Five ways to get kids to want to read and write

Combining academic research and hands-on tips, this article explains how you can instil a love of reading in your mentee (and in any other child in your life, really). You can read it here:

Here’s a summary of what would be particularly helpful for Homework Zone volunteers:

  • Talk about the books you read. Talk about them with the kids, with other mentors in front of the kids…. lead by example!
  • If you have a favourite story or book you think your mentee would like, try to find it in the school library, or from the McGill library, and read it together every week. 

Ella Enchanted was definitely in my top 3 when I was ten.

  • Read out loud to your mentee, and make it fun. Act out voices, e-nun-ci-ate, point out the words you read (or get them to point them out), and get really invested in the story. For the first few weeks of the semester, you can read out loud more than you make them read, in order get them used to a “reading voice”. If you’re reading out loud, go for books with more interesting stories, even though – especially if you think they might be too hard for your mentee to read on their own. That’s how you plant the seeds…

If I get one more young person interested in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, my work here is done.

  • Create opportunities where the kids can see their improvement, and keep building on it. If you think your mentee is already pretty good at reading out loud, now encourage them to be more theatrical about it; to emphasize commas and exclamation points, and encourage them along the way. Keep note (really do, with pen and paper!) of the kinds of books they read, and of how long they are able to read without taking a break, and point out the progress they make.
  • Encourage them to write and be creative. You know your mentee better than anyone else in Homework Zone, so you be the judge of when and how to encourage this, but some homework assignments are more prone to creative bending, especially in the 5th and 6th grades. I found that the kids had a ridiculous amount of fun with the synonym and antonym dictionaries I brought over from McGill’s library last semester, and it really helped them with a writing assignment. Keep an eye on the kind of homework they have to do, and don’t hesitate to bring over extra learning tools!


Teaching around the Globe: a special Guardian project

The UK paper The Guardian plans to celebrate the UNESCO World Teachers’ Day in a big way on October 5th:

We’re asking teachers around the world to share frontline stories about life inside classrooms. We’d love as many of you as possible to join in by answering the following questions on the form below:

  • What is the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

  • What do you consider to be the best thing about your country’s education system?

  • What single success are you most proud of in your teaching career?

  • Upload a picture of yourself in your classroom.

Perhaps some Homework Zone friends or alumni would be interested in sharing their stories? The deadline to send in a story is September 19th. We’ll check back again on World Teachers’ Day to share those stories with our kids – and also share stories of our own!

Read more here:

Launching the recruitment campaign soon!

It’s that time of the year again where the Homework Zone team will be plastering the campus with gorgeous posters and enthusiastic class announcements, and tabling… so. much. tabling. All for the pleasure of recruiting new volunteers to Homework Zone! We’ll be launching the campaign officially next week. In the meantime here is a sneak-peak at the poster. What do you think?

If you have any questions about Homework Zone or want to help spread the word, email Gabrielle at 


Fall 2014 poster sneak-peak

McGill Improv brings laughter to Homework Zone

This semester, the wonderful people of McGill Improv visited Riverview, Verdun, and Orchard Elementary schools to introduce our mentees to the art of Improv… and mostly, to have a ton of fun!

The kids really enjoyed the workshops, with the youngest ones literally horsing around, while the oldest ones took it upon themselves to ask Fred and his team a bunch of questions for their video project: when did you start improv? What do you like about it? How can I do some?

Thanks again for the great activity, and looking forward to having you back next semester, McGill Improv!

Riverview students pretending to be at a press scrum

Riverview students pretending to be at a press scrum


Mid-term Update from Lucy, the Orchard Team Captain

Going back to Orchard was wonderful. It felt like going back to my own elementary school–something familiar. Second semester was definitely different from the first. I knew what to expect. I knew how to (better) handle my stubborn but wonderful mentee. I knew the subway and bus route, where the classrooms were, the surrounding neighborhood.

But best of all, I knew the younger students. This was definitely the most rewarding part for me. I always wanted little younger brothers and sisters, and I finally had some. (Or maybe way too many.) When we made origami, I had sticky hands extending out to me and shouts of “I want one! Where’s my frog?” and some pushing and shoving to get a better look. We ran out of time and one little boy never fails to ask me week after week “Hey, where’s my frog? You owe me a frog!” My childhood was peaceful as an only child, and I was making up for it now.

When leaving the bed is the most difficult action of the day, and your spirits are low, these happy carefree kids cure you of any lethargy. They look at you like you’re on top of the world, so you can’t help but think you are. My origami frogs were lopsided and contained creases from incorrect folds, but the kids still fought for them like gold. They inspire me in the same way that I hope I inspire them. I remember on the first day, a little wide-eyed 2nd grader was eagerly scanning the crowd of McGill students in search for her old mentor.

“She really wanted to come, but she is in class right now. Do you think she wants to be in class right now when she could be hanging out with you?”

Nothing we said helped. She grew sadder when she saw her two closest friends maintain the same mentors as last semester. When another friendly McGill student came her way, she pouted and refused to acknowledge her new mentor. I feared the worst for the upcoming semester.

But that 2nd grader quickly returned to her bouncy self by the next week and loved her new mentor. It’s a skill I truly admire from these little kids. They forget and forgive. They appreciate and treasure everything. Even we, as mentors in Homework Zone, have something to learn from these kids.

Mid-term Update from Sophie, the Verdun Captain

Reading Week is now over, and we get to head back to our Homework Zone schools this week. Let’s be real: the HZ schools are the only ones we actually want to go back to!

Before the break, the Verdun grade sixers got a good start on the Movie Project that we’re working on this semester.  Not only were the kids really excited about the project, but they also took it and made it their own.  One of my favourite moment was when one of the interviewers decided to go off-script from the standard “What do you like about Homework Zone” questions and ask someone who his cartoon crush was.  Somehow, this ridiculous question took off, and is now a standard for anyone interviewed at Verdun.

In my opinion, there is something about this that is the perfect reflection of what Homework Zone is meant to be.  HZ is a place where the kids are allowed to go off-script and be their quirky selves with the mentors who are almost guaranteed to get quirky with the kids.

We’re also now at that point in the semester when the mentors and mentees know each other quite well.  It’s always fun to see the relationships grow throughout the semester, and it’s hard to believe that those timid kids we met on the first day are now so open and outgoing with us.  It’s also crazy to think that we only have 4 or 5 weeks left with these awesome kids.  This part of the semester has always made me a bit sad because it seems like we have such a short time left to take advantage of getting to know the kids even more.

So, now that we’re starting the second half of Homework Zone, here’s to another 5 weeks of building relationships with the kids, quirkiness… and I guess some homework too!

Homework Zone volunteers as workshop leaders: Zumba fun and upcoming Musical Zoo!

Homework Zone volunteers come from all over the world, (almost) every McGill faculty, and every level of post-secondary education. It’s no wonder then that so many of our mentors have special talents to share with our kids!

Take Adriana Selman, an Education student taught Zumba classes in the Dominican Republic. She gave Zumba workshops at Riverview and Verdun just before Reading Week, and will make the kids at Orchard move and dance at Orchard at the end of March.

Furthermore, over the next two weeks, a handful of volunteers with musical talents will be part of a special Musical Zoo, held at each school, where the kids will get to learn how different instruments like the violin or the trumpet are made, how they make music, the various sounds they produce…

Passionate Homework Zone volunteers make all the difference, as they get to share their talents and – who knows – spark a child’s interest in something new.  If you’re interested in showing your talents, let us know at

McGill Astrophysics is back for Winter 2014!

McGill Astrophysics came back to Homework Zone this semester to share more fascinating space knowledge!

So far, they have visited Verdun Elementary, and will come to the two other schools after March Break. This semester’s activity: the pocket solar system! (You can do this activity at home by following the instructions here).

The kids (and their mentors!) got an inkling of the awesome distances between our planet and its sisters in the solar system… and how big the sun can get! Many questions were asked… and hopefully, their answers elicited further pondering.

Making pocket solar systems with McGill Astrophysics - Space is BIG!

Making pocket solar systems with McGill Astrophysics – Space is BIG!

Where is Mercury?

Where is Mercury?


Mid-term update from Alex, the Riverview team captain

Alex Cormier is the Team Captain for the volunteers at Riverview Elementary. This is his third semester with Homework Zone

The Riverview Crew started this semester with nervous smiles.

On our first afternoon at Riverview Elementary, a fellow mentor asked me, “So how is this going to work exactly?”  To which I responded sincerely, “I’m not too sure – we’ll just go with the flow”.  After all, new volunteer mentors meeting their mentees experience something different every semester – and since this brief exchange, all our volunteers have been matched with excited mentees. Together we’ve shared lots of fun times – growing as individuals, and as a group.

Many friendships have emerged from the initial trepidation shared both by the mentors and mentees.  The curiosity emanating from the young students was reflected in the “old” volunteers’ drive to share their knowledge and experience.  From fun quiz booklets, to quiet readings, to creative activities, our mentors and mentees have explored many thoughts and questions.

From swift sessions of Zumba, to freak floods, to drawn out games of “Where does the wild wind blow?” the Riverview Crew has seen it all.  And most importantly, every week, both mentors and mentees left school with matching ear-to-ear smiles.

With many fun activities lined up for the last half of the semester, including a student-directed video project, exciting science experiments, and the much anticipated MyDay@McGill, there will most definitely be many more smiles to come!

Looking forward to sharing the rest of the semester with our awesome crew!

Fun during the Zumba workshop at Riverview

Fun during the Zumba workshop at Riverview