarizing, discussion or research.

Questions to Ask

Who are the main characters?

What is the setting?

What is the main conflict?



Analyze the Text for Craft and Structure

Repeated Themes or Ideas

Think about the genre of the work and the ideas, use of language, and any lesson or moral.

Character or Author’s Feelings

For fiction, take note of how the author uses dialogue, descriptions, things the character says, does, etc. to develop character.

When it comes to non-fiction, pay attention to how the author talks about the subject to determine his or her feelings about the topic.

Note the Narrator’s Point of View

Determine how the point of view contributes to the story.

Questions to Ask

Why do characters behave as they do?

How do their actions advance the plot?

How does the author’s word choice affect the story’s tone?



Integrate Your Knowledge


Compare and contrast this work with other works you have read, information you already know, and ways in which you can relate to the story.

Deeper Meaning

Find the important images and symbols to analyze their deeper meaning.

Effective Writing

Look for literary devices, figurative language, powerful sentences, etc.

 Questions to Ask

How has this work increased my knowledge of a subject or author?

What is surprising about the story’s outcome?

What did I appreciate about the author’s style?



Tools for Annotation

Make your annotation system your own, use colored pens, highlighters or symbols to annotate for the above list of items.

This process of annotation will help you read more closely and allow you to dig deeper to find more significance in the texts you are reading.  This will not only provide more depth to your schooling, but will also be an influence on your life. ­­­­­­

How to Annotate - Close Reading Icon.png

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.